Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
July 11, 2019

July 11th, 2019 | 8 Tamuz 5779

Handling Our Anger

By Abigail Uhrman
Assistant Professor of Jewish Education

Among the many stories in Parashat Hukkat, perhaps the most discussed is when Moses, in response the Israelites’ grievances, is instructed by God to “order the rock to yield its water.” Moses, instead, strikes the rock twice with his rod. Water comes forth, but God rebukes Moses for disobeying his instructions: “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm my sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, there you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them” (Num. 20:2–13).


The publication and distribution of the JTS Commentary are made possible by a generous grant from Rita Dee (z”l) and Harold Hassenfeld (z”l).

July 3, 2019

July 3rd, 2019 | 30 Sivan 5779

How to Challenge Authority

By Rachel Rosenthal

By Rachel Rosenthal, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics

When is it appropriate to challenge a leader? While this week’s parashah, Korah, is perhaps the most dramatic attempt to answer this question in the Torah, this question percolates from the beginning of Moses’s tenure. At first glance, the answer would seem to be that Moses should never be challenged. As God’s chosen leader, the Israelites should submit to his authority in all cases. After all, things end badly for those who do not follow this course, as the story of Korah shows.


The publication and distribution of the JTS Commentary are made possible by a generous grant from Rita Dee (z”l) and Harold Hassenfeld (z”l).

July 1, 2019

June 28, 2019 | 25 Sivan, 5779

The Power of One

By Judith Hauptman,


This week’s parashah, Shelah Lekha, opens with the famous episode of twelve scouts going on a reconnaissance mission to the land of Israel. As most of us know the story, upon their return, ten of them recommend returning to Egypt, whereas just two, Joshua and Caleb, encourage the Israelites to continue their journey to the Promised Land. When we look at the verses of chapter 13, we discover that that is not exactly what they say.

According to Num. 13:27–28, when the scouts returned from their trip, they said to Moshe: “[W]e came to the land you sent us to. It does indeed flow with milk and honey. However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful.“ The Torah continues and says that Caleb hushed the people before Moses, saying, “Let us by all means go up” (v. 30). The other (eleven) scouts refused to be persuaded by Caleb and responded, “We cannot attack that people for it is stronger than we” (v. 31). The outcome is clear: the scouts praise the Land of Israel but fear its people. They will not press forward.

The surprising feature of these verses is that, according to them, it is Caleb alone who stands up to the crowd of nay-sayers. But weren’t most of us taught in Hebrew school that it was both Joshua and Caleb who stood up to the other ten? What are we to make of this inconsistency?

Let’s turn to the commentary on these verses in the Tosefta, a collection parallel to the Mishnah:
“We came to the land you sent us to,” said Joshua (v. 27).

Caleb said, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it” (v. 30).

The scouts said, “However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful” (v. 28).

Three statements, one next to the other: the one who said this did not say that, and the one who said that did not say this (Sotah, 9:2).
“באנו אל הארץ אשר שלחתנו” אמר יהושע

כלב אמר “עלה נעלה וירשנו אתה”

מרגלים אמרו “אפס כי עז העם היושב בארץ”

שלשה דברים זה בצד זה, מי שאמר זה לא אמר זה, ומי שאמר זה לא אמר זה.

The Rabbis of the Tosefta present their own understanding of these verses. They claim that it was not the eleven scouts who said, “we came to the land you sent us to” (v. 27), but Joshua alone who said those words. And it was the other ten scouts, not including Caleb, who went on to say, “However, the people there are powerful” (v. 28). To which Caleb responded, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it” (v. 30). According to this reading, not one but two scouts—Caleb and also Joshua—encouraged the people to continue the journey and overcome the obstacles.

It is evident that the Rabbis are not interpreting the text according to the simple meaning of the words. They claim that there are three speakers—Caleb, the people, and Joshua—and not just two, as the verses suggest. Why do they introduce Joshua into a text that makes absolutely no mention of him? Why do they allow him to act as bravely as Caleb?

To arrive at an answer, let’s read the continuation of the episode in chapter 14. After the people refuse to go up to the Land, both Caleb and Joshua try to quell the rebellion against Moshe (v. 6). They fail. God then says that whereas the rest of the Exodus generation will die in the desert, Caleb alone will survive and enter the Land because “he was imbued with a different spirit and remained loyal to Me (v. 24).

Note that the verse does not mention that Joshua too will survive. Later in the chapter, however, God does say that Joshua, too, will enter the Land (v. 30). In addition, a verse in Deuteronomy (1:36) again says that God will allow only Caleb of the Exodus generation to reach the Promised Land. We thus see that three verses—Num. 13:30 and 14:24 and Deut. 1:36—speak of Caleb alone resisting the scouts’ report and surviving the forty-year trek in the desert. The reason that he alone is mentioned is that only he took on all eleven scouts and tried to get them to change their minds. Joshua did not join him in that noble attempt. What we learned as children—that both Joshua and Caleb opposed the other ten scouts—is not the literal meaning of the verses.

The Rabbis of the Tosefta wanted to shine a positive light on Moshe’s future successor. Joshua too, they held, must have believed that the people could triumph over the Land’s giant inhabitants. And so they interpolated Joshua into the story. It is also likely that the Rabbis wanted to make the episodes of chapters 13 and 14 align with each other. Since Joshua joined Caleb in trying to stop the rebellion in chapter 14, the Rabbis reasoned that he must have done the same in chapter 13, even though the Torah does not say so. They thus portray Joshua, like Caleb, as someone with great faith in God and no fear of the people.

