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Rabbi Arthur Segal’s love of people, humanity, and Judaism has him sharing with others “The Wisdom of the Ages” that has been passed on to him. His writings for modern Jews offer Spiritual, Ethical, and eco-Judaic lessons in plain English and with relevance to contemporary lifestyles. He is the author of countless articles, editorials, letters, and blog posts, and he has recently published two books:

The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew

and

A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud

You can learn more about these books at:

www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.org
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Friday, June 19, 2009

RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL:“My children have overruled Me! My children have overruled Me

 
 

Parasha Korach: Numbers 16:01-18:32

Rabbi Arthur Segal
Via Shamash Org on-line class service
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Hilton Head Island, SC, Bluffton, SC, Savannah, GA

"Burn, Baby, Burn!"

This Torah portion tells the story of Korach and the rebellion of Korach's followers against Moses and Aaron. They fail, of course. Some are swallowed up by the earth, some die from a plague, others are burned alive. God then proves through a miracle involving the rod of Aaron growing almond buds that the priesthood belongs to Aaron's progeny forever. God also gives more laws regarding the tasks and duties of the Levites. The Levites are firmly reestablished as secondary to the Kohanim. Laws concerning first-born sons, fruits, and animals are also given to establish each Israelite's duties to God via the priests. The priests are given the rights to 24 special gifts that the Israelites will continually owe them.

Traditionally, Nachmanides and Rabbi Ibn Ezra agree that this revolt happened about one year after the Exodus from Egypt. Ibn Ezra says Korach revolted after the inauguration of the Mishkan, the desert Tabernacle. This is when Aaron and his sons were designated to replace the firstborn as the only ones who could perform the service of the sacrifices. Korach was a firstborn and a first cousin of Moses and Aaron. He was angry and jealous. Nachmanides however says that the event took place after the 12 spies story from the previous parasha. He states that the people were upset over God's decree that they would die in the desert. Korach took advantage of the low morale to lead a rebellion. The Talmud Bavli teaches in Tractate Pesachim 6B that the Torah does not always follow chronological order. Ibn Ezra relies on this to support his claim. Nachmanides disagrees.

The critical theory biblical scholars believe that this parasha is actually two stories of two similar rebellions. One is of Korach revolting against Aaron and the priestly succession, which is also reviewed in Numbers 27:03. The other is of two of the co-conspirators (Dathan and Abiram), who planned a political coup against Moses to which Deuteronomy 11:06 and Psalm 106:17 refer. Some students of Torah say that this event occurred not one year after the Exodus, but 38 years later.

This d'var starts with what may seem to some to be Talmudic hairsplitting. There is a reason for this. Jews have a tradition of being able to disagree on many of the most fundamental of issues. The rabbis teach in Pirkei Avot (5:20), "any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a constructive outcome. What sort of dispute was for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Shammai and Hillel. And what was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his entire assembly."

Hillel and Shammai would argue over so many points, even as to which way to light the Hanukah menorah. But they always addressed each other politely. Their children married each other (Tractate Yevomot 14B). One did not call another one less of a Jew. The Talmud in Tractate Eruvin 13B records that while Hillel's views won most of the time, "the utterances of both are the words of the living God."

The Midrash records Korach arguing with Moses quite differently. He had his followers dress in four-cornered garments made totally out of turquoise wool that had been died with the techeilet coloring that is used for the blue thread in the Tzitzit fringe. He would then confront Moses and derisively ask if an all-techeiltit garment still needed fringes with a single thread of blue in its tzitzit. Moses answered yes, and Korach publicly scoffed at him. Korach was really asking if the entire people was holy and a kingdom of priests, why should Aaron and his sons be priests alone? Korach also asked if a mezuzah (containing part of the Torah) was needed on the door of a storage room full of Torahs. Please remember this Midrash, as we will refer to it later.

