Holiday Thoughts

Tu BAv: Coming Together

One of the lessons Nehama Leibowitz, z”l, drilled into us during the time I was fortunate to study with her was that if Rashi has two explanations for a pasuk, it means he was not fully satisfied with either. Had he been, he would have given only that one explanation.

If such is true regarding just two explanations, what can we say about something that has six explanations? 

Shavuot: A Forced Torah?

Our attitude towards Torah is a most fickle one. On the one hand, we demonstrated great faith in following Moshe into a barren desert; it's a story we recount as we plead for G-d's mercy on Rosh Hashanah. On the other hand, we complained at every turn in that same desert. We jumped at the opportunity to accept the Torah, instinctively declaring "Na'aseh v'nishma," yet 40 days later, we were dancing around a golden calf.

Yom Haatzmaut: Thoughts at Seventy-One

The period of sefirat haomer has undergone great transformation over the ages. In the Torah itself, it links the korban haomer brought on the second day of Pesach with the korban shtei halechem brought on Shavuot, thereby connecting the barley and wheat harvests. Each day of the grain harvest season was an opportunity to express gratitude to our Creator. 

Last Day(s) of Pesach: Reach for the Top

As we all know too well, there is often a gap between the ideal and reality. In trying to implement our goals, we all too often fall prey to conflict, apathy, inertia and reality. The Jewish people faced this same problem as they approached the sea. Behind them was the advancing Egyptian army with its mighty chariots; in front of them was a foreboding sea. Yet their miraculous escape from the most powerful country on earth seemed to have finally convinced them that G-d surely would protect them.

Pesach: Have You Left Egypt?

“In each and every generation, one must see oneself as if they had left Egypt”. 

In Judaism, we not only commemorate the past, we attempt to experience it, even to re-live it. Why else do we actually have to eat matzah and maror at Pesach, dwell in some flimsy booths each fall, or sit on the floor on Tisha B’Av lamenting the loss of a Temple some 2,000 years ago? 

Purim: Ignoring G-d

Purim celebrates the eternity of the Jewish people. Despite exile and dispersion, genocidal enemies and those willing to turn a blind eye to such, the Jewish people are here forever. When Esther sent a letter to the Sages, “kitvuni ledorot,” write me down for the generations (Megillah 7a), she was proclaiming that the story of the Megillah is the story of the Jewish people for all time. Its inclusion in the Biblical canon, after a protracted debate no less, marks the stamp of eternity on the story, the story of survival against all odds.

Vayikra-Zachor: Remembering Sacrifices

One of the fiercest debates amongst Biblical commentators of the medieval period was to what extent, if at all, parts of the Torah may be seen as allegorical. No less a personage than the Rambam claimed that stories such as the three angels visiting Avraham, or Yaakov’s struggle with an angel, were prophetic visions that did not actually occur. As one can imagine, views such as these—and more radical ones, which allegorized such mitzvot as the “sign on our arm”, i.e., tefillin—met with vociferous opposition.

Shabbat Chol HaMoed: Context is Key

When studying literature we must study not only its content, but also its form. This is especially true in the study of poetry, where the words themselves offer only a limited understanding of the text. Our Torah, in addition to being a description of the Divine, is a work of profound literature and poetry[1], and our understanding of it is greatly enhanced when we apply literary analysis to its study.

Sukkoth: The Beauty of the Etrog

Judaism is not oblivious to the power and even importance of physical beauty. Phrases such as yefat tohar v’yefot ma’areh, loosely translated as very attractive, is one we find in the Torah to describe such heroines as Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Esther. The Beit HaMikdash—and, by extension, our shuls—had to physically reflect the fact that it is the dwelling place of G-d. Beauty is to be obvious to all who enter.

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