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Showing posts from January, 2020

The Message that Paroh Missed - Parashat Vaera 5780, January 24, 2020

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, 2020

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…