The Hebrew word for a quarrel not done for the sake of Heaven is machloket. Judaism regards divisiveness as one of its gravest sins. The Midrash Bamidbar Rabba (11:07) says that the tension caused by quarreling, along with its allegations, incriminations, lasho n ha ra, and snubbing undermines the harmony of creation. Our word for peace is Shalom. Its root word (shalem) means "complete and whole." We ask for a r'fua shalemah, a complete healing, for our ill friends and loved ones. We need to be cooperative and respectful to one another in order to achieve real peace.

We Jews are constantly praying for peace but do we truly seek it in our daily lives? We all love swaying to the folk tune of Heenai Ma Tov U. But do we really reflect on the words from Psalm 133:01, "How good and pleasant it is for brothers to sit peacefully together?" We ask for peace numerous times in the thrice-daily prayer the Amidah. Our Grace after meals ends with a prayer for Shalom as well as our priestly blessings. Shalom is one of the names of God. Shalom is even the last word of the Talmud. In our parasha Moses exposed himself to continued insult for the sake of peace. Even though Dathan and Aviram were part of the rebellion, Moses gives them a chance to back out. They refused, but Moses tried for the sake of peace.

There was a third conspirator mentioned by name along with Korach, Dathan and Aviram in Numbers 16:01. This is "On, son of Pelet." There is a cute Midrash to explain what happened to On. His wife saved his life. Mrs. On found out about her husband's plan to join the rebellion. So she got him drunk and he feel asleep. She then sat in front of their tent immodestly with her hair down. When Korach and his followers came to the tent to summon him, they saw Mrs. On dressed immodestly and decided to leave without On. Therefore, On did not participate in the rebellion and did not die with the others. Why is the showing of a traditional Jewish woman's hair considered immodest? The rabbis of course have the answer in Talmud Bavli Tractate Eruvin 100B: "Since a woman (Eve) caused Adam to sin, thus bringing death upon humanity, married women cover themselves like mourners." Rashi states that this means that women should be ashamed to go out with their hair uncovered. So that you do not think the Midrashic rabbis have gone soft on women, they do write that it was Mrs. Korach who nagged her husband into rebelling.

Jews are most certainly allowed to have well-intentioned controversy. The Talmud teaches, ""just as no two faces are exactly alike, likewise no two opinions are exactly alike." Any trip to a Yeshiva will show Talmud students yelling at each other to make a point. However our Torah portion this week has a mitzvah that is parallel in importance to the one asking us to love our fellow as our self. Numbers 17:05 commands us, "Do not be like Korach." The Talmud Bavli in Tractate Sanhedrin 110A states that this is a prohibition against mahloket. The Talmud Bavli states, in Tractate Yoma 9B, that the second Temple was destroyed because Jews harbored baseless hatred (sinat chinam) toward each other. The Kabbalistic Zohar states that Korach quarreled not with Moses or Aaron but with peace itself and "he who quarrels with peace quarrels with the Holy Name."

Korach argued with Moses because he was jealous. He says that Moses had "taken too much for" himself (Num. 16:3). He claimed Moses and Aaron had unfairly seized the leadership roles. Korach recruited 250 men who were also jealous. Datan and Aviram were from the tribe of Reuben. Reuben was the first born of Jacob. As first-born they felt they should have received a double portion of land as well as the rights to the priesthood over their brothers, the Levites. They were swallowed up by the earth. This is literally what the Mishna warns of in Pirkei Avot (4:21) when it states, "Jealously, desire and pride take a man out of the world."

The Talmud Bavli in Tractate Bava Batra 74A states that Rabbah bar Bar-Chana said that when he traveled in the desert an Arab merchant took him to the place where Korach and his men died. There was a crevice in the earth and you could hear Korach say, "Moses and his Torah are true, and we were liars."

Talmud Bavli Tractate Rosh Hashanah 17A tells of what happens when sinful Jews go to hell. They go to Gehinnom (hell) for 12 months. Their bodies and souls are burned. And the winds scatter their ashes under the souls of the righteous. But, the Talmud also reports what happens to those who deny that God gave Torah and the Talmud. They roast in hell but never get burned. Even when Gehinnom is destroyed they will still roast and never be consumed. Talmud Bavli Tractate Sanhedrin Chapter 11, which states that "all Jews, and the righteous of all nations, have a share in the World to Come," but that Korach will not (Sanhedrin 108A). The Kabballah holds that not one soul will ever be lost because in the future all evil will be destroyed. At this time all souls will merit resurrection of the dead and live in the World to Come.

