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All Episodes in Order

Bereshit: The Paradise Illusion

The Interpreter Speaks offers an answer to life, the universe and everything - and in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Andy asks: "What's the point of it all?"
I gotta say, I get this one a lot.
Let's take a look at what the Torah has to say...

When G-d created the world, He created lots of stuff and called it "good."
G-d didn't call everything good. Heaven, night, the Sabbath and man all got the 'um, not going to call you good' treatment.
Why? Because they aren't creative.
Take the Sabbath. Wonderful thing, but not a time for creation.

In the Garden of Eden, man was just sitting around eating fruit.

But man was supposed to create stuff and then kick back with G-d on the holy and timeless Shabbat.
It is a ying-yang thing: Creation and rest, the changing and the timeless, the good and the holy, mortal man and the unending divine.
That's the point and man failed.

Why didn't G-d just program us to be creative? Because programmed creativity isn't real creativity - and you can't have a relationship with a program.

No, for man to create and then relate, he needed an old-fashioned kick in the pants.
And believe you me, we got one.

Does the Torah really say the world is 5776 years old? Does it really say it was created in 6 days? The Interpreter Speaks says 'No!'. With careful reading we can learn more about divine creation, natural evolution, and the human analogs for it all. Check it all out in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Ellen asks: "The world was created in six days, come on!"

Ellen, it was created in six days, but not 144 hours!

Let's look at the timeline.

On day one, we get day and night.

On day three, we get the sun and the moon!

Makes no sense, right?

But maybe it does.

Humans do stuff during the day. But when we sleep, our brains sort it all out and make it real.

The creation of life was a revolutionary change - that happens during the day. But that creation needed evolutionary time to become woven into the universe - that happens at night.

The Internet was revolutionary - but it has taken decades for its fingers to extend into our lives.

Of course, as you dig down the evolutionary on the grand scale becomes the revolutionary on the small scale.

Ultimately, as individuals we do and experience new things during the day. Those changes become a part of us at night.

Ellen, the world was created in six days - but not all days are created equal.

In the clearest sign of the primitive stupidity behind the Torah, we've got the human timeline. The Torah claims humans have existed for fewer than 6,000 years old, but we've got Lucy (and others) who are a whole lot older. We also know from DNA that we didn't all descend from somebody this recent. So what's up? The Interpreter Speaks digs in in 60 seconds flat.

Transcript & Notes

Brian asks: How can the Torah claim humankind is less than 6,000 years old. We know it ain't so!

Well, kinda…

We define humankind based on a scientific definition. We are a species because we can interbreed.

The Torah uses this definition for lots of things.

Plants are 'each species by their seed'

So are animals.

But not man.

The Torah refers to man as being formed in the image of G-d and having the breath of life breathed into him.

This isn't a biological definition, it's a spiritual one.

Adam wasn't the first biological human - he was just the first one to be aware of G-d.

This awareness was a transformational change. A true act of creation.

What made Eve special is that she was formed of this same spiritual material.

Before, mankind was homo-sapien - a really smart animal. But with Adam and Eve, mankind became something else: homo-divinus.

Even today, we know our species can be animals.

But with the spirit of G-d, we can become so much more.

A classic critique of the Torah involves the two creation stories. The first is the whole six day deal people know so well while the second has the mist rising up and watering the land. Why are there two stories? Are the editors just stupid? The Interpreter Speaks digs into the issue - in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Jon asks: Why does the Torah have two creation stories?

John, here's how the critics imagine it going down:

Editor 1: "We've got two creation stories - whaddowedo?"

Editor 2: "Stick 'em both in there!"

Whoops, I may have had that backwards.

Anyway, they assume who(or what)ever edited the most influential book in history was either lazy or stupid.

Let's consider another angle.

In the first story, nothing has a purpose.

The names of the plants all emphasize their seeds - reproduction is the focus.

Even man fits this bill: he is told to be fruitful and to multiply and to dominate - but that's it.

This creation is Darwinian.

But in the second story, things acquire purpose.

The plants aren't just plants - they are plants of the field.

Fields are worked by people.

In the second story, there is an opportunity for humankind to create.

In the second story, the spirit of G-d is breathed into man.

In the second story, the world is fashioned to encourage man's spiritual growth.

We live in our Darwinian reality - but we can aspire to something greater.

I've always imagined intrepid English explorers with their tea sets venturing through the fertile crescent - looking for the mystical rivers of Pishon and Gichon - but finding nothing! The Interpreter Speaks explains how they could have saved the bus fare - and in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Kate asks: "Has anybody ever found the mystical rivers from the Garden of Eden?"

Kate is describing Pishon and Gichon.

And, no, they haven't been found.

But only because we've been looking in the wrong places.

The first river is called Pishon. It surrounds a land of change - or chol.

Of course, rivers don't surround things - unless you're M.C. Escher.

The land it surrounds has 'good' gold in it, gold which enables creation. It also has stones which come to symbolize the connection between man and G-d.

On the other hand, Gichon means 'belly' or 'slither'. It surrounds a land called kush, which can mean 'darkness'.

These aren't physical rivers - they're spiritual.

Pishon represents the continuous cycle of creation and connection to the divine. Pishon literally means 'spread out,' it is the river of spiritual influence.

But Gichon represents a slithering cycle of darkness and spiritual impotence.

Our ability to choose between them is what gives us the independence to relate to G-d.

Pishon and Gichon are spiritual waters.

They are rivers we can find within ourselves.

Why does humankind need to be exposed to evil? What's with the apple tree? Why do I need insurance and can I get a discount with Geico? These are the big questions and with The Interpreter Speaks, you'll get almost all those answers (and more) in only 60 seconds!

Transcript & Notes

Nathan asks "What's with the apple tree?"

Nathan, as we've seen in recent episodes, the whole world was created as a spiritual workshop.

Man was a spiritual creature meant to create in order to relate to the timeless divine.

But man wasn't being creative - and so he couldn't relate.

Adam lived in paradise, but he wasn't truly living.

Like a parent trying to get an adult son out of the house, G-d took a more active approach.

First he tried animals. G-d was trying to find a 'help opposite' who would inspire man.

But none did.

Second he tried Eve.

Perhaps a woman would get the grown man out of the basement.

But it didn't work.

Man needed to know evil in order to know good.

So G-d went with door number three: the snake and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

He did this because a world with both good and evil is better than a world with neither.

When man distanced himself from G-d, he exposed himself to evil and acquired the drive to create.


As they say... "It isn't the crime, but the cover up..." The Interpreter Speaks investigates what this means in the Garden of Eden - and all in 60 seconds...

Transcript & Notes

Eddie asks: "Why did the knowledge of Good and Evil make Adam and Eve cover up?"

Eddie, people overplay the shame bit and it confuses things.

Before the fruit, the Torah says they Adam and Eve are arum but not 'self-disappointed'.

But arum doesn't mean naked. It is used to describe the waters forming at the crossing of the sea and for a man killing another with intent.

Arum suggests form and intent. It suggests purpose.

So man (and woman) had purpose, but they weren't self-disappointed.

They were just hanging out, happily not living out their potential. They didn't see a problem.

When they learn about the good, they realize they do have a purpose.

When they learn about the evil, they realize there are threats to that purpose.

So they make clothes. Not to improve their body image or dominate the fashion world.

Nope, they make 'encirclements' to protect their purpose from evil.

Sadly, they still don't act to fulfill that purpose - and this helps lead them down the road to expulsion.

How can G-d not know where Adam and Chava are?!? The answer lays in the mysteries of Quantum Spirituality. The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Lucy asks "Why were Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden?"

Lucy, you might think it was because they ate the prohibited fruit.

Except… before G-d kicks them out, He asks them where they are!

Which makes you wonder: how could the Creator of the universe not know?

The answer involves quantum spirituality.

G-d is asking them their spiritual place - they don't actually have one until they answer the question.

The question gave them the opportunity to stand independently, take spiritual ownership of their mistakes and thus be able to relate to G-d.

It gave them the opportunity to know good and evil, but remain in the Garden.

But they blew it.

They blamed others; and a human who fails to take responsibility is only half a human.

This is why they were expelled.

In this light, the expulsion wasn't a punishment, but an opportunity.

Hardship would teach man to be both creative and responsible.

Unfortunately, our path to fulfillment is too often paved with boulders, not gold.

"Men and Hard Labor" sounds like quite the curse - but what if it wasn't? The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Betty asks: "Why was Eve cursed with men and hard labor?"

I know it sounds weird Betty, but Eve wasn't cursed.

When Eve munched the fruit, she was motivated by ta'avah.

This word describes the desires to eat meat and to acquire a national neighbor's stuff.

In both cases, we destroy for the sake of short-term pleasure.

In Eve's case, she destroyed the relationship with G-d for the pleasure of the fruit.

At the expulsion, Eve isn't punished, she is inverted.

She deals with her husband and with the pain and risk of childbirth in order to create life.

Now, despite the pain, she creates the future.

She invests in the timeless. This is the definition of holiness.

This earns her the name Chava - the 'mother of all life'.

Eve doesn't have a choice - her nature was changed by G-d.

But imagine… if we chose to follow her example.

Imagine if we chose to create and invest in the timeless.

Just imagine...

Why would G-d make killers like Cain? The Interpreter Speaks answers in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Naomi asks: "Why would G-d make a killer like Cain?"

Naomi, Cain's brother, Hevel, was productive and had a great relationship with G-d. He was a model citizen.

If Cain hadn't been jealous he'd have been like - "Yeah, whatever, my brother's got it going on and I'm a washup. So what…"

But Cain was jealous. Crazy jealous.

If he'd resisted, or overcome, his natural urges, Cain's very soul would have been strengthened.

Where Adam and Chava avoided responsibility, he would have acquired it. Through his struggles, he could have exceeded even Hevel.

This is why G-d says to him (to paraphrase):

"You can create and be lifted up and if not, sin's very desire for you gives you the opportunity to rule it and acquire great personal character. It's a win-win. Just don't choose door number 3 and kill your brother."

Of course, Cain chose door #3.

Despite his failure, the lesson remains: Our weaknesses are but opportunities to grow.

How did G-d move from forgiveness and second chances to the mass extermination of the flood? The Interpreter Speaks explains - in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Robert asks: "Why did G-d flood the world?"
Robert, it all started with Cain.
G-d protected Cain because even a murderer has a chance to grow.
But, 'remarkably', we didn't learn that lesson.
Lamech comes along and he's like "Great-Great-Great Grandpa Cain killed one guy and G-d protected him. I've killed two people! So I'm set!"
And the decline continued.
The names of Lamech's sons are different forms of the same word; distinguishing how they made their money.
The first son earned it. He was a proto-cowboy.
The second son received it. He grasps the harp and the, um, 'flute'. He's in the 'entertainment' business.
The third son acquired it – in the knife business.

Before long, the sons of the powerful overwhelmed the Earth.

Without consequence the world became dominated by fame and legacy-seekers who stole the good instead of creating it.

And the human voices of morality were overwhelmed.

This is why G-d stepped in with the flood.

What's with all the long lives before the flood - and why were they shortened? The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60-seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Jimmy asks: "What's with all the long lives?"
Jimmy, it might seem like everybody before the flood is flashing super long lives. But it ain't so.
Only the sons of the unfortunately named Shait have such long lives.
They were blessed with them because they were righteous people; people who walked with G-d.
But they did nothing for their societies.
As they watched, the world devolved into violence. The sons of the powerful chose the women they wanted and took whatever goods they desired. Their own children pursued only might and fame.

Knowing their lives would be so long, the righteous didn't risk their own futures to resist evil.
The price was too high.

Eventually, they could do nothing to rescue the world around them.

It was because we are flesh (and not just spirit) that G-d shortened the lives of the righteous.

Strangely, our shorter lives enable us to defend the good.

Jimmy, our blessings should never stop us from standing up for what is good and holy.


Fire of London Source: By Rita Greer - The original is an oil painting on board by Rita Greer, history painter, 2008. This was digitized by Rita and sent via email to the Department of Engineering Science, Oxford University, where it was subsequently uploaded to Wikimedia., FAL,

Noach: The Moral Story

Did the flood kill everything? Maybe not! The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60 seconds flat.

Transcript & Notes

Monica asks: "Do you really believe the flood killed almost everything but the fish?"
Monica, of course not!
But the Torah doesn't say it did.

There are three big 'die off' verses.
In the first, all flesh gavah. But gavah doesn't mean died. It happens before death – like total physical exhaustion.

In the second, everything that had a living spiritual soul died. But this loophole is so big it probably didn't cover most of our species.

In the third, everything that stood on the face of the earth was macha. This word is used for a wife who must marry her husband's brother so he isn't macha. It refers to the 'erasing of legacy'. So, all legacies were erased.

This is all very scary, but it is not total death. Instead, it is complete exhaustion, the death of those blessed with divine souls and the erasure of legacies.

G-d does not kill needlessly, but the flood story is meant to wash away the amorality of the society that preceded it.

It's no wonder the flood's bark is worse than its bite.

Why do we need to punish murderers? The Interpreter explains in 60 seconds! Note: this isn't about domestic US politics!

Transcript & Notes

Noah asks, "Why did G-d command humankind to kill murderers?"
Noah, before the flood, the world only had positive reinforcement of moral behavior. Cain murdered and G-d protected him.
But without negative reinforcements, the evil corrupt all of society in the pursuit of might and glory.
In Germany, the Nazis corrupted the good in this way. If murderous brownshirts or the practitioners of Eugenics had been punished instead of tolerated – the sickness would have been halted.
But it wasn't.
When it came, the Allied response was like the flood.
The Germans were exhausted, the movers and shakers were killed and the pre-war German legacy was eliminated through the combination of destruction and moral taint.
In a way, Germans even today are a people without roots.
The story of what Germany did should be remembered.
But the story of what the world did to Germany, like the story of the flood, should be immortalized.
It is fear, not words of moral reproach, that constrain those who are evil.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-08778-0001 / Hahn / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,
By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J30142 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

Did you really mean it when you said the flood's bark may have been worse than its bite? Yes. Find out why in 60 seconds!

Transcript & Notes

Jay asks: "Did you really mean to say the flood's bark was worse than its bite?"
Jay, the clues are everywhere.
Before and after the flood, all sorts of synonyms for 'kill' are used, but they all have other possible meanings - like 'hit' or 'damage.'
When the text talks about the mountains being covered by water – the word used is 'conceal', not 'cover'. Heavy clouds or rainfall could accomplish this.
And when the dove returns, it returns with an olive branch. Olive trees die in heavy water – things really had to dry out to get a nice olive branch.

Amazingly, there are five dates mentioned in the story of the Flood. The next time a precise date is mentioned involves the taking of the Pascal lamb. Why are the dates here? Because dates add punch to the story and reinforce its moral message.

The flood story is a warning meant to limit the amorality of society.
For it to do its job, its bark has to be pretty bad.

But G-d does not kill needlessly, and so its bite may not have been so horrible.

Lech Lecha: Groundwork for a People

Diversity training was a key part of Avram's background! Find out more in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

George asks: "What made Avram special?"

It starts with family.

Avram's father, Terach, apparently had triplets. Mega-points there, no?
But their names are what's important.
Avram – meaning 'my father is raised up' – speaks to the past.
Nachor - meaning 'to dry out or sneeze' – speaks to the limits of the present.
And Haran – meaning 'to teach or train' – speaks to the future.

This family shows an appreciation for the timeless.

But that's not all.

Terach moved from Ur Kasdim to Charan, intending to go to Canaan.
This family is the first in the Torah to cross cultures. Like the Jewish people today, their exposure enables them to connect to all of humankind.

Finally, Avram went with G-d because G-d promised him he'd be a blessing to the world. The greatest of leaders are motivated by the ability to empower others.
Avram fit this bill.

While Terach gave Avram both awareness of the timeless and unique diversity training, Avram alone was willing to risk everything in order to empower others.

This, George, is what made him special.

Vayeira: The Last Destruction

What if the people of S'dom wanted to be destroyed? The Interpreter explains in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Maggie asks: Why did G-d send angels to S'dom?

S'dom and Amorah cried out to G-d the same way the Jewish slaves in Egypt did.
Both cries said, "We can go on no more."

African child soldiers forced to kill their own parents are hollowed out as people. Nonetheless, they recruit others the same way – and create a self-hating army.
S'dom's entire society was like this.

S'dom was enslaved to its own moral rot, and it was crying out for destruction.

Lot's daughters said there were no men to lay with them. This was because, like slaves, even those who were saved from the destruction would not procreate. They could go on no more.

The angels were sent to see if S'dom could actually be saved.
We know the rot is total when even the pre-adolescents and the elderly come out to rape Lot's guests.
But it is only when Lot tries to act as the voice of morality – and they mock him – that we know the rot is irreversible.

It is only then that the cities are condemned.

Chayei Sarah: Living the Lessons

What's a Blessing? The Interpreter explains in 60-seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Jill asks, "What's a blessing?"
Jill, we can understand what a blessing is from this week's Torah portion.
In it, Eliezer – the servant of Avraham – is trying to find wife for Yitzchak.
So what does he do? He plans to use his camel as a kind of personality test; to find a woman who shares Avraham's trait of kindness to travelers.
As the first step in this process, he literally makes his camel 'bless.'
But how can a camel bless?
The camel blesses because it enables others to realize their potential.
It blesses Rivka and Yitzchak by bringing them together to become so much more than the sum of their parts.
The desire to bless is what motivates Avraham; G-d promises him he will be a blessing.
The Jewish people themselves exist to bless both mankind and G-d. By bringing them closer to one another, both mankind and G-d can better realize their potential in this world.
Today is Thanksgiving. When we count our blessings, we must remember that they aren't just gifts – they're opportunities.
Our blessings are nothing less than opportunities to bless others.

Toldot: Embracing the Intangible

Why does Yitzchak love Esav, and what can we learn from it? The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60 seconds flat...

Transcript & Notes

Jamie asks, "Why does Yitzchak love Esav?"
Jamie, Yitzchak's aborted sacrifice and the death of his mother disconnected him from our world.
Yitzchak was literally meditating in the face of uncertainty when he looked up – and he met Rivka.
She was something to hold on to; an answer to his prayers.
But she was only the beginning of Yitzchak's struggle to embrace the tangible.
Avraham and Yaacov were roaming shepherds; but Yitzchak was a farmer, fixed to his land. Yitzchak 'sported' with his wife. And Yitzchak loved Esav for his food – the most immediately tangible of all things.
Yitzchak sought to bless Esav with wealth and power because he valued the tangible and saw it in his son.

When Yaacov is about to leave, Yitzchak blesses him with the birthright of Avraham. That is when he finally recognizes the value of the intangible. That is when he himself becomes a source of divine blessing.

Like Yitzchak, the Jewish people are survivors.
And like Yitzchak, we must recognize that true blessing lays only in our relationship with G-d.

Vayeitze: Growing to Greatness

Yaacov doesn't start out a role model - but he becomes one. The path he adopts has lessons for us all. Learn more in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Betty asks: "Is Jacob really a role model?"

