Friday, December 18, 2009

Miketz - Guest Post By My Student Alex Finkelstein

In Parshat Miketz Yosef is appointed ruler of the land after he interprets Pharaohs dream. When Yosef is appointed ruler he becomes very powerful and we see the famous encounter with him and his brothers. Parshat Miketz tells the story of Yaakov’s children traveling to Mitzrayim to buy food. Yosef, at the time, is the ruler of the land and gives his own brothers a hard time. He forces them to return home and bring their brother Binyamin. When the brothers come to Yosef for food, they do not recognize him but he recognizes them. Strangely, Yosef gives his own brothers a hard time.

rrrrrrrrrWhy would Yosef give his own brothers a hard time and not give them food right when he sees them? We saw in Parshat Vayeshev that Yosef's brothers treated him awfully and eventually sold him. A simple explanation for Yosef’s behavior is that now that it’s the brothers that need a favor from Yosef, he gives them a hard time and makes them suffer for what they did to him, even accusing them of being spies.

A deeper explanation is that Yosef is trying to change his brothers and give them an opportunity to do teshuva. He is trying to change his relationship with his brothers and improve it. When Yosef sends his brothers back to Canaan to get Binyamin, it is to see if they are sincere in regard to their brother. It turns out they are sincere, as they go back and get Binyamin. Yosef’s plan works. His brothers become better people through teshuva.

The Beis Halevi comments on a puzzling medrash. Yosef asks his brothers if his father is still alive. The medrash says we learn from this pasuk how difficult it will be on the Day of Judgment; when Hashem judges us and rebukes us we will not be able to answer him. What does Yosef asking his brothers if Yaakov is still alive have to do with Hashem judging us? The answer, explains the Beis Halevi, is that Yosef wanted to remind his brothers of the horrible things they did to him. This is why he asked them, “Is my father alive?” What he was really saying was, “After all that you have done to me, all the hardships you put my father and me through, can Yaakov still be alive?!” Yosef got his brothers to realize their wrongdoings on their own. The same is true when Hashem judges us. He won’t need to say anything to us; the truth will become clear on its own. When Hashem reveals himself to on the Yom HaDin, we will realize how far we are from the truth and that is the most difficult form of rebuke.

We learn a very important lesson from this story of how Yosef related to his brothers. Yosef had a chance to even the score by taking revenge against his brothers and he chose not to. Instead Yosef helped his brothers do teshuvah and he repaired their relationship. Often we have disagreements with friends. Then we have opportunities to hurt the friends we had issues with. We need to think carefully and do the right thing. We should help our friends correct their mistakes and look to return to a good relationship with our peers.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Breishit - Is Time On Our Side?

For more of my thoughts on Breishit see here for an essay about the eating from the tree of knowledge. Click here for notes on the last time I taught this parsha.

This following piece is an essay that I worked very hard on , hopefully to publish in a book one day. This is the first time it is being published anywhere. Feedback is appreciated, including - but not limited to - typos, etc.

In the beginning
G-d must have created time
Thus, “the beginning”

Introduction : Using Time To Increase Space

Once, a man got to ask G-d any question he wanted. The man opened with – “G-d, what’s a million years to you?” And G-d replied, “A million dollars to me is one second.” The man then asked, “G-d, what’s a million dollars to you?” And G-d replied, “A million dollars to me is one penny.” So the man asked G-d, “G-d, can you spare a penny?” And G-d replied, “Sure I can, in just one second.”

To us, time and money are everything. We run through time trying to get more money and more things worth money. It is important to remember that time and money are figments created for us. For G-d time and space (represented by money, which buys us things that exist within space) do not exist.

Rabbi A.J. Heschel (The Sabbath, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York 1951) explains that we try to grab and gather things because we feel intimidated by the passing of time. In the end we are left feeling unfulfilled and embarrassed, knowing that the point of time is not merely to accumulate things. He writes: “It is impossible for man to shirk the problem of time. The more we think the more we realize: we can not conquer time through space. We only master time I time.” Shabbos is a day when we no longer treat time as the enemy but recognize time as special in and of itself. The ultimate goal is for the approach of Shabbos to spill over into the week, so that on a daily basis we see time as a thing itself.


What came first the chicken or the egg? According to the Ramban the answer is neither, rather there was something that preceded both. The Ramban writes that before G-d created anything He created a giant mass from which everything else was created – Something From Nothing – Yesh Mei’Ayin. From that original mass, known as Chomer Hiyuli, every -thing else was created.(Peirush Ramban Al HaTorah, Chavel Hebrew edition pg. 12)

The Rabbis state (Breishit Rabah 68:10, Rashi on Shemot 33:21) that G-d is called HaMakom because “He is the place of the world, and the world is not his place.” After Moshe asks G-d, in 33:13, “show me your honor,” G-d shows him a cleft on a mountainside and says, “Behold there is a place by me. Rashi cites the Tanchuma, which explains that G-d does not say that he is in this place, but refers to it with this seemingly awkward phrasing, because of the following idea:Space is a creation of G-d, secondary to G-d. The Ohr HaChayim in his commentary on Bamidbar 1:1, cites this Medrash and applies it to his explanation of the word BaMidbar – in the desert.


Pardes Yosef points out that while time is clearly something that was created for the sake of people, its creation is not overtly mentioned. He explains that the word “Breishit”, which means “in the beginning of G-d's creations,” implies the creation of time, because without time things could not be called earlier or later.

Dovid HaMelech – King David states that the average life of a man is seventy years (Tehillim 90:10). Chazal break down the years of a person’s life in Pirkei Avot and say what the purpose is for each stage of life. The Maggid of Dubno cites these and other examples in his development of the parallels between time and space. Just like a physical body is comprised of a myriad of intricate pieces that contribute their part towards completion, so too time is a measured entity made of up of specific details. Just as our bodies need to be developed and do not get fit if we don’t maintain them, time is also potential that needs to be worked on and refined. Segments of time do not automatically fill up with their tasks unless a person struggles to make it so. (Sefer HaMidot - Book of Traits Chapter 12,the Maggid of Dubno)

In the time of the Talmud, Ptolemy gathered 72 Torah scholars and sequestered them in separate rooms with the command to translate the Torah into Greek (Megilla 9a). A miracle occurred that they all made the same judgement calls in making changes from literal text to translation in order to avoid insults, misunderstandings, and repercussions. One of the changes they implemented concerned the order of the first three words of the Torah. As Pardes Yosef sees it, they reordered the words to read Elokim Bara Breishit – G-d created in the beginning to convey that G-d created time.

When we take time for granted, we take life for granted. Rabbi Noach Weinberg notes that we would all be shocked if we saw someone sitting on a speeding bus throwing dollar bills out the window into the wind. But when we see people making inadequate use of time this is a tragedy too.

Once an American was vacationing on an exotic island. He saw a local man sitting and fishing. He spoke to the fellow and learned that the man happily lived on the island and got by by fishing and eating the fish he caught. The American explained to him that he could get better equipment and catch more fish. So he does. And he sells the extra fish and makes more money. Then the American advises him to buy a boat. So he does. And he makes more money. In time he buys several giant boats and then opens a store and eventually a franchise. The company goes public and the old fisherman is on the board of trustees of several major banks. Finally he retires. His friend asks him, “what are you going to do with your time now?” The fisherman says that he’s looking forward to sitting on the shore and catching fish.

We often run through time accumulating things that we think we need. In the end what we need is health and happiness and closeness to G-d. It behooves us to think well about what we expend energy acquiring as we journey through our one, only, brief trip on this planet.

May our reading about the creation of time and space remind us to cherish every second of life on this earth with which we are blessed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

He'ezinu: Opening Line

This poetic parsha begins with the words:
"He'ezinu hashamayim va'adabeirah,
vetishmah ha'aretz imrei fi -
Pay attention heaven
And I will speak
And the earth will hear
The sayings of my mouth
Rav Dovid Feinstein noticed that regarding shamayim two strong words are used, while two gentle ones are employed for aretz. The heavens are told to listen attentively (he'ezinu) as Moshe addressed them in a strong way (adaberah). The earth is described as hearing (vatishmah) his softly spoken words (imrei fi).

