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Minority Rights
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One of the most striking features of the Torah is its emphasis on love of, and vigilance toward, the ger, the stranger: Do not oppress a stranger; you yourselves know how it feels to be strangers, because you were strangers in Egypt. (Ex. 23:9) For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of […]
Parshat Emor: The Duality of Jewish Time
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Alongside the holiness of place and person is the holiness of time, something parshat Emor charts in its deceptively simple list of festivals and holy days (Lev. 23:1-44). Time plays an enormous part in Judaism. The first thing God declared holy was a day: Shabbat, at the conclusion of creation. The first mitzvah given to […]
Parshat Kedoshim: Judaism’s Three Voices
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The nineteenth chapter of Vayikra, with which our parsha begins, is one of the supreme statements of the ethics of the Torah. It’s about the right, the good and the holy, and it contains some of Judaism’s greatest moral commands: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” and “Let the stranger who lives among you […]
Is There Such a Thing as Lashon Tov?
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The Sages understood tzara’at, the theme of this week’s parsha, not as an illness but as a miraculous public exposure of the sin of lashon hara, speaking badly about people. Judaism is a sustained meditation on the power of words to heal or harm, mend or destroy. Just as God created the world with words, so […]
The Light We Make
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The great moment has come. For seven days – beginning on the 23rd Adar – Moses had consecrated Aaron and the priests. Now, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the time has arrived for Aaron to begin his service, ministering to the people on behalf of God: It came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called to Aaron […]
Why Civilisations Die
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In her recent “The Watchman’s Rattle”, subtitled ‘Thinking our way out of extinction’, Rebecca Costa delivers a fascinating account of how civilisations die. Their problems become too complex. Societies reach what she calls a cognitive threshold. They simply can’t chart a path from the present to the future. The example she gives is the Mayans. […]
The Sin Offering
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Vayikra is about sacrifices, and though these laws have been inoperative for almost 2000 years since the destruction of the Temple, the moral principles they embody are still challenging. One set of sacrifices, set out in detail in this week’s sedra, warrants particular attention: chattat, the ‘sin offering’. Four different cases are considered: the anointed […]
Encampments & Journeys
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Right at the end of the book of Shemot, there is a textual difficulty so slight that it is easy to miss, yet – as interpreted by Rashi – it contains one of the great clues as to the nature of Jewish identity: it is a moving testimony to the unique challenge of being a […]
The Sabbath: First Day Or Last?
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In the immensely lengthy and detailed account of the making of the Tabernacle, the Torah tells the story twice: first (Ex. 25:1 – 31:17) as Divine instruction, then (Chs. 35 – 40) as human implementation. In both cases, the construction of the building is juxtaposed to the command of the Sabbath (31:12-17; 35:1-2). There are […]
Who Is Honoured?
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Tetzaveh is the only sedra from the beginning of Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy, that does not contain the word “Moses”. For once Moses, the hero, the leader, the liberator, the lawgiver, is offstage. Instead our focus is on his elder brother Aaron who, elsewhere, is often in the background. Indeed virtually the whole […]