Looking for some end-of-year inspiration on Sefaria? Why not start with some recommendations from Sefaria staff?
Get to know the team behind the texts with these favorite excerpts and accompanying explanations. Click on any of the links that spark your curiosity to continue learning in our library!
Daniel Septimus, Chief Executive Officer
My favorite text is the story of Rabbi Elazar in Taanit 20a:16 - 20b:3. This story of Rabbi Elazar illustrates the dangers of pride and why some use a reed for the writing of a sefer Torah.
Lev Israel, Chief Data Officer
Sefaria's Jerusalem Talmud has been a personal passion of mine — I believe that our edition of the text will absolutely change the way it's learned for generations to come!
Because I’m so involved in bringing Torah into new media, I’m interested in the media shift that was happening in the cultural moment of the Talmud - the rise of written material in an oral culture. This passage speaks to that moment, and the ambivalence around it. As you read it, and digest how anti-writing it is, it’s worth taking a moment to consider that the story is written down.
Sara Wolkenfeld, Chief Learning Officer
I recommend Nechama Leibowitz’s sheets on the weekly Torah portion, or parasha. Nechama Leibowitz excelled at asking thought provoking questions about the parasha, and gathering answers that would spark the reader’s intellectual creativity and push us all to ask more questions. I love the experience of studying parasha side-by-side with these sheets. Here's an excerpt of the introduction to her sheet on Parashat Vaera:
Loren Berman, Outreach & Engagement Associate
I love the Sefer HaChinukh’s commentary for why each and every one of us is commanded to write our own Sefer Torah, or at least take part in the creation of one. He provides three explanations:
(1) We should not have to rely on others for access to our holy texts - we should be able to study them whenever we want to and in the comforts of our own homes, without gatekeepers or other obstacles.
(2) More copies of the Torah means that we who are privileged to hold the Torah can lend it to others - others who might otherwise have no part in it - without feeling bereft because of it.
(3) And finally, because as Torah scrolls age, the text fades, and perhaps even some of the teachings lose their brightness over time. The wisdom that our ancestors gave us is beautiful, but how can we both continue learning and making sure the Torah stays relevant and alive? By writing new physical Torah scrolls, yes, but also by creating new media through which to study that very same Torah, and by adding our own voices to that Torah.
Rachel Buckman, Sr. Education Associate
In this beautiful Talmudic story, the use of a parable allows the wisdom of the rabbis to shine through in a “down to earth” way. I also love how the rabbis express so much from a seemingly simple story. Another of my favorite tree metaphors can be found in Pirkei Avot which teaches that although wisdom is to be valued, it is one’s deeds which are the most lasting.
Ephraim Damboritz, Sr. Managing Engineer
My favorite text on Sefaria is the Letter of Aristeas. This fictitious text, probably addressed to other Jews of the Second Temple period, deals with many ancient parallel issues that Sefaria faces: Jewish communities and their connection to text and scripture, diaspora and its connection to Israel, and the very legitimacy of the act of translation itself! It also contains one of the earliest mentions of the Library of Alexandria.
Estee Ellis, Communications Associate
One of my favorite sources involves a story with the sages Shammai and Hillel. When asked to convert someone who wanted to study the entire Torah "עַל רֶגֶל אַחַת" (on one foot), Shammai dismissed the potential convert, whereas Hillel accepted him and taught him the important lesson, "That which is hateful to you do not do to another..." I love this exchange for three reasons: (1) it highlights the value of interpersonal relationships and mutual respect as a kernel for all of Torah, (2) it illustrates how a desire to learn is a sufficient reason to invite someone into a beit midrash (study hall), (3) there are so many quotable phrases!
Yishai Glasner, Jr. Content Engineer
I really love the Ramban's commentary on the Torah, which integrates tradition with chidush (creative interpretation), peshat (plain meaning of the text) with derash (deeper meaning of the text), and interpretation based on empirical observation with Kabbalah (mysticism). This is the main philosophical work of one of the most distinguished Rishonim — but in the form of a Torah commentary. You can reconstruct the Ramban's worldview with insights from throughout this work.
Hannah Goldberger, Development Manager
I’ve recently ventured into the introduction of the Zohar. While I’m not sure I can say it’s my favorite text yet (mostly because it’s pretty difficult to get into), some of passages I’ve read are incredibly beautiful, and I love the sense of unending complexity and possibility that they evoke.
Rachel Grossman, Editorial Associate
This is on my to-be-studied list (maybe I’ll get to it this year in advance of Purim!): Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rema), known for his glosses on the Shulchan Arch, wrote a commentary on Megillat Esther called Mechir Yayin. The commentary compares the Megillah’s plot to a person’s journey through life. The Rema wrote the book (likely when he was a teenager!) and on Purim, he gave it to his family in lieu of mishloach manot, which they could not afford.
