David Curzon

The Characteristics of a Mensch

This week’s portion contains the revelation on Sinai and the Ten Commandments, but it starts with Jethro, the Midianite priest who was the father-in-law of Moses, and as a consequence is named after Jethro. Why has the rabbinic tradition organized the reading in this way? To my mind, we are being told to pay close attention to Jethro’s character, and to take as much notice of him as Moses did when Jethro was giving him advice on how to govern: “So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said.” (Exodus 18:24) A few verses further on, in Exodus 19:5, God is telling the Israelites through Moses to hearken (same verb in the Hebrew) to His voice and in effect do all He says and be “a kingdom of priests.” It’s hard to escape the implication that the priest Jethro is a model, a human embodiment of the intent of the commandments given on Sinai.

The Moments That Still Live

When Joseph introduces Pharaoh to his father, Jacob, Pharaoh asks him, in the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation of Genesis 47:8, which is here, as is often the case, much closer to the Hebrew than more recent translations: How many are the days of the years of your life?

Mirth and Mourning

The Book of Ecclesiastes (in Hebrew, “Kohelet,” the Assembler or Preacher) is a compilation of proverbs traditionally attributed to and worthy of Solomon. Its opening in the King James translation is instantly memorable.

Is God Just?

The portion read on the intermediate Shabbat of Pesach, Exodus 33:12-34:26, contains some of the most extraordinary passages in the Torah. Moses asks God to “show me now Thy ways, that I may know Thee” (Exodus 33:13) and gets the comforting response, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” But five verses

Techniques Of Understanding

What are we to make of the sacrifices central to the Israelite cult described in Leviticus in such detail? The offering of “an ephah of fine flour for a meal-offering” to God can be dismissed in our mind as un-troubling, but the slaughter of animals as part of a religious ritual is much more disturbing: “In the place where they

Offerings of the Willing Heart

The second half of Exodus is largely concerned with the construction of the tabernacle. For me, the most evocative aspect of all the detailed descriptions is this: And Moses spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “This is the thing which the Lord commanded, saying: Take from among you an offering

The Poetry of Mature Experience

The Sights Along the Harbor: New and Collected Poems By Harvey Shapiro Wesleyan University Press, 288 pages, $29.95. * * *|In his mother’s recollection, Harvey Shapiro’s first words were in Yiddish. Born in 1924 to an observant Jewish family, he lived as a child first on the Lower East Side, then high enough up on Riverside Drive for him

The Choice of Staying In Or Getting Out

Exodus 21:2-6 (and, with small variants, Deuteronomy 15:12-18) prescribes that a Hebrew slave, after six years’ servitude, must be offered the opportunity to regain freedom, and the consequences if he chooses to stay in servitude: If he come in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he be married then his wife shall go out with him. If his

In Praise of Dissembling

Deuteronomy 22:1-3 contains the admirable commandment to return your neighbor’s lost property. At the end of 22:3 we have the following isolated clause, preceded by a colon in the King James and by a semicolon in the Jewish Publication Society 1917 translations:thou mayest not hide thyselfEverett Fox concurs, offering, after a colon,

Anna Kamienska in The Wilderness

The wilderness in the Torah is both a geographic place and a figurative region.Moses, in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, speaking “to all Israel,” recapitulates the journeys they have taken. He reminds them that God, condemning the generation that came out of Egypt, told them to turn back from the Promised Land after the incident