The Talmud Bavli describes Korach as wealthy (Sanhedrin 27B). The Sefer Etzot states that Korach was humiliated by Moses when he had his head shaved for Levitical service. The Hebrew word Korach means "bald." The Midrash points out similarities between Cain and Korach. Both had blind self-destructive jealousy. The earth swallows up the blood of Abel (Gen. 4:11) and swallows up Korach (Num. 16:32). Korach was not a nobody. The Midrash states he was the one entrusted to carry the Holy Ark of the Torah and that he was exceedingly wise. He was a manipulative demagogue.

The Midrash states that Korach's jealousy began when his cousin, Elzafan ben Uziel, was made head of the Kehat family of Levites. Kehat was Korach's grandfather. Kehat was the father of Amrom and hence also the grandfather of Moses and Aaron. Kehat had two other sons after Amrom. First Yizhar and then Uziel. Korach was the son of Yizhar and was next in line after Moses and Aaron for appointment. But the son of Yizhar (Korach) was skipped over for the son of Uziel (Elzafan). God may have made the selection, but Korach held Moses responsible for suggesting this to God.

We as humans tend to get jealous over the silliest things. The Ramchal of 16th century Italy recognized that jealousy has its place. King Solomon taught in Ecclesiastes that there is a time and a place for everything. It we see our neighbor doing well and we too become motivated this is good, he wrote. The rabbis recognized this when they wrote in Talmud Bavli Tractate Bava Batra 75B, "everyone is burned by his neighbor's canopy."

If Korach is so bad, the Midrash asks, why is an entire Parasha named after him? As we mentioned above, his name means bald. It connotes division; creating a bald spot between two factions where previously their had been unity and peace. Rambam writes that the Torah "was given to make peace in the world." The Midrash asks again, "why should a portion of the Torah be called by a name that suggests divisiveness?" The opening words of this portion (Num. 16:01) are "Korach...took." The Targum translation of the Torah is "Korach...divided." This is compared to the division God made on the second day where it is traditionally believed that He divided the water with a firmament.

Korach saw the priesthood as an elevation. He saw a hierarchy and a division between the priests and the people. He saw everyone as equally holy and complained that he and others had just as much right to the priesthood as Aaron and his sons. While his motives were not pure, his concept was. He perhaps envisioned a time when every Jew was able to pray directly to God again the way the Patriarchs did. Maybe Korach was able to forecast a time when the Temple and Priesthood would be no more, and that peace and union with God would come through prayer and good works. Perhaps this is a lesson the sages were trying to teach when they named the Parasha after Korach.

Numbers 26:11 states that Korach's sons did not die. Since Numbers 16:32 says that all of his followers were swallowed up by the earth, we can assume that his sons were not part of the rebellion. They are recorded as authors of Psalms. The Midrash states that the Prophet Samuel was a descendant. They were honored to be able to sing in the Temple. They were not the superstars of the Temple drama. They were happy to be in the background and let the priests get the spotlight. Ironically little is mentioned of Moses' children in the Torah or the Midrash. Rashi suggests that maybe Korach knew the future of his sons and since they would be great, he wanted to be great also. His descendant Samuel is ironically supportive of the Kings of Israel. He anoints both our first king, Saul and David, our second king. The theme of this Haftarah is "behold, God has set a king over you...and you will not rebel." (Samuel 12: 13-14).

