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Taking a Stand (Chukkat)

water-flowing-over-rocksNear the center of this week’s parshah, bnei Yisrael famously complain over a lack of available drinking water (Num. 20:1-13). Many commentators have discussed the remarkable similarities between this water crisis and an earlier water crisis recorded in sefer Shemot (Exod. 17:1-7). In both incidents, the nation lacks water; in both, they protest that man and beast alike will shortly die of thirst; in both, they question Moshe’s leadership and they regret their decision to leave Egypt; in both, Hashem commands Moshe to draw forth water from a rock, and to take his staff along with him. Moreover, the first crisis occurs when the people arrive at “the wilderness of Sin” [מדבר סין], which is later renamed “Testing and Strife” [מסה ומריבה, i.e. Massa U-Merivah], while the second occurs when the people depart from “the wilderness of Zin” [מדבר צין], which is later renamed “The Waters of Strife” [מי מריבה, i.e. Mei Merivah]. The parallels continue, and they are well documented.

What has not been noted, however, is the similarly compelling set of connections tying together the aftermaths of these two water crises. To that end, consider the following episodes:   (more…)

Yitro’s Visit Revisited II (Mishpatim)

Earlier this week, we offered a series of short thoughts on Yitro’s visit to Bnei Yisrael, focusing on the episode’s chronology and the question of Yitro’s motivation for joining Bnei Yisrael. Today we will revisit the same episode but proceed from a new point of departure: Yitro’s sacrifices. Our study will straddle both last week’s Parshah, Yitro, and this week’s Parshah, Mishpatim.  (more…)

Yitro’s Visit Revisited (Yitro)

Note: The following is the first of two short articles on Yitro’s visit to Moshe, an episode which was recounted at the beginning of the Parshah we read this past Shabbos. It was scheduled to be posted on Friday but was delayed due to time constraints. Part two will hopefully be posted near the end of this week, אי”ה.


Our Parshah begins with an account of Yitro’s visit to Moshe. Upon receiving news of Bnei Yisrael’s exodus from Egypt, Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, sets off to meet the nation in the desert. This episode will serve as the focus of our study both this week and next. Let’s begin by citing it in full (Exod. 18:1-27): (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…)