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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 Grandfathers (Shemot)

Yesterday was the yahrzeit of my grandfather, שמעון בן יחיאל הכהן, after who I am named. In his memory, today’s post will explore the connection between two grandfathers who play significant roles in this week’s and last week’s parshah, respectively: Yisro and Yaakov.

This connection is the subject of a two-part shiur which began last Shabbos and continues this week at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, New Jersey. You can find the lecture notes for both parts of that series (it’s divided into three on the document itself), annotated with footnotes to help guide you through the material, by clicking here. (more…)

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…)

From Within a Cloud (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…)

The 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…)