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Rabbi Hillel’s Blog

Is Life’s Ḥanukkiah half-full or half-empty?

  • Posted on December 27, 2019
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Is Life’s Ḥanukkiah half-full or half-empty? In the Talmudic discussion about Ḥanukkah observance, there is an argument between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Shammai’s school maintained that the Ḥanukkiah should be full, with eight candles, on the first night, and each subsequent night one candle should be removed. This, to signify that the miracle was running out. Hillel’s Continue Reading »

Ḥanukkah Gelt (or Guilt)

  • Posted on December 20, 2019
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Ḥanukkah Gelt (or Guilt) When we think of the Ḥanukkah celebration, the image of the Ḥanukkiah (menorah) comes to mind: starting with one candle on the first night, and working our way up to eight candles on the last night. But one can actually observe Ḥanukkah perfectly well without a Ḥanukkiah at all. Lighting candles lined up on a Continue Reading »

Faithful Cautious Optimism

  • Posted on December 11, 2019
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This week we read of the epic reunion of Jacob and Esau, after twenty years of separation. Commentaries assume that Jacob was returning because his mother had sent him a message saying that Esau had forgiven him, but we see from our Parasha that Jacob did not feel sufficiently confident to rely on her message. Continue Reading »

Sweet Dreams

  • Posted on December 5, 2019
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This week, we read about Jacob’s dream about a ladder standing on Earth and reaching Heaven. The Talmud teaches that Jacob dreamed this sleeping on the Temple Mount, and ‘coincidentally,’ as I write these thoughts before attempting to overcome jetlag and fall asleep myself, I am visiting my older children exactly 400 metres from that Continue Reading »

Esau’s Rehabilitation

  • Posted on November 29, 2019
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In our reading this week, our matriarch Rebecca learned that her older son Esau was plotting to kill her younger son, Jacob. She told Jacob to flee to her brother’s home in Ḥaran and wait there until Esau’s anger would subside, at which point she would send for him. Her pleading words to Jacob end Continue Reading »

Kindness First

  • Posted on November 22, 2019
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When Abraham had buried his wife Sarah and mourned for her appropriately, he turned his mind to caring for his son’s pressing need, and helped him find a wife. The local women were not appealing in Abraham’s or Isaac’s eyes, so they dispatched Abraham’s servant to Haran to see if any candidates could be found Continue Reading »

On Humans and Angels

  • Posted on November 15, 2019
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Our Torah portion opens with Abraham and Sarah being visited by three angels. At their first appearance, it says that “[Abraham] lifted his eyes and saw three people…” Initially Abraham and Sarah assumed they were human. Only later do Abraham and Sarah find out that they were angels. Upon leaving Abraham and Sarah’s tent, two Continue Reading »

Being a Blessing

  • Posted on November 7, 2019
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When God tells Abram (before his name was changed to Abraham) to leave his land, birthplace and father’s home and to go to the land which shall be indicated, God promises him, “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you and magnify your name, and you shall be a blessing.”    Continue Reading »

Who is a real Tzaddik?

  • Posted on November 1, 2019
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While the Torah attests that Noah was a tzaddik – righteous – the Sages were conflicted over how righteous he really was. The verse says that he “was a righteous person in his generation” (Gen 6:9). Some Sages read this as a compliment: if he was righteous even in his unsavoury generation, how much more righteous would Continue Reading »

Keepers of Each Other

  • Posted on October 25, 2019
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When God asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother,” Cain responded, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” – a response that has achieved universal fame. An interesting part of this interaction is the way Cain lies to God and then throws the question back in God’s face. Knowing God is all-knowing and Continue Reading »