Parashat VaEra!

Dear friends;

 

I hope you’ll enjoy the following parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

G-d reveals Himself to Moshe. He promises to take out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver them from their enslavement, redeem them and acquire them as His own chosen people at Mount Sinai; He will then bring them to the Land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.

Moshe and Aaron repeatedly come before Pharaoh to demand in the name of G-d, “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.” Pharaoh repeatedly refuses. Moshe’s staff turns into a snake and swallows the magic sticks of the Egyptian sorcerers. G-d then sends a series of plagues upon the Egyptians.

The waters of the Nile turn to blood; swarms of frogs overrun the land; lice infest all men and beasts. Hordes of wild animals invade the cities, a pestilence kills the domestic animals, painful boils afflict the Egyptians. For the seventh plague, fire and ice combine to descend from the skies as a devastating hail. Still, “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened and he would not let the children of Israel go; as G-d had said to Moshe.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

This week’s Parsha is packed with miracles, plagues and supernatural events. Water turning into blood; hail pellets with a core of fire; dreadful plagues of frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence and boils. G-d through Moshe, performs miracles for the Jews, and brings plagues upon the Egyptians that have never been seen before. But it seems that some people just never learn. For almost a year Pharaoh was literally plagued by every conceivable misfortune, yet he refused to let the Jewish people go. Of course, he pleaded with Moshe during every plague to stop the great inconvenience, pain, and disaster that were befalling his country. He would even beg for mercy and promise to let the Jews go, yet he never admitted guilt. He would plead with Moshe to stop the various plagues. “Pray for me and remove the frogs! I will let you serve your G-d in the desert.” Sometimes he would offer unrestricted freedom, only to go back on his word when the plagues ceased. Never, except on one occasion, did Pharaoh admit that G-d was right and he was wrong.

That exception was the plague of hail. In fact, the plague of hail was so powerful that even Hashem Himself categorized it in a unique way. Moshe, quoting Hashem, said to Pharaoh: “This time I shall send ALL my plagues against your heart, upon your servants, and your people so that you shall know that there is none like Me in the world.”  Why did Hashem consider the hail a more powerful act than His turning water into blood, or delivering pestilence, or wild animals or frogs? True, the hail did miraculously contain a fire shield by ice, but all the plagues had miraculous attributes to them. Turning the Nile into blood is not an everyday type of a miracle either! So, what characteristic did the hail have to label it as “all my plagues”?

Even more troubling is Pharaoh’s response. After the plague of hail strikes Egypt, he calls Moshe and Aaron and he tells them, “this time I have sinned, Hashem is righteous and I and my people are the wicked ones!” What caused Pharaoh to utter those soothing words at this particular time? Didn’t he already see blood, frogs, pestilence, boils, wild animals, and a host of different miraculous misfortunes that befell his people? What was so special about the fire and ice falling from the heavens that brought one of the cruelest man on earth down to his knees?

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky gives an interesting answer to this question. He says that there are many opposing forces in the world. However, when they work in tandem, they become the most powerful force possible. During this plague, fire and ice, two opposing forces in the world of nature disregarded their differences all in the service of the Supreme Commander, the G-d Almighty. When Hashem announced that He will send ALL of His plagues, he meant that when two conflicting forces work harmoniously together, they have the same power as ALL of the plagues put together!. After that, even Pharaoh was sensible enough, although for a short period of time, to see his imperfection and delusions. When even the worst of men see fire and ice dance together on one mission, there is nothing he can do but watch in amazement and admit, “Hashem is the righteous one and I and my people are the wicked ones.”

Yes my friends, when two opposing forces decide to work together, they create the most powerful force. There is one other place in the Torah which talks about opposite forces. In Parashat Bereshit, when G-d wanted to create Eve, the Torah says, G-d saw that it is not good for a man to be alone, so he created for him, “ezer kenegdo”, which means a helper against or “opposite” him. The Chachamim derive from this Pasuk that men and women are created differently and they might even have opposing ideas. But when they work together and are willing to get along, only then, they will create the most powerful force together! Partnership, whether in marriage or in business, is an excellent idea, but it only works when the two parties are willing to get along and work together despite their differences. And if they do, they’ll produce the most powerful force together!

Radio commentator, Paul Harvey, once related the following story which is another proof of the power of two opposing forces joining together: William and his Aunt Caroline, lived in two mansions adjacent to each other in New York City in the late 1890’s. They were constantly fighting. Actually, William was jealous of his aunt’s popularity and social status. Compared to her, he was considered a social outcast, and was never invited to any of her lavish parties. That would have been bad enough. Having to live next door to her was too much for William to bear. The sight of elegant carriages arriving and departing made him annoyed. Yet he could do nothing. At least he did nothing until the family fortune was distributed and he inherited 100 million dollars. Then he knew what to do. He decided to rip down his mansion and build an enormous hotel. It had 530 rooms, 350 baths, and a whopping 970 employees. It would be the grandest, most elegant guest house of it’s kind. More carriages would pull up to his property in a day then to his aunt’s mansion in a month! Her home would pale in comparison, and the commotion of it all would force her to move.

William was right. Aunt Caroline moved way north of the shadow of her nephew’s hotel. And then, she ripped down her old home. With the 100 million that she received, she too, decided to build a hotel on the site of her old mansion! It would be even more elegant, with nicer rooms and better service than her nephew’s. Two adjacent, competing hotels would have been built right next to each other if not for the wisdom of William’s own hotel manager. He got the two feuding relatives together and explained that hostility is not the way to success.

“With the fierce competition and price war that you are going to have, you would put each other out of business in no time. If you two could just work together and adjoin the two hotels as one, it would become the most outstanding and influential accommodation on earth,” he explained. They listened and followed his instructions. He even advised them to make sure that every opening between the structures could be sealed again in case of a renewed falling-out. But in the end, William Waldorf and his aunt, Caroline Astor decided to put away the locks and leave the openings, open forever. And the world’s most luxurious accommodation was built at the time — The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Miketz!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Joseph’s imprisonment finally ends when Pharaoh dreams of seven fat cows that are swallowed up by seven lean cows, and of seven fat ears of grain swallowed by seven lean ears. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of hunger, and advises Pharaoh to store grain during the plentiful years. Pharaoh appoints Joseph governor of Egypt. Joseph marries Asenath, daughter of Potiphar, and they have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Famine spreads throughout the region, and food can be obtained only in Egypt. Ten of Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to purchase grain; the youngest, Benjamin, stays home, for Jacob fears for his safety. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him; he accuses them of being spies, insists that they bring Benjamin to prove that they are who they say they are, and imprisons Shimon as a hostage. Later, they discover that the money they paid for their provisions has been mysteriously returned to them.

