Friday, March 17, 2017

A Leader Who Carries the Nation in His Heart – Parashat Tetzaveh
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
This week’s parasha – Tetzaveh – deals with the clothing worn by the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, in the Temple.  These were valuable clothes meant to symbolize the Kohen’s respectable status and the fact that he was chosen to serve the nation and sacrifice its sacrifices.
One of the pieces of clothing worn by the Kohen was the “choshen”, the breastplate.  This was a square piece of material embroidered with valuable stones that had the names of the twelve tribes etched on them.  The sages of the Talmud (Tractate Yoma, page 73) teach us that the choshen was not just a piece of decorative jewelry.  It served a practical purpose for the entire nation.
When the nation faced a significant dilemma requiring a decision, they would present the problem to the Kohen Gadol and the answer would be given from G-d through the stones of the choshen and the letters etched on them.  The etched letters of the choshen would shine but not in any logical order that would signify a clear and definitive answer.  The Kohen would have to combine the letters that shone and deduce the answer to the dilemma presented to him.  This is possibly why this clothing was called “urim ve’tumim”, referring to the light.
The reason the answer was given in this unclear manner, leaving the Kohen to decipher G-d’s message from the shining letters, is hinted at in our parasha.  One of the halachot (Jewish laws) regarding wearing the choshen stipulates that the choshen must be placed over the Kohen’s heart:
…and the choshen will not move off the ephod. You shall place the Urim and the Tummim into the choshen of judgment so that they will be over Aaron's heart when he comes before the Lord, and Aaron will carry the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the Lord at all times.
(Shmot 28, 28 - 30)
This unusual law stipulating where on the Kohen Gadol’s body this clothing must be positioned does not exist with any other item of his clothing.  The other items must be worn by the Kohen when working in the Temple, but if they move slightly out of place, there is no problem.  Only with the choshen do we find a specific directive that it must not move from its designated place.
This law teaches us about the essence of a true leader.  Obviously a leader is obligated to lead his nation wisely, and make decisions after properly considering all the necessary information.  But there is another side to this coin.  A leader who only makes decisions with cold logic will ultimately end up disconnected from his nation.  Analytical considerations do not suffice in determining serious moral issues.  Room must be made for feelings as well.  Sometimes, rational decisions lead us in a certain direction, but when we listen to the sounds emanating from our hearts, other considerations arise which we did not consider when weighing pros and cons.  Listening to these feelings adds a deeper dimension to decision-making.
A leader must not ignore the feelings of his public; he must make room for the “heart”, feeling his nation’s pain and distress, feeling what they are experiencing on a day-to-day basis, and thus attempting to alleviate their hardships.  A leader whose decisions stem from awareness of his nation’s feelings is the one who will arrive at decisions that are beneficial for it.
Only the Kohen wears the choshen etched with the names of the tribes on his heart.  He is the one who can combine the shining letters and create the relevant and best answer for the given situation.  Only a leader who carries the nation in his heart, is sensitive to its troubles and needs, can find the answer, because the decision is based on a combination of factors.
This concept is true for each and every one of us.  It is only the person who carries the suffering of others in his heart, who is aware of another’s distress or pain, can help him and offer the wisest advice which will be the most beneficial. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Parshat Bo

איש מאת רעהו וגו'. לעיל ג' כ"ב כתיב ושאלה אשה משכנתה ומגרת ביתה, שאז היו הדברים שיצאו מיד, ולא היה התרועעות לישראל עם אנשי מצרים רק עם שכנות, אבל כאשר עלה כי לא נגאלו עד שהשהה י"ב חודש שהיה משפט מצרים, וממכת ערוב ואילך השיגו התרועעות הרבה, ולא עוד אלא במכת חשך שלא קמו איש מתחתיו ג' ימים והאיך התענו כולם ג' ימים, אלא ישראל שהיה אור במושבותם הושיטו להם מזון וכל ההכרחי, ולא שמחו לאידם ולא נקמו בהם, ובזה השיגו ישראל חן גדול בעיניהם:
Mind blowing Netziv, in which he says that the Jews asked for things from their friends the Egyptians because a connection had developed between them in the later plagues. Paticularly he says, they connected during darkness because the only reason the Egyptians did not starve to death and die is because the Jews helped them.
This also fits with the Ibn Ezra who ways that some of the plagues hit both the Jews and the Egyptians. And this is backed up by Moshe saying that he wanted the suffering to stop for the Jewish People.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dad not in good shape based on all physical measures.  if you see this pray for Binyamin ben Chana.  Just back from ICU, going to try to sleep.....

G-d tells Moshe, in VaEira, his mission , twice. one is phrased more per Jewish People, one more universal. 2 levels/approaches...

We all live 2 lives - Jewish and universal.....

Friday, January 20, 2017


Right before candle lighting I feel a calling to share.  Dad is in ICU.  I am sick w fever and cough and all that jazz.  Brother will be sleeping in ICU.

