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Jewish Time
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Different cultures tell different stories. The great novelists of the nineteenth century wrote fiction that is essentially ethical. Jane Austen and George Eliot explored the connection between character and happiness. There is a palpable continuity between their work and the book of Ruth. Dickens, more in the tradition of the prophets, wrote about society and its […]
Choice and Change
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The sequence from Bereishit 37 to 50 is the longest unbroken narrative in the Torah, and there can be no doubt who its hero is: Joseph. The story begins and ends with him. We see him as a child, beloved – even spoiled – by his father; as an adolescent dreamer, resented by his brothers; […]
The Author of Our Lives
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It was Joseph’s first real attempt to take his fate into his own hands, and it failed. Or so it seemed. Consider the story so far, as set out in last week’s parsha. Almost everything that happens in Joseph’s life falls into two categories. The first are the things done to him. His father loves […]
What is the Theme of the Stories of Genesis?
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One of the most fundamental questions about the Torah turns out to be one of the hardest to answer. What, from the call of God to Abraham in Genesis 12 to the death of Joseph in Genesis 50, is the basic religious principle being taught? What does the entire set of stories about Abraham, Isaac […]
The Jewish Journey
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Why is Jacob the father of our people, the hero of our faith? We are “the congregation of Jacob”, “the children of Israel.” Yet it was Abraham who began the Jewish journey, Isaac who was willing to be sacrificed, Joseph who saved his family in the years of famine, Moses who led the people out […]
The Birth of the World’s Oldest Hate
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“Go and learn what Laban the Aramean sought to do to our father Jacob. Pharaoh made his decree only about the males whereas Laban sought to destroy everything.” This passage from the Haggadah on Pesach – evidently based on this week’s parsha – is extraordinarily difficult to understand. First, it is a commentary on the […]
Why Did Isaac Love Esau?
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Even before they were born, Jacob and Esau struggled in the womb. They were destined, it seems, to be eternal adversaries. Not only were they were different in character and appearance. They also held different places in their parents’ affections: The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open […]
A Journey of a Thousand Miles
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Our parsha contains the most serene description of old age and dying anywhere in the Torah: “Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8). There is an earlier verse, no less moving: “Abraham was old, […]
The Miracle of a Child
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There is a mystery at the heart of Jewish existence, engraved into the first syllables of our recorded time. The first words of God to Abraham were: “Go out from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house . . . And I will make you a great nation . . .” In the next […]
On Being a Jewish Parent
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The most influential man who ever lived does not appear on any list I have seen of the hundred most influential men who ever lived. He ruled no empire, commanded no army, engaged in no spectacular acts of heroism on the battlefield, performed no miracles, proclaimed no prophecy, led no vast throng of followers, and […]