When does survival become a crime? When does choice become treason? And what choice do we have when all choices are wrong?
After an adventurous and unattributable career in security and intelligence, Yael Shahar divides her time between researching trends in terrorism and learning Talmud, often with the dubious assistance of a one-eyed cat. She is an entertaining and sought-after public speaker, and lectures both in Israel and abroad. She is the author of Returning a story of an unlikely ba'al teshuvah.
Recent articles by Yael Shahar
The call to Teshuvah is the voice of our age. It has called our deepest longings into actuality. We were like dreamers, and though we plowed in sorrow and seeded bitter thorns, we are now gathering in a harvest beyond our wildest dreams.
Parashat Ki Tavo begins with the description of the bringing of the First Fruits. However, the second half of the parasha describes the horrendous fate that will befall the nation of Israel in the future. The juxtaposition of these two discordant descriptions is no coincidence. Parashat Ki Tavo is a lesson in learning from history.
In Teshuvah, we go through some of the same stages as in mourning. We acknowledge the mistake—it was the wrong thing to do. We experience regret, understanding the full import of our wrongs. We reach a point where all of the regret, despair, grief, and longing to make right can find expression. We become someone else, someone who even if brought to exactly the same circumstances, would not make the same mistake again.
What does Teshuvah have to do with healing from trauma. Not much at first glance. But as a trauma survivor, I’ve come to see that there are, in fact, some intriguing connections. In fact, these connections take us straight through the lessons of Elul, from Parashat Ki Tavo and into Parashat Nitzavim.
One of the lessons of Parashat Balak is that things aren’t always what they seem, that human intentions don’t always pan out the way we imagine, and that there is an overall scheme of things invisible to the limited sight of a single generation.
This week’s Parashah includes the troubling story of how Moshe performed a miracle to provide water for his thirsty people, and how he was punished for it. But what did Moshe do wrong? Why was he punished for doing more or less what God had commanded him to do? The answer lies in a comparison of this story with a parallel narrative found elsewhere in the Torah.
The countdown from Pessah to Shavuot contains us a lesson about how we become a nation of priests. Just as seeds must be sown in prepared ground, nourished and watered and weeded, so the fate of nations and individuals is contingent upon law and justice.
It is a Tree of Life to those who hold to it…. The history of Am Yisrael, like the Torah we hold to, may be likened to the growth of a sturdy tree through its seasons.
The Exodus from Egypt is a story of miracles from beginning to end. But the greatest miracle of all is hidden in plain sight. God tells Moshe that Pharoah will not listen to him, and will inevitably bring about the next escalation, until finally, the results can no longer be reasoned away. By highlighting the institutionalization of the slavery, the eventual emancipation is shown for the miracle that it is.
This week’s Torah reading marks the transition from family to nation—from a tribe of wandering Arameans to the fulfillment of an ambiguous prophecy made to the tribe’s founder.
The deception of his brother and his father must have weighed heavily on him. For nearly two decades he has lived away from home; ample time for the event to magnify itself in his mind and become a fixation. What else could I have done? He knows that he did wrong. He also knows that it was necessitated by the situation.
While the Torah explicitly cautions against putting the younger before the elder in terms of inheritance, time and time again, the narrative portions of the Torah provide a lesson to the contrary: Yitzhak before Yishmael, Yaakov before Esau, Rachel before Leah, Yoseph before all his elder brothers, and Ephraim before Menashe. What is the meaning of this odd discord between law and example? What is the Torah trying to tell us?
Parashat Chayei Sarah features the journey of Avraham’s servant back to Avraham’s home town to seek a bride for Yitzhak. Eliezer asks for a sign—Let it be that the maiden who says, ‘drink, and I’ll water your camels too!’ be the one chosen for Yitzhak. The Talmud records an opinion that Eliezer’s prayer to God to be given a sign was an “inappropriate” prayer. But can any sincere prayer ever be inappropriate?
In Parashat Vayera we cease to deal with individuals and begin to deal with nations. God “muses aloud” about whether to confide in Avraham the upcoming destruction of the nearby metropolis of S’dom. It is no coincidence that the destruction of S’dom is foretold in the very passage in which God speaks of Avraham’s descendants’ doing what is just and right. But why does Avraham then try to oppose God’s justice?
When Avraham is told to leave his country, he’s being told to leave behind more than a mere place. The midrash sees God’s command to Avraham as a lesson in self-transformation. Avram and Sarai cannot give birth to children; Avraham and Sarah will give birth to a nation!
A subconscious thought becomes explicit when it is articulated in speech. Things unspoken—and unspeakable—may have tremendous influence on one’s outward thoughts and feelings far beyond what we can ever be aware of. Until we can articulate the thought, and bring it into conscious awareness, we have no control over it. So it is with Teshuvah, and so it is with the Geulah.
What does it mean when we say that human beings were created “in the image of God”. While some of the foremost Jewish philosophers, in particular the Rambam, saw Tselem Elohim as referring to the human capacity of reason, Michael Wyschogrod disagrees. His ideas tally in surprising ways with modern neuroscience.