Rebellion on an intellectual level has always been a hallmark of Judaism. It has allowed our religion to grow and adapt. The Talmud itself changed Torah laws, albeit via legal fictions. The Talmud, in Tractate Moed Katan 16B, states that God asked, "I reign over man, but who reigns over Me?" God answered His own question by saying, "The righteous ones. Because when I issue an edict, the righteous ones can overrule Me." In Tractate Bava Metzia 59B, Rabbi Elazer and Rabbi Yehoshua argue over a point of Jewish law (halakah). A Bat Kol (Heavenly voice) says that Elazer was correct. Yehoshua jumps up and says that the law is no longer in Heaven. Rabbi Yirmiah explains that "the Torah was already given on Mt. Sinai and heaven no longer has authority. The Torah states, 'follow the majority.'" (Ex. 23:2). Rabbi Noson, according to the Talmud, asks Elijah, the long-dead prophet, what God said when Rabbi Yehoshua made his statement. Elijah said that God smiled and joyously exclaimed, "My children have overruled Me! My children have overruled Me!"

The rationale that the Talmudic rabbis used to give themselves permission to amend the law is derived from Deuteronomy 32:07. This passage instructs the Israelites to abide by the Torah as taught to them by their sages. An amendment is called a gezira, a decree of the wise. It is limited by a ruling that states, "A gezira is not decreed unless most of the people can support it." This begs the question: Who are the wise? Traditionally we read in the Mishna that Moses taught Joshua, Joshua taught the Elders, who taught the Prophets, who taught the Men of the Great Assembly. We traditionally believe that this Assembly was a group of 120 sages at the time of the Second Temple. We are taught that Mordechai, Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were all members. Historians claim that this Assembly never existed.

Traditionally rabbis who study with rebbes are granted a laying-on of hands called "Semikha." This implies that their teaching is transmitted through the generations over 3,300 years from the mouth of Moses without error to them. Since we cannot verify the existence of the great Assembly, we most assume that the Talmudic rabbis were indeed learned, but many had their positions due to wealth, politics and nepotism. The frankness of the Talmud shows them all to be human and some with many human frailties. The first editors of the Talmud were called savora'im (reasoners). They did not do things blindly. They thought, they debated, they made decisions and they made changes.

One of the human frailties that some of Talmudic rabbis had was a fierce protection of their status. They were protective of their authority and their right to decide who was awarded semikha ordination. In modern business terms, it was their franchise. Talmud Tractate Eruvin 63B states that if one renders a halachic (law) decision in the presence of his rabbi, he is punished by dying without children. Tractate Sanhedrin 110A equates one who challenges, quarrels with, or even thinks ill about his rabbi with one who challenges God Himself. Such an act is on the level of idolatry and punishable by death.

Centuries later Maimonides combined his studies of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Galen and Hippocrates with his Judaic studies and produced a reworking of the Talmud called the Mishna Torah. It swept the Jewish world. But it also caused protest among the scholars who declared he had no Semikha. The Rambam was just a doctor who was the court physician to the Sultan. He was called an upstart. He dared to answer questions that the Talmudic rabbis left unanswered. He laid down laws of Judaism and amended many without asking the authorities. He quoted idolaters in his books. He showed his students where the rabbis had erred. 1,000 years ago, Maimonides was considered too radical a reformer and had a decree of Jewish excommunication placed on him. Would anyone today dare to say the great Rambam was performing machloket that was not for the sake of Heaven?

Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the Ethical Mussar movement of nineteenth century Europe, wrote, "All valid attempts to reconstruct what God told Moses are subsumed under the title of Torah, including the opinions that are ultimately nullified." The Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Yahudah Loewe) posited "nothing is black and white at any time." The Kabballists wrote that all souls were present at Mt. Sinai. They received the word of God through 49 different conduits. "Every individual perceived God's word according to his own grasp of things, and according to the capacity of his soul. One could be at one extreme. A second could be at an opposite extreme. A third would reach a middle ground. Yet all is Truth. All is Torah. Understand this."

The major principle that kept our religion as a developing philosophy of life is the idea of "acharei rabim le hatot," which is following the majority opinion in matters of dispute. Rabbi Yannai in the Talmud stated, "the majority is to be followed - when a majority says it is unclean, it is unclean; when a majority says it is clean, it is clean."

