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    You can’t opt out – Ki Tetzei

    September 4th, 2022

    If you see someone’s animal gone astray, you can’t just hide (Deut. 22:1-13).

    Of course you’re busy. Of course you’re short of time. Of course you have your own problems. Of course you don’t want to get involved. But the Torah leaves no room for opting out: you can’t hide or just walk past.

    You must restore a lost animal to its owner, and in the meantime look after the animal. If someone’s animal has fallen over you have to help lift the animal up again (Deut. 22:4).

    It’s not just animals that you have to concern yourself with, though that is already a unique part of Jewish ethics. It’s your fellow human-being whom you must assist and support. The Golden Rule is to love a neighbour as yourself (Lev. 19:18), equating him to yourself, seeking his welfare as you would seek your own.

    Kodesh isn’t always good – Ki Tetzei

    September 4th, 2022

    In Devarim 22:9 we are told not to sow a vineyard with two kinds of seed pen tikdash – “lest the fullness of the seed be forfeited”.

    Targum Onkelos thinks the root k-d-sh – which is usually something good and sacred – sometimes goes to the opposite extreme and means “to become defiled”. Rashi translates the word as “disgusting”.

    Rashbam and Ramban suggest that it means “to become prohibited as if it were consecrated, which would remove it from availability to the general public”.

    This latter interpretation explains why Jewish marriage is k-d-sh – the wife is now unavailable to anyone other than her husband. Temple property is k-d-sh because it cannot be used for a non-sacred purpose. Shabbat is k-d-sh, since it is a day devoted to God and not available for weekday activities.

    Tribes & tribunals – Shof’tim

    August 28th, 2022

    Parashat Shof’tim opens with the command to appoint judges and officers “in all your gates which the Lord your God gives you for your tribes” (Deut. 16:18).

    The judges rendered verdicts, which the officers administered. Rashi says, following tradition, that “gates” means “city gates”. Hence there are to be judges in every town and tribal centre.

    Ramban is concerned at the possibility that a tribe will end up with a multiplicity of courts and the judges might not all function in the same way. He is especially concerned about cities such as Jerusalem where more than one tribe lives. Jerusalem would have to provide for two tribes, Judah and Benjamin.

    Rashi says that if a city has to cater for two tribes, a litigant could choose which court to go to. The judges would all follow the general principles of Torah law though they would take into account the particular facts of a case.

    Magic & mantras – Shof’tim

    August 28th, 2022

    The Torah is strongly against sorcery and witchcraft. Some Biblical books report the resort to sorcery but this echoes pagan practices. However, Judaism believes in a religious way of life that is clear, logical and moral.

    SM Lehrman writes that the only quasi-magical feature of Judaism is the way in which our faith continues to pulsate with dynamic life.

    Some gentile scholars such as JG Fraser think that magic was the populist origin of religion: people feared the supernatural and invented gods to protect themselves. Judaism says on the contrary that the beginning of religion was Revelation.

    God is not a wizard. He is all-wise, and His revealed will is our guide. Magicians don’t fit into Judaism.

    Walking after God – Re’eh

    August 21st, 2022

    The sidra says, “After the Lord your God shall you walk” (Deut. 13:5).

    The Hebrew text clearly says, “walk”, but since by definition God is totally incorporeal and has no bodily form or shape, how can we say that He walks? Isn’t walking a physical action?

    The Targum Onkelos, constantly alert to any anthropomorphism, expands the verse so that it becomes a metaphor, “You shall walk after the service of the Lord your God”. In other words, “walk along the path of Divine service”.

    The Midrash (Sifrei) and Talmud (Sotah 14a) say, “emulate the attributes of God – As He is merciful, so should you be merciful; as He is full of lovingkindness, so should you show lovingkindness”.