From the Heart of a Lion on Parshas Toldos

November 19, 2014
The first one came out red with a full coat of hair, and they called him Eisav. Afterwards, his brother came out clutching the heel of Eisav,and he was called Yaakov. Yitzchak was sixty years old when they were born.FromtheHeartofaLion9789655241969

When parents have the privilege to name a child there is much contemplation and consideration prior to the decision. The name of a person captures one’s essence and depth and therefore requires wisdom and deliberation. The Midrash explains that even the Angels were unable to name the animals and man. Adam Harishon, with insight and intelligence, was able to name the animals, himself and even Hashem. Naming is a talent gifted to man together with the help of divine influence from above. Many times when asking Tzaddikim for advice concerning my own children, I was told to make sure to call my children by their complete name. The name of a person captures one’s strengths and character traits and by hearing it reminds a person of one’s abilities.

With these thoughts on the beauty and depth of a Jewish name, we will analyze the naming of our third Patriarch at the beginning of our Parsha. The Torah explains that Yaakov is given his name because he was born holding onto the eikev, heel, of his brother Eisav. This momentary occurrence seems like a superficial reason behind a name for life. What is the essence of Yaakov that was being captured by this name? According to one opinion in Rashi 3 this name was decided by Hashem himself. This knowledge requires even deeper explanation as a divinely determined name must have hidden meaning on a very deep level. Another important question arises as to why there is a letter yud added before the word eikev? Shouldn’t Yaakov have just been called eikev? Although now that may sound strange, it is only because we are not accustomed to that name. The name of Eisav also seems to be altered. Rashi 4 explains that the name Eisav represents the fact that he emerged as a finished product. This is clear from the pasuk as his body was full of hair. The Shem Mishmuel explains that this was the essence of the negative character of Eisav. He always considered himself a finished product, not needing to work on himself or grow. This was the foundation that led him to his ways of wickedness. Just as Yaakov seems to have an added yud, Eisav is missing one from his end. The word for an object being finished would be Assui including a yud at the end. Where did this yud disappear to?
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The Haftorah of the Week Parashas Toldos

November 16, 2014

by Ervin Landau HaftorahWeekWeb2

Constant Salvation from Esau

The first verse of Parashas Toldos states, “These are the offspring of Isaac.” Who are the progeny of Isaac to which the verse refers? Rashi explains that the word “offspring” in this verse is a reference to Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac who are the topic of the entire parashah.

The haftorah is a selection from the Prophets that follows this theme, discussing the relationship — and contrast — between Jacob and Esau. The haftorah is taken from the first chapter of the Book of Malachi, the last of the twelve later prophets. In fact, the Talmud teaches that Malachi was the very last prophet of all. Considering that context, we can assume that this book was written sometime around 450 BCE, shortly after the Second Temple was built.

Although Malachi is often grouped with Chagai and Zechariah, because the three were the last prophets to lead the Jewish people, the books of Chagai and Zechariah contain more information regarding the period in which they lived, thus shedding light on their identities. Malachi’s book, on the other hand, does not specify in which time period he lived. Similarly, little is known about Malachi himself: we do not know the names of his parents, his life story, or any of his activities, aside from his task as a prophet who delivered some powerful messages to the Jewish people. It is even unclear whether he personally wrote the Book of Malachi or whether it was recorded after his death. Read the rest of this entry »


Ebb and Flow in the Book of Numbers

October 28, 2014

Redeeming Relevance in the book of numbers

Rabbi Francis Nataf, author of Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Numbers, was interviewed  on Voice of Israel.

Rabbi Nataf shares his personal journey with Eve Harow. Deeply intelligent and thoughtful, his insights are profound.

You can listen to the interview here.


On The Israeli-Arab Conflict: A Biblical Perspective

July 17, 2014

by Nathan Lopez Cardozo [1] For the Love of Israel and the Jewish People

Impartial observers of the Middle East will realize that these are extraordinary times. Tens of thousands of Jews from many different countries are returning to their national and historic homeland after thousands of years. Arab states are beginning to reconsider their attitude towards Israel now that they realize that after more than fifty years, the Jewish state is here to stay.

Many gentiles throughout the world are showing a new and keen interest in the Bible, proclaiming fulfillment of the old biblical prophecies. The continuous conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs, especially the Palestinian Arabs, is a constant focus of world attention, allotted more broadcast hours and newspaper column space than any other conflict. It is the most discussed issue at the United Nations and the perceived root of international tension. It is believed to have the potential to cause a large-scale conflict in the Middle East and even a global confrontation.

However, the truth is more prosaic. The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something of a local affair. Looking on the world map, many larger hotbeds can be identified, with even greater issues at stake. For the religious mind all this presents a great challenge. What is the spiritual secret behind the conflict?

From a religious perspective, it seems that another, more profound point is being made. History is not made up of social, political, or economic factors alone, but also of spiritual forces that have far-reaching moral implications. As always, religious people will turn to the Torah and Jewish tradition, the blueprint of all history and reality, to seek deeper insight. It is the author’s hope that this essay might serve such a purpose. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Moses and the Path to Leadership and Redeeming Relevance

July 8, 2014

by Alan Jay GerberMosesWeb2

Rabbi Zvi Grumet’s “Moses and the Path to Leadership” [Urim Publications, 2014] is an excellent profile of the great lawgiver which will provide you with a rigorous, close analysis of his biography and leadership talents. This documents how he withstood the test of his leadership as a teacher and master of G-d’s law and teachings. The book’s topics are most timely to this season’s Torah readings of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. Moses’ talent and gift of resilience, trust, and wisdom, are given their timely due within the context of his leadership talents as a teacher of the holy writ. This book forces you to recast your previous regard to Moses’ place in the history of our people. Read this work with caution as well as respect; both the subject and the author richly deserve it.

