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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…)

Snake Eyes (Chukkat)

A short interpretation of the curious episode involving “fire snakes” in this week’s parshah:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became disheartened on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this cursed bread.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live (Num. 21:4-9).

This is one of many complaints issued by b’nei Yisrael in the desert. Yet the punishment it provokes—a release of “fiery serpents”—seems uniquely confounding. In what way is this a fitting or appropriate response for the particular protest that the nation lodges? How is it connected to the content of their grievance, symbolically or thematically? (more…)

Beating Around the Bush (Beha’alotcha)

Is there any connection between the lighting of the menorah and the fires of Nadav and Avihu? What about the branch of almonds that sprouted following Korach’s rebellion? What about the burning bush? Read more in this very quick thought on last week’s Parshah, Beha’alotcha:   (more…)

Bitter Waters (Naso)

Below are some very quickly written thoughts regarding the symbolism of the curious “sotah” ritual described in last week’s parshah, Nasso, and relevant as well to this week’s parshah, Beha’alotcha. The basic argument is that the “bitter waters” central to the sotah ritual ought to be understood in light of the “bitter waters” which b’nei Yisrael drank shortly after Moshe and Miriam led them in “shirat ha-yam.” Particular attention will be placed upon the contrast between Miriam and the sotah; as part of that analysis, we will touch upon the larger significance of Miriam’s argument with her brother, Moshe, recorded at the end of this week’s parshah. (more…)

Reaching Out (Pesach)

A brief thought for Pesach, based on ideas which will hopefully be further developed, iy”H:

There are dozens of ways to tell the Pesach story on seder night. But most agree that however it’s told, the story should feel “hands on.” Indeed, from one perspective, the Pesach story might best be told as a story that’s all about the “hands”—the “hands,” and the “arms.”  And this, in three parts:

Most notably, there is the “arm of God.” On the seder night, we repeat over and again how Hashem led b’nei Yisrael out of Egypt with a “זרועה נטויה”—an “outstretched arm.” It is one of the central motifs of the Passover story, both in the Torah and in the hagadah. Yet this is actually Pesach’s second “arm.” (more…)