• Dvar for Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

    In the beginning, starts the Torah in Bereishit, G-d created the heaven, earth, and everything in between, all by Himself. Then, when it came time to create man, G-d asked his council about it, as it says “Let US make man in our image, after our likeness” (1:26). Just as we see a problem with the idea of G-d needing to confer, Moshe noticed the same problem as he was dictating the Torah from Hashem. The Midrash goes on to explain that G-d insisted on the text, accentuating the importance of conferring with others regarding all major aspects of life (as Jews, a spouse and a personal Rabbi is especially emphasized), and that those who wish to misunderstand the sentence will do so. Rav Wasserman raises a good question, though: Although the lesson is a good one, is it really worth the risk? Doesn’t the potential for negative (people thinking there are multiple gods) outweigh the potential for positive?

    He answers that there really isn’t any potential for negative, after all! Generations after generations of children and adults have learned this verse and have understood it correctly. The only ones that will err are the ones that WANT to. Should we be deprived of an important lesson on account of those who WANT to find a fault? In a way, we just learned TWO lessons out of one. Not only is it important to listen to the advice of our peers, but it’s equally important to separate ourselves from the advice of those that aren’t our peers. Listening to others is the hardest thing to do, especially when you know you should, or when you know they’re right. It’s our own ego that rejects it, yet we’re the ones that would gain from it. We should take the advice of the Parsha, and rather then just agreeing with its insight, actively start seeking and listening to others’ worthy advice!

  • Special Dvar for Sukkot 5771

    Sukkot is a happy time. In fact, it’s so happy that the Torah says it is! It’s called Zman Simchateynu (the time of our happiness). But it’s even more then that. The Torah COMMANDS us to be happy. So what’s all this happiness for? You have to eat in a shack and shake a fruit, palm branches, and leaves. Why should we be happy, and why should we be COMMANDED to be happy?

    Part of the answer lies in the reasons for what we do, and what they symbolize. The Sukkah needs to be made so that it’s temporary in nature, to symbolize the way it was in the desert when the Jews left Egypt. But it also symbolizes the way it is in this world! We’re living in a temporary world, with weak walls, a leaky ceiling, and decorations. And that’s exactly what’s supposed to make us so happy! That leaky ceiling is the connection we have with the REAL reality (heaven/G-d), and it’s the light from above that reflects from the decorations onto the walls, shining on everything. This Sukkot, we should look around us and think about all the temporary decorations in our lives, and how we can increase the number of permanent decorations we prepare! Especially right after Yom Kippur, when we (hopefully) committed to some sort of spiritual improvement, Sukkot is the perfect opportunity to exercise it.

    Whether we promised to give more charity, or even to just give charity with a smile. Whether it was to learn one Jewish law every day, or to perform one. The point of Sukkot is for us to be able to DO something right to start our year, to do it proudly and happily, and with flying colors, decorations and enthusiasm!

  • Dvar for Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)

    Parshat Haazinu is Moshe’s last speech, delivered as a song because songs reach deeper into our souls. In the beginning of the song (32:4), it says “The Rock! – Perfect is his work, for all his paths are justice; a G-d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He”. This statement is loaded, saying that Hashem is perfect, just, fair, righteous, and without iniquity. What’s strange is that it begins with comparing G-d to a rock, and then saying that G-d’s work is perfect! What’s the Torah trying to tell us by mentioning a rock, and by using all those terms? Luckily, the Chafetz Chaim answers one question with a story about having faith:

    A man had an only son that was sick, and spared no expense finding him a cure. One doctor finally cured the boy, and told the father that the son got sick because of certain meat that he ate. The father vowed to keep that meat away from his son. Years passed, the father had to go away on a business trip, and he had his family watch the boy. After he left, the boy was tempted by the smell of the meat, ate some, and became deathly ill again. When the father returned, he called the doctor and begged him to do all he could. Once again the doctor was successful in healing the boy, and the father decided to never leave his son again. A while later the father had a party (with meat), and when the son walked in, the father quickly rushed him out. The guests all watched in wonderment, but they didn’t understand that it was for the son’s sake.

