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Parashat Devarim

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Off The Pulpit: Current NewsletterRabbi David Wolpe   "Hidden Treasures"
by Rabbi David Wolpe


Hebrew has no one letter words. The word for "I" is Ani which begins with the letter aleph. Aleph is a silent letter. Referring to oneself then, should begin in silence. 
 
Over the centuries, people have uncovered wonders in Hebrew. The difference between the word for man and woman (ish / ishah) is a heh, which is also a sign of God. Both man and woman have the word for "fire" in them; so between the two there is fire and more often than not, it is the woman who brings God into the relationship. You see how the game is played? 
 
Take the last letter of the Torah, Lamed, and the first, Bet, switch them, and you get Lev, heart. If you take the first, middle and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet — aleph, mem and taf, you get the word emeth, truth. Because truth is the first and last value, and must be observed all along the way. Once you add gematria, since each Hebrew letter has numerical values (as in chai =18) there is no end to the ingenuity of combinations. Learn our language, spin it around, play, calculate, and discover.  

pdf filedownload here

pdfHidden Treasures

Hebrew has no one letter words. The word for "I" is Ani which begins with the letter aleph. Aleph is a silent letter. Referring to oneself then, should begin in silence. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfFruits From the Tree

Professor Louis Ginzberg was the greatest scholar of rabbinic Midrash in his day, with a vast range of learning in many languages. My father told me that once, at a reception at the Jewish Theological Seminary where Ginzberg taught, a woman approached him and in the course of discussion, began arguing with him about a point in Midrash. After a long, fruitless argument, Ginzberg said, "Why don't we check the Jewish Encyclopedia — would you accept that as an authority?" The woman agreed. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfThe Funeral Director

A word for a profoundly Jewish, but often disrespected profession: God bless funeral directors. 

For many years as a Rabbi, I have marveled at the skill and care of funeral directors. My father, a Rabbi in Philadelphia, would often recount how his friend, Joseph Levine, would care for those who were bereaved and frightened, and gently guide them.

  ...click here to read more


pdfParataxis

Rabbi Moshe Taub pointed out to me that of the eighty-five sentences in the book of Ruth, all but eight begin with "and." Parataxis is the name scholars give to the practice of recounting a string of happenings without explanation or causality. E.M. Forster wrote that, "the queen died and the king died" is a story; "The queen died and the king died of grief" is a plot. Children tell plotless, paratactic stories: "and he said. And I said. And then..." 

  ...click here to read more


pdfBefore and After

The Talmud teaches us (Berachot, 21a) that the requirement to say a blessing after a meal comes from a verse in the Torah (Deut. 8:10) and to recite it before the meal comes from a logical imperative. But, the reverse is true with Torah study; the source for reciting a blessing before is from a verse (Deut. 32:3). 

  ...click here to read more


pdfSchooled by Suffering

Virgil's Dido declares, "I have known sorrow — and learned to help the sad." In that simple declaration is much of the secret of human wisdom. Our own experience should move through an internal sifting process of learning and growth, and school us into a means for helping others.

  ...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

pdfTaking Panes

One should pray in a room that has windows. In e Talmud R. Hiyya Bar Abba cites the book of Daniel, (6:11): "and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem [he prayed]."

  ...click here to read more


pdfA Very Great Distance

For the first time on this year's Israel Independence Day, there are over six million Jews living in the land of Israel. More Jews live in Israel than were murdered in the Shoah.

  ...click here to read more


pdfRabbi Yisroel and the Cat

Once, right before Yom Kippur, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was seen scurrying about, trying to get a cat to enter his home. His students were puzzled — why was their famous teacher bothering with a cat, and why on the eve of the holiest day of the year?

  ...click here to read more


pdfHate Your Brother?

Famously, we are told to, "Love your neighbor as yourself." But in the preceding verse we are advised, "Do not hate your brother in your heart." (Lev. 19:17-18) Why are we commanded to love our neighbor and only commanded not to hate our brother?

  ...click here to read more


pdfJe Ne Regrette Rien

People sometimes say that they have no regrets. I confess I am at a loss to understand the statement.

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfWhat's in a Name?

The Hebrew book of Exodus is called "Sh'mot," names. Yet the first extended story, about the slavery from Egypt, records none of the names of the Egyptians save for the midwives, Shifra and Puah (although some commentators claim them as Jews, it seems clear the Torah intends them to be taken for Egyptians.) Even Pharaoh is a title, not a name — one of the reasons it is so difficult to determine which Pharaoh should be associated with the time period.

