• Dvar for Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

    Once the waters have dried up, G-d instructs Noach to leave the ark with his wife, his sons, and the sons’ wives (8:15). However, when Noach exits, the exit order is himself, his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives (8:18). Why did the exit order change from what was instructed?

    Many commentaries explain that G-d’s instructions were meant to permit intimacy between Noach and his wife. The Malbim suggests that while personal restrictions were lifted, Noach was more concerned about caring for and establishing his sons and their families before tending to his own personal circumstances. This selflessness was on full display as Noach cared for everyone on the ark, and it continued as they ventured out into the new world. While Noach may not have been the most charismatic extrovert, there is much to be admired for his quiet generosity and attentiveness to those around him.

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

    As we begin Bereishit, after recounting creation and Adam/Chava’s sin of eating from the forbidden tree, life seemingly settles down for Adam and Chava. Adam goes off to work, they have two children, and after a mere 6 Pessukim (verses), their world is rocked by one child (Cain) killing the other (Abel). How do Adam and Chava make sense of what happened, and how do they (and we) move forward after tragedy?

    The Midrash relates that Adam and Chava wept by Abel’s body, not knowing what to do until they saw a raven burying its dead in the ground, which they decided to mimic. The irony was that the raven is typically cruel to its young, yet it buried a dead bird, an act of absolute kindness that cannot be repaid. Menachem Feldman (www.chabad.org) explains that this lovingkindness is the proper response to senseless evil. The appropriate response to cruelty is love, something that comforted Adam and Chava, and can bring us closer to G-d and each other today. We all have within us the greatest power there is: the power to be kind.

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

    When poetically describing the Jews’ rebelling against G-d, Moshe says, “And Yeshurun became fat and kicked [rebelled]…” (32:15). Why are the Jews called “Yeshurun,” and what does it mean that they became fat?

    Rav S. R. Hirsch suggests that the Jews are called “Yeshurun” because its root is “Yashar,” or “straight.” This name symbolizes the idea that people think they are doing the right thing even while forsaking their responsibilities and heritage. Instead of using their G-d-given gifts to do good, they hoard them and become “fat” with resources. Taking the symbolism in the passuk one step further, we can understand why the word “kicked” is used to refer to the people’s rebelling; legs that are meant to move forward are instead used to kick away opportunities or resources to do good. The symbolism is vivid as it is poignant – when we are given gifts, rather than hoard them for ourselves, we are meant to use them to help others and spread kindness.

  • Dvar for Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)

    After Moshe takes the concluded Torah scrolls and gives them to the Levi’im (Levites) for safekeeping, he “spoke into the ears of the entire assembly of Israel the words of the following song, until their completion” (31:30). What does the phrase “until their completion” add? Would we think Moshe stopped in the middle of his message/song?

    Rav Moshe Feinstein suggests that “until their completion” refers to Moshe conveying the most profound meaning behind the Torah’s laws. Moshe does this not only so that we feel the connection between G-d and us but so that we learn how to convey that relationship to others. Actions can convey love and passion, but only if done with purpose and intent.

  • Dvar for Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

    Moshe gathers the Jews on the final day of his earthly life to enter them into another covenant with G-d. Moshe declares that everyone is standing before G-d, and lists leaders, tribes, elders, officers, and every man of Israel (29:9-11). The one term that doesn’t seem to belong in this group is “tribes” since it doesn’t refer to a specific person, whereas all the other terms do.

    While Rashi suggests that the term goes together with leaders to read “tribal leaders,” the wording in the passuk seems to indicate a separate group. Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis proposes that the term “tribes” refers, in fact, to the people who run the tribes behind the scenes. This term conveys the essence of what we should be, not people focused on titles, but people that do what matters and what needs to be done. Greatness is not achieved through positions or titles but exemplary behavior and deeds. As we near Rosh Hashana, our focus should remain on positive actions that generate meaningful change.

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

    The Jews are instructed that on the day they cross the Jordan river and enter their new land, they are to gather large stones, plaster them, and engrave upon them the entire Torah. These instructions are given twice in short succession, with slightly different wording (27:2 and 27:4-8), but why?

    Rav S. R. Hirsch posits that the first instructions include the words “and it will be, on the day that you cross the Jordan…” because they were instructed to begin preparing the stones before they even cross the Jordan. It is only by virtue of the preparation that they merited to cross the Jordan in the first place. This instruction speaks to the power of mindset, intentional preparation, and concrete action in helping us achieve actual change.

    As we near the Yamim Noraim (high holidays), this lesson is especially relevant for us; as we seek to improve our lives, the first step needs to be a change in our approach, ensuring that we give proper thought to our actions.

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

    Moshe details the rules that a Jewish king must follow, including the mandate to personally write two Torah scrolls and keep one with him at all times, as a reminder to remain humble and follow G-d’s law (17:18-19). Since a prerequisite for becoming king of the Jewish people was a higher level of fear of G-d, why was this directive included?

    The Rambam (commentary on Avos 1) says that the appointment of a person to a high position may engender a sense of self-importance. To counteract this effect, possessing and reading daily from the Torah will help ground the king and keep him focused. This concept is relevant to everyone, not just kings. The Torah grounds us and frames our lives; daily exposure will enhance our experiences and better our future.

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

    The Parsha concludes with a recap of the major festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot) and the pronouncement that “every man as much as his hand can give” based on what they have been given (16:17). The K’tav Sofer wonders why the word “hand” is included in this proclamation.

    The K’tav Sofer suggests that exercising the act of physically giving with our hands accomplishes more than simply fulfilling the commandment. Giving through a child or messenger is certainly considered charity, but giving of ourselves personally (be it time, money, or other acts of kindness) is acclimating our physical selves to performing these positive acts as well as satisfying our subconscious. When we say “pote’ach et yadecha u’masbia le’chol chai ratzon” (You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing), we acknowledge that G-d personally tends to our needs. Similarly, adding the personal touch to our acts of kindness increases those acts exponentially, not just for whom we’re helping but for ourselves as well.

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

    In Parshat Ekev Moshe reiterates G-d’s assurances and perils based on His people doing what’s required and expected of them. Moshe declares, “G-d, your G-d is the G-d of gods and Lord of lords, the great mighty and awesome G-d…”, and in the next passuk (verse) asserts, “He executes judgment of the orphan and widow, loves the stranger, to give him bread and clothing” (10:17-18). Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wonders why such a grand statement is followed by a very specific statement in seemingly striking contrast.

    Rabbi Sacks explains that G-d’s greatness is followed by His humility to teach us that these two traits must go hand in hand. You can’t be great without being humble, without first considering those less fortunate or those who may otherwise be forgotten.

    With a careful reading of the pessukim (verses), one can take this lesson a step further: To love, feed, and clothe the stranger, one must not simply be aware of their predicament but understand their need, appreciate their situation and empathize with their plight. Greatness requires an appreciation for the circumstances of strangers among us and, even more, empathy for the non-strangers in our lives.

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

    In this week’s Parsha, we are commanded to love G-d with all our heart, soul, and money (6:5). How can we be commanded to love, and how real can that love be if it emerges from a commandment?

    Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains that upon realizing what people and G-d have done for us, our natural response is to appreciate it. When someone genuinely shows us love, it’s natural for us to feel appreciated and return that love. The commandment acknowledges the reflexive nature of love and enables us to behold and appreciate the love reflected in all that G-d has done for us, which will naturally lead to our loving Him back. By extension, this lesson is true of all our relationships; focusing on love and kindness will inevitably bring that back to us in return and contribute to our overall happiness.

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