What's P'shat?

Recent Posts

The Avengers (Masei)

In Biblical times, the “unintentional murderer” faced a peculiar fate. Though he had committed a capital offense, his crime did not carry a formal death sentence. If, however, a relative of his victim (known as the “go’el ha-dam,” or “blood-redeemer”) were to execute the murderer outside of court, that relative faced no legal consequence. Only by fleeing to one of the nation’s six arei miklat, or “sanctuary cities,” could the assailant gain refuge from the go’el (more…)

Forget Me Not (Mattot)

Some quick and partial thoughts on “Machir son of Menashe:” a little-known figure mentioned briefly at the end of this week’s parshah, whose story might be a lot more significant than we tend to realize…

Sometimes, the Torah’s least-known characters can be its most intriguing.

Consider Machir.

Who is Machir?

Exactly. (more…)

Conquest Clues (Mattot)

Why is the war with Midian presented so disjointedly – that is, spread across two different parshahs, and interrupted with a series of laws and stories that seem entirely unrelated? What’s the relationship between the beginning of our parshah (laws of vows), its middle (war with Midian), and its end (request of Reuven and Gad to settle the transjordan)? Is there a subtle play on words going on with the name of the Midianite princess, “Kozbi bat Tzur?” How does the curious fact that Midian was ruled by five different kings shed light on a story from all the way back in Sefer Shemos? This and more, below: a very quick outline of a theory trying to make sense out of the bizarre war with Midian, along with several other, shorter insights on the parshah mixed into the footnotes. Shabbat shalom! (more…)

Everybody Loves a Good Story (Pinchas)

Does Sefer Bamidbar tell all the stories that were “taken out” of Sefer Vayikra? Are these really just parallel books, each telling the same story from a different perspective? Hmm… The beginnings of an exciting new theory, as we near the end of Sefer Bamidbar:

Everybody loves a good story. Unfortunately for everybody, Sefer Vaykra is not a book of stories.

Or is it?

Well, not in the conventional sense, it isn’t. With a couple of notable exceptions – the story of Nadav and Avihu’s deaths, in parshat Shemini, and the story of the blasphemer, in parshat Emor – there are no true narratives in Sefer Vayikra. It is, on the whole, a book of laws. (more…)

The Indignity of Indifference (Balak)

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—

and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller

In this week’s parshah, the Mo’avim “come” for Bilaam. Bilaam, the text tells us, is a pagan prophet. He is recruited by Balak, the king of Mo’av, who notices that “whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed” (Num. 22:6). Balak has use for such men. As the Torah records: (more…)