Since the heavens are spiritual in nature, Rav Dovid explains, they are cooperative to commands and can be spoken to bluntly, but in order to remember what they were told they must be cautioned to listen carefully. The earth is physical and must be delicately tilted toward obedience. However, after being gently pulled in, the ground hears and is convinced, therefore no strong admonition to hear or remember is required.

Perhaps this metaphor of heaven and earth and the variant ways they are spoken to and listen alludes to man. People are made up of two parts. What truly makes us human is the piece of us that is different from animals. Our physical side needs to be lured into paying attention to spiritual matters. On the other hand, our souls are quick to respond to the word of G-d. We must remember that although these two aspects coexist inside us, our true selves are our souls.

The analogy the Magid of Dubno used to explain this idea involves a deaf man and a lame man who were close friends. The deaf man carried the lame man on his shoulders, and the crippled man directed and protected the deaf man as they walked. Once they passed a concert hall and the lame man wanted to stop and enjoy the symphony, but the deaf man couldn't hear the music. The lame man quickly handed down a bottle of whiskey to his friend. And as the lame man stopped to take a drink the deaf man was able to stand and listen to the music. Similarly, our bodies are earthy and slow to hear the spiritual, so we get their attention with the physical and bring them along for the spiritual ride.

Alan Morinis wrote a book called Climbing the Ladder of Jacob. It's a book about mussar as a guide to spiritual growth. It's fascinating to read this book and be reminded that mussar doesn't mean being told off. Mussar is a system for self refinement. One line that struck me from the book was the assertion that we don't have souls, we are souls. I knew this, maybe we all do. But how I need to be reminded!

May we all be blessed to appreciate and purify our souls, and to serve G-d with our souls and our bodies, to hear His message and to always grow.

Gemar Chatima Tovah
Good Shabbos
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rabbi Pesach Oratz Z"TL 2

I am writing and posting in real time and have about seven minutes to do so. I'm between a program and a meeting. The meeting is of the Tanach department. The program was about faith. There was a powerful speaker and then we ran sessions discussing G-d, asking students to write down on a piece of paper a moment in their life when they felt close to G-d. The option was then presented to share what you wrote. One student spoke about losing a disabled sibling and how during the years of that sisters life she felt G-d in their relationship. I wrote a card to and will keep it to myself for now.

I can't stop thinking about Rabbi Oratz. He was a true man of faith, honesty, kindness, and integrity. He was like Kalev, as compared to Moshe/Yehoshua. I believe that he was one of the greatest men alive in our generation. People that know me know that this is not just a case of acharei mot kedoshim emor. I felt strongly that Rabbi Oratz was a great man and said so often while he was alive. The first question I would ask Stern students was if they had him as a teacher.

Not that long ago Rabbi Oratz had the occasion to got to Rav Shlomo Zalman for an eitzah. He stressed to me how taken he was by the friendly, warm manner in which Rav Shlomo Zalman received him. He felt Rav Slomo Zlaman's warmth , caring, brilliance, and presence, and was blown away. That's the way I always felt about Rabbi Oratz.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ki Tavo - Guest Post

"A Torah Portion Of Old Age and Sound Advice"

Wow. I just read a piece. Wow. It's about something I think about all the time: time. It's filled with phrases that explode in your head a second after you read them like literary Pop Rocks ("a fugue for the wisdom of the old playing softly against the stentorian symphonies of youth"). And it's a dvar Torah (sic) which works in the straight Torah and a chidush - that rings true to me - to boot. paints a vivid picture of an old woman named Francis and then organically mentions an old man named Moshe. This piece blew me away.

Youth No More

by Liel Leibovitz

"My next-door neighbor, Frances, cast her first ballot in 1920. She was among the approximately one million women in New York State who celebrated the suffrage movement’s monumental victory that year by participating in the electoral process for the first time in American history. She had voted, she told me, for the socialist Eugene Debs; it was the only time in her life she hadn’t given her voice to the Democratic Party’s candidate. Frances shared that story with me a few days after John Kerry’s defeat in the 2004 election, and I could swear by her look that she still felt a little awkward about having wasted her vote." CLICK FOR FULL ESSAY.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Re'eh - Guest Post - Rabbi Mose Rosenberg: Reclaiming Goodness And Continuity

From the Jewish Week

When a word means too much, it means nothing at all. Definition must limit, or it serves no purpose. Case in point: define the biblical word “good” [tov].

In Parashat Re’eh, tov appears in the phrase “when you do the good and the upright (ha-tov v’ha-yashar) in the eyes of the Lord your God” [Deut. 12:28]. And what might that “tov” be? Haven’t all the specific obligations already been enumerated before this verse, and its sister verse of two weeks ago, “Do the upright and the good” [Deut. 6:18]? What is being added?

Other biblical verses present similar issues: “It is not good for man to be alone” [Gen. 2:18]. Why not? The Midrash and commentaries abound with possibilities for this vague term. Even the Mishna faces this quandary: “There were no greater Yom Tov days for the Jewish people than Yom Kippur and the 15th of Av” [Ta’anit 4:5]. Why is the 15th of Av called a Yom Tov? It has no special prayers, laws or restrictions. No fewer than six interpretations are offered in the Talmud for the significance of the day that just passed the other week (Aug. 5).

Can we identify the original, root meaning of tov and reclaim it for these texts and others?

Rabbi Tzadok Ha-Kohen Rabinowitz of Lublin (1823-1900) famously observed that the root meaning of a biblical word is best determined by examining its first occurrence in the Torah. When the first day of creation was concluded, God saw that the created light was “good” [ki tov]. Nachmanides notes that tov implies something that is worthy of continuing or being perpetuated. Therefore God willed a continuing existence for the fruits of his creation.

When God announces (regarding the need for Adam to have a wife), “Lo tov heyot ha-adam levado” (“It is not good for man to be alone”) this phrase meant that, were man to remain alone, the species could not perpetuate itself. When Yocheved, mother of Moses, said her newborn was “tov” it meant the newborn was not just good but also viable.

This understanding of tov as continuity is explicit in Ecclesiastes 8:13, “But the evildoer shall not have ‘tov,’ and one who does not fear the Lord, like a shadow, shall not have length of days.”
Since the verse is written in poetic parallelism, “tov” is equivalent to “length of days.”

It should not surprise us, then, that the multiple interpretations of the 15th day of Av as a Yom Tov revolve around the continuity of the Jewish people, because the day commemorates the permission for different segments of Israelites to marry; the cessation of death by attrition for the generation of the wilderness and so forth.

To explain “When you do the good and the upright,” Nachmanides cites a Midrash that exhorts the Jew to go beyond the letter of the law in business dealings: “Since it is impossible for the Torah to mention all of a man’s behaviors toward his neighbors and friends, [and all of] his social and national interactions, therefore, after having mentioned many examples ... it says in general that he must do the upright and good in every matter, to include in this the obligation to accept compromise and to go beyond the requirement of the law...”

In other words, Jews are commanded to take the course of action that will best ensure the smooth functioning and continuity of society. You may benefit more from pressing your case in a winner-take-all manner, but society will benefit if its members allow each other to save face, and always leave something on the table.

The rabbis of the Talmud included in this category numerous volitional gestures that became “close to a mitzvah,” such as giving preference over other buyers to a neighbor who wants to purchase land adjacent to his own, and placing no statute of limitations on how long a person may redeem property that was confiscated by the court to discharge a debt.

In recent weeks we have seen the opposite of tov flooding the print, broadcast and electronic media. Images of religious Jews being trundled into waiting police cars, accused of corruption, money laundering and organ trafficking have reinforced the scandalous stereotype of the Jew as a money-grubbing, manipulative dealer in pounds of flesh. The very continuity of American society is threatened by such actions, not to mention the continued reputation of the Jewish community. It is time to reclaim the tov, the goodness/continuity by projecting an image of Judaism as it truly is: concerned with the just functioning of society and its productive continuity.