If you see this say a prayer for Binyamin ben Chana, a survivor over and over again, a superman, who came back again and again.

I can't read the opening words of Sefer Shemot without thinking of the closing words of Sefer Breishit.  Specifically Yosef's assurance to the brothers that he will sustain them.  And then a page turns and Yosef is gone and completely unknown to the leader of Egypt.  That's life.  We're so here and so strong one second, but then the page can so easily turn.  And in a second...

May we be blessed to humbly, kindly, joyfully, generously, embrace life while we are vibrantly still living it.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shemot - Guest Post

Please continue to have Rabbi Hoffman in mind in your prayers for a complete & speedy recovery, among the ill of the nation.
                                                                           Setting the Stage

                                             By Rabbi Joshua (dramatically known as the Hoffer) Hoffman

  The Talmud (Shabbos 12) tells us that a father should never favor one son over another, because as a result of the two measures of silk by which Yaakov favored Yosef, our ancestors ended up in Egypt. This passage is a bit difficult, because exile was already foretold at the bris ben habesarim, many years before. The Netziv explains simply that the favoritism Yaakov showed would have been enough on its own to cause the exile.

  Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, however, based on a midrash cited in the Torah Shleima, took the gemara in a non-literal way. The Rabbis tell us that Yaakov sought to sit in tranquility, but the trouble with Yosef arose. What this means is that he wanted Mashiach to come, and he could have. Just as the 210 years the Jews spent in Egypt were considered as 400 years, so too, the 20 years Yaakov spent with Lavan could have been considered as 400 years. The only reason that didn't happen is that the brothers did not appreciate the principle of how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together. As representatives of G-d in the world, the nation had to be unified,reflecting the Unity of G-d. The Midrash in fact says that Yehudah went down from his brothers, Yosef went down to Mitzrayim, and Yaakov mourned. And G-d was busy sowing the seeds of Mashiach. The conflict of the brothers necessitated the preparation for the path of Mashiach.

  This conflict then had to be resolved in order for redemption to come. We find at the end of Parshas Vayechi that the brothers, speaking in the name of their departed father, asked Yosef for forgiveness. 
  Interestingly, Rabbeinu Bachya notes that we never find explicitly that Yosef did indeed forgive his brothers. Why not? Perhaps Yosef believed that the brothers first needed to forgive themselves and not become mired in a black sheep complex, thinking they could never change. As my teacher, Rav Aharon Soloveichik zt"l explained, that is why he put them in a situation in which they had to save Binyamin, to convince them that given the chance they would not repeat the same mistake as they did with Yosef. 

  I believe that the symbiotic relationship between Moshe and Aharon, as displayed in the book of Shemos, served as a further impetus to the tribes, setting up a model of brotherly love, with Aharon wholeheartedly accepting his younger brother as his successor in leading the people to redemption.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sometime I want to hide in public, post in the least likely place to be seen.  Dad is in bad shape at the moment.  It happened suddently.  I am ill, have been for days.  Anything could happen with dad.  I have to be ready, but am in denial.  And I'm sick w possible pneumonia.  Dad probably has pneumonia, with serious complications. Was there all day, needed to go home.....

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Vayechi Thought

The seventh time that Yosef cries in his serialized Torah drama is when the brothers approach him after Yaakov dies, saying (in Yaakov's name) that he should not take revenge for what they did to him.

He is, perhaps, struck by how wealth and power are a facade and that all the power in the world is no match for the strength inherent in being connected to your family. He cries, as he realizes, that while he seems to be the one who has what they lack, and that he is the one providing for them, the opposite may be more true. They have something he always wanted, each other.

(Based on words of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, in "Yosef's Tears")

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Read fascinating essay by rav Chanoch Waxman about how Yaakov returns the birthright to Eisav/apologizes for taking it, when he meets him.

Read it in Torah MiEtzion, my hunch is that this presents a shorter version.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Vayeitzei: Even Yisrael

