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February


In Defense of Sacrifices


Reading of sacrifices in the Bible, many are mortified to think that ancient Israelites would slaughter animals at the Temple. It seems primitive, bloody, even barbaric. As someone who has not eaten chicken or meat in over thirty years, I nonetheless want to defend the practice. When we buy meat, most of us do so after the animal has been killed, sliced up, packaged, and priced. We never confront the reality of our purchase or of our appetites. We don’t see the actual butchery and don’t think about it. The killing itself, even when it is kosher, has nothing like…

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January


What’s In a Name?


When God approaches Moses at the burning bush, Moses is very reluctant to go to the people. He asks God “When I come to the Israelites and say, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you’ and they ask me ‘what is God’s name’ what shall I say?” God answers with the famously enigmatic, “Ehyeh-Asher- Eyeh”: I am that I am. Many interpretations have been offered concerning God’s name. What is not so often noticed is that, having asked for God’s name — Moses never repeats it to the Israelites. Why does Moses ask? He has been surrounded…

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The Prayer of Natural Beauty


In his later years, the renowned Rabbi, Samson Raphael Hirsch, suddenly announced that he was going to Switzerland to climb in the Alps. “Why?” asked his astonished students. “Because when I come face to face with the Creator of the universe,” mused Hirsch, “I know He will look down at me and say ‘So, Shimshon, did you see My Alps?’” Appreciating beauty is an act of devotion. That is why Judaism contains blessings for seeing beautiful mountains, the ocean, a rainbow, and other natural sights. The Talmud advises that one should pray only in a room which has windows. To…

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Pollination


There are plants in Hawaii that are endangered because their natural pollinator is rare or extinct. People climb mountains and go from plant to plant pollinating them by hand. In certain periods of our history, an analogous process occurred. Scholars became rare in certain cities. Other scholars, the natural pollinators, would travel from community to community, bringing learning and light. They would climb mountains, both literally and metaphorically, to ensure that the nectar of Torah was spread. Modernity has blessed us with both learned individuals and the means to transmit that learning both near and far. All the apparatus of…

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