Tag: Torah

Quote of the Day: Tapping into Our Own Wisdom


Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
— Moses, Deut. 30, 11-14

When I first read this Bible portion, I was deeply moved and encouraged. Even a novice like me, who was still getting her feet wet in the Jewish tradition, could count on exploring and understanding the Bible. A book that had always seemed unapproachable and difficult to parse was intended to be accessible! I didn’t have to be an observant Jew (although what I do observe helps me), a Hebrew or Biblical scholar. I simply had to be willing to dive deep with my Torah study friends to see what G-d wanted to teach me and desired for me to know. Grasping that truth has been very gratifying.

But in addition to realizing how I could pursue understanding the Torah, I realized that, in truth, it was a guideline for living my life, not just in a general sense, but in every moment of my life. And I don’t mean just applying the laws of Torah to my concerns and decisions, but to believe that life, in the best sense of the word, offers me the opportunity to learn and grow in so many ways.

The COVID Priests


Aaron said, “Sir, don’t be angry. You know the people — that they’re intent on evil. They told me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us because, as for this fellow Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him.’” (Exodus 32:22-23)

The Israelites were worried and scared. Their leader Moses was AWOL, or so they thought. They needed someone to take care of them, someone to tell them what to do. They needed a god, and apparently any god would do, even one of their own making. They were ready to create a god and a religion based on their hundreds of years of experiences in bondage. How very human of them.

Finding a Scapegoat


And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 12:24)

I read an article in the LA Times op-ed section written by an emergency room doctor. The headline was “I am running out of compassion for the unvaccinated. Get the shot.” I am not going to discuss the pros and cons of getting the COVID-19 shot. I am going to comment on our reactions toward each other regarding this shot and this virus in general.

Partnering: An Unexpected Gift


I don’t think I’m especially good at partnerships, except in my marriage (I think). I’m too stubborn, am not always prepared to compromise, and have a short attention span. So I rarely partner with a person, because I generally fear the worst—damaging or losing a friendship.

This opportunity was no exception.

One day I was exchanging emails with @iwe, and casually mentioned that if he ever took on another book project, I’d be glad to serve as proofreader and/or editor. Looking back, it’s a miracle that the heavens didn’t erupt with thunder and lightning.

G-d Does Not Want Obedience


Last week there was a terrible fire in a home in Israel. Two children, ages 2 and 5, were killed. Three older children in the same family, all girls, escaped. But at what cost? Can you imagine their lives going forward? How many times will they ask themselves: What could I have done? What if I had…? Why didn’t I try ….? The mere thought of it shakes me to my core. Can you imagine going through your whole life with these kinds of regrets?

The psychological name for this is “survivor’s guilt,” and it can be crippling enough when you know there was nothing else to be done. But if you even imagine there was some other way you might have saved a life, but did not, it would be crushing. Survivor’s guilt is what hammered Noah after the ordeal of the Flood – it led him to drunkenness and disgrace. Because the truth is that he actually should have felt guilt: he dropped the ball.

Dennis Prager on the Self-Righteously Suicidal West and False Morality


For this week’s Big Ideas with Ben Weingarten podcast, I had nationally syndicated radio host, columnist, author of numerous books, teacher, film producer and co-founder of PragerU, Dennis Prager, on the podcast to discuss among other things:

  • How Dennis Prager ended up a conservative as an Ivy League-educated Jewish intellectual from Brooklyn, New York — contrary to so many of his peers
  • How perceptions of human nature divide Left and Right
  • Whether government has filled the void of religion for the increasingly secular and progressive American coasts
  • How the good intentions that underlie Leftist policy prescriptions lead to horrendous outcomes — and emotion versus reason on the Left and Right
  • The false morality underlying European immigration policy with respect to the Muslim world, and Prager’s criticism of Jewish support of mass immigration consisting disproportionately of Jew-haters
  • The self-righteous suicidalism of the West
  • The Leftist bias of social media platforms and PragerU’s legal battle with YouTube/Google

You can find the episode on iTunes, everywhere else podcasts are found, download the episode directly here or read the transcript here.

Member Post


For the fourth straight week a key theme in the weekly Torah portion is people unable to get past their anger, hurt, and frustration (often on behalf of others) and engage constructively with their religious / political / ideological opponents. This week it’s Moses who slurs the people and then hits when he should speak. […]

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Waiting for Fruit


In order to know where you are going, you have to first know from where you came. This is why stories are so important within families; why shared history and the rich weave of cultures and traditions all matter so much.

The timeless stories in Judaism are those found within the Torah. And they are fresh in every generation because these stories are not merely a means to perpetuate a culture, but they also serve as the spur to continued growth and development. The Torah constantly reminds us of being slaves in Egypt (to empathize with strangers, to remember our debt to G-d, and for many other reasons besides), as well as telling us of many other commandments that are designed to strengthen the bonds between people, and between man and G-d.

Member Post


Every relationship we have is unequal in some respect – whether we are talking about a teacher or a friend or a spouse or sibling. One person always holds more cards than does the other one. That inequality is not, in itself, a bad thing. Indeed, I think it is a feature more than a […]

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Seven Sevens – Torah


The number “seven” represents the physical creation of the world. The number is very common in the Torah – it is the number required to make something all anew, or to change something.

