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By Dr. Stephen Garfinkel | Associate Provost and Assistant Professor of Bible and Its Interpretation


What a magnificent and rich Torah reading we have this week, Parashat Va’et-hannan! It’s as if the Torah wants to compensate the Jewish community for the week gone by, a week during which we commemorated Tishah Be’av, the putative anniversary of so many devastating events that have occurred throughout Jewish history. This week’s “reward” is a reading that incorporates a restatement of the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:6-17) followed almost immediately by the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9).

Coincidentally, those two units were originally part of a basic prayer service as attested in the Nash

By Rabbi Joel Alter | Director of Admissions, The Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music, JTS


It’s not for nothing, this reputation God has for consuming anger. The Torah itself makes the case. Our parashah opens with yet another instance of God hovering at the brink. God is prepared to wipe us out in a rage over our incessant violations of the inviolable. We read in Numbers 25:10-15 that God grants Pinehas a “covenant of peace” for having leapt into action (at the end of last week’s parashah), publicly slaying two people who grossly violated sacred boundaries before the entire people.

By Rabbi Joel Alter | Director of Admissions, The Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music, JTS


A Distillation of Numbers 16:28-34

By this you will know
that all I have done
I have not done
of my own devising
but at God’s bidding:

If they cease to be
as all people cease to be
not God
has bidden me.

If that which has never been
(and which I now devise)
God brings into being
you will know
they have disdained God
(God has bidden me
all I have done).

If the earth eats them alive…

…the earth ate them alive.

And they were lost
from the people.

“The earth will swallow us whole.”


במדבר טז

כח וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה בְּזֹאת תֵּדְעוּן כִּי-יְהוָה שְׁלָחַנִי לַעֲשׂוֹת אֵת


Ex Libris Familiae Abraham (bookplate). BP 1:8:3. (1978)

It might be surprising, given  its association with the people’s sin of being dissuaded from entering the Land, that the motif of the two spies carrying an enormous bunch of grapes (Num. 13:23) became a popular Zionist symbol and eventually even the logo of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Indeed, it has been suggested by arts writer Menachem Wecker that several of the older Christian representations of this image deliberately portray the two grape-bearers in a negative light. (A few of those images are featured in this blog post).


By Dr. Raymond P. Scheindlin | Professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature


When the spies returned to the Israelite camp in the wilderness of Paran after scouting out the Land of Canaan, they reported that the land did indeed flow with milk and honey but that it could not be conquered. It was full of warlike people—Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Emorites, and Canaanites—men of enormous size and strength, giants descended from the sons of gods dwelling in fortified towns with walls that reached the sky.

By Rabbi Daniel S. Nevins | Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and Dean of the Division of Religious Leadership, JTS


The summer after graduating college, I went backpacking with a friend in North Cascades National Park in Washington. The sun shone brightly on Lake Chelan as we were ferried deep into the woods, landing at the little outpost of Stehekin to begin our weeklong trek. It was a euphoric beginning, but soon both the weather and my mood grew darker. Late one afternoon we were hiking up a long ridge when the icy drizzle became a frigid downpour. A tender spot on my foot blossomed into a painful blister, and each step was agony.

By Dr. Ismar Schorsch | Chancellor Emeritus of The Jewish Theological Seminary and Professor of Jewish History


This past week, my two-and-a-half year old granddaughter spotted me one morning davening by the window in our living room. She recognized the telltale signs of the act, my tallit and tefillin. Spontaneously, she announced her intention to daven also, took herself over to the drawer where we keep some old JTS benchers (small grace books), removed one, and proceeded to strut about with the bencher in her face. Later, I found the bencher on the floor in another room, but for a few tender moments at least, I had a precious soul mate in greeting God that morning.

The scene reminded me vividly of

By Dr. Sarah Diamant | Administrative Librarian for Special Collections, JTS


11 + 12 + 13 = 36

In blessing
are you blessed,
and in multiplying
are you multiplied,
eleven stars
become twelve tribes,
your dream of progeny
at the turning point,
where the thirteen ways
of God
are One.
And you,
upholder of the world,
are hidden
in the sum
of their completion,
in your answer
to the first question.

Echad Mi Yodea” is a traditional cumulative-number song found in the Haggadah. Each verse circles back to the Oneness of God.

The poem above is a play on verses 11, 12, and 13 of the song:

Eleven are the stars of Joseph’s dream.

By Rabbi Craig Scheff | Adjunct Lecturer of Professional and Pastoral Skills, JTS


Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a popular assessment tool for identifying and applying an individual’s strengths. The book is based on the premise that we should spend more time in our professional lives building upon our strengths than trying to overcome our weaknesses. The quote above refers to the person who possesses the “restorative” talent, the ability to resuscitate and rekindle the vitality of relationships. As many of our community’s graduates prepare to transition into new professional settings, their top priority ideally should be to match their strengths to the positions they seek.

By Rabbi William Friedman | Co-Director and Rosh Yeshivah, Nishma: A Summer of Torah Study in the JTS Beit Midrash


What kind of gift would you give a king? In the interests of both respect and self-preservation, probably the nicest thing you could afford! And if you’d give this to a human king, how much more would you give to the King of Kings of Kings? And yet the Torah prescribes that any grain offered in the Temple cannot contain either yeast or honey. That's right: the only appropriate grain offering for God is matzah—the tasteless cracker that is about to become the source of so much complaining on Passover! Why would the Torah tell us to do such a thing?

Let's sharpen the problem even further.