Sidrahs

Shoftim

By Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, August 12, 2010

If a murdered body was found in Israel, the elders of the nearest city were held responsible. Accompanied by the priests, they were obliged to take part in a complex ritual; taking a calf down to a barren valley, slaughtering it there and swearing an oath in which they denied any responsibility for the tragic death.

The rabbis of the Talmud were stunned by this law. It seemed inconceivable that our religious leadership would be suspected of cold-blooded murder. So why the ritual and why the oath?

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Re'eh

By Elaine Robinson, August 9, 2010

According to Rashi, some people agonise when faced with the decision whether or not to give to the needy; therefore he says that we are specifically told “you shall not harden your heart”, in order to direct us towards giving.

Explaining the second part of the sentence, he says that some people stretch out their hand to give, but then close it; therefore the text says: “nor close your hand”.

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Ekev

By Rabbi Natan Levy, July 28, 2010

As I wrote this, the oil was continuing to ooze into the Gulf of Mexico and Egypt could have been to blame. Not the modern Egyptian state, but the ancient biblical nation.

Our parashah provides a damning statement against those who dig the earth in hubris. Ancient Egyptian agriculture was elegantly simple. Each summer the Nile would overflow it banks, spilling sediment onto the shore. The farmers would sow the rich earth, and irrigate their crops via water-channels from the Nile. Yet there is a flaw.

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Va'etchanan

By Rabbi Yisroel Fine, July 22, 2010

The Jewish calendar juxtaposes Shabbat Chazon and Shabbat Nachamu, the former with its message of doom and destruction, the latter with the hope of redemption and return.

Is this merely because these Sabbaths straddle the Fast of Tishah b'Av, one before and one after, or is there some thematic link between suffering and salvation?

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Devarim

By Rabbi Brian Fox, July 15, 2010

Philo of Alexandra was one of many who realised that there are different types of journey. One can travel in one's mind and have one's body stay still. For Philo, Abraham's journey was just of this type. How often have we as a Jewish people changed our place, changed our style and changed our practices. There has always been the pull of Israel on us. The Zionist dream did not start with Herzl.

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Mattot-massei

By Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, July 8, 2010

What is the role of our religious leadership in developing a healthy society?

This week's portion teaches how someone who accidentally committed manslaughter would flee to a city of refuge, where he would be protected from angry relatives seeking to avenge the death of their loved ones. The killer would stay there till the death of the High Priest. Why was the killer's stay linked to the death of this religious leader?

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Pinchas

By Elaine Robinson, July 1, 2010

We read in this week's parashah that Zelophehad died leaving no sons. His five daughters approached Moses to ask if they could inherit the land of their father rather than it pass from their immediate family to a different clan. Moses enquired of God and was given the law for all time: if there are no male heirs, the women should inherit the land.

It is the method of the challenge that I find fascinating. The women had a legitimate request and wanted a ruling from Moses; they believed in the process.

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Balak

By Rabbi Natan Levy, June 24, 2010

Perhaps God is not the author of the Torah?

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Chukkat

By Rabbi Yisroel Fine, June 17, 2010

The title of this week's sidrah indicates that of the many mitzvot described as "statutes", that of the law of the red heifer is the paradigm for them all.

If the definition of a statute is a law for which there is no known reason, then the procedure of purification with the ashes of the red heifer appears to be truly incomprehensible. The person over whom they were sprinkled was rendered pure, while all those involved in the purification procedure were themselves rendered impure.

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Korach

By Rabbi Brian Fox, June 10, 2010

The great Jewish historian of ancient times Josephus tells of an event in his own lifetime which certainly reinforced the holiness of every person:

"There came to me from the region of Trachonitis [the site of a rebellion against King Herod while he was in Rome], two nobles, subjects of the king, bringing their horses, arms and money which they had smuggled out of the country. The Jews would have compelled them to be circumcised as a condition of residence among them.

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