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Derech Eretz - Parashat Yitro 5780 - February 14, 2019

This week’s parasha, Parashat Yitro, presents the reuniting of Moshe Rabbenu and his father-in-law, Yitro – the namesake of our parasha.

The Torah records that at the beginning of their encounter, Yitro says to Moshe, “I am your father-in-law, Yitro, who is coming to you and your wife and your two sons with her.” Rabbenu Ovadia Seforno, and a number of our commentators, are troubled by the inclusion of this statement. What does it add?

To answer this question, Seforno makes recourse to a teaching of our Chachamim in Masechet Pesachim 112a – do not enter your home suddenly, all the more so, the house of your friend. Using this dictum, Seforno explains that Yitro was attempting to give Moshe advance warning so that Moshe could have adequate time to make appropriate preparations for Yitro’s lodging. Yitro was concerned about Moshe’s interests and concerns – his announcement is a testament to his high ethical standing.
A more expanded version of this Rabbinic dictum is recorded in the fift…
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Praising Hashem - Parashat Beshalach 5780, February 7, 2019

This week’s parasha, Parashat Beshalach, presents the splitting of the Red Sea. The Torah describes the miracle of the salvation of b’nei yisrael who witnessed their oppressors, the Egyptians, drowning while they remained safe on the far shore. In response to this miracle, Moshe led the Jewish People in shirat hayam – the Song of the Sea – a song of praise of Hashem for His miraculously saving b’nei yisrael.

In Masechet Megilah 10b, the gemara cites a well-known midrash – “As the Egyptians started to drown in the Red Sea, the heavenly hosts began to sing praises, but G-d silenced the angels, saying, ‘The works of my hands are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing praises!’”

Upon examination, this gemara is difficult to understand. If it was improper for the angels to sing praises in the face of the death G-d’s creation (the Egyptians), why were Moshe and b’nei yisrael not subject to criticism for singing praises in the face of their destruction? To answer this question, let us con…

Happiness From Service - Parashat Bo 5780, January 31, 2019

Our parasha, Parashat Bo, is the third in a set of four parshiyot dealing with the experience of b’nei yisrael in Mitzrayim.

Moshe and Aharon approach Paroh and declare that if he refuses to let the Jewish people go, the plague of locusts will be unleashed upon Egypt. Moshe elaborates and explains that all of Egypt will be consumed. Moshe and Aharon leave Paroh. Paroh’s servants complain to Paroh. “How long will you allow Moshe to be a trap for us? Let the men go so that they should serve their G-d. Do you not know that Egypt has been destroyed?”

The Torah continues the narrative. “And Moshe and Aharon were returned to Paroh. Paroh says to them, ‘Go serve the Lord your God. Who and who goes?'
Moshe responds, ‘We will go with our young and with our old, we will go with our sons and with our daughters with our flocks and with our herds; because it is a festival unto G-d for us.’”

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, known by the name of his commentary on Torah, Kli Yakar, deve…

The Message that Paroh Missed - Parashat Vaera 5780, January 24, 2019

In this week’s parasha, Va’Era, Hashem prophetically tells Moshe that He will strike the Egyptians with plagues. In that context, He tells Moshe that He will harden Paroh’s heart and increase His signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Then, then the Jews would be redeemed from Egypt.
It is difficult to understand why Hashem hardened Paroh’s heart only to then increase the plagues. What purpose did it serve?
Rabbenu Ovadiah Seforno answers this question and explains that one of the aims of the plagues was to demonstrate Hashem’s greatness. Through this demonstration, the Egyptians and Paroh would ideally recognize Hashem and repent from their idolatrous and cruel ways. However, Paroh stubbornly refused to repent – even through the early plagues. Hashem hardened Paroh’s heart and numbed him to the pain of the plagues. In other words, Hashem did not allow the pain of the plagues to be the cause of Paroh releasing the Jews from Egypt. If Paroh released the Jews, Hashem wanted it to be be…

Intelligence is a Foundation of Prophecy - Parashat Shemos 5780, January 17, 2019

This week, we read the first parasha of Sefer Shemot. The parasha describes the increasingly difficult circumstances that b’nei yisrael were suffering under the rule of Paroh in Egypt. The parasha also introduces us to Moshe and describes his development into the leader of the Jewish People.

In his first prophetic experience, Moshe is shown an angel of Hashem within a burning bush. Moshe saw that the bush was burning but not being consumed. Moshe then says, “I will now turn and I will see this great vision – why is the bush not burning?” The Torah conveys that Hashem saw that Moshe had turned to see (the vision) and He called to Moshe from the midst of the bush, “Moshe, Moshe” to which Moshe responded, “I am here.” After this exchange, Hashem reveals to Moshe the content of the prophecy – that Hashem would redeem the Jewish People from Egypt through the agency of Moshe.

Looking more carefully at the details of this – Moshe’s first prophetic experience – we notice a seemingly innocuous…

Halacha and Meritocracy - Parashat Vayechi 5780 - January 10, 2020

This week’s parasha, VaYechi, describes the blessings that Ya’akov conveyed to his children at the end of his life.

The first blessing was to Ya’akov’s eldest son, Reuven. The blessing begins, “Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like in impetuosity – you cannot be foremost…” Based on this verse, the Midrash concludes that, at the outset, Reuven and his descendants had been given the rights to three positions of leadership – Firstborn, Priesthood (kehuna) and Kingship. All were lost when Reuven sinned by acting impetuously. As a result, these rights were each transferred to more appropriate recipients within Ya’akov’s family- the Firstborn to Yosef, the Priesthood to Levi and the Kingship to Yehuda.

From the perspective of this Midrash, rights and privileges are determined by merit. Originally, Hashem had intended Reuven - Ya’akov’s first-born – to be associated with all of the rights of leadership - the first-b…

Chanukah - Inward and Outward - Parashat Vayeishev 5780 - December 20, 2019

On Wednesday of this past week, our Middle School Girls led a program called Light of Torah, in which each student presented their research on a righteous life of a figure in Tanach. Each of the students spoke either by video or in person. Dozens of parents, grandparents and friends came to learn from our students. Thank you to Morah Anat Kampf, Morah Tzippy Hollander and Morah Sara Wende for their work in leading this program.
To open the program, I connected the students’ work with the upcoming holiday of Chanukah.
Each Jewish holiday prompts us to reflect on themes and values that are central to our religion. One of the central themes of Chanukah is the primacy of protecting and defending our values and our Jewish way of life. The Maccabees’ bravery in the face of the Syrian enemy, the re-establishment of the Jewish monarchy and the removal of anti-Jewish laws are examples of themes which highlight national victories. In examining these themes more carefully, they represent parochial…