• Dvar for Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20)

    In this week’s Parsha, Vayakhel, we learn about Moshe gathering the Jews (on G-d’s command) to tell them about keeping Shabbat. Describing the laws of Shabbat, G-d says that ordinary work should “be done” for six days, and Shabbat should be holy, and should be used for rest. Two questions emerge: 1) Why gather the Jews for this particular law? And 2) why the strange wording of work “being done”?

    One possible answer is that work shouldn’t be done for the purpose of doing it, but rather so that it gets done. Too often people get caught up in their job or work, and fail to realize what it is they’re working for. That’s why G-d installed Shabbat, to re-focus our perspective on what our real goals are and should be. Taking it a step further, even when the work is building the Mishkan for G-d to dwell in (a holy and noble cause on its own) G-d made sure everyone heard first-hand (hence the gathering) that the main goal is not to work or build it, but the completion of the work so we can focus on its function and purpose. We too should train ourselves to take time out every Shabbat to reflect on our life’s purpose and goals, as well as how we intended to reach those goals.

  • Dvar for Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

    This week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa, includes the unfortunate sin of the Golden calf, and includes Moshe’s negotiations on the Jews’ behalf. While there are many things one can learn about the art of negotiations, what seems out of place is that after things are smoothed over and G-d is appeased, Moshe asks to see G-d’s presence (and was denied) (33:18). While there are varying explanations as to what Moshe really wanted to see (from G-d’s attributes to His essence), why would Moshe ask such a question right after G-d had gotten so angry that he threatened to destroy the world?

    One possible answer lies in the very nature of struggle and challenge. When we are faced with a challenge, whether we overcome it or succumb to it, the most valuable aspect of the challenge is the “we”. Not if, but when a couple, a family, a community, a people is faced with a challenge, they naturally become more attached to each other, and grow more cohesive. This is often the point of life’s challenges, although this is frequently overlooked. Moshe worked out a reprieve for the Jews with G-d, and as a result they became close enough that Moshe thought he had a chance to see G-d’s essence, and although he was denied his request, Moshe was granted other insight. We too can gain insight into one another, as long as we focus on each other when faced with life’s challenges.

  • Dvar for Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10)

    The Torah tells us in this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, that the hem of the priestly robe (ephod) would have bells sewn on them.  As the priest enters the sanctuary with the bells on his robe, “a voice will be heard” (Exodus 28:33-35). What is the significance of these bells and their “voices”?

    Rabbi Avi Weiss explains that among his many duties, the priest would offer atonement for his own sins.  As it would be embarrassing for others to be present during this personal process, the bells would signal that those present should leave, allowing the priest private moments with G-d. At the same time it was only fair that people know when the priest was entering so they not be taken by surprise. In fact, privacy is so important that Jewish Law tells us that one should be careful to knock before entering anywhere, even one’s own home or a child’s room (Pesachim 112a). It is these little bells of privacy and sensitivity to others that should make the Torah so private and personal to each of us.

  • Dvar for Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

    Parshat Terumah is the beginning of the building of the Mishkan, where G-d would dwell among the Jews as they traveled in the desert. To build the Mishkan materials had to be collected, and G-d commanded the Jews to collect several types. After listing the need for metals, wools, hairs, skins, and wood, the Torah tells us that they collected “oil for illumination” and “spices for the anointment oil and incense”. Why does the Torah suddenly need to tell us what the materials were to be used for, when it hadn’t discussed it thus far?

    One possible answer is that there are two differences between the characteristics of the other materials and those of the oil and spices. Firstly, while the other materials were important, they required no effort in producing, while the oil and spices had to be manufactured and maintained. Those people that didn’t have the precious stones to donate to the building of the Mishkan still had the opportunity to contribute with their efforts instead. Secondly, both the oil and the spices are of the most ‘giving’ materials used in the Mishkan; The oil was used to light the Menorah, which gives off light to everything around it, and the spices give off a beautiful smell to its surroundings. The message it clear…The most beautiful and giving things in life are those that require our active effort. Spices smell and oil illuminates because someone took the time and effort to make them. The same can be said today…Being a good person and a good Jew is beautiful and rewarding to ourselves and to others, but only because we take the time and effort to understand and cultivate it.

  • Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

    This week’s Parsha, Mishpatim, starts “and these are the laws which you shall set before them (21:1).” Rashi points out that G-d told Moshe that it’s not enough to just teach the Torah, and that Moshe should present it to the Jews like a set table from which one is ready to eat, which is done by explaining the reasons for all the Mitzvot (commandments) as well. As Rabbi Zweig asks, why is this true and what does the analogy to a set table from which one could readily eat mean?

    Rabbi Zweig answers that the Torah is presenting one of the most important underlying principles of Judaism. There are two purposes in eating: nutrition and pleasure. When G-d tells Moshe to give the Torah to the Jews as a set table, He is referring to the presentation of the Mitzvot, which is a focus not to the nutritional aspect but rather to the pleasurable aspect. G-d is telling Moshe that it isn’t enough to just perform the Mitzvot; the people are also meant to enjoy them. The laws are to be presented in such a way that we should understand them, thereby deriving pleasure from them and have a desire to repeat them.

    The lesson is that the Torah must be transformative; it isn’t enough to give charity, one must become a charitable person. A charitable person feels good and derives pleasure from helping others. It isn’t enough to keep Shabbos, one must connect to the spirit of Shabbos and take pleasure in everything it has to offer. One can only accomplish this by having an understanding of the reasons for the Mitzvot, something worth all of our efforts in improving.

  • Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

    Parshat Yitro describes Yitro hearing of the travels and trials of the Jews, Yitro being moved to convert, coming to Moshe for the conversion, and then leaving Moshe. If Yitro was so moved, why would he ever leave a situation where he’s surrounded by G-d, clouds, heavenly food, and Moshe as a teacher? And how could Moshe, as a leader, allow Yitro to just leave the camp?  After all, he was the only Jew not to have witnessed the giving of the Torah.

    Rabbi Leibowitz, in Majesty of Man, explains that Yitro was so moved by G-d, the Torah and the Jews that he felt that he had to go back to his home to try to convert his family and friends. Yitro was willing to give up being surrounded by what he obviously believed in and wanted to be around, just for the sake of others. If this was the determination of someone that had no responsibilities toward the people he was trying to help (in terms of converting them), how much more determination should we demonstrate when we actually have a responsibility to help one another!? The Parsha is named after Yitro because he was willing to change his life for Judaism. He was so proud of it that he didn’t hide his Judaism, but went out and told others how beautiful it is. If we expressed the Yitro that we undoubtedly have within us, those around us are bound to be moved.

  • Dvar for Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

    After the sea was split in our Parsha, Beshalach, the Torah says (14:31), “And they believed in G-d and His servant Moshe.” As Rav Aron Tendler wonders, what exactly did they believe in?  It can not mean that they believed in the existence of G-d and Moshe, because they saw G-d, and new that Moshe existed. If you know something, it’s fact, not belief, so what is the Passuk (verse) referring to  by using the word “believed”?

    Rav Tendler explains that following the splitting of the sea, the Jews understood far more than the obvious reality of G-d’s power and majesty.  They understood that they had been chosen to the exclusion of the rest of the Egyptians, and the rest of the world. They also understood that being chosen meant that they had a mission to accomplish. Therefore, their stated belief was not for that which they had already experienced or witnessed, but with accepting their station and  responsibilities as the world’s designated teachers. As Jews we need to ensure that all our actions reflect the dignity, honor and responsibility we were given.

  • Dvar for Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)


    Parshat Bo continues with the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, and the exodus that followed. We find one interesting event that happened when Paroh called in Moshe and Aaron to bargain with them, right after being warned of the upcoming locust plague (10:8-11). After offering to allow only the men to go, and being rejected, Paroh kicked Moshe and Aaron out of the palace. The “Riva” wonders why they waited until they were kicked out of the palace, when they could have left before it got to that point. The Riva answers that had Moshe and Aaron left before being told to leave, they would have shown a lack of respect for Paroh, thereby embarrassing him. Since it was Paroh that had originally invited them, and since he was the ruler of the land they were in, they showed him respect by not leaving until he told them to, despite their embarrassment.

    This amazing lesson in humility is even backed up by the events surrounding it. Locust, the plague directly following the story, was started by Moshe stretching his hands on the ground, symbolizing humility. We each have a common, ongoing struggle throughout our lives – our ego. If we simply stopped, thought, and realized about every time we felt cheated or angry, we’d realize that it’s our own ego that’s letting us get angry or feel cheated, and if we learned to set that ego aside, we could accomplish so much more, comparable to the accomplishments of Moshe and Aaron. Our ego will control our action and reactions, unless we learn to control it.

  • Dvar for Vaeira (Exodus 6:2-9:34)

    Reading the story of how the Jews became enslaved to Egypt in Parshat Vaeira, and having the benefit of knowing how the story ends, we can wonder why the Egyptians were punished for enslaving the Jews, when we know that the Jews needed to be enslaved, either as part of the decree, or as the process of becoming a cohesive nation?

    The Ramchal explains that the answer lies in the Egyptian’s intent, which became clear when it was time to let the Jews go. Had the Egyptians done it with the intentions of merely doing G-d’s will, they would have immediately let them go when the situation warranted it. The same is true of our lives: We can sometimes justify not giving as much, not volunteering enough, or not learning enough Torah by claiming not to have time. The truth comes out, though, when we do have time, on weekends, vacations, or between jobs/school. If we do what we can when we can, we will prove our appreciation for the Torah, and improve our appreciation OF the Torah in the process.

  • Dvar for Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

    When Yocheved and Miriam, the two midwives responsible for delivering the Jewish babies, were ordered by Paroh to kill all the newborn boys, they disobeyed a direct order, thereby risking their lives. In explaining this to us, the Torah says that G-d rewarded them, the nation prospered and multiplied, and G-d “built them houses” (1:20-21) –  not literal houses, but rather that their descendants would become great pillars of Jewish leadership and religion (Rashi). From the way the Passuk (verse) elucidates it, though, it seems that they were rewarded AND there were houses built for them. Were they rewarded twice? If so, why?

    Rabbi Rubman (Zichron Meir) points out that the Passuk says that it wasn’t because they risked their lives that they were rewarded with great descendants, but because they feared G-d that they deserved it. The reason for the double-language is because they were 1) rewarded for risking their lives, and 2) houses were built based on their fear and respect of G-d. What’s unique about these rewards is that their fear/respect of G-d is what warranted eternal reward, and NOT their life-risking actions. The Torah’s message is that the motives behind our actions are sometimes more important than the acts themselves, even if the act is life threatening. The Torah’s message is that when it comes to building a Jewish home, it truly is the thought that counts.

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