Clouds of Glory: Pekudei 5779

“What do you mean, Rabbi? The clouds are mysterious—it’s like being on Sinai!” This statement by a rabbinical student consoled me several years ago on the summit of Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks. Each fall I take a minyan or so of students hiking for the weekend, and on that day, we had spent many…

From Mishkan to the Mind of God: VaYakheil/Shekalim 5779

What are you thinking? That is an interesting question, but perhaps more important is, how are you thinking? Consciousness is one of the most mysterious aspects of our existence. We know that we have brains, and that they have mechanisms for receiving stimuli, but how does one go from mechanical information processing to consciousness? And,…

Missing Miriam: Ki Tissa 5779

I feel sympathy for Aaron. While his brother Moses is enjoying a one on One visit with God on top of Sinai, Aaron faces a restive crowd below, desperately trying to hold them off. As Rashi notes, Aaron’s suggestion that the people surrender their jewelry was a delaying tactic until Moses would return, but the…

Pennies for Heaven: Terumah 5779

How do you feel about fund-raising? For many people it is an unwelcome task, but pause to consider the expression, which refers to the elevation of money towards a higher purpose. That is the literal meaning of the word תרומה. Most Bible translations render it simply as “offering” or “donation,” but a few preserve the…

From Mishpatim to MobileEye. Who is Responsible? 5779

Is a person liable for damage caused by their property? For example, if I direct an autonomous vehicle to drive me to the store, and the car runs over property or injures or even kills an animal or a person, is it my fault? Can it be partially my fault? How should we decide? Such…

Sharing Sinai with all that lives: Yitro 5779

What is the significance of Sinai for animals? This might sound like a strange question—the theophany was for people, right? If anything, we might say that animals were instruments in the form of sacrifices—those brought by Yitro at the start of the portion, and those described by God in the Decalogue postscript about earthen and…

Dissonant Beauty by the Sea: BiShalah 5779

It’s awesome to discover something precious where you don’t expect it to be. I had that feeling this week when I found a theory of music and a celebration of diversity in the introduction to a 19th century halakhic code. More on that below. On this Shabbat Shirah I’d like to know how the song…

Becoming Conscious: Shabbat Bo 5779

How do you explain consciousness? The inner sense that each of has of being alive, of making decisions, of directing our bodies, of remembering, of feeling, of knowing—where does all of this come from? Why does it ebb at times of sleep, and return when we awaken? It is horrifying to imagine being alive and…

A Tent to Stand for all Time: Terumah 5778

Tent pole technology keeps improving. Newer models have lightweight, aluminum poles that are flexible, threaded with elastic to keep together, and color-coded to help fit them in the right clips and sleeves. When you are trying to assemble a tent as it starts to rain, the wind whips up and the light fades, you really…

Singing at Sinai: Yitro 5778

Seeking inspiration to spin faster on a stationary bike, I recently searched Spotify for an old song and came up with “Swingtown” by the Steve Miller Band. I don’t think I had heard it in decades, but I was instantly taken back to my 15 year old self, at least in my mind. Tedious exercise…

Sweet Bitter Waters: B’Shalah 5778

Between the Reed Sea and Sinai comes Israel’s first trek and camping adventure. At Marah they find only bitter waters, but at Elim they are blessed with twelve springs and seventy date palms. What a difference decent food and water make when you are out in the wild! Anxiety about sustenance can quickly erode all…

Is He Unhinged? Bo 5778

Pharaoh is getting flustered, acting erratically and not making much sense. His servants have asked him, “Don’t you realize that Egypt is lost?” One senses that he is rattled by their condescending tone. Then he summons Moses and explodes, “Go, serve the Lord your God–who are the ones to go?” It’s a bit grotesque to…