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Lay Leaders (Toldot/Chag Hasemikhah)

Preview: Rabbinic ordination is referred to in Hebrew as “semicha” – literally, “laying,” or “leaning.” This title derives from sefer Bamidbar, where Moshe laid his hands on Yehoshua when appointing him as his successor. But why is the transfer of Jewish leadership symbolized ritually as an act of “leaning?” We present several approaches, based upon the writings of the mefarshim and upon original analysis of several Biblical texts.

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Double Date (Chayei Sarah)

Preview: A generational leader seeks to arrange a marriage for his child. A test is posed to determine the appropriate partner. A request is made for water. A suitor rises to the challenge. A brother features prominently in the matchmaking. The husband and wife come from the same extended family. The wife travels to meet her husband, apparently in the Negev. Upon arrival, she conspicuously disembarks from the animal she had been riding. There unfolds a fateful encounter between the peoples of Aram and of Avraham. Which Biblical story does this describe? Two, actually. On the connection between Yitzchak/Rivkah and Otniel/Achsah – and the meaning of those connections.

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Why So Salty? (Lech Lecha)

Preview: A short thought on the motif of salt and its significance to Sodom.

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Grave Mistake (Beshalach)

Preview: “Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Some see this as the first recorded example of Jewish self-deprecating humor. But maybe the suggestion wasn’t meant sarcastically. Maybe the people meant it seriously. Indeed, they might have had good reason to. To realize why, just think back to Yaakov and Yosef’s deathbed requests…

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Fair Trial (Mikketz)

Preview: What was so wise about Shlomo’s ruling to “cut the baby in half?” We explore several approaches, including the idea that Shlomo’s decision was influenced by a judicial decision rendered by his father – David HaMelech – a generation earlier: the decision to “divide in half” the property of Shaul’s grandson, Mephiboshet…

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Fights, Fields, and Family (Shoftim)

Preview: Is there any organizing principle for the apparently random series of laws that makes up the bulk of sefer Devarim? Well, there sure seem to be a lot of laws about war; and a lot of laws about fields; and a lot of laws about family—and when you pay close attention, you notice that they tend to cluster together in recurring patterns.

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The Calf and its Other Half (Zachor)

Preview: If you read closely, you’ll notice something most peculiar: as it turns out, the sin of chet ha’egel unfolds in ways eerily reminiscent of the way that the confrontation with Amalek did. What are the connections, and what do they mean?

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Let it Be (Mishpatim)

Preview: A short thought: “Come up the mountain, and ‘be there'” – what exactly does that mean? Did Hashem really command Moshe to do nothing more than “be?” If so, why? Maybe because other leaders had struggled with this imperative in the immediately preceding verses.

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Fish Out of Water (Vayechi)

Preview: A short thought: Have you ever noticed the immense irony inherent in the popular Jewish children’s song, “Hamalach?” Yaakov’s wish for his grandchildren is that they “be like fish in the midst of the land.” Yet fish don’t thrive on land—quite the contrary!

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Father Favors (Vayigash)

Preview: Why were the kohanim granted special exemptions from Yosef’s redistribution regime? Might it be because his own father-in-law was a kohen? And might the parallels between Yosef’s role dispensing bread rations as viceroy, and his earlier experience serving in Potiphar’s house, also be relevant in this regard?

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