Jacob agrees to send Benjamin only after Judah takes personal and eternal responsibility for him. This time Joseph receives them kindly, releases Shimon, and invites them to an eventful dinner at his home. But then he plants his silver goblet, pretending to have magical powers, in Benjamin’s sack. When the brothers set out for home the next morning they are pursued, searched, and arrested when the goblet is found in Benjamin’s sack. Joseph offers to set them free and to keep only Benjamin as his slave.

 

“ Dvar Torah “

 

This week, we continue with the story of Joseph. So, the excitement continues! Pharaoh has a dream. In his dream he sees himself standing over the Nile River, and behold, there came up out of the River seven cows, handsome and fat of flesh, and they fed in the grass reed. And, behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the River, ugly and lean of flesh, and stood by the other cows upon the bank of the River. And the ugly and lean cows ate up the seven handsome and fat cows, and still, stayed thin and ugly.

Pharaoh wakes up in distress. Falls asleep again. He has a second dream. This time he sees seven thin, dried ears of grain swallow seven fat ears of grain.

In the morning, Pharaoh summons all his wise men and advisors, but none of them can offer Pharaoh a satisfactory interpretation of his dreams. Then, the “young Hebrew slave,” Joseph, is summoned from the dungeon to the palace. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty, symbolized by the fat cows and fat grain, will be followed by seven years of hunger, reflected by the lean cows and the shriveled ears. The seven years of famine will be so powerful that they will “swallow up” and wipe out any trace of the years of plenty.

Joseph then advises Pharaoh how to deal with the situation: “Now Pharaoh must seek out a man with insight and wisdom and place him in charge of Egypt.” A rationing system will have to be set up over Egypt during the seven years of surplus, Joseph explains, in which grain will be stored for the upcoming years of famine.

Pharaoh is blown away by Joseph’s vision. “Can there be another person who has G‑d’s spirit in him as this man does?” Pharaoh asks his advisors. “There is none as understanding and wise as you,” he says to Joseph. “You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only by the throne will I outrank you.” Joseph is thus appointed viceroy of Egypt.

A few questions come to mind. First of all, following his interpretation of the dreams, Joseph proceeded to give Pharaoh advice on how to deal with the impending famine. How dare does a newly liberated prisoner offer the king of Egypt, the most powerful man on the face of the earth, unsolicited advice? Pharaoh summoned Joseph from the dungeon to interpret his dreams, but not to become an advisor to the king?! Second of all, why was Pharaoh so mesmerized by Joseph?! What was so genius about Joseph’s advice?! Joseph’s interpretation seems simple and obvious. When are cows fat? When there is lots of food. When are they lean? When there’s no food. When is grain fat? When there is a plentiful harvest. When is grain lean? During a time of famine. And you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to suggest that if you have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, you should store food during the time of plenty for the time of hunger. So why couldn’t the advisors of Pharaoh come up with the same interpretation?! Keep in mind that the King’s advisors at that time, they all knew Astrology and had the power to see the future.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Late Lubavitcher Rebbe, gave a beautiful answer to these questions. He said that the Pharaoh’s advisers did indeed come up with the same interpretation as Joseph, but they rejected it instantly because they could not make sense of one part of the dream. The Torah says: “ And, behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the River, ugly and lean of flesh, and stood side by side of the other cows upon the bank of the River…….”. In other words, there was a moment during which both sets of cows coexisted simultaneously! It was this detail of the dream that caused the wise men of Egypt to reject the interpretation that Joseph would later offer to Pharaoh, for how is it possible that plenty and famine should coexist? You can either have abundance of food or you can have no food, but you cannot have them both together!

This is where Joseph’s brilliance was revealed. When Joseph proceeded to tell Pharaoh how to prepare for the upcoming famine, he wasn’t offering an unwelcoming advice to the King on how to run his country; but rather, the advice was part of the dream’s interpretation!

Joseph understood that the coexistence of the two sets of cows contained the solution to the approaching famine: During the years of plenty, Egypt must “live” with the years of famine as well, as though they were already present. Even while enjoying the abundance of the years of plenty, Egypt must experience in its imagination the reality of the upcoming famine, and each and every day store away food for it. The seven lean cows ought to be very much present and alive in people’s minds and in their behavior during the era of the seven fat cows. And this is what impressed Pharaoh so deeply about Joseph —— one little detail of the dream that no other wise man could see!

Yes my friends, there is a great lesson to be learned from Joseph’s interpretation. In the times of plenty, we should always think and prepare ourselves for the times of need. B”H, when the times are good, extremely good, we all live our lives to the fullest. We all buy the best houses, we get the best cars, we wear the best clothes and we go on the best vacations. But what if, G-d forbid, the things turn around one day and it becomes hard to make a living. How many of us have saved from the time when Hashem gave us plenty? And this is the essence of Joseph’s wisdom: You must never detach the years of plenty from the years of famine; they should coexist together. At the time of plenty we should save up for the time of need. Unlike the western mentality which believes in “live each day to the fullest”, us Jews, believe in securing our future. For us, living in the future is as important as living today!

So my friends, the next time you make a big profit in a business deal, you shouldn’t ask yourself “what should I buy with the money I just made”, but rather, “how much of it should I save on the side”?!……….

 

Shabbat Shalom, Happy Hanukkah, Chodesh Tov and Regards;

Martin

 

Parashat Vayishlach!

Dear friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah.

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Jacob returns to the Holy Land after more than 20 years stay in Charan, and sends messengers to Esau in hope of a reconciliation, but his messengers report that his brother is on his way with 400 armed men. Jacob prepares for war, prays, but decides to go in peace and sends Esau a large gift (consisting of hundreds of sheep and cattle) to appease him.