Betty, as a young man, Yaacov was a hard core revolutionary.
There were no rules that could deny him.
He cheated his brother and lied to his father to secure what he thought was his.
But his approach failed. He lost everything and ran.

Even after his failure, he kept ignoring convention. Lacking trust in G-d, he insisted that Hashem ante up first on their mutual covenant.
And when he comes to Padan Aram, he upsets a key social contract by taking the stone off the well.

It is only when Lavan takes him in, because of social convention, that he begins to change.

It is over 19 separate contracts-in-exile, that Yaacov learns to control himself and use social conventions to achieve just ends.

Eventually, Yaacov's fight with his own angel and the return of his brother's blessings epitomize the self-control he has acquired.

Yaacov story teaches us that it is far more effective use the world's own rules to refashion it then it is to rebel without limits.

Vayishlach: Overcoming Fate

Why spend so much time on Esav's children? It is a case of subtraction by addition. The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60 seconds flat... (dedicated to the memory of Moshe Moskowitz)

Transcript & Notes

Bernice asks, "Why are Esav's descendants so important?"
Bernice, this reading is filled with reminders of our ultimate powerlessness.
Yitzchak blesses Yaacov with wealth and power, but Yaacov passes those blessings to his brother.
Devorah is nameless at birth, and rose to be only a nursemaid. But she is buried with prominence, and she is remembered even today.
Rachel is blessed with beauty and drive, but dies with the word 'Oni' on her lips. It is a reminder of her own broken state. But she remains beloved.
Esav may have many kings among his children, but all are forgotten.
Even the greatest of men cannot set or see the future.
Fate is meaningless and everything that is cast in stone can be broken to bits.
Only the relationship between G-d and the Children of Israel still stands.
Whether we are lowly or exalted – whether we are young or old – our fate is in the hands of G-d.
It is only by walking in the path of the timeless divine that we can shake off the limits of our mortal reality.

Vayeishev: The Traits of a Great Nation

Was Yosef was the Forefather of Marketing? I think so - learn why with The Interpreter Speaks...

Transcript & Notes

Billy asks: "Did you really call Yosef the Father of Marketing?"
I did, Billy, because that's who Yosef became.

With his first dreams, Yosef just put his product out there. He didn't package it or provide any useful messaging.
So the moon and the stars bowed to Yosef and the sheaves bowed to his sheaf – but no interpretation was provided.
The brothers took what he said and they put their own negative spin on it. They thought he was dreaming of domination.
But his dreams weren't of domination, they were of support. The stars – the fates – of his parents and siblings would depend on him. And his brothers would be dependent on him for food.
The lack of marketing landed Yosef in a very bad spot.

With the second set of dreams, Yosef massaged the interpretations.
A bit of history: Egypt invented bread, while Canaan was known for wine.
When the baker dreams of his head being removed and the wine steward of being raised up before his King – well, one might suggest the dreams were not about two men – but two nations.
Egypt would lose its Pharaoh and Israel would be raised up to serve their king.
But Yosef has learned. He doesn't provide this interpretation. He gives another: one that won't be offensive to Egyptians.
However, he doesn't speak to the needs of his audience, and so his interpretation doesn't get him out of prison.

With the third set of dreams, Yosef finally speaks to the needs of his audience.
In the Torah, cows are a representation of a nation. Thus, the 70 cows offered on Sukkot on behalf of the nations.
When Pharaoh dreams of a thin Parah (or female cow) consuming a fat one; he is dreaming of the Egyptian nation being emaciated.
And when he dreams of poor ears of corn consuming healthy ones; he is dreaming of Egyptian farming being destroyed.
Yosef's interpretation shows how much he has learned. He tells Pharaoh that he can, by hiring Yosef, save the land. He gives Pharaoh what he wants – a purpose greater than his own life.
Of course, the dreams remain.
Yosef was well-meaning – he worked hard to deliver the redemption he promised.
But Yosef ended up making the farmers into serfs and draining the vitality of the Egyptian nation.
He replaced Egypt with Pharaoh and he made the dreams come true.

Nonetheless, we can see that he learned to harness the needs of his audience.

And this is why I call him the Father of Marketing.

Miketz: Building Brotherhood

Why didn't Yosef call his dad? The Interpreter explains, and in 60 seconds flat...

Transcript & Notes

Margery asks: "If Yosef loved his father, why didn't he tell him he was alive?"
Margery, Yosef may have loved his father, but he was running from his family.
For generations, Yosef's family had been defined by brothers at war for primacy.
Yosef was a victim of that war and he wanted nothing to do with it.
So, he took an Egyptian name and family and poured himself into Egyptian work.
And he raised two sons who broke the pattern of brotherly hate.
Everything was going well until his brothers showed up – just as he dreamed would happen.
Yosef acted to transform his family. He created a pressure-cooker situation in which the brothers could grow jealous of, and abandon, Benjamin.
Or, they could step up and protect him.
Yehuda, who was taught responsibility by Tamar, sacrificed his own primacy to come to Benjamin's rescue.
The actions of Yosef and of Yehuda raised the family above the brotherly competition that had poisoned it.
Their actions enabled the twelve brothers to become a single nation.

Vayigash: Setting the Stage

Did Yosef help Egypt - or even his own family? The Interpreter explains, and in 60 seconds flat...

Transcript & Notes

Martin asks: "Did Joseph help Egypt?"
Martin, one word: 'nope'.

Faced with starving farmers, Yosef could have given them food.
But instead, he used his storehouses to transform the Egyptian people.
Before they were free farmers whose King was Pharaoh. Afterwards, they were serfs with a Pharaoh who could claim to be a god.

Perhaps Yosef thought he was strengthening Egypt by centralizing great government resources. But the real effect was a government that forgot its place and eventually went to war with G-d.
Yosef's own family was not immune to his interventions. Yosef opened the storehouses to his relatives – based on the children they had. Maybe he thought he was enabling them. But instead, the free food led them to multiply 'like bugs' – losing their sense of higher purpose.
There's a lesson for us: Great central power eventually weakens both the rulers and the ruled. And free money undermines the great potential of our humanity.

The timeless reality is that we change the world through influence – not power or money.

Vayechi: The Basis of Prophecy

Some old-school parenting advice from Yosef & Asnat! The Interpreter shares, and in 60 seconds flat...

Transcript & Notes

Katie asks: "Did Yaacov suffer from dementia?"
Katie, when Yosef visited Yaacov, Yaacov's mind seemed to be drifting all over the place. He couldn't even recognize his own grandchildren. He seemed disconnected from this world.
But he doesn't stay that way.
When he touches Ephraim and Menashe he suddenly not only recognizes them, he experiences prophecy.
What happened?
As Rabbi Sacks points out, Ephraim and Menasha are the first brothers in Torah who do not fight for honor.
They learned this from their father.

Through the interpretation of dreams, Yosef learned to speak to other people's need for purpose. He recognized that a sense of purpose could overcome even the destructive competitiveness of his family.

When Yosef and Asnat raised their children, they gave them greater things to focus on than themselves, and their relative honor. They were so intrinsically connected to a greater reality that just touching them inspired Yaacov.

We should be inspired by Yosef and Asnat; as parents our focus should be on the life purpose of our children – not on their personal honor.

(skipped Shemot and Ve'eira due to time constraints)

Bo: The Gift of the Future

Every aspect of the Pesach (Passover) Offering is loaded with meaning. In just a few minutes, you can explore it all!

Transcript & Notes

Jon asks, "What's with the Pascal lamb?"
Jon, when Avraham was about to go up the mountain to offer his son Yitzchak as a burnt offering, Yitzchak asked where the se was. A se is a lamb or young goat.
Avraham replied that G-d would provide the se.
Of course, he had Yitzchak in mind.

By sacrificing Yitzchak, Avraham was sacrificing his future. Likewise, the se represents our future.
This focus on the future is enhanced by sacrifice of a young, male se.
The se is young because it represents the future.
The se is male because it represents the positive will to reproduce – and thus continue into the future.
And the se is burnt, just like Yitzchak was supposed to be, because burning is how offerings are sent to Hashem.
Through the Pesach offering, we are dedicating our future to G-d.

Of course, the se isn't chosen randomly.
Cultures which herd sheep can travel with their food, enabling them to be among the most war-like, poetic and free in human history.
And a goat is itself rambunctious.
One enables willful challenges to the status quo, and the other embodies those challenges.
Both animals represent the Jewish people as a whole.

The se's identity as a part of our national future is strengthened by bringing the animal into our homes. By living with us it can, in a sense, be part of the family.

It is this giving of our own future which protects us from the plague of the first born – a plague which takes the future from the Egyptians.

Of course, the se not only represents a dedication of the future, it also represents the creation of a new people. Blood, in a living body, connects all the cells of the body – providing oxygen. The blood that is placed on the doorways serves the same role. It is a method of identifying the households of the Jewish people as its cells. The cells themselves are not individuals. Each must have enough people to consume the se. So each cell is formed of a small social circle; the building block of a larger society.
Later, with the Mezuzah, words will unite the cells of the Jewish people – but they aren't ready yet.

The Pesach offering also represents our trust in Hashem. Whether through fire or eating, every part of the se is consumed. Just as Abraham trusted that Hashem would provide his future, we trust that Hashem will provide ours. We preserve nothing for contingencies.
This concept of dependency is strengthened by the Matzah and bitter herbs.
Matzah represents affliction not because it is a low-grade food, but because there was no reason for the people to have to eat it. They had 14 days warning before the Exodus. They could have made bread, but they didn't. They didn't because the hallmark of a slave is a lack of initiative.
The people didn't free themselves – G-d released them from their bondage. The bitter herbs represent that bondage.
In addition, the eating is done with the people are ready to move. Even though nothing has happened, they are showing their trust that something will happen. They are showing their trust in Hashem.

The timing of the se reinforces all of this.
The beginning of the month marks the first plague – the first miracle of the Exodus. The Jews only need to observe it – they were entirely dependent. Days 2 through 9 represent the other plagues. The tenth day marks the tenth plague. It is when the future is taken from the Egyptians and the future – through emancipation – is given to the Jewish people. Then there are four days where the people have their future, as represented by the se. This correlates to the four major miracles in the desert before the giving of the Torah. Finally, on the eve of the fifteenth miracle – the giving of the Torah – the people dedicate their future to G-d by saving 'all G-d has spoken, we will do'.
This is represented by the Pesach offering itself.

Taken together, the Pesach Offering represents the people's dedication, unity and trust in G-d.
Taken together, it represents the foundation of our nation.
And its memory – in the Pesach Seder – preserves us as a people.

Beshalach: The First Steps of Freedom

Why are the Jewish people called 'Chamushim'? The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60 seconds flat.

Transcript & Notes

Jared asks: "Why are the fleeing Israelites called 'chamushim'?" (Ex. 13:18)
Jared, 'chamushim' literally means 'fivers.'
The Book of Exodus opens with the children of Israel swarming the land. The word used, Sheretz, usually refers to insects.
Like insects, they lack any independent agency.

After the crossing of the sea, Miriam sings one line of Moshe's song:
"Sing to the Lord because he is pride of prides, the horse and rider he casts into the sea."
She picked this line because the enslaved Jewish people were like domesticated horses; they had their agency stripped from them. In a way, they were like insects.
This is why 2 million people cowered before 600 chariots.

I believe they are called 'fivers' because insects were created on the fifth day.

But when they finally see the Egyptians destroyed, they realize they are free.
To crib from Satre: with the crossing of the sea, Hashem kills both the horse and the rider. (Ex: 15:21)
…and what remains is the free man.

Of course, there's a long road between being free and fulfilling one's purpose.

CC BY-SA 3.0,

Yitro: The Birth of Responsibility

Were the Ten Commandments a rocking success? What's with the prohibition on staircases? Learn what connects them in two minutes flat!

Transcript & Notes

Rudy asks: Were the Ten Commandments a rocking success?

Rudy, not really.

Before the Ten Commandments, Hashem tells the people to prepare for bimshoch ha-yovel (Ex. 29:14) so they can come up the mountain.

The yovel is the Jubilee - a special period when the destruction of time is nullified.

The Torah only twice uses bimshoch, which means 'continue' in modern Hebrew, as a verb; the other time being when the people are commanded to get pascal lambs. (Ex: 12:21)

Both cases herald transformative change.

With the Ten Commandments, the people have an opportunity to enter a timeless reality.

But this fundamental transformation doesn't occur.

Like the Jubilee itself, it requires both trust and holiness. But the people tremble (Ex. 29:16), implying not fear of G-d, but terror. And then the priests confuse self-segregation with holiness.

The people hear G-d deliver the "don't break stuff" commandments, but they can't handle any more. So, the people themselves ask Moshe to speak - instead of G-d.

They are not ready to be governed directly by G-d.

The laws that follow are the first steps towards repairing that shortcoming.

This brings us to our next question!

Kyle asks: What's with the commandments right after the Ten Commandments? (Ex. 20:19-22)

What are these laws?

First, the people are reminded of our encounter with G-d. (Ex: 20:18)

Next, they are told not to create images of G-d in silver or gold. (Ex: 20:19)

Then, they are told to make an earthen altar for offerings. (Ex: 20:20)

Next, if they do make a stone altar, it cannot be fashioned by tools. (Ex: 20:21)

Finally, we are commanded not to have steps leading up to the altar, so that our ervat is not exposed. Ervat implies fault. In living humans, our waste is a continual sign of our limitations. (Ex: 20:22)

What themes are established?

First, we are not to worship our own images of G-d.
Second, we should invest in the timeless in order to relate to G-d.
Third, we shouldn't spoil the tools of our relationship with G-d by unnecessary change.
And finally, when we approach G-d, we take on the timeless purity of the divine rather than bringing the divine down to our level.

These themes run throughout the Torah – serving as the framework that can ultimately elevate the people as a whole.

Mishpatim: Homeostasis

Why is loaning money at interest such a big deal? The Interpreter answers in under 60 seconds!

Transcript & Notes

Aaron asks: "Why is loaning money at interest such a big deal?"
Aaron, if I loan you $1000, there's a risk you won't be able to repay me, or that I won't be able to be receive your payment, or that I'll miss out on other opportunities for that money.
It is only natural that I require you to pay me more than a $1000 in return.
It is a fundamental representation of real-world risk.
And this is exactly why Jewish law forbids it.

The mission of the Jewish people is to illuminate the path of investment in the timeless.
To do so, we create, like G-d, and then spend to make the timeless real.

Loss is only there to spur us to creation. But we seek a better reality – one without risk and loss.

If we collect interest, we profit from the reality of evil – and undermine our purpose as a people.

We can and should invest; but our profits should not be built on the evil seemingly inherent in our world.

Terumah: Dwelling within the People

Are you finding excitement in the Mishkan? If you're like me, these weeks might portend long and sleepy hours in shul. But there is an antidote - the world-famous Academy of Mishkan Studies is offering a FREE five and a half-minute course on Mishkan Design. Just click to attend!

Transcript & Notes

Okay folks, we're up to some of the densest stuff in the whole Five Books of Moses.
We're looking at the design of the Mishkan.

This stuff is hard. Why? Well, first off, all the mystical stuff just confuses me. I can't keep it straight. Sometimes, I think that's the point.
Secondly, the technical stuff just hurts my head. Dig in here and dig in there and pretty soon you've got a 500-page manuscript with no thesis and no chance of getting your doctorate because you can't actually pull a useful thought out of the whole mess. Not that I know anything about that.

No, for me to get this stuff; I need to keep it real basic. I need something I can wrap my head around.

So, that's what we're going to try to do today - the please don't sue me for copyright infringement Idiot's Guide to the Mishkan!

Okay, let's start with the Menorah. Why? Because it doesn't take a genius to tell that the Menorah is a representation of the burning bush. It has flowers and branches and, most importantly, it burns but it isn't consumed. It represents G-d's core value - creation without destruction.
Got it?
It took me a while, but even I can manage this one.

So, if the Menorah represents a revelation - what about the other gold articles: the table and the ark.

Well, the ark is easy. It represents both the revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the stone tablets.
The angels are kind of a giveaway for the whole Mount Sinai thing.
And the tablets, well… they represent the tablets.

We see gold again here - there is divinity. But there is also wood, shittim wood. The word Shittim implies a grudge, but wood is also not long lasting. Altogether, it is a very human thing. The angels on the ark are pure gold, but the ark itself has wood.
Because the covenant requires humans before it can be real.

Okay. So the ark represents G-d's Covenant with the people.

You with me? Because I'm barely holding on.

We've got two out of three.

What about the table?
Well, it also represents two revelations. Remember that the Manna is called Lechem - or bread? Here, we put Lechem Panim - the bread of faces - on the table. What is the purpose of the Manna? The Torah says: "that you will know that the Lord has brought you out of Egypt." (Ex. 16:6). It is our first national revelation of G-d. In a way, it is how we see His face.
Oh, and the for face (Panah) is sprinkled all over. The Manna is on the face of the desert. The people face the wilderness and see the glory of G-d. etc… etc…
Lots of Panim (faces) associated with this Lecham (bread).
But the bread isn't all by itself. There's also the table.
Later, the elders actually come and eat and drink (Ex. 24:11) and see the G-d of Israel.
G-d serves them dinner!
This table and its utensils have gold all over them. So while the bread represents the Mahn (Manna), I think the table represents the meal Hashem served the elders.
The table has wood at its core because without the people, the meal wouldn't amount to much.
It is like the timelessness of G-d is investing in oh-so-limited man.

Wowsers, that's a trip.

We can sum it up though: the table represents G-d's Investment in the people.

So, we've got three articles of divine revelation: The Menorah, showing G-d's values. The Table, showing G-d's investment in the Jewish people. And the Ark, showing the covenant between the two.

What about the rest of it?

Well, G-d says the Mishkan should be a place where He dwells among us (Ex. 25:8). The Menorah, Ark and Table all show His presence.
So the surroundings - the structure - should represent us.

And, surprise, surprise, they do!

Before the giving of the Ten Commandments, G-d describes making the people a "Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation." (Ex. 19:6)

A Kingdom has order and rules. The Torah reading of Mishpatim, right after the Ten Commandments starts with a civil code - laws that have specific outcomes enforced by man. The laws aren't just civil, they set the scene for a nation that can relate to G-d. One might call it a 'Kingdom of Priests'.
There are 53 rules and 56 outcomes in these laws.
And guess what? The Mishkan has 53 internal pillars and 56 external ones.

The pillars represent the Kingdom of Priests - both what we control and how we control it.

What about the Holy Nation?
The word for Nation is 'Goi.' It is also used for a cow's cud. It is formless - it isn't well-defined.

What are the pillars covered with?
Floppy hangings with angels on them.
The angels are kind of a cue to the 'Holy' bit. But the floppiness is a cue to the 'Goi' bit.
The hangings have no form without the pillars.

The pillars are the Kingdom of Priests and the hangings represent the Holy Nation.

Together, they represent the ideal of the Jewish people.

This should really be getting under my skin. After all, the pillars represent all that technical stuff that hurts my head and the hangings all the mystical stuff I can't keep straight.