Steve Kaplan, Content Engineer
The Book of Proverbs powerfully reminds us — "If you see a man who thinks himself wise, there is more hope for a dullard than for him." On Sefaria, you can read two wonderful commentaries on this proverb.
(1) Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the proverb applies to legal decisors who rely on their "first thought" rather than "great deliberation and incisive investigation." He tells us that we must genuinely consider both sides of a debate and "go back and forth on the matter and let [one's] thought ripen."
(2) Rav Saadia Gaon explains that there are many arrogant, clever people who foolishly believe they know more than those expert in a craft or science, and he writes that a quiet ignorant person is preferable.
It's hard to imagine teachings more relevant to our time.
Nissa Mai-Rose, Software Engineer
I love the story of Beruriah and the neighborhood hooligans who torment her husband, Rabbi Meir. The story features Beruriah and Rabbi Meir’s chavruta over Psalm 104:35 and explores relationships, mercy, and the power of a creative drasha!
Russel Neiss, Sr. Product Engineer
My favorite text is the Yehoyesh Yiddish translation of Tanakh. It's a masterful poetic translation and one of the greatest Jewish literary works of the 20th century.
Rebecca Remis, Finance & Operations Manager
As someone uncomfortable navigating the texts on my own, I often find the Topic pages the most useful starting point for me. With all of the uncertainties and upheavals over the last year+, I’ve sought solace, derived pride, and found comfort in how timeless Jewish wisdom always seems to be.
A sheet that's stood out to me this year is one by our very Nissa Mai-Rose. She takes an already well-loved text, the Daughters of Tzelofchad, and wraps it around contemporary thought as a study in social change in "The Daughters Came Forward + The Master's Tools."
Elise Ringo, Associate Marketing Manager
I'm taking it back to basics for this one, but I have to go with the Book of Ruth, particularly the interaction in the first chapter between Naomi and Ruth. Not only does this book have significance to me as a convert, but it also moves me with its show of devotion and a close, intimate relationship between two women. The relationships of women to each other of all kinds, and the power of those bonds, is something that has often gone unacknowledged through written history; reading Ruth's words to Naomi as an expression of the depth of her love for her mother-in-law never fails to move me. "Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried."
Shanee Rosen, Content Engineer
I was introduced to the commentary of the Torah Temimah by my Grandfather, who would use it when he wanted to find Talmudic sources related to the Torah. The commentary connects sources from the Talmud and Midrashim to specific verses in Tanakh — in a way that is very similar to our Sefaria links and our resource panel. In a time before Sefaria linking was possible, Rabbi Barukh HaLevi Epstein did the work of bringing texts together in conversation. Even without reading his commentary on the sources, one can access an opening to a windy path in the sea of Torah through noting the intertextual connections.
Noah Santacruz, Sr. Research Engineer
One of my favorite passages from Tanakh is when Nechemiah asks for permission to go back to Israel to rebuild Jerusalem. Even though he has a position with a lot of power and hasn't lived in Israel, he feels a responsibility to go back to help his people. There's also a few references to Megillat Esther in these verses, which makes sense given the similarity of this scene to scenes from the Megillah. The Malbim actually says the phrase "וְהַשֵּׁגַ֣ל יוֹשֶׁ֣בֶת אֶצְל֗וֹ" ("With the consort seated at his side," verse 6) refers to the king's mother who is identified as Esther. You can imagine the pride that Esther would have felt hearing Nechemiah say these words.
Chava Tzemach, Sr. Communications & Marketing Manager
One of my favorite texts is Perek Shirah. I love how this text centers on the idea of all of the natural elements, flora, and fauna of Earth praising their Creator in their own unique way.
Shmuel Weissman, Manager of Text Acquisition & Text Quality
When seeking a light read, a quick vort, or an original thought on the parasha or Festivals, I often turn to the sermons of Rav Amiel, the late chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. Unlike his classic work, HaMiddot leCheker haHalakhah, which scrutinizes the esoteric realms of talmudic formulation and methodology — his sermons reveal another side: a spiritual leader who was keenly engaged, offering a pragmatic point of view on questions ranging from theology, modernism, and current affairs.
Hedva Yechieli, Education Coordinator Israel
I want to spotlight a special book: אם הבנים שמחה. The book was written by Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal הי"ד during the Holocaust in Budapest. His own experience made him emphasize the importance of the land of Israel for the Jewish people. A significant value in his book is the effort the Jewish people need to exert to be united and patient with each other.