Perashat Shoftim: The Headmaster Within

Most of this week's perasha deals with the authority structures of the society meant to be established in the new land. First we are presented with the commandment to appoint judges and magistrates at all the gates, then in cases of doubt, we are told to turn to the priests. Following this comes the appointing of a king, and finally the role of the prophet is elucidated.


This week's perasha begins with a resounding cry (Devarim 11:26): "See! I am presenting before you all today, a blessing and a curse! A blessing such that you shall keep my commandments...and a curse should you not hearken unto my commands and veer from the way set before you today..." The commentators note several interesting points as they dissect virtually every word in this passage; we will note several.

Deuteronomy: Perashat Ekev — Feminist Torah and Salvation Underfoot

Dr. Tamar Ross has pointed out that while many of the Halachic hurdles that prevent full participation by Jewish women in Jewish life can be overcome by proper analysis of the Halachic texts, there is still not yet an adequate theology of the specifically feminine in Judaism to provide meaning to the contemporary observant woman. For many years (even back in Seattle and Juneau, Alaska), I have been attempting to conceptualize just such a theology, without recourse to an essentialist argument, or one that derives from male defined gender roles.

Tisha B’Av

There is a well known teaching that appears several times in the Talmud and Midrash (JT Yoma 1:1, Yalkut Tehillim 886), which states that 'any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is considered as if that generation had itself destroyed the Temple'. Certainly this would seem to be a rather severe judgement, for as the Sefat Emet points out, many generations containing many great and righteous people have passed without the Temple being rebuilt, and it would be fairly extreme to say of them that they had personally destroyed the Temple.

Perashat Devarim

Perashat Devarim is the beginning of Moshe's extended deathbed monologue, presented just as the people are preparing to enter the land, under a new leadership. In these perashiyot, we have a review by Moshe of the events of the Exodus, along with a repetition of many mitzvot and some theological statements, in a tone traditionally interpreted as critique or "tochacha".

Perashat Balak: Becoming-Mule

Perashat Balak stands as a unique narrative segment in the Torah. For the first time, we are given a narrative episode which is entirely not experienced by the Israelites; what in the entertainment world might be called a "behind the scenes" presentation, or to use contemporary film theory terminology, we are "sutured in" from an entirely different vantage point, outside of the usual concern with the Exodus.

Perashat Hukkat: The Red Heifer Ritual — Distance Bringing You Closer

This weeks perasha begins with the laws of ritual purification mandated by contact with the dead. The ceremony, in days when the Temple stood, involved the ashes of a red heifer, which were reconstituted by the priest with purified water (an early "not-from-concentrate" product, I suppose, and in which no downer cattle could be used) and sprinkled upon the individual or object that needed purification. Curiously, while the formerly ritually defiled individual was now ritually pure, the priest that performed the ceremony became himself temporarily ritually defiled, as the Talmudic phrase goes, "the ashes of the red heifer purify the defiled and defile the pure".

Numbers : Perashat Shelach : The Gaze Upon the Land

The Tiferet Shelomo of Radomsk presents a reading that also stands as a proper critique of ideologies that claim to know best what is good for the "people". He argues, a la Rousseau, that the spies decided that they knew better what was for the good of the people than did the people themselves, or Gd for that matter.

Shavuot: Sweet Dreams

The holiday of Shavuot is distinct among the major festivals of Jewish life in that it has no obvious distinctive ritual elements. Whereas Pesach has its seder and marror, and Sukkot has its, well, sukkot, Shavuot is not given any particular unique commandments, not in its Biblical textual source, nor in the halachic sources.

Perashat Naso: Situating The Sotah

This perasha contains within it a series of commandments which have been largely unrelated to normative practice for the last few thousand years. At least regarding one of these episodes, this is probably a positive thing; I'm referring of course to the Sotah text, the depiction of the ritual trial of the woman accused by her jealous husband of adultery.

Perashat Bamidbar

I. Come In Under the Shadow of This Red Rock (or, Shelter in the Wasteland)
Bamidbar 1:1- And Gd spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert within the Ohel Moed (the Appointed Tent) on the First of the Second Month in the Second year from the Exodus from Egypt saying... This week we begin the fourth of the books which comprise the Torah. This book, known most commonly as "Bamidbar", "In the desert", is also known as "Homesh Hapequdim" or as it is conveniently translated, as "Numbers". In general, we have a return to the narrative of the wanderings in the desert of the Israelites, as well as some commandments, most of which, as pointed out by Ramban, are not of normative force today, though as usual we will attempt to derive emotive meaning from them as we encounter them.