We must live a Judaism of tov and take steps to restrain those who would misrepresent us for selfish motives. By bearing inconvenience, and even financial sacrifice in order to achieve Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God’s name, we will make every day a Yom Tov.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ghosts of Devarim Past (Click On Numbers For Links)

It's as simple as 1 -The Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh's idea that each place mentioned at the start of Devarim hints to a character trait we need to inculcate within our selves, 2 - Rav Hirsch's point that where Moshe taught is described precisely, while where he dies is elusive. This teaches us to remember him for how he lived - as a human teacher, and to not deify him in his death, 3 - Why are the roots of the word for words (the name of the portion and book Jews around the world begin to study this week) and the word for bees the same?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Shlach - Guest Post

I hope that it's OK to post this with credit, as it is public. It was on Saw You At Sinai and I like it:


Each morning upon awakening, the first thing we do is utter the words, “modeh ani”, thanking Hashem for restoring our souls to us after the night’s sleep. We are taught this prayer almost as early as we begin to speak for it is incumbent upon us to realize our indebtedness towards Hashem for all the blessings and unearned gifts that He bestows upon us. We are taught very early on, not to take things for granted.

It is natural for people to stand up and pay attention to the horror of a tsunami, when nature goes awry, yet when nature takes its course and the oceans are contained within their boundaries and don’t overflow or go haywire, we just accept it as the expected order of things.
How many of us wake up in the morning and really count our blessings? Do we really feel gratitude to Hashem that was can see? That we can walk? That we can talk? That we can hear? I dare say that many of us are guilty of taking these precious gifts and so many others for granted!

“Modeh ani” comes from the word “hodaya” which means thanks (todah). Todah is also derived from the word “hodaah” which means to admit. In addition to giving thanks to Hashem for all of His constant blessings, we admit that we are unable to accomplish anything without the help of Hashem. Gratitude is a positive state of mind and expressing it gives us a sense of abundance and well being in addition to bringing great contentment to the recipient.

In this week’s Parshat Shlach, we see the tragic consequence of ingratitude; when the spies return from The Land that Hashem promised them, The Land of milk and honey, they complain that it will be too difficult to conquer due to the fact that giants inhabit it and are much stronger than them. Hashem’s resounding disappointment in their report is: “To what point will this people anger Me, and how long will they not have faith in Me, despite all the signs that I have performed in its midst?” Their unappreciative attitude resulted in 40 years of wandering in the desert, instead of being led directly into the Promised Land.

Ingratitude causes us to magnify the negative while minimizing and ignoring the overwhelmingly positive aspects of a relationship. When we become aware that no one “owes us” anything and become aware of the fact that when we are the recipients of kindheartedness, appreciation for such kindness must not go unnoticed nor unexpressed.

Gratitude and appreciation are essential keys and necessary character traits in building a loving relationship. The more I notice my partner’s acts of kindness, and express my appreciation, the more I relay the message: “I do not take you for granted. It is not understood that you MUST do nice things for me. I am grateful to you for what you do for me.” This attitude of gratitude in turn creates a desire to continue this loving behavior as well as creating a reciprocal cycle of continuous benevolence on both individuals in a relationship.

It is so gratifying to me that after 32 years of marriage, my husband still says “thank you” after I prepare him a meal. “Hakarat Hatov” means that he recognized the good and realizes that it is not just expected and taken for granted. It certainly acts as a catalyst and encourages joyful preparation of future meals. We all thrive on compliments and appreciation!

Two psychologists, Emmons and McCollough, have begun doing research on the link between gratitude and good physical and mental health. They discovered that those that made daily lists of things for which they were grateful were more alert, enthusiastic, determined, optimistic and full of energy. In addition, they found that people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved!

It is wise when dating and seriously seeking a mate, to observe the behavior of your date and to look for signs of the midah of “hakaros hatov.” This trait can be gleaned by observing how your date treats a waiter or a bus driver, how they describe their relationship with friends and family in terms of their appreciation for chessed that they have received. At the end of the date, do you thank the person you were with for a nice evening? (Does your date thank YOU for a nice evening?) Do you thank your shadchan for their effort, even if it was not your best date?
You can choose to be grateful! When we focus on the many things that we have to be thankful for, it puts a smile on our face and gives us a positive outlook on life. An upbeat attitude attracts people to us and makes them feel good being around us!


About the Author:
Sherrie B. Miller is a Jewish Matchmaker on and works with Jewish Singles all over the world. She is an educational guidance counselor, group leader, pre-marital coach, matchmaker and Judaic Studies teacher. Sherrie is dedicated to promoting and enhancing emotional intelligence and communication skills in conjunction with Torah values. Sherrie received her educational counseling degree from the Michlalah in Bayit Vegan and an M.A. in Education and Counseling from Touro College, Jerusalem, Israel. Sherrie also holds a B.A. in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Brooklyn College and a B.Sc. from Yeshiva University in Jewish Education. Sherrie is certified by Midreshet Emunah and is accredited by the Rabbanut of Israel, to be a pre-marital couple’s counselor and Kallah teacher. Before coming to Israel in 1989 from Great Neck, New York, Sherrie taught Judaic Studies at the North Shore Hebrew Academy. Sherrie also educated affiliated and unaffiliated adults through the “Project Identity” outreach program under the directorship of Rabbi Yaakov Lerner. Sherrie trained individuals and couples in the laws of Kashrut, Guidelines of Parenting, Parshat Shavua and Pirkei Avot. In her work as a Guidance Counselor in the national religious “Mamad” school, "Yehuda Halevi", Sherrie instructed life skill workshops to students, parents and teachers, with a focus on communication, conflict resolution and anger management. She also leads support groups for children of divorce. Sherrie is certified by the Life Center and leads Parenting workshops based on the Faber/Mazlish workshops on, “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.” Sherrie is an executive board member of the Emunah World Zionist Organization, Mibreishit, led by Rav Motti Alon, and Nishmat led my Rabbanit Hanna Henkin. Sherrie’s diverse background in counseling and teaching, combined with torah principles and values contribute to the depth and quality of her success with clients. Lessons drawn from her own life transitions make her coaching perspective uniquely inspirational. Sherrie helps individuals clarify their goals and take masterful action steps to reach them. Sherrie is professionally known for her guidance in the educational system as well as her outstanding capabilities teaching interpersonal relationship skills to groups and individuals. Having made a number of successful matches resulting in marriage, Sherrie volunteers as a matchmaker for SawYouAtSinai, an internet matchmaking site.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bamidbar Too

When The Jewish People travelled in the desert, we're told - (Bamidbar 2:17) - that "the way they rested (the order they camped in) was the way they moved (the same formation)." Rabbi Abraham Twerski broadens the application of this statement in the following manner. The way they rested spilled over into the way they moved forward. If their rest was spiritual, then their moving forward was spiritual too.

This applies to us in regard to Shabbos; the way we rest is the way we move. The flavor of our rest carries over and colorizes the way we transition into the week. If our Shabbos is a day of spiritual, not just physical rest, then we reap a spiritual surge into the week.

Shabbos is meant to spill over into our lives. It is a day of rest. Besides everything, Shabbos models for us the idea of a holy break. This is something that would serve anyone well on any day.

Taking a walk, playing/listening to music, exercising, reading, writing, conversing - these can all be sacred activities. The concept of leisure for leisure's sake is hard to rationalize in Judaism. The idea of down time that propels us upwards is a different story. The concept of how we rest leading into how we move onward a prominent concept in our tradition.

This is the idea behind the idea of Shemittah, a Sabbatical year. That year is meant to provide a break which invigorates when we move back into the long haul of "real life." Perhaps the reason why Shmittah is associated with Har Sinai is because it is meant to be like a year on that holy mountain, which we descend from with a holy glow of energy.

May we each be blessed with consistent spiritual pauses that allow us to proceed with sanctity.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Numbers: A Love Story
Rashi explains the lists and numbers that Bamidbar starts with as reflective of G-d's love for the Jewish People. When you cherish something you repeatedly count it. Hashem counted us three times in one year as an expression of His love of the Jewish People.

This concept of counting that which is beloved relates to our lives. We collect baseball cards as kids, shot glasses as adults, and repeatedly look over our treasures, assessing the value of each piece. We balance our checkbooks, and count our change, due to our affection for money. On the holiest level parents gaze for hours at each of their sleeping children.

It's not the literal counting that shows love, but the attention paid. This is what Rashi means by saying that counting reflects love.

When Hashem took us out of Egypt He carried us, cherished us, and counted us. Shortly after the expression of love that was the Exodus From Egypt the Jewish People strayed and our Father disciplined us with love and then counted us. When He rested His Presence upon us in the Mishkan He lovingly counted us.

