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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 […]
The Circumcision of Desire
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It is hard to trace with any precision the moment when a new idea makes its first appearance on the human scene, especially one as amorphous as that of love. But love has a history. [1] There is the contrast we find in Greek, and then Christian thought between eros and agape: sexual desire and […]
Fire: Holy and Unholy
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The shock is immense. For several weeks and many chapters – the longest prelude in the Torah – we have read of the preparations for the moment at which God would bring His presence to rest in the midst of the people. Five parshiyot (Terumah, Tetzaveh, Ki Tissa, Vayakhel and Pekudei) describe the instructions for […]
Violence and the Sacred
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Why sacrifices? To be sure, they have not been part of the life of Judaism since the destruction of the Second Temple, almost 2,000 years ago. But why, if they are a means to an end, did God choose this end? This is, of course, one of the deepest questions in Judaism, and there are […]
Why Do We Sacrifice?
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The laws of sacrifices that dominate the early chapters of the book of Leviticus, are among the hardest in the Torah to relate to in the present. It has been almost 2,000 years since the Temple was destroyed and the sacrificial system came to an end. But Jewish thinkers, especially the more mystical among them, strove […]
Integrity in Public Life
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There is a verse so familiar that we don’t often stop to reflect on what it means. It is the line from the first paragraph of the Shema: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your me’od.” That last word is usually translated as […]
The Spirit of Community
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What do you do when your people has just made a golden calf, run riot and lost its sense of ethical and spiritual direction? How do you restore moral order – not just then in the days of Moses, but even now? The answer lies in the first word of today’s parsha: Vayakhel. But to […]
Can there be Compassion without Justice?
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At the height of the drama of the Golden Calf a vivid and enigmatic scene takes place. Moses has secured forgiveness for the people. But now, on Mount Sinai yet again, he does more. He asks God to be with the people. He asks Him to “teach me Your ways,” and “show me Your glory” […]
The Ethics of Holiness
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With Tetzaveh something new enters Judaism: torat cohanim, the world and mindset of the priest. Rapidly it became a central dimension of Judaism. It dominates the next book of the Torah, Vayikra. Until now, though, priests in the Torah have had a marginal presence. For the first time in our parsha we encounter the idea […]