And all of it implies that I might be very very far from the Jewish ideal.

Let's move on.

So, at the very beginning of the whole design process, G-d says he wants to dwell within the people.

And the Mishkan literally represents this message in architecture: The revelations of G-d - Menorah, Table and Ark - are surrounded by the representation of the people: the walls and the curtains.

But the relationship isn't static.

On one level, everything can move. Our job isn't to sit in one place - but to serve as the ambassadors of G-d's values.

But on a totally different axis: there are those pesky altars.

At the most basic, an altar represents our chance to invest in the timeless divine relationship - where the timebound can touch the timeless. It is how we achieve holiness.

In a way, the hangings show our values, just like the Menorah shows G-d's.
And the pillars show our dedication to the covenant - just like the Ark shows His.
And the altars show our investment - just like the Table shows His.

Looking at it this way: the whole Mishkan serves as an interface between the finite and the infinite.

There's lots of meaning in the details, but I'll spare you.

After all, I'm getting a bit dizzy.

So to keep it all straight, just remember this: The Mishkan is a literal representation of G-d dwelling within the people.

If you can't keep that straight, well, join the club.

Finally, if you enjoyed this, please share it!

Thanks and Shabbat Shalom!

By Ori229 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tetzaveh: Timeless Man

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Transcript & Notes

Okay folks, this week we're going to look into the clothing of the Kohen.
Like I said last week, I'm not so good at hardcore detail or floating on mystical bubbles.
For me to understand, I need to keep everything real simple.

So, let's just jump in and see if we can do just that.

To review, the Mishkan's design is a literal representation of G-d dwelling within the people; it captures our mutual values, investments and covenants.
It is a nexus of the finite and infinite.

But despite the architecture, we can't just walk up to the Mishkan and say: "Dude, I can see forever from here."
It doesn't just sit there. No, the Mishkan is a happening place.

And it is the Kohanim who make it happen.

And for this job, they can't just show up in their civvies.

Back in my day, young management consultants would always wear a suit. It not only honored the firm and the client, it made the kid in the suit feel like he fit the role.

Likewise, Moshe is told to make the clothes for honor and for glorification. But the text doesn't say whose honor and glorification. The reason is because the clothes honor G-d and the people while making the Kohen himself feel like he fits the role.

I'm going to digress for a bit. We need talk materials. We're not talking fine Italian leather, though - The Torah has some other things in mind.

First, we've got gold. As we've discussed before, it represents the divine. Done.
Then, we've got techelet, or sky-blue. Up until the 1960s, when we stuck some monkeys and dogs into orbit, there was nothing dead in the sky. It was a place without loss. So blue represents purity from loss or death.
In Bamidbar (Chapter 4), we have the various colors used to cover things. Blue can cover everything but the ashes and tools of the offerings. Why not those things? Because it represents purity from loss. Ashes don't.

Next is purple. In Bamidbar, purple covers the ashes of the offerings. As was common in the ancient world, this color represents honor.

How about the scarlet - or Tola'at Shani? When the people collected the Manna, some saved it - worried there wouldn't be more. The Tola'at, or worms, ate their Manna. It taught them trust in G-d, but it also reinforced G-d's ongoing investment in the people. This concept of trust and investment is seen in the cycles of Shabbat, Shmita (Sabbatical) and Yovel (Jubilee). Shani implies repetition, or a cycle.
Tola'at Shani, or scarlet, represents this cycle of trust and investment. This is why, in Bamidbar, it covers the bread and utensils of the divine table - the signs of G-d's investment in us.

Finally, we have sheish, or linen. Linen is a material which humans grow and then process. The word 'sheish' means six, recalling the six days of work. As far as fabrics go, this is the closest representation of our human effort. Sheish Mashzar, or fine woven linen, just reinforces the human hand in the material.

So: gold is divinity, blue is purity, purple is honor, scarlet is the cycle of trust and investment and linen is human industry.

Got it?
You better, it will be on the test.

Back to the clothes.

So, Aaron, our young management consultant, is a very bendy fellow. He does what others ask.
Hashem asks him to go to Moshe, he goes. The people ask him to make a calf, he makes it. He is called a 'pursuer of peace' for precisely this reason, he is so eager not to fight that he sometimes fails to stand up.
So long as the wiggliness is guided, this is an excellent attribute in a Kohen. Just like a management consultant, a Kohen doesn't represent himself.
His own ego is supposed to be minimized.
Of course, this is precisely why I don't think I'd make a very good Kohen - or management consultant.

The Kohen's ephod though helps with this whole ego minimization thing.
The ephod has straps that go up to the shoulders where the names of the tribes are inscribed on stones and embraced by gold.
As the Kohen walks, he is carrying the names of the people - embraced by G-d - on his shoulders (Ex. 28:12). Why? The text says it is a reminder. The ephod reminds the Kohen that he is carrying the relationship between the people and G-d on his shoulders.
The ephod doesn't only have straps, it wraps around the Kohen - constraining him. According to most opinions, the ephod wraps around the legs. The legs represent will, which is why angels are traditionally imagined as having no legs. Yaacov, the most willful of forefathers, only draws up his legs right before he dies.
So, not only does the Kohen carry the relationship, but he is constrained by it.
Our management consultant is really feeling the part.

Next, we have the breastplate of law. It has the Jewish tribes inscribed on stones. Stones imply something unchanging and permanent. The stones are connected by materials of purity, honor, trust, industry and divinity. But they too are embraced by G-d's gold.
The text says the breastplate is there so that the high priest can bring the names of the Children of Israel into the place of holiness - continually. He brings the Jewish people, embraced by G-d, into timelessness.
The breastplate comes with two other items, the Urim and Tumim. They roughly translate as 'the enlightened' and 'the perfect'. They represent the law itself - which is also carried into timelessness by Aaron.
That consulting firm is looking pretty sharp.

How about the robe?
Well, it's pure blue color lets us know that it represents G-d; only He is free of loss. The prohibition on tearing a hole for the neckline reinforces this idea of losslessness.
The robe's hemline has pomegranates. Fruit, in Torah, are always gifts of G-d. The pomegranates are blue, purple and scarlet; capturing His gifts of purity, honor and investment.
Note - there is no linen. This garment represents G-d, not humanity.
Finally, it has gold bells. Hearing is our way of connecting to G-d. A walking man could never control the sound of gold bells on his hem.
But Hashem can.
In this way, the robe represents, and even 'speaks' for G-d.
All of this wraps the Kohen with divinity, enabling him to enter the place of timelessness.
He represents G-d.
And with threads like these, the client has got to feel like He's the King of the world.

The headband, of gold and blue, brings it all together. It is pure and divine and it marks the Kohen as 'Holy to Hashem'. Holiness is the investment of the creative and timebound in the timeless.
With this final touch, the Kohen becomes the embodiment of that interface, crossing both worlds and being restrained by them.

So we've got three themes. The ephod restrains the Kohen's own will. The breastplate brings the Jewish people to the infinite. And the blue robe brings the infinite into our world. All three parties are honored and glorified.

When the garments are put on, they are all wrapped around him - ephod style. They all constrain the Kohen for his mission.

Of course, the Kohen Gadol isn't the only Kohen.
The regular priests have a shadow of his garments. There is a tunic of highly patterned linen; representing human creativity.
There is a turban. It covers the hair and thus minimizes the ego of the individual.
And there is the sash. It is made of many colors - representing the divine gifts of purity, honor and the cycle of trust.

The High Priest wears these same garments as a sort of base layer of symbolism.

Finally, there is a poor-quality linen undergarment. It doesn't symbolize anything, but serves to hide the biological wastefulness of the Kohen himself. It brings him closer to the lossless reality of the divine.

So we've got the clothes and you might think the clothes make the man, but they aren't enough.

Our management consultant actually has to do the work.

So, to finish the picture, we need a few offerings.

First, there's a bull. Bulls represent nations. In this case, we offer the blood, inner fats and purifying organs of the bull. These represent the potential, endurance and purity of the Jewish people.
In other words, the timeless Jewish people are connected to G-d.

Next, rams are offered. With Isaac's sacrifice, the ram is a substitute which also represents fear of G-d and the subservience of our will to Him. The ram serves the same purposes here.
The first ram represents the Kohanim. They lay their hands on it, putting themselves into it. And then they sacrifice it - dedicating themselves to G-d like Isaac himself.
The Kohanim dip the blood of the second ram on their right big toe, thumbs and ears. They thus signal that the prime of their will (from the feet or legs), action (from the thumbs) and influence (from the ears), will be dedicated to G-d. They constrain themselves.
By waving unleavened and oiled bread - representations of human labor and purification - before Hashem, the Kohen shows that they are constrained because they represent the people.

The altar itself is then sanctified through sin offerings. Through sin offerings even our failings can be made into positives. We thus prepare our imperfect reality for the presence of G-d.
Finally, G-d is brought into the picture through the continual, and thus timeless, offerings. Sheep enable their keepers - who are often nomads - great freedom. By making them part of this offering, we can see that the timelessness of the divine is brought in, despite the flexibility of the world it is entering.

Put this all together, and you've got a Kohen.

To remember the whole thing, just keep in mind three themes.

The Kohen's will is constrained.
The Kohen brings the people into G-d's world.
And the Kohen brings G-d into ours.

Everything follows from there.

By Geolina163 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Ki-Tisa: A New Relationship

Worshiping a golden calf is just silly, right? Well, maybe not...

Transcript & Notes

When I read about the Golden Calf I used to be like "Those idiots! Worshipping a golden calf? How stupid is that!" This was followed not long after with "I'm not going to be worshipping any baby cows - gold or otherwise - so who cares, right?"

It took me quite a long while to see things in a different light.

I'm slow that way.

But if you want to see it my way - and who wouldn't want that, right? - come with me on a voyage through the text.

The voyage starts with a question: Why were the Jewish people enslaved in Egypt?

After the war between the Kings, G-d promises Avraham that he will be rewarded. Avraham believes Him and everything is hunky dory.

But then G-d adds: "I am the Lord that brought you out of Ur Kasdim, to give you this land to possess it."
By the way Ur Kasdim means 'destroyers of light.' G-d is saying he brought Avraham out of a world that destroyed opportunity.

And how does Avraham reply?
He basically says: "Prove it."

Suddenly G-d's stated promise isn't enough. But why not? What changed?

I think the problem is that Avraham thought of himself as the actor. He thought he was responsible for his own success. He couldn't quite accept G-d taking credit for taking him out of Ur Kasdim.
It is entirely understandable. We like to think of ourselves as actors in our own lives.

G-d's response to Avraham is pretty hardcore. Abraham will live a long life and die in peace, but his descendants will suffer exile and pain before they return to the land. And the text suggests they will be driven apart and only experience redemption after a period of smoke and furnaces and unprecedented darkness.
By making the Jewish people helpless, and then rescuing them, they will learn - without a doubt - that G-d rescued them. That He took them from darkness. Then, they will finally be able to limit their own egos and realize their divine mission.

So, Joseph makes Pharaoh into the most powerful man ever - a man who thinks he's a god. And the family goes to Egypt. And they get enslaved. And they are weakened and beat up and helpless. And they come out like insects, unable to fight back or defend themselves. And then G-d rescues them and brings them across the sea. And they recognize that G-d brought them out of Egypt.

All done, right?

Well, not quite. Soon afterwards, Moshe's business trip up the mountain takes a little longer than expected. The people freak out and make the Golden Calf and worship it.

What's up with that, right?

Well, the actual name of the calf is the Egel Maseicha. Egel is a young cow, which is important. And Maseicha means something like 'amalgamated.' This is also, you guessed it, important.
If we go back to our symbolism of offerings, a cow represents a nation. A young cow, then, represents a young nation. And gold represents divinity. And the thing is fashioned from the people's earrings; it's how they communicate with one another. Amalgamating these earrings together literally embodies the community.

Taken all together, the people have made a god of themselves.
They are worshipping the power of their own crowd.

When they say "This is your god who brought you out of Egypt" they are doing exactly what Avraham did. They are making themselves the actor in their Exodus from a land that destroyed opportunity.

By the way, this idea of self-worship is everywhere in the story.

The people play when they worship. If you're worshipping yourself, how better to serve your god than by playing? This is when G-d intercedes; when they are unquestionably worshipping themselves.
When Moshe comes down the mountain he tells Yohoshua: "It isn't the sound of answering might, and it isn't the sound of answering defeat but the sound of answering, I hear." Move the comma, which isn't in the text itself, and it reads: "the sound of answering I, hear."
The people are speaking to themselves and Moshe is telling Yohoshua to recognize it.
Later, Moshe says that the people have been Pharoahed. They have been made like Pharoah, seeing themselves as god-like.
And when it comes time to punish them, Moshe commands: "slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor."
Why attack your brother, companion and neighbor? Because Moshe is destroying the social cohesion that enabled the nation to worship itself.

Moshe doesn't stop with punishment, of course.
G-d wants to destroy us. After all, we just don't learn.
But Moshe rebuilds the relationship with G-d. I'd love to talk about how he does this. But we'll have to skip that for now.
What's critical is that, before this, the Jewish people have no national punishments - unless we mistreated the widow and the orphan.
But after this, national punishments abound.
If we do not represent G-d, we suffer - showing G-d's presence. And if we do, we are rewarded - again, showing G-d's presence.
We don't have to harken to the Lord to witness His presence. But we are blessed or cursed based on how we embody His values.
We become bellwethers of the divine.

Why does this matter now?
Well…. G-d's promise to Avraham doesn't name the Egyptians as the oppressors. It promised 400 years of oppression - but the Egyptian slavery did not last 400 years.
Isn't it possible that the smoke and furnaces and unprecedented darkness of G-d's covenant with Abraham were not only about Egypt? Isn't it possible they also referred to the Holocaust?

Less than 75 years ago, we were helpless slaves in the face of those who saw themselves as supermen. We suffered unprecedented darkness and furnaces and smoke.
And less than 70 years ago, we were rescued and we came to possess our promised land.

At that time, we recognized the miracle of our salvation. In some way, we recognized the hand of G-d in our Exodus from a land that destroyed light.

But do we still?

Do we still recognize that we are here but for the grace of G-d? Or do we believe that we are our own salvation?
Do we emphasize G-d's pride? Or do we pat ourselves on the back, emphasizing our own innovation and might?
Do we represent G-d's values of creation and investment in the timeless? Or do we worship our own wisdom or chase after the values of other peoples?

Do we worship a calf of our own?

The answers are unclear.

In fact, I believe we are suspended between blessing and curse. Our economy grows, our farms are productive but - as foretold in the curses of the Torah - we have skies of iron, which we honor and call Iron Dome.
We have those who do not create, and we have those who do not invest in the timeless.
But as a society we often do both.

We hang in the balance.

We hang in the balance.

But by learning the lessons of the calf, we can recognize G-d's place and tip the scales towards redemption.

Shabbat Shalom.

Vayakel-Pekudai: Mishkan Fever

Do you know anybody who has ever sat through the second description of the Mishkan (and the Kohen's clothing!) and wanted to pull their hair out while screaming "AGAIN, WHY REPEAT THE MOST BORING STUFF AGAIN?!?"
I don't happen to know anybody like that.
But if you do, the following might just help answer their question.

Transcript & Notes

Do you know anybody who has ever sat through the second description of the Mishkan (and the Kohen's clothing!) and wanted to pull their hair out while screaming "AGAIN, WHY REPEAT THE MOST BORING STUFF AGAIN?!?"
I don't happen to know anybody like that.
But if you do, the following might just help answer their question.
And there is even a chance that it won't cause them to tear their hair out!

Let's begin with a refresher from Parashat Terumah. The Menorah, showbread and Ark are all representations of G-d's revelations. And those revelations are surrounded by pillars and curtains representing the Kingdom of Priests and the Holy People.
The Mishkan is a literal representation of G-d dwelling within the people.
If you want to learn more, I've got a video about it.

Okay, so we know why we described it once.
But why do it again?

Well, the first design represented G-d's desire to dwell among the people. It was a culmination of the pre-Calf relationship. But then the people sinned by worshipping their own collective being, in the form of the calf.
In the passages that follow, Moshe establishes a new relationship with G-d.
But it comes with a price: for the first time, there are national rewards and punishments.
We are like the stiff-necked donkey at the end of Parshat Ki Tisa - if we are not redeemed, then we suffer tremendously.
But Moshe does not want the people to suffer.
So, at the beginning of this reading, Moshe reminds the people of Shabbat; our basic job is to emulate the cycle of creation and investment in the timeless (Ex. 35:2). It is how we build a relationship with G-d and how we lead mankind to that same relationship.
But then he adds an odd second command.
We are not to burn a fire in our 'Shabbats' on the Shabbat day (Ex. 35:3). Why pick that prohibition? Thinking of fire as an expression of G-d's spiritual energy (as in the burning bush), we can see two things here.
First: if we burn fire in our own Shabbat we'd be elevating ourselves too much; and thus emulating the same mistakes that led to the Sin of the Calf.
But second, and more importantly: without the Mishkan, there is no place for G-d's full spiritual expression on the very day in which we are to rest with Him.
Moshe's command emphasizes the spiritual void that exists within the community. It emphasizes the break in the relationship with G-d.

Interestingly, Moshe doesn't follow up by actually commanding the people to build the Mishkan; he just reminds them that G-d commanded it and tells them that the wise will perform the commandment (Ex. 35:4-5).
He leaves it up to them to rekindle the flame of their relationship.
He leaves it up to them to express their wisdom by filling the void.

What follows is remarkable.
The people leave Moshe's presence (Ex. 35:30) and then build the Mishkan themselves. G-d's explicit presence is absent for the entire process and Moshe steps in only once - as we'll see.
In this telling, patrons are motivated by their noble hearts and act of their own free will (Ex. 35:21). Wise and motivated women prepare curtains and coverings (Ex. 35:25-26). Princes give jewels that represent the people's relationship to G-d. And noble patrons even bring other patrons (Ex. 22), and it is a sign of their nobility.
Eventually, the people give more and do more than is needed - and Moshe steps in for the only time, but only in order to slow them down (Ex. 36:5).

Betzalel, who was already granted wisdom by G-d, then works with the people to build everything to G-d's plan; emphasizing the people's respect for G-d's design over their own.

This Mishkan is the same physical building G-d described - but it has been created from a human perspective. The cold and collective anonymity of the first description has been replaced by one in which the people mark their dedication through individual donation and action.

Through this, the people have inverted the symbolism of the building.

In the first telling, the articles of revelation came first (Ex. 25). G-d wants to dwell within the people.
But now, the curtains and the pillars, which represent the people come first (36:8) .
The people want G-d to dwell among them.

In the first telling, the incense altar is only designed well after the copper one (Ex. 30). Smells speaks to our emotions in a remarkably primitive and effective way. In the first telling, the emotional connection to G-d was to have a place, but only well after we had invested our own creation in the divine relationship.
Here, the incense altar comes before the copper one (Ex. 37:25). We invest our emotions first, and the rest follows.