    We are the guests, wondering why things are happening in our lives, but we now know that G-d’s work is just, fair, and perfect as a ROCK in every way! But a rock is not perfect, you say? Well, it may not be perfect in shape or color, but it’s solid, consistent, and always grounded, which are the qualities G-d shows us, and the very qualities we should emulate this coming year! By this time next year, may we all be ROCK Jews, in every sense of BOTH words!

  • Dvar for Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

    Parshat Nitzavim starts by proclaiming that “you are all standing here today” (29:9), and then proceeds to use the words “this day” two more times in the next 3 verses, none of which were actually needed for their corresponding sentences to be complete. What significance is the Torah placing on “this day”?

    As Rabbi Abraham Twerski points out, there are two natural roadblocks placed before us as we endeavor to become better people and better Jews, and both of these roadblocks can be overcome by focusing on “this day”: The first natural roadblock is our inclination to look ahead at temptations and hurdles we WILL encounter, and our feelings of frustration and helplessness in overcoming those collective obstacles. The Torah therapeutically empowers us to focus on one day at a time, and leave tomorrow’s worries for another day. The second natural roadblock we face is the guilt of our past, which can sometimes make us feel depressed and unworthy.  We have today to repent for those things we shouldn’t have done.

    With the past behind us, and a whole new year ahead of us, it’s nice to know that we don’t have to wait to become better people… the time is right now, and “this day” is just right!

  • Dvar for Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

    Of the many sub-topics in Parshat Ki Tavo, one especially noteworthy expression is when the Torah says, “G-d has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear until this day” (Deuteronomy 29:3). Tradition (and Rashi) has it that Moshe gave Shevet Levi (the tribe of Levi) a Torah scroll, and the rest of the nation justifiably complained that they didn’t get one. But their complaint wasn’t that they didn’t get a scroll, but that future generations might have a problem with it. Upon hearing this complaint Moshe rejoiced! As Rabbi Liebowitz explains, he was actually HAPPY about a complaint because it showed how much they valued the Torah and their bond with G-d so much, that they even thought about the future of that bond.

    BUT, if we look closer at the Passuk (verse) we’ll see it even clearer.. G-d gave us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel. Why does the Torah say that our hearts will KNOW? The answer is that if we feel something strongly enough, in our hearts we KNOW it to be true! The Jews knew in their hearts that they had to protect the future of the Torah by safeguarding against potential diversions. The Torah is telling us that we must look into our hearts, and do whatever it takes to preserve, maintain and grow as Jews, until our hearts KNOW what’s right. And if we don’t know exactly what we need to do, we must always use our eyes to look at customs of the past, our ears to listen to the existing rules, and our minds to develop our own Jewish niche, until our heart knows we’ve found it!

  • Dvar for Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

    At the very end of Parshat Ki Tetzei we encounter one of the more famous commandments, instructing us to remember what Amalek did to us as we left Egypt. While the whole world saw the Jews as untouchables, Amalek decided to kill us by attacking the weak people lagging behind, thus proclaiming to the world that they weren’t afraid of G-d by attacking His nation. However, they WERE scared of the Jews themselves, which is why they attacked the weak ones. Strangely, though, the next few Pesukim (verses) tell us to wipe out the memory of Amalek from this world. So which is it? Should we remember what they did to us, or should we wipe out their memory and forget? To top it all, the Torah then tells us AGAIN to not forget!?

    To help us understand the issues involved here, Chazal (our Rabbis) have explained, using an analogy, that it’s as if Amalek jumped into scolding hot water, and although they were burned, they cooled the water, and everyone around them was a little bit more comfortable with the hot water. As the book “Majesty of Man” elaborates, human nature dictates that the more we see of something, the less sensitive we are to it. So what’s the solution? Well, the Torah tells us to remember, erase, and yet remember: Remember the elements in this world that would pick on the weak and defy G-d and authority, but only so that you could erase them, thereby erasing their influence. The final step is to never forget what happens when we surround ourselves with negative influences. As human nature dictates, and as the history books (following this battle) record, we are influenced by our society, neighborhood, and by our friends. Just as we must be careful not to let ourselves be affected by anything negative, we must also remember that we can have a positive or negative effect on those around us. May we have the strength to control ourselves and inspire others!