 

That night, Jacob ferries his family and possessions them across the Yabbok River; he, however, remains behind and encounters the angel, with whom he wrestles until daybreak. Jacob suffers a dislocated hip but triumphs the supernatural creature, who bestows on him the name “Yisrael”, which means “He who prevails over the Divine.”

 

Jacob and Esau meet, embrace and kiss, but part ways. Jacob purchases a plot of land near Shechem, whose crown prince — also called Shechem — abducts and rapes Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Dinah’s brothers Simon and Levi avenge the deed by killing all male inhabitants of the city after rendering them vulnerable by convincing them to circumcise themselves.

 

Jacob journeys on. Rachel dies while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, and is buried in a roadside grave near Bethlehem. Reuben loses the birthright because he interferes with his father’s marital life. Jacob arrives in Chevron, to his father Isaac, who later dies at age 180.

 

Our parshah concludes with a detailed account of Esau’s wives, children and grandchildren, and the family histories of the people of Se’ir among whom Esau settled.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

The character of our Forefather Jacob really fascinates me. He was the man who became Israel, our father in faith. Israel is the one whose name we bear, not Abraham nor Isaac. Jacob is not the most obvious choice of religious hero. He does not appear – at least on the surface of the biblical text – as a man with Abraham’s courage or kindness or Isaac’s faithfulness and self-restraint. He was a man surrounded by conflict: with his brother Esau, his father-in-law Laban, his wives, Leah and Rachel, and his children, whose sibling rivalry eventually brought the whole family into exile in Egypt. His life seems to have been a field of tensions. The way he purchased Esau’s birthright, took his blessing, and eventually outwitted his sneaky father-in-law Laban only shows his deceitful ways of doing transactions.

 

So the obvious question is: why did the Torah choose to portray the third of the Patriarchs and the most important one to our faith in this way? The Torah is highly selective in the details it chooses to relate. Why not paint Jacob in more attractive colors? Why couldn’t it use the midrashic way to describe Jacob? The midrash says that even in the womb Jacob longed for a synagogue, who spent his years as a young man studying in the bet midrash, who looked like Abraham and whose arms were like pillars of marble. His motives were always pure. He bought Esau’s birthright because he could not bear to see Esau offering sacrifices (the privilege of the firstborn) to idols. As for his father’s blessing, the very reason Isaac became blind in old age was so that this could be possible. Esau was the opposite, a violent and mercurial character who had deceived his father into thinking he was ultra-pious, but who had – on the day he came in “tired” from the field – committed a whole series of crimes including murder.

 

But the Torah chose not to describe him in this way. The Torah only relates to us his deceptions. His life was a series of struggles. Nothing came easily to him. So the question that still remains is “why Jacob”? What was so special about him that became “Israel”, the father of the Chosen People?!

 

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gives a beautiful explanation. He says that Jacob, out of all the patriarchs, was a man who chose to be chosen. Abraham was called by G-d. Isaac was chosen before his birth. G-d appeared to Moses in burning bush and told him that he is the leader.  But not Jacob. It was he who bought the birthright and took the blessing, he who chose to carry Abraham’s destiny into the future all by himself. He had to fight his way up to be part of the chosen ones! Not until he was running away from home did G-d appear to him. Not until years later, alone, at night, terrified at the prospect of meeting Esau, did G-d or an angel wrestle with him. He alone was given, by G-d or the angel, a completely new name, not an enhancement of his old one but a completely new identity: “Israel.” Jacob’s whole life was a struggle, yet it was through Jacob’s extended wrestling-match with destiny that he eventually achieved what neither Abraham nor Isaac accomplished: all his children stayed within the faith. And that is Jacob’s special characteristic: G-d did not find Jacob — Jacob found G-d!

 

Yes my friends, there are saintly people for whom spirituality comes easy to them. But G-d does not reach out only to saints. He reaches out to all of us. Some of us have to work harder, get more blessings and pray more in order to find G-d. Sometimes we go through hardship in life which we don’t understand. Sometimes we pray and we think G-d is not listening to us. Sometimes faith becomes a challenge and hope seems to be unreachable. But we learn from Jacob that G-d never abandons us. He still can be reached when you are on the run and under stress. All you need is to have the courage to continue and never give up hope!

 

So my friends, if you find yourself struggling with faith, you are in the company of Jacob-who-became-Israel, the father-in-faith of us all.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

 

Martin

Parashat Vayetzei!

Dear friends;

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary, followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

“ Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Jacob leaves his hometown of Bersheva and journeys to Charan. On the way, he stops at a place and sleeps there, dreaming of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, with angels climbing and descending on it; G‑d appears and promises that the land upon which he lies will be given to his descendants. In the morning, Jacob raises the stone on which he laid his head as an altar and pledging that it will be made the house of G‑d.

In Charan, Jacob stays with and works for his uncle Laban, tending Laban’s sheep. Laban agrees to give him his younger daughter, Rachel—whom Jacob loves—in marriage, in return for seven years’ of labor. But on the wedding night, Laban gives him his elder daughter, Leah, instead—a deception Jacob discovers only in the morning. Jacob marries Rachel, too, a week later, after agreeing to work another seven years for Laban.

Leah gives birth to six sons—Reuben, Simeon,Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun—and a daughter, Dinah, while Rachel remains barren. Rachel gives Jacob her handmaid, Bilhah, as a wife to bear children in her stead, and two more sons, Dan and Naphtali, are born. Leah does the same with her handmaid, Zilpah, who gives birth to Gad and Asher. Finally, Rachel’s prayers are answered and she gives birth to Joseph.

