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Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow - Rabbi Owen's Operational Dinner Remarks - Monday, September 17, 2018

You may have noticed that we have two new huge street-side banners on White Station Road. One of them says, “Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow”. What do we mean by this? How does learning prepare for leading? The distinctiveness and difference of the Jewish People is a theme that appears regularly and intensely throughout the Yom Kippur prayers. On Yom Kippur afternoon, we read the section of the Torah dealing with immorality. The Torah says, “Do not act in the ways of the land of Egypt in which you lived; and do not act in the ways of the land of Cana’an to which I, Hashem, am taking you – and do not follow their customs. Follow My laws and guard My customs to walk in these ways – I am Hashem your G-d.” The Torah is teaching that Egypt and Cana’an represent spiritually harmful elements of each culture in which the Jewish People will find themselves over the centuries and instructs us to separate from the temptation to assimilate these ideas. The Jewish People dwell alone. Hashem command…
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Reenacting Sinai - Parashat VaYelech 5779 - September 14, 2018

This week’s parasha, Parashat VaYelech, presents the final mitzvah of taryag – the 613 commandments. The Torah teaches, “and now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel…” Based on this verse, our chachamim teach that each of us is obligated to write a sefer Torah – a sefer Torah that contains “this song”.
The Sefer HaChinuch explains that writing a Torah provides the means for a person to learn Torah without having to rely on a friend’s Torah or the Torah of the community. Writing one’s own Torah promotes Torah study.
In discussing the importance of this mitzvah, our Rabbis provide an additional explanation regarding this commandment. They teach that one who personally writes a sefer Torah is as if he received it from Mount Sinai.
Metaphors are a teaching tool and our rabbis employ them to teach ideas. What additional message about the commandment to write a Torah are our Rabbis teaching?
Torah comes in two forms – the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. Th…

The Shofar is an Instrument of Prayer - Parashat Nitzavim 5778 - September 7, 2018

Rabba states, just like you blow the shofar on Rosh HaShana, so too you say verses of Kingship, Remembrance and Shofarot. G-d says, “Say before Me verses of Kingship so that you will make me King over you. Say before Me verses of Remembrance so that the reminiscences that come before me will be remembered for your good. Say before Me verses of Shofarot so that you will pay attention and look forward to the Judgment Day and the Messianic Times. And with what? With a Shofar. (T. Rosh HaShana 34b)
We will blow the shofar during the Rosh HaShana musaf after each of the three middle blessings. The shofar is an instrument. At first glance, the blowing of the shofar would seem to represent an interruption in the musaf. By what justification do we interrupt the Amidah and blow the shofar in the musaf?
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch addresses this issue. He explains that during the travels of the Jewish People in the desert, the shofar was blown on two occasions other than Rosh HaShana. Moshe would…

When "Thank You" is Too Difficult - Parashat Ki Tavo 5778, August 31, 2018

This week’s parasha, Parashat Ki Tavo, opens with a presentation of the mitzvah of the bikkurim. Bikkurim are a farmer’s first fruits which the Torah commands us to offer in service of Hashem. The Torah commands that the offering of the bikkurim must be accompanied by a declaration called mikra bikkurim.
“And you will call out and say before the Lord, your G-d, ‘An Aramean (sought to) destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. And the Egyptians demonized and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we cried out to the Lord, G-d of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’”
This identica…

Building Appropriate Fences - Parashat Ki Seitzei 5778, August 24, 2018

Among the many mitzvot described in this week’s parasha, Parashat Ki Tetze, is the law of the ma’ake – a fence.
“When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood to be spilled in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it.” In this verse, the Torah commands us to build a fence around any exposed high area, such as a flat roof or deck, that is commonly used by human beings. Viewing this law as a positive commandment, the Rambam teaches that one must make a blessing when constructing a ma’ake.
The law of the ma’ake is one of many Torah laws that teach us to protect human life. Positive commandments such as ve’nishmartem me’od et nafshotechem (and you shall greatly guard your physical life) and ve’rapo yerape (and you shall surely heal) reveal the Torah’s appreciation of man’s vulnerability and the lengths that we must go to foster human safety.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik extends this concept of building a fence in order…

Carrying a Personal Torah - Parashat Shoftim 5778, August 14, 2018

Welcome back to school, MHA-FYOS Community! Baruch She’hechiyanu VeKiyemanu VeHigiyanu Ba’zeman Ha’ze.
After a full week of teacher in-service training, we began classes this past Wednesday. There is so much enthusiasm in the building as we welcomed our returning students, as well as 35 new students. We anticipate an outstanding year!
One of the many topics presented in this week’s parasha, Parashat Shoftim, is the law of the Jewish king. The Torah presents an ambivalent view of the king. On one hand, this king is authorized by Hashem: When you come to the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, and possess it, and settle in it, and you will say, ‘I will set a king over myself, like all of the nations that are around me.’ You shall surely set over yourself a king whom Hashem, your G-d, shall choose; from among your brethren shall you set a king over yourself; you cannot place over yourself a foreign man, who is not your brother. (Devarim 17:14-15)
On the other hand, the Torah constrains t…

The Menorah - Parashat Beha’alotecha 5778, June 1, 2018

This week’s parasha, Parashat Beha’alotecha, records the transition of b’nei yisrael from ascendant nation on the cusp of entering the Land of Israel to a nation beset by self-inflicted challenges blocked in its path to inheritance of the Land and speedy redemption. This transition is marked by the well-known passage, “It came to pass, when the Ark journeyed forth, that Moshe said: Arise, O G-d, so that Your enemies may be scattered and those that hate You flee from before Your Countenance. And when it gently came to rest, he said: Return, O G-d, to the myriads of the thousands of Israel.” These passages are set off from the text by the presence of one “inverted letter nun” before and after.
In the first section of the parasha – the ascendant section – the Torah renews its description of the mitzvah of the menorah, the candelabra. The menorah was (and will be in the time of the third Temple) a central light connected to a base and accompanied, in two directions, by six branches – three…