The Four Questions of Jewish Education

I write these words just days before Pesach, the holiday that, more than any other, focuses on children. We are mandated to ensure that every child—the wise and the wicked, the simple and the ignoramus—be given an education, each according to his or her needs and abilities. The authors of the Hagaddah understood that it is the asking of questions that is the springboard to learning and commitment.

Purim: Inadvertent Leaders

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 9a: When In Doubt...Eat

"Two verses that contradict each other, until a third verse is found and reconciles between them". This 13th and last of the interpretive principles of Rabbi Yishmael highlights the many contradictions inherent in the Torah. Torah mirrors life, and recognizing the complexity of both is so important that our rabbis placed this message into the daily siddur.

Shavuot: Whose Torah Is It?

The holiday of Shavuot is, outside of the observant Jewish community, a much-neglected holiday. It lasts only one day (two in the Diaspora), comes just as the summer is arriving and, unlike our other holidays, has no rituals associated with it--no shofar, matzah, or sukkah. The Torah itself makes no mention of any historical event associated with the holiday. Rather, it describes how, seven weeks after Pesach, "you may present a new grain as a meal offering to G-d" (Vayikra  23:15).

Shemini: Counting to Eight

"And it was on the eighth day" (Vayikra 9:1). While this verse is the beginning of a new parsha, the Torah clearly links it to the previous parsha in which the seven-day celebratory festivities for the dedication of the Mishkan are described. Interestingly, next week's parsha, Tazria, also begins with a reference to the eighth day. "When a women conceives and gives birth to a boy, she shall be ritually unclean for seven days...and on the eighth day the child's foreskin shall be circumcised" (12:2-3).

Eiruvin 17a: Pesach and the Salt of Sedom

"Four obligations were nullified in a [military] camp" (Eiruvin 17a). The Torah goes to great lengths to ensure that the Jewish army fulfills the biblical mandate that "your camp shall be holy" (Devarim 23:15). The laws of

ba'al tashchit, the wanton destruction of property, are recorded specifically in regard to a war situation (how much more was human life to be valued); sanitation standards had to be enforced; and it was the Torah's fear of rape that led to the law of a captured woman (see Devarim 21:10-15).

Pesach: Shaping Tomorrow

Adam and Eve, Noach and his anonymous wife, Abraham and Sarah (and Hagar), Yitzchak and Rivka, Yaakov and his multiple wives, Moshe and Tziporah, all had one thing in common: they all had great difficulty raising children. Many--in some cases, most--of their children left a most negative legacy. It is as if the Torah wants to highlight the difficulty of raising children, something that is both somewhat depressing yet at the same time, most encouraging.


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