The Revelation on Mt. Sinai . . . the giving of the Ten Commandments . . . our Torah portion, Yitro, describes the scene with great fanfare. The text has given cinematographers plenty of good material: thunder and lightning, smoke rising up into the sky, the whole mountain shaking violently, and the loud blaring of a horn, sometimes specifically called a shofar. Miraculous? Inspiring? Awesome? Yes, our Sages teach, but it was also really, really noisy.
When the medieval rabbis read about Sinai, they focus our attention on that seemingly unimportant detail of just how loud it all must have been. One medieval commentator, the French rabbi known as Rashbam, teaches that the description of God answering Moses "in thunder" is really a metaphor about the volume of God's voice—God had to shout to be heard over all of the other noise at Sinai! (see Rashbam on Exodus 19:19). And God was shouting for good reason. "The blast [of the shofar] was louder than any sound that had ever been heard before," Rashbam's contemporary, the Spanish sage Ibn Ezra writes on Exodus 19:16.
Following the giving of the Ten Commandments in last week’s Torah portion,Parashat Mishpatim brings us a diverse collection of civil, criminal, ritual, and ethical laws. Included in the parashah is a section of text that has become relevant to a topic that is highly contested in our day.
Next month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, a challenge to a restrictive Texas abortion law. It will be the first time in more than 20 years that the Supreme Court has heard an abortion case.
Anyone who has lived in New York City is familiar with the challenges of "small-space living." When I was apartment hunting in New York, I looked at one apartment where the kitchen was so small, the refrigerator was placed directly in front of the kitchen sink. In order to wash your dishes, the real estate agent explained, you could just stand off to the side and reach in. In the apartment I ended up taking, one of the bedrooms could only fit a bed — no other furniture at all. Luckily, my roommate was short enough to be able to stand underneath a loft bed to access a desk and a dresser.
Since I left New York, though, the concept of small-space living has come into vogue. HGTV, for example, currently airs three series on the glamour of living in spaces with an average size of 180 square feet. An article describes, "For some, the tiny house movement has become a way of life, adjusting to a smaller space and fewer possessions, with a goal of saving money and focusing on relationships and experiences."1
Just a few years after leaving New York City, when my husband and I moved into our not-so-tiny house, I remember wondering how we would ever fill the space. It was so much bigger than any of the apartments I'd lived in. I quickly got used to life in a house, and I'll admit that I much prefer it to the tiny apartment with the side-access sink. But a beautiful midrash on this week's Torah portion, Parashat T'rumah, suggests that God might think about things a little differently.
Ironically, this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah ("Sarah lived"), is not about Sarah's life but about her legacy. Beginning with mention of her death and of Abraham's great mourning for her, the parashah primarily focuses on the Bible's first story of betrothal, namely that of Isaac to his cousin Rebekah. The relationship between their engagement and subsequent marriage, and Sarah's legacy becomes clear as the parashah unfolds.
Friendships among siblings can be close and long-lasting. Many times, however, they are difficult to achieve or sustain. This week's parashah provides insight into the latter.
Parashat Vayeitzei opens with Jacob journeying from Beersheba to Haran. As the sun sets, he decides to spend the night outside in “the place,” hamakom, where he happens to be, resting his head on one of the stones that he has found there. The biblical text doesn’t tell us the name of this place. Presumably, Jacob himself does not know it. Yet it becomes clear in the next few verses that where exactly this place is and what it is called isn’t important. For after Jacob wakes up the next morning from a dream in which he encounters God, he comes to the life-changing realization that the Eternal is present in this place. “God is here although I didn’t know it initially,” Jacob thinks to himself. “Indeed, this awe-inspiring place is none other than the house of God” (paraphrasing Genesis 28:16-17).
In the midst of this week’s parashah, most of which focuses on Jacob’s return to the land of Canaan with his wives, maidservants, and children, is a lengthy story about Jacob’s only daughter, Dina (Genesis 34). While Jacob briefly appears in this story, he plays a surprisingly insignificant role. Indeed, after Jacob hears that Dina has been raped by Shechem, a local Hivite prince, he neither tells anyone nor takes any action, choosing to wait until his sons, who are in the fields tending to the livestock, return home (Genesis 34:5).
In this weekly podcast, we will offer insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. This week Rabbi Rick Jacobs delves deep into parashat Yitro from the book of Exodus. Enjoy!
Three ways to listen:
In this weekly podcast, we will offer insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. This week Rabbi Rick Jacobs delves deep into parashat Mishpatim from the book of Exodus. Enjoy!
Four ways to listen:
Parashat Lech L’cha tells us the story of the very beginning of Jewish history, when God says to Abraham and Sarah that they are to “go forth” and begin the story of Jewish commitment.