Jacob has now been in Charan for fourteen years. After six more years, Jacob leaves Charan in stealth, fearing that Laban would prevent him from leaving with the family and property for which he labored. Laban pursues Jacob, but is warned by G‑d in a dream not to harm him. Laban and Jacob make a treaty on Mount Gal-Ed, and Jacob proceeds to the Holy Land, where he is met by an angel.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

What is it that made Jacob–not Abraham or Isaac–the true father of the Jewish nation? We are called “Kehilat Yaakov”, the “congregation of Jacob”, “Benei Yisrael”,  the “Children Of Israel”. Jacob/Israel is the man whose name we bear. Yet Jacob did not begin the Jewish journey; Abraham did. Jacob faced no trials like Abraham, nor was he binded on the altar like Isaac, to sacrifice his life. Abraham introduced monotheism to the world and was a symbol of kindness. Isaac too was a man of G-d and followed in his father’s footsteps. Jacob was not what Noah was: righteous, perfect in his generations, one who walked with G-d. It was Jacob who deceived his father in order to steal his brother’s blessing. Yet, it was Jacob who fathered the twelve tribes of Israel, and not Abraham or Isaac. And it was Jacob that all his children stayed within the faith, unlike Abraham or Isaac. So why aren’t we called “Benei Avraham” or “Kehilat Yitzchak”?! Where did Jacob succeed when Abraham and Isaac failed? What special characteristics did he have that Hashem chose him to be the father of “Benei Israel”?

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, gives an interesting answer. He says that the answer lies in this week’s Parsha and the next. He says that Jacob’s greatest visions of G-d came to him, when he was fleeing from one danger to the next. First, in this week’s Parsha when he was escaping from Esau, he stopped and rested for the night with only stones to lie on, and had a dream. In his dream, Hashem appeared to him and said, “Behold, I’m with you; I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to the land”. In next week’s Parsha, fleeing from Laban and terrified of the likelihood of meeting Esau again, he wrestles alone at night with a stranger who was an angel of G-d. Then the man said your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with G-d and have overcome”.

Rabbi Sacks explains that this is precisely the great strength of Jacob. Jacob is the man who has his deepest spiritual experiences alone, at night, in the face of danger and far from home. He is the man who meets G-d when he least expects to, when his mind is on other things, when he is in a state of fear and possibly on the brink of despair. Jacob is the man who in the middle of the journey, discovers that “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And this is precisely the reason why he became the father of the Jewish nation — he is the man who finds G-d in desperate times, when others have failed!

Abraham gave Jews the courage to challenge idol-worshiping. Isaac gave them the capacity for self-sacrifice. Moses taught them to be passionate fighters for justice. But Jacob gave them the knowledge that precisely when they feel most alone, God is still with them, giving them the courage for hope and the strength to dream. We learn from Jacob that the Shechina, the Divine presence, is always with us even in a strange land. G-d never abandons us!

Yes my friends, we can find G-d not only in holy places but also in the midst of a journey, in a foreign land, alone at night. The most profound lesson that we can learn from Jacob is the knowledge that we are not alone. God is holding us by the hand, sheltering us, lifting us when we fall, forgiving us when we fail, healing the wounds in our soul through the power of His love. G-d never loses faith in us and never lets go of us.

There are times that Israel is at war, when the whole world seems to be against Israel, when realistically, Israel has no chance to survive. Israel is left all alone! It’s precisely then, when we see the hand of G-d and how miraculously He fights our wars. In 1991, in Operation Desert Storm, Iraq’s government decided to throw 1000s of missiles on Israel, and miraculously not even one missile hit the civilians. It was exactly at the time of danger when we found G-d…….

What the rest of the world do at the time of war is to rely on their military capabilities…… we the Children of Israel, on the other hand, rely utterly on G-d……..

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Toldot!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parasha in a Nutshell “

 

Isaac marries Rebecca. After twenty childless years their prayers are answered and Rebecca conceives. She experiences a difficult pregnancy; G-d tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder. Eisav emerges first; Jacob is born clutching Eisav’s heel. Eisav grows up to be “a hunter, a man of the field”; Jacob is “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents. Isaac favors Eisav; Rebecca loves Jacob.

 

Returning exhausted and hungry from the hunt one day, Eisav sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew.

 

Eisav marries two Hittite women. Isaac grows old and blind, and expresses his desire to bless Eisav before he dies. While Eisav goes off to hunt for his father’s favorite food, Rebecca dresses Jacob in Eisav’s clothes, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father. Jacob receives his fathers’ blessings for “the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land” and mastery over his brother. When Eisav returns and the deception is revealed, all Isaac can bless his weeping son with is to predict that he will live by his sword, and that only when Jacob falters, his supremacy over the him will vanish.

 

Jacob leaves home to flee Eisav’s wrath and to find a wife in the family of his mother’s brother, Laban. Eisav marries a third wife — Machlat, the daughter of Ishmael.

 

“ Dvar Torah “

 

In this week’s Parsha, we read the story of Isaac wanting to bless Esau, as he had become old and his eyes could not see clearly anymore. So he tells Esau: “hunt me a game, make me a meal such as I love and bring it to me and I will eat, so that my soul can bless you before I die.” Rivka was listening to their conversation and immediately tells Jacob to bring her two young goats and she will prepare a meal for Isaac the way he likes it. And he should take it to him and take the blessing instead. Hesitant at the beginning, but with his Mom’s persuasion, he disguised himself as Esau and took the meal to him. Suspicious at the beginning, but eventually Isaac ate the meal and blessed Jacob believing that it was Esau.

 

Was Jacob right to take Esau’s blessing in disguise? Was he right to deceive his father in order to take the blessing that did not belong to him? Was Rivka right in conceiving the plan in the first place and forcing Jacob to carry it out? These are the fundamental questions that me and I’m sure many of you want to know the answers.

 

Well, one explanation that the majority of commentators go with, is as follows. Rivka was right to propose what she did and Jacob was right to carry it out. Rivka knew that it would be Jacob, not Esau, who would continue the covenant of G-d and carry the mission of Abraham into the future. She knew that because she heard it from G-d himself. Before the birth of the twins, G-d tells Rivka: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one will be stronger than the other, and the elder will serve the younger.” Esau was the elder, Jacob the younger. Therefore it was Jacob who would emerge with greater strength. It was Jacob who was chosen by G-d.

 

Also, she had watched the twins grow up. She knew that Esau was a hunter, a man of violence. She had seen that he was impetuous, temperamental, a man of impulse and not calm reflection. She had seen him sell his birthright for a bowl of soup. No one who despises his birthright can be the trusted guardian of a covenant intended for eternity.

