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My Name Is God, and I Am Pleased to Make Your Acquaintance

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth...[1] (Genesis 1:1)   Classical biblical commentators have given the first words of the Torah many different translations and have interpreted them to have many different meanings. That said, one simple aspect has received little attention—that God is introducing Himself to us. If we take poetic license and change the order of the words, the first phrase in the Torah could be loosely translated as: “[My name is] God—[Who], in the beginning, created the heaven and the earth.” God is introducing Himself to us as the Creator of everything—heaven (i.e., the spiritual) and earth (i.e., the material). This interpretation of the first verse in the Torah may be helpful for the following reason. In truth, God is entirely unknowable. The Creator of everything, including [...]

Wigner’s Friend Receives a Death Threat

It is related that on the day that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi died, the Sages decreed a fast, and begged for divine mercy so that he would not die. And they said: Anyone who says that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi has died will be stabbed with a sword. (Talmud, tr. Ketubot 104a)   We find an interesting example of the Wigner’s Friend paradox in the Gemara quoted above. The Gemara discusses the circumstances surrounding the death of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Juda the Prince, knows simply as the Rebbi), one of the greatest sages of Israel, who compiled Oral Torah in the Mishnah. Why did the Sages issued a death threat to “anyone who says that Rabbi has died” promising that he “will be stabbed with a sword”? The medieval Talmudist Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi (1520-1592), in [...]

The Final Frontier

In this Torah portion, Devarim (Deuteronomy 1-3), Moses recalls the travels through the Sinai desert when God told him: Be not at enmity with Moab, neither contend with them in battle; for I will not give thee of his land for a possession. (Deuteronomy 2:9) To put this into context, let us recall the covenant of the pieces (or covenant between the parts, Heb. Brit Bein HaBetarim), when God promised Avraham: On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates; the Kenite, and the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Rephaim, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Girgashite, and the Jebusite.” (Genesis 15:19-21) The medieval [...]

Mezuzah and Time

Bo: Exodus 10:1 – 14:16 The Erev Shabbat parshat Bo (the Eve of Sabbath of the week when we read the Torah section Bo) 2014 was my lucky day – I seem to have found an answer to a nagging question of many years. During several years from 1989 to 1996, I had been working on a book on Mezuzah.  This was not a book about halachot (ritual laws) of mezuzah – there were many books on that subject – this was a book about the meaning of mezuah – its significance in Jewish history, philosophy, ethics, and mysticism.  By 1996, the book was finished and I signed a contract with the leading publisher of English Judaica – Jason Aronson.  I was supposed to deliver the finished manuscript in a few months, but [...]

It’s the time, stupid!

There is a continuous thread about the mastery of time that weaves through the last chapters of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) and continues through the beginning of the book of Shemot (Exodus). The story of Joseph’s incarceration ends with his successful interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh’s chief butler and the chief baker. Joseph's genius was not only in interpreting ordinary objects (tendrils of grapes and baskets of bread) as symbols of the units of time but in understanding that the engagement in time (manifested in the chief butler’s personally squeezing the grapes into the cup and placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand) symbolized life for the chief butler and the passivity of the chief baker (who dreamt of baskets of bread sitting on his head, with birds eating from the baskets) [...]

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