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Blessings, Blessings, Blessings - Parashat Lech-Lecha 5780, November 8, 2019

In this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, the Torah recounts the Avram’s return from an improbable victory in a war against the four kings. On the way, he encounters MalkiTzedek, the King of Shalem.

The Torah describes the meeting: “MalkiTzedek, king of Shalem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of G-d, the Most High. He (MalkiTzedek) blessed him saying, “Blessed is Avram of G-d, the Most High, Maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be G-d, the Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

The Malbim, Rabbi Meir Leibush, asks why MalkiTzedek blessed Avram before blessing G-d. Although the Midrash, in fact, criticizes MalkiTzedek for prioritizing the blessings in this way, Malbim explains that MalkiTzedek’s decision to bless Avram before G-d is to MalkiTzedek’s credit.

To understand what justifies MalkiTzedek’s prioritization, we first need to ask another question – how can a human being bless G-d? To say that a human being is blessed is understandable – MalkiTzedek saw…
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Noach, the Parent - Parashat Noach 5780, November 1, 2019

At the end of last week’s parasha, the Torah describes the generations that descended from Adam; naming his descendants and their children. The list concludes with Noach and his three children Shem, Cham and Yefet. In the beginning of this week’s parasha, the Torah reintroduces us to Noach – a tzaddik, a perfect individual and a man who walks with Hashem. The Torah then repeats that Noach fathered three sons – Shem, Cham and Yefet. We already know that Noach has three sons! Why does the Torah find it necessary to repeat itself?

The commentator Radak addresses this question. Noach merited to be saved from the flood because he walked with Hashem. In the face of the wicked people of his generation, Noach was only involved with serving Hashem. Just as Noach walked with Hashem, he taught his children to turn away from their wicked generation and to only serve Hashem and to cleave only to Him.

Based on a verse in the book of Yechezkel, Radak explains that if Noach’s children had not served Ha…

Chibuv Mitzvot - Loving Mitzvot - Parashat Ha'Azinu 5780, October 11, 2019

In the beginning of Masechet Avodah Zara, the gemara discusses the end of days and concludes the discussion with a presentation of two totally different attitudes towards the mitzvah of sukkah:

In times to come, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will take a scroll of the Law in His embrace and proclaim, “Let him who has occupied himself with this, come and take his reward.” All of the nations will crowd together in confusion. The Holy One, Blessed be He, will then say to them, “Do not come before Me in confusion, but let each nation come in with its scribes.”

The Kingdom of Edom (or Rome) will enter first before Him. The Holy One, Blessed be He, will then say to them, “With what have you occupied yourselves?” They will reply, “O Lord of the Universe, we have established many market-places, we have erected many baths, we have accumulated much gold and silver, and all this we did only for the sake of Israel, that they might [have leisure] for occupying themselves with the study of the Torah.…

The Destiny of the Jewish People is Guided by Hashem's Providence - Parashat VaYelech 5780 - October 4, 2019

This week, we read parashat VaYelech. Parashat VaYelech records some of the final words that Moshe conveyed to the Jewish People prior to his demise. At the end of these comments, Hashem shares a prophecy with Moshe in the presence of his successor, Yehoshua.

Hashem said, “Behold, you will lie with your fathers, and this nation will rise up and stray after the gods of the foreigners of the Land, in the midst of which the nation is entering. And the nation will leave Me and annul My covenant that I have sealed with it. My anger will flare against the nation on that day and I will leave them; and I will conceal My face from them and they will become prey and many evils and distresses will encounter it. (The nation) will say on that day, ‘It is not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?’ But I will surely have concealed My face on that day because of all the evil that it did, for it had turned to gods of others.”

Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno discusses this passage…

Standing Up - Parashat Nitzavim 5779, September 27, 2019

This week’s parasha, Nitzavim, describes Moshe’s inducting b'nei Yisrael into a covenant with Hashem. Moshe Rabbenu begins, “You, all, are standing (nitzavim) here today before the Lord your God. Your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in the midst of thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water.”
In the course of developing a very interesting theory about the uniqueness of this covenant, Ohr HaChayyim asks two questions on the text of Moshe Rabbenu’s announcement. First, when describing b'nei Yisrael standing in front of Hashem, why does Moshe use the word, nitzavim, as opposed to the more common word, omdim? Second, why does Moshe enumerate each segment of the Jewish People – heads, tribes, elders, officers, etc.?
Ohr HaChayyim begins by defining the word nitzavim more precisely. He explains that the word means standing in the sense of an appointment. Americ…

Another Good Reason to Give Tzedakah - Parashat Ki Savo 5779, September 13, 2019

This week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, describes the blessings and curses that Hashem will visit upon b'nei Yisrael in response to our adherence to or disobedience of the mitzvot. One blessing that the Torah assures us of is, “Hashem will command the blessing with you in your barns, and in all that you put your hand into; and He will bless you in the land which Hashem your God is giving you.” In essence, Hashem promises that we will be blessed when we keep the Torah.
While the Torah assures us that we will be blessed, it does not tell us the mechanism through which we will receive the blessing. A fascinating article recently published in the Chicago Tribune helps shed light on one of the many ways in which Hashem blesses us for keeping one very important mitzva – tzedakah or charity. “Generosity May Be a ‘Magic Pill’ for Happiness and Longevity” describes recent studies that demonstrate a correlation between generous behavior and happiness. Studies also show that charitable behavior tends t…

The Power of Action - Parashat Ki Seitzei 5779, September 13, 2019

In this week’s parasha, Ki Tetze, the Torah outlines the mitzvah of shiluach haken – sending away the mother bird before taking its chicks or eggs from the nest. The Torah writes, “When you will happen upon a bird’s nest on the way in any tree or on the ground – with chicks or eggs – and the mother is sitting on the chicks or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the children. Surely send away the mother and the children you can take for yourself – in order that it will be good for you and (that) you will lengthen your days.”  (Devarim 22:6-7)
While the Torah does outline the reward for keeping this mitzvah, it does not provide its reason. Ramban – Nachmanides – suggests two possible objectives of this mitzvah. His first explanation is that the mitzvah promotes sensitivity. Cruelty is a harmful character trait that should be discouraged even when animals are the target. Therefore, we are prohibited from taking eggs or chicks right in front of the mother. His second explanation is th…