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Showing posts from August, 2016

Rejoicing in Hashem - Parashat Va'etchanan 5776 - August 19, 2016

It has been an unbelievable week at MHA! 

Students returned to school to meet their new teachers. Students in the Lower School were welcomed into redesigned classrooms that are set up to maximize the student learning experience. We had a special Middle School program on the first day to “break the ice” and to help initiate students into their new routines and we introduced our new d’var Torah Workshop in the Middle School. We had special programs in the CYHSB and GMSG to welcome the students back to school.

One of the most exciting aspects of the week has been the opening of our new gymnasium and kitchen. Besides the obvious aesthetic improvements, the renovation has transformed these spaces – the gym and the kitchen – into far more functional and safe places for our children. It is reassuring to know that the food is being prepared in a kitchen free of leaks and broken hardware and with proper refrigeration and storage space. I am so pleased that our students will have a far bet…

Remarks at the MHA Annual Meeting - August 2016

The following is Rabbi Owen’s speech from the MHA Annual Meeting.

This week’s parasha recounts the incident of Zimri – a leader of the tribe of Shimon – and Cosbi – the daughter of a Midianite prince. Pinchas sees Zimri and Cosbi in flagrante delicto – in an immoral act in public – and executes them both on the spot. For his zealotry in defense of the integrity of the Torah community, Hashem rewards Pinchas with a covenant of peace and the Priesthood.

The Torah then outlines a mitzvah that only relates to the nation of Midian - be hostile to the Midianites and strike them. Normally, the Torah demands b'nei Yisrael to offer peace to an enemy that you are about to go to war with. Midian – no. The Torah commands us here to be hostile to the Midianim. Normally, when besieging an enemy, we are commanded to allow an escape path. Regarding Midian – no - besiege them on all four sides and strike all of them.

Why Midian? What did they do to deserve this hostile treatment?

Malbim explain…

Excerpt from Annual Banquet Dinner Speech, June 2016

An excerpt from Rabbi Owen’s remarks at last Sunday night’s Annual Banquet Dinner.

One of the most unique and special qualities of our community and school is our strong connection to Eretz Yisrael. Many Memphis expats live in Eretz Yisrael. Annually, 90% of our graduates study in Israel. At MHA, the month of Iyyar is dedicated to programming about Israel. Many of our students study Torah in Ivrit – particularly in the early grades. We further teach Ivrit as a language. We host a Kollel MiTzion in our beit midrash and annually host two young women from the Bat Ami program. These are just some examples of how consciousness about eretz yisrael and about am yisrael is woven into the fabric of our school.

Time is precious – particularly in education. For each lesson that we include in our curriculum, another is left out. Why do we dedicate such an investment of resources to connecting our students to Israel?

Our parasha – Parashat Bechukotai – outlines the berachot and kelalot –…

Two Messages of the Shemita Year - Parashat Behar 5776 - May 27, 2016

Parashat Behar introduces the institution of shemita – the seventh year of a seven year cycle.

Shemita touches two areas of life:
Shemitat karka – agriculture Shemitat kesafim – loans From an agricultural perspective, shemita demands that we allow our land to remain fallow. No planting, no commercial harvesting, no tilling the soil. Anyone is permitted to harvest for personal use from any other’s field. These laws apply only to the land of Israel and are in force even today. From a monetary perspective, shemita demands that we cancel loans. These laws apply today even outside of the land of Israel.

What messages should one take away from experiencing a shemita? What enduring understandings does the Torah teach through the laws of shemita?

The most obvious understanding that shemita conveys derives from its comparison to Shabbat. In fact, the Torah calls shemita a Shabbat for the land. Shabbat occurs every seventh day – shemita occurs every seventh year. Shabbat is a weekly remind…

An Eye for an Eye - Parashat Emor 5776 - May 20, 2016

This week’s parasha, Emor, presents the well-known and oft-quoted dictum, ayin tachat ayin, an eye in place of an eye. Taken in isolation, the literal meaning of this phrase is clear – the punishment for poking out another’s eye is the loss of the perpetrator’s eye. We all know, however, that our mesorah teaches that the punishment for poking out another’s eye is monetary payment for the loss. The Rambam writes that in the history of the Jewish People there has never been an authorized Jewish court that has poked out a perpetrator’s eye for damaging another’s eye.

While our interpretation of ayin tachat ayin is unequivocal, our chachamim struggle with the question of why the Torah writes “an eye in place of an eye” if, in fact, it intended monetary payment. One suggestion offered in the gemara in Masechet Bava Kamma is that, when interpreted literally, an “eye for an eye” would lead to inequity in punishments – perpetrators with two healthy eyes will lose an eye but blind people wi…

Observing and Doing - Parashat Kedoshim 5776 - May 13, 2016

This week’s parasha, Kedoshim, presents many mitzvot (both positive and negative) dealing with a number of subjects, including justice, exclusive belief in Hashem and the prohibition of immorality.

After detailing a number of mitzvot, the Torah concludes, “and you will observe (shmira) all of My statutes (chukim) and all of My ordinances (mishpatim) and you will do (asiah) them; I am Hashem.” The Italian commentator, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, is perplexed by the difference between observing and doing – shmira and asiah. Observing and doing seem to be very similar! Furthermore, this verse seems to be out of step with the well-known pronouncement of b'nei yisrael at Mount Sinai – na’aseh ve’nishma – we will do and we will listen. The commitment to “doing” precedes “listening”. Is “doing” the cause of “listening” and “observing” or the effect?

