A land flowing with milk and honey–Eretz zavat chalav u’dvash–is one of the most famous descriptions of the Promised Land. While the rabbis expound that the milk is only that which flows from kosher animals (most prominently goats) and that honey refers not to the product of bees but to the sticky honey of figs and dates–it is a strange description. Has anyone ever seen a land literally flowing with either milk or honey?
Death is the great equalizer, and once people have passed away it is irrelevant how wealthy, popular or influential they were or were not. Jewish burial customs are particularly sensitive to this issue, as testified to by the burial custom of the modest shroud.
On Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av, one of the ways that the Jewish people demonstrate their mourning over the loss of both Holy Temples is by refraining from Torah study that brings pleasure to those who study it. Therefore, it is considered appropriate to read only the more somber texts, specifically: 1) Talmudic sections dealing with the destruction of the Temples, and the laws of mourning and excommunication (such as those found in the Talmudic Tractate Moed Katan), 2) the Book of Job, 3) the admonitions and rebukes of the Book of Jeremiah, and 4) the Book of Lamentations.
Tonight, at sunset, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar begins. Known as the Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period from sundown Monday to nightfall on Tuesday, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftarah on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av).
Today is “Twins Day.” Twins have long been a source of great fascination for many, as demonstrated by the vast number of studies and stories that have used twins as their subject. Twins, however, do not seem to be a subject that fascinates the Torah, but more of a parenthetical note when they occur. In fact, only two sets of Biblical twins are mentioned by name.
Death is part of life, and Jewish law provides guidelines both for dealing with death and for avoiding the spiritual diminution associated with death. When a person mourns another’s death, that person’s soul is deeply affected. During the 22 years that Jacob mourned the death of Joseph (who was not actually dead), it is said that he had no ruach hakodesh, Divine inspiration.
The assumption that every Jewish adult has had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is presumptuous. The assumption that every Jewish adult (other than a convert) has become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is logical. After all, becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah means only that a man or woman has passed the age of 13 or 12 (respectively), and is therefore recognized as having reached the age of personal religious responsibility.
The months of the Jewish year are called in the Torah by number only (the first month, second month, etc.) Over time, during the exile, the months assumed the names given to them by host cultures and thus “Jewish” months as we know them today are actually Babylonian in origin. These names were so common, that 8 out of 12 are mentioned in the later books of the prophets.
Shabbat meals, like many aspects of Jewish life, are a beautiful synthesis of our physical and spiritual selves. Physically, we enjoy delightful feasts at which our most beautiful tableware is used and delicious foods are presented. Spiritually, we elevate ourselves through the sanctification of the day (Kiddush) and the divrei Torah (words of Torah) shared at the Shabbat table.