This week’s Torah portion tells the famous story of Moses’ sin at the “waters of Merivah,” for which he was denied entrance into the land. There was no drinking water for the people when they arrived at Midbar Zin, the story tells us, and so the Israelites complained and attacked Moses and Aaron for taking them out of Egypt.
The great classical Land of Israel liturgist, R. Eleazar Birbi Killir (7th c.), composed a number of piyyutim (hymns) in honor of the Giving of the Torah. The liturgical poems introducing the Kedushah (Doxology) on Shavuot, known as kedushtaot, are among his greatest poetic works.
Did the story of the exodus really happen? Did the entire Israelite people suffer slavery in Egypt before arriving in the land of Canaan? Many historians question this. They point to the lack of solid archeological evidence. More traditional scholars argue that the lack of evidence is an argument from silence. It is only natural that the Egyptian kings and scribes would fail to document the humiliating story of the Israelite rebellion and exodus. There is, however, a third alternative to the question of the exodus’ historicity.
Purim is a holiday whose meaning is shrouded in mystery. The only clear element is what we are commanded to do on Purim as set forth at the end of the Scroll of Esther: read the Megilla, hold a festive meal, and give gifts to the poor. This last mitzvah is not an administrative detail of a system of social justice. Yes, the Jewish people are commanded to pay a tax of half a shekel, as we read onShabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar. But gifts to the poor are another matter; giving charity is an expression of the direct, mutual economic responsibility between people.
The splitting of the Red Sea and the Children of Israel’s rescue from Egypt in Exodus 13-16 is the climax and conclusion of the long episode of the Exodus from Egypt that starts in Exodus 4. The Children of Israel’s escape from the Egyptians is described as a double miracle – God “split” the sea to enable the Children of Israel to cross it and then brought the waters down to finish off the Egyptians. The Children of Israel are commanded to observe this double miracle in order to testify to future generations about the Divine salvation they were privileged to experience. They respond to the event by singing the “Song of the Sea”, which expresses the greatness of the miracle, the survivors’ joy and the praise for God in their hearts. Jewish, Christian and Muslim artists throughout history dealt with the splitting of the Red Sea. The great interest in this episode surely stems from its inherent drama and visual elements. But as we will see below, artists interpret the event very differently emphasizing various themes.
One of the most curious phenomena associated with the rituals of the Second Temple Judaism is the water libation offered at the Temple on Sukkot. The Torah prescribes a very strict and detailed regime of sacrifices: these include offerings of incense and livestock; grain in various forms, sometimes mixed with oil and frankincense; and libations of wine upon the altar. The exact composition of the offering appropriate for each occasion is strictly regulated; violation of these strictures, and the unauthorized offering of sacrifices on the Temple altar, are considered serious offenses.
According to the Rabbis, Shavuot, like the other festivals of the Jewish year, has a specific date on the calendar; it is celebrated each year on the sixth day of Sivan. However, a cursory glance at the table of festivals in Leviticus chapter 23 reveals that Shavuot stands out from the other festivals ordained in that chapter – Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot:
A well-known theory about the Exodus posits that a slave revolt lay behind the biblical account. See the discussion in W.H. Propp, Exodus 1–18 (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1999), pp. 741-744. Basing itself on historical sources, the hypothesis proposes a connection between large population movements in the eastern Mediterranean during the 2nd millenium BCE and the Israelite departure from Egypt. Can we find any support in the Bible for the idea of a popular rebellion?
The article The Binding of Isaac: Piety and Protest explores this week’s Torah Portion “Vayera” in a totally new light: through the eyes of the artist. The article is one of 27 found on the TALI website Visual Midrash. The site, the first on-line fine and folk-art index of the Bible and its commentaries, was created by Dr. Jo Milgrom, Israel’s primary lecturer in “art as midrash” at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and biblical scholar, Dr. Joel Duman. The website is based on Dr. Milgrom’s archive of art images collected over a lifetime of teaching and pioneering the field of art as Biblical commentary. Over 950 catalogued images are now accessible on the Visual Midrash Web site, with essays in English and Hebrew on 28 biblical themes. Altogether, Milgrom has donated 3,000 slides from her personal collection to this project. To read more about the project, click here.
How we wish we could go back in time and stand at Sinai – to experience those three days of excited preparation, the sounds and the lightening, the heavy cloud, the loud blow of the shofar, the smoking mountain, God in the descending fire, Moses and God speaking to one another. If we could only, even for a brief moment, hear the voice of God, Master of the Universe, our Father, speaking to us to say: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt from the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”[note]Exodus 22.[/note] We yearn to merit the experience of receiving the Torah at Sinai directly from God: “Not through an angel, not through a seraph and not through a messenger. The Holy One, blessed be He, did it in His glory by Himself!”[note]Pesach Haggadah.[/note]