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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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Empty Handed (Vayetze)

Preview: Serving a “master.” Seeking a “holiday” to offer “sacrifices.” “Three days” of journey. “Seeing” the “face.” Leaving “empty handed.” Role of “ears” and of “males” emphasized. Which Biblical text includes all these details? Six (!) actually: Lavan and Yaakov; Israel in Egypt; the Sinai revelation; the Golden Calf; the pilgrimage law; and the law of severance gifts. How Yaakov’s sojourn in Lavan’s house morphed into the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel and ha’anakah

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Now You’re Catching On (Mishpatim)

Preview: Rachel named her son “the child of my און;” and Yosef’s father-in-law was the “priest of און;” and Yaakov dubbed Reuven “the first of my און;” and the story of a boy named “אונן” is curiously situated in the middle of all these other events. Also: Rachel died through “אסון;” and Yaakov feared that he would lose Binyamin to an “אסון;” and Yosef married a woman named “אסנת.” What are we to make of all of this? Piecing together the puzzle, from Tanach to the midrash to ancient Egyptian literature.

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Going Against the Grain (Tzom Gedaliah)

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?

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Home Improvement (Terumah)

Preview: The building of the Tabernacle was the nation’s second major construction project. Their first major construction project was the building of store houses in Egypt. On the uncanny relationship between the two: mishkenot vs. miskenot.

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Rise and Shine (Pesach)

Preview: How the rabbinic rules surrounding the recitation of shema play off the Biblical account of the plague of darkness.

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The Sound of Music (Beshalach)

Preview: There are dozens of phonetic word-plays hidden within the lyrics of the Song of the Sea and the water crisis at Marah, which combine to communicate a deep irony of these stories which we often miss.

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Are We There Yet? (Bo)

Preview: There’s a curious focus on the packing of “provisions” (צדה) that we find when b’nei Yisrael travel between Egypt and Canaan in Yosef’s days; and again, on the eve of the exodus in the book of Shemot; and again during their entry into the land in the days of Yehoshua. What’s its significance, and how is it related to the concept of “tarrying” (להתמהמה) – another concept that crops up a lot in these contexts?

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Outside Opinions (Beha’alotcha)

Preview: Of all the complaints issued by Israel in the desert, not a single one comes when Yitro is with them–in fact, they end right when he arrives and start up again the minute he leaves. And, there are remarkable resonances between the language Moses uses to plead with Yitro to stay, and the description of Israel’s complaints as soon as he departs…

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Look Who’s Talking (Shemot)

Preview: Why would Hashem choose a leader with a “heavy tongue and heavy mouth” to act as His spokesman to Pharaoh? For a clue, let’s look to an unlikely source: the “Tale of the Eloquent Peasant,” a very popular ancient Egyptian story about a man of great oratory skills who advocated for justice before the Pharaoh. Plus, other approaches.

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