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The Right and the Good
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Buried among the epic passages in Va-etchanan – among them the Shema and the Ten Commandments – is a brief passage with large implications for the moral life in Judaism. Here it is together with the preceding verse: You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes, […]
Why Are There So Many Jewish Lawyers?
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At the beginning of Devarim, Moses reviews the history of the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness, beginning with the appointment of leaders throughout the people, heads of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. He continues: And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between […]
Retribution and Revenge
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Near the end of Bemidbar, we encounter the law of the cities of refuge: three cities to the east of the Jordan and, later, three more within the land of Israel itself. There, people who had committed homicide could flee and find protection until their case was heard by a court of law. If they […]
Elijah and the Still, Small Voice
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Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘Why are you here, Elijah?’  He replied, I am moved by the zeal for the Lord, God of Hosts…” The Lord said to him, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then […]
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 […]