In the first telling, the washbasins were described contiguously to the anonymous donations of the half-shekel (Ex. 30:17). The priests were to cleanse themselves of any individual influences.
But now, they are made from women's mirrors (Ex. 38:8). The women are described as a multitude - recalling the masses of the people who worshipped the calf.
The tools of vanity that led to self-worship are sacrificed to prepare the Kohanim for their proximity to G-d.
The Kohanim wash in the women's atonement for the Sin of the Calf.

The building of the Mishkan represents the only time that the concepts of Holiness and Creative Effort - Kadosh and Melacha - are brought together. Even G-d rests from His creative effort to allow for holiness.
But this work, and this work alone, directly builds the timeless relationship to G-d.

This building is a human one. It is an expression of emotion and of a desire to rebuild the relationship with G-d - on G-d's terms.

This Mishkan reflects the relationship - the relationship that exists after the sin of the Calf.

For the people, it is a far more visceral relationship. We are G-d's partners now, not just his servants.
Only the Kohen Gadol, with the G-d-representing gold in the ephod cut down to a single dimension (Ex. 39:3), finds his relationship simplified. The errors that were made with the Calf lead him to have a far more constrained role.

When the flat-pack Mishkan is brought to Moshe, he sees it and he blesses the people (Ex. 39:43).
It is then that G-d finally returns to the scene and commands Moshe to actually construct the building (Ex. 40:2).
And then, at the end of the book of Exodus, the fire of the Lord comes and dwells within the people (Ex. 40:34).
The repair is complete.

When describing the curtains that represent the Holy Nation, the text says "All the wise-hearted people made the curtains… a Keruvim design, the work of a master weaver he made them." (Ex. 36:8)
Keruvim are those who are close to G-d. And the curtains represent the Holy Nation.
In this verse, it is clear who the plural 'wise-hearted people' are, but the singular 'He' is ambivalent.

I like to think that all the wise-hearted people dedicate their effort to making a Holy Nation, one that is close to G-d.

But, ultimately, it is G-d alone who makes it real.

Shavua Tov.

Vayikra: Relationship Advice

I find this reading so interesting that I have a really hard time picking what to talk about.

When it comes to Vayikra, I’m like a poodle on meth.

Find out why by watching!

Transcript & Notes

I love this reading. I know, I know, it might seem boring to some and savage to others. But to me it is so interesting that I've had a really hard time picking what to talk about.
When it comes to Vayikra, I'm like a poodle on meth.

Okay: the whole point of the offerings is that we're investing what we've created.
We can only bring animals from our flocks; wild animals can't be offered. We bring our crops, not - with a few key exceptions - fruit, which are gifts from G-d. We bring the stuff Adam couldn't. We, unlike him, are productive, creative, people who walk in the image of G-d.
With these offerings, we can establish a relationship with Him.

Of course, when we invest what we create, we're investing a part of ourselves. All the offerings contain some aspect of us - the aspect that's relevant to the message of the offering itself.

On the most general level, every animal offering we bring has holiness within it. It is just expressed physiologically. Chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese are all kosher, but we don't offer them. We only offer doves. Why? Because doves are the only kosher bird that produces milk for its young. They physiologically invest their creation in the timeless. And so, they can represent us.

Okay - let's get on to some specifics!

As I'm sure you've heard, the word korban comes from the root 'close.' The offerings are about drawing close to G-d. The question is, how?

Let's say we've got a guy named Benei Yisrael. We'll call him Benny Israel. So, he lays eyes on a truly singular shechina. It's gotta happen some time, right? Or at least once?
Bear with me.
Well, he'll buy that shechina flowers. It isn't exclusive or nothin', it is just an expression of his will. The point isn't that he's rich - the singular shechina is loaded. It's that he's investing in what he hopes will be a beautiful relationship. It's an offering of will, a transfer. That's an olah offering, an elevation offering to G-d. It is male animal because the male represents will: in a reproductive sense, the male has the unique power of positive will.
Now, Benny Israel might buy this unique Shechina a drink, but he's not alone. olah offerings didn't require an exclusive relationship. But let's say things get more serious. Now, he wants to demonstrate not just will, but a level of dedication, refinement and emotional involvement in their growing relationship. He's laying it on thick. This is a mincha offering, which is meant to influence. Yaacov sent gifts to 'the man in Egypt' in order to influence, and it was called a mincha. How do you show dedication, refinement and emotion? Flour, which required a lot of work to make showed dedication. Oil, which required multiple rounds of purification, showed refinement. And incense, which touches our emotional nerves, demonstrated emotional involvement. Voila'

Next thing you know, Benny Israel and the unique Shechina are getting engaged. He wants to show he's all in. He is totally dedicated. This is the zevach shelamim. The mizbeach converts the physical into the spiritual. It represents a sort of flowing change. And shalom doesn't only mean 'hi', it can also mean 'complete.'
zevach shelamim shows Benny is completely into this relationship.
As part of the animal offeiring, he burns up the kidneys and the lobe above the liver, which represent purification. He also burns the diaphragm which separates the digestive and reproductive functions - and thus the holy cycle, from the heart and lungs. In a way, it encases the holy cycle. Finally, he burns up the chelev - the fats that sustain the animal in dire emergencies and thus represent its core investment in survival over time. They represent its short-term holiness.
Benny is dedicating the three aspects of closeness to G-d: the cycle of investment, the dedication to purity and the core holiness which emerges from the two.
By the way, this offering doesn't appear until the end of Parshat Mishpatim. It is unique to the Jewish people and their relationship to G-d. But it does appear before the Mishkan.

Okay, so now Benny Israel has the Shechina move in together. They build a nice little Mishkan in the desert. But then Benny screws up. So he gets the shechina a gift - a chatat offering. Somehow, through the mystery of relationships, that makes it all better. This kind of thing can only happen when a couple is together.
The level of the mess up really demonstrates which gift he gets. Sheep and goats represent rambunctiousness. They're a good choice for individuals. Females are offered because the female represents actualization, not will. Basically, you screwed up, you were rambunctious - I love that word! - but you didn't mean to do it. Not really. It's all better, now. Which is pretty cool.
But when a leader or the nation screws up, they bring a bull - representing the nation's will. The whole 'didn't mean to', thing doesn't apply.

Then, one time, Benny Israel gets confused, or confuses others - well, that can cause problems. Avimelech said, after discovering that Sarah was Avraham's wife, 'you would have brought us Asham.' It is a sin caused by blindness, or the sin of causing blindness.
Relationships rely on honesty and clarity. So, if you get confused or confuse others, you bring an Asham offering. Interestingly, only the middle tier asham requires an olah offering. The poor person lacks resources - and so they might resent the olah. And the rich person can choose to bring their own olah easily, they are aware of their resources and capabilities. But the middle person is reminded of their spiritual capabilities by the obligation to bring an olah as part of the asham.
You pay attention because the relationship is worth it.

Finally, Benny Israel pawns some of the shechina's jewelry to buy himself a watch. Not a good thing! In return, he has to buy the jewelry back and bring a ram as an offering of fear and submission.
He won't do that again, am I right!

Looked at in this light, the offerings, from the olah to the mincha to the asham, give us the tools to both strengthen and repair our relationship to G-d. Remarkably, in the chatat offerings, both can be accomplished at once.

Poodle out.

Tzav: Theory of Relative Holiness

You are not a time traveler. You are experiencing reality. Do not adjust your set. The Torah reading *does* repeat the offerings of Vayikra. The question is... why?

Transcript & Notes

'tis the season for deja vu. As you read the Torah reading of Tzav, you might think that the Torah is discussing the same offerings it discussed - just last week - in the Torah reading of Vayikra.
No, you are not a time traveler. You are experiencing reality. Do not adjust your set.
We read about the same offerings. Again.

When you dig in, you can see the two tellings aren't the same. On the most obvious level, Vayikra is about the people bringing the offerings while Tzav is told from the perspective of the Kohanim themselves.
And so there are differences. But one difference is greater than all the others.
In Vayikra, only the portion of the grain-based Mincha offering that the Kohen actually ate is described as Kadosh - or Holy.
But in Tzav, describing the same offerings, the word Holy is tossed around like a balloon in a thunderstorm.

Can the same offerings be both Holy and not?

That question is the basis of the world-famous Theory of Holy Relativity.

Back in the episode about the Golden Calf - For the Love of Mooooo… - we saw the Jewish people worshipping themselves. Like Avraham before, they imagined that they'd brought themselves out of a place of total darkness. They imagined themselves agents of their own redemption.
I also argued that Abraham's dark covenant with G-d was not completed by Egypt - but indeed elements, like smoke and furnaces and unparalleled darkness, pointed to the Holocaust itself.
We were reduced to nothing and then we were redeemed; so that we'd recognize G-d's agency and his redemption.

Now, my mom - yes, Avatars can have mothers, we're people too - argued that the evil of the Holocaust was too great for anything positive to emerge.
After all, how can the gassing of children be tied to the glory of G-d?

She's right, of course.

And yet, we celebrate Pesach.
A people allowed itself to be slowly enveloped by terror. But we celebrate.
In a genocidal push, Pharaoh drowned all of the Jewish boys. But we celebrate.
A megalomaniac ruler who imagined himself a god persecuted us. But we celebrate.
The Jewish people became so hopeless they stopped having children. But we celebrate.
Leaders of our own people tried desperately to get along, even though the genocidal desires of our oppressors were clear. But we celebrate.
According to the Midrash, the vast majority of our people died. But we celebrate.
And our oppressor was punished with mass death and destruction. But we celebrate.

All of this was followed by redemption; Stunning redemption and a return to our land.
All of this was followed by a reason to celebrate.

We don't close our eyes to the suffering. And, yet, somehow, we see the Egyptian Exodus as fundamentally joyful.

Why is this Exodus different from every other Exodus?

I think the difference lays in only one thing: time.

With time, we lose touch with the death and the destruction.
But we continue to hold on to what has survived.
That which is destroyed is intangible. But the green shoot of life remains with us to this day.
With time, our perspective changes.

And that's okay.
Yitzchak survived the Akeidah and runs to the physical and away from the spiritual. But he was blessed.
Moshe fought the horrors of the Exodus. He resisted participation. He begged Pharaoh, again and again, to come to his senses to end the slaughter. He wanted to short-circuit the whole affair. But he was not cursed.
The Jewish people themselves complained - after all the miracles - that G-d had just brought them to the desert to die. They didn't trust G-d. G-d punished the generation of the Exodus for other things, but He never punished them for this. The Manna itself was response to this exact complaint.
And my own grandfather - yes, avatars can have those too - would curse G-d at his Pesach Seder for the terrors and sufferings of his generation. And yet, his family and people have flourished.

We are different than G-d. We must be for Him to have a relationship with us. We are not meant to be automatons. We have a different perspective and that's okay.

Holiness is relative.

In Vayikra, only the grain that is eaten - the offering that has no apparent waste of life or produce - is called Holy. It is a human perspective. If an animal dies or flour is made into smoke, then we should feel loss, no matter what understanding we might develop of the greater picture.
In Tzav, which has the perspective of G-d's priests, and of G-d himself - the picture changes. We see Holiness in the dedication of animals' lives to the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d. Those offerings represent the realization of the greatest potential those animals can have.
Their lives are not wasted, they are fuel for the greatest spiritual realities.
We do not see what follows death, but G-d can.

Sometimes our pain and sacrifices are part of a bigger story. Sometimes, they form a key part of the bond between G-d, His people and the world as a whole.
But those who suffer are not blamed for seeing loss where G-d might see holiness.

By not using the word Kadosh in Parshat Vayikra, G-d is telling us 'that's okay'.

Sometimes, we don't need to understand.

In fact, sometimes, we must try not to.

We had 14 days warning of the Exodus, but didn't even think to make sandwiches for the long walk to Israel. We totally lacked initiative and so we ate Matzah. It is forever a sign of our enslavement.
When we eat Matzot and Maror at the Seder, we are bringing ourselves back to the human perspective.
And by embracing the human perspective, we can begin to understand that of the divine.
We can remember that we were powerless and oppressed, and that G-d alone brought us out of Egypt; just as He brought Avraham out of Ur Kasdim and the Jewish nation out of Europe.
By remembering the lessons of the past, we can circumvent the sufferings of the future.

But we can do more than that. By embracing the human perspective - and then celebrating the divine - we can understand that perhaps our own tribulations are but a part of a greater story which we cannot hope to understand.

Perhaps, it is through both the sufferings and the joys of the Egyptian Exodus that we can find the path to our ultimate redemption.

May you have a Chag Kasher v'Sameach - a Kosher and a Joyous Holiday.
Thank you.

Shemini: Drawing Close to the Holy

One little mistake, and Nadav and Avihu were toast! The laws of Kashrut show us why...

Transcript & Notes

The deaths of Nadav and Avihu have got to seem like one of the weirdest things in the Torah.
Nadav and Avihu are dedicated Kohanim. In order to show their dedication and love of G-d, they even brought their own special offering. But, Shazam! next thing you know, they're toast.
And then G-d says that they sanctified Him. He killed them, and somehow that extends His holiness.
You'd be among some pretty esteemed company if you thought the Big Guy was being a bit sensitive. And you'd be among even more august folk if you wondered how any of this would make G-d holy.

Well, I think we're about to clear it all up. So why not have a watch and see if you agree?

As we've discussed before, holiness is investment in the timeless. We create, like G-d, for six days - and then we use what we create to invest in the timeless. We can invest with offerings, we can invest by resting with G-d on the Sabbath and the Sabbatical or we can invest by fighting against the real-world risk and loss that threaten those on the margins of society.
It's a ying-yang thing.
We change the physical world in order to invest in the unchanging spiritual one.

But the whole unchanging spiritual thing is not easy to grasp. So it'd be really helpful to have some general principles to help us engage with the timeless, right?

Well, lucky for us, the dietary laws - the laws of Kashrut - come right after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. And they are an excellent guide to approaching the Holy.

So, all puns aside, let's dig in!
Ignoring dumb blond jokes, the sky is a place without death. In a way, it has the purity of the heavens. So birds are symbolically close to the heavens. What birds are kosher? Well, the Torah has no general principles defining them. Instead, they are forbidden by name. When we're close to G-d, He defines the rules. Our own thought is minimized.

What about fish? Fish live in the waters, which represent the transmission of spirituality. As pointed out by Shaya Cohen, scales separate the fish from their waters. They separate these fish from the mass of spirituality. Fins give these fish direction through those waters. The lesson: there are many forms of spirituality; when we immerse in spirituality, our path must be both distinct and directed. We can't just float around.

When we come to flying insects, we see the phrase "go on four" describing those which are unkosher. The word Arbah can mean 'four', but it can also mean 'multiply.'
Insects lack individual purpose and will. They just teem. They progress, not as individuals, but through the process of multiplication and reproduction. They change through genetics. The phrase "go on four" (Lv 11:20) could be describing this process.
Perhaps this is why some of those bugs (with thighs that enable them to rise above the earth) can be consumed. Thighs and legs are a sign of will in the Torah. Only those bugs with symbolical will are consumable. And, as they leap into the air, they must be designated by G-d - just like the birds themselves.

Finally, animals on our own plane must represent the cycle of holiness.
By chewing cud, essentially getting the most out of food, an animal shows a symbolic resistance to waste and to loss. They demonstrate purity and a connection to timelessness.
Split hooves are a bit more complex. In the Torah, hands represent execution. An animal with no hands at all would have no power of execution or creation, at least in the symbolic plane. But one with palms (Lv 11:27) or hands would be so connected to productive activity that eating them would itself be an act of fundamental destruction. So, we pick those in the middle; those with split hooves - like those weird cold-weather bicycle gloves. The split hooves represent creation, but do not enable it.
The sign of the priestly blessing looks like the sign of split hooves; perhaps for this very reason. The Kohanim represent the creative, but are not supposed to be creative themselves.

So what did Nadav and Avihu do?

The mincha offering of ordinary men has three elements. Oil, representing purification. Flour, representing creative effort. And incense, representing emotion. (Lv 2:1)

The mincha offering of the Kohanim is similar, but not quite the same. Kohanim are to be an interface with G-d, not actors in their own right. They are to represent the emotions of the people, not their own emotions (For more, see the episode titled "The Making of a Kohen."). And so, there is no incense in their mincha offering (Lv. 6:13-14).

But Nadav and Avihu bring incense, and incense alone (Lv: 10:1). And there is a suggestion that they did it while drunk (Lev. 10:9).

Kohanim are awash in spirituality, like fish. Their actions must be distinct and directed.
But Nadav and Avihu embraced the incense offering of ordinary men, losing the distinction represented by scales. In addition, they were driven by raw emotion. They didn't have the direction represented by fins.
They floated in spirituality.

Next, Nadav and Avihu were intoxicated. They lost the power of the will represented by the jumping bugs.

While Nadav and Avihu were close to G-d, like birds, they defined their own offerings. In this way, they tried to define holiness. But G-d defines holiness. And the closer to the heavens we draw, the more this is reinforced.

Finally, Nadav and Avihu brought only incense. There was no purity, as represented by oil - or creativity, as represented by flour. The cycle of holiness was replaced by a simple emotional desire to be close to G-d. And that simple desire isn't enough. We must embrace the cycle of holiness as represented by the split hoof and the chewing of cud.

The laws of Kashrut end with the statement: "You shall be Holy because I am Holy."
The laws of Kashrut show us the principles of drawing close to holiness.

We are close to the heavens. The Kosher birds teach us that our holiness is defined by G-d.
We are awash in spirituality. The kosher fish teach us our actions must be distinct and directed.
We are at risk of simply living our genetic lives. The kosher bugs teach us we must embrace our conscious will.
And we are land animals (well, mammals really - physiologically dedicated to sustaining the next generation). The kosher animals teach us we must always engage with the cycle of holiness - of creation and investment in the timeless.

Nadav and Avihu violated all of these principles.

But their deaths reinforced them.

This is both why they died, and how their deaths sanctified G-d.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tazria: Holy Calculus

Have you heard the song "Leprosy.... I'm half the man I used to be..."?

It's pretty funny. Wrong, but funny.

You see, Tzaarat actually adds to a person.

Watch, and find out how!

Transcript & Notes

Okay, let's get one thing straight. The leprosy thing isn't just a works program for Kohanim.
I mean, it does make sense. The core structure of the Mishkan is about a half the size of a 7-11. And a third of that space is basically off-limits.
Get a couple thousand Kohanim working in there with knives and splashing blood and everything and I can assure you - it would take a miracle to get Health & Safety off your back. For you Americans, that's OSHA.
Of course, if you let a couple thousand unemployed Kohanim hang around outside the 7-11 - just imagine the mischief they'd get up to! Silent Bob x a million, am I right?
So, G-d's got to give them something to do. Voila, a skin disease!

Except, well, there's a little bit more to it than that.

Let's rewind a bit.

