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Battle of the Bards (Haazinu)

Preview: A lyrical prophecy. The fortieth year in the wilderness. “Incline your ears” to the words “of my mouth.” Revelation about the “end of days.” Knowledge from the “most high.” Water similes. Bird imagery. Snake and serpent imagery. B’nei Yisrael are handed over to “belo am.” These and about five other elements appear in not one, but two Torah texts: the prophecy of Bilaam… and the song of Haazinu! What are all the connections, and what do they mean?

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The Orders Are Out of Order (Mattot)

Preview: Why is the battle 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 reside in 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 Shmot? This and more, below: a very quick outline of a theory trying to make sense out of the bizarre battle with Midian, along with several other, shorter insights on the parshah mixed into the footnotes.

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The Indignity of Indifference (Balak)

Preview: Why did Hashem forbid Bilaam from travelling to Mo’av, then allow him to go, then nearly take his life, then permit him to continue—only to thwart the entire purpose of his travels in the end? And what are we supposed to take out of the strange episode in which Bilaam quarrels with his donkey? And why does Bilaam never express his own position on the political conflict he’s summoned to join? And are all these questions connected?

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It Ain’t Over ‘Till it’s Over (Vezot Habracha/Simchat Torah)

Preview: It’s well-known that Vezot Habracha is the parshah in which Moshe dies – but did you ever notice that there were four earlier parshahs in which Hashem instructed Moshe to die? How’d Moshe delay death so many times?

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The Split-Screen Scene (Vaetchanan)

Preview: “And I prayed to God at that time”: when, exactly, did this prayer occur? If you trace the chronology carefully, you’ll come to a startling conclusion: Moshe’s prayer coincided with Bilaam’s! There are indeed some remarkable parallels between their prayers – and a profound message underlying their connection.

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The Men in the Middle (Balak)

Preview: Yitro and Bilaam were both religious leaders of Midian. One became a good friend of Israel’s while the other set out to destroy them. Why?

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