The Torah (Bible) is the fundamental text of Biblical and Western thought and it is a guidebook for our lives. Mark Gerson, The Rabbi's Husband, will explore the greatest hits of Jewish thought in conversation with some of the most interesting thinkers from varying religious persuasions.
The discussions on this show will reflect the understanding that the Torah and all associated books are intended to guide us through our challenges and in our decisions today. We will strive to understand how Torah passages, Biblical verses and ancient teachings can guide us towards happier, clearer and more meaningful lives today. We will show how the most helpful answers to the pressing contemporary questions are provided in the Biblical stories, characters, laws and commentaries that constitute our ancient heritage.
To submit a question, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman on The Akedah – “Abraham’s Gift of Hineni: The Moral Necessity of Being Present”
Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, is Mark’s very special guest on the podcast today. In addition to leading one of the premier institutions in Jewish life, Rabbi Berman has served as the pulpit Rabbi at the Jewish Center in Manhattan, and is a scholar in his own right. He also lectures widely throughout the U.S. and Israel, and has written numerous articles on subjects including current trends in Jewish thought and the future of Orthodoxy. The passage he has chosen to discuss with Mark today is The Akedah (Genesis 22).
Rabbi Berman begins the conversation by sharing his summary of the passage, why it is important for him, and the significance of the use of the word ‘hineni’ in it. He and Mark then examine the resolution of the tension found in Abraham being heneni for God and Isaac, Isaac’s takeaway from this event, and the lesson that The Akedah offers, particularly during the current pandemic. They also discuss the two directions The Akedah gives, Mark’s notion of a hineni for our mission in life, and they conclude with the lessons Rabbi Berman has learned about mankind. As Rabbi Berman notes, we are 'seeking the wisdom of our 3000 year old tradition which is the greatest gift that God has given humanity…enabling a lot of people to find what they seek’.
· Rabbi Berman’s summary of The Akedah and its importance for him
· The significance Abraham’s use of the word ‘heneni’ in the passage
· Resolving the tension of Abraham being heneni for God and for Isaac
· Isaac’s ‘takeaway’ from this event
· The lesson of The Akedah and why it is essential throughout time, particularly during the current pandemic
· The two directions The Akedah gives
· The third heneni: to our mission
· The lessons that Rabbi Berman has learned about mankind
“I am here for you.”
“The Torah doesn’t report small talk.”
“He actually can’t be heneni for both of them…but he says he is.”
“Abraham the servant and Abraham the father – they’re both precious to God. And you do not have to sacrifice one for the other – God does not want you to sacrifice.”
“The difference between Judaism and Christianity in this sense is that in our tradition, the son does not die. “
“Isaac was perpetuating the legacy of his father.”
“The Torah speaks so beautifully in its silences, too.”
“Every moment can be a ‘heneni moment’.”
“We go through life, often sleepwalking through life.”
“We must give ourselves with kindness and compassion, be present in their lives in all ways that we can. You know, in this world it could be by Zoom at times.”
“Everyone has a different purpose. Everyone has a different mission. Everyone has different skills and talents.”
“We’re at our best when we are seekers.”
“If you want to be a sage, you have to remain a talmid, you always have to remain a student.”
Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,” and he answered, “Here I am.”
And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”
So early next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him.
On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar.
Then Abraham said to his servants, “You stay here with the ass. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you.”
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and put it on his son Isaac. He himself took the firestone and the knife; and the two walked off together.
Then Isaac said to his father A
Rabbi Karen R. Perolman on Ruth 1:1-18 – “The Bible on Becoming – and Being – a Jew”
Rabbi Karen Glazer Perolman, Senior Associate Rabbi at Temple B’nai Jeshurun, the Temple where Mark became a bar mitzvah in 1985, joins him on the podcast today. Karen received her Masters Degree in Hebrew Literature from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York, and currently serves as Rabbi in Residence for the Rabbi Barry H. Greene Early Childhood Center and the B’nai Jeshurun Religious School. The passage she has chosen to discuss today is Ruth 1:1-18.
Karen begins the conversation by sharing her summary of the passage, the significance it holds for her, and the original biblical statement of conversion to Judaism found within it. Mark recounts his experiences with missionary doctors as they exemplify the notion of opening the door to conversion, and then he and Karen examine the importance of Jewish peoplehood and unity, the welcome that converts to Judaism receive, Mark’s perspective on the answer to the intermarriage question, and how this passage presents the constitution of conversion. As with all guests, Karen concludes the episode by detailing the lessons she has learned about humankind. As you listen in, you will discover the joyful and positive nature of Judaism as it is brought to vivid life through today’s examination of this beautiful passage and its powerful message regarding conversion, welcoming, and acceptance.
