Every Bone in Your Body

Jewish sages are sometimes called sofrim, literally “scribes.” However, the same word, lispor, means “to count.” So, in addition to loving words, they also liked math, finding meaning in important mythic numbers, like 7s, 49s, 613s and others. They hunted for cool numerologies or gematriot¸ assigning numerical values to Hebrew letters. And they loved to… Read more »

Thread of Heaven

The third section of Shema [Numbers 15.37-41] commands Jews to attach fringes to our four-cornered garments, to remember the Exodus. Ancient Israelites did this on their regular clothes, which must have been something like capes or ponchos. As styles changed, the mitzvah of tzitzit came to apply to ritual garments, either the outer shawl or… Read more »

Remembering Miracles

When it comes to the three paragraphs of the Shema, one of these things is not like the other. The first two passages come from Deuteronomy and are strikingly similar is diction and theme. The third selection, from Numbers 15:37-41, is an outlier. It does not use the familiar vocabulary of “hearing” the mitzvot or… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Temporary Tattoo

Judaism excels at weaving poetry from concrete deeds and at concretizing abstract poetry in specific acts. Some other time I will discuss the first clause in that sentence, how we imbue practical behaviors with poetic resonance. Today, I will focus on the second clause: Our Sages were rarely satisfied to treat a Bible passage as… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Upon Your Heart

Place these words of mine upon your heart and upon your soul. As I noted last week, the first two paragraphs of the Shema come from Deuteronomy, which has its own distinctive spiritual orientation. Most of the Torah explains how a Jew should behave, while Deuteronomy provides Judaism’s classical emphasis on how we think. Devarim… Read more »