By Rina Wolfson, December 8, 2011

The theme of division runs through this week's sidrah, which opens in a place named Machana'im (literally, two camps), where Jacob prepares to meet his estranged brother Esau. Jacob divides his entourage into two groups. Although there is resolution of sorts between the brothers, they cannot live together and go their separate ways.

Division and separation are not new to Jacob.



By Dr Erica Brown, December 1, 2011

We feel relieved when Rachel finally has a son. After years of sister-envy and fertility struggles that undermine her own self-worth, Rachel gives birth to Joseph. Joseph, son of the favoured wife, naturally becomes the favourite of Jacob's sons, causing yet more jealousy and enmity to riddle through this large and important family.

We might think this moment is one to celebrate.



By Rabbi Dr Michael Harris, November 24, 2011

A haunting midrash cited by Rashi's commentary to this verse traces the origins of Isaac's blindness to the Akedah. At the moment when Abraham was about to sacrifice his bound son, the ministering angels witnessed the scene and wept. Their tears fell on Isaac's eyes, weakening them in his later life. This midrash might be read metaphorically.


Chayei sarah

By Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris, November 17, 2011

Within the first two verses of Chayei Sarah, Sarah is dead and, crucially, mourned. The Torah uses not one, but two words to describe Abraham's mourning - lispod v'livchtah. What clues to Abraham's mourning are being granted us through the use of both these terms?

These words are used together in few other places in the Hebrew Bible, notably in Ezekiel 24: 16 and 23.



By Rabbi Dr Moshe Freedman, November 10, 2011

Immediately after learning of God's plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Amorah, Abraham begins to plead for their mercy. Yet the difference between his ethos and that of Sodom could not have been starker.


Lech lecha

By Rina Wolfson, November 3, 2011

Throughout this week's parashah, God repeatedly assures Abraham that he will have many descendants, comparing them to the dust of the earth, and later to the stars in heaven. These metaphors have puzzled commentators for generations. Some read a historical reference into the images and suggest the two metaphors refer to the shifting fortunes of Abraham's descendants.



By Rabbi Dr Michael Harris, October 19, 2011

In his classic essay "Majesty and Humility", Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik points to two midrashic homilies cited by Rashi's commentary to this verse. According to the first midrash, the dust from which man was formed came from the whole earth, its four corners. According to the second, the dust was taken from the future site of the altar in the Temple. Which midrashic view should we prefer?


Shabbat Chol Hamo'ed Succot

By Rabbi Miriam Berger, October 11, 2011

The proximity of Succot to Yom Kippur in the Jewish calendar encourages us to find a theological link between the two holy days. Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, brings even the most disaffected Jews to repent (or at least brings them to synagogue).


Yom kippur

By Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch, October 6, 2011

The book of Jonah is perhaps the focal point of the afternoon of Yom Kippur. The story is one we are all familiar with. The prophet Jonah is instructed by God to warn the people of Nineveh to turn back from their evil ways but his calls to them went unheeded and he attempts to flee from his divine mission.

He finds himself on a boat that is caught up in a fierce storm, raging unabated.



By Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, September 27, 2011

A cheder pupil once asked me, with an expression of great puzzlement on her face, why there was a bird sitting on top of the keter Torah, the Torah crown, in the Ark.