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A people that dwells alone?
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In the course of blessing the Jewish people Bilaam uttered words that have come to seem to many[1] to encapsulate Jewish history: How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I doom whom God has not doomed? I see them from mountain tops, Gaze on them from the heights. Look: a people […]
Anger Management
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There are some, say the Talmud, who acquire their world in an hour and others who lose it in an hour. No example of the latter is more arresting and bewildering than the famous episode in this week’s parsha. The people have asked for water. God tells Moses to take a staff and speak to […]
When truth is sacrificed to power
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What was wrong with Korach and his fellow rebels? On the face of it, what they said was both true and principled. “You have gone too far,” they said to Moses and Aaron. “The whole community is holy, every one of them, and God is with them. Why then are you setting yourselves above God’s […]
Assembling Reminders
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You are driving ever so slightly above the speed limit. You see a police car in your rear view mirror. You slow down. You know perfectly well that it is wrong to exceed the speed limit whether anyone is watching or not, but being human, the likelihood of being found out and penalized makes a […]
From Pain to Humility
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David Brooks, in his new best seller, The Road to Character,[1] draws a sharp distinction between what he calls the résumé virtues – the achievements and skills that bring success – and the eulogy virtues, the ones that are spoken of at funerals: the virtues and strengths that make you the kind of person you […]
Two Versions of the Moral Life
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The parsha of Naso contains the laws relating to the nazirite – an individual who undertook, usually for a limited period of time, to observe special rules of holiness and abstinence: not to drink wine or other intoxicants (including anything made from grapes), not to have his hair cut and not to defile himself by […]
Law as Love
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One of the most amusing scenes in Anglo-Jewish history occurred on 14 October 1663. A mere seven years had passed since Oliver Cromwell had found no legal bar to Jews living in England (hence the so-called “return” of 1656). A small synagogue was opened in Creechurch Lane in the City of London, forerunner of Bevis […]
The Politics of Responsibility
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The 26th chapter of Vayikra sets out with stunning clarity the terms of Jewish life under the covenant. On the one hand, there is an idyllic picture of the blessing of divine favour. If Israel follows God’s decrees and keeps His commands, there will be rain, the earth will yield its fruit, there will be […]
Sanctifying the Name
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A President guilty of sexual abuse. A Prime Minister indicted on charges of corruption and bribery. Rabbis in several countries accused of financial impropriety, sexual harassment and child abuse. That such things happen testifies to a profound malaise in contemporary Jewish life. More is at stake than simply morality. Morality is universal. Bribery, corruption and […]
The Scapegoat: Shame and Guilt
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The strangest and most dramatic element of the service on Yom Kippur, set out in Acharei Mot (Lev. 16: 7-22), was the ritual of the two goats, one offered as a sacrifice, the other sent away into the desert “to Azazel.” They were to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from one another: they were chosen […]