  • Dvar for Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

    The Parsha says “what man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house and not let him make the heart of his brethren faint as well as his heart.’” In addition to the three categories of men who were exempt from military service (someone recently built a house, grew a vineyard, or recently married), a fourth category is added — one who is fearful and fainthearted. Why would fear be a reason to be excused from fighting?

    Rabbi Yossi Hagili explains that this category refers to someone who fears that he is unworthy of being saved in battle because of his transgressions. Rabbi Yossi adds that this is the reason why the other three categories were told to go home — if someone were to leave the ranks because of his sins, he would feel embarrassed; however, since other groups were also sent home, others wouldn’t know why he was leaving. This is truly amazing — a large number of soldiers were sent home during war time in order to save a sinner from humiliation. We learn from this that we must do everything possible to protect people from shame.

    At a Pesach Seder, Rabbi Yitchak Hutner was splashed by wine inadvertently spilled by someone, staining his kittel (the white robe worn by many at the Seder). To save the other person from shame, Rabbi Hutner immediately said “a kittel from the Seder not stained with wine is like a Yom Kippur Machzor (prayer book) not wet with tears.”

  • Dvar for Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

    The Parsha starts off with the word “Re’eh”, which means “See”. What are we seeing?  And why do we need to see it? Rabbi Yehoshua Wender explains that in our lives we are all on a quest for truth. We are looking to find the real meaning behind everything in this world. However, we need to see everything in its proper light. In every thing in this world there is truth, and there could be falseness. It is our job to not be tricked by the lies.  So how do we know what’s true and what’s not? G-d has given us a Torah that contains the ultimate truth, and that same protection from falseness.

    Living in this world is like being in a room of fun house mirrors. You walk in, and there are all these curvy mirrors that distort your image.  Some make you look fat, others make you tall, and yet others make you skinny.  The only way to get a true image of yourself is to look in a flat, uncurved mirror.  The Torah is such a mirror.  You can look in the Torah and find the truth, untainted, uncurved, undistorted. BUT, it’s also possible to get a true image from looking at a curvy mirror. If you stand in just the right spot, at just the right angle, you can see your self the way you really are.  The catch is that you won’t know that that’s your real true image unless you’ve looked at yourself in a straight mirror.  The world is the same way. It is possible to see the world truthfully using other sources, but unless we have studied the Torah and know what truth looks like, we’ll never know if we’ve really found it!

  • Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    Parshat Ekev introduced us to the popular phrase “Man does not live by bread alone” (8:3). However, end of that verse is far less famous, although the second part contains the true message. It reads, “Rather, by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” If the point is that G-d’s emanations are the source of our lives, why use bread as the subject, when bread only becomes edible through the toils of man? Wouldn’t fruits be a better example of G-d’s influence on the world?

    I heard Rabbi Greenberg and saw Rav Hirsch explain that bread is used as the subject because it exemplifies the toils of man, and that the message here is that even when you toil for the bread you eat, don’t forget that Hashem (G-d) has toiled for everything that we have, and His goal is not just to sustain us, but to help us live physically AND spiritually. Man should not only seek physical nourishment from the work of his hands, but should seek spiritual nourishment from the word of his G-d.

  • Dvar for Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

    The most famous sentence in the Torah is found in this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) The last letter (Ayin) of the Hebrew word for “Hear” (Shema) is written large, as is the last letter (Daled)of the Hebrew word for “One” (Echad). What’s the significance of these deviations?

    Rabbi Avi Weiss proposes a unique explanation: Maybe the letters are large to teach us that the smallest of deviations could pervert the meaning of a text. For example, if one would read the Shema as having an Aleph as its last letter (after all the Aleph and Ayin are both silent letters), the word Shema would mean “perhaps” (sheh-mah). This would change a firm declaration of belief into an expression of doubt! And if the Daled would be mistaken for a Reish (after all, there is only a slight difference in the writing of a Daled and Reish), the word echad (One) would be read acher (other). This would change belief in One God into a belief in two gods!

    As we move towards Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, all of us ought be careful with every word, every gesture and every action. Because in life, the smallest differences makes all the difference in the world.

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