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Tziporah and Elisheva
Tziporah and Elisheva

“Behind every great man…” So who were the women who gave their support to Moses and Aaron, the leaders of the Jewish people?

Og
Og

One of the most popular Psalms, number 135, praises God for killing mighty kings. It then lists Sichon, King of Amorites, and Og, King of Bashan. According to the Midrash, Sichon and Og were more than just belligerent kings, they were powerful giants. Little is said about Sichon other than that “Sichon and Og were the sons of Ahijah, the son of Shamhazai”(Niddah 61a). Og, however, is the subject of a great many legends.

According to tradition, Og survived the great flood by holding on to the Ark. Noah agreed to transport and feed him in return for the promise of Og’s service afterwards (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 23). Later, it is said, Og was the one who came to tell Abraham of Lot’s captivity (Genesis 11:13)–his motive, however, according to the Midrash, was not noble. He hoped that Abraham would be killed in war so that he might marry Sarah.

Midrash Rabbah Genesis 53:10 notes that the “great feast” that Abraham held in honor of Isaac’s weaning was actually “a feast for great people, Og and all the great men of the time were there….[Og said] ‘is he [Isaac] not puny? I can crush him by putting my finger on him.’ Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to him: ‘What do you mean by disparaging My gift! By your life, you will yet see countless thousands and myriads of his descendants, and your own fate will be to fall into their hands.’”

When the Israelite’s had to fight Og and his army (Numbers 21), Moses needed reassurance from God, which is explained thus in the Talmud:

He [Og] said: “How large is the camp of Israel? Three parsangs…” He went and uprooted a mountain of the size of three parsangs and carried it on his head [to throw onto the camp]. But the Holy One, blessed be He, sent ants that bored a hole in it, so that it sank around his neck….[Moses] then took an axe ten cubits long, leaped ten cubits into the air, and struck him on his ankle and killed him (Berachoht 54b).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Seven Blessings-Sheva Brachoht
Seven Blessings-Sheva Brachoht

A couple just starting their lives together inspires joy and hope, and everyone wants to wish them success. These blessings of good will are so important to a new couple that the Jewish marriage ceremony begins* with blessings. Seven of them, to be exact, known as the Sheva Brachoht, the seven blessings. (Sheva Brachoht is also the name used to refer to dinner parties held in honor of the bride and groom during the week after their wedding.)

Go Wash Your Hands
Go Wash Your Hands

Mothers always instruct their children to wash their hands before supper. After all, children play in unclean places, touch strange objects and suck their thumbs, so their hands definitely need to be washed before they touch any food. In a Jewish household, however, the request for a child to wash his/her hands might only be an indicator that the child is about to eat bread.

The Importance of Circumcision
The Importance of Circumcision

This coming November, the people of San Francisco will vote on a referendum to make it a misdemeanor to circumcise any male under the age of 18. And while many Americans were surprised by the proposal, and great debates are raging on the internet, if the referendum passes, this will certainly not be the first time that circumcision has been outlawed. The most famous prohibition of circumcision occurred during the rule of the Syrian-Greeks during the era of the Maccabees. At that time, however, circumcision was actually a capital offense.

The Missing Ark
The Missing Ark

Mention the Ark of the Covenant and most people think of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the 1981 movie starring Harrison Ford. The real Ark of the Covenant, created concurrently with the other vessels of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), was placed in the Holy of Holies of the First Temple by King Solomon. The question of the present location of the Ark is debated by the sages. When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, was the Ark taken into captivity by the Babylonians or was it hidden?

No Sin For The Humble
No Sin For The Humble

Unfortunately, it would not be difficult to write a list of powerful men whose careers have been toppled by the scandal of adultery. Alas, we often say, sarcastically, what more can one expect of politicians, sports stars, celebrities, etc? The connection between wealth and power to the vice of adultery is, sadly, nothing new. “Rabbi Hiyya Ben Abbas said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Every man in whom is haughtiness of spirit will in the end stumble through an [unfaithful] married woman” (Sotah 4b).

Don’t Wake Dad
Don’t Wake Dad

You receive a telephone call offering you ten million dollars; all you have to do is go upstairs and wake your father from his mid-day nap. Who’d hesitate?

Eat Your Vegetables
Eat Your Vegetables

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21), the sages declare that without flour, there can be no Torah. In Jewish texts, “flour,” meaning bread, often refers to material sustenance. However, the sages were also aware of the importance of vegetables: “Rabbi Huna said: No scholar should dwell in a town where vegetables are unobtainable” (Eiruvin 55b).

Zebulun, Son of Jacob
Zebulun, Son of Jacob

Throughout her life, Leah suffered from the terrible insecurity of knowing that her husband loved her sister Rachel more than he loved her. Each time she bore a child, the statement she made before naming him, reflected that sentiment (Simeon: “Because God has heard that I am unloved, He has given me this one also.” Levi: “This time my husband will become attached to me, for I have borne him three sons.” Issachar: “God has granted me my reward, because I gave my maidservant to my husband”–Genesis 29:33, 34 and 30:18).

According to the Midrash, Jacob and his wives knew that he was destined to have 12 sons. Therefore, when Leah gave birth to her sixth son, she joyfully announced: “God has endowed me with a good dowry, now my husband will dwell with me because I have born him six sons” (Genesis 30:20). The Hebrew word used for dwell, yizbelayni, infers, according to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a “home that completely corresponds to all the purposes, wishes and demands of the one for whom it is designed.” Because Leah felt that she had finally created a place where Jacob could feel so at home, she named her son Zebulun.

Almost nothing is known of the life of Zebulun other than his name. However, something of his personality can be understood from the death-bed blessing that he received from his father: “Zebulun will live at a haven of seas, he himself will become a haven for ships, and his extreme province will reach Sidon” (Genesis 49:13). According to the sages, Zebulun and his descendants were merchants of great skill, who used their acquired wealth to support Issachar’s study of Torah.

The referral to Sidon, according to Rabbi Hirsch, teaches us further that Zebulun was, in fact a modest person who did not go farther than the great, near-by seaport in order to acquire even more riches.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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