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Life Imitates Torah

Life Imitates Torah

By Maharat Ruth Friedman
Join Maharat Ruth for a weekly podcast: "Life Imitates Torah," as she explores relevant topics in the weekly Parsha to enhance our lives.
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Bo 5781
The plague of חושך, or darkness, is mysterious. It isn't a source of destruction like the other plagues, and also occurs after the Egyptians realize that their society has already been destroyed. What, then, is its purpose? In this week's episode we consider a few possible explanations and what they can teach us about our own societal values and the value of human life. 
January 21, 2021
Vaera 5781 - Grand Old Pharaoh
The story of the plagues raises one of the biggest theological problems in the book of Shemot - how could God harden Pharaoh's heart and remove his free will? In this week's episode we look at the beginning of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart in greater detail, and discuss the consequences of Pharaoh's unwillingness to confront the limitations of his own power. 
January 14, 2021
Shemot 5781
When God appears to Moshe at the burning bush, God tells Moshe that "I have seen the suffering of my nation." Strikingly, God is the 4th being to see suffering in our parsha, preceded many decades earlier by Moshe's mother, Pharaoh's daughter, and then Moshe himself. In this week's episode we consider the implications of God's delay through the lens of a midrash cited in the Malbim, and consider the question - was God late, or were the others too early?
January 7, 2021
Vayigash 5781
It is impossible for the reader of this parsha not to feel joy and relief at the reunion of Yosef and his brothers after decades of separation and emotional strife. Intriguingly, in Chapter 45:16 the text makes a point of telling us that Pharaoh and his courtiers were also pleased by this reunion. In this week's episode we study three different explanations for the Egyptians' approval, and what these explanations can teach us about selflessness, selfishness, and what it means to be happy for other people. 
December 23, 2020
Mikeitz 5781
After Yosef correctly interprets Pharaoh's dreams, Pharaoh rewards him with power and responsibility. However, Pharaoh makes it very clear to Yosef that though Yosef will have the power to make decisions, Pharaoh will retain the title of King. In this week's episode we explore this scene in greater detail and consider the implications of Pharaoh's decision on society today.
December 17, 2020
Vayeishev 5781
Parashat Vayeishev opens with the statement "Vayeishev Yaakov", or "Jacob settled," followed by the story of Yosef and his brothers. In his robust commentary on the two opening verses, Rashi cites a midrash that Yaakov wished to settle in shalvah, or tranquility, but was prevented from doing because of the dramatic story of Yosef and his brothers. In this week's episode we delve deeper into this midrash and consider what this midrash teaches us about rest and self care. 
December 10, 2020
Vayishlach 5781
This week's parsha tells the deeply painful, and ethically challenging, story of Dinah. In this week's episode we will examine two common understandings of exactly what happened to Dinah, and the ramifications of these two explanations have on our understanding of sexual assault and punishment.  Please be advised that this episode discusses sexual violence and rape, and may be difficult for victims and survivors of sexual assault. If you are a victim of sexual assault and need help there are many resources available, including here 
December 2, 2020
Vayeitze 5781
In this week's parsha Yaakov finds refuge in the home of his uncle Lavan. Over the course of his time in Lavan's home, Yaakov slowly learns that Lavan is not actually a generous paternal figure but rather someone who seeks to profit off of Yaakov's work and cheat him out of money he deserves. In this week's episode we explore Lavan's character in greater detail and what he can teach us about living an honest life.
November 26, 2020
Toldot 5781
Parashat Toldot is the first in a series of parshiyot that tell the story of Yaakov's life. Yaakov's character becomes more cunning and daring as our parsha progresses, culminating in his appearing before his father dressed as Esav and stealing the blessings. In this episode we consider the different approaches to Yaakov's actions in our religious tradition and what they can teach us about sin, vindictiveness, and forgiveness. 
November 18, 2020
Chayei Sarah 5781
At the end of this week's parsha Avraham marries a woman named Keturah. Rash cites a midrash that Keturah is actually Hagar, and not a new person. In this week's episode we explore the ramifications of this midrash on Avraham's life, and what this explanation can teach us about regret and resolution. 
November 13, 2020
Vayera 5781
Both Avraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will have a biological child. They both react with laughter, צחוק. And yet, God reprimands Sarah for her laughter but not Avraham. In this week's episode we will analyze the difference between Avraham and Sarah's reaction, and what this can teach us about how we approach challenging scenarios and mediate conflict.
November 5, 2020
Lech Lecha 5781
In the beginning of Chapter 15 of Breishit Avraham expresses his frustration to God over not having any biological children. God assures Avraham that he will indeed have biological children, and in verse 6 the scene concludes with a short verse that is difficult to translate. In this episode we discuss the possible translations of this verse, and what this verse teaches us about how to live a life of trust in God.
October 28, 2020
Noach 5781
Though his story is one of the most famous stories in the Torah, we know remarkably little about Noach. In this episode we analyze his father Lamech's naming of him and consider what exactly made Noach worthy of saving humanity. 
