Bereshit 5782: Freewill from Forbidden Fruit

Who wouldn’t want to eat a fruit that makes them smarter? In Chapter 2 of Genesis, God places Adam in the Garden of Eden and invites the first people to taste any fruit in the garden, except for the fruit of one tree: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Why not? A disturbing…

Dreaming of the Future: Vayera 5781

Once again the pollsters blew it. As in 2016, so in 2020, predictions about election results have born little resemblance to the outcome. Why are we surprised? It is hard enough to describe events that have already happened with accuracy and perspective. The future? Who are we kidding? No doubt, explanations will be found for…

An Activist Covenant: Lekh Lekha 5781

Destiny is a seductive concept. The idea that our personal and even national history is somehow predetermined can be comforting, especially when hazards abound and the best path forward is hard to discern. Historian Niall Ferguson surveys the tenacity of deterministic thinking among religious and secular thinkers through the ages in his book Virtual History….

Miracle of Miracles: Noah 5781

What to make of miracles? They are among the most dramatic and beloved features of biblical narratives, but are distant from what most believe about reality. Wait, are they? Many modern people operate on a split screen, their rational analyses coexisting with magical thinking about fate, luck and miracles. Neuroscience has alerted us to the…

Rebounding from Crisis with Strength: Bereshit 5781

Like millions of American children in the 1970s, I tuned in weekly to ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The opening sequence showed skiers gracefully racing down a mountain, and then spectacularly wiping out while the narrator promised viewers “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Something tragic and true was contained in this…

Chariots of God: Lekh Lekha 5780

Once or twice a year I walk past the statue of Atlas on Fifth Avenue at 51 ST and imagine how it would feel to bear the weight of the whole world in your arms. The thought is absurd, of course, yet sometimes when one is overwhelmed it can feel that way. Many people experience…

Heed the Voice of Sarah: Shabbat Noah 5780

The closing lines of Parshat Noah are less dramatic and yet more remarkable than are the opening lines of Lekh Lekha. What possessed Terah and his extended family to depart Ur Chasdim and head toward Canaan? What did his sons think of the move? And what did their wives say? Did they have a say?…

Facing the Rising Tide Together: Noah 5779

If you like dramatic stories, then Parashat Noah is for you. Between the ark and the tower, the flood and the dispersion, there is high drama. A teacher of mine once argued, however, that the most important element of the portion is the least dramatic one: the genealogical tables. Noah dies at the end of…

Equals in Eden: Bereshit 5779

There is much to celebrate in the Torah’s first description not only of humanity but of gender. In Genesis 1:27-28 God creates the first person(s), male and female, in the divine image, and blesses them with the gifts of fertility and dominion. There may be a hint of non-binary gender here; there is more than…

Listen to Sarah’s Voice: Lekh Lekha 5778

What does Sarah have to say? She and Abraham were introduced at the end of Parashat Noah, and she is a major character in chapters 12-23 of Genesis. But we hear precious little from her. What is she thinking all this time? When her husband takes their family away from not only his homeland, but…

Moving the Matriarchs from Objects to Subjects: Lekh Lekha 5777

How dashing and heroic does Abram appear in his devotion to God! With alacrity he relocates upon command, risks everything to rescue his captive nephew Lot, and circumcises himself and all of his household males at the end of the portion. Yet there is also a moment in which Abram appears craven and insensitive, namely…

A Tale of Two Dystopias: Noah 5777

Does it feel lately that the fate of the world is at stake? If so, the Torah seems intent to validate and deepen our concern. Here we are just days before one of the most disconcerting elections in American history, and we have also arrived at Parashat Noah, the original dystopian tale. In fact, our…