midrash

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Noah — the First Inventor

At the end of the first chapter of the Torah, Genesis (Bereshit), God regrets, as it were, creating humanity that became depraved: And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth… And the Lord said: ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth…; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.’” (Gen. 6:5-7) Nevertheless, one man, Noah (Heb. Noach), found favor in the eyes of God: But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8) We don’t learn about Noah’s righteousness until the following weekly Torah portion, Noach.  So, what did Noah do to find favor in the eyes of God? The hint may be found in the earlier verse narrating Noah’s birth and his naming by [...]

Fractal Patterns in the Torah

In the Torah portion Emor (Leviticus 21:1–24:23), we are instructed to abstain from work every seventh day on Shabbat. Next week’s Torah portion, Behar, continues this theme and instructs us to abstain from agricultural work every seventh Sabbatical year, Shmita. And the Torah doesn’t stop there. It instructs us to count seven Shmitas and then observe a Jubilee, Yovel. Do you notice a pattern? Every seven days, every seven years, every seven Shmitas… Furthermore, the Midrash states the world will exist for seven thousand years with the seventh millennium being a thousand years of the kingdom of Mashiach (Messiah)—yom shekuloy Shabbat—one long Shabbat. A second-century sage, Rabbi Huniah ben HaKanah, interprets this Midrash to mean that the world will last seven Cosmic Shmitas, i.e., 49 thousand years (which, according to a prominent 13th–14th [...]

Joseph teaches Pharaoh a lesson in fundamental forces

This week, we read in the Torah portion Vayigash (Gen. 44:18–47:27) about Joseph revealing himself to his brothers and Jacob coming to Egypt with his family. This storyline culminates by Joseph presenting his brothers and his father to Pharaoh. A curious thing, though—instead of presenting all eleven brothers, Joseph presents only five. This fact does not escape the attention of Rashi, who comments as follows: Joseph chose the weakest of his brothers to avoid conscription of the brothers to the military service in the Pharaoh’s army. This explanation always left me dissatisfied. Even if it explains why Joseph presented fewer than all of his brothers to Pharaoh, it does not explain the number—why five? Why not one, or two, or three? The number five in Hebrew is represented by the letter Heh. I submit to [...]

Forty Two Journeys to the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

These are the journeys of the children of Israel… (Numbers 33:1) When G-d brought the Jews out from Egypt, He brought them out with the mystery of the 42-letter name, just as He created heaven and earth… (Zohar Chadash) The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in the life of every individual Jew, as his soul journeys from its descent to earth at birth to its return to its Source. (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)   Torah portion Massei (Num. 33-35) recalls forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert after the Exodus from Egypt. This is not the first time the concept of forty-two journeys appears in the Torah.  Commenting on the Biblical verse, "And God said, 'Behold, I Will Cause to Rain Bread from Heaven for You,’” (Ex. 25:5) [...]

Maarat HaMachpelah – Double Cave

Give me the Machpelah (double) Cave Genesis 23:9 The first legal acquisition of land in Israel takes place in this Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, when Abraham purchases a double cave, Maarat HaMachpelah, in the city of Chevron (Hebron) as an ancestral burial plot. Today, the immense rectangular structure built over the cave more than 2000 years ago during Herodian era is the oldest house of worship in the world in continuous use. Biblical commentator Rashi explains that the cave was called Machpelah (lit., double) because it had two structures—an upper chamber and a lower chamber. (Another explanation given in the Talmud relates the name of this cave to thee couples buried there—Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. According to Kabbalah, Adam and Eve are buried there as well (Zohar, Ruth 96). Cave of the Patriarchs [...]

Passover, Shabbat and the Principle of Least Action

There is hardly a Jewish holiday more widely celebrated than Passover (Pesach). Jews of all denominations, affiliations, and levels of religious observance, if any at all, gather at the Passover Seder to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. What is often lost amid all of the beautiful rituals, not least among them the singing of Had Gadia and other Seder songs, is the deep meaning of this holiday, which is far more profound than a mere recollection of historical events, no matter how important they may be. What is, then, the deeper meaning of the Passover that transcends its historical significance? On the morrow of Shabbat One obscure and little-known (outside of the observant Jewish community) commandment ("mitzvah") may lead us to a deeper understanding of the meaning of the Passover [...]

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