To my mind, there is a downside to the Rabbis’ addition of Joshua to chapter 13: the aggrandizement of Joshua leads to the diminution of Caleb. He becomes merely a sidekick of Joshua, rather than the hero the verses suggest that he is. (Contemporary Bible scholars, in trying to solve the problem of the silent Joshua in chapter 13, claim that chapters 13 and 14 are two versions of the same story—a not uncommon occurrence in the Bible—with one told from Caleb’s perspective [chapter 13] and the other from Joshua’s [chapter 14]. They view chapter 13 as the more reliable version, as I have been suggesting here.)

Were it not for the Tosefta, I don’t think I would have noticed the absence of Joshua in Numbers 13. Like so many others, I have always read that chapter through the eyes of the Rabbis. But by looking carefully at the verses themselves, I realized that the plain sense meaning of the Torah is that Caleb understood that the other scouts were misguided, foresaw the dire consequences of their stance, and bravely tried to change their minds. True he did not succeed. But he made a valiant attempt. I understand the quandary in which the Rabbis found themselves. I sympathize with their reading Joshua into the text of chapter 13. But for me the challenge is to return Caleb to his rightful place in Jewish history, for he grasped the “power of one.” No longer should he be an unsung hero, nor should the importance of standing up for what is right, even if you must do so alone, be forgotten.

The current popularity of the name Caleb, along with the fact that she has a grandson by that name, led Rabbi Hauptman to write this column.

The publication and distribution of the JTS Commentary are made possible by a generous grant from Rita Dee (z”l) and Harold Hassenfeld (z”l).

June 24, 2019

June 20, 2019 | 17 Sivan, 5779

Modeling Behavior for the Sake of Humankind

By Walter Herzberg,


In the last narrative in Parashat Beha’alotehkha, it seems that Miriam and Aaron are speaking against their brother Moses—though the nature of the complaint is far from clear. Whatever the complaint may be, God summons Miriam and Aaron and takes them to task for not being “afraid to speak against My servant Moses”:

  1. The Lord suddenly said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Go out, all three of you, to the Tent of Meeting!” And all threewent out. 5. The Lord descended in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tent. He called to Aaron and Miriam, and they both went out. 6. He said, “Please listen to My words. If there be prophets among you, [I] the Lord will make Myself known to him in a vision; I will speak to him in a dream. 7. Not so is My servant Moses; he is faithful throughout My house. 8. With him I speak mouth to mouth; in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses? 9. The wrath of the Lord flared against them and He left. (Num. 12:4–9)

Notice, however, that before chastising Miriam and Aaron, God speaks “suddenly” to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam requesting that “all three of you” go to the Tent of Meeting: The following verse, however, is somewhat puzzling since God “called [only] to Aaron and Miriam and they both went out”. Why does God ask all three of them to appear at the Tent of Meeting, yet he invites only Aaron and Miriam to come forward?

Rashi articulates our question as “Why did [God] separate them from Moses?” He then offers two possible solutions, firstly:

“Because [it is appropriate that people] say [only] part of a person’s praise in his presence, and all of it when not in his presence.”

According to this explanation, God did not want Moses to be present when He was praising Moses as highly as he does in verses 6–8:The lesson that Rashi is teaching is clear—but the rationale is not! Why should one not praise a person too highly in his presence? Some possible reasons:

  1. Most obviously, praising a person too highly in his presence may cause the person to become haughty.
  2. Or possibly, the dictum is not meant for the sake of the one who is being praised, but rather for the one doing the praising: by praising a person too highly to his face, one runs the risk of appearing like a disingenuous flatterer. (Rashi actually makes this point in his commentary on the Talmud [BT Eruvin 18b].)

In other words, it may be laudable to praise a person, but don’t overdo it; you must consider the potential ramifications for both the one who is being praised and for the one doing the praising. Interestingly, Rashi’s comment can be understood from either the perspective of the one receiving or the one giving praise.

Characteristically, Rashi offers an alternate explanation for God’s having separated Miriam and Aaron from Moses:

“Alternatively, God separated [Miriam and Aaron from Moses] so that he [Moses] should not hear Aaron’s reprimand.”

But why shouldn’t Moses hear it?
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The publication and distribution of the JTS Commentary are made possible by a generous grant from Rita Dee (z”l) and Harold Hassenfeld (z”l).

June 12, 2019

June 13, 2019 | 10 Sivan, 5779

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

By the time you read this post, the fate of the NBA finals may have been determined. After watching a drama filled game five, I am prepared to name the MVP, regardless of who wins the series. Ready for this one? Kyle Lowry is my MVP.

Here is why.

Kevin Durant is the X factor for the Warriors that was missing for most of the NBA playoffs. Risking his health and further injury, he played in the pivotal game 5. Shortly into the second quarter, Durant went down with a serious and series ending Achilles heel injury. Knowing his impact in the game, many Toronto fans were happy to see him incapacitated, thinking it paved the way for a Raptors victory. Thus, after falling down, many Toronto fans cheered loudly at his wound and pain.

Demonstrating leadership, Kyle Lowry, a Toronto player,  walked over to Kevin Durant to help him walk off the court and admonished the home fans for cheering at his pain. Knowing the Raptors had a chance to win their first ever NBA finals in this game, Lowry was able to compartmentalize his desire for winning and his compassion for a hurt player. Further, he used his leadership to tell the fans in Toronto how best to calibrate their emotions. We do not cheer for injuries!

Frankly, the world needs more leaders like Kyle Lowry these days. People that can decipher right from wrong. People with passion and drive yet, compassion and empathy. People that give 200% on the court and also know that their leadership transcends the moments when the shot clock is running.

Kyle Lowry is my MVP of the NBA series, regardless of outcome. It is too bad that his actions need to be recognized as our collective goal instead of our universal standard.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner