• 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.

  • Dvar for Devarim (1:1-3:22)

    The best part about books is that you can always look back at parts that are either unclear, or parts that you’ve missed or liked, and the Torah is no exception. With that in mind, though, why do we need a whole Sefer (Devarim, the book of Deuteronomy) dedicated to review the first 4 books, when all we’d have to do is look back and exam them? Also, why would you start a book of review with words of rebuke, as our Parsha does?

    As Rabbi Twerski points out, the answer lies in a quote by Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), who said: ” A conceited fool has no desire for understanding, but only wants to express his own views (18:2).” What’s the point of a past if we don’t learn from it? And what’s the point of learning from our mistakes if we don’t keep what we’ve learned and integrate it into our future? As we get closer to Tisha B’av, when both Batei Hamikdash (Temples) were destroyed ON THE SAME DAY, the question applies even more.. Didn’t the Jews learn from the destruction of the first Temple merely a few hundred years prior? Do we learn from the destruction of BOTH Temples so many years later? There’s a whole book in front of us pointing its finger at itself and the four volumes before it, begging us to read it, and read it AGAIN, until we find the meaning intended for us, and use it to enforce what we WILL do. It’s the thirst of knowledge of our past that will lead to the accomplishments of our future!

  • Dvar for Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)

    One of this week’s Parshiot, Parshat Maasei, lists the many places where the Jews in the desert traveled through and camped. Since the Torah doesn’t waste any words or letters, it would seem strange to list places that the Jews visited, if it meant nothing for us today.
    As commentaries help explain, when you love someone, you want to remember everything you did together, and G-d’s love for us is no different. This love that G-d has for us is the reason why the Torah spends so many Pessukim (verses) listing the places the Jews visited. As Rabbi Twerski asks, though, at each point the Torah says (33:1-12) that they “traveled from A and camped at B. They traveled from B and camped at C”, when it could have saved words and simply said that they camped at A, B, and C?

    Commentaries help us understand this by explaining that the forty years that the Jews spent in the desert was filled with spiritual growth (as often discussed in the Daily Aliya blog), and the “travels” represented that growth. The Torah attests to the fact that not only did the Jews travel to point A, but they camped/grew there. The lesson for us is simple and true: If you want to “travel” through Torah growth, make sure you not only travel along a solid path, but make sure you “camp” at every stage, and make sure you’re comfortable with it, before you move onto another level. For example, you can’t jump to Kaballah (mysticism) before you know Halacha (law) and Talmud. There’s a process that requires “camping” at every step of the way. So before we venture off to see the wonderful sites the Torah has to offer, make sure you take a road map (Torah), a guide (Rabbi), and patience! Only then will you truly enjoy the ride!

  • Dvar for Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

    Parshat Pinchas relates a story (27:1-12) about the daughters of Tzlafchad, descendants of Yosef (Joseph). These daughters wanted and loved the Land of Israel so much that they wanted a piece of it. As Rav Moshe Feinstein asks, why do they have to have a claim in the land, just because they love it? Wouldn’t entering or living in the land be fulfilling enough?

    Rav Moshe thus concludes that if a person truly loves something, they’d want it to be theirs, and no one else’s. This is why the daughters wanted to actually own a piece of the land, rather than simply living in it. This logic applies to marriages, as well as the Torah’s preference that every Jew writes their own Torah (or a portion of it). In our terms, it’s not enough to borrow and read Jewish books. We need to love the Torah we read SO much that we feel the need to own it! As this week’s Parsha urges, we should not only seek, read and enjoy words of Torah, but we should OWN those books, and live those words!

  • Dvar for Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    Bilaam hitting donkey
    Bilaam hitting donkey

    After a whole ordeal trying to curse the Jews, Bilam finally ends up blessing the Jews instead.  So what does a person whose power lies in his word utter, after so much suspense? He says “How good are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel” (24:5). Is it Yaakov or Israel? Is it the tents or the dwelling places (assuming they’re different) that are good? It’s a pretty ambiguous for someone presumably articulate.

    To understand this, we need to analyze the context of the three blessings he imparted in the following Pessukim (verses): 1) You should stay near water (reference to Torah), 2) G-d will help you crush your oppressors, and 3) Those that bless you will be blessed, and those that curse you will be cursed. It seems that there is a natural progression throughout these blessings: If we 1) stay close to the Torah, 2) G-d will help us defeat our enemies, and 3)we will be blessed upon blessings. That’s why the blessings start with the
    statement that it’s all because of our homes (tents), that leads to our communities (dwellings), from Yaakov as an individual to Israel as a nation. If we introduce the Torah in our own controlled-environment homes, it will not only help ourselves and our communities, and lead to the many blessings that follow!

  • Dvar for Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

    Moshe hitting rock

    From Daniel Lifshitz:

    The latter portion of Parshat Chukat discusses Jews’ victory over the Amorite king Sichon, whose capital city was Cheshbon. The Torah tells us that Cheshbon was originally a Moabite city, but that it had been captured by Sichon along with a large portion of other Moabite territory. There is a famous midrash on this passage based on the fact that the word “moshlim” can also mean “ruler” and the name “Cheshbon” also means “accounting.” The midrash says “Those who are rulers (moshlim) over their evil inclination would say ‘Come and take an accounting (Cheshbon)’ – take an accounting of your deeds; think about what you gain from good deeds and what you lose as a result of bad deeds.” Very often, a midrash is not merely a homiletical tangent, but has a close connection with some aspect of the text. What is the connection between Sichon’s conquest of Moab and the battle against the evil inclination?

    R’ Yonatan Eibeschutz (cited in Talelei Orot) provides a beautiful explanation. Cheshbon was a city on the border between the land of the Amorites and the land of the Moabites. It was not a particularly important city, and therefore the king of Moab did not focus resources on its defense. As a result, Sichon was able to conquer it. This was a fatal error by Moab, for once Sichon had established this beachhead, he was easily able to capture a much larger swath of Moabite territory. This is a metaphor for the battle against the evil inclination, which often tempts a person to violate a small mitzvah, since such an infraction is easier to rationalize than something more serious. Once a person gives in on something small, his defenses have been breached and each subsequent conquest becomes much easier for the evil inclination. By the same token, each victory over temptation, no matter how small, gives an individual a huge advantage in his future battles. Thus, the moshlim teach us “Come to Cheshbon” – do not repeat the mistake that the king of Moab made in his defense of Cheshbon; hold the frontline against the evil inclination even in those skirmishes that seem insignificant because the consequences of a defeat or victory will be dramatic.

  • Weekly Dvar For Korach 5770

    korach
    Weekly Dvar for Korach 5770

    Dvar for Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

    Parshat Korach relates the story of Korach, Datan, Aviram and 250 members of the shevet (tribe) or Reuven challenging Moshe’s choice for Kohen Gadol (high priest). The end result was that the 250 members were burned by a heavenly fire, and the other 3 were miraculously swallowed by the earth. From a motive perspective, Korach makes the most sense, because he felt slighted for not having been chosen himself. But why would 250 people follow him to their certain death, with apparently little to gain?

    The answer can be found in Rashi, the great medieval commentator, who writes that just as Korach’s family camped on the southern side of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), so did the tribe of Reuven. Rashi quotes the words of Chapters of the Fathers, “woe to an evil person, and woe to his neighbor.” The 250 people met their death, simply because they were influenced by their neighbors! This points to the awesome influence that friends, neighbors and associates have on us. So who do we surround ourselves with? Do we have positive friends and neighbors? Are WE positive friends and neighbors to others?

  • Weekly Dvar For Lech Lecha 5770

    lechlecha

    In Parshat Lech Lecha, among the blessings that Avraham was to receive for leaving all that he had was the blessing that he himself should be a blessing (12:2). How does one become a blessing? Furthermore, Rashi comments that G-d promised Avraham that although he would be identified with Yitzchak and Yakov, any such blessings would end with Avraham’s name at its conclusion. If the sages are correct that Yitzchak and Yakov reached higher levels than Avraham, what made him so special that any blessing would end with him?

    Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that Avraham merited greater distinction because he was the first to establish faith in Hashem (G-d). Although those after him reached greater heights, Avraham’s accomplishments were more worthy. Maybe this can explain how Avraham himself became the blessing: Taking initiative and starting something you believe is important for society is a blessing on its own, because it lays the framework for others to build on it! G-d promised Avraham, and in turn promised us, that, if we become leaders and initiators, our initial efforts will never be forgotten and we will always be remembered as a blessing!

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