• Special Dvar for Pesach (Passover) 5779

    The very first of the Ten Commandments proclaims “I am the Lord your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). Would it not have made more sense to reference the creation of the world? Why reference an event that G-d put us in to begin with?

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that the answer lies in the epic difference between Paroh and Moshe’s approaches to building an enduring nation that defeats mortality. While Paroh built monuments that stood the test of time, Moshe’s approach was reflected in his first address to his people, the night before the last plague, the night of Pesach: On no less than 3 occasions, Moshe spoke about children, and our duty to pass on memory to generations to come. The Jews were told that they were to become a nation of educators. As Rabbi Sacks beautifully explains, “to defend a land you need an army, but to defend freedom you need education.”

    The exodus is mentioned in the very first commandment because it gave us the perspective of having once been weak. While G-d is served by protecting the dignity of the orphan, the stranger and the neglected, that perspective comes from having once been an underdog. Egypt was a reminder of what society can become when people worship human constructs rather than caring for their fellow man. This is a crucial lesson every parent imparts to their child as we “build” their empathy through Torah values, and transmit the tradition of those before us by encouraging thoughtful questions and responsive answers. 

  • 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.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayeshev, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Joseph was exceedingly handsome, and Potifar’s wife was attracted to him. She made many advances on him, but he steadfastly rebuffed her. Eventually she libelously told her husband that Joseph was making advances on her, and Potifar had Joseph thrown into prison. G‑d was still with Joseph, and he found favor in the eyes of the prison warden, who put him in charge of all the prisoners.

    The Sfat Emet calls our attention to to sequence of verbs – “And he refused”, “and he said”… First and foremost, when a person is being led into temptation they must stand firm and refuse to give in. Then, if warranted, they can explain their reasons.

  • Daily Aliya for Massei, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Jews are commanded to designate six cities of refuge. These cities offer refuge to a person who inadvertently kills another. The murderer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the serving High Priest. The Jews are enjoined not to take “blood money” from a — intentional or unintentional — murderer who wishes to lighten his sentence.

    Strict adherence to all rules of justice assure us continued “quality living” in Israel, accompanied by the Divine Presence.

  • Daily Aliya for Lech Lecha, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Avram requested a sign from G‑d that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. G‑d responded in the famous “Covenant Between the Parts.” Avram and the Divine Presence passed between an assortment of halved animals, and G‑d told Avram that his descendants would be exiled and in bondage for four hundred years. At the conclusion of this period, Avram’s descendants would leave with great wealth, G‑d would punish the nations which enslaved them, and Avram’s children would inherit the lands of Canaan. Following this pact, Sarai — seeing that she and Avram were still childless — suggested that Avram father a child with her Egyptian maid, Hagar. Hagar conceived and began to mistreat her mistress Sarai, who responded with a heavy hand, prompting Hagar to flee. Hagar encountered an angel who encouraged her to return to Sarai, promising her that the child she will bear will become a great nation. She obeyed, and gave birth to Ishmael. At the very end of this section, G‑d added the letter hey to Avram’s name, making it “Avraham.”

    This Aliya features classic struggles. Sara struggles with her shortcoming when her handmaid, Hagar, gives birth before her, and drives Hagar to flee (and return at the behest of G-d). Avraham struggles with is feelings of inadequacy when he finds out that he’s not perfect in G-d’s eyes because he isn’t circumcised (he fixes that right away). It’s very telling that Avraham gets his name “improved” before Sara does, probably as a subtle lesson to Sara for not dealing with her issues appropriately.

  • Daily Aliya for Pinchas, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This Aliya discusses the sacrifices offered on Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. The Torah also discusses some of the laws related to these holidays.

    In case you were wondering about the “recipe” for these sacrifices, Rashi explains that the bulls represent Avraham (who ran to get cattle to feed his guests), the ram represents Yitzchak (Isaac – the ram replaced him as a sacrifice), and the lambs represent Yakov (Jacob – separated the lambs in his camp). Referencing our forefathers has two distinct benefits: It helps us put the sacrifices, our relationship with G-d, and our life in perspective, and it reminds G-d of their merits to the extent that they can help us. That’s why we also mention the forefathers when we daven (pray), for the same bilateral perspective.

  • Special Dvar for Pesach (Passover) 5771

    From Rabbi Avi Weiss: The literal approach to the Haggadah’s four children is straightforward. On four different occasions, the Torah describes questions asked by children about Passover. Based on the language of the question, the author of the Haggadah labels each of them. One questioner is described as wise, the second rebellious, the third simple, and the fourth not even knowing how to ask. And the Haggadah, basing itself on the Torah text, offers answers to suit the specific educational needs of each child. But if we go beyond the literal approach, hidden messages emerge.

    While this section of the Haggadah is associated with youngsters, is it not possible that the children referred to here include adults of all ages? After all, no matter how old we are, we are all children-children of our parents and children of God. From this perspective, the message of the four children is that every Jew has his or her place in Judaism. The challenge is to have different types of Jews seated around the Seder table in open respectful dialogue, each contributing to the Seder discussion, each exhibiting love for the other. It also reminds us that we have much to learn from everyone – this realization is what truly makes us wise. In the words of Ben Zoma, who is mentioned just before this section in the Hagaddah, “eizehu hakham? Halomed mikol Adam. Who is wise? One who learns from each person.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

  • Daily Aliya for Balak, Rishon (1st Aliya)

    From Chabad.org: General Overview: In this week’s Torah reading, Balak, King Balak of Moab retains the sorcerer Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Instead of curses, only blessings come out of his mouth – including prophecies concerning the Messianic redemption. Moabite women entice some of the Israelites to sin, resulting in a plague amongst the Jews. Pinchas zealously kills two of the high-ranking offenders, and the plague comes to an end.

    In the first Aliya, the Israelites have just conquered the Emorites and the Bashanites, the two mighty neighbors of Moab. Balak, king of Moab, worries that his nation would be the Israelites’ next victim. He sends messengers to the Land of Midian, to Balaam, a famed non-Jewish prophet and sorcerer, asking him to come and curse the Jews. G‑d appeared to Balaam that night and instructed him not to go to Moab. “You shall not curse the people because they are blessed!”

  • Daily Aliya

    This blog will be continued G-d willing after Pesach, starting again April 8th.

  • I am

    As I pondered yesterday’s post, I realized that blogs could be so much more than individual ramblings. So what next? Well, I’m glad you asked…

    It’s been my dream that I somehow contribute to a global Torah movement, much like Daf Yomi did many years ago. But rather than the content being selective by nature (those that understand Gemara), wouldn’t it be great if there was a Torah/Parsha version of Daf Yomi? That is, if everyone learned the same Torah portion every day. Well, my Daily Aliya idea is to learn that day’s Aliya (already divided for us), and what better vehicle than a daily blog? How perfect! There are, however, a few kinks to work out. One, what if there is no Parsha in a given week? Do we discuss nothing? Two, what about the seventh Aliya every week? I suppose I could write after Shabbat, or the Weekly Dvar could substitute for that day’s Aliya. I’d love feedback on either, both, or anything else.

    I think we can officially start April 7th, after Pesach ends. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to post these on my iphone.

    Now testing iPhone updater.

Back to top