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The Gift of Giving
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It was the first Israelite house of worship, the first home Jews made for God. But the very idea is fraught with paradox, even contradiction. How can you build a house for God? He is bigger than anything we can imagine, let alone build. King Solomon made this point when he inaugurated another house of […]
Doing and Hearing
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One of the most famous phrases in the Torah makes its appearance in this week’s parsha. It has often been used to characterise Jewish faith as a whole. It consists of two words: na’aseh venishma, literally, “we will do and we will hear” (Ex. 24:7). What does this mean and why does it matter? There […]
To Thank Before We Think
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The Ten Commandments are the most famous religious-and-moral code in history. Until recently they adorned American courtrooms. They still adorn most synagogue arks. Rembrandt gave them their classic artistic expression in his portrait of Moses, about to break the tablets on seeing the golden calf. John Rogers Herbert’s massive painting of Moses bringing down the […]
Renewable Energy
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The first translation of the Torah into another language – Greek – took place in around the second century BCE, in Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy II. It is known as the Septuagint, in Hebrew Hashiv’im, because it was done by a team of seventy scholars. The Talmud however says that at various points the […]
The Spiritual Child
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The American writer Bruce Feiler recently published a best-selling book entitled The Secrets of Happy Families.[1] It’s an engaging work that uses research largely drawn from fields like team building, problem solving and conflict resolution, showing how management techniques can be used at home also to help make families cohesive units that make space for personal growth. […]
Spirits in a Material World
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The Torah sometimes says something of fundamental importance in what seems like a minor and incidental comment. There is a fine example of this near the beginning of today’s parsha. Last week, we read of how Moses was sent by God to lead the Israelites to freedom, and how his initial efforts met with failure. […]
Turning Curses into Blessings
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Genesis ends on an almost serene note. Jacob has found his long lost son. The family has been reunited. Joseph has forgiven his brothers. Under his protection and influence the family has settled in Goshen, one of the most prosperous regions of Egypt. They now have homes, property, food, the protection of Joseph and the […]
On Not Predicting the Future
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Jacob was on his death-bed. He summoned his children. He wanted to bless them before he died. But the text begins with a strange semi-repetition: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel.” (Gen. 49:1-2) This seems […]
Reframing
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Maimonides called his ideal type of human being – the sage – a rofe nefashot, a “healer of souls”.[1] Today we call such a person a psychotherapist, a word coined relatively recently from the Greek word psyche, meaning “soul”, and therapeia, “healing”. It is astonishing how many of the pioneering soul-healers in modern times have […]
To Wait Without Despair
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Something extraordinary happens between last week’s parsha and this week’s. It is almost as if the pause of a week between them were itself part of the story. Recall last week’s parsha about the childhood of Joseph, focusing not on what happened but on who made it happen. Throughout the entire roller-coaster ride of Joseph’s […]