What is cultural judaism, exactly? So many Jews today identify as culturally Jewish, but would be hard-pressed to say exactly what they mean by that. Surprisingly, the Torah is also concerned with the question of cultural Judaism. A deep dive into one verse in this week's parsha reveals that, according to commentators, it isn't enough to just be religious; a Jew must also defend Jewish culture.
What's the connection between gossip and skin disease?
This week we explore how a condition in Leviticus often translated as 'leprosy' came to be understood as a punishment for speech crimes. Along the way, we compare 'textual' and 'conceptual' modes of Biblical interpretation.
The first person God created was a hermaphrodite.
I think that's all the preview you need for this one.
Something is wrong with the High Priest. He's seeing things. Are they visions from God, or demons from his past?
This week we follow one of the greatest of the Medieval commentators, Moses Nachmanides, down a path of investigation that will reveal both the inner workings of Aaron the Priest, and the riches of parshanut.
This week's parsha is more of the same from last week. Details, details, details of animal sacrifices. Not the most pleasant read.
But there is one unique thing in Parshat Tzav: a "shalshelet."
What is a shalshelet, you ask? Take a listen and find out.
Can God smell things? If not, then why does the Torah describe the sacrificial offerings as having "a pleasant scent to the Lord"? Our attempt to grapple with this question will take us back to Marcel Proust, Moses Mendelssohn, and Noah.
Welcome to the Book of Leviticus!
We've reached the end of the Book of Exodus, the Tabernacle is complete, and the presence of God has entered into it. But there's a problem. That presence so fills the space that Moses cannot actually enter into it to meet with God. How will he figure out a way in? The answer will take us on an intricate journey, into the heart of one of Judaism's great theological debates.
Once there was a man named Hur, a great leader in Israel. He was there on the battlefield with Moses and Aaron. He judged the people when Moses was on the mountaintop.
But then, suddenly, he disappeared. After Moses came back from Mount Sinai, we never heard about Hur again. Who was Hur, and what ever happened to him?
This week, we find out.
Moses comes down from the mountain and his face is radiating light. The people see it and are a little freaked out. In fact, it's so intense that he has to start wearing a mask to contain it.
So... what happened up there?
The recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has reignited a national conversation around his distinct constitutional legal theory. In this post, we take up some of these issues as we explore the relationship between the clothing of the High Priest and some famous works of Jewish Law.
This week, the Children of Israel receive the commandment to build the Tabernacle - the portable altar for the desert journey. The question is, where did they get all the wood to build it, out there in the desert? As we search for an answer, we come across important new questions about the nature of religion.
This week's podcast was put together in support of the Hebrew Free Loan Society of San Francisco's Parshat Mishpatim Project. Check out that great organization out at: https://www.hflasf.org/ and support their good work.
But first, take a listen and learn about the Jewish value of lending.
Nobody reads the Bible literally.
They may think they do, but the greatest of the Torah commentators explains why this cannot possibly be so. And his answer will help us better understand that most mysterious of Biblical events: The Revelation on Mount Sinai.
The miracle at the Red Sea, the parting of the waters, is usually remembered for allowing the Israelites to cross over to the other side. But we sometimes forget to mention that the waters came back and drowned all the Egyptians behind us.
Well, all but one.
'The Four Children' is one of the most well-known sections of the Passover Haggadah. But of the four, one of these children seems a little out of place. Unlike the others, he does not even know how to ask questions. But his presence may turn out to be critical to the Passover experience.
Exodus is a book full of miracles. But the very first "miracle" that God brings before Pharaoh seems more like a silly magic trick than an epic wonder. Why does God start so small?
This week we look at one of the strangest stories in the whole Torah. God is out to kill someone. And a makeshift circumcision is the only thing that will stop Him.
Some people believe the Bible has hidden codes that we can use to predict the future. That might sound crazy to you, but here's an even stranger idea: Could it be that the characters in the Torah, themselves, were looking for secret codes in the Torah?! This week we look at a tradition that makes that surprising claim.
How does the heart respond to shocking news - good or bad? This week we see Jacob completely overwhelmed, on the verge of death, and then suddenly okay again. What happened to him in that moment, and how did he recover?
There's a lot of crying in the Torah. But no one cries more than Joseph. What is it that has him weeping so often? We attempt a psychological study of the man - with the help of some of the great commentators.
This week, for anyone who's been wondering what the heck this podcast is all about, we take the opportunity to give a general introduction to the whole genre of "parshanut."
What would you say is the most important line in the Torah? Now what about the least important line? Well, Maimonides says that there is no difference - every verse in the Torah is equally important. But what does he mean by that? We'll try to find out by taking a line that seems at first to be a throwaway, and digging deeper to find the hidden story behind it.
There's some wild, far-out stuff in the Torah. But this week, things get especially crazy when we run into a bunch of... talking rocks! Now, are we really supposed to believe this stuff? That's the big question we try to tackle this week, with some help from a great 16th-century philosopher, Rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague.
This week, we reexamine a famous piece of midrash - a story of angels crying - in search of a better understanding of what drives Isaac, the most silent and mysterious of our forefathers.
There is a principle in rabbinic interpretation my friend calls "The Economy of Characters," which takes two separate figures in the Torah and folds them into one. This week, we look at how this works in one story in our parsha, the marriage of Abraham, in his old-age, to a woman (seemingly) named "Keturah.