These 3 times that G-d counted us can be applied to 3 relationships of love in life: The first rule of love is giving. We may use G-d's carrying us out of Egypt as a lesson of care and concern for others. However, just like G-d, we must show our love through setting of boundaries as well. As G-d showed us when He rested His presence upon us, sometimes when you love someone there is value in spending time, not to give in a specific way and not to discipline, but just to be together in love.

These 3 ingredients: care, discipline, and attention, need to be nurtured for relationships to be balanced. May G-d in his love for us, bless us in the art of love, as we each, in our own way, do our best to emulate G-d and communicate love with all the elements.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Behar/Bechukotai - Guest Post

Rabbi Hoffman has been writing a new, amazing, piece on each parsha every week for many years. You can subscribe and receive his "Netvort" every week by writing him at
Down to Earth
By Rabbi Joshua ( earthily known as The Hoffer) Hoffman

In honor of Yosef Bronstein and Batya Reichman on the occasion of their recent engagement. Mazal tov !!!

The beginning of parshas Behar presents us with the laws of Shemittah, the Sabbatical year, and the laws of Yovel, the Jubilee year. The Torah tells us, first, that the land shall observer a rest for God ( Vayikra, 25:2), and then, after listing the basic laws of Shemittah, on which the land must lay fallow, we are told that the resting of the land shall be yours to eat" ( Vayikra, 25:6).

Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah, in his commentary Ner LaMaor, separates the first four words of the last verse-'vehayesa Shabbos ha-aretz lachem and the resting of the land shall be yours - from the next word - le'achlah - to eat, and explains these four words to mean that the purpose of leaving the land fallow and desisting from work during Shemittah is for the benefit of the farmer's spiritual essence. Just as Shabbos during the week serves the function of giving man a break from his busy work schedule so that he can contemplate more spiritual matters and come closer to God, so too is resting on the seventh year of the agricultural cycle meant to bring man back to himself and back to God.

Rabbi Meir Juzint zt'l once answered the question of the midrash, brought by Rashi on our parshah, of why the Torah mentions that the laws of Shemittah were given at Mt. Sinai, since all of the mitzvos were given there, by saying that the year of Shemittah should be spent at Mt. Sinai, in the sense of spending that time studying Torah.

Rav Neriah cites a number of commentaries, including Rav Yitzchak Aramah in his Akeidas Yitzchak, as saying that Shemittah should arouse us from the darkness of our thoughts. He also cites the famed proto- Zionist, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, as saying that a person should not be tied his entire life to his work in the field. Rather, he should spend one out of seven years free for the sake of his soul, and engage in the pursuit of Torah and wisdom.

Rav Neriah brings a second approach to the purpose of Shemittah, which is followed by the Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim (3, 39), the Sefer HaChinuch, and others. They emphasize the social aspect of Shemittah that is geared toward helping the poor.

On shemittah, all lands are to become ownerless, and the poor are to be allowed to eat from whatever fruit and produce that grows there. The Rambam writes that the intention of Shemitah is to have compassion on people, and the Chinuch says that it comes to instill us with character traits such as generosity of the heart. Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, in addition to his explanation that shemittah comes to afford workers the opportunity to develop their spirituality through learning Torah, also says that an additional purpose of shemittah is to serve as an equalizer between rich and poor, since, during shemittah, they are all equal in their access to the produce of the fields.

Rav Neriah says that this social aspect of shemittah is inherent in the continuation of the verse from which he pointed out the spiritual aspect of the year, as we read, " the resting of the earth shall be yours to eat, for you, for your servant and your maidservant, and your hired worker, and the stranger who dwells with you..."

I believe that there is an important connection between these two explanations of the purpose of shemittah, that can be demonstrated through a verse in parshas Emor. The second half of parshas Emor deals with the laws of the various festivals of the year. Interstingly, after the laws regarding Shavuos, and before the laws of Rosh Hashanah, there is a verse about the parts of one crop that a farmer must leave for the poor to take: "When you reasp the harvest of your land; you shall not remove completely the corner of your field as you reap and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest: for the poor and proselyte shall you leave them, I am the Lord , your God" ( Vayikra, 23:22).

Why does this verse intervene between the secction on Shavuos and the section on Rosh Hashanah? Rav Dovid Feinstein explained that Shavuos falls during the time period in which we received the Torah, and we must realize that just as the Torah begins and ends with chesed - kindness, so, too, when we accept the Torah anew each Shavuos, we must also accept upon ourselves the need to perform acts of chesed, helping others less fortunate than we are. This is also why the Talmud tells us that when someone wants to convert to Judaism, he must be told about these laws of the gifts a Jew must leave in his field for the poor, so that he understands the importance of chesed in the Jewish religion.

After the end of the Shemittah year, during Sukkos, there is a mitzvah of Hakhel, as taught in parshas Vayeilech. The mitzvah involves gathering the entire nation in the Beis Hamikkadash and reading sections of the Torah to them. The Rambam, in his description of this mitzvah, seems to compare it to the original acceptance of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. After a year of immersion of Torah study, then, the nation, gathers together to re-accept the Torah, with a new appreciation for its teachings. Part of this re-acceptance must be a new commitment to helping others, as well, just as they helped the poor during Shemittah.

In this way, the two dimensions of Shemittah that we have seen in the various commentators come together, and serve as a guide for the way we should live our lives during the coming six years in the agricultural cycle.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hagaddah Shel Pesach

The Kol HaMarbeh Haggadah

Rabbi Neil Fleischmann


Introduction - On The Books

(THOUGHT) The Haggadah is a book. The Seder night is major in our calendar and it features a book, which proves that reading is key to serious thinking. Do Western people today value reading? It seems to me that contemporary man doesn’t read books enough.

(QUOTE) Rav Nachman Kahane says that while some buy paintings and antiques, Jews buy books. A Jewish home is traditionally full of books, because that's a major Jewish value. Decorating the house with sefarim (books) is appropriate, even if they aren't learned in full. And according to many authorities by buying books we fulfill our obligation of writing a Torah scroll.

(STORY) A woman was walking her young stroller aged son. They passed by a building which she pointed to - "That's a library", she said, "We'll go there sometime". "Library." What's a library? he asked. "That's a place where you borrow books", she explained. "Borrow books? You mean buy books." - Her son replied, confused. "No, no", she assured him, "you go there and take the books out to read and then bring them back when you're finished". He looked at her, confused, and she was at a loss, wondering how to successfully explain this. After a moment's pause she said - "Like DVDs", she said. "Oh", he immediately replied, "that sounds nice, let's go one day".

Karen G. R. Roekard writes in her essay THE EVOLUTION OF THE PASSOVER HAGGADAH: “If a measure of Jewish affection for a book were to rest with the number of versions there are of it, then clearly the Passover Haggadah is the most popular Jewish book of all time. In the 16th century there were approximately 25 printed versions. This figure rose to 37 in the 17th century and then jumped to 230 versions in the 18th century. In the 19th century the numbers rose by another 1250 and estimates for the 20th century are that there are now over 3000 versions of Haggadah.

[(Extra Credit) Can you name the Jewish book that holds second place for most published versions?]

Main Body - The Haggadah

Kadesh U’Rechatz, Karpas

(THOUGHT) Rabbi Shlomo Kahn in From Twilight to Dawn cites the following homiletical interpretation. When we contemplate Kadesh and Rechatz (holiness and the preparation it entails) it would suit us to consider the Karpas. A vegetable starts out buried and down trodden. Eventually it evolves into a beautiful food that finds its place at a set table and is even part of a mitzvah. Farfetched as it may sound, these words can serve to remind us of the development we are all capable of achieving.

Kadesh - This refers to Kiddush and I find Rabbi Abraham Twerski's words on this to be appropriate :(QUOTE)(From From Bondage to Freedom - Rabbi Abraham Twerski)"There are people who approach the royal Seder table with no advance spiritual preparation. They may think, "I don't really belong here. If anyone knew the real me I certainly wouldn't be invited. Therefore, we begin the Seder with the Kiddush, in which we state "Mikadesh Yisrael," G-d sanctifies each Jew. There is an element of intrinsic sanctity in every individual. Even though we may not feel worthy and deserving at this point, we have to take G-d's word for it. Each person is holy, sanctified, and unique."