· Karen’s summary of the passage and its significance for her
· The original biblical statement of conversion to Judaism
· Mark’s experience with missionary doctors
· Opening the door to conversion
· The importance of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish unity
· How converts to Judaism are welcomed
· The answer to the intermarriage question
· The constitution of conversion
· The lesson about humankind that Karen has learned
“Ruth is really important because she is the ancestor of King David.”
“It’s even thought that…somehow she is the ancestor of what will eventually redeem us all.”
“The short story is a Jewish genre.”
“Naomi was sort of her conversion teacher.”
“She becomes the first convert to Judaism.”
“You’re joining a people, but for the sake of something bigger, for the sake of the nation.”
“We need every Jew we can get to help make our world a better place and to also strengthen Yisra'el.”
“So many of these people end up converting because we make it an open environment.”
“There is great power in those who come into the community who are different, and it actually shows a lot about the community if they’re able to welcome and accept someone who’s different and make it an open place.”
“It’s very future-looking, it’s very hopeful, and actually, it’s very Jewish…we’re in this together.”
“You can have everything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want out of life.”
“When you choose love over fear, you almost always make the best choice.”
“There’s plenty in the world to be bothered by, but to be able to walk around with a sense of hopefulness, I mean, that’s about as Jewish as it gets…and that hope, I think, is what we need more than ever in this world.”
In the days when the chieftains ruled, there was a famine in the land; and a man of Bethlehem in Judah, with his wife and two sons, went to reside in the country of Moab.
The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name was Naomi, and his two sons were named Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. They came to the country of Moab and remained there.
Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons.
They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth, and they lived there about ten years.
Then those two—Mahlon and Chilion—also died; so the woman was left
Harry Hargrave on Psalms 19 – “The Living Word”
This week, Mark is delighted to welcome Harry Hargrave, the Chief Executive Officer for the Museum of the Bible, to the podcast. After spending over 45 years in finance, marketing and business operations, Harry found the site, obtained DC approvals and oversaw the planning and development process for this incredible Museum which is 430,000 square feet of rare and fascinating artifacts spanning 4,000 years of history. It is among the most technologically advanced and engaging museums in the world offering visitors an immersive and personalized experience with the Bible and its ongoing impact on the world around us. Harry is also the chairman of the Miracle of Nazareth International Foundation, chairman of the Christian Workers Foundation, and a founding elder of Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas. The passage he has chosen to discuss is Psalms 19.
Harry begins by sharing his summary of the passage, and its meaning for both himself and the Museum. He then describes how the Museum came to be created, the impact it has upon visitors, and its continued operation throughout the current pandemic. The artifacts, their ongoing discovery, and the process of establishing their provenance is discussed as well as the Museum’s extensive American Heritage section. Harry concludes the episode, as all guests do, with the lessons he has learned about humanity. As Mark notes, the work that Harry does through this remarkable Museum is “opening the Bible and opening the hearts of the Bible by making it so interesting and so accessible and so fun” - a noble achievement.
· Harry’s summary of his selected passage and why it’s meaningful to him
· The Museum of the Bible and why this passage is important it
· How the Museum came to be created and its purpose
· What surprises Harry about people’s responses at the Museum
· How it is staying open during the current pandemic
· Bible artifacts and their ongoing discovery
· What Harry observes in people being introduced to the Bible
· How the Museum acquires artifacts and establishes their provenance
· The Museum’s American Heritage section
· The lessons that Harry has learned about mankind
“That’s a beautiful passage for people of all faiths, but especially the Jewish and Christian faith.”
“It’s the gift that keeps giving.”
“Would you come be a tour guide for us?”
“It’s the book that keeps talking to you.”
“It’s our job to show them the Bible, and encourage them to read the Bible, and give them reasons for that.”
“Archeological discoveries are still finding the Bible to be true and fulfilling the promises that God made to all of us.”
“It makes the Bible come alive when you go to Israel and spend one or two weeks there.”
“We want to tell the stories of how people see the value of the Bible throughout our world.”
“It’s an important part of the nation’s history and, of course, an entire subculture of the United States, and the world now.”
“What I see in mankind is a great ability to make mistakes, and a great ability to forgive themselves and one another.”
“It’s truly the Living Word…it seeks out your soul and just pierces you.”
For the leader. A psalm of David.
The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day makes utterance, night to night speaks out.
There is no utterance, there are no words, whose sound goes unheard.
Their voice carries throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world. He placed in them a tent for the sun,
who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber, like a hero, eager to run his course.
His rising-place is at one end of heaven, and his circuit reaches the other; nothing escapes his heat.
The teaching of the LORD is perfect, renewing life; the decrees of the
Michael Medved on Exodus 33:18-23 – “God Passing By”
Mark is delighted to welcome Michael Medved, a legend in the world of American thought and political discourse, to the podcast today. Starting his public life as a left-liberal political organizer, Michael has gone on to become a historian, movie critic, nationally-broadcast talk radio host, podcaster, and best-selling author. One of his books, What Really Happened to the Class of ’65?, is actually the first book Mark remembers seeing around his house as a child. The passage that Michael has chosen to discuss today is Exodus 33:18-23.
Michael begins this fascinating conversation with the story behind President Trump’s choice of his favorite Bible verse, and follows with his summary of today’s selected verse and its meaning for him. He and Mark then engage in an extensive analysis of the notion of ‘God passing by’ highlighted by this verse, including a number of examples where God is involved not only in the history of America and Israel, but also in our daily lives. They also discuss the value of seeing the world with ‘radical and perpetual amazement’ before Michael shares the lessons he has learned about humankind, his perspective on what is wrong in America right now, and the importance of acknowledging gratitude. As Mark notes, the Torah’s ‘truths keep coming’, and today they are highlighted through Michael’s gift for effortlessly bringing history to life, rendering this episode yet another clear demonstration of the wisdom of this seminal text and its profound impact upon both historical and present day issues.
· President Trump’s favorite Bible verse
· Michael’s summary of the verse and why it’s meaningful for him
· How this verse relates to Israel’s recent peace agreements
· God passing by
· Good advice for statesmen
· Stories of God’s involvement in the history of America
· Opening up to the certainty that God is here
· The story of Michael meeting his wife
· ‘Radical and perpetual amazement’
· The lessons Michael has learned about humankind
· Michael’s perspective on what is so wrong in America right now
· Acknowledging gratitude
“I think it’s extremely meaningful and relevant for anybody who writes history or cares about history or current events, or trying to discern what God is trying to do in the world.”
“I think that there are lots of us who, at different times of life, want to see God’s face.”
“You will know My presence after I am done with that act. During it, you’re not going to see it.
“It is the job of the statesman to listen for God’s footsteps in history, and when he hears them to grab His coattails and hang on.”
“We don’t really think about God in Heaven.”
“We’re an imperfect nation and we’re an instrument to God because He needs an instrument, and what’s He going to do, choose Belgium?”
“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“Washington was actually the indispensable man.”
“And today, with a country of 330 million instead of 2.8 million, the best we can do is Trump and Biden?”
“He had just conquered fear, because his response after this attempt on his life was so remarkable.”
“America is not an accident.”
“I got engaged in 9 weeks – absolutely, you just know.”
“For people who doubt that God is involved in the history of America and the history of Israel, it seems to me that many of those people probably do see God’s hand, at least, in their own marriages.”
“These are all American daily miracles.”
“Nobody achieves anything alone.”
“A great deal depends upon maintaining the right and the positive attitude…especially when trials come, and they come to all of us.”
“You should acknowledge the existence of gratitude before you acknowledge the existence of
David Cygielman on Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:7 – “Who You’re With, Not Where You Are”
David Cygielman, founder and CEO of Moishe House, is Mark’s guest on the podcast today. David has been a non-profit innovator since high school when he started ‘Feed the Need’, a nationally recognized homeless feeding organization, and, in 2006, he helped establish Moishe House to be part of building something that would have a real impact on the global Jewish community and beyond. The passage he has chosen to discuss is one which Mark would never have known existed otherwise, Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:7.
They begin with David describing the origins of Moishe House and the work it continues to do today, and then moving on to summarizing the passage and the reasons why he chose it. He and Mark then explore the lessons the passage teaches, how it is manifest in the world today, and how its wisdom is applicable to Moishe House residents and other young people. As with all guests, David draws the episode to a close by offering the lessons he has learned about mankind. This is a passage whose very theme of continuing to learn and gain wisdom by surrounding yourself with others who will share their ideas and knowledge with you, constitutes a brilliant example of the importance and value of not just this episode, but of the entire Rabbi’s Husband podcast series as a whole.
What happens in the passage and why David chose it
The lessons the passage teaches
How this passage is manifest in today’s world
The wisdom of this passage for Moishe House residents and other young people
The lessons the David has learned about mankind
“In addition to being roommates and having full-time jobs or being in graduate school, they’re turning their homes into community centers.”
“They should be coming to him, because he was the best student.”
“He had forgotten even the simple stuff.”
“It’s that humility to be humble and to be with the people that you surround yourself with, is what matters much more than where you physically are.”
“If you stay on vacation, the life as you know it will disintegrate.”
“It’s actually the work and the stress that is the meaning.”
“It’s who you’re with rather than where you are…it’s a deeply important Jewish teaching.”
“You cannot retire, you must rewire.”
“It’s the atmosphere you create that is paramount to the outcome that you’re going to have much more so than the physical space.”
“It’s more about their practice than it is about their denomination.”
“Maybe the key to happiness is having low expectations.”
“When you give people the opportunity to be really fully responsible for their own success or failure, they will do incredibly well.”
Rabbi Yochanan had five disciples, and as long as he lived they sat before him. When he died, they went to Yavneh. Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, however, joined his wife at Dyomset, a place of good water and beautiful scenery. He waited for them to come to him but they didn't. When they didn't come, he wanted to go to them, but his wife did not let him. "Who needs who" she asked. "They need me" he answered. She said to him: "In the case of a food container and mice, does the food go to the mice or do the mice go to the food?" He listened to her, and remained there until he forgot his learning. After a while they came and asked him "Which is better to eat along with a 'relish,' wheat bread or barley bread?" But he couldn't answer.
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Rabbi Elie Kaunfer on Genesis 15:1-8 – “Prayer: An Invitation to Express Doubts”
Mark is delighted to welcome the President and CEO of the Hadar Institute, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, to today’s episode. In addition to his work with this great institution of adult jewish learning in the world, Elie has also been named one of the top fifty Jewish leaders by The Forward, and one of Newsweek's top fifty rabbis. When asked to guest on the podcast to discuss prayer, the topic of his upcoming book, Elie chose Genesis 15:1-8 to discuss with Mark.
He begins the conversation by summarizing the passage, and sharing why it is meaningful for him. He and Mark then explore the complexities of Abraham’s relationship with God, the promises that God made to Abraham, and the lessons to be learned from the reference to stars in the passage as well as Abraham’s struggle with faith. Elie then explains what this passage has to do with prayer, offers his advice to those who, like Mark, are unable to connect to God through prayer, and reviews Judaism’s emphasis on the communal aspect of prayer. Elie concludes the episode by offering a glimpse into his upcoming book, as well as the lessons he has learned about mankind. As Mark notes, he always learns so much from his conversations with Elie, particularly about the multiple meanings that can come from the same text, and today is your opportunity to do the same during this fascinating and informative examination of this highly important biblical passage.
Elie’s summary of the passage and why it is meaningful to him
The complexities of Abraham’s relationship with God in this passage
God’s promises to Abraham
Lessons to be learned from the reference to stars in the passage and from Abraham’s struggle with faith
What this passage has to do with prayer
Elie’s advice to those who can’t connect with God through prayer
Judaism’s emphasis on the communal aspect of prayer
Elie’s new book
The lessons he has learned about mankind
“It’s a different window into Abraham’s relationship with God that’s actually much more complex than blind faith.”
“It’s not that you’re just going to have one child, you’re going to have so many children, it’s going to be as numerous as the stars in the sky.”
“There can be many truths emanating from the same passage.”
“If you want to find your way in the darkness, you need to use the stars.”
“There’s some connection between stars and angels, you know, the heavenly beings that you see when you look up in the sky.”
“God’s sort of in league with us, providing us some sort of comfort and protection that allows us to express our doubts.”
“I’ve never had a meaningful prayer experience in my life…it’s just never done anything for me, and I’m blaming myself.”
“There’s an artistry to the prayer book itself…it’s really a book of poetry.”
“A lot of prayer is about trying to connect to a God who feels distant.”
“There’s sort of a communal responsibility that gets heightened when you are with other people in a prayer setting.”
“If you will it, it is no dream.”
“Although people present often as cynical, I think, underneath, people are really yearning for deep connection.”
“The secret of the Torah is not that you can begin, but that you can begin again.”
Some time later, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision. He said, “Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what can You give me, seeing that I shall die childless, and the one in charge of my household is Dammesek Eliezer!”
Abram said further, “Since You have granted me no offspring, my steward will be my heir.”
The word of the LORD came to him in reply, “That one shall not be your heir; none but your very own issue shall be your heir.”
He took him outside and said, “Look toward heav