Reputation-seeking is one of our fundamental desires. We want others to regard us in a good light. But that's only the start. We (well, many of us) want lots of people to admire us. We want renown.
But there's a problem.
We have limited capacity for recognition: If somebody is brought to great renown, then others lose their opportunity.
There can only be so many Youtube stars.
So, whether through basketball or war, men compete in search of renown.
In the process, they largely abandon the cycle of creation and rest with the divine. They abandon the cycle of goodness and holiness.
This is why the great men of renown are a catalyst for the flood - they inevitably corrupt the good (Gen 6:4-5,11).
And a huge part of the Exodus is about crushing the pride of the proudest of men. Pharaoh is made an example of: so that we can recognize the unique glory of G-d.

What does this have to do with the weird disease/mold thing the Torah calls Tzaraat?


Think about it.
The sufferer of Tzaraat is supposed to walk around muttering 'impure, impure.' (Lv: 13:45) Impurity is a loss of potential.
But these lepers are outside the camp; everybody around them has Tzaraat (if there's anybody around them). (Lv 13:46)
So, who are they talking to?

The answer is that they're talking to themselves.
They are recognizing their own failures.

And when you look at the terminology, it's enough to make your eyes cross. I mean this isn't the kind of thing you can look up on webmd.
I think it is meant to be hard to understand - so people can't self-diagnose. You have to go to a Kohen.
By coming to a Kohen, you're submitting to a higher authority.
By coming to a Kohen, even though he does nothing to cure you, you take the first step to admitting your own limitations.

Conceit is not only personal. It can reside in clothes and in our houses.

When the disease hits clothes, the Torah doesn't describe them as fancy smanchy cool garments. It describes them as tzemer and pisthtim (Lv. 13:48). They are the lowest forms of wool and linen.
It basically describes people wearing flax.
All by itself, the text takes the sufferer - those who are conceited because of their clothes - down a notch.

And when the disease strikes houses, it strikes stone houses. Stones last. They tend to give their occupants a certain sense of permanence and pride. Making them take the things down, piece of piece, has a corrective element to it. (Lv. 14:40,45).
It reinforces that nothing of humankind's is permanent.

Finally, when Miriam gets Tzaraat, G-d says: "Should she not hide in shame?" (Num. 12:14)

This is the most revealing bit of all: shame is the antidote to pride.

But the process of healing is not just about breaking us down. It is also about building us up.

Nothing is more poignant than the offering of the birds. We take two birds.
Birds, flying through a sky that has no death, symbolically represent closeness to the purity of G-d.
One bird is killed and the living bird is then dipped in the dead bird's blood - together with Ayzov, cedar and Tola'at Shani. (Lv. 14: 4-6)
The cedar can be one of the oldest trees in the world - certainly the oldest near Israel. They can be thousands of years old. They represent the past and solid roots.
The tola'at shani - connected to the Manna - represents our trust in G-d and His investment in us.
And the Azyov represents our ability to gradually change the world.

We are the bird; we fly close to the heavens. But we are more than that. We have solid roots. G-d has invested in us. And we are able to change the world.

Our conceit puts all of that at risk.
When the living bird is dipped in the blood of the dead one and then freed we are not only reminded of the risks of conceit, we are reminded that we can fly once again.

When the blood of the Asham offering is dipped on our ears, thumbs and toes - it serves as a limit on the words we obey, the actions we take and the will we are driven by. (Lv 14:14)
We then repeat the process with oil - representing purity. The words we obey, the actions we take and the will we are driven by are all enhanced by the purity of G-d. (Lv 14:17)

Seen this way, Tzaraat isn't a curse.
It is a blunt reminder that serves as an opportunity for blessing.

Of course, we don't have Tzaraat any more.
The opening to this week's reading explains why.
After a woman gives birth, she's impure. But she is impure because she has 'the blood of purity'. (Lv 12:5)
As I see it, giving birth represents the height of creative realization. As the new mother falls away from these heights, she is impure. Impurity is about the loss of potential. But this impurity is only relative - it is founded on a base of remarkable accomplishment. It is founded on the blood of purity.

Likewise, Tzaraat is a physical manifestation of our conceit.
But as with new birth, the conceit is only relative.
Tzaraat must be founded on a remarkable relationship with the divine.

The absence of Tzaraat is not a blessing.

Instead, it is a reminder of our distance from the glory of G-d.

Shabbat Shalom.

Acharei-Kedoshim: The Mystery of Atonement

We used to send away our goat before Yom Kippur. I think I finally understand why...

Transcript & Notes

For those who don't know, my family became religious in a bit of a vacuum. And so we had some, um, odd, practices.
When we were kids, we had two goats: Zoom and Galigali.
Anyway, before Yom Kippur, we'd send one of our goats away. To Azazel. Of course, we didn't throw the goat over the side of a mountain. We didn't have the stomach for that and, anyways, goats are very very sure-footed.
Of course, inevitably, the goat would come back. One year we even drove the goat away - as in, in a truck. But, sure enough, about 4 days later, it was back.
That didn't seem to be such a good omen.

Any, as you might imagine, this process made quite an impression on me.
What were we doing with this poor goat? And how did that goat find its way home?

Well, I have some ideas on Azazel.
But I still don't know how the animal found its way back.

To understand Azazel, let's start with the concept of Kaper. This word is generally translated as 'atonement' and often used in relation to a kind of sin - Chata.
More critically, the bigger set of rituals surrounding Azazel are kind of obsessed with Kaper. There's a reason it's called Yom Kippur (or the day of Kaper).
So let's unpack this.

First, what is Chata - or sin? Well, when Joseph's brothers beg him not to retaliate after Yaacov dies (Gn. 50:17), they define Chata as doing evil. Where good is an act of creation, Chata is an act of destruction.

But Chata is more than an act, it also represents a destructive impulse. The first use of the word for Chata is in regard to Cain. The text (Gen 4:7) says "By the opening, Chata is expectantly waiting and it desires you…"
Chata has personification. Even more critically, it is trying to get in through an opening.

By contrast, the first use of the word Kaper isn't about sin at all. Instead, it refers to pitch used by Noach to protect his Ark (Gen 6:14). Kaper here is both a sealant and the act of sealing.

Put these two together and you have the concept of Kaper sealing against the spiritually corrosive desire to destroy.

In this light, this week's focus on the grand annual act of Kaper is about sealing the people against spiritual corrosion. In a way, this is like regularly applying pitch to a boat or paint to a house. You are sealing your physical soul so that spiritual corrosion can't affect its core.
How does this seal work? In most cases, we create this seal by placing some aspect of ourselves in the offerings and then bringing the offering to G-d. The animal's blood - it's potential - takes on an attribute of the people and is then dedicated to G-d. In a way, we recommit ourselves to G-d's project of creation without destruction - and thus protect our animating souls from the desire to destroy.
This is why we can't eat blood (Lv. 17:10-14). By eating the blood, we bring the animal unrefined soul into us, instead of putting ourselves in the animal. We undermine our own souls instead of reinforcing them. (we also disrespect the animal's lifeforce by simply making it into food)

This idea of Kaper as a sealant extends. We give a half-shekel as a Kaper before the census (Ex. 30:15). It seals us from the dangers of being held up before G-d.
The Aron has a Kaper, with Keruvim (or angels) on it (Ex. 26:34). Those angels were last seen closing off access to the Garden of Eden. They seal the Aron and the Ten Commandments from intrusion. They enable it to be timeless.
The offerings don't only Kaper the people, they Kaper the Altar, the Mishkan and the Holy of Holies itself (Lv. 16:33). Why would the Altar and Holy of Holies need atonement? They don't. But they need to be sealed against spiritual corrosion.
When a man commits manslaughter, the family of the deceased can ask for a Kaper (Ex. 21:30). It is a payment to seal him against their vengeance.
Finally, when Moshe does Kaper for the people after the sin of the calf, he doesn't wipe away or cover up the sin. He just - forever - prevents it from overwhelming the people (Ex. 32:30).

In more modern times, some of the best anti-virus software is from a company called Kaspersky. It forms a seal against computer viruses, of course, that one's probably a coincidence.

Anyway, immediately after the laws of Yom Kippur - the day of sealing G-d's timeless people against the effects of sin - there are a grab bag of commands which follow. They form a social seal protecting our symbolic dedication to the core value of creation without waste or destruction.
With the first set of these, we are forbidden from uncovering the weakness of those close to us - and by extension ourselves. Forbidding exposure is kind of like sealing something, right?

So what about Azazel?
Well, there are two goats in this operation.
One is offered to G-d - as a Kaper to Yud-Key-Vav-Kay (Lv. 16:9)- the name of G-d that incorporates the past, present, and future. It seals the people against spiritual corrosion and becomes a part of the timeless through its sacrifice.
The other is given its own Kaper. It is stood before G-d, sealing it against the corrosion of the people's sins. Then the people's sins (Avonot) are placed on it and it is sent to Azazel (Lv: 16:10). Az Azel literally means 'goat of disappearance.' It is sent to a place of no time - and banished from our universe altogether.

This offering is an object lesson for us.
We can dedicate our potential to G-d - sealing ourselves against the corrosion of our sins and destructive desires.
With this, we can be part of the timeless.

Or, we can allow our sins to penetrate our core. And then, we can vanish from time itself; as if we never existed.

Even these thousands of years later, this stark contrast remains perhaps the strongest spiritual seal there can be.

Shabbat Shalom

Emor: Stability Reacquired

Nothing created yet

Behar-Behukotai: Overcoming the Time Value of Money

This week's reading, Behar Bechukotai, is all about overcoming the time value of money... Have a watch and find out more!

Transcript & Notes

Behar-Bechukotai is all about the Time Value of Money. "What's that" you ask? Well, if you lend somebody money, you want them to pay you interest - right?
There's good reason for this: things can go wrong. So we compensate for risk, with interest.
This is how we can calculate that a bird in the hand is worth 7% more than the one in the bush.
This may be the reality, but defying it is one of our most fundamental Mitzvot. We exist to invest in the timeless.
In fact, this portion is all about it. When we buy land, we assume every year until the Jubilee will be a good year and we pay up front for those good years. (Lv. 25:16)
We say - in defiance of reality - that the bird in the bush is worth exactly the same as the one in the hand (Lv. 25:36).
We spend more than something is worth - because we are investing in a timeless reality that does not yet exist. We spit in the face of risk - in honor of the timeless.
But our investment is more than just defiance of risk. Every seven days, we step outside of the world of creation and destruction. We invest our seventh day in our relationship with the timeless. And every seven years, we rest the land so it can do the same (Lv. 25:4). And every 50 years, we remember that our possession of the land is but a reflection of our relationship with G-d. We reset our rights to it, bringing back a timeless reality. (Lv. 25:10).
When we do these things, we are able to imitate G-d. Back in Bereshit (Genesis), we need to know evil in order to know good. We need to know risk before we become creators. But here, we grow new grain, even though we already have plenty which is old (Lv. 26:10). We create not because of fear, but because we can know good without evil.
As we join this virtuous circle of creation and investment, blessings pile upon blessings.
In fact, things become so fantastic that time itself bends around our relationship with G-d; the sixth year becomes better because we will keep the seventh (Lv. 25:21).
And at the apex, the forces of the universe itself - G-d's animating soul in our world - exempt us from their normal cycle of destruction (Lv 26:11). In Hebrew it reads, לא תיגל נפשי , 'my soul will not despise you.'
The Menorah captures this reality. It represents the burning bush; which represents creation without destruction. The Menorah represents G-d's unique power in this world and our greatest ambition. But it doesn't have six lights and then a seventh - primary one - last in the line. Instead, it has three lights on either side of the central stalk of Shabbat.
In our ideal, time itself is focused around the timeless divine relationship.
Of course, our blessings only happen if we embrace our mission. We are not completely free. Instead, we are like the inherited slaves from this reading - passed on from generation to generation (Lv. 44-46).
G-d has taken us from another land. He cannot sell us, but He can be rigorous with us. If we defy His mission, we are cursed seven ways (Lv. 26:18) - reflecting our violation of His seven-day divine cycle.
When this happens, all of the risks of the world are heaped upon us: We consume our own future, our children, in order to experience the present (Lv. 26:29). All that exists is the bird in the hand - and even that is vanishing.

We may think we are past the curses, but there is no guarantee of this. The Kipat Barzel - the Iron Dome - may be a shadow of the curse of an iron sky (Lv. 26:19).
Perhaps it is a reminder that if we want to live in G-d's land - close to Him and free of fear - we must create in His image and rest on His Sabbaths and constantly invest in a world without destruction.
Shabbat Shalom

Naso: Preparing the Princes

You heard that right, The Interpreter Speaks will explain why Sotah (the gut-busting adultery test) was applied to women and not to men. All of this in 60 seconds flat! If you want energy, this will get your blood boiling! (FYI, I do not condone male adultery!)

Transcript & Notes

Amy asks: "Why no Sotah for men!?!"

Amy is referring to the potentially gut-busting waters women suspected of adultery could be forced to drink.

Let's step back...

The Jewish covenant of circumcision makes procreation into a tool for continuing the divine relationship. Men are circumcised because they alone can choose to procreate. Even today, 'pro-choice' is all about the choice not to have children.

On the other hand, we always know who the momma is - the father's identity is less clear.

With marriage, she gets his will and he gets her distinction. Their babies are a continuation of their divine relationship.

If a married man sleeps around, it's unclear the little bastards are his - his loss, but also his choice. But his wife hasn't necessary lost access to his will; even though he's spreading it around.

But if a married woman even appears to sleep around, he loses access to her distinction. It is unclear the children continue his divine relationship.

Will can be granted without exclusivity, but distinction can not. So, Sotah is connected to female adultery alone.

Behaalotcha: Almost Eden

Joe needs to know! Which hairdo is holiest? It's a good question... The Interpreter Speaks answers in 60-seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Joe asks: "My wife and I disagree: can you tell us which hairstyle is holiest?"

Great question Joe!

In last week's reading, the Torah seemed to recommend the hippie look - the holy Nazir is not supposed to cut his hair at all.

But this week, we've got the metrosexual parade - the holy Levite is supposed to shave all his hair.

So which one's right?

When the Levites are initiated, they are offered to G-d as very public wave offerings. The Torah emphasizes that they are "given wholly to me." The Levites sacrifice their individuality.

But the Nazir is highly individual.

Near the end of the Torah, the 'blood of grapes' is described as replacing the animating soul of man. Because grapes would diminish the individual, the Nazir can't partake of them.

And while G-d commands the Levites to join their order, the Nazirs command themselves.

Big hair is big individuality - no hair is quite the opposite.

So which hairdo is right for you?

It's obvious! whatever one your wife wants!

This week's reading contains the third book in Milton's famous trilogy - Paradise Missed. Click to Learn More!

Transcript & Notes

Something remarkable happens in this week's Torah reading. And it is all kicked off with a set of hammered silver trumpets.
When G-d created man, He 'yatzar' or 'willed' us into being. It was how our spark of divinity could become a part of our biological being. Humans can will things as well. But we do it through effort. In Hebrew something which is hard is 'kashe'. It is also the Torah's word for 'hammering'. So, when we want to bring the divine spirit into our world, we hammer. We hammer the golden angels, or Keruvim, above the Aron Kodesh. We hammer the golden Menorah. And we hammer these silver trumpets.
As you may have noticed, the trumpets are not like the Menorah or the Keruvim. The trumpets are silver, not gold. In the Torah, gold represents the divine. But silver represents the human reflection of the divine. The trumpets, which are blown on G-d's command, represent our reflection of G-d's instruction.
When these trumpets are blown, the community moves, just as commanded. In a way, we embody G-d's divinity in a human nation. And this first move is described in great detail. There are 23 verses in all. This is clearly no routine operation. But the Aron Kodesh doesn't move in the midst of the people - it travels ahead, to search for a place of comfort.
Something weird is happening here.
In fact, there was warning of something weird. Just before this reading, Moshe hears a voice from between the Keruvim on the Aron. The last time the Keruvim had a speaking role was as guardians of the Garden of Eden.
Put the two together and it just might be possible that the people were about to enter some kind of Eden. They were the reflection of G-d's holiness and so perhaps they were ready for something beyond our natural expectations.
But it didn't work out that way.
Instead, in their place of comfort, they were overwhelmed by ta'avah; the desire to destroy for short-term pleasure. They wanted meat. Like Chava (Eve) in Eden, their very comfort and freedom led them to strike out like bored children.
Even Miriam, one of the great leaders of the people, is consumed by a desire to gain honor at the expense of her brother.
And so, their Eden was denied.
The Jewish people had a chance at something fantastic. We still do. But we have to overcome our limitations. When things are going good, especially when they are going good, we have to keep building and creating and investing in the timeless. It is how we build our relationship to G-d.
There is nothing inherently different or special about the Jewish people. Given great blessings, we react just like any other people. But we have the opportunity to be greater than we are. By investing in the timeless, we can, still, break the cycle of self-destruction and realize our full potential.
Shabbat Shalom

Shelach: The Case for Pride

Are the sin of the spies and the commandment to wear blue strings somehow connected? The Interpreter Speaks thinks so and he'll explain why - in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Adam asks: "Why were the people condemned to die in the desert?"

Adam, the story of the spies is the only time the mat'e (or tribe) of Yosef is mentioned.

Yosef was an outsider, a shepherd among the cosmopolitan Egyptians.

Like Yosef, the people saw themselves as outsiders. They saw themselves as grasshoppers, lacking the character of the Canaanite giants.

Because they couldn't internalize the importance of their divine relationship, they couldn't represent G-d from within the land.

But their children could.

The commandments which follow are there to mold their children.

The commanded supplements to their regular offerings are of flour, oil and wine - products only settled people produce.

The respect of the outsider who has a connection to G-d effectively replaces the In crowd with the Him crowd.

The offering of challah reinforces that they are sustained for the sake of the divine relationship.

And the wearing of tzitzit, strings colored with a royal dye, continually mark their distinct status.

The lesson?

Our personal humility must not diminish the glory of G-d.

Notes: The mat'e of the 'children of Yosef' is mentioned later - but not the mat'e of Yosef directly. This is an explicit reference to Menashe; half of whom made themselves outsiders by living across the Jordan.

Credit to Rabbi Mordechai Twersky for emphasizing the royal nature of the T'chelet.


Challah - By Mgarten at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Tzitzit - By דוידוד - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Korach: Ending the Cycle of Repression

Why does Moshe - a man eager to share power with 70 elders and prophecy with the entire people - have such a problem with Korach? The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60 seconds flat!

Transcript & Notes

Michael asks: "Wasn't Korach right?"

Michael, it's easy to sympathize with Korach.

The dude just wanted some power sharing, right?

Let's take a closer look.

Korach's buddies are "Men of Name."

They show their nature when they bring an offering of incense, like Nadav and Avihu.

Incense represents their personal emotion. They think that the role of a priest is about the priest.

As 'men of name', everything is about them.

Of course, they're wrong. So, as with Nadav and Avihu, they are consumed by G-d's fire.

Moshe is totally different.

After the sin of the calf, G-d threatens to replace us because we are stiff-necked - like donkeys.

But Moshe convinced Him to preserve us for that very same reason.