  ...click here to read more


pdfA Parenting Lesson

The first morning blessing thanks God for the ability to distinguish between day and night. The most immediate reference is to the dawn; the worshiper wakes and is grateful for the rising sun. But as Passover reminds us, there is a deeper meaning.

  ...click here to read more


pdfA Parenting Lesson

When Adam and Eve are fashioned in the Garden of Eden, the Torah makes an important editorial comment: "Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife." My best guess is that comment was to pacify parents.

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfChoice, Fate, and Faith

The great Greek playwright Aeschylus tells us that Prometheus gave the world two gifts — fire and ignorance of our own fate. In other words, an uncertain future, and the power to shape it; both light and darkness.

  ...click here to read more


pdf"Is That What You're Wearing?"

One of the greatest pleasures of Shabbat is disapproving of what other people wear. So please, permit me the pleasure. The Talmud comments that honoring the Sabbath mandates that one's dress not be the same as on weekdays. In the Torah Rebecca helped Jacob impersonate his brother not only by putting hair on Jacob's arms, but by dressing him in Esau's clothes. Rabbi Naphtali of Rushpitz's explanation is that Rebecca understood that dressing like Esau would allow Jacob to feel more like Esau, because what we wear effects who we are.

  ...click here to read more


pdfAre You Really Sure?

The human mind inclines toward certainty. Having been involved in my share of arguments, beginning with the childhood dinner table (an excellent place to learn both the skills of debate and the fine art of going only slightly too far), I know that arguing is mostly a process of persuading oneself that one was right in the first place. Who has not heard scientists extol the certainties of scientific knowledge, religious people astonishingly secure in their understanding of God, and all of us pronounce others "simply wrong" with no more prompting or expertise than the skill of thumping a fist and nodding a head?

  ...click here to read more


pdfParadox, Pompey, and the Female Mosquito

The ancient historian Tacitus recounts that when Jerusalem was conquered and the Roman general Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, he found it empty. Surely this perplexed the future Emperor. Uniquely among ancient civilizations, there was no image or picture of God in the Temple. Pompey probably did not know it, but he was witnessing Judaism’s greatest counterintuitive gift to the world.

  ...click here to read more


pdfParadox, Pompey, and the Female Mosquito

The ancient historian Tacitus recounts that when Jerusalem was conquered and the Roman general Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, he found it empty. Surely this perplexed the future Emperor. Uniquely among ancient civilizations, there was no image or picture of God in the Temple. Pompey probably did not know it, but he was witnessing Judaism’s greatest counterintuitive gift to the world.

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfTorah: To Elevate Or Denigrate?

"Jerusalem was destroyed" teaches the Talmud, "because judgments were rendered strictly upon the law of the Torah." In other words, the quality of mercy was missing from the courts of the day. Untempered by humility and humanity, the law is destructive.

  ...click here to read more


pdf5 Books For Everyone to Read

I'm often asked to recommend books. Here 5 unique and powerful modern works that you may have missed or forgotten. These works will enrich, elevate and educate any Jew, indeed, any human being. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfGive it Away!

Rabbi Tarfon was very rich. One day Rabbi Akiva met him and said "My master, shall I purchase for you a town or two?" "Yes" said Rabbi Tarfon, and immediately gave Rabbi Akiva 4,000 gold dinars. Akiva distributed the money to poor scholars. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfIdolatry

Idolatry is alluring. An idol is something one can touch and feel and is made with human hands. Although idols in antiquity traditionally represented forces beyond themselves, they were still the visible, tangible symbols to which people clung and to which they prayed.

  ...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

January

pdfBaseball and Memory

When I was nine my father took me from Harrisburg to Baltimore for my first live baseball game. The Orioles won, 6-2 (I remember that Elston Howard hit a home run for the Yankees.) We drove back home and I slept the entire way, shocked and muddled when we pulled up in front of the house. 

  ...click here to read more


pdfThe Masterpiece of Sorrow

The book of Job is sunk in sorrow. It tells the troubling story of a man tested by every misfortune, including the egregious speeches of his friends, who manages nonetheless to keep faith. Job refuses to turn away from the God who has turned away from him. 

  ...click here to read more


 

pdfNo Knowing God

Our ideas of God are expressed through metaphors. Since we cannot begin to know what God is, we try to imagine what God is like — a King, a rock, a father, a fortress, a protector. As we expand our images so we expand our conception of God. 

When we read in Isaiah, "As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you" (66:13) it presents a different God than the usual imagery. It is the same God, of course, but our minds and souls embrace a larger idea. 

...click here to read more


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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