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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…)

The Men in the Middle (Balak)

When you study Tanakh carefully, you begin to notice that many of its protagonists bear striking similarities to each other. In literary terms, such characters are referred to as “mirror characters.” We have compared many mirror characters together in the past, including Yitzchak and Noah, Shimshon and Avshalom, and Yosef and Tamar. There are dozens of others. (more…)

Outside Opinions (Beha’alotcha)

Note: This article was written for Parshah Beha’alotcha, which was read this past Shabbat. Its publication was delayed on Friday and so it is being shared now instead. 

In 1955, Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz, two American Jewish sociologists who pioneered the field of communications studies, published a book entitled Personal Influence, in which they explored “the part played by people in the flow of mass communications.” Their theory, in a nutshell, was that the most important players in the shaping of public opinion are not those who make the news, and not those who report the news, but rather those who interpret the news on behalf of others. These individuals, whom Lazarsfeld and Katz called “opinion leaders,” can be teachers, clergymen, business executives, and even prominent laypeople. The key is that they are the ones who determine the meaning of current events for those within their social network; through their speech and conduct, they provide the cues that help their friends, family and followers decide how they ought to react to developments in the world around them. (more…)