Moshe defends himself by saying: "I have not taken a single donkey from them."

Moshe didn't take the donkey from the people; he was a protector of the people, flaws and all.

And he was not a reputation seeker.

Our own leaders might benefit from his example.


  • After the sin of the calf, we are commanded to axe the neck of the unredeemed donkey. If we stubbornly dedicate ourselves to G-d, we have value and purpose. But if we fail to, then our stubbornness becomes the method of our destruction.
  • It was pointed out to me that Aaron also brought incense on his own behalf (and on Moshe's command). This might undermine the argument that the incense indicated they put themselves forward personally where Kohanim shouldn't. However, they were still men of name while Aaron had developed the appropriate emotional relatiosnhip to G-d. Aaron was dedicated to enabling the people's relationship to G-d. He had acquired that dedication through difficult means. Because of this, his incense - although personal - was acceptable.

  • Chukat: Entry-ous

    Why was Moshe striking the rock such a big deal? The Interpreter Speaks answers in 60-seconds flat!

    Transcript & Notes

    David asks: Moshe hit the rock. So what?

    David, this week's reading is the mirror image of the Exit-ous - it is the Entry-ous.

    During the Exit-ous, the baggage train was attacked, and G-d had to command the people to fight back.

    During the Entry-ous, when captives are taken, the people take the initiative.

    With the Exit-ous, G-d alone delivers the people from Pharaoh.

    But now, they fight their own battle against another king whose heart was hardened.

    Then, the waters split for them to pass through.

    Now, a song describes them as water flowing over dry land.

    Then, they were coerced through thirst and starvation.

    Now, words can bring them to G-d.

    Now, they dwell in a place called 'holiness.'

    Then, the rock of Israel had to be struck to bring forth spiritual waters.

    Now, words should bring out the best in the people.

    Moshe striking the rock showed that he was the right leader for the Exit-ous …

    …but the wrong one for the Entry-ous.


    By Dr. Avishai Teicher, CC BY 2.5,

    Balack: Manipulating the Divine

    Why did G-d say Bilaam could go to Balack, only to block his way and use his donkey to insult him?!? The Interpreter Speaks answers in 60 seconds flat!

    Transcript & Notes

    Veronica asks: "Why was Bilaam mocked"

    The Torah says that those who arur Bilaam are themselves arured.

    Arur means to 'instructively curse.' Kinda like putting a kid in time out.

    Bilaam is G-d's prophet. Those who try to make an example of Bilaam mock G-d and are themselves made an example of.

    When king Balack's generals arrive, they tell Bilaam to "go to Balack."

    When you tell someone 'to go,' you indicate that you are in charge.

    By contrast, if you ask someone to "come," you are at least maintaining the pretense of a choice - think of the police suggesting that you "come to the station."

    This is why G-d tells Bilaam that if the men ask him to "come with them," he can go. If they'd asked, they would have shown proper deference and thus recognition that Bilaam - and G-d - are in charge.

    However, they never ask Bilaam to come. Instead, Bilaam - the prophet of G-d - allows himself to be commanded.

    He allows them to mock the independence of G-d.

    And so G-d makes an example of him and his independence.

    The lesson: The representatives of G-d should bow to no man.

    Isolation can cause war, and Parshat Balack shows us how...

    Transcript & Notes

    In Parshat Balack, the Jews are entirely passive. From the beginning until three verses before the end, none of them do anything.
    And, even then, only one man steps up.
    Instead, things are done to them.
    And the effects are catastrophic.
    At the beginning of the reading, the Midianites aren't enemies. But they and the Moabites fear Israel. They fear Israel is like an ox, consuming all.
    The Jewish people disgust them; our values are incompatible.
    By the end of the reading, the Jewish people have become the nightmare the Moabites and Midianites feared; Bilaam twice calls them a wild-ox with Hashem serving as its horns.
    At the beginning of the reading, the Midianites tried to manipulate G-d. When they failed, they learned to manipulate us instead.

    As a result, the Jews' relationship to G-d is permanently fractured - and the Midianites are condemned to extermination.

    All because we were passive.

    The lessons are clear.
    If we are passive in the world, we risk turning third-parties into enemies.
    If we are passive in the world, others will seek to undermine our ideology and our relationship with G-d.

    This reading teaches us that we must reach out to other nations. By spreading and explaining our ideology, we weaken those who would be disgusted by us. We undermine their ability to undermine us.
    But we not only strengthen ourselves, we counteract the fear others have of us.
    And we share our relationship with G-d.

    The Midianites may start this reading believing that G-d can be manipulated.
    But they learn that it is man who can be swayed.

    We would do well to internalize their message.

    Pinchas: The End of Divine Government

    In the age of cop controversy, it is worth asking whether Pinchas was the original Dirty Harry - a necessary evil for a particular time - or a model to be followed forever more. The answer might be both... The Interpreter Speaks investigates in 60 seconds flat.

    Transcript & Notes

    Lauren asks: "Should we imitate Pinchas?"

    Lauren, that depends on whether or not Pinchas was actually a biblical Dirty Harry.

    When the people worship Baal Peor, G-d tells Moshe to kill all the leaders.

    Instead, Moshe tells the people to kill those who have joined Baal Peor.

    And the people? They just break down and cry.

    At this point, the system of divine rule through Moshe is broken.

    Then Pinchas does what both Moshe and G-d commanded - he kills a leader literally joined to Baal Peor.

    Pinchas acts as commanded, without dialog or argument.

    This inflexible rule - by G-d's law rather than by G-d directly - becomes the standard.

    Immediately afterwards:

    Even today, the dialog between man and G-d remains fractured.

    In a way, Lauren, we are constantly imitating Pinchas.

    Mattot: Shadow Holiness

    We are living in a season of political vows. These vows undermine not only politicians, but the nations they lead. The Interpreter explains why in 60 seconds flat!

    Transcript & Notes

    Jerry asks "Why are oaths so important?"

    Jerry, with an oath we're like "My word is a rock. I'll keep it, no matter what!"

    We try to make our word timeless. But it isn't.

    Holiness is an investment in the timeless, but an oath is only an investment in the shadow of the timeless.

    Nonetheless, when we profane our oaths, we shatter what our words conjured and damage our animating souls.

    We only realize our potential by investing in the truly timeless, our own shadow offers only emptiness.

    Nations also vow and profane - deceived by their illusions of control.

    The tribes of Reuven and Gad promise to fight until the land is conquered. But they fail.

    When we chose leaders who promise the world, we appear to acquire life.

    Instead, when our false gods fail, our nations' animating souls are torn asunder.

    Our nations can realize their potential - but not through the shadow of holiness.

    I pray we find a better path; before it is too late.

    Massai: A Holy Land

    How can G-d call for ethnic cleansing? The Interpreter Speaks explains in 60 seconds flat!

    Transcript & Notes

    Bill asks: "How can G-d demand ethnic cleansing?"

    Bill, this week's reading tells of the Jewish people's growth as they flow out of Egypt and into Israel.

    When they reach the land, they are to reach their goal: representing G-d's cycle of creation and investment in the timeless.

    For example, with the Jubilee's return of farmland to its original owners, they are to challenge the depredations of time and fortune.

    The modern Zionists lived the secular aspects of this cycle; and they returned to the land.

    The Canaanites lived by contrary values; sacrificing their children to Molech. They lost their claim to the land.

    Engaging in a long-term struggle with the Canaanites would have pulled us into their moral reality.

    As this reading predicts, our eyes would have been blocked from the vision of G-d and we would have lost our rights to the land.

    The people's inheritance is based on the relationship to G-d and His values; nothing else.

    Even today, this serves as both a promise and a warning.


    Ve'etchanan: The Power of Partnership

    Isolation can cause war, and Parshat Balack shows us how...

    Transcript & Notes

    Devarim (Dev 1:1-3:22) kicks off with a speech, a very long speech. The place names at the very beginning describe the people. They are at the end of their journey, they have space and money and purity. The only distinction within the people is between those who are distinguished and those who are lazy or deluded. The speech is meant to bring the lazy or deluded folk up to snuff.
    Like the later installments of this speech, this section of it is focused on a history. Each history, this one included, has a specific focus meant to draw out a moral message.
    This week's message is: with G-d on your side, and a willingness to engage the real-world, you are unstoppable. The counterpoint is, if G-d isn't on your side you ain't got much of a future.
    The history starts with the selection of judges. The people acquire self-reliance. Nothing is more basic for a community than judging itself.
    The story then skips ahead to the sin of the spies. Being self-reliant and being confident are two different things. Faced with the glory and power of Canaan, the people balk. They see themselves as grasshoppers. They don't recognize the power of having G-d in their camp.
    They go so far as to dream up a divine conspiracy to destroy them.
    In the end, those particular are replaced. But, in the original telling, they are given commandments that will raise their children up - helping them realize they are empowered by their connection to Hashem.
    The history then fast-forwards. We jump ahead to circling Seir - and then being told to go through it.
    Seir represents physicality. The reading specifically says it is the inheritance of Esav. But just because it isn't our inheritance, doesn't mean we don't need to engage with it. Moshe points out that we spend cold hard cash on food and water. We enter the world of Seir both geographically and spiritually.
    We emerge and we've got our tools in hand. We are self-reliant, we know we need to connect with G-d and we know how to deal with the real world.
    Then, before entering the land, we get a final tune-up. We face two great powers. One is Sihon. We kind of get in his face and then then he launches a war against us. The Torah says G-d hardens his heart. As with Pharaoh, I believe the very presence of G-d is what sets him off.
    Unlike Pharaoh, Sihon doesn't believe he is a G-d. His reasoning is different. His City is Cheshbon. It is tied to him in poetry and verse in multiple places. He founds it.
    Cheshbon means calculation.
    Sihon's problem isn't that G-d is greater than he is. It is that G-d exists at all. He and his entire people attacks the Jewish people to disprove this theory. But they attack for another reason as well. And it doesn't work out so good for them.
    The second guy is Og, Melech HaBashan - the King of Bashan. The Jewish people go out of their way to get into his face. It seems unnecessary, the people are right across the Jordan. They could just cross into Canaan but instead they divert themselves to the North towards what is now the Golan and encourage Og, Melech ha Bashen, the King of that region, to attack them.
    But Og's problem is very different from Sihon's. As the Torah makes clear, he is the last of his kind. His people used to be populous - and they were big, like giants (2:21).
    So what happened to these people?
    In Bereshit, Kedarlaomer goes on a warpath on innocent third parties (Gen 14). Avraham doesn't intercede - even though it is clear later on that he can. He ends up defeating Kedarlaomer.
    One of the third parties is the Horim, mentioned here. And they just vanish. They are replaced by Moav and Ammon.
    The second is Amalek. Amalek never forgives Avraham for not interceding. They suffer the least of the people Kedarlaomer attacks. They lose their farmlands and become raiders. Their memory of this loss and their resentment towards Avraham is what preserves their hatred for us, which is why we have to destroy specifically their memory, their ability to remember.
    The third is the Emori, Sihon's people. This is probably a major contributing reason for their assault on the Jewish people. They too bear a grudge - one that is turbo-charged by the whole Cheshbon 'calculation' thing.
    The final group is the Rephaim, Og's people. They are almost all destroyed by Kedarlaomer.
    At the time, they were split into three groups. The Rephaim - or healers - in a place literally called 'richness of radiance.' The Zuzim - or doorposts - in a place called 'agitation.' And the Eimim - or terrorists - in a place called 'dedicated happening.'
    To me, this is three reactions to being almost extinct. One reaction is to be huge contributors to the world around you so people will like you. The second is to be worried, kind of a pass-through people, hoping others don't notice you or pay too much attention. And the third is to violently threaten those around you.
    But afterwards, the three groups consolidate. The Zuzim become Zamzumim - suggesting loathing, plotting or lust. And the Rephaim are no longer in a place called 'richness of radiance', but a place called Edrei. An adar is like a cloak or a shroud. In the Song of the Sea, G-d's hand is Nedarei ba'coach, it is wrapped in power. Esav has an Adar of hair. But Edrei ends with another letter, an eyin. It ends with the word 'Ra' for evil.
    Og's Rephaim are cloaked in a richness of evil. Being nice didn't help them. So now they're mean. Og has an iron bed. Iron is connected to violence. In the laws of manslaughter, death by iron presumed intent to kill. The man sleeps in violence. The Torah makes clear, he has multiple fortresses on what we now call the Golan. And, like Amalek, he is angry.
    I get an image of an iron curtain.
    But when the Jewish people get close and he abandons his fortifications and, with his entire people, attacks, his anger overwhelms his desire to defend himself.
    What kind of person was he? Why was he going extinct? We get a hint from his bed (Dev 3.11). It was nine cubits long and four wide, by his cubit. A cubit, or ama, is the length of a forearm. The dude had short forearms. Reaching into the human records, we can see he had the dimensions of a Neanderthal.
    Whether or not he was a Neanderthal, he was a committed enemy - harboring an ancient resentment - and there was going to be war one way or another.
    In this case, he and Sihon serve as a tune-up - teaching the people that when they are partnered with G-d, responsible and engaged with the world - they can tackle any foe.
    There is, of course, a counterpoint. If we abandon these tenants, then we can be overwhelmed just as the mighty Sihon and Og were by us.

    The reading ends on an odd note.
    The request by the two and a half tribes to live across the river turns into G-d's original plan - sort of a quantum divine plot.
    The suggestion is a powerful one - partnered with G-d, we can change the divine plan for the world itself.
    It is on this thought that we can lead into next week's Torah reading, which is about the love of G-d and G-d's love of our people.
    Shabbat Shalom!

    Ve'etchanan: National Love

    No fancy video this week, I am absolutely swamped. But a fun topic. This week is the first time in the whole that G-d is mentioned as loving anybody... So Amy asks, "What is Love?" Take 60 seconds to learn more...

    Transcript & Notes

    Amy asks: What is love?
    Amy, imagine controlling everything. Wouldn't it be lonely?
    There'd be nothing outside you and thus nobody to relate to.
    "One is the loneliest number"... but it was all G-d had before creation.

    We were made imperfect and willful.
    Because in order to truly connect to G-d, man had to be separated from Him.
    Weird, huh?

    When we imitate G-d with the cycle of creation and investment in the timeless, we draw close to Him.

    The desire to draw close - and then ever closer - is love.

    Human love is often flawed. Shechem loved Dina, but he may have raped her.

    But divine love is different. Divine love is our purpose.

    Divine love is rewarded with a thousand generations of kindness.

    Because of G-d's loving relationship with Avraham, the Jewish people survive. We live on the remnants of Avraham's relationship.
    But all we do is survive - we do not thrive and our own legacy is not strengthened.

    But another path exists.

    As a living nation, we can love G-d and be rewarded with our own timeless legacy.

    Eikev: Realization of G-d

    Traveled with the family this week - so another simple video. The question is simple: did the children of Anak have an Air Force? Take 60 seconds to learn more...

    Transcript & Notes

    Eli asks: "Did the children of Anak have an air force?"
    Good question, Eli!
    The Torah says that the children of Anak were 'fortified in heaven', but destroyed swiftly.
    While Anak's heavenly fortifications were probably metaphorical, modern Israel, with its Air Force, missile shields and satellites, is literally fortified in the heavens.
    So what saves Israel from Anak's fate?

    The phrase 'fortified in heaven' can also be translated as 'fortified against heaven.'
    It was Anak's fortifications against heaven that caused their swift defeat.

    This week's reading tells us that we are the bellwethers of G-d; our blessings and our curses reflect our relationship to Him; and testify to His place.
    But we block the blessings. Whether in the case of the calf or the spies, our pride leaves no space for G-d.
    It is because of our pride that we fortify ourselves against heaven.

    But by observing our own history, we can circumcise our hearts.

    We can realize our place.

    And we can be fortified by G-d; not against Him.

    By circumcising our hearts, we can be spared the fate of Anak.

    How can you love an immaterial and abstract G-d? Parshat Eikev tells us what we need to know...

    Transcript & Notes

    In Parshat Va'etchanan we learned that, by loving our abstract and immaterial G-d, we can enjoy a thousand generations of blessing. Our influence can extend far beyond our mortal lives.
    But loving an abstract and immaterial G-d is hard. What can we hold on to? What can we fashion ourselves after? How can we engage with the intangible?
    This reading, Eikev, teaches us what we need to know to overcome these challenges.
    The reading opens by reminding us of the tremendous power of G-d's love. Our nation can live a lossless life - free of poverty, sickness and trouble. The evidence for this is simple: we lived such a life in the desert.
    This is also the first lesson: we have to remember the potential of the divine relationship. The contrary reality is also true - the children of Anak, fortified in (or perhaps against) heaven, fall fastest of all.
    But, as in the desert, we will face obstacles to embracing this relationship. The greatest of these obstacles is a desire to see ourselves as the actor in our miraculous lives. The worshipping of the Molten Calf was an act of self-worship - of claiming credit for our redemption.
    The answer to this challenge is simple. We need to become actors - not in claiming credit, but in reaching out for G-d. The Ten Commandments carved by G-d's hand are destroyed. They are replaced by a set carved by Moshe and enclosed in a wooden box representing the limits of humankind.
    This is the second lesson: we must become the actors, not in taking credit for our redemption - but in reaching out to G-d.
    Throughout this reading, timelines and cause and effect are completely recast. For example, Moshe goes up the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights again and again - even when the earlier readings make no mention of it. In this reading, our 40 years in the desert are a test - not a punishment.
    This leads to the third lesson: we imagine we can understand cause and effect - but in reality everything flows through Hashem. This is reinforced by the irrigation of land. In Egypt, you can water with your foot - with your will. But in the Land of Israel, everything depends on the will of G-d.
    With these lessons - that our relationship with G-d offers tremendous promise, that we are not the actors in our salvation, that we must be the actors in reaching out to G-d and that we must realize the limits of our own understanding - we can connect with, and love, G-d. We can circumcise our hearts - removing the barrier between our actions and the divine inspiration.
    The reading concludes with the methods of locking in this reality. Through tefillin we connect our hearts and our souls to these lessons. Through the Mezuzah, we dedicate our future to the divine - just as our forbearers did with pascal lamb and as Avraham did with Yitzchak.
    Through all of this we learn that a life of blessing is borne not of a direct path in which we seek those blessings - but through the immaterial and abstract relationship with G-d.
    Like love, honor and happiness, the greatest blessings are always realized indirectly.
    This reading shows us that the potential of the Jewish people is no different.
    Shabbat Shalom

    Re'eh: Maintaining Identity

    Isn't destroying a whole city kind of, um, primitive. Learn more in just 60 seconds...

    Transcript & Notes

    Jill asks: "Isn't destroying a city of idol worshipers kind of, um, primitive?"
    Jill, a few years ago a thirteen-year-old girl and two 6-year-old retainers were found on an Incan mountaintop.
    They hadn't been camping.
    They were child sacrifices.

    If a group within our borders were to sacrifice children – we'd tear them apart. The Waco siege was arguably sparked by allegations of child abuse.