When we consider this pronouncement more closely, we understand that “listening” cannot refer to learning about the mitzvot – how could b'nei y…

Covering the Blood of a Slaughtered Animal Teaches Compassion - Parashat Achare Mot - May 6, 2016

This past Tuesday, we initiated the Memphis Jewish Community Beis Midrash program held at the Cooper Yeshiva High School. The hour-long program (8:30 to 9:30) for men – which concluded with Ma’ariv at 9:30 – was attended by community rabbis, members and students. Four people deserve particular acknowledgement for their contribution – Rabbi Joel Finkelstein, Rabbi Yedidya Shifrowich, David Katz and David Schlesinger – each of whom led a chabura (learning group). Our next program will be held on Tuesday, May 10 at 8:30 pm. The message below was inspired by the learning David Katz, Yoni Freiden and I did at last Tuesday’s program.

In this week’s parasha, Achare Mot, the Torah says, “And any man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that takes in hunting any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he will pour out the blood of it, and cover it with dust.” These pesukim present the mitzvah of kisui hadam - covering the blood of chayyot/wild animals (such as deer)…

The First Step is Admission-Part II - Parashat Metzorah 5776 - April 15, 2016

In last week’s article, we discussed tzara’at – the Divine Punishment of an “eruption” – a nega – on the home, clothing and/or skin. Tzara'at is not a naturally occurring disease in the sense that its cause is not exposure to disease nor is it communicable. Rather, tzara'at is a Divine Punishment brought on by sin. Rashi explains that this punishment is prominently associated with two sins - lashon hara – sins of speech – and gasot haruach – arrogance. Sins like lashon hara and gasot haruach are members of a unique class of sins - sins that stem from a character flaw in the person.

In this week’s parasha, Rashi teaches a foundational principle about tzara'at: the process of atonement for the one who has tzara’at – the metzora – is designed to enlighten him or her as to how to improve him or herself. When the metzora identifies what seems to be tzara’at, he or she approaches the kohen for a determination. Using Rashi’s understanding that tzara’at and the process of dealing …

Objective and Subjective Outlooks - Parashat Tazria 5776 - April 8, 2016

This and next week’s parshiyot are called torat hanegaim – the laws related to tzara’at – the Divine Punishment of an “eruption” – a nega – on the home, clothing and/or skin. Tzara'at is not a naturally occurring disease in the sense that its cause is not exposure to disease nor is it communicable. Rather, tzara'at is a Divine Punishment brought on by sin. Rashi explains that this punishment is prominently associated with two sins - lashon hara – sins of speech – and gasot haruach – arrogance.

Some averot – like not eating kosher food or having illicit relationships – typically stem from physical desire. Others – such as not believing in the existence of G-d – can stem from a philosophical mistake. But averot like lashon hara and gasot haruach are members of a unique class of sins. These are sins that stem from a character flaw – a problem in the person’s personality.

In next week’s parasha, Rashi teaches a foundational principle about tzara'at: the process of atonement for…

Hashem Cannot be Bribed - Parashat Shemini 5776 - April 1, 2016

In this week’s parasha, Shemini, the Torah describes the eighth and concluding day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle – the mishkan. On this eighth day, after the appropriate sacrifices of the day, Aharon HaKohen blessed the people with the birkat kohanim – the priestly blessing.

Birkat kohanim is a tri-partite blessing, consisting of a material blessing, a spiritual blessing and a blessing for peace. Although the prevalent custom is to restrict birkat kohanim to holidays, there is a positive commandment for kohanim to bless the Jewish People daily.

The fact that the Kohen is the one who pronounces the blessing should not confuse us as to Whom our prayers are directed and from Whom our blessing comes. If you are not a kohen and because the halacha prohibits us to watch the kohanim perform birkat kohanim, you may not know that there is a choreography that accompanies the enunciation of the blessing . As in the time of the beit hamikdash, the kohanim recite the birkat kohanim with th…

Exclusive Service of Hashem - Parashat Tzav 5776- March 25, 2016

Our parasha, Parashat Tzav, continues from the description in last week’s parasha of the various offerings that were offered in the Tabernacle and in the Beit HaMikdash – the Temple in Yerushalayim.

One unique phrase is repeated time and again – le’Hashem – to Hashem: a memorial offering to Hashem, that they will offer to Hashem, a pleasant odor to Hashem, to name a few.

“To Hashem” is an ambiguous phrase. What does it mean? What does it add? Does “to Hashem” convey the possessive case – as in G-d’s memorial offering? Alternatively, does “to Hashem” indicate the intended recipient – a memorial offering to G-d? Perhaps, “to Hashem” means something else. What is the meaning of the phrase “to Hashem”'?

One example of a similar usage of the phrase, “to Hashem” is from the Passover offering that was celebrated in Egypt and is mentioned in the Seder. In parashat Bo, the Torah says, “And thus you will eat it (the Pascal sacrifice): with your loins girded, your shoes on your fee…