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Shabbat HaGadol - Parashat Tzav 5778, March 23, 2018

This Shabbat, the Shabbat immediately preceding Pesach, is customarily given a special name, “Shabbat HaGadol” – the Great Shabbat. Indeed, on this Shabbat HaGadol, we read a special Haftarah ending with the verse, “Behold! I send you Eliyahu HaNavi, before the great (gadol) and awesome day of Hashem.”

The Midrash offers another rationale which may explain this unique appellation given to this Shabbat before Pesach. A great miracle, explains the Midrash, occurred on that Shabbat before Pesach. It was the “Shabbat of a Great Miracle.” Like our Pesach, the exodus from Egypt occurred on the 15th of Nissan. The exodus occurred on a Thursday. Thus, the Shabbat prior to the exodus from Egypt occurred on the 10th of Nissan. The Jewish People had a unique obligation on that 10th of Nissan – the year of the exodus. Each family was commanded to take the lamb that they would be slaughtering for the korban pesach and to tie it to their bedpost in anticipation of that upcoming momentous night. Begi…
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Righteous Righteousness - Parashat Vayakhel-Pekude 5778, March 16, 2018

This week’s double parasha, Vayakhel-Pekude, presents the building of the mishkan – the portable Tabernacle.

Through their donations, the Jewish People provided the material and labor needed for the construction of the mishkan. Indeed, the people’s generosity led Moshe to end the call for donations.

The Torah writes:

All the wise people came – those completing all the sacred work, each of them from his work that they were doing – and they said to Moshe, saying, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for the labor of the work that Hashem has commanded to perform.’ Moshe commanded that they proclaim throughout the camp, saying, ‘Man and woman shall not do more work toward the gift for the Sanctuary!’ And the people were restrained from giving.

On the surface, this final verse is difficult to understand – why were the people restrained from giving to this holy cause of building the mishkan? Even if enough supplies had been given, certainly there existed a need for operational funding! Why…

Shoshanat Ya'akov: Seeing Mordechai through Rose-Colored Glasses

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Shoshanat Ya’akov
Seeing Mordechai through Rose-Colored Glasses
Shoshanat Ya’akov / Tzahala Ve’Samecha / Bir’otam Yachad / Techelet Mordechai.
The rose of Jacob / was cheerful and glad / 
when they jointly saw / Mordechai robed in royal blue.
A Jewish liturgical poet (paytan), of unknown identity and time, wrote this line towards the end of his piyyut, Asher Heini.[1] Despite its shroud of anonymity, Asher Heini is recited in Ashkenazic communities on Purim night immediately following the after-blessing on the Megillah-reading.[2] Shoshanat Ya’akov is recited again after the daytime reading.[3] What critically important message does Shoshanat Ya’akov convey that demands such prominent placement in the Megillah-reading service?
Piyyutim reinforce and elucidate lessons from Tanach and other authentic Jewish sources. The best piyyutim succinctly recast these foundational ideas by borrowing phrases, language and motifs from our sacred writings and adeptl…

Partial and Complete Salvation - Parashat Tetzaveh-Zachor 5778 - February 23, 2018

This coming week we will celebrate the holiday of Purim, be’ezrat Hashem, and we will read Megilat Esther.

Early in the Megilah, Jewish ascendancy is quickly replaced by Jewish peril. Esther becomes queen and Mordechai reveals an assassination plot to the king. Suddenly, Haman is promoted and the king issues a decree of death for the Jews. Mordechai reacted publicly to this decree; “Mordechai learned of all that had been done; and Mordechai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth with ashes. He went out into the midst of the city and cried loudly and bitterly. He came until the front of the king’s gate for it was forbidden to enter the king’s gate, clothed with sackcloth.” (Esther 4: 1-2) This location served as Mordechai’s post to pray and fast on behalf of the Jewish People for most of the rest of the Megilah story.

In another moment of ascendancy, the king ordered Haman to publicly parade his arch nemesis, Mordechai, around the capital city in royal clothing on a royal horse. The tide…

Integrity - Parashat Terumah 5778, February 16, 2018

This week’s parasha, Parashat Terumah, presents the plans for the building of the mishkan – the Tabernacle – and its vessels.

The first vessel described in the parasha is the aron – the ark. Once the mishkan was completed, the aron held the sh’ne luchot habrit – the two tablets of the covenant – and was placed in the kodesh hakodashim – the holy of holies. The Torah (Exodus 25:10) writes, “And make an ark of sheetim wood; two-and-a-half cubits in length and half a cubit in width and one-and-a-half cubits in height. And you will cover it in pure gold – you will cover it inside and outside; and you will make on it a gold crown around.” In these verses, the Torah describes four qualities of the ark – its material (sheetim wood), its dimensions (2.5 x 0.5 x 1.5 cubits), the requirement to cover it in gold on the inside and outside and its gold crown.

Many of our chachamim offer remazim – lessons hinted to by the verses – derived from the Torah’s descriptions of the vessels of the Taberna…

Compassion in the Real World and the Virtual World - Parashat Mishpatim 5778, February 9, 2018

This week’s parasha, Parashat Mishpatim, contains many, many mitzvot – 53, according to the count of the Sefer HaChinuch. The topics covered by these mitzvot include the proper treatment of slaves, the judicial system, the holidays and the prohibition on idolatry.

One mitzvah taught in the parasha is the commandment to help unload an animal of burden. The Torah writes, “If you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? – you will help repeatedly with him.” Although the message of the verse is clear – that you are obligated to help unload the burden of an animal – the Torah includes a seemingly extraneous fact — the donkey is owned by someone who you hate.

Our sages discuss (Masechet Pesachim 113b) how the Torah can endorse the hatred of one Jew to another. In fact, the Torah explicitly forbids such hatred when it writes, “Do not hate your brother in your heart”. How can these two verses by reconciled? Our Sages explain that such h…

A Problem with Miracles - Parashat Yitro 5778, February 2, 2018

The first half of Sefer Shemot – the parshiyot that we have been reading in recent weeks – is filled with descriptions of Hashem’s miracles. A bush that does not burn. Ten plagues. A split sea separated by land dry enough to withstand an escaping nation. The munn. Water from a rock. Hashem’s revelation at Har Sinai. These miracles proclaimed Hashem’s existence and His providence to those who witnessed them and to all future generations. These miracles helped transform the Jewish People from a nation of slaves to an am segula – Hashem’s chosen people.

Students often express the following sentiment: Belief in Hashem is so difficult because we cannot experience Hashem directly through our five senses and because His providence is masked - all that happens in this world appears to be the machinations of the laws of nature. It would be so much easier to believe in Hashem if He would perform miracles in our days, as in those! Let us consider this question: why does Hashem not perform open m…