Judaism/Spirituality

OzTorah: Torah reading – Vayikra

A DEBATE BETWEEN GOD & MOSES. The tiny alef at the end of the word “Vayikra” has aroused the mind of countless generations. Normally every letter of the Chumash is written in standard size, neither bigger nor smaller than the others. This alef is an exception, and the Ba’al HaTurim …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

PROVING GOD. Question. How can you prove there is a God? Answer.   I have two quarrels with your question. The first quarrel is with the delineation of what the real issue is. What is the real issue? Whether there is God, not “a” (i.e. any) God. If there is …

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OzTorah:Torah reading-Vayakhel & P’kudei

SORRY RABBI, BUT I’M BORED. Congregant: “Rabbi, I’m sorry to jump on you like this at the Kiddush, but I want you to know why I probably won’t come to shule next week. “I more or less tolerated all those chapters a few weeks ago when the narrative was about …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

KOSHER BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS. Question.   All too often I see stories in the media about religious Jews who cheat others in business. Isn’t this a contradiction in terms? Answer.      Not only is it a contradiction, but it was specifically targeted by Rabbi Yisra’el Salanter (1810-1883) who founded the “Mussar” (“Ethical …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Ki Tissa

      WHO IS A GOOD JEW? This is the accepted translation of the opening words of the sidra: “When you take a count of the Children of Israel according to their number, each one shall pay a ransom for his soul.” The message seems to be that every …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

HAMAN & MORDECHAI – REVERSE IMAGES. Countless generations have found it amusing. Some are completely scandalised. The halachah tells us that on Purim one should imbibe “until one does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai'”. Maimonides does not take this too literally but thinks …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – T’tzavveh

 COUNTING THE COMMANDS. Enshrined in the name of the sidra is the verb “tz-v-h”, to command. Everyone knows the noun “mitzvah” which derives from this verb. (Even those who claim to know no Hebrew actually are aware of a bevy of Hebrew words, beginning with “shalom” and covering a host …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

THE REAL STORY OF PURIM. Question.   Why do we make such a fuss about Purim when the whole story was a minor episode in the life of a Diaspora community, away from the mainstream of Jewish history? Answer.     This is the generally accepted interpretation of Purim, but it is …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – T’rumah

HOW TO BE A DONOR. When the historian Cecil Roth called the post-war period the Philanthropic Age he had in mind the massive needs of Israel and the Jewish world in constructing a new age. Roth was speaking in the 1960s and since then the challenges have not grown any …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

LIVING WITH GUILT. Question.     I am annoyed with myself for doing the wrong thing. How can I get over my guilt? Answer.        You can’t. You can live with guilt, but use it constructively. Instead of obsessing, recognise where you went wrong, and use that knowledge to do right. …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Mishpatim

THESE – AND THESE. The sidra opens with an “and”: “And these are the judgments you shall place before them”. The “and” clearly links this sidra with last week’s, which describes the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, when, hushed into silence, the whole of creation waited for the …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

EXECUTING TERRORISTS. Question.    Should terrorists who commit murder be executed? Answer.      Written and conventional legal systems all agree that murder is wrong. Human life, without distinction as to creed, colour or ethnicity, is sacred and must be preserved. Even the person who carries out a killing has …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Yitro

SOUND OR SILENCE? Read chapter 19 of Sh’mot and see how many words are about noise – thunder, lightning, voice, speech. Read midrashic commentary and see how many words are about silence – hush, quiet, serenity, calm. Which set of words is more true? They both are. The Giving of …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

MAZEL TOV TO THE TREES. Mazel tov to the trees. This week, on 15 Sh’vat, they will have their new year. Not that they are probably aware of it, though there is a Jewish belief that nature does have a form of self-awareness and even the trees and plants praise …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – B’shallach

EGYPTIAN SHAME. The Torah readings in recent weeks dealt with the ten plagues. We find them listed in short form in the Haggadah. They are part of Jewish history. But they don’t seem to figure in the Egyptian records. Strange, since they must have devastated the country and brought immense …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

PLAGIARISM. Question.     I read an article which sounded familiar. I checked and found that the author had lifted and passed off as his own work whole sections from something I had written. This is against Jewish law, isn’t it? Answer.        Plagiarism, the theft of another …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Bo

WHEN WE GET THERE.  As the plagues unfold things get more and more desperate for Pharaoh and the Egyptians until Pharaoh is almost ready to cave in (Ex. 10). He actually talks about letting the Israelites go to worship God in the wilderness but he asks who will be going …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

FREE WILL. Question.  Does Judaism believe that human beings really have free will? Answer.    The question has two aspects: 1. Do we choose what to do or are we controlled by God? 2. If we have free choice, does God know in advance what we will choose? Every Jewish …

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OzTorah: Torah reading – Va’era.

I APPEARED. Opening the sidra, God tells Moses, “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Almighty God, but by My Name ‘HaShem’ I did not make Myself known to them” (Ex. 6:2). The first thing we learn from these words is that God does not appear to anyone in …

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OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

STATUS OF THE FATHER. Question.   Everyone knows that the child of a Jewish mother is regarded as Jewish, regardless of who the father is.  If both parents are Jewish, does the father determine any aspect of the child’s Jewish identity? Answer.     The father determines whether one is a Kohen (one …

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