How Does One Sanctify Hashem's Name?
The verse "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" is often cited as the source for the obligation of Sanctifying Hashem's Name.
- What actions constitute a "Kiddush Hashem"? While the Sifra asserts that the verse refers to the obligation of martyrdom, Rambam1 claims that it also speaks of general positive behavior.2 Which of these approaches finds more support in the text?
- At various times in history, Jews have martyred themselves. What gives one the strength to do so? How should those who can not stand up to the challenge be viewed? See Rambam's Iggeret HaShemad and his attitude towards the אנוסים of his time who recited the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith) rather than be slain by the Almohades.
Sectarian Debates Over the Omer
The date of the Omer offering has been a source of fiery debate between various sects of Judaism for over two thousand years. The Torah provides no calendrical date, merely stating that the Omer should be brought "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת". While the Samaritan, Karaite, and Qumran sects all understand "הַשַּׁבָּת" to refer to the seventh day of the week (and that the Omer offering is therefore brought on a Sunday), Rabbinic Judaism maintains that it refers to the first day of Chag HaMatzot (and that the Omer is offered on the 16th of Nisan). See MiMachorat HaShabbat.
- What motivates the Rabbinic position to read the word "Shabbat" in this manner? Is this a simple rendering of the word? What other textual or theological issues might lead Rabbinic commentators to disagree with the sectarian readings?
- According to the sectarian groups, what is so significant about a Sunday that Hashem would mandate that the Omer offering (and thus Shavuot) always fall out on that day specifically? In addition, the lack of a set date for Shavuot3 serves to sever any connection between it and the historical event of revelation. What does that do to "חג מתן תורתנו"?
- I. Kislev4 understands the phrase "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת" to mean "the morrow of the cessation", and he suggests that the Omer was originally brought on the day after the cessation of the manna. In fact, the whole offering was meant to commemorate the miracle of the manna and the subsequent transition from supernatural providence to natural living. Why might it be important to remember the miracle of the manna specifically during harvest season?
- Food plays an important role in many religious ceremonies. The rites of the Mishkan are no exception, and they include both the sacrificial service on the outer Altar and the Lechem HaPanim on the inner Table. Why, though, is there a need for food in Hashem's abode?
- In the time of Tanakh, meals were often connected to signing covenantal agreements, serving the same function as a handshake might today. In light of this, R. Hovav Yechieli5 suggests that the Lechem HaPanim constituted a covenant sealing meal which continuously renewed the Covenant of Sinai. What textual or conceptual support can you bring for this reading? See Purpose of the Shulchan and Lechem HaPanim, Purpose of the Sacrifices, and Purpose of the Mishkan .
An Eye for an Eye
As the penalty for certain forms of physical assault, the Torah puts forth a principle of "measure for measure" punishment (talion), declaring that one give an "eye for an eye".
- Is such retribution the fairest form of justice, or is it "cruel and unusual" punishment?
- In setting penalties for crimes, which of the following objectives should be paramount: compensation to the victim, rehabilitation of the criminal, retribution, or deterrence? What does talionic law suggest? Is this the norm or exception in Torah?
- The overwhelming majority of Talmudic sages rule that in the case of bodily harm, the guilty party pays restitution rather than being mutilated. But is this the simple interpretation of the verses in the Torah? Does the peshat of the Biblical texts differ from the Rabbinic verdict? If so, why? And, most importantly, how can the peshat and derash be reconciled? See "עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן" – An Eye for an Eye.