    This reading states: "Everything you put your hand to – use to rejoice with G-d."
    This is yet another reminder of our basic values: the cycle of creation and investment in the timeless.
    But our mission goes further: we serve as the symbolic beachhead for this cycle.

    Surrounded by those who would burn their children for their ideology – the Jewish people must constantly reinforce our basic moral code.

    To accomplish this, we use everything we see in this reading: diet, social outreach, holiday rituals and, in extreme cases, even violence.

    The world is improved only by example.

    But the example must survive.

    Shoftim: Self-Control

    The stock battle speech in the Torah reading of Shoftim claims G-d is on our side, but history doesn't seem to agree! The Interpreter Speaks unravels the puzzle in 60 seconds flat!

    Transcript & Notes

    Daniella asks: "Can we really be sure G-d is on our side?"
    This reading features a stock speech for war, which basically says: "Don't be afraid, G-d is on your side."
    In retrospect, it does seem like one heck of an assumption!

    But it isn't. The reason has to do with Kingship.
    Any old dictator can have power, but only a King is truly honored.
    When this reading tells us what kind of King to choose, we learn the national values we should honor.

    On the naughty list: the pursuit of horses (aka military glory), women and money.
    On the nice list: self-control, humility and awareness of G-d's commands.

    These values are then reinforced by leadership and the taming of unanswered blood.

    The lesson?
    If we are controlled, humble and aware of G-d, then our enemies must be motivated by glory, lust, greed or hate. Every war and battle speech will be the same. And our enemies will be made an example of.

    We often honor the mighty – but perhaps we should aim higher.

    Ki-Tetzah: Neighborliness

    Does your child want to marry a Moabite?!? The Interpreter Speaks​ can help!

    Transcript & Notes

    Chanan asks, "My daughter wants to marry a Moabite – what can I do!?!"
    Chanan, this reading is about neighborliness; don't misrepresent yourself, avoid poisoned relationships, give G-d and man their space and so on.
    This neighborliness provides national and spiritual glue; glue that overrides family sins.
    It is why the sins of the fathers don't apply to the sons.

    For the Moabites, G-d is to be manipulated. This is why they hired Balaam. It is their national glue.
    Their national glue overrides the individual; they debased their own daughters just to manipulate G-d.
    The values of Moabites and Jews are fundamentally incompatible.
    Even people like your daughter can't pull them together.

    If a Jew marries a Moabite, they're evicted from our national neighborhood.
    This is why the prohibition against marrying Moabites is part of this reading.

    As I told my own daughter: sometimes you have to sacrifice to be part of something bigger.
    And nothing – nothing – is bigger than bringing G-d into this world.
    So be strong, show her the big picture…
    And it will all be fine.

    Ki-Tavo: Pinocchio Nation

    Jew-nocchio is born! Find out more in 60-seconds flat.

    Transcript & Notes

    Dave asks: "Why did Moshe speak for soooo long?"
    Dave, are you familiar with Pinocchio?
    This is the same thing, except Moshe is the blue fairy.
    Moshe's speech brings a puppet nation to life.
    First, he reinforces national responsibility and the love of G-d. Then he shows G-d's place in our national life. Next, he teaches us to protect against both incompatible influences and a lack of self-control. Finally, he establishes the social glue of neighborliness.
    In this reading, when the plaster of the Torah is applied to irregularly and imperfectly shaped stones, the nation's character is overwriting that of the individual – but without erasing it. The nation's acceptance of the curses on those who deviate from fundamental values are a ratification of this.
    There is only one more step. G-d's blessing and curses establish the basic programming of the people: we must love and fear G-d.
    After all of this the Jewish people come alive as a nation – with a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.
    Jew-nocchio awakens.


    Hearing the voice of the shofar is even more important than you might imagine... The Interpreter reveals why!

    Transcript & Notes

    Shimon asks: "What's with the Shofar?"

    Shimon, like everybody who speaks about Rosh Hashanah, I'm going to be long-winded with this one.

    How does three-and-a-half minutes sound?


    First things first: On Rosh Hashanah we don't abjectly beg forgiveness for our sins. We don't whine.

    Instead, the highlight of the holiday is the proclamation of G-d's Kingship.


    Well, obviously, the answer has to do with Kingship.

    I learned what Kingship was on my wedding day. In Judaism, tradition states that a groom and bride are King and Queen. And they remain King and Queen for as long as they treat each other like royalty.

    But what does 'treat each other like royalty' actually mean?

    Well, that day, being a King who wanted his jacket, I considered getting it. But then I realized that one of my friends would be honored to get it for me.

    And that is what makes a King. It is also what makes a strong marriage.

    Any old dictator can have power, but the servants of a King are honored by their service.

    By proclaiming G-d to be King, we are showing that it is an honor to serve Him.
    Because of this, He can know that the blessing He gives us will be used in His service.

    G-d can be reassured that our potential will be realized through joy; and that tribulation is unnecessary.

    But how can we demonstrate the joy of service?

    With the offering of Yitzchak, Avraham is commanded to do something he can't understand. He acts not out of love – because he cannot love the commandment to kill his own son.
    Instead, he acts out of fear.
    His action demonstrates his fear of the Almighty.

    Of course, Yitzchak was not sacrificed. Instead a ram, or eyil, was offered in his place. The eyil was trapped there, waiting for them. It was trapped by its horns.

    While Avraham constrained his own will, the horns constrained the will of the eyil.

    Forever more, those horns – from which we make the shofar – represent the fear of G-d.

    Shaya Cohen points out that G-d breathes our soul into us and we breath it out through the Shofar. But what emerges is not unfiltered; it is filtered by this fear of G-d.
    Our own will is filtered from our breath – what emerges is the shadow of the voice of G-d.
    It is why the sound of the shofar is so integral a part of the revelation of Mount Sinai.

    The voice of the shofar is the best opportunity we have to literally 'hear' Hashem, as we are so often commanded to do.

    By truly hearing the shofar - by embracing it, by finding joy in it, by internalizing it and by finding honor in hearing it – we demonstrate that G-d is our King.

    When Yaacov blesses his sons, he says Naftali will be a free eyila – a female eyil – and he will give words of shofar. When Moshe blesses the people, he says that the tribe of Naftali will be full of blessings.

    Naftali will express the will of G-d – without being compelled to do so. And so he will be blessed.

    As we listen to the shofar, we should aspire to Naftali's example.

    So close your eyes and listen.

    And may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

    Notes: Akeidah Stained Glass By Johnbod - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

    Why do we offer one calf, one ram and seven lambs? Watch and Learn!

    Transcript & Notes

    Jim asks: "Why does the Rosh Hashanna offering have a calf, a ram and seven lambs?"
    Jim, Rosh Hashanna is a day of judgement and there are three positive paths to a good outcome.
    We learn about these paths in the first day's readings.
    The first path is the path of pakad - or 'reckoning'. Sarah is reckoned and G-d grants her a child. Reckoning is not necessarily a positive thing. Essentially, you get what you deserve - good or bad. This reckoning is why Rosh Hashanna is a day of Kingship. It is an honor to serve a King, and if it our honor to serve Hashem then we will use our blessings well, we will deserve them and we will be rewarded just as Sarah was.
    The second path is the path of zocher. Zocher is a contractual remembering which applies only when a divine contract is in danger. G-d promised Avraham that Yishmael would become a nation. When Yishmael is about to die, G-d rescues him; not because Yishmael deserved it, but because of the contract with Avraham. G-d's word is immutable. This is a path to a good outcome - but the entire Jewish people must be in mortal peril for our covenant to apply.
    The third is to do repentance. This is what Avimelech does. He realizes that G-d is with Avraham and he comes to make a covenant with him. He does repentance for his past actions.
    What does this have to do with the offerings?
    Each offering is associated with one of these paths.
    When G-d sends three angels to tell Sarah that she will have a child, Avraham serves them a calf. This is the first offering. It is connected to the idea of just reward and our expression of G-d's Kingship.
    After G-d intervenes and Avraham cuts down Yitzchak, a ram is substituted. Yitzchak had to be saved, it was part of G-d's contract with Avraham. So the substitution represents G-d's remembrance and the power of G-d's contract. The ram is the second offering.
    Finally, when Avimelech and Avraham seal their covenant - marking Avimelech's teshuva, Avraham offers seven lambs. This is the final offering. Avimelech recognizes the presence of G-d with Avraham. Likewise, we can recognize the presence of G-d with the shofar.
    The one calf, the one ram and the seven lambs are all connected to the three positive paths towards divine reward. They form the backbone of the Musaf prayer - Malchiot (or Kingship), Zichronot (or Rememberance) and Shofarot (the Shofar).
    Shana Tova!

    Why should anyone care that oil burned for eight days? The Interpreter explains, and in 60 seconds flat...

    Transcript & Notes

    Chaim asks, "What does the Menorah symbolize?"

    Chaim, before Moshe redeems the Jewish people, he encounters G-d at the burning bush.
    The bush is fundamentally unnatural: it burns but is not consumed. It creates energy without using anything up in return. It symbolizes G-d's unique creative power: the power to create without destroying.

    Like an almond bush: the Menorah has flowers and branches and knobs. But like the burning bush, it burns but is not consumed. The Menorah is our representation of G-d's unique power.

    On Chanukah, that representation is renewed: The oil burned and burned – for eight days – but was not consumed.

    In the world of physics, the power to create without destroying is beyond us.

    But we can add to the world in other ways. We can walk in the path of G-d – creating without destroying.

    The Jewish people exist to nurture this reality.

    So, as you light your candles, rededicate yourself to this mission.

    As you light your candles remember: we can be the light that banishes darkness.

    Chanukah Sameach

    Ever wonder why the King raises taxes at the end of the Megillah? Take a few minutes and get the low-down on the timeless geopolitics of the Purim story.

    Transcript & Notes

    Folks, 'tis the season to take a gander at the geopolitics of Purim.
    After the Vashti episode, Achashverosh sends the following message: "that every man should bear rule in his own house, and speak according to the language of his people."
    Why did he bother stating the obvious?
    Of course, I'm referring to the 'speak according to the language of his people' part, not the 'bear rule in his own house' part.
    The reason is that the early Persian empire wasn't like previous empires. They didn't just suppress the locals. Instead, the Persians appointed native kings as Satraps and they allowed the conquered people's lives to continue just as before - only taxes were paid to Persia instead of to the previous rulers.
    Persia and Medea themselves were tax free - which was probably why so many Jews lived there.
    The whole system was held together by local Persian garrisons and travelling auditors known as the "Eye of the King."

    So when Achashverush passed a law that applied across all provinces, he added another rule "that every man should… speak according to the language of his people."
    He was basically saying, "I just passed a universal law, but I want to make extra sure I'm not encroaching on your way of life."
    It was core to the structure of the whole operation.

    At the beginning of the story, the Jews are disappearing. We can see it in their names. Mordechai, the leader of the people, is named 'Mordoc lives'. Mordoc is a name for the sun god Apollo and the 'good' god in Zoroastian theology. You can see the decline in the names of his ancestors.

    The Jewish people were on the verge of extinction without any help from Haman.

    But as long as they existed, they posed a problem for the empire. As Haman put it: "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the King's laws; therefore it does not profit the king to suffer them."

    In other words, the Jews have slipped through the cracks. They don't fall within any of the geographic satrapies and so they don't keep the local laws.
    They aren't a part of the system.
    In the immediate sense, their 'satrap' Mordechai refuses to bow to the viceroy Haman himself - showing the people to be entirely outside the law.

    The obvious solution for the King is to eliminate them. They can potentially undermine the entire Empire because they don't fit.
    The world needs consistency, after all.
    In a way, from the Empire's perspective, Haman is right.
    But after a clever and divinely inspired turn of events, which emphasizes the value of this outsider people, Mordechai is promoted to Haman's position.
    When the next message is sent out, it is sent "unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language."
    The Jews achieved the status of a nation, despite not having a land.

    But how did they suddenly fit?
    In fact, they became the exception that strengthened the Empire. Instead of the occasional "eye of the King" or Persian garrisons mistrusted by the locals, Achashverosh suddenly had an entire people dispersed and living among the various nations. The Jewish network was in full force and the Empire was strengthened as a result.

    This is why they have to be told they could defend themselves. Before, they knew they had no place. Now, they know they have a purpose and some right to survival.

    At the end of the story, the King raises taxes. It is a reflection of the Jews' new position. The dispersal and loyalty of the Jews has strengthened the Empire and thus his ability to collect tribute.

    In fact, this story became a template for so much of our history.

    We can either fail to fit and thus not belong in the world, or we can use our dispersion to be the glue that brings everything together in service of the King Most High.

    Chag Sameach!

    Amalek had their reasons - which is why they were condemned. Learn more with The Interpreter Speaks.

    Transcript & Notes

    Okay folks, I know last Shabbat was Shabbat Zachor, but I still want to share something about this whole 'Remember to destroy the memory of Amalek' thing.
    If you're into this kind of stuff, you'll know the most common question is: "How can you remember to forget something."
    Isn't that like a crazy paradox?
    Well, not really.
    But to understand why, we'll have to rewind our story just a bit.

    (rewinding sound)

    Okay, now we're back at the story of Abraham and the war of the Kings. In this story, these four randomly named kings fight those five randomly named kings and then Avraham gets involved and lays down the law.
    Zip, zap, zoop, we're done, right?

    Actually, no. There's some really interesting stuff going on here.
    The first hint of this is that the big bad king is named Kedarlaomer. Now, I don't think his mother named him that.
    You see, 'Kedar' means encircle. And 'omer' means grain - specifically the amount a person needs to eat each day.
    The name literally means 'encircle grain.'
    This guy cornered the grain market. By controlling the 'omer' this guy was starving people in order to make the big bucks.
    It is hard to picture his mother going - "ah, look at that little encircle grain, isn't he cute!"
    Even on Facebook a kid like that wouldn't get many likes.

    Now this sort of market manipulation wasn't unheard of. These people weren't economic idiots. There was global trade and all of that. One of my favorite ancient stories is of a Greek philosopher named Thales who was said to have made a fortune cornering the olive market due to his prediction of the weather.
    Anyway, two cities - S'dom and Omera - decide to rebel from Kedarlaomer. Omera is literally the feminine form of omer, or grain, and S'dom means field or orchard - these are agricultural centers.
    Kedarlaomer needs to protect his business, so he comes in, guns ablazin'.
    But good old Kedarlaomer doesn't just attack the rebel cities, he decides to clean up some loose ends along the way.
    Among other things, the Torah points out that he struck the fields of Amalek.
    Up to this point, Avraham has done nothing to intercede.
    But then Kedarlaomer attacks S'dom and take his nephew, Lot.
    Suddenly Avraham goes all Special Forces on Kedarlaomer. He gets 318 trained guys together, gets Lot back and kills Kedar and the gang in the process.
    All good, right?
    Well, maybe not.

    Because if Abraham had acted earlier, Amalek would have kept their fields and a bunch of other peoples wouldn't have been attacked at all.

    In fact, in the very next chapter, G-d tells Avraham not to be afraid. I think Avraham is afraid he made the wrong choice. G-d doesn't tell him he made the right choice - he just tells him not to dwell on it. Regretting decisions you can't unmake just isn't very productive.

    We can understand this, can't we?
    The crazy nutjobs of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran and the Assads are having a war in Syria and Iraq and they're hurting lots of third parties. But we aren't rescuing thm, are we? So long as we aren't attacked, we're keeping our distance.
    Shouldn't we be afraid we're making the wrong moral choice? I certainly have my opinions. But just as with Avraham, it soon might be too late to have useful regrets.

    Anyway, Amalek suffered and Avraham could have helped. But he didn't.

    Amalek sets themselves apart because they maintain their resentment. First, they never plant fields again. And then, hundreds of years later, when the Jewish people leave Egypt, Amalek attacks them. They are still angry. Even after one of the great grandsons of Esav colonizes their identity, they maintain the memory of their anger. They don't even resent that Avraham attacked them, he didn't. They are angry that he didn't help when he could have.

    I believe it is this memory we are supposed to be destroying. To put it another way, we are supposed to remember to destroy Amalek's memory, not other peoples' memory of Amalek!

    All of this raises the question: why is their resentment such a problem?

    I think we can see the answer in this week's Torah reading. We read that G-d maintains kindness for a thousand generations, but he reckons sins only to the third and fourth generation.
    In other words, G-d doesn't maintain a grudge and we're not supposed to either.
    We don't hate the Germans of today because of the sins of their parents and grandparents. We don't hate the Spanish because of the Inquisition. We don't hate the Italians because of Titus. And we don't hate the Egyptians because of the slavery.
    In fact, the Torah itself tells us "you shall not despise an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land." - one generation after the Exodus. (Devarim 23:8)

    Kindness is to be remembered, but sins are to be cast aside.

    But the Amalekites don't move on. It is their cultural memory, of unceasing anger, that we are commanded to erase.

    Of course, it must be asked, if we are supposed to move on, why can't we forget the sins of Amalek?

    In fact, we can. Just as the Jewish people are maintained by their memory of the Exodus from Egypt, Amalek is maintained, or at least was, by their resentment of Avraham. As soon as they lose their cultural memory, they cease to exist.

    I actually think Amalek has been erased. I don't think we're that we're still at war with them.

    But we still must remember. We are still fighting those like them - cultures and people who nurse unending anger for the sins and the errors of the past.

    Every people has made mistakes. We cannot unwind this reality. Only if we can move on can kindness take root and flourish.

    Get sprinkled with the ashes of a red cow and you're pure! Even a televangelist couldn't come up with something this convoluted. So what's it all mean? Well, have a watch and discover for yourself...

    Transcript & Notes

    Okay folks, this video is going to discuss the mystery of the red heifer.
    I know, I know. I'm late again - keeping track of this stuff is hard.

    Anyway, I have to warn you. If you came seeking poetry or sublime insights, I suggest you find another video.

    This one's gonna be blunt.

    Only the resilient will survive.

    But, I will tell you upfront, understanding this stuff is core to an understanding of Judaism itself!

    So, the big question is: how does this whole heifer thing remove impurity? It is a bit weird, right?

    That's the question we're going to focus on.

    I will note, most people like to focus on the apparent paradox of the waters of purity making somebody impure. But that's actually the easy part. So, we'll get to it at the end.

    Still with me? You poor unfortunate souls.

    Okay, for the stern of heart - let's start with the recipe.

    There's no eye of newt, but it remains kinda weird. So we'll just call it a Kohen's Brew.

    The Ingredients:
    Never worked
    Mix in cedar, something called Ayzov and To'laat Shani
    Burn it all up
    Take ashes in water, mix 'em up.
    Sprinkle them on the impure on the third and seventh day and voila'
    Purity reset.

    As I was saying, weird.

    To break this down, we've got to start from the very beginning.

    Just what is impurity?

    I used to think it was an exposure to death. But it isn't.
    You see, an offering isn't impure - but it dies.
    And, on the flip side, nobody dies when a woman has her period or a man a 'nocturnal emission' - but they're impure, nonetheless.
    By the way, I checked with my editors - they were resistant, but they said I'm allowed to bring that stuff up. If it's really relevant. And it is.
    So, is there a decent definition?
    I think so: Impurity is an association with a loss of potential.