 

The blessing had to go to Jacob. If Isaac did not understand the true nature of his sons, if he was “blind” not only physically but also spiritually, might it not be necessary to deceive him? He was by now old, and if Rivka had failed in the early years to get him to see the true nature of their children, then it was too late to make him understand now. So, Rivka was right to deceive Isaac and Jacob was right to follow her instructions.

 

But there is the other side of the coin. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gives a different interpretation. He says that Isaac fully understood the nature of his two sons. He loved Esau but this did not blind him to the fact that Jacob would be the heir of the covenant. Therefore Isaac prepared two sets of blessings, one for Esau, the other for Jacob. He blessed Esau with the gifts he felt he would appreciate: wealth and power: “May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine” – that is, wealth. “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you” – that is, power. These are NOT the covenantal blessings.

 

The covenantal blessings that God had given Abraham and Isaac were completely different. They were about having children and the land of Israel. G-d blessed Abraham by saying, “May your children be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand by the sea…. And the land you’ve stepped on, I’ve given it to you and your children”. It is the same blessing that Isaac later on gave to Jacob before he left home: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May He give you to take possession of the land that God gave to Abraham”. This was the blessing Isaac had intended for Jacob all along.There was no need for deception and disguise. The blessing Isaac was about to give Esau was not the blessing of Abraham. He intended to give Esau a blessing appropriate to him.

 

Accordingly, Rivka and Jacob did make a mistake, but it was a forgivable and understandable one. Jacob came to realize his mistake later on in his life. He was deceived himself by his father in law, Laban, measure for measure. After 22 years of separation, Jacob finally meets with Esau. He gives Esau massive amount of gifts including sheep, cattle and other livestock. He then bows down seven times to Esau. But this was exactly the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau in the first place: “May you be blessed with wealth and May the sons of your mother bow down to you…..”  Jacob finally realized that the blessing doesn’t belong to him and gave it back to it’s right owner!

 

Well, you can see two different interpretations of the same story in the Torah. There is no right or wrong answer to our story. Rivka had a justified reason to think that the blessing belonged to Jacob. And Isaac had a good enough reason to give a blessing to Esau too, because he had great respect for his father. But one thing we can derive from the story that deception is not a solution to make things right. Jacob had to separate from his parents for 22 years because he deceived his father, and he created hatred between brothers. Honesty is the best way to deal with problems. If Rivka would have just talked to Isaac and told him that Jacob deserves the blessing, maybe he would have given it him anyway?!

 

So my friends, remember that honesty brings love and closeness in a family, while deception creates hatred and separation!

 

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov & Regards;

 

Martin

 

Parashat Chayei Sarah!

Dear Friends

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” The Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

 

Sarah dies at age 127 and is buried in the Machpeilah Cave in Chevron, which Avraham purchases from Ephron the Hittite for 400 shekels of silver.

Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, is sent with gifts to Charan, Avraham’s hometown, to find a wife for Isaac. At the village well, Eliezer asks G-d for a sign: when the maidens come to the well, he will ask for some water to drink; the woman who will offer to give his camels to drink as well, shall be the one destined for his master’s son.

Rebecca, the daughter of Avraham’s nephew, appears at the well and passes the “test”. Rebecca returns with Eliezer to the land of Canaan, where they encounter Isaac. Isaac marries Rebecca, loves her, and is comforted over the loss of his mother.

Avraham takes a new wife, Keturah (Hagar) and fathers six additional sons, but Isaac is designated as his only heir. Avraham dies at age 175 and is buried beside Sarah by his two eldest sons, Isaac and Ishmael.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

This week’s Parsha, Chayei Sarah, starts off by saying that the years of Sarah’s life was one hundred twenty seven. And Sarah dies in Chevron. Then it talks about Avraham buying a burial spot for Sarah and buries her. And the rest of the Parsha is all about Isaac. Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to find him a wife from his birthplace. He finds Rebecca and brings her back to Isaac and she gets married to him.

The Chachamim ask an interesting question. Why does Parashat Chayei Sarah, which means “The Life of Sarah”, talks about Sarah’s death instead of Sarah’s “life”?! Usually the name of the Parsha reflects the topic discussed in the Parsha. For example, Parashat Bereshit, “in the beginning”, talks about the beginning of Creation. Parashat Noah is about Noah. Parashat Balak is about a King called Balak, and so on…… So why doesn’t Parashat Chayei Sarah talk about the life of Sarah?!

But this is not the only place in the Torah that connects life to death. A few Parashiot later, in Parashat Vayechi, which means “and (Jacob) lived”, the Torah also talks about Jacob’s death. It talks about Jacob blessing his children on his deathbed and then he dies. Again the Torah describes someone’s life by talking about his death. But why?! What’s the connection between life and death?!

Rabbi Raphael Wizman from Orthodox Union organization gives the following interesting explanation. He says that a person’s life can be seen through his or her accomplishments. And Sarah’s greatest accomplishment in life was to bear Isaac. Sarah, raised a son who would continue going in the path of G-d, and would willfully sacrifice his life for the sake of G-d. Sarah did not just raise a child, she raised a future Patriarch for the Jewish nation. Isaac’s continued loyalty to the tradition of his mother’s belief would be her greatest praise. The story of Isaac’s life is, in essence, the story of Sarah’s life. Because Sarah’s legacy lives through Isaac. The same can be said about Jacob. Jacob’s greatest accomplishment in life was his children. He raised 12 children who followed in his footsteps and formed the 12 tribes of Israel. And that’s why the Torah connects Sarah and Jacob’s lives to their death. Because their legacy lives on through their children. We should remember that Sadikim never die! The Talmud says “The righteous are considered alive even after death” because the righteous leave a living trace in those who come after them.

Yes my friends, our greatest accomplishments in life are not the trophies that we’ve won, nor the college degrees we’ve obtained or all the fortune that we have accumulated over the years, but rather, our greatest accomplishment in life is our children. We all live a relatively short period of time in this world and then, sooner or later, we all have to die and kiss the world goodbye. Our legacy, however, lives on through our children. How we raise them and present them to the society is the reflection of our own beliefs and behaviors. Avraham’s name never died, since he taught his children to follow in his footstep by believing in G-d and doing act of kindness to others. And if we continue on his journey, then Avraham’s name will live for ever!

