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Preview: Who built the Tower of Bavel – and why? Read the story carefully and you might come to a surprising conclusion… (Hint: The story appears in the middle of a particular genealogical account, and describes a particular location where the builders came from).
Preview: Why is Simchat Torah celebrated when it is? Perhaps because that is actually when the world’s very first cycle of Torah study was instituted. In fact, that’s a conclusion we might be able to arrive at using little more than the chronology available to us in the Torah itself.
Preview: Are our Sukkot rituals intended to evoke the nation’s experience in Yericho? The Yerushalmi implies as much concerning the hoshanot, and the relationship would make thematic sense more broadly: Sukkot recalls the protections Hashem provided in the wilderness; the entry into Yericho represents the moment in history when the need for such protections appeared to fade. Moreover, there are many textual connections between the two. These include marching in circles for seven days; palm trees; the motif of “salvation” (Heb. yeshua); the Clouds of Glory; etc. Plus, it seems like the four species are all textually associated with the geography of Yericho. What other connections can we find – and what, ultimately, is the meaning of these connections?
Preview: Most people know that Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. By contrast, many have never even heard about the laws of shemittah—the laws commanding us to let our fields lie fallow once every seven years. Yet pay close attention and you’ll notice that the laws of Yom Kippur are intimately linked with those of this peculiar agricultural institution. Study this connection deeply, in fact, and you might begin to wonder: are the laws of Yom Kippur simply an invitation to “practice” for the commands that “really matter”—those of shemittah?
Preview: Ever notice that Gedaliah seems to have been obsessed with issues related to the “harvest?” Why is that? And why, for that matter, do we find “harvest” themes playing such an important role in the prophecies of sefer Yirmiyahu – where Gedaliah’s story is recorded – and in megillat Eichah, which Yirmiyahu wrote? And, while we’re at it: why did the exile which Yirmiyahu bemoaned last “seventy years?” Might these seventy years be related to the seven-year agricultural cycle known as “shemittah?”And might that cycle, in turn, have its roots in the seven year agricultural cycle over which Yosef presided, back in Egypt?
Preview: What do the wayward city (עיר הנדחת), the accidental murderer (רוצח בשוגג), the return of lost objects (השבת אבדה), and the ingathering of exiles (קבוץ גלויות) all have in common? About ten things, actually—including the theme of “going astray” (נדח); “losing and finding” (אבד/מצא); “seeking” or “searching” (מבקש/דרש); “closeness,” “distance,” and the “edge of the hearth/heavens” (קרב/רחק/קצה הארץ והשמים); and “returning” (שוב). More on the remarkable relationship between these passages in the following quick write up…
Preview: In this week’s parshah, b’nei Yisrael are instructed to station themselves in a valley and plaster stones with “lime” (שיד). Why? Well, there’s one other “valley of lime” (שיד) in the Torah – עמק השדים, where the war of Sodom took place, all the way back in sefer Bereshit. Is there any connection between that story, and this week’s parshah? As it turns out, there are many. In fact, when we look carefully, and the sense we walk away with is that Moshe’s address in sefer Devarim is shot through with veiled allusions to the history of Lot. Why would Moshe do such a thing? Recall the challenge Moshe faced immediately before this sefer began – two-and-a-half tribes clamoring to reside east of the Jordan – and the pieces begin falling into place…
Preview: “And if [וכי] the way shall be too great for you, because [כי] you shall not be able to carry it, because [כי] the place shall be too far, because [כי] the Lord will have blessed you…” – that’s a lot of “כי’s” for one verse! A short thought on this week’s parshah…