In the early 1800s, Jewish leaders, for the sake of Heaven, wanted to preserve our people in response to the Enlightenment of Europe. Jews were no longer subjects but voluntary members of the Jewish community. Many chose to leave it. Some chose to convert to Christianity. Most became lax in their religious observance.

Enlightened Jewish leaders attempted to counter these forces with religious reform. They modeled themselves after the German protestant reformation. They wanted to rid Judaism of any ritual that would mark us as "superstitious aliens." They revised the synagogue service to make it "more dignified and rational." They renamed their houses of worship as temples and abrogated the messianic dream of the Temple being rebuilt in Jerusalem. Some wished to do away with Kosher laws and rules against intermarriage. The first Reform Temple opened in 1818 in Hamburg, Germany with prayers in German instead of Hebrew.

New scholarship in Judaism occurred. Documentation that showed that Jewish rituals and rites were constantly changing over time was discovered and allowed to be discussed. Jewish excommunications such as those that happened to De Costa and Spinoza in Amsterdam no longer threatened modern-thinking rabbis. All of these changes were done to help Judaism survive. None were done to promote machloket or quarreling.

In 1885, at the conference of the Reform Jewish movement in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler presented a position paper with "ten propositions." He stated that, "we can no longer be blind to the fact that Mosaic-Rabbinic Judaism, as based on Law and Tradition, has actually and irrevocably lost its hold on the modern Jew... Judaism is historical growth...We must accentuate and define what is essential and vital amidst its ever-changing forms and ever-fluctuating conditions." He helped pass the Pittsburgh platform, which dismissed such Mosiac and Rabbinic laws as regulated diet, priestly purity, and dress as anachronisms that can only obstruct spirituality in the modern age. Reform Judaism accepted as binding only the moral laws of Judaism and only those rituals that "elevate and sanctify our lives."

The Reform rabbis reaffirmed the belief in a monotheistic God and a commitment to ethics and social justice. They wished to promote activities in furthering the Messianic age in which all people will acknowledge the one God and establish an era of "truth and righteousness among men." If any of us read this with an unprejudiced eye, does this sound like a disagreement for the sake of Heaven like Hillel and Shammai had two millennia ago or does it sound like that of Korach, based on jealousy?

Reform Judaism along with Conservative, Reconstructionist, Spiritual Renewal, and Orthodox Judaism has helped keep Judaism alive the world over. Yet there are those who are being taught, against the long standing traditions of our people, that members of these movements are 'not Jews. Some are taught there is only one correct way of Judaism and anyone who does not follow this way deludes himself. Worse yet, liberal Jews are labeled Apikorit - apostates. And the Torah states that apostates should be killed.

So it comes as no surprise that a few years back two synagogues in Jerusalem were vandalized with arson by ultra right wing Jews. One was a Conservative synagogue, the other Messianic. Prime Minister Barak called the attacks "a horrible deed, that every Jew should deplore." Even the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Israel Lau said that the "plague of violence between movements must end."

As already mentioned, we are commanded "not to be like Korach," and not spend our time like little school children quarreling. Nothing is ever totally black or white in Judaism because no one can truly say they know the mind of God. We do know that baseless hatred is wrong, whether among different organizations of Jews or individuals. It is a chillul ha Shem, a desecration of God's name. We are all God's children and all the movements of Judaism are trying to do what they think will help bring people closer to God, to each other and to our past, in order that we will continue to have a present and a future.

We need to recall that even the great prophet Isaiah was punished with death for slandering the Jewish people by stating that "he sits among a people of impure lips." The Book of Isaiah says that after he said this, an angel came with a hot coal to burn the words off of his lips. The Talmud explains that he word for glowing coal, vimaw, is a contraction of the word, vi otmaw, which means, "break the mouth of the one who slandered My people."

