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Why Isaac? Why Jacob?
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Why Isaac, not Ishmael? Why Jacob, not Esau? These are among the most searing questions in the whole of Judaism. It is impossible to read Genesis 21, with its description of how Hagar and her son were cast out into the wilderness, how their water ran out, how Hagar placed Ishmael under a bush and […]
The World’s Oldest Man
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On 11 August 2017, the world’s oldest man passed away, just a month short of his 114th birthday – making him one of the ten longest-lived men since modern record-keeping began. If you knew nothing else about him than this, you would be justified in thinking that he had led a peaceful life, spared of fear, […]
The Space Between Us
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The stories told in Bereishit chapters 21 and 22 – the sending away of Ishmael and the binding of Isaac – are among the hardest to understand in the whole of Tanakh. Both involve actions that strike us as almost unbearably harsh. But the difficulties they present go deeper even than that. Recall that Abraham […]
Lech Lecha: Inner-Directedness
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Is character strictly personal – either you are or aren’t calm, courageous, charismatic – or does culture have a part to play? Does when and where you live make a difference to the kind of person you become? That was the question posed by three great American-Jewish sociologists, David Reisman, Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney […]
Noach: The Trace of God
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The story of the first eight chapters of Bereishit is tragic but simple: creation, followed by de-creation, followed by re-creation. God creates order. Humans then destroy that order, to the point where “the world was filled with violence,” and “all flesh had corrupted its way on earth.” God brings a flood that wipes away all […]
The Faith of God
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In stately prose the Torah in its opening chapter describes the unfolding of the universe, the effortless creation of a single creative Force. Repeatedly we read, “And God said, Let there be … and there was … and God saw that it was good” – until we come to the creation of humankind. Suddenly the […]
Sukkot For Our Time
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A thought for Sukkot from the Koren Sacks mahzor Of all the festivals, Sukkot is surely the one that speaks most powerfully to our time. Kohelet could almost have been written in the twenty first century. Here is the ultimate success, the man who has it all – the houses, the cars, the clothes, the […]
The Most Personal of Festivals
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A thought for Yom Kippur from the Koren Sacks machzor The day is intense. The process of preparation and prayer began forty days ago on Rosh Chodesh Ellul with the blowing of shofar and the saying of Psalm 27 [L’David Hashem Ori]. It gathered pace with the saying of Selichot. It became a courtroom drama […]
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. […]