Vayeitzei is a unique parsha (I believe) in that it is one parshiah, it has no breaks. It reminds me of when I sometimes write and have so much to get out that I don't stop the paragraph, because the writing reflects how my life is feeling non-stop. I think Yaakov probably felt pressured, had a hard time catching his breath, and this is reflected in the style of how this parsha is written breaklessly. Yaakov was like a rock in how he kept going. He was steady, patient. He didn't lose it (except once to Lavan at the end of the parsha and he's actually in the wrong about something there but doesn't know so).
It's not for nothing that the Torah calls Yaakov Even Yisrael (in Vayechi Yosef is described, by Yaakov, as being loyal to Yaakov - Even Yisrael). And it's purposeful, as well, that stones, rock solid ones keep appearing in the parsha. Yakkov takes one to sleep on. (Seforno says they were left out for that purpose for visitors. Ibn Ezra says that despite the midrash that says that he took several stones that joined into one, the verse actually says that he took [one] of the stones of the place.) Then the stone becomes a standing pillar like altar, which mirrors the ladder of Yaakov's dream, the the head reaching up in holiness and the foot of it grounded (the way a person should be).
Next, Yaakov gets to town and the first thing he sees is a stone covering a well. (It is a unit representing the disunity and distrust of the shepherds who won't allow anyone to get water till they all do.) He takes it off the well in one shot, inspired by his love and feeling of connection for his wife to be (and then he cries, and tradition has it that it's because in this moment of the unity he felt, and that the stone represents, he saw that even with the love of his life there would one day be separation, in death and burial [-When a matzeivah is put up]).
And then one thing happens after another - work, marriage, work marriage, children, more children, "if it's not one things it's another. And then this parshah/parshiah ends with things coming full circle like a stone. There's that stone again, which is used as a standing altar, a sign of hopeful peace, despite tension, between Yaakov and Lavan.
Stones represent wholeness as well as fragmentation. they protect us, they build buildings, even holy ones. And they break our bones and harm us. In this non-stop story of the building of the Jewish People the stone is an apt symbol of the development of Yaakov Even Yisrael, Jacob , the Rock of Israel. When Yirmiyahu is chosen he doesn't want the job. G-d shows him a vision of a potter creating vessels on his stone. Metzudat Tzion says that one creates via stones, that was the message to Yirmiyahu, he was being chosen and needed to embrace his being the receptacle - the kli kibul - for recreating, shaping, the Jewish People. On a similar note, when we're told of the rapid birth rate of the Jews in Egypt, the birthing stone is mentioned in the context of the creation of a nation.
May we be blessed to be rock solid and to build up our nation and the world as our great prophets and ancestors did before us.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Balak: Love and Curses

By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann
Published in the New Jersey/Rockland Jewish Standard: July 3, 2015

“Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotechah Yisrael!” —
“How good are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel.”

These beautiful words of blessing stir up warm memories of growing up Jewish. They were among the first holy verses that I sang and chanted with peers in school and in camp. And yet, I wonder how these words of blessing — uttered by Bilam, who came to curse — got into our Torah in the first place.
When Bilam is hired to curse the Jewish People, God blocks his curse and turns it into a blessing. At the heart of this story is the question of why God, who runs the world, was concerned with Bilam’s curse. Bilam himself concedes that “there is no divination in Jacob and no sorcery in Israel” (Bamidbar 23:23). Why did this story unfold as it did? What lesson does it contain that makes it worthy of being in the Torah?
Nechama Leibowitz quotes the commentary of Rav Yosef Ibn Kaspi. He asserts a truth regarding relationships to explain why God turned Bilam’s curse into a blessing. As Kaspi puts it, “A true friend will save his colleague any pain, even if he knows that no danger will ensue. Similarly, the Almighty, out of the abundance of his love for Israel, prevented Bilam from cursing them.” When you really love someone, you care about that which matters to them, even if you know it to be insignificant. God knew that the Israelites were afraid of Bilam’s curse, so He not only prevented Bilam from saying his negative words but He flipped them into blessings, all because of His love for His people.
Ibn Kaspi’s take on Parshat Balak exposes the subconscious layer of the literal text, revealing God’s love of the Jewish People as the theme of this episode. God is modeling a loving relationship for us, and thus we must try to be like God, fulfilling the mandate of Imitatio Dei. We need to remember that what matters to others aren’t necessarily the things that we think are important. To truly care for another person means to be sensitive to what they care about. When those around us are concerned about something, even if we don’t understand why they care about it, true friendship and love dictates that we be supportive of their feelings.
When God took the Jews out of Egypt He took us the long way in order to avoid war. He could have told the Jews to buckle up and that He was with them and they didn’t have to be afraid. Instead, He respected and accommodated to people’s fears rather than challenging their feelings, which He knew were objectively unwarranted.
The Rabbis teach in Pirkei Avot that every human being is beloved by God. This love is made clear by the awareness we are granted of the fact that we were created in the image of God. Additionally, that love is evidenced by the giving of the Torah and by our being deemed children of God. Similarly, before we fulfill our obligation of reciting Shema in the day and the night, we reference God’s “abundant love” for us, highlighting this aspect of the relationship.
God turned Bilam’s curse into a blessing at a time of transition, right after the decree that Moshe would not enter the Land of Israel. The generation that left Egypt had died out; the new generation was feeling insecure as they prepared to finally enter the Promised Land and they needed and were given a reassurance of God’s love.
May this illustration of God’s great love for His people in the desert cause us to recall and be inspired by the immeasurable love that God has for each of us today. May we approach our spiritual lives with a sense of God’s love and reciprocate that love through joyous involvement in Torah life, rather than regarding our observance of mitzvot as a mandated burden. And may we all strive and succeed to follow His ways and to be there for each other in vulnerable times when we are needed most.