    The animal which is offered realizes its potential - so it isn't impure. And the woman and man have no exposure to death - but they have lost an opportunity for creation.

    That's really what you are, you see. We are potential.

    Going back to the beginning: Man, or Adam, was meant to create for six days and rest on the seventh. Sort of a perfect cycle. But we blew it and death and loss and risk became a part of our world - to drive us to create. But if we want to approach the divine, we have to distance ourselves from that stuff.
    We don't only have to be creative, we have to avoid association with destruction and waste and loss.

    What gives us potential? Well, it is pretty simple. Our blood. It flows to our cells, bringing them oxygen and in a very practical way - uniting them. Blood animates us. Dam - or blood in Hebrew - is potential.

    Blood gives us the power for potential. But it isn't our canvas. In the second creation story - I've got a video about that too - we have creation with purpose. And that is where the aDAMa - or earth - plays a big role.

    The earth is a big 'ol bunch of potential. That's why the earth denies Cain the ability to grow stuff - he's wasted potential by murdering his brother and so the ground cannot work with him. The land in Israel is special that way. Too much association with wasted potential and it kicks you out. It'd rather be dormant than associated with destruction.

    Those of you with a bit of Hebrew in y'all know where I'm going with this. Yes, it's true.

    The Parah Aduma has the very same word in it as Dam and Adama.
    It's pure red color reflects pure, unadulterated, potential.

    Why is it unblemished? Well, that should be obvious. A blemish reflects impurity - or loss.
    And why is it never worked?
    Well, working it would be the realization of its potential. And that's not what it is supposed to represent.

    As we've discussed before, cows represent nations. And the cow is girly because the female represents kindness. She supports her children with her very body.
    So, we have the nation's potential, based on its kindness, as our first ingredient.

    I know, that took a while. But the rest will be faster, I promise.

    Okay, we are cruising now. What's up with the cedar and the Ayzov and the To'laat Shani.

    The To'laat Shani is simple. We've covered it before in my video on the Kohen's clothes. Its connected to the Manna and to trust in G-d. So, we've mixed in a bit of divine trust.

    What about the cedar and Ayzov. They're actually opposites of a sort. The cedar can be one of the oldest trees in the world - certainly the oldest near Israel. They can be thousands of years old. It represents the past and solid roots. There are all sorts of poetical associations with righteousness here and there. Check out a few Psalms for that. But, as I warned you at the beginning, we'll be avoided all the poetical stuff here.

    How about the Ayzov? Well, wouldn't you know. People argue about what it actually was. Its very definition seems shifty. Which I, in a way, appropriate. Why? Well, just as aDom seems to capture another aspect of Dam - ayZov seems to capture another aspect of Zov.

    All the Zov - or Zob, the 'v' and 'b' are the same letter in Hebrew - imply the same thing. A process of change.
    Israel is a land of Zavat Chalv u'Dvash. Flowing milk and honey. To leave something or someplace is to Azov (with the letter eyin). The thing that converts the physical into the spiritual is a Mizbeach. The 'M' at the beginning nounifies it. It has that same 'zob' thing going on in the middle.
    And when the Jewish people are about to leave Egypt, they dab their doorposts with blood, using bunches of Ayzov.
    They are marking their houses as belonging to G-d - it is a marking of change.

    So, the cedar represents a solid past while the ayZov captures a changing future.

    Our ingredients are thus pure national potential, a solid footing, an opportunity for change and trust in G-d.

    It isn't making any sense, is it?

    Well, let's say you're exposed to death. You encounter a human body.
    What do you need for a pick me up?
    You need a dose of potential. It is perhaps the very reason funerals can be seen as an aphrodisiac - some people counteract death with an act of creation. But don't take my word for it, Google it.
    Where do you get the dose of potential? The red heifer provides it on a whooping spiritual scale - and in a national context.
    Next, if you're going through this in a Jewish context, you'll need to realize you are a continuation of a long past. The cedar symbolizes this.
    You'll also need to realize you can matter and impact the future. This is provided by the Ayzov.
    Finally, you'll need trust in G-d. And that is where the To'laat Shani comes in.

    These are our raw ingredients.

    Why do we burn them? I think it is practical - ashes don't rot.

    And why do we mix them with water? On a very basic biological level, water can remove toxins from cells and bring in nutrients. It is a not only a physical refresher, it represents a chance for spiritual refreshment. And that's what the Mikvah does.

    Why do we splatter the impure with this water on the third and seventh day? The third day was the first day life was created. And the seventh day gave purpose to that life.
    With the ayZov as a sprinkling tool, the water affects a change - refreshing both the physical and spiritual aspects of a person and bringing them back to a state of purity.

    The whole process is a reset.

    Perhaps this is why the waters of the parah aduma are called the Water of Niddah. Just as Niddah, or a woman's period, resets her body's potential for reproduction - this process resets a person's potential, but in a much broader sense.

    So, now for the paradox. Why o' why is the preparer of this recipe made unclean?

    The answer is simple. He's killed and handled the corpse of an animal of pure potential. It is being used to correct for a loss of potential in others - but its own potential is not maximized.
    These actions and exposures to loss make the preparer unclean.

    The message for today?

    Maximize your life - and distance yourself from destruction.

    Have a great week!

    By zeevveez from Jerusalem, Israel - Sabbath Mosaic in the Jewish Quarter, CC BY 2.0,

    By Cgoodwin - Own work, GFDL,

    Special Episodes

    We are in an ideological war - and we're losing. What can we do? The Interpreter Speaks proposes a solution... in 60-seconds flat!

    Transcript & Notes

    George asks: "What can we do about Islamic terror?"

    George, this year, there have been Islamic mass killings in the U.S., Cameroon, Belgium, Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

    We are in a global war; a war of ideas against destructive forms of Islam.

    Modern communications have enabled our enemies' ideas to metastasize. But our responses have been ineffective; because destructive forms of Islam are inoculated against military and economic loss.

    But we can respond. Hong Kong, West Berlin and Amsterdam served as beacons amidst ravaged lands; transforming their surroundings.

    They can be mimicked. We can build cities of refuge in the enemy's heartland to spread the ideology of creation and connection. We can build incubators to strengthen the most positive forms of Islam.

    While freedom cannot be imposed by force… those who seek liberty can be silenced by it.

    However by establishing an ideological beachhead we can create hope not only for our ideological allies but for a better world.

    If the idea appeals, you'll enjoy Abdul.

    Why share The Interpreter Speaks? The Interpreter (admittedly a somewhat biased character) explains in 60 seconds flat!

    Transcript & Notes

    Dan asks: "Why Share the Interpreter Speaks?"

    Dan, we live in a time of rapidly changing values.

    All too often, when people look to the Torah, they see the dark-ages in both the text and its interpretations.

    Sadly, they never give the text itself a chance. Few ever get to understand the moral system at its foundation.

    I am an Interpreter. I interpret across contexts; be they moral, historical or technical.

    So I took it upon myself to interpret.

    I want to give the text a chance to explain its moral core to a modern audience.

    This isn't about Halacha (religious law). It isn't even about organized religion.

    This is about exposing a powerful and important moral message.

    This is about fortifying that message in the face of our society's ethical tsunamis.

    And this is about using that message to inform and improve our reality.

    So, share.

    Trust me, we'll all benefit from it.

    Will automation destroy your children's future? The Interpreter Speaks offers hope - in 60 seconds flat!

    Transcript & Notes

    Jamie asks: "Should I be worried about the future for my normal kid."

    Jamie, if automation trends continue, the future will have greater rewards for the very creative and the super-technical, but fewer for normal people.

    It is almost like we have passed a sweet spot of productive opportunity for the middle class.

    On the bright side, a future in which robots produce everything and serve humanity ought to be a future of untold material prosperity.

    But with many people locked out of productive lives, it may well be a future of desolation. Cutting people off from the cycle of creation and investment in the timeless fundamentally undermines them - no matter their material wealth.

    The spreading drug addiction in our societies is but a symptom of this.

    How can we protect your 'normal' kid from this future?

    To begin with we can restructure our tax, welfare and minimum wage systems so people can continue to live lives of fulfillment.

    Stay tuned to learn more.

    What kind of tax system can both creation and help the poor? Learn more in just 60 seconds...

    Transcript & Notes

    Maggie asks: "How does your tax plan work?"
    Maggie, when you get a gift or sell your labor, equipment or even a hamster, the money would be marked as "revenue" with, let's say, 30% automatically siphoned to the tax authority.
    Normally, when you buy something, the money would come from your post-tax funds.
    But, to support creative activity, you'd get your tax back on business purchases. When you spend $100, $30 would come from the tax authority.
    In addition, individuals' initial monthly spending would be subsidized. Your first $10 might spend like $100. The subsidy would diminish and then disappear as you spend more.
    This subsidy would help those in need without discouraging productivity; you'd need some money in order to get the subsidy and nobody would lose it by earning more.
    This simple system would replace all existing taxes as well as minimum wage, welfare and even social security.
    So there you have it: a tax and welfare system that encourages creation while fighting risk and loss.
    Whaddya think?

    Sometimes problems can't be solved. That doesn't mean we can't make things better. In this vein, I present non-comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I think it could make things a whole lot better. Take 5 minutes and see if you agree!

    Transcript & Notes

    As Israel celebrates its 69th year of statehood, one giant open sore remains: the status of the Arab communities in the Disputed Territories. Almost everybody can agree that the status quo is undesirable, at best.
    There are no simple solutions to this problem. Israeli attempts to withdraw from land or reach comprehensive resolutions have uniformly resulted in greater terror. At the same time, the status quo has resulted in significant curtailment of Palestinian freedoms - not least by the corrupt and kleptocratic Palestinian Authority and Hamas themselves. The most successful approach at improving the situation has been realized through the separation barrier. Despite Netanyahu's war-making reputation, the death toll on both sides of the conflict has been significantly cut during his administration.
    But even with - or especially with - the separation barrier, things are jammed into a very uncomfortable and almost uniformly disliked reality.
    However, at this point, there is a simple adjustment Israel could make that would diminish the flames of conflict while increasing the freedoms of Palestinian Arabs within their own cities and within Israel itself. This adjustment could also improve the freedoms of Jews within Palestinian territory.
    What is the adjustment? It starts with Israel recognizing individual areas that generate minimal external terrorist activities for one year as 'Provisional Cantons' with increased rights of travel and trade. They already do this, on a case-by-case basis, with these areas having significantly fewer checkpoints and military action and more work permits. But it isn't an official and publicly understood process.
    After two or three years, and the demonstration of a basic level of economic, trade, and religious freedom, Israel could grant these Cantons full diplomatic recognition with free trade, recognized Passports, and functionally open borders with Israel.
    It would be in Israel's interest to support the creation of these entities - and so reasonable metrics could be established.
    According to a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, a minuscule proportion of both Jews (5%) and Arabs (2%) in Israel feel the Israeli leadership is doing a good job at paying attention to what citizens want. If the Cantons are well-governed, even some of the less-nationalistic Jewish communities in the Disputed Territories might join these Palestinian-controlled Cantons. Judaism has the return to Zion as the core of its belief system. This belief does not necessarily translate into a love of the State. A substantial number of religious Jews feel a stronger connection to the Land than to the Government.
    Once established, these Cantons could choose to extend their footprint; including incorporating nearby areas (even Arab areas within Israel); so long as there significant support in those areas for such a move. They could choose to consolidate with other Cantons and they could choose a unified flag or unified security forces, if they want to.
    But they may not want to; as a simple drive around Israel will reveal, different populations that identify as Palestinian have very different relationships with neighboring Jewish populations. These differences reflects great variations in clan, family and historical allegiances.
    Some Palestinian areas would never accept this arrangement - they would remain in a permanent state of war. But some would; it is one reason why some towns and cities generate almost no terror even today. And, even if the Canton-controlled areas don't extend dramatically, more and more Palestinians might just choose to immigrate to these Cantons, depopulating and weakening areas dedicated to unending war.
    Piecemealing the problem would undermine the repression and corruption of the Palestinian Authority while also encouraging and rewarding more moderate groups.
    This approach would result in growing freedoms for Palestinians themselves and a more peaceful environment. It would also allow Israel to recognize some (and hopefully more and more) areas of Palestinian sovereignty - dampening genocidal demands for Israel's destruction.
    Israel has no obligation to grant concessions to a people who in 1948 and 1967 attempted the genocide of the Jews in Israel; areas they conquered were cleared of Jews. Jews would be happy to put the past behind them, just as we did with the Germans despite their far more successful attempt at genocide. But more recent concessions, such as the Oslo Accords and the withdrawal from Gaza have consistently resulted in fresh genocidally-driven violence. At present, it appears that there will be Palestinians who will remain dedicated to genocide for generations to come.
    Because the Jewish people would be foolish to enable and reward genocidal impulses, these Palestinians dedication to genocide precludes the possibility of a comprehensive peace.
    But many Palestinians can't be described as dedicated to genocide. Instead of being dedicated to genocide, they are trapped by the ideology of those around them. They would be happy to live in peace, just like significant numbers of Arab Israelis and Arabs beyond Israel.
    The Canton approach sidesteps the historical issues; enabling far greater freedoms for those people willing to put war aside. It would also help to isolate the intractable enemies of the Jewish people.
    Unlike traditional land for peace, the Canton approach does not put Israel at risk. Instead, it opens up the possibility of a brighter future - at least for those willing to embrace it.

    We just named our youngest daughter Revital Hadas. I guess I'm used to this format, so if you want to find out why, just watch!

    Transcript & Notes

    When I was a kid, we had a sort of micro-farm. We had a few animals, we had a few crops. I loved watching corn grow and then picking it. Among our crops were strawberries. We'd pick them, like everything else. But we took a special pleasure in finding and picking what we called 'volunteers.' These were strawberries that would show up elsewhere, where we hadn't prepped the earth and carefully placed the seeds and weeded and given the plants support.
    These just showed up.
    It is almost like the land itself was giving us a gift.
    A little gift - just waiting to be discovered.

    This child is our first volunteer. She wasn't carefully planned. No drugs kicked off the process.
    It took us plenty of work to get Nava. One rarely have triplets by accident. Even Yaniv needed help - although he doesn't seem to anymore.
    But this one, this little girl, came along with no work at all.
    Like a little gift, waiting to be discovered.

    And this is the inspiration for her name.

    When mankind was created, the Torah says G-d made us in His image, male and female.
    The male possesses positive reproductive will. A female can't force a male to impregnate her - but a man can impregnate an unwilling woman. It is because of the male will that 'memory' and 'male' share the same root, zachor.
    This is why we practice Brit Milah - or circumcision - it is a sign that our reproductive will is in service to our relationship to G-d.
    But what of the female? I struggled with this for years. Until, four days before this little one was born, I realized the female represents actualization.
    G-d has both forms. He can both will and actualize - all in one step. But mankind cannot.
    Adam (or man) may farm, but it is Adama - the feminine earth - which yields her potential.
    We may plant strawberries, but it is Adama that yields the fruit we desire.
    All of our will is useless without the power of actualization.

    In the Torah, G-d explains that He wants the Shechina, or the feminine aspect of G-d, to dwell within the people. We bring offerings - expressions of our will - and the Shechina actualizes the spiritual reality of our relationship with G-d.
    This is the normal way of things.
    We work for six days, committing our physical will. And if we are blessed, that work will yield physical reality. And then we rest on the seventh and we give to the poor. We commit our spiritual will, investing in the timeless. And, if we are blessed, the Shechina actualizes that spiritual reality.
    This is how holiness is realized.

    But in a few cases, the timeless divine invests in us. We receive the gifts of heaven; gifts which do not require our will.
    They are willed by Him, and not by us.

    In a way, this child is just such a gift. We know how the child got here, but she required very little will.

    She is a gift from above; she is our volunteer strawberry.

    Unfortunately, 'Toot' is not a very good name.

    So we went with Revital Hadass.

    Hadass, or myrtle, is the plant we use to satisfy the Biblical command to take avot trees as one of the four species on Sukkot. The word avot, with an eyin, appears in only one other context - as the gold chains that connect to and wrap the representations of the Jewish people on the garments of the Kohen Gadol, or High Priest.
    Gold, in the Mishkan, represents the divine. The avot of Gold on the Kohen's garments thus represent G-d's unique embrace of the Jewish people.
    This is the most fundamental of spiritual gifts. G-d's embrace of the people is what enables us to come before Him. It is what enables us to have the relationship that we do. It is what enables us to touch the timeless.

    Revital, means an 'abundance of dew.'
    In the Torah, we are blessed, time and again, with the dew of heaven.
    But the blessing of dew is subtle. In modern times we've realized that dew doesn't provide any meaningful hydration to plants.
    Perhaps this explains why the blessing for dew does not cause the blessings for grain and wine; it comes after them, as a crowning gift of the heavens.
    But why? Why is dew the ultimate blessing?
    Dew doesn't water plants, but it does something else. The humid environment the dew provides enables plants to perform photosynthesis - their own cycle - in a much more water efficient way. Even in a desert, they have the benefits of a water-rich environment.
    Our cycle is not photosynthesis, but holiness - creation and investment in the timeless. In biology, water carries nutrients to cells and refreshes them. In Torah, water cleanses and renews us spiritually.
    With the dew of heaven we are embraced by G-d's spirituality, even in a spiritually arid environment.

    The Manna, the food G-d brings the people in desert, is brought by the dew. It is a physical manifestation of G-d's spiritual gifts.

    Put together the name Revital Hadass speaks to G-d's embrace of the Jewish people and the spiritually rich environment we experience, even in a world often bereft of holiness.
    Like this little girl, the Tal and the Hadass we benefit from are not willed by us.
    They are willed by G-d, and given to us; just like volunteer strawberries - and just like this little girl.

    As many of you know, Hadasssah is Queen Esther's Hebrew name. Rebecca's aunt Esther never had children of her own. But she left a legacy well worth continuing. I remember her as a constantly bright and loving person. She had a remarkable joi d'vivre - one that bordered on pure dorkiness. She even found taking the bus to work fun! Among other things, she had a deep love for her home City of Chicago and for her extended family. Sometimes, she brought the two together - like when she bought Chicago Symphony T-Shirts for everybody who came to my brother-in-law's Bar Mitzvah celebration trip. Her nieces and nephews were her proxy children.
    Her gifts to us played no small role in our ability to come to the Land of Israel.
    Sadly, Esther passed away almost five years ago - a victim of Alzheimer's.
    We chose Hadass as a name in order to honor her, and strengthen her legacy. While the dorkiness isn't required, we hope that our youngest child grows up embracing the joy that Esther captured so beautifully.

    May the unmarried find their mates, may the childless be blessed with children and may the children of our people form the next link in our unending chain of connection to the divine.

    May we all be blessed with G-d's embrace and may we experience the spiritual gifts of the heavens. And may we pass on those gifts with joy and with love - continuing our relationship with G-d from generation to generation.

    Thank you.