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Showing posts from October, 2016

Teaching our Children to Forge a Relationship with Hashem - Parashat Beresheit 5777- October 28, 2016

At the end of this week’s parasha, Beresheit, 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 next week’s parasha, Noach, 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 childr…

A King Must Remain Humble - Parashat VaYelech 5777 - October 7, 2016

In this week’s parasha, VaYelech, Moshe gives words of encouragement to his disciple, Yehoshua, the next leader of the Jewish People. “And Moshe called to Yehoshua and he said to him before the eyes of all of Israel be strong and courageous…” (Devarim 31:7)

There is some ambiguity in the translation above. Is the Torah telling us that Moshe spoke these words of encouragement to Yehoshua in front of the Jewish People (“before their eyes”) or did Moshe privately tell Yehoshua to be strong and courageous before the Jewish People.

A king (or Jewish leaders, like Yehoshua) must straddle the line between arrogance and public displays of confidence while remaining humble internally. For these leaders, the lure of egotism is so great that there are special mitzvot for kings to dissuade kings from becoming haughty (le’vilti room levavo). On the other hand, kings must project honor and dignity. The Talmud, in Masechet Makkot, cites King Yehoshafat as a paragon of humility. When he would see a Tor…

The Meaning of the Shofar - Parashat Netzavim 5776 - September 30, 2016

In allusion to George Orwell: all of the passages in the Rambam’s magnum opus – the Mishne Torah – are meaningful; but some are more meaningful than others.

One such passage in The Laws of Repentance (3:4) fits this description. Maimonides writes:

Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if [the call of the shofar] is saying: Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time and throughout the entire year, devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save: Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts. Accordingly, throughout the entire year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he performs one sin, he tips his ba…

Responding to Disaster in Baton Rouge - Parashat Ki Tavo 5776 - September 23, 2016

This has been a unique week for the students of the Feinstone Yeshiva of the South!

In a normal week, two presentations – one by Rabbi Dovid Lieberman on the topic of Free Will and another by Ambassador Yoram Ettinger on the topic of supporting the State of Israel – would have been momentous. But this was no ordinary week.

Our students – Cooper Yeshiva on Sunday/Monday and Goldie Margolin on Wednesday/Thursday – partnered with Nechama-Jewish Response to Disaster in providing disaster relief to three families who suffered catastrophic loss during last month’s floods in Baton Rouge, LA. Our students hauled damaged personal effects to the curb. They removed damaged drywall, flooring, paneling and appliances. They removed many, many nails. Our students worked very hard.

As a chaperone for each of these two trips (CYHSB and GMSG), I saw the students witnessing destruction first-hand. The scenes were sobering. We saw block after block of homes devoid of life – families gone and the guts of the…

Burying the Body of the Hanged Criminal - Parashat Ki Tetze 5776 - September 16, 2016

In this week’s parasha, Ki Tetze, the Torah introduces a number of mitzvot that are being taught for the first time and recounts other mitzvot that had been presented in previous parashiyot.

One of these mitzvot relates to the general requirement to bury a dead body in a timely manner. It is well known that the body of each departed soul requires immediate burial. In our parasha, the Torah extends this requirement even to criminals who are hanged.

The Torah writes, “If a man commits a sin for which he is sentenced to death, and he is put to death, you shall hang him on a pole. But you shall not leave his body on the pole overnight. Rather, you shall bury him on that day, for a hanging [human corpse] is a degradation of God, and you shall not defile your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you as an inheritance.” (Devarim 21:22-23)

At first glance, one would assume that it would be appropriate to disgrace the body of this criminal. Leaving the body overnight would serve as a…

Hashem's Kindness is an Undeserved Gift - Parashat Shoftim 5776 - September 9, 2016

We are now in chodesh Elul – a month dedicated to preparation for the coming yamim noraim – Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

Sephardic communities have the custom to begin saying selichot – prayers of penitence – at the beginning of the month of Elul, and Ashkenazic communities begin saying selichot closer to Rosh HaShana. One of the hallmarks of the selichot prayers is the recitation of the shelosh esre middot, Hashem’s thirteen traits of mercy. Hashem taught these traits to Moshe in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf and instructed him to recite them when praying to Hashem for mercy. The Torah describes these traits in a verse in parashat Ki Tissa in Sefer Shemot:

“Hashem, Hashem. Merciful and gracious G-d, long-suffering and abundant in loving-kindness and truth. Keeping kindness to the thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin. And wipe away, He will not wipe away, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children until the third generation and until the fourth g…

Adding and Subtracting - Parashat Re-eh 5776 - September 2, 2016

Torat Hashem Temimah Meshivat Nafesh – G-d’s Torah is perfect; restoring the soul.

Besides being one of my favorite songs to sing on Simchat Torah, this verse from Tehilim describes the Torah as being perfect. This week’s parasha explains one aspect of the perfection of the Torah.

Parashat Re’eh continues the explication of Moshe Rabbenu’s tochacha – his rebuke of the Jewish People. In this rebuke, Moshe discusses the mitzvot of bal tosif and bal tigra – to not add or subtract from the mitzvot of the Torah. Our sages teach us that the Torah is comprised of taryag – there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah. These two mitzvot teach that the Jewish People are not permitted to add a 614th commandment or to remove one of the 613 commandments from taryag.

The Seforno gives some context to each of these commandments. Concerning the prohibition of adding to the Torah, he explains that this mitzvah is designed to prevent a person adding something which is detestable to Hashem, even something tha…

If and When - Parashat Ekev 5776 - August 26, 2016

This week’s parasha, Ekev, presents the continuation of Moshe Rabbenu’s exhortation to the Jewish People – a Jewish People on the cusp of inheriting the Land of Israel and on the verge of losing their leader, Moshe. Moshe Rabbenu says to the people, “If /when (כי) you will say in your hearts: these nations are great, how can I dispossess them? Do not be afraid of them! You will surely remember that which Hashem did to Pharoah and all of Egypt.” (Devarim 7:17-18)

The great commentator, Rabbenu Ovadiah Seforno, addresses himself to the Torah’s use of the word ki. Our Rabbis teach us that ki has four possible meanings – two of which are "if" and "when". Which translation is appropriate in this context?

Seforno suggests that the correct meaning here is “when”. He expounds: when you say, “How can I dispossess them since they are more numerous than I am,” do not say so because you fear them, but because you recognize that this would, indeed, be impossible were it…