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Phinehas – the Slayer of Uncertainty

A strange episode at the end of the last Torah portion, Balak, where Phinehas (Pinchas) slain a Jewish prince caught in the act with a heathen woman, is rewarded in this week’s eponymous Torah portion with the priesthood.  This begs the question, what is the connection between the act of zealotry by Phinehas and the reward of priesthood he receives for it? By way of background, as we read in the previous Torah portion, the evil king, Balak, fails to bring a curse on the Jewish people by Balaam (Bilam).  According to Midrash, Balaam advises Balak to send most beautiful Midian women to seduce Jewish men (see Flavius Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter VI, Paragraphs 6-12). Balak heads the advice and uses Moabite and Midianite women to seduce Jewish men [...]

Leprous Cats and Angry Birds

In the Torah portion Tazriah (Leviticus 13), the Schrödinger cat[1] gets leprosy. Well, it’s not really leprosy, it’s a mysterious supernatural disease called tzara’as, nowadays translated as psoriasis. And it’s not a cat, but a Jew who gets afflicted by tzara’as. In fact, cats, other animals, and even gentiles (i.e., non-Jewish humans) are immune to this spiritual malady. So why do I call a poor Jew afflicted with tzara’as a “Schrödinger cat”? Because he sure acts like one. Indeed, had I not studied quantum mechanics and had I not learned about the collapse of the wave function[2] back at the university, I would have surely discovered it by reading this Torah portion (parshah)! A Jewish person with a skin lesion or boldness (present company excluded) is brought to a priest (kohen), who examines it [...]

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