(THOUGHT) The Torah Temimah stresses that the four cups represent not four languages of redemption, but four redemptions. Each step along the way formed it’s own redemption, leading to the next level. This is an important point to remember, that redemption is a process. This is an important lesson for our own lives. Wine is used to represent the four stages of freedom. Wine represents change. It comes about through a transformation. It also affects us by changing our state of being. Thus wine is a fitting vehicle to symbolize the process of redemption. U’Rechatz - Hand washing for eating a wet vegetable, a halachic hand washing (Pesachim 115a).

(THOUGHT) If we were to stretch ourselves up as high as we could in the standing position unique to man, we would lift our hands high to the sky. Thus hands are the top, starting point of man. One reason for hand washing is to accentuate our holiness by according proper respect to our starting point, which is what everything else follows. If one neglects the starting point it's a bad sign, an indication of neglect of the whole. And thus the Rabbis have very harsh words for one who is neglectful regarding this mitzvah of Netilat Yadayim (saying that one who neglects this mitzvah will be uprooted from the world). On Pesach night, a night which marks the beginning and formation of the Jewish People, we give particular care to hand washing which also acknowledges the special respect due the beginning of a special thing. [MaHaRaL].

(THOUGHT) Some point out that this washing is phrased as a command (Rechatz; “you must wash”), as opposed to the later washing which is described more passively. This is because washing at this point is unusual and therefore we need to be instructed to observe it. The later washing is well known and therefore referred to simply as Rachtah; The Washing. Karpas - Vegetable dipped in saltwater.

(THOUGHT) The saltwater reminds us of our sweat and tears in Mitzrayim. The vegetable eaten is to cause the kids to ask questions (i.e.; to be interested. As the saying goes, if there is no question there can be no answer). To increase the curiosity factor it was the custom of Rabbi Pinchas Teitz to use a banana for this!

(HALACHA)The authorities all point out to have in mind the Maror when saying the brachah on the Karpas. But why is this necessary, being that the Maror comes after we said HaMotzi, isn't it covered as part of the meal? The Aruch HaShulchan explains that since the Maror is eaten as the fulfillment of a specific mitzvah it does not count as a real part of the meal.
Yachatz –

(THOUGHT) The Best To Come

It is customary to use the bigger half of the Matzah that is broken in two as the Afikoman. Why is the bigger half set aside for the end of the meal? The Sfat Emet says that the piece of Matzah which is put away as the Afikoman represents the redemption (Geulah) yet to come. The bigger piece is put aside for the end of the Seder because the Geulah to come will be bigger than the one that we celebrate on Pesach.

Brachot 12b quotes from Yirmiyahu (23:7-8): “Days are coming when people will no longer swear ‘as G-d lives who brought the children of Israel up from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘as G-d lives who brought up and brought back the offspring of the House of Israel from the land of the North and from all the lands wherein He had dispersed them.’”

According to the Chachomim even though the pasuk in Yirmiyahu seems to say that Yetziat Mitzrayim will no longer be remembered or mentioned after Kibutz Galuyot, it actually means that the future Geulah will be so great that it will be the one we primarily remember, but Yetziat Mitzrayim will still be remembered as well. This fits with the explanation of the Chachomim that the command to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim “all the days of our life,” includes an obligation to verbally remember Yetziat Mitzrayim even in Yemot HaMashiach; While Mitzrayim will be recalled, the Geulah of Mashiach will be more primarily remembered.

The Gemorah uses Yaakov to prove that when a pasuk states that something will no longer be said it really means that it will no longer be the primary point mentioned, not that it won’t be referred to at all. Yaakov is told by Hashem that he will no longer be known as Yaakov and will from now on be called Yisrael. But Hashem himself does still use the name Yaakov after this time. (Perhaps this example of Yaakov/Yisrael is more than just an example, as the names Yaakov and Yisrael respectively represent the people that went down to and were redeemed from Mitzrayim and the Jewish People that will ultimately be redeemed.)

The Gemorah gives the example of a man on the road that is saved from a wolf and tells everyone of the miraculous incident. Then he is saved from a lion, and then a snake. With each new salvation the previous incidents pale in comparison. Similarly, Bnei Yisrael's future Geulah will make Geulat Mitzrayim secondary in status.

The above cited ideas fit with the idea that we focus on the bigger half of Matzah because the ultimate Geulah is what everyone will talk about. There is a beautiful thought (suggested by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach) that adds on to this: Why is the hidden Afikoman brought back specifically by children? This represents the idea that children will be the ones who bring the ultimate redemption.

This connects to Shabbat 119b, which says that "Al Tig'u bi'Mshichai" refers to the learning of young schoolchildren (hevel tinokot shel Beit Raban). Reish Lakish quotes Rabi Yehudah HaNasi as saying that the world is maintained only because of the learning of young children. Abayei adds that the Torah of children is more powerful than the Torah of adults because their mouths have not yet sinned. Reish Lakish adds that the learning of small schoolchildren should not be interrupted even to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash. Perhaps this can be understood to mean that there is no more potent way to bring the Geulah than through the merit of children. May that time come speedily in our days.
(This is my re-editing of ideas that I assisted a student with for a limited edition (200 copies) Haggadah.

(STORY) Rav Elchanon Wassermann was asked by the people he was hiding with from Nazis in a house in Germany - "Why?" He told them the following -"Imagine, " Rav Elchanon told them, "the following:" "Someone has never seen bread, and a man volunteers to teach him." The teacher takes a little seed, and the disciple assumes that the seed is bread. So he's shocked when the man takes this "bread" and buries it in the ground. Then, a pretty plant grows and the man assumes that must be bread. And he's shocked again when the other man cuts down this "bread". Then the teacher takes the plant and picks off the kernels. The spectator thinks that the pile of kernels is what's called bread. But then the other guy throws these pieces in the air and smashes them. The other is again confused. Then the kernels are ground and mixed with water. And then they're shaped into a mound, which looks pretty nice. So, now the guy figures THIS is bread. So he's REALLY shocked when the other man turns up the oven and throws this final product of so much work - to be burnt, destroyed, after all. But as the moments pass as the air fills with a scent that causes the stranger's mouth to water, he begins to suspect that something good is on it's way. And soon he's eating a fresh slice of delicious hot bread with butter on it. And he understands."


"HA LACHMA'ANYA" - This IS the bread of affliction.(STORY) The Maggid of Dubno addresses this phrase with a moshol: A poor man returned home nightly with a sack over his shoulder filled with the junk he scavenged throughout the day. Dressed in rags he brought home just barely enough to provide for his family. One day his fortune changed and he became a rich man. He now returned home each evening dressed in a fancy suit and bought his wife and children the best of everything. And then one day he came home dressed in rags. And his wife's face fell, as his children cried. They were sad until he explained - "It's one year since we became rich and I'm only dressing this way to remember. And he reached outside the door where he had special gifts for all. And they celebrated on that day for many years to come. And then one day he came home dressed in rags, and his kids wanted to know where the presents were and how a year had passed so quickly. They were happy until he explained - " It's not an act this time. I've last the money, we're poor". So too, the Maggid of Dubno explains why we say this IS the bread of affliction instead of saying this is LIKE the bread of affliction. Until our ultimate redemption we are living incomplete lives. We don't think so. That's part of the problem But it is so. The Matzah is not just a reminder of afflictions of the past and redemptions that came but a sobering reminder of the imperfect present and the redemption still to come.

"KOL DICHVIN YEITEI VEYEICHOL" - Anyone that's hungry should join us and eat.

(THOUGHT) "On a night when we pray for the ultimate Redemption, even though we may not be meritorious enough to deserve it, we say, 'Let all who are hungry come,' without exception. If we do not discriminate, then we can expect that G-d will not be too discriminating with us." - Rabbi A. Twerski

(STORY) The Ba'al Shem Tov would have a special Shalosh - Seudos sitting surrounded by his closest students. One time a poor, bummy looking fellow wandered into Shul at Shalosh-Seudos time. The Ba'al Shem Tov invited the man in and sat him at the head table. Later his students asked why he sat the head table and didn't stop at inviting him in. He told them, "When I arrive in heaven at judgment time, I'm going to want to sit up front and I'm afraid I won't deserve it. I hope Hashem will remember my putting this man up front and that He will seat me up front as well." [Ethics From Sinai, I. Bunim]

MAH NISHTANA - If a person is alone, he asks himself.

