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Moses the Man
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That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be […]
Why Be Jewish?
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In the last days of his life Moses renews the covenant between God and Israel. The entire book of Devarim has been an account of the covenant – how it came about, what its terms and conditions are, why it is the core of Israel’s identity as an am kadosh, a holy people, and so on. […]
Covenant & Conversation
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In two sentences in this week’s sedra, the Torah summarises the entire relationship between God and the people of Israel: You have affirmed [he-emarta] this day that the Lord is your, God, that you will walk in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that you will obey Him. […]
Two Types of Hate
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It is by any standards a strange, almost incomprehensible law. Here it is in the form it appears in this week’s parsha: Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who […]
The Consent of the Governed
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The contribution of Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, to political thought is fundamental, but not well known. In this study I want to look at the institution of monarchy. What does it tell us about the nature of government as the Torah understands it? The command relating to a king opens with these words: “When you […]
The Limits of Grief
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“You are children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be His treasured possession” (Deut. 14:1-2). […]
Why Civilisations Fail
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What is the real challenge of maintaining a free society? In parshat Eikev, Moses springs his great surprise. Here are his words: Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God… Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow […]
Philosophy or Prophecy?
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What was the first commandment? On this there are two fascinating disagreements in Judaism. One was between Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) and the author of the Halakhot Gedolot, written in the period of the Gaonim, probably by R. Shimon Kayyara (eighth century), that for the first time enumerated in a systematic way the 613 commands. The […]
The Book of the Covenant
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As we begin reading the fifth and final book of the Torah, I would like to discuss three questions. First, why does the book of Devarim have the structure it does: a mix of history, law, recollection and anticipation? The sages knew that Devarim had a clear structure. Elsewhere in the Torah some rabbis used […]
Influence & Power
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Knowing that he is about to die, Moses turns to God and asks him to appoint a successor: Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring […]