The New York Times left its World Cup analysis incomplete; I completed it

NYTimes World Cup Cover

Right before the World Cup, the New York Times devoted an entire issue of its weekly New York Times Magazine to the upcoming international soccer tournament.

Americans love to make facile comparisons, especially when they talk about sports, so in one of its heroic efforts to make soccer more understandable/relatable, the Times tried to equate players who would appear in the World Cup to their American “counterparts”:

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“Ready for Hillary” has been a thing for longer than you thought


We’re not even halfway through 2014, and you’ve already seen what Hillary Clinton has in store for the 2016 campaign (above). It certainly sounded familiar, so I dug this out of the archives:

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Still pining for Breaking Bad? Lucky you, it lives on — for now

breaking bad

Presumably, you are aware that yesterday marked the final episode of Breaking Bad. The show first blipped onto my personal radar as one of AMC’s two flagship original programs (along with Mad Men, which I’ve been all over for a while). Though I’ve never seen an episode, I am planning to watch the whole show some day (perhaps once it’s all up on Netflix). Remarkably, the finale has not yet been spoiled for me – and I’d like to keep it that way.

In the meantime, I couldn’t help but notice that those who have seen Breaking Bad just can’t get enough of it — to the extent that some have even found reason to make the pilgrimage out to Albuquerque. So for those of you suffering through symptoms of withdrawal in the wake of the finale, have no fear — the dream of the 90s may be alive in Portland, but the dream of Breaking Bad is alive in San Francisco:

Or as I prefer to think of the incident that saw the Niners linebacker blocked by a tree (surprise! the title of this post was a pun! as is this):

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First name Russell, last name Potter, so sayeth the Lord


[Editor's pre-prescript: Earlier today, my dear Aunt who shall not be named asked me to give a Dvar Torah two months from now. So I thought it was as good a time as any to show her what she's getting herself into.]

[Editor's prescript: RW3 and JK Rowling both drew inspiration from a single Rashi. That's basically the punchline -- the rest of this post serves as an elaboration and explanation of that idea (with the exception of a very short list of parallels all the way at the bottom -- feel free to skip ahead). If you choose to read all the way through, don't say I didn't warn you what was about to happen.]


Last Friday night, I attended a lovely mostly-Penn dinner at the home of HaRav HaGaon Andrew Kener. At some point during the meal, he related some words from that week’s Torah portion, concerning the method employed by the twelve Israelite tribes while dividing the land of Canaan they were to soon conquer (as you can see, the outcome was not so intuitive). His choice of topic inspired this post.

Kener’s spoke of the juxtaposition of the following three verses (Numbers 26:54-56), and more specifically — as we shall soon see — Rashi’s interpretation of them:

To the large [tribe] you shall give a larger inheritance and to a smaller tribe you shall give a smaller inheritance, each person shall be given an inheritance according to his number.

Only through lot shall the Land be apportioned; they shall inherit it according to the names of their fathers’ tribes.

The inheritance shall be apportioned between the numerous and the few, according to lot.

Rashi immediately picks up on the redundant language in the final two verses — “only through lot”, “according to lot” [Editor's note: this question of redundancy will be echoed again shortly, so keep it in mind] — and goes on to provide an explanation in his commentary on verse 56:

According to lot: Heb. עַל-פִּי הַגּוֹרָל, lit. by the mouth of the lot. The lot spoke out, as I explained above (verse 54). This tells us that it was divided by the Divine Spirit. (This is why it says, “in accordance with the Lord’s word” [Josh. 19:50].)

Rashi thus explicitly sends his readers back to his commentary on 26:54, in which he had already elaborated on this interpretation:

To the large you shall give a large inheritance: To the tribe with a large population you shall allocate a larger portion. Although the portions were unequal-since the portions were divided according to the size of the tribes-they were decided by lot, and the lot was determined by the Divine Spirit, as it is stated explicitly in [Tractate Bava Bathra [117b]: Eleazar the kohen was clad with the Urim and Thummim [Editor's note: Go Bulldogs], and he said while inspired with the Divine Spirit, “If such-and-such a tribe is drawn, then such-and-such a territory will be allocated to it.” The tribes were inscribed on twelve slips, and the twelve territories on [another] twelve slips. They mixed them in a box and the chieftain [of a tribe] placed his hand inside and drew out two slips. In his hand came a slip bearing the name of his tribe and a slip [inscribed] with the territory designated for it. The lot itself cried out, saying, “I am the lot drawn for such-and-such a territory for such-and-such a tribe” as it says, “according to lot” (verse 56) [lit. by the mouth of the lot] (Mid. Tanchuma Pinchas 6). Since some areas were superior to others, the Land was not divided [solely] according to measurements, but it was assessed; an inferior piece of land sufficient to sow a kor was equivalent to a superior piece sufficient to sow a seah [a thirtieth of a kor]; it all depended on the value [of the soil].

Chances are — if you’re anything like me — you didn’t actually read that block of text, so I’ll summarize: Rashi describes two miracles that guided the drawing of lots in an attempt to demonstrate that the land’s apportionment was not actually the result of random chance, but divine intervention. The first is that “Eleazar the kohen” would pronounce each result before it was drawn from the box. The second is that, once drawn, the lot itself would speak the result it was meant to record.

Just like Rashi wondered why the text in 26:56 echoed what we already knew from 26:55, I would like to ask a similar question [here's that redundancy issue again]: Why did there need to be two miracles to drive home the single point? What was Rashi trying to teach us by including both of them as an illustration that divine providence governed every stage of the Israelites’ journey through the desert to the promised land?

Fortunately, I also come bearing answers. You may have somehow already guessed where I’m going with this, but I believe the performance of both miracles was necessary to teach the parallel that follows.

Unlike Rivkah (since we’re speaking about Rashi) second things first. This second miracle — the lot reading out its result — clearly echoes one infamous hat I need not elaborate on:

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