Do you recall the Midrash that I earlier asked you to remember – the one about Korach quizzing Moses about the need for a mezuzah on the door of a room full of Torah scrolls? A "modern Midrash" from the 20th century concerning this story is told in some black-hatted traditional circles. It says that the slogan of the Reform movement in Germany was Yehudi beveitecha ve'adam beteitecha (Be a true Jew at home, but on the outside be a person like everyone else.). Similarly, Korach said of the Jewish people, "Kal ha'eida kulam kedoshim." (The entire community is holy). Korach also said "Uvetocham Ha Shem." (And God is among them). (Num. 16:03). This modern Midrash explains that Korach meant that the Jews were all holy since they had God in their hearts (betocham). He asserted that it is sufficient to be a good Jew on the inside without openly showing it on the outside. Hence, some traditionalists believe that the Rabbis of the Reform movement are like Korach and they and their followers deserve the same punishment.

Sadly, the chasm that divides the ultra-orthodox and the Reform is so wide that many Reform Jews would not find the charge that they are like Korach much of an insult. On the contrary, many modern Jews would happily identify with the aforementioned ideas contributed to Korach – that it is sufficient to be a good Jew on the inside without showing it on the outside. Most modern Jews would agree that one need not flaunt his Judaism by wearing identifiable Jewish garb, such as kipah (skull cap) or tzitzit (fringes) flowing from the trousers, outside of the synagogue.

All of us need to work on our own teshuvah, our own Jewish Spiritual Renewal and not look upon others as too Jewish or not Jewish enough.

That these two synagogue arsons occurred in Jerusalem is another irony in the history of our people. One translation of the city's name (yeru-shalom) means, "Peace will be seen." Please join me in a berachah that "God bless us all with the patience and sensitivity to avoid destructive arguments and accord proper respect to all. Please help us heal the divides that rip our people apart from each other and from You." Amen.

Rabbi Arthur Segal
Via Shamash Org on-line class service
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Hilton Head Island, SC, Bluffton, SC, Savannah, GA

member; temple oseh shalom


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Rabbi Arthur Segal
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I am available for Shabbatons, and can speak on various aspects of Jewish history, (from the ancient past to modern day, and can be area specific, if a group wishes), Spirituality, developing a Personal Relationship with God, on the Jews of India and other 'exotic' communities, and on Talmud, Torah and other great texts. We have visited these exotic Jewish communities first hand. I adhere to the Mishna's edict of not using the Torah as a ''spade'', and do not ask for honorariums for my services. I am post-denominational and renewal and spiritually centered.
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Rabbi Segal is the author of three books and many articles on Torah, Talmud and TaNaK and Jewish history. His books are : The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew, A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud, and  Spiritual Wisdom of our Talmudic Sages. The first two are published by Amazon through their publishing house, BookSurge.
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THE HANDBOOK TO JEWISH SPIRITUAL RENEWAL:
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Rabbi Dr. Arthur Segal distills millennia of sage advice into a step-by-step process to reclaim your Judaism and your spirituality in a concise easy-to-read and easy-to-follow manner.

If you find yourself wishing for the strength to sustain you through the ups and downs of life; if you want to learn how to live life to its fullest without angst, worry, low self-esteem or fear; or if you wish that your relationships with family, friends and co-workers were based on love and service and free of ego, arguments, resentments and feelings of being unloved...this book is for you.

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A SPIRITUAL AND ETHICAL COMPENDIUM
TO THE TORAH AND TALMUD

Rabbi Dr. Arthur Segal dissects each of the Torah's weekly sections (parashot) using the Talmud and other rabbinic texts to show the true Jewish take on what the Torah is trying to teach us. This companion to The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew brings the Torah alive with daily relevance to the Modern Jew.

All of the Torah can be summed up in one word: Chesed. It means kindness. The Talmud teaches that the Torah is about loving our fellow man and that we are to go and study. The rest is commentary. This compendium clarifies the commentary and allows one to study Torah and Talmud to learn the Judaic ideals of love, forgiveness, kindness, mercy and peace. A must read for all Jews and deserves a place in every Jewish home.

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In The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew, Rabbi Dr. Arthur Segal distills millennia of sage advice to reclaim your Judaism and your spirituality.

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A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud dissects each of the Torah's weekly sections (parashot) using the Talmud and other rabbinic texts to show the true Jewish take on what the Torah is trying to teach us.

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