Rabbi Jay Kelman's blog

Tezaveh: Beyond Clothes

One of the key ways by which groups self-identify is through the medium of clothes. Almost all religions have some form of dress code or uniforms, which aim to foster a sense of uniformity in action and sometimes in thought and are the norm among such diverse groups as the police force, athletes, fast-food workers and airlines.

Purim: Shaping Jewish History

Rare is the person who has the opportunity to knowingly shape the course of Jewish history. Most are happy to be relieved of that responsibility. From Moshe to Yonah, Yirmiyahu to Esther, few are willing to carry such awesome responsibility on their shoulders. And even—or, shall we say, especially—when taken on willingly, the burden can be too much to handle. How can one be confident in a decision made today, the impact of which will reverberate for hundreds or even thousands of years?

Pesachim 66: Anger Management

Judaism eschews extremism. “The two extremes in each and every tendency are not a good way, and it is not proper for a man to follow them, nor to have himself instructed in them….The straight path is the mean disposition found in each and every tendency of all the human tendencies. Such tendency is removed an equal distance from both extremes and is not nearer to one than to the other” (Rambam, Hilchot Deot 1:3-4).

Pesachim 66: A Wise Leader

The Shulchan Aruch, the most accepted code of Jewish law, consists of four sections: Orach Chaim, dealing with the day-to-day routine of Jewish law; Yoreh Deah, dealing with Jewish ritual law, primarily that of kashrut; Choshen Mishpat, monetary law; and Even HaEzer, family law. While there are only four sections in print, it has often been noted that there is a fifth section to the Shulchan Aruch, one no less important than the other four—that of common sense.

Mishpatim: Sequel to Sinai

It is common after a major event to have difficulty getting back into our daily routine. Whether it is a child's wedding, an exotic vacation or a summer at camp, rarely do we feel ready to return to our daily schedule—something we all yearn for at this time. Surely the excitement of the events surrounding the receiving of the Torah at Sinai would qualify as a major event—and then some. The thunder, lightning, and masses of people all gathered to experience Divine revelation would have put one on a spiritual high from which it must have been hard to come down.

Yitro: A Perfect Ten

In the Western world, the number ten represents perfection. Not surprisingly, this concept seems to be rooted in our biblical tradition. “In ten utterances, the world was created (Avot 5:1)." And what a world it was! “And G-d saw all that He did, and it was very good”. Yet instead of “working and guarding” this world as we were commanded (Breisheet 2:15), ten generations later “[There are] ten generations from Adam to Noach”], man had so corrupted G-d's creation that He was forced to create the world anew.

Beshalach: Who's Up First

The problem of theodicy—why there is evil in this world—has bothered thinking people from time immemorial. We cannot answer Moshe’s question to G-d as to why the wicked often prosper and the righteous suffer (Brachot 7a). Hence, Rav Soloveitchik noted that we do not even ask the question of lamah, why? Rather, we ask lemah[1], for what purpose? Not why, but how should we respond? Instead of wondering why G-d acts as He does, we must ask, given the circumstances, what should we do? 

Pesachim 50: Time to Work

There is a fascinating debate amongst the medieval greats as to whether one is obligated to act lifnim meshurat hadin, over and above what the law demands. On the one hand, it defies logic to claim that there could be a law requiring one to do more than the law requires. If the law requires one to act beyond the law, then doing such is the law, and not beyond the letter of the law. Lifnim meshurat hadin may be the mark of higher morality but presumably, by definition, it cannot be legally required. 

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