There is a great lesson to be learned here. The Torah is teaching us the secret to immortality! All we need to do is to follow G-d’s commandments and then teach them to our children. If they can follow in our footsteps and teach their children to follow in their’s, then you’ll never know………. our legacy may live forever!!

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

 

Parashat Vayera!

Dear Friends;

I hope you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

G-d reveals Himself to Avraham three days after his circumcision at age 99; but Avraham rushes off to prepare a meal for three guests who appear in the desert heat. One of the three guests — who are angels disguised as men — announces that, in exactly one year, the barren Sarah will give birth to a son. Sarah laughs.

Avraham pleads with G-d to spare the wicked city of Sodom, but did not succeed. Two of the angels arrive in the doomed city to overturn the place, and to save Lot and his family. Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt when she disobeyed the command not to look back at the burning city as they flee.

While taking shelter in a cave, Lot’s two daughters get their father drunk, lie with him, and become pregnant. The two sons born from this incident father the nations of Moab and Amon.

Avraham moves to Gerar, where the Philistine king Avimelech takes Sarah — who is, once again, presented as Avraham’s sister — to his palace. In a dream, G-d warns Avimelech that he will die unless he returns the woman to her husband.

G-d remembers His promise to Sarah and gives her and Avraham a son, who is named Isaac (meaning “will laugh”). Isaac is circumcised at the age of eight days; Abraham is 100 years old, and Sarah 90, at their son’s birth.

Hagar and Ishmael are banished from Avraham’s home and wander in the desert; G-d hears the cry of the dying lad and saves his life by showing his mother a well.

G-d tests Avraham’s devotion by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The Parsha concludes with Avraham receiving the news of the birth of a daughter, Rebecca, to his nephew Bethuel.

 

“ Dvar Torah “

 

In this week’s parsha, we read about the famous story of “Akeidat Yitzchak”, the binding of Isaac. We all know the story by now: Hashem wanted to test Avraham’s faith, for the tenth and the final time. So one day, G-d tells Avraham to take his only son, the one he loves, Isaac and bring him to the top of a mountain and sacrifice him to G-d Almighty. Without any hesitation, the next morning, Avraham takes Isaac on a oneway, three days journey. On the third day, he takes him up the mountain, binds him down, lifts the knife up and was ready to slaughter his son. At that moment, an angel of G-d tells him to stop and not to harm his son, for now Hashem knows that he truly believes in him.

Wow! What a story! Every time I read the story of Akeidat Yitzchak , it gives me the chills. What an act of courage and obedience was demonstrated by Avraham! Who can kill his own son, specially the one that he longed for more than 100 years?! How can someone do something against his own principles? Avraham was preaching his entire life that it’s wrong to bring human sacrifices for idols and gods, and now he had to do it himself! Not even once he questioned G-d for this commandment! He only did it because he believed in G-d wholeheartedly. The act of Akeida was so great that we still benefit from it to this very day. Every year in our Selichot prayers and on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we read the Akeidat Yitzchak in order to remind Hashem that we are the descendant of the same Avraham who was ready to sacrifice his son for you. Forgive us for his sake, if not for ours! Because probably no one else would have had the courage or the strength to do such an unimaginable act!

Rightfully so, whenever we read about the Akeida, we praise Avraham. But what about Isaac? How come we don’t give any credit to Isaac?! According to the majority of our Chachamim, Isaac was 37 years old at the time. He wasn’t a child anymore and he was fully aware of what was going on. He layed down on the altar and allowed his father to bind him down and raise the knife to kill him. He also went through a test at the time of Akeida and passed it by accepting G-d’s decision! Yes, killing your son can be extremely difficult, but killing yourself at a young age when you still have your whole life ahead of you is not a simple act either! So, the big question is, whose challenge was harder? Who did a greater act of courage and sacrifice? Avraham or Isaac?!

Once again,  Rabbi Yissachar Frand gives a beautiful explanation. He says, the test that Isaac had to go through was even greater than his father’s test! You see, Avraham heard it directly from G-d Himself, to sacrifice Isaac. But who told Isaac that he was to be sacrificed? Isaac heard it from his father, Avraham! Isaac must have considered it awfully strange that G-d, who values life, wants a human sacrifice. Such ritual was against all the values and believes that his father had taught him in the past. At this point, Isaac had all the rights to question his father. Keep in mind that Avraham was quite old at the time, 137 to be exact, and could have easily made a mistake in his judgement. Unlike Moshe, G-d did not appear to Avraham in a clear vision. He appeared to him in a dream or a trance, which is not 100% clear. Just before the Akeida, Isaac could have rightfully asked his father:  ” Are you sure father that you heard G-d telling you to sacrifice me? Maybe you just had a bad dream? Don’t you want to ask him one more time just to make sure?”  But he never questioned his father. He had full trust in his father Avraham. The respect that he had for his father didn’t allow him to doubt his decision! And this was the greatness of Isaac that stands out and makes him one of our forefathers. Avraham obeyed the word of G-d; but Isaac obeyed his father’s! Giving the same respect to your father as you give to the G-d Almighty deserves all the praises in the world! Akeidat Yitzchak, was by far the hardest test that Avraham had to go through in his lifetime. But Isaac had to go through an even harder test!

Yes my friends, we learn from Isaac that respecting parents and listening to them is as important as respecting G-d himself. You cannot respect one and not the other! They go hand in hand.That’s why, on the two tablets of Ten Commandments, honoring parents is placed on the same side as respecting and believing in G-d. Because in order to believe in G-d, you need to respect your parents first!

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Lech-Lecha!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

G-d speaks to Avram, commanding him to “Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” There, G-d says, he will make him into a great nation. Avram and his wife Sarai, accompanied by his nephew Lot, journey to the Land of Canaan, where Avram continues to spread the message of a One G-d.

A famine forces Avram to depart for Egypt, where beautiful Sarai is taken to Pharaoh’s palace; Avram escapes death because they present themselves as brother and sister. A disease prevents the Egyptian king from touching her and convinces him to return her to Avram.

Back in the Land of Canaan, Lot separates from Avram and settles in the evil city of Sodom, where he falls captive when a war breaks out in that region. Avram sets out with a small army to rescue his nephew, defeats the four kings, brings back his nephew and all his belongings, plus all the belongings of the defeated kings.

Still childless ten years after their arrival in the Land, Sarai tells Avram to marry her maidservant Hagar. Hagar conceives, becomes disrespectful toward her mistress, and then flees when Sarai treats her harshly. An angel convinces her to return and tells her that her son will father a populous nation. Ishmael is born in Abram’s 86th year.

Thirteen years later, G-d changes Avram’s name to Avraham and Sarai’s to Sarah, and promises that a son will be born to them; whom they should call Isaac (“will laugh”). Avraham is commanded to circumcise himself and his descendents as a “sign of the covenant between Me and you.”

“ Dvar Torah “

 

The relationship between parents and children is so fascinating. At the beginning, a baby is fully dependent on his parents and can not live a moment without them. The first and deepest fear that we all have as a very young child is separation anxiety: the absence of parents, especially the mother. Young children will play happily so long as the mother is within sight. Take away the mother, and they will panic and cry. We are too young to venture into the world on our own.

But then it comes a time when we become teenagers and start to enter our adulthood life. It is when we have to learn to make our own decisions in life. At this time, we want to show that  we can stand on our own feet and hence we become rebellious. We think that we know better than our parents and we try to distance ourselves from them.

However, as the years go by, we begin to realise that having spent what seems like a lifetime of running away from our parents, we find that we have become very much like them – and the further away we run, the closer we get to them. Sometimes, it needs time and distance to see how much we owe our parents and how much of them lives on in us. Towards the end, we want to be with them maybe more than they want to be with us. And after 120 years when they leave us, once again, we panic and we cry.

In this week’s Parashat Lech Lecha, the Torah introduces us to Avraham Avinu. It begins with the words, “God said to Abraham, Go from your land, your birthplace and your father’s house to a land I will show you”. This is one of the most strange introduction to someone’s life I’ve ever heard! Why does the Torah start off the life of Abraham from this point in his life?! Unlike Moses, the Torah gives us no portrait of Abraham’s childhood, his youth, his relationship with the other members of his family, how he came to marry Sarah, or his unique characteristics that made G-d single him out to become the founder of monotheism.

But above all, I’m more curious to know what was the relationship between Abraham and his father? Well, up till now, because of the biblical silence, I used to follow the Midrash which said that Abraham broke the idols in his father’s house. I thought that he was the rebellious child. He was the man of new beginnings who overturned everything his father stood for. He was known to us as “Abraham the Revolutionary”. He was against his father’s beliefs and started a new life on his own.

But Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that was not the case. Abraham and his father got along quite well. And the proof is given at the end of last week’s parsha. It says this: “Terach took his son Abram, his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, and together they set out from Ur Kasdim to go to Canaan. But when they came to Charan, they settled there”. It turns out, in other words, that Abraham and his father left his land and his birthplace (Ur) together, and it was long after that, when he left his father’s house and separated from him in Charan. Terach, Abraham’s father, accompanied him for the first half of his journey. He went with his son at least part of the way. The Torah says that it was Terach who took Abraham, not Abraham who took Terach, from Ur to go to the land of Canaan, which means that Abraham was actually completing a journey his father began. There was no immediate or radical tension between father and son.

Indeed it is hard to imagine how it could have been otherwise. Abraham himself was chosen “so that he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord” – that is, he was chosen to be a model parent. How could a rebellious child who rejected the way of his father become a model father? Why wouldn’t his children reject his ways in turn? It makes more sense to say that Terach already had doubts about idolatry and it was he who inspired Abraham to go further, spiritually and physically. Although Terach did not complete the journey with Abraham, perhaps because of the age, but surely he was happy for him that he was following the words of G-d and wished him farewell.

Yes my friends, quite often we may think we are so different from our parents, but sooner or later, we come to realize that we are just the same. Sometimes it takes time and distance for us to appreciate how much they helped us to become the people we are. Even when we thought we were running away, we were in fact continuing their journey. We often see that a charitable parents have charitable children too. People who like to do communal work, probably have parents who did communal work too.

In Judaism, there is no such a thing as a rebellious child. Parents and children can never distance themselves from each other. We may sometimes have different views in regards to religion, business and lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t love them. Parents and children need each other. It makes life much more meaningful. So, cherish every moment with your parents, because you’ll never know the heartache when you see their empty chair ………..

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Noach!

Dear Friends;

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Parshat Noah begins by describing Noah’s righteousness, compared with the wickedness of his generation. As a result of Mankind’s evil, Hashem brings a flood to destroy every living creature, sparing only Noah, his family, and at least one pair of every animal species, who live in an ark during the lengthy flood. When the waters declined, almost a year after the rains first began, Noah sends out a raven and a dove so as to determine whether the land has dried sufficiently so that they can leave the ark to resettle the earth once again. Hashem promises that He will never again destroy all of Mankind by means of a flood, and He designates the rainbow as a sign for that eternal covenant.

Noah plants a vineyard, drinks from its produce, and becomes drunk. In his intoxicated state, he shamefully uncovers himself in his tent. While his son Cham dealt with his father inappropriately, Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Yefet, cover their father in a respectful manner. Once sober, Noah responds by blessing Shem and Yefet, and by cursing Cham and his son Canaan.

Generations pass and the world is repopulated. The people attempt to wage war against Hashem by building the Tower of Babel, and Hashem responds by mixing up their languages and dispersing them across the planet.

The Torah portion concludes on an encouraging note with Abraham’s birth and his marriage to Sarah.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

At the beginning of the Parsha, the Torah says: ” Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation…..”. So, the obvious question that comes to mind is why does the Torah mention “in his generation”, when it talks about Noah’s righteousness? Well, our sages have two opposing views regarding this matter. Some Chachamim praise Noah for his righteousness in his generation, since it is very difficult to stay righteous when you are surrounded with corrupt and evil people. They say, He would have been even more righteous, if he would have lived in some other times where they were more righteous people surrounding him. While others criticize him, for his righteousness is only apparent when is compared to wickedness of his own generation. If he would have lived in the times of Abraham, for example, he would have never reached his level of righteousness. With all being said, still Noah is the only person in the entire Torah to be given the title of “righteous” by Hashem himself. So, there is no question about Noah’s righteousness; the only doubt is about his level of righteousness.

