Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Parshat Teruma

Living With God

In accepting the Torah, Israel agreed to be a "holy nation" (Shemot 19:6). Following their acceptance, came a long list of rules that would help them attain that holiness. The attainment of holiness would then prepare the ground for Israel "to build Me a sanctuary, so that I can live among them" (ibid 25:7).

With God living among us much can be achieved. As well as being victorious in battle, God promises that "there will be no bereaved or barren woman in your land; I will fill the number of your days" (ibid 23:26). With God living among us, we would feel no suffering, no lack of security and would live long and fulfilling lives.

However, with it, comes many dangers.

To begin with there are uncomfortable situations. If someone becomes impure, they must leave the city until their purity is restored. If a person sins, they can be inflicted with tsaraat and again, be forced to live outside of the camp. The slightest deviation from holiness is incompatible with God's presence.

When God first approached Moshe, "Moshe turned his face aside, for he was afraid of looking at God" (ibid 3:6), Yaakov was surprised that he had survived an encounter with a celestial being, "I saw a celestial being face to face, and my soul was saved" (Bereshit 32:30). So too were Gideon and Manoach, when they encountered an angel (See Shoftim 6:32-33 & 13:22).

Indeed, after Israel's apostasy with the Golden Calf, God said that it would be best if He did not live among the people: "I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites…because I will not go up in your midst since you are a stiff necked people, lest I destroy you on the way (Shemot 33:2).

God says that He does not want to depart from Israel, but if He does not, He will end up destroying them, because Israel is stiff necked, and will surely sin again. It would better if He kept a distance from Israel and sent an intermediary in His place.

Israel mourned that fact and it seemed that God relented for the Mishkan was built and God's presence did reside among Israel. However, it came at a price.

The first to suffer were Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon's sons, "fire came out and consumed them" (VaYikra 10:2). Others soon followed, the Mitonenim (Bemidbar 11:1), the 250 followers of Korach (ibid 16:35), the rebels that came in their wake (ibid 17:11) and the apostates of Baal Peor (ibid 25:9).

Incidents continued in the Land of Israel. First the Philistines suffered when they captured the Ark of the Covenant, and then the people of Bet Shemesh, when it was returned (see I Shmuel Ch. 6). Indeed, even David's first attempt to bring it to Jerusalem was accompanied with death (II Shmuel 6:6).

Jews pray regularly for God's house to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. However, before we do that, we must first ensure that we are ready. Otherwise, the consequences will be fatal.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Teruma, entitled: "A Home for God " appears at

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Parshat Mishpatim

The New Covenant

I have been approached on numerous occasions by Christian missionaries, telling me that if I was a sincere Jew who really believed in the Bible, I had no choice but to adopt Christianity, because it was a fulfillment of Judaism.

One of the sources they would bring to my attention is from Sefer Yirmiyahu:

"I will make a new covenant (ברית חדשה) with the house of Israel…; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant…But this is the covenant…I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: 'Know the Lord'; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them." (Yirmiyahu 31:30-33)

I was able to show the missionaries the next pesukim which basically say that God will never reject Israel (see ibid 34-35), so if they believed the previous pesukim they should also believe these ones. Therefore, rather than me converting to Christianity, they should be converting to Judaism!!

Nevertheless, how do we explain the first set of pesukim that basically state that because Israel rejected the old covenant, God will make a new one, one inscribed on their hearts? Is the "old" Torah, given when we left Egypt, no longer valid?

The answer to this question can be found in this week's parsha. As part of the giving of the Torah, Moshe performs an elaborate ceremony, building altars, offering sacrifices and sprinkling blood over the altars and the people. "Moshe wrote all the words of the Lord and all the people answered in unison saying, 'All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do'…and he took the Book of the Covenant and read it within the hearing of the people, and they said, 'All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear'" (Shemot 24:4-7).

This ceremony ratifies Israel's acceptance of the Torah. Moshe first writes the terms of the agreement and Israel accepted it. Moshe then performs the ceremony, signifying the union between God and Israel. Finally, Moshe reads the agreement, now called "the book of the covenant" and the people ratify it once more.

What is "the book of the covenant"?

I would like to suggest that this "book of the covenant" is the "old" covenant, made "on the day…I took them…out of Egypt". It describes God's commitment to Israel, that He chooses them and promises them to be His people. It then describes Israel's commitment to be kingdom of priests and a holy nation and to keep the Torah. Moshe read it to the people and they accepted it.

Israel was unfaithful to it. This covenant therefore, needs to be renewed. God promises that He will renew the covenant. This time, however, it will not be written on stone; it will be written on Israel's hearts. It will be no longer necessary to teach about God. His existence will be so obvious, that all will know the Lord, from the greatest to the smallest.

The Torah itself will never be abrogated, but our commitment to it will be renewed.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Mishpatim, entitled: "The Law" appears at

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Parshat Yitro

The Chosen People

In this week's parsha, God offers the Jewish people the Torah. By accepting it, they become the chosen people, "you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples" (Shemot 19:5).

It is interesting to note that all peoples throughout the world have considered their cultures and religions to be superior to all others. Is the Jewish concept of "chosen people" just another puerile, immature concept that all humanity seems to posses, or is there something more to it?

In order to examine the concept, we need to examine the deal that God made with Israel.

"You shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (ibid 5-6).

In these pesukim, it is clear that God is not rejecting the rest of humanity. To begin with God states that "the entire earth", i.e. the rest of humankind, is His and furthermore he declares Israel to be "a kingdom of priests". If Israel is the priest, then the rest of humanity is the congregation.

God is not stating that it Israel is chosen and that all the other nations are rejected. On the contrary, He has selected Israel for a special role among all the nations, that of priest, i.e. teacher. Just as the priest is no better or more loved than the Levite, Israel is no better or more loved than other nations. Quite the reverse, because God loves all of humanity and wants them to be close to Him, He has selected Israel to be the priest that enables that to be achieved.

As the prophet states, Israel is to be "a light unto the nations" (Isaiah 42:6), the beacon to humanity as to how to gain communion with God.

The modern world shuns and rightly so, the concept of superiority among nations. Many Jews who have misunderstood the concept of "chosen people" have therefore, been embarrassed of their calling. This is unfortunate. Jews should be proud of their mission, for without it, there would be no purpose to being a Jew.

Indeed, Amos told a sinful Israel: "Are you not as the children of Kush unto Me, O children of Israel? says the Lord. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and Aram from Kir?" (Amos 9:7)

The mission is what we were chosen for. Without it, we will go the same way as Kush, the Philistines and the Arameans.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Yitro, entitled: "Midyan, Amalek and Matan Torah" appears at