October 22, 2020
Bereishit 5781
The two creation stories in Bereishit have challenged rabbis and scholars for millenia. In this episode we discuss the content and structure of these two stories, and explore what they can teach us about the role of humanity in the world. 
October 15, 2020
Vayikra 5780
The korban mincha in Chapter 2 of Vayikra follows the animal korban olah in Chapter 1, yet has some distinct differences. In this week's episode we examine the unique properties of korban mincha and what they can teach us about generosity and community building.
March 26, 2020
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5780
The aron served as the focal point of holiness in the tabernacle. On the kaporet, or cover, we were instructed to place winged keruvim made of gold. In this week's episode we will examine how rabbis over history have defined the keruvim, and what this teaches us about how we are supposed to feel when in the presence of God's holiness.
March 18, 2020
Ki Tisa 5780
The sin of the golden calf is one the most egregious sins that the Israelites commit. And yet, the exact nature of the sin is unclear; Rashi claims that it was idolatrous, but the Ramban vigorously disagrees. In this week's episode we examine this debate in further detail and offer an additional interpretation of this famous story.
March 12, 2020
Tetzaveh 5780
Parashat Tetzaveh provides the instructions for the Kohen Gadol's garments. In Chapter 28 verse 15 we are commanded to build the choshen mishpat (breastplate of judgment) and place the Urim v'Tumim inside of it. In this week's episode we explore different interpretations of what the Urim v'Tumim were, and what it means to live in exile without them. 
March 5, 2020
Terumah 5780
In the beginning of our parsha God explicitly commands that the people whose hearts move them to give should contribute materials to the construction of the mishkan. As the commentators note, the language of the verse is a bit strange. The literal translation is "they should take for me a gift" - ויקחו לי תרומה. In this episode we explore various explanations for this linguistic oddity, and what they can teach us about the nature of partner relationships.
February 26, 2020
Mishpatim 5780
Parashat Mishpatim contains a number of civil laws, including capital crimes. Exodus 22:17 teaches us that "we may not allow a sorceress to live," which is an unusual formulation for a Biblical capital crime. In this episode we examine four different understandings of this verse and what they teach us about the limits we place on society.
February 20, 2020
Yitro 5780
After the crossing of the sea, Moshe's father-in-law Yitro arrives to find Moshe judging the people's legal cases from morning until evening. He immediately recognizes that this system is unsustainable, and he advises Moshe to create a judicial system to help alleviate his burden.  When Yitro expresses his concerns in Exodus 18:18 he tells Moshe that both he and the nation "navol tibol," an unusual phrase that commentators disagree over how to translate. In this episode we explore the various understandings of this phrase, and what it can teach us about maintaining and equal and just legal system.
February 12, 2020
Beshalach 5780
Shemot Chapter 16 introduces us to the mahn, the mysterious edible substance that sustained the Israelites each morning on their journey through the desert. In this episode we will consider multiple commentators' understanding of the meaning of the mahn, and what these meanings can teach us about how we express suspicion, wonderment, and gratitude. 
February 6, 2020
Bo 5780
The 8th plague of locusts represents a major shift in both the physical expression of the plague, and the greater meaning behind it. This week we will examine arbeh in greater detail and consider what it teaches us about Egyptian beliefs, Torah values, and the real tragedy of Pharaoh's leadership.
January 30, 2020
Va'era 5780
Our parsha opens with God's impassioned promise of redemption of the Israelites. However, when Moshe delivers the message to the Israelites they cannot hear it because of "shortness of spirit and hard labor." In this week's episode we explore a range of commentaries on this phrase, and consider what caused the breakdown in communication between the Redeemer and the redeemed.
January 23, 2020
Shemot 5780
Moshe's mysterious name raises many questions and becomes the subject of extensive scholarship. Is it Hebrew, or Egyptian? Is it circumstantial, or prophetic? In this episode we explore the possible origins the name of our future redeemer and consider what it teaches us about the personality of his adoptive mother, Pharaoh's daughter.
January 16, 2020
Vayechi 5780
The book of Breishit concludes with a stunning scene between Yosef and his brothers. In this episode we will explore the significance of their final encounter as a family unit, and how Yosef is able to redeem his family's painful past.
January 9, 2020
Miketz 5780
Miketz 5780
December 23, 2019
Vayeshev 5780
The first four verses of Parashat Vayeshev paint a troubling portrayal of Yosef's relationship to his brothers, and raises questions about Yaakov's role in this challenging sibling dynamic. This week we explore the Toledot Yitzchak's understanding of what went wrong and what we can learn from Yaakov's mistake.
December 18, 2019
Vayishlach 5780
Parashat Vayishlach contains the famous scene of Yaakov wrestling with an unnamed figure. Join us as we explore two different approaches to understanding why God sent the angel to wrestle with Yaakov and what this teaches us about the fear of God, the fear of others, and the fear of change.
December 12, 2019
Vayetzei 5780
Climbing a Ladder to Heaven and Back Down: Exploring the Meaning of Yaakov’s Dream 
December 5, 2019
Chayei Sarah 5780
"Moving On" and the Pain of Grieving
November 21, 2019
Vayera 5780
What can Avraham teach us about Radical Welcoming?
November 13, 2019