(STORY+THOUGHT) - 1981 marked the first visit of Rav Noach Weinberg, the pioneer of outreach work, to Yeshiva University for a student organized "schmooze". One of the things that he said in that special talk was that the Mishnah in Avot which states, "Know what to answer" has a dual meaning. On one level it simply means to know how to answer the other. But on a deeper level it means know how to answer the questioner inside yourself.


How do we know?!! How do we know that if G-d hadn't taken us out that we wouldn't have freed ourselves eventually? The reason is because we didn't aspire to be free. Before G-d freed us from Egypt He freed us from our own self inflicted slavery of complacency, and lethargy. We felt stuck, and didn't want to even bother trying to get out because we felt that all we had in Egypt was all we'd ever have. The lesson for us is to look and see if our lives are less than we want them to be. As Rabbi Twerski puts it, the question we need to ask ourselves is, "Is it possible that I may be in a rut, but similar to my enslaved ancestors, fail to recognize it?" We need to take this Pesach as a time to answer this question and try to free ourselves from the myriad of things that enslave us.

Mitzrayim can be seen as a metaphor for all that enslaves us. (The word can be read as metzarim, meaning straights). Had G-d not given us a hand and pulled us out of Mitzrayim, we would today be doomed to choosing easy animal comfort over difficult Divine pleasure.
(STORY) A man who had recently died appears to his friend in a dream. The friend asks him what he does all day. He says, " I eat whenever I want and sleep whenever I want and fulfill my every desire whenever I want." His friend says, "That's great! Who’d have guessed that you'd go to heaven!" He replies, "I'm not in heaven. I've been reincarnated as a cow in Nebraska!"Though often mistaken for a dirty joke, this is actually a very deep story: Our specialness, our pleasure, is not in our animal passions, but rather in what makes us human - the ability to work for and achieve the greatest pleasure possible, that of closeness to G-d.


(THOUGHT) If the fact is that we are again eating "bread of affliction" because the independence we acquired didn't last, why is the narration of Yitziat Mitzrayim so important today? The answer is that the spiritual growth, the connection with a Power higher than ourselves, that we established by rejecting the pagan beliefs of Egypt and accepting the Torah remains with us. The praiseworthiness of dwelling on this story is predicated upon the fact that it reflects our valuing spirituality over materialism.

(SEQUEL STORY) Even though the man lost his wealth, he continued (as best as he could) to celebrate the day on which he had become rich. His family asked him why he kept up this practice and he replied that while the money was gone the knowledge that he gained from the experience remained. So too, we are again in exile, but remember the lessons and feel hope based on our redemption in the past.

The Four Sons

(THOUGHT) You might expect that on this night which marks the establishment of a bond between G-d and the Jewish People we would focus exclusively on the relationship between us and G-d. What's fascinating about the Seder is that it includes a tremendous focus on our relationship with other Jews. The four sons represent all types of Jews with all types of attitudes and approaches. And we want them all at the Seder. These are the people that we invited and embrace, without checking IDs. As we commemorate our beginning as a People we immediately adapt a dual focus - exerting energy not only on our relationship with Hashem, but also working hard on reaching out to our fellow Jews. [Lubavitcher Rebbe]

Four Sons/Four Generations
(THOUGHT) It has been suggested that the four sons parallel four generations of American Jewish life. The Chacham represents the old school piety of generation of the forties and fifties. The Rashah is strikingly similar to the rebellious sons of The Fifties and Sixties who rejected their father’s Judaism with the rhetorical question “what is all this ritual of yours?” The Sixties eased into the disinterested, isolated seventies, the “Tam” generation. And then there’s the oblivious generation that doesn’t know how to ask. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin adds that today there is the fifth son who sadly does not attend the Seder at all.

"Knock His Shin"

(THOUGHT) Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach quotes a Belzer tradition that interprets this line in a homiletic vein: The advice given as to how to respond to the Rashah is to knock out his teeth. The actual word used is "shinav," which can be interpreted to mean "his Hebrew letter ‘shin.’" The letter shin’s three prongs represent the three pillars of the Jewish nation: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Every day in our prayers we beseech G-d while referencing the merit of our forefathers. We do not only mean to remind G-d of their goodness, but we are reminding Him and ourselves that the attributes of our forefathers are our values. Their essence lives inside us. A father is instructed to shake the three pronged values of our ancestors, the traits of Torah , Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim out from within even the child that’s called "wicked."


(STORY) Two men were having a debate, one being secular and "modern", and the other being a traditional, observant Jew. The former berated the latter calling him old fashioned, and questioning why he adhered to ritualistic Judaism. The "frum" Jew responded that in fact his friend was the one who was old fashioned, citing this line from the Haggadah. As it says here, the Jews worshipped foreign values in the past, and only now in "modern times" did G-d bring us close to His service.
This is something worth thinking about at the Seder: What is Avoda Zara? Are we guilty of it today? Who is modern and who is old fashioned?


(THOUGHT) Q - Why is it included in the Haggadah that Eisav inherited Har Sei'ir? And if it's going to be so detailed, why not include Yishmael rather than going from Terach (the forefather idol worshipper mentioned above) to Avraham, then mentioning only Yitzchak, and then specifying both Eisav and Yaakov as Avraham's sons?
A - The Brisker Rav answers by citing the pasuk in which Hashem tells Avraham that his genealogy, his nation, will be through Yitzchak ("KI BEYITZCHAK YIKRA LECHA ZERA"). He did not, however, specify to Yitzchak which of his sons would be the progenitor of this chosen nation. But, He gave him a sign: The sign was that the son that was the father of the nation would be exiled into a strange land and suffer there for some time. So, the fact that Eisav settled peacefully into his inheritance, while Yaakov and his children went to Mitzrayim and spent years of servitude there is quite significant. This detail is necessary proof that Yaakov and not Eisav's family (i.e. us, not the Arabs) are the chosen nation promised to Avraham!


(THOUGHT) Unlike Edom (EISAV) who's name betrays his true nature, Lavan's name paints a deceptively pure, white picture of an evil man. While the Haggadah describes Lavan as wanting to totally destroy the Jewish People, the Torah is lacking in any overt reference to such a desire. And that's just the point. We as a nation (as well as we as individuals) have enemies that dress in white, feigning diplomacy and niceties. And we also have enemies like Eisav, who come openly wanting blood. We must be on the look out for enemies of all types, especially the Eisavs. As the Chovot HaLevavot writes, in regard to some, our attitude should be “Respect and Suspect" (Chabdeihu VeChashdeihu).

(THOUGHT) The one line here that seems to receive the most attention, because it doesn't seem to make sense, is -IF HE WOULD HAVE BROUGHT US TO HAR SINAI AND NOT GIVEN US THE TORAH IT WOULD HAVE BEEN ENOUGH(THOUGHTS) How's that!?! Why would being brought to the mountain and then not receiving the Torah have been worth anything? ONE ANSWER to this question is that the aura of the Shechina would have affected us positively, and that itself would have provided sufficient reason for being brought to the mountain, Sinai.

ANOTHER ANSWER is that the Jews, for once, were unified (KE'ISH ECHAD BE'LEV ECHAD), and that is something amazing that would have made the trip to Sinai worthwhile. A unique, creative, and deep (and also dangerously easily misunderstood) answer to this question is that what we're saying is that if G-d would have brought us to Har Sinai but not given US the Torah even though he gave us the Torah - it would have been enough. The point is that we're here thanking G-d for placing the Torah under our auspices, in our control, rather than giving it to us to obey, but maintaining it Himself. This idea is illustrated by the following story:

(STORY) One Amora was disagreeing with several others. He was sure that his view made sense, but couldn't convince the others. Finally, he used signs to prove he was right (first a tree tilted, then a stream flowed backwards, then the walls caved in). The Rabbis were unimpressed. So, he asked for a voice to resound from heaven announcing he was right. It happened. But the Rabbis insisted that "It is not in heaven" (LO BASHAMAYIM HEE) and they did not accept his view. And the end of the story is that G-d was very pleased with how all this went.

(The JOKE version of this is: 3 Rabbis were arguing against 1 Rabbi. The 1 Rabbi gets G-d to say that HE agrees with him. G-d does. The other Rabbis remain unfazed, "Fine," they say, "Now, it's 3 against 2!")

