Portion


Nobody Ever Hearkens!

By Jeffrey Fiskin

Three gentlemen have gathered on the terrace of an outdoor café. Two enjoy thimble-size cups of thick, sweet coffee. The third, a wild-eyed, raggedy-bearded fellow, stalks around among the tables, barely limiting his exhortations to his companions, which may explain why the café across the boulevard is having a particularly busy afternoon.Read More


The Grand Scheme of Leviticus

By Gary Rendsburg

A brilliant insight by one of the major biblical commentators of the Middle Ages is the discovery by Ramban (that is, Nahmanides, 1194-1270) that the tripartite division of the Tabernacle reflects the similar tripartite division of Mount Sinai. According to Exodus 19 and 24, during the revelation of the Decalogue, (a) the people as a whole occupied the lower slopes; (b) Aaron, his two sons and the elders were permitted halfway up the mountain, and (c) only Moses was allowed on the summit. Ramban noted that, in like fashion, the priestly instructions in Exodus 25-40 and the book of Leviticus permit (a) the people as a whole to visit the outer court of the Tabernacle, in which the main altar was situated; (b) the priests to enter the inner sanctuary, which contained the table, the lamp stand and the incense altar, and (c) only the high priest to enter the holy of holies, or innermost sanctum, which housed the ark of the covenant.Read More


A Sense of Direction

By Burton L. Visotzky

The book of Exodus comes to a close this week with laws relating to gift-giving for the Tabernacle and the details of its construction. In what appears to be a fund-raiser’s fantasy, Moses relates God’s command that the Israelites “give their heart’s desire” (Exodus 35:5), and they give so much he has to ask them to stop! This Sabbath we also announce the coming month of Nisan in our synagogues, and with that proclamation Passover preparation begins in earnest.Read More


Le Veau d’Or

By David R. Slavitt

When I was a boy, I was on Moses’ team, which stands to reason. Clearly, our teacher and the rabbi were on his side, too, and my classmates and I were not only distressed but also puzzled that the Jews should set up a golden calf and worship it, just at the time when Moses was up on the mountain getting the commandments from God. What irony! Or at the very least, what impatience!Read More


Glory From Garments

By Peretz Rodman

Back when “multimedia” implied the use of a bank of slide projectors and a stereo sound system, coordinated by an electronic device designed especially for that purpose, one site on the tourist circuit of Boston was a “multimedia” show about the city, “Where’s Boston?” One detail in a series of visual images from a celebration by an African American fraternal organization caught my eye. It was the red fez worn by each of the members, each fez adorned with the words “Holy to the Lord.” I wondered, as I noticed it, whether anyone else recognized the inscription as the one that appears on the headpiece of Aaron, the original high priest of the Israelite cult, in this week’s Torah portion (in Exodus 28:36-38).Read More


Let the Boredom Begin

By Marc Zvi Brettler

This week’s reading begins: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts…” (Exodus 25:1-2) The rest of the book of Exodus deals with the construction of the Tabernacle, a portable temple, from these gifts, with a short reprise for the production of the golden calf, and a few pronouncements about the importance of the Sabbath. We have detail upon detail concerning the structure of the Tabernacle and its accoutrements, down to pails, scrapers, basins, flesh hooks and fire pans. And in case that isn’t enough, most information is narrated at least twice: once as God commands Moses, and again as the command is executed. These 16 chapters try the patience of even the most ardent student of the Bible.Read More


Weaned on a Pickle?

By Jeffrey Fiskin

And these are the rules that you shall set before them. (Exodus 21:1). The ghosts of two gentlemen walk together through an olive grove near the Temple. One, Hillel, takes a deep breath of the fresh air and smiles for that reason, or for no reason at all. The other, Shammai, walks with hunched shoulders, his mouth pursed tight as if he were weaned on a pickle.Read More


The Characteristics of a Mensch

By David Curzon

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.Read More


Claustrophobic Kindness

By Sasha Weiss

This week’s portion, Be-Shallah, contains some of the most powerful and familiar images from the Exodus story: the pillar of fire that illuminates the night as the people walk through the desert; the pillar of smoke that shields them during the day; the dazzling wall of water in the Sea of Reeds; Pharaoh’s army submerged as the sea closes on itself again; manna that rains down from the sky like dew; Moses presiding over the victory against Amalek with upraised arms.Read More


Translating the Audience

By Leonard Greenspoon

Five times in this week’s portion, Bo, the reader, is told to tell the story of the Exodus to a family audience. But who exactly is to be told?Read More





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  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
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  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
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