Ki Teitzei

Posted on August 20th, 2018

Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19 


BY WILLIAM PLEVAN, JTS


Clothes That Make Us Human


Among the many joys of summertime in Manhattan is the chance to see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. This year’s feast for eyes and ears was the magical romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the key turns of the plot involves the sprite Puck casting a spell on the wrong young lover, because his only instructions were to enchant one with “Athenian garb.” Judging on fashion alone, poor Puck thought he had discharged his duties. Puck’s comedic error is of course another instance of one of Shakespeare’s favorite themes, the way our clothing becomes synonymous with our identity. Most famously, in Hamlet Shakespeare has the Danish noble Polonius tell his son Laertes that “the apparel oft proclaims the man.”

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Shoftim

Posted on August 13th, 2018

DEUTERONOMY 16:18–21:9 


BY BARRY HOLTZ, JTS


The King’s Torah and the Torah’s King


This week’s Torah portion focuses on a wide array of topics, but underlying virtually everything we can see a thematic coherence well reflected in the parashah’s name (“judges”). The sidrah contains one of the most famous lines in the entire Bible, tzedek, tzedek tirdof: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). And throughout the parashah we see the Torah outlining various aspects of the pursuit of justice.

 

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Re'eh - Rosh Chodesh Elul

Posted on August 6th, 2018

DEUTERONOMY 11:26–16:17 


BY MALKA STRASBERG, ADJUNCT INSTRUCTOR IN BIBLE, JTS


To Know or Not to Know


The centralization of cultic worship is one of the major themes in the book of Deuteronomy. However, the place of that worship, the Temple, is described as “the place that God will choose,” with no mention of where that place is to exist. This week’s parashah, parashat Re’eh, introduces the theme that once in the Land of Israel, the Israelites are to worship their God in “hamakom asher yivhar Hashem” (the place that God will choose). This vague phraseology, which only alludes to a specific place but does not specify where that place is, is repeated 21 times throughout the book of Deuteronomy, with 16 of those occurrences in our parashah alone.

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Eikev

Posted on July 30th, 2018

DEUTERONOMY 7:12–11:25 


BY TIM DANIEL BERNARD, JTS


Walking in God’s Paths


Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. . . . When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps.
—Ferris Jabr, “Why Walking Helps Us Think,” The New Yorker (September 2014)

Three times in Parashat Eikev, we are instructed to walk in God’s paths (Deut. 8:6, 10:12, 11:22). The context clearly indicates the meaning of the phrase: the Torah is telling us to observe its laws. In fact, the same root as the verb walk, ה.ל.כ, is found in halakhah (הלכה), Jewish law. Perhaps, then, walking can teach us something about what following Jewish law might look like.

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Va’et-chanan - Shabbat Nachamu

Posted on July 23rd, 2018

Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11 


BY NICOLE WILSON-SPIRO, JTS


Experiencing the Light of Torah


This summer I returned to Jewish overnight camp after a 15-year hiatus. After all this time, s’mores, a love of cheering in unison (has the cheering gotten louder or am I older?), and earnest, hard-working counselors (I was one, once) are still to be found at camp. I am happy to report that the food is now much, much better than I remembered, and the supervision and attention to camper care have improved vastly, as well.

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