Just as it took G-d seven days to create the world, it takes mankind a period of seven to transform ourselves or others. Seven is the number representing the cycle of days to achieve Shabbos, the cycle of seven years to the land’s fallow year, and at other places in the Torah, the period of mourning, or shaming, or healing. Each of these things is compared, by the use of the same number, to the creation of the world.

Judaism – The Unnatural Faith


From the artificial seven-day week, to its refusal to recognize any deity within the forces of nature, the Torah pioneered the idea that G-d is not found within nature. G-d is not in the ocean or the sun, or any physical force. When Adam was created, he was not described as being an animal (though physiologically we are, indeed, animals) — but was instead described as being made of dust, and also ensouled by the divine breath. G-d in this world is only found inside each person.

As Rabbi Sacks points out in a brilliant piece, the descendants of Avraham who were rejected from the covenant that became Judaism were similarly described as being like animals, great men of nature. In any other culture, being a passionate man who was a great archer would make one a hero – think of Davy Crockett and many other classic and folk heroes. But not in Judaism. The archer, Ishmael, was likened to a wild donkey, while the great hunter in the forest, Esau, was described as having “game in his mouth,” evocative of a cat with a bird in its teeth. Both were rejected, replaced by Isaac and Jacob, respectively.

The Mating Call of the Jewish People


The Torah describes the process of rapprochement between G-d and the Jewish people in a dance of oscillating words: the people do X, and G-d does Y. Then the people respond with Q, and G-d moves onto P, and so on (see Deut. 30). There is fluid movement on both sides, changes in posture and attitude and desires, sometimes flexing in toward each other, sometimes bending away or even – when things go very wrong – one of the dancers abruptly breaking it off and leaving the dance floor.

It is this sort of language that helps us understand that G-d is not some kind of great static thing: a strong but silent gravitational force or a distant and proud king. On the contrary, the Torah’s words show us that G-d is a full participant in this dance, able to be distant or near, equally capable of being inflamed with anger or with love.

The dance of the Jewish people with G-d is, and always was supposed to be, a dance of desire and a dance of love. Our relationship is meant to contain every element found in a good marriage: love and respect and trust and desire. And like any good marriage, there are good times and bad, times of head-spinning romantic flight, and times of hard, but cooperative effort: and then there are times when it is sufficient and beautiful to merely sit together, to enjoy being close to each other after a hard day, or year, or life. (See Rabbi Sacks’ beautiful explanation here.)



Desire quickens the heart, tickles the mind, fires up the imagination. The object of our desire which is (at least in all the ways our instruments can measure) “merely” physical somehow engages with and attracts the soul. We want to revel in the experience, immersing in the object of our desire, through every sense we possess: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch.

A 2×4 piece of wood is a static thing; it was made impersonally. That same piece of wood, worked over a lathe, lovingly handled by an artist, and crafted into a sculpture, is no longer a mere piece of wood. It is more.

What Is the Problem with a Graven Image?


Today, the Ninth of Av in the Jewish Calendar, we read in the Torah that G-d’s anger is kindled when we do two things: make a graven image, and do evil.

“Doing evil” seems easy enough to understand – G-d wants us to do good. It is not hard to see why acts of kindness and holiness are what we need in order to improve the world, to make the most of our lives.

Promote Insecurity!


We often crave things that are bad for us. We have long known this to be true in the physical realm: eating too much food is not good.

But we also have a deep and innate desire for security – a stocked freezer and a well-provisioned bank account. We want to be able to live our lives without worries, to keep all our fears at bay.

Member Post


The experience at Mt. Sinai was not only a revelation of G‑d’s truth, but more importantly, it was a revelation of G‑d’s love. Torah was and continues to be G‑d’s love letter. It is the greatest gift ever because it embodies G‑d’s presence. When you learn the Torah you can actually feel G‑d’s closeness to […]

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Giving Destroys the Soul


A joke is told of a man who is drowning 50 yards off shore. There are countless variations, but the simplest political version I know is that the Democrat throws the man 200 yards of line, then drops his own end. And the Republican throws 40 yards of line, because even a drowning man has to learn to help himself.

We think that charity is easy to define: it is helping people by giving them things. At least, that is what we teach children. And it is what liberals think “charity” is when they make the argument that Big Government is doing nothing more than what the Bible prescribes.

But this is a big mistake, even by the most well-meaning conservatives. Charity is not “giving people things.” Charity is about helping people. And there is a very simple proof:

Member Post


“Man is not a rational animal. Man is a rationalizing animal.” Heinlein We like to justify our actions as if our choices are somehow inevitable, a logical output from a predetermined set of inputs. We rationalize without even realizing that we are making a choice – and in many cases we are not aware even […]

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Be a Verb, Not a Noun


“I can’t do it! I am __________!”

How many times have we heard this complaint from children, and indeed from adults? How many times have we said it ourselves? This protest sounds reasonable, but it limits us in extremely dangerous ways.