Sidrahs

Vayeshev

By Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch, November 25, 2010

Joseph, resisting the advances of his master Potiphar's wife, says that it was improper for him on two counts: firstly, because of the debt of gratitude that he owed Potiphar and, secondly, because it would be a terrible sin against God to commit adultery.

Rav Mordechai Gifter (1915-2001) raises an interesting question. Why, when repelling Potiphar wife's advances, did he not state why it was wrong and inappropriate for her, rather than him, to commit such an act? Rashi quotes a talmudic statement that even before the Torah was given, non-Jews were commanded against immorality.

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Vayishlach

By Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, November 18, 2010

In the struggle between the twins, it is always Jacob who comes out on top. He gets the blessing and then everything follows on from there... but not neatly. Repeatedly, Jacob pays a heavy price for the deception that becomes second nature, and his life is a catalogue of gains and losses, the latter carrying much more pain than the former carry happiness.

If you buy into rabbinic propaganda, there is always an excuse for Jacob, always a justification to make him worthy of the title of third patriarch.

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Vayetse

By Sally Berkovic, November 12, 2010

When Thomas Carlyle proposed "A fair day's wages for a fair day's work", it is unlikely he had Jacob and Laban's employment relationship in mind. Wages are a sore point in this week's parashah; initially, Laban appears very generous and asks Jacob "Tell me, what should your wages be?" Laban uses the word maskoret - the same word used for wages in Israel today. Jacob pauses.

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Toldot

By Rabbi Benjamin Rickman, November 4, 2010

The early narratives in the Torah are an opportunity to learn about and understand human relationships, before humanity's relationship with God takes centre stage.

Mother/son experiences are particularly complex. Men are often embarrassed to admit being able to relate to their mothers and tend to hide any deep feelings of filial love. Mothers learn to step back as their child grows up and will endeavour to act in the best interests of their child, perhaps regardless of the consequences.

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Chayei sarah

By Rabbi Miriam Berger, October 28, 2010

The book of Bereshit is a book of promises. In this parashah, we read how the ancestral promise made to our matriarchs and patriarchs passes from Sarah to Rebecca.

The blessings received by Rebecca here echo that given to Abraham and Sarah for multiple descendants and land in parashat Lech Lecha. Abraham makes it clear to his senior servant, whom he sends on a mission to find Isaac a wife, that although the woman must come from "the old country", Isaac must not go back but he and his wife must continue Abraham and Sarah's journey.

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Vayera

By Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch, October 22, 2010

Perhaps the most difficult test faced by our forefather Abraham was when Sarah asked him to banish his son Ishmael from their home. Abraham was the pillar of love and kindness in the world; to banish his own son from his home was anathema. But God supported Sarah's motherly instincts and instructed Abraham to heed her decision. Our sages deduced from this that Sarah was superior to Abraham in her capacity to intuit God's will.

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Lech lecha

By Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, October 14, 2010

The denizens of Sodom, whose principal sin is usually taken to be the sexual predilection with which they have become synonymous, enjoy a more complex interpretation in rabbinic literature. True, the Midrash Rabbah to this verse dissects and interprets it as might be expected: "wicked" and "sinners" - they were wicked to each other; sinners in adultery; "against the Lord" in idolatry; while "very" refers to bloodshed.

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Noach

By Sally Berkovic, October 7, 2010

With cramped living quarters, poor sanitation and no television, perhaps it was inevitable that Noah favoured some animals. Consider his special relationship with the dove. On her first mission to see if the waters had receded, the Torah says, "He sent the dove from him", intimating that Noah would suffer at her departure. When she returns, the text says, "She returned to him, to the ark…and he sent out his hand, and he took her and brought her to him, into the ark."

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Bereshit

By Rabbi Benjamin Rickman, September 28, 2010

We all enjoy a challenge, as did the ancient rabbis. When asked to propose the most important verse in the Torah, we might suggest the first line of the Shema or the first of the Ten Commandments.

The great sage Rabbi Akiva advocated "Love your neighbour as yourself". His colleague, Ben Azzai, however, chose the verses from Genesis quoted above. Ben Azzai is telling us that the creation of man is the main principle of the Torah.

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Shabbat chol Hamo'ed Succot

By Rabbi Brian Fox, September 21, 2010

In a world where a leading scientist questions God's role in creation, the concept of a personal God who cares about human beings is at best quaint. The context of these words reveals their meaning. Moses appeals to God: he does not want to live in a world where even though he would be made into a great nation, the Israelites would be destroyed. It is the same as saying today, "I don't want to live in a world without Jews." On many occasions in Jewish history, Judenrein existed as a possibility.

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