Another point of note in this song is the fact that it goes way past the leaving of Egypt all the way up until the building of the Beit HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. This indicates the strong connection between leaving Egypt and not only the receiving of the Torah, but the culminating event of the Temple’s construction and use.


(THOUGHT) Rav Noach Weinberg points out that G-d carried the show, did all the work, when it came to getting us out of Egypt. However, the one thing we had to do was repudiate their values ( by publicly displaying lamb blood as a signal to G-d to come and save us ). If we want to speed up the redemption still to come, and want to insure our inclusion in it, we must be brave enough to clearly and openly signal to G-d that we reject the alien values of today's culture.

(THOUGHT) The Midrash says that when G-d passed over our homes, 2 bloods intermingled: the blood of Mila and the blood of Korban Pesach. Mila takes place at the start of life, when a person is basically all future. Korban Pesach is a mitzvah that was facilitated by the head of the household, the family's patriarch, and this means it comes after time, when a person already has a past that has led him to the achievement of the place that he presently calls his. A major challenge we constantly face, and a challenge represented by the mixing of the blood of these 2 mitzvot, is to combine the freshness of youth that focuses us on the future with the experience of middle age and the years that surround it that has binds us with our baggage from the past. [Lubavitcher Rebbe]

MATZA - Conventional Torah wisdom has it that Chametz represents haughtiness, an over emphasis on our own ego. While Matzah represents humility, subservience to G-d. Reflective of this is the sole letter which is different, and only slightly so in the Hebrew word "Chametz" and the Hebrew word "Matzah". The CHET of Chametz is self contained, tightly sealed, representing an attitude of "I can do it all myself". The HEH of Matzah represents an opening to a Power other than ourselves, higher than ourselves. Like a pressure cooker's escape valve that protects it from exploding, the human psyche needs to have an opening, a portal in order to survive and thrive.

(THOUGHT) Matzah reminds us that G-d took us out of Mitzrayim quickly. Tradition has it that we were on the 49th level of impurity and had we fallen to the 50th level we would have been irredeemable. So G-d had to take us out quickly, before it was too late. But the question is that G-d did not truly "have to" take us out quickly. Unlike human beings, G-d does not procrastinate. It would seem that He could have taken us out when we were on the 48th, or 47th, or 10th, or even 1st level of impurity! The real reason why he took us out when we'd already fallen to level 49 is that the falling was a necessary preparation for the redemption.[MaHaRaL as cited in Hegyonei Halacha]

(STORY- MOSHOL) What happens inside a chicken's egg is a process of putrification, of rotting. Just when it is about to pass the point of no return - the chick emerges from the egg. If you were to break it open early - the chick wouldn't live. If you were to seal the egg so that the chick couldn't break out at the right moment, the chick would die. Similarly, Galut is part of the redemption process. The falling was necessary. This is important to remember today - the deterioration and suffering that we see and feel is all a necessary part of the process of redemption presently taking place. [Ibid.]


(THOUGHT) G-d told Avraham that his descendants' slavery would last for 400 years. Yet, we were released after only 210 years. The reason most often given for this is that 210 very difficult years of concentrated slavery were the actual equivalent of 400 years of average intensity slavery. The Vilna Gaon points out that the musical notes under the words in the Torah - "And they made their lives bitter" (VAYIMORERU ET CHAYEIHEM) are the notes called KADMA VE'A ZLA which means to precede and to go, in other words to go earlier. So the notes clearly substantiate the theory that the intense bitter slavery was cause for an early redemption.[The Vilna Gaon as cited by R Shlomo Kahn in From Twilight to Dawn]

May it be G-d's will to hasten our redemption again due to terrible suffering we endured in the Holocaust.
(QUOTE) "May we not hopefully assume that the unprecedented holocaust of Nazi Germany led to a hastening of the messianic redemption in the establishment of the State of Israel?" - Rabbi Shlomo Kahn


(THOUGHT) If you think about it the hardest mitzvah of the night is this one. How can we possibly imagine that we left Egypt? Rabbi Mayer Twersky explains that Jewish holidays do not simply commemorate historical events. The theme of the day precedes the holiday. This helps explain this obligation. It is because of the energy of the day, which was present even before The Exodus that we can be expected to feel like we left Mitzrayim by tapping into the energy of the day.

There are two aspects to the Jewish people: each of us has a potential role to fulfill both as an individual and as part of a nation. This is symbolized by the 2 images that G-d projects to Avraham that his descendants will resemble: sand and stars. Though both are myriad in number, the difference between these two entities is that grains of sand all mesh together, while stars can be individually distinguished.

On this night when we focus on our creation as a nation, we run the risk of forgetting our value as individuals. We must never lose sight of G-d's singular love and concern for each one of us. Yitziat Mitzrayim was not only a communal experience , but something that every Jew at the time went through. And we owe it to ourselves and to G-d today to recognize that each of us have our own Mitzrayim to overcome, and that G-d is with each of us - carrying us out of our Mitzrayim. G-d loves each of us.

This is why Purim is celebrated in the second Adar during a leap year: so that the redemption of Purim connects to the redemption of Pesach. So says the Gemorah. I believe that the true meaning of this is that Pesach is about an open, spectacular, communal miracle, while Purim more overtly serves to remind us of G-d's involvement in each of our individual lives. Purim should be kept nearby to help us not miss the point of Pesach - that our lives are collections of small, personal miracles.

Regarding what other holiday is there a guide book to walk us through the miracle? Regarding what other holiday is there a multiple choice list of how to explain it to different types of Jews. Regarding what other holiday to we have to go through a list of questions and answers about the day, even if we sit alone? Regarding what other holiday are we addressed as individuals and told, if any one Jew neglects to mention the major themes of this miracle, then you don't get credit for the celebration. All this substantiates the idea that we all have a personal lesson, our own specific work to accomplish on this night. [Rabbi Neil Fleischmann]

(STORY) There is a beautiful and pretty story called Footsteps. (I once double checked if this was a Jewish themed story and was told that it certainly is.
A man sees all the scenes of his life flash before his eyes. In each scene he sees 2 sets of footsteps, one clearly is G-d's and the other is his own. However, when he sees the most difficult scenes of his life, there is only one set of footsteps. He feels that G-d abandoned him when he needed Him most. He asks G-d for the explanation and G-d tells him - "During the hardest times in your life, I was carrying you"

(STORY) A girl that went through 12 years of Jewish schooling, later left Judaism and adapted Christianity. When she met a Rabbi from her past, and he asked her what had attracted her to Christianity. She told him that at a hard time in her life she was approached by a Christian missionary in a bus station. The missionary told her, "G-d loves you." She told the Rabbi the following tragically sad words: "Despite all my years of Jewish education and Jewish upbringing that was the first time that I was ever told that G-d loves me."

4 CUPS - (THOUGHT) The Vilna Gaon and others list the 4 redemptions of which the four cups of wine serve as a reminder: 1. Work was decreased. 2. We were totally saved from having to work as slaves at all.3. G-d declared us to be His People. 4. We were actually taken out of Egypt. (This fits with the translation of each of the 4 phrases).EGGS - After a long wait for real food, Jews around the world eat too many hard boiled eggs.(THOUGHTS)An egg is the only thing that's born, and then reborn. Similar to the chick, The Jewish People were taken out of Egypt, but then we were re-redeemed when we received the Torah.

Unlike other foods, an egg becomes harder the more it is cooked. So too the Jewish People survive and thrive even after continuous persecution.
An egg is a reminder of the circle of life and thus of mourning. It is yet another indication of the deep connection between the redemption from Egypt, and the life we were granted in Israel. We look on this night towards the ultimate redemption being granted to us speedily in our time.

Shulchan Orech -

Leshanah Habaah BeYerushalayim HaBenuyah!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ki Tissa - Who Are You?

