Reeh: A Blessing and A Curse

“See, I give before you this day a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will listen to the Commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day. And the curse, if you will not listen to the Commandments of the Lord your God, and you turn from the Way which […]

Eikev: Joshua Rebukes Moses

I am Joshua ben Nun; orphaned in Egypt—my parents perished while building the pyramids that dotted the Valley of the Kings. It was Jochebed, mother of Moses, who took me in, may she rest in peace. I recall being a small child, when Moses was already a teenager—Jochebed often took me to the Pharaoh’s Palace […]

Vaetchanan: God and Moses

Scene: a windswept mountaintop, named Pisgah. Tumbleweeds fly about in the strong wind; autumn is coming. A thin, tired-looking man with a long grey-white beard, our Moses, is struggling to attain the heights. He finally succeeds, panting; he takes a deep breath, sips from his leathern water-flask, and stands, waiting. And waiting. Moses: Lord God? […]

Devarim: Meet the Deuteronomist

We enter the dog days of summer: the sun burns fiercely; our forays outdoors are humid and steaming. And we prepare for Tisha B’Av, the Ninth Day of the Month of Av, the most tragic day in the Jewish calendar. This Shabbat, we begin our reading and study of the fifth book of the Pentateuch/Chumash: […]

Mattot-Masay: The Midianite Tragedy, and Us

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites.” Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Let men fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord’s vengeance.” [The Israelite warriors] fell upon Midian, and slew every male, including male children, and [afterwards] slew every married woman. And they took much booty, for the […]

Pinchas: A Daughter of Tselophechad Stands Up for Her Rights

The daughters of Tselophechad, of the Tribe of Menashe…came forward to Moses for judgment, regarding property they had inherited from their father. Their names were Machla, Noa, Chogla, Milka, and Tirza. …They said, “Our father died in the wilderness. …He has left no sons. Let us inherit his property!” And Moses brought their case before […]

Balak: A Misunderstood King

When people read the Story of Balaam, they always focus on the Talking Donkey. I can’t understand why. The Torah Portion is named after me, King Balak of Moab, and, after all, talking donkeys are nothing unusual. I daresay, Reader, that you may have heard one or two, or several, mainly in politics, which we […]

Chukat: The Brass Serpent

“The LORD sent fiery serpents against the Israelite People [for the sin of doubting Moses]. They bit the people, many of whom died. The people came to Moses and begged him to help them, by interceding with God. The Lord said to Moses,‘Make a fiery serpent—Seraph of brass, and mount it on a standard. If […]

Korach: And the rejoicing began

It was the Anniversary-Day, the day on which On ben Pelet, last of the Korachite mutineers, celebrated his survival of the Great Catastrophe. Little children of the Reuben and Levite tribes flocked into his tent, where Yecholah bat Nifla, his loving wife, gave the little ones cookies she baked from an old recipe—“As good as […]

Schlach: And the land had rest for forty years….

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of the ancestral tribes, each one a prince of his tribe. So Moses sent them out from the Wilderness of Paran….” –Num. 13:1-3 As I recall it—though […]