Rabbi Grumet is a musmach (recipient of rabbinic ordination) of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and is a graduate of Yeshiva University. He is a senior staff member of The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, coordinator of the Bible Department at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi, and a distinguished faculty member at the Pardes Institute.

Rabbi Francis Nataf’s latest chumash commentary “Redeeming Relevance” [Urim Publications, 2014] deals with the Redeeming Relevance in the book of numbers
Book of Numbers. This commentary contains a relevance that gives it a heft both intellectually and religiously, a factor that is a rare commodity today among our Bible commentators. This quality is found in the way Rabbi Nataf deals with such complicated personalities such as Bil’am, Korach, the daughters of Tzelofchad, the spies, and the actions of the tribes of Shimon, Levi, Reuven, and Gad. Chumash is rarely taught in this manner at most shul shiurim, but it can be had by the simple addition of this work into your shul library.

Excerpts were taken from “On July 4th, warm summer book suggestions” The Jewish Star (July 2, 2014)

To see the full list of book suggestions click here.


Ten Questions with Bible Scholar R’ Ben Zion Katz

October 20, 2013

Reposted from TheTorah.comDocumentaryHypothesis-fullCover_1.5

1) How did you come across academic biblical studies?
I have been interested in these issues since my last year of high school, when I learned of E. A. Speiser’s Anchor Bible volume on Genesis from a young rabbinical student, and the following year at Touro College, where I took courses in Western literature and the Ancient Near East with Professor Albert Baumgarten. For me, this has led to a life-long passion where I have read much primary, scholarly literature in the field as well as material written for ambitious lay readers. The culmination of this study came upon my publishing a short book (A Journey Through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis [Urim, 2012]) in which I have set forth my thoughts on these matters.

2) Can you give us a short overview of your book?
In the first 2 chapters of my book I critically examine the linguistic and literary evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis. In chapters 3-8, I demonstrate that traditional Bible exegetes can also be quite critical, in ways that would probably not be acceptable in today’s yeshiva world. In the concluding chapter I provide an approach that I believe is traditional and academically sound, based on early sources that assume the pre-existence of scrolls that Moshe then incorporated into the Torah.

3) As a traditional Orthodox Jew, why do you value academic study?
An academic by nature, I cannot shut off my academic brains when I study Jewish texts.  As an experimentalist and a practitioner of evidence-based medicine, it takes hard data to make me change my mind.  With this outlook, I believe that Orthodox Judaism today is much less broad than Rabbinic Judaism has been in centuries past, but at the same time, modern, academic Bible scholarship is not always the hard science many of its practitioners claim it to be.  Be that as it may, modern academic scholarship has much to teach the faith community who take the Bible religiously, be they Orthodox Jews or fundamentalist Christians.

4) Can you give us some examples of what academia has taught you about Torah?
Yes. The tragic story of Yiphtach and his daughter (Judges 11:29-40) cannot be understood without realizing that houses in ancient Israel were constructed on 3 sides of a courtyard, with the animals housed outside (where we today would often have a lawn); thus when Yiphtach rashly vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house after his battle with the Ammonites (Judges 11:30-31) he thought the first thing that would come out to greet him would be an animal, not his daughter.  Egyptologists explain that Joseph’s Egyptian name Tzaphnat Pa-aneah means “sustainer of life” an apt name for the one who saves Egypt from famine, and that Moshe’s name means born of (water), while Ramses’ name means born of Ra.

5) Was there ever a time that in your life that you did not accept the traditional belief?
Not really.  I have never been convinced of the evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis. However, unlike a fundamentalist (and as I say in my book) I can outline the type of proof that would persuade me of its truth – e.g. finding a scroll similar to P or D. Right now, for me, the Documentary Hypothesis is like evolution without fossils.  If hard evidence were ever discovered, I would need to rethink my approach. Read the rest of this entry »


A Review of Passages

October 2, 2013

by Nira G. WolfePassagesWeb1

“For as his name is, so is he” (1 Samuel 25:25): Passages follows meticulously the fifty-four weekly biblical parashot. Rabbi Michael Hattin presents his summary of the various texts by naming each parasha with a new descriptive title. He then leads the reader to a deeper and more profound understanding of the parasha. What is particularly notable is that the reader can beneficially implement what he learns from this book into his daily life.

Rabbi Hattin describes his technique clearly in his introduction. Each parasha starts with a synopsis, followed by the discussion of important topics and concludes with suggestions for further study. An outline of a specific parasha will illustrate Hattin’s method: 1. “Vayera” (Genesis 18:1-22:24); Avimelech’s Pledge: synopsis; The Theme of the Parasha and the Episode of the Akeda; The visit of Avimelech; The Elements of the Encounter; The Interpretation of the Rashbam; The Theme of Covenant; God’s Pledge to Avraham; Reevaluating the Episode of the Akeda; For Further Study. A list of “The Rishonim: 11th – 16th Centuries” concludes the volume.

Passages utilizes a unique format Read the rest of this entry »


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