"They exchanged their honor for that of a cow eating grass" This is how Dovid HaMelech describes the Cheit HaEigel (Tehillim 106:20). It would seem more appropriate to say that they exchanged his honor. Why does Dovid write, ”Vayamiru et kevodam"? ########j#########################################################
The Ralbag suggests that G-d's honor is being referred to, but out of respect it is referenced euphemistically. Rav Nissan Alpert suggests a different approach which expands upon this reference to “THEIR HONOR EXCHANGED.” ####j##########################################################
The Jewish People at the time of the Cheit HaEigel were the Dor Deah. They were highly knowledgeable, profoundly intelligent people. The construction of the eiegel was the subject of intense debate. The ones in favor of making the eigel wanted it as a metaphor of the true nature of man, representing the fact that man is essentially an animal. They said that Moshe had lifted them up from their physical nature, but in his absence it was time to return to being what they really were - no different than a cow, eating to live and living to eat. (This approach can be inferred from a nuanced reading of Shmot 32:1, which the people despair over the loss of Moshe, whom they describe as having raised them - he’elinu - up from Egypt. They felt that he raised them to an unnaturally high state and now it was time to return to “real life.”) $$j$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Those who opposed the constructing the eigel felt passionately that they were primarily spiritual in nature. Thus, it was wrong to suggest the cow as an appropriate symbol of the essence of man. (This was the reality, as supported by the seemingly unnecessary mention by G-d in 32:7 that the people whom Moshe had raised up – he’elita – had strayed and corrupted their essence). %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% j
There are various levels of tumah/impurity; the lowest is a dead human being. The reason why the human corpse ranks even lower than the carcass of an animal is that a man's real value rests in his soul. A dead cow can be utilized in many ways, but a dead man's work is done. The Para Aduma comes to purify the lowest form of impurity, acquired through contact with a dead human being. Acceptance of these laws is reflective of an understanding that man's essence is his soul. This is why Chazal tell us that the Para Aduma is kapara (provides atonement) for the cheit ha’eigel, the biggest mistake the Jewish People ever made. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&j&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&
Entry level spirituality is to accept that humans are distinctive in all of creation, because we are created in the image of G-d. In Avot 3:18, Rabi Akiva implores us to remember that we are special first and foremost for this reason. He reminds us that we were then blessed with being considered G-d’s children, and finally with being gifted with the Torah. Rabi Akiva says that there is a particular power to the fact that we were granted an awareness of our true nature (“chibah yetaira noda’at lahem”). May we be blessed to always remember that we are uniquely spiritual, certainly more than animals, and even greater than angels. **************************

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Purim - Guest Post

Rabbi Josh Hoffman sends out a weekly email on the parsha called Netvort. I am amazed by the quality of what he presents. Today he sent out a special thought for Purim. I find this piece to be outstanding and inspiring.
If you are interested in receiving an email of his weekly thought, let me know.
A Lot of Events
By Rabbi Joshua Hoffman

There is a well-known saying of the famed kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Ashekenazi, known as the Ari, which, I have heard, originates in the Tikunei Zohar, that there is a connection between Purim and Yom Ha Kippurim. In fact, according to the Ari, Yom HaKippurim, as the name implies, is only like Yom Kippur, not equivalent to it. In other words, Purim is on a higher level that Yom Kippur. many explanations of this comment have been given, the most common of which is that on Purim we reach the level of closeness to God that we reach on Yom Kippur, but through use of the physical aspects of the world, rather than through abstention from them, as we do on Yom Kippur. since our task in this world is to use its physical aspects to attain holiness, our abstention from physical pleasures on Yom Kippur is a kind of preparation for our service of God during the rest of the year. I would like to suggest a somewhat different explanation, based on a different linguistic connection between the two holidays.
The name of the holiday of Purim comes from the Persian world for lot, pur, and refers to the lots which Haman made to determine the day and month which he would have the king issue a decree to wipe out al of the Jews in his kingdom. On Yom Kippur, as well, lots are chosen, to determine which of two goats, which are otherwise completely identical to each other, will be used as a sacrifice on the altar, and which of them will be sent to the wilderness, to Azazael, and there thrown off of a mountain to bring about atonement for the people. What is the idea behind choosing lots to determine the status of these two goats on Yom Kippur.? My teacher, Rav Ahron Soloveitchik, explained that often in life, one chance decision can determine the road that a person takes in life, and, in repenting, he must understand what choice he made that led him to this path. This concept is in accord with the teaching of Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pekudah in his classic work, Chovos Halvavos, in which he says that often in life, a person does not have free will in regard to each action he takes. Rather, his free choice manifests itself in the path he chooses to take in life. Once he has taken that path, however, his actions as a consequence, and, in order to reverse them, he has to get off the path. To do that, he must understand how he got on that path in the first place. The lesson of the two goats is to sharpen our awareness of how important a particular decision can be, and to spur us on to understand how we got onto a path that has been detrimental to our spiritual health. I have heard that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l. explained the lesson of the lots drawn on Yom Kippur differently, saying that they are a mitigating factor in our judgment, in the sense that often the path we take in life is based on a chance decision, and therefore we are not totally to blame for what happens. In either case, the point of the drawing of lots on Yom Kippur is to focus on that one decision in life that has unanticipated repercussions. 0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
The idea of lots on Purim is different from that on Yom Kippur. On Purim, the lots are symbolic of everything that happened in the course of the events presented in Megillas Esther. Each of the events , when seen n its own, seems too have been a natural occurrence, and it is only when taken together as a whole that we see the divine providence that was involved throughout. That is why we do not see God's name written in an explicit way in the megillah, although, as Chazal have taught us, it does appear 'in disguise,' for example, as the word "melech" - king- when it is written by itself, not followed by "Achashveiros." Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, in his commentary to Megillas Esther , Yoseif Lekach, writes that it is for this reason that we must hear every word of the megillah in order to fulfill our obligation of mikra megillah, becuse it is the combination of all the events that led to our salvation, and we need to understand that divine providence was there behind the scenes throughout the entire scenario. uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
Perhaps, then, the connection between Yom Kippur, the day which is 'like a pur, a lot,' and Purim is that Yom Kippur focuses our attention on that one choice in our lives that determined which path we would take, and prepares us for understanding how it is that what followed came as a result. Purim, on the other hand, focuses our attention on the details of the path we have taken, and calls on us to understand how divine providence takes that decision and guides all the details of our lives, whether individually or on a collective basis, and, with that understanding, determine how we should order our lives and our actions on a daily basis. May we all, in the spirit of Purim, reach an understanding of God's role in our daily lives, and as a result, deepen our connection with Him on a constant basis.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Hashem said to Moshe, "Come to Par'oh,
for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn
so that I shall place these signs of mine in his midst.
And so that you may relate in the ears of your son
and your son's son that I have amused myself with Egypt,
and my signs that I placed among them -
that you may know that I am Hashem.
Shmot 10:1-2 (Opening lines of Parshat Bo.)
These lines are the introduction to Arbeh, the plague of locusts. This is the last plague that hit the landscape of Egypt. After this calamity Paroh's question, "Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?” was definitively answered. In the aftermath of this devastation the locusts retreated on their own volition, because there wasn't anything left for them to ravage. Paroh, left with nothing and unable to feign strength confesses, "I have sinned to Hashem."
Rav Simcha Zissel Broide noted that the point of the decimation was not merely to get Par'oh to acquiesce and release the Jews. The goal was to show Paroh who G-d is. Right before Arbeh Hashem states that part of the agenda is to pass on to future generations the story of what G-d did to Egypt, so that they will know who He is.
Rav Yaakov Weinberg takes the reference to ears as a metaphor for speech that is heard only superficially by ears but does not reach the heart. In other words, we should tell young children about these miracles despite the fact that they can't really comprehend. This is why we teach kids the fundamental statements "Torah tziva lanu Moshe…" and "Shma Yisrael". Words that enter ears but not hearts still make an impression. And there remains the possibility that greater understanding will follow at a later time.
This relates to the Kotzker Rebbe's comment on a line that we recite daily in Shma. Words of Torah are described as placed upon our hearts. The Kotzker Rebbe explained that words aren't always taken inside a person's heart. Once stated, words rest atop the heart and when the heart opens they will be there to go in. This is why children were taken to the Beit HaMikdash for the Torah reading of Hakhel. This also explains why a day school education is so important even if it seems ineffective.
This approach may help with my childhood friend Scott's haunting lament that Yeshiva taught him Gemora and Chumash and Tefila but not love of Torah. Perhaps the answer is that the best anyone can do for anyone else is put words in ears or on hearts. The absorption of the truth and goodness of Torah is a private process and a personal responsibility.
Rav Yaakov noticed that the pasuk ends by stating that the result of teaching our children is that we, not they, will know what we taught. As Rav Yisrael Salanter said, "It's worth speaking the truth even if only one person gets the message, and even if that one person is the speaker."