Saturday, May 27, 2017

Divrei Torah

Women with a Voice

Note from the author: This column, originally published in 2014, speaks directly to issues that have arisen this week regarding the right of women to serve in positions of religious leadership.

When Avraham charges his servant to find a wife for Yitzchak, the servant asks a strange question:


I never thought that I would begin a discussion of the weekly Torah portion by referring to a person who was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. Never, that is, until I sat down to write this week’s Person in the Parsha column.

The person in question is Sir Thomas More (1478-1535),

One Day We Will All Be Together

I picked him up at the airport. He was arriving in Baltimore, where I was then a rabbi, to deliver an address and then return home to New York.

The plane was late, so that when he came, I told him that we would have to hurry to be at our destination on time. He was already showing signs of age, so

The Essence of Ve-ahavta Le-re’acha Ka-mocha

The most famous verse in Leviticus may be the command, “Ve-ahavta le-re’acha ka-mocha” (Lev. 19:18). But what exactly does it mean? For example, what is the meaning of the word re’acha here? Does it refer only to Jews or to all human beings?

According to some,

Filling in the Blanks

The Torah is replete with inspiring stories of its heroes. The lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David, to name just a few, are narrated at great length and in vivid detail. Their noble acts and admirable accomplishments are described, and even their occasional faults or failures are not hidden from us.

The Meaning of the Word Mabul: A Flood of Possibilities

The word mabul is typically translated as “flood.” But in order to truly understand the meaning of a word, we must determine its three-letter root.

The word has four letters, the first of which is a mem. Usually, a mem at the beginning of a noun is not a part of the root.

Repression of the Sublime

It was advertised as one symposium at a major psychology conference. It was to be a discussion about memory and forgetfulness. But it turned out to be one of the most intense and instructive days that I have ever witnessed.

The first speaker began by insisting that the fact that we remember things is

One Verse, Many Lessons

We met in a Jerusalem café, and I must admit that, although they recognized me, I neither recognized nor even recalled any of them. That is, until they began to reminisce about their common experience as students of mine. Suddenly, the many intervening years evaporated, and I felt as if I was back in that classroom of so long ago.

Twice Born: Changing Our Actions for the Better

We have lately become accustomed to reading accounts of clergymen, teachers, and rabbis who take advantage, in very ugly ways, of the young people who are in their charge. Whenever I read these accounts, I think back to when I was a young boy and to some of the rabbis and teachers that I experienced. Let me tell you about one of

Parshat Ki Tavo: The Walls Have Ears

We all have our secret lives.

I don’t mean to say that each of us has a sinister side, which we wickedly act out in some deep, dark, private world. What I do mean is that we all act differently when we are alone, or with a few close intimates, than we act when we are out in public, among

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers?

It is a story that deserves to be told. In order to fully appreciate it, some background is necessary, especially for those unfamiliar with the natural disaster that struck the greater New York metropolitan area in 2012.

The disaster was known as Superstorm Sandy. She hit the eastern coast of the United

Spires and Towers

In his spiritual memoir, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes his first trip to Oxford University as a young man in 1916. A scholarly boy, Lewis traveled to this fabled center of learning, known as the “city of dreaming spires,” with tremendous anticipation. But upon leaving the train station, Lewis became more and more bewildered;