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Nitzavim: Near and Dear

One of the most vexing issues in Biblical interpretation is the relationship between pshat, loosely translated as the plain meaning of the Biblical text, and derash, the additional levels of interpretation that can be derived from that same text. At times the two appear contradictory; as, for example, the Torah's obligation of "an eye for an eye". The phrase seems to imply just that, but has always been understood in our tradition as demanding monetary payment, and no more.

Tisha B'Av: The Joy of Jerusalem

"Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit seeing its joy" (Ta'anit 30b). Our Sages seem to be offering words of comfort to those pious Jews over the millennium, who faithfully internalized the suffering of the Jewish people. Though they would not merit seeing the rebuilding of Jerusalem in their own lifetime—that is a blessing reserved for our generation—they would merit seeing the joy of Jerusalem after they were resurrected from the dead.  

Sukkah 11: If You Build It...

While the Jerusalem Talmud rules that one makes a bracha upon construction of a sukkah (Sukkah 1:2), our practice is not to do so, seeing the making of the sukkah as only a hechsher mitzvah, a necessary (and laudatory) preparatory stage to the mitzvah itself, that of dwelling in a sukkah. When all is said and done, it matters little who makes the sukkah[1]. The Gemara (Sukkah 9b) allows sukkot ganbach and ravkash, acronyms for sukkot made by those not obligated in the mitzvah, i.e.

Shoftim: Seeking Justice

Almost always, wrongdoing requires that people work together to perpetrate such. As has been accepted in the legal systems of Western countries, it is the enablers, more than the perpetrators themselves, who are viewed with greater opprobrium. Those who enable sin violate the biblical prohibition against lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block before the blind. According to Tosafot (Avodah Zara 22a, s.v. teipuk), even if one only aids and abets a rabbinic violation of the law, one nonetheless violates lifnei iver on a biblical level.

Eikev: Fear of G-d

Effort vs. result. The relative value of these two concepts is a fundamental dispute between our western worldview and Jewish teachings. The secular world is, as it must be, bottom-line oriented. From a Jewish perspective, it is effort, not result, that ultimately counts. G-d blessed us all with different and varying degrees of talent; thus, it would be unfair to expect similar results from all. Rather, it is the effort we expend on moral improvement, understanding a Torah text, or performing mitzvoth that is crucial.

Vayera: No Secrets

“And G-d said: Am I going to hide from Abraham that which I will do?” The city of Sedom was a thriving metropolis and the home of Lot, Abraham’s nephew and potential successor. He had chosen to live there because it reminded him of the great civilization of Egypt, from whence he had just returned. Its rich gardens and advanced commerce meant little as their moral decadence and cruelty to the disadvantaged reached unbearable levels.

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