But our sages say that despite Noah’s righteousness, he still didn’t have the zechut (merit) of becoming the forefather of the Jewish nation. Our family tree starts from Abraham and not from Noah. The Torah could have easily traced back Abraham to Noah and added him to the list of our forefathers, but decided not to. But why? Why didn’t our family tree start from the righteous Noah? What was he lacking, that disqualified him from joining the Jewish nation?

I read a very interesting explanation given by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He says that the answer could be found in this week’s Parsha. After the flood, Hashem tells Noah to get out of the Ark and fill up the earth once again — to grow, multiply and rebuild a society. But once Noah got out of the Ark, he looked back at all the destructions. Overwhelmed by grief, he found refuge in wine. Instead of starting to build his future, he built himself a vineyard! He became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.The man of God has become a man of the soil. The righteous man has become a drunkard. The man clothed in virtue now lies naked and unashamed. The most righteous man who walked with God now lies alone in disgrace! And all because he looked back instead of looking forward. G-d tells him to go and build your future, but instead, he concentrated on the destructions in the past! And this is what disqualified him from becoming a Jew — ‘Not having a vision for the future’. Because in Judaism, we build our future before we mend our past!

We can see many examples of vision for the future throughout the Jewish History. One of the more recent incidents is at the time of the Holocaust. After the fall of the Natzi regime, the European Jews did not sit idle and grieve over the loss of their loved ones. Instead, they immediately started to think about their future. They started to capture and rebuild the Land of Israel for the Jewish nation. They worked very hard to make Israel a prosperous country for their children which we do benefit greatly from it to this very day. Rabbi Sacks says that many of the Holocaust survivors didn’t want to speak about their past at the beginning. Only after many years, when they got settled in and were much older, they started to talk about their past and grieve over what they’ve lost. And all because, their future was more important than their past!

Yes my friends, Judaism is a religion of the future! We are always thinking about our future and that’s the secret to our success. The land of Israel prospers continuously, because the Jews in Israel are always thinking about building their future. Why do you think that the Palestinians never prosper and most of them live in poverty and under pressure?! Because they keep looking back instead of looking forward. They don’t care about building their future; all they think about is who did this land belonged to in the past!

B”H, the Mashadi community has always been a great believer of the future too. When our fathers left Iran, they did not sit back and grieve for what they’ve left behind, but rather, they immediately started to build the future for their family and their children in United States, and today we are enjoying the fruits of their labor. Even our leaders today, they all have a vision for the future. They see the needs of the community in many more years to come, and they act on it accordingly. May G-d bless them all.

So remember my friends, the secret to succeed in life is to have a vision for the future. Something that was unfortunately missing in Noah, which inevitably disqualified him to be the father of the Chosen People!

 

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov & Regards;

Martin

 

Parashat Vezot Haberacha & Simcha Torah!

Dear Friends;

I hope you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah on the Parsha and Simchat Torah;

 

” Parasha in a Nutshell “

 

Parashat Vezot Haberacha begins by Moshe blessing the tribes of Israel before he passes away. Each tribe gets its own blessing, just like Yakov blessed each tribe individually. Reuven is blessed with life, Judah with success in battle, Levi with serving in the Temple and being teachers of Torah, Benjamin is beloved by G-d, Joseph is blessed by sweet fruits on his land, Zevulun with success in trade, Issachar with success in Torah studies, Dan with a might of a lion, Naftali with fertile land and sea and Asher with sons.

After blessing the people, Moshe goes up Mount Nebo and G-d shows him the entire “Eretz Yisrael”. Then Moshe passes away at the age of 120. He is buried by G-d, and until today, nobody knows his burial place. The Jews mourned for Moshe for 30 days, and then Joshua became the new leader, who was respected by the entire congregation, just like Moshe.

The Parsha, and the entire Torah, ends with describing Moshe’s greatness. ” There arose never again a prophet in Israel like Moshe, whom G-d knew face to face……. and the great awesome things which Moshe did before the eyes of the Egyptians and all Israel.”

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

Every year, Parashat VeZot Haberacha, which is the last Parsha of the Torah, gets swallowed up by the Festival of Simcha Torah. It doesn’t have its own designated Shabbat like all other parashiot, and the Chag on which it is read, is so packed with activities such as singing, dancing, eating and drinking, that no one pays much attention to what is going on in the Parsha. Compared to the rest of the Parashiot in the Torah, you can find the least amount of commentaries, since most commentators are busy writing about Simcha Torah or Parashat Bereshit.

But why didn’t the Chachamim designate a Shabbat to the last parsha? How could they miss to comment on the last chapter of the Torah? For those of you who are book lovers, know for a fact that the last chapter of any book is by far the most exciting one of them all. Everyone is anxious to know what happens at the end! What will happen to the Hero? The excitement is overwhelming. Just before starting the last chapter, you feel the jitters in your body! Once you start reading the last chapter, there is no way you can put down the book until you have read the very last word. And then, you feel the ultimate satisfaction– which could be a feeling of accomplishment, excitement, joy, or even a feeling of sorrow. So, how come, we and the commentators, can’t reach the same level of excitement with our Holy book of Torah? After all, our Torah is a true-story book with its’ author being the G-d Almighty himself, and has Moshe Rabeinu as its hero. So, how can it be less exciting than any other book? Most of us don’t even read the English translation of the Parsha! Don’t you think it’s a little absurd? Don’t we want to know what will happen to Moshe at the end and how does the Torah end??

The answer is quite simple my friends. We don’t feel the excitement of the last Parsha of the Torah, because we believe that the Torah never ends!! That’s what Simcha Torah is all about! As soon as we finish reading the last sentence of the Torah, immediately, without a break, we start to read the first chapter, Parashat Bereshit. Apparently, there is no beginning or an end to Torah. It seems that the Torah is just one continuous book! Once you realize that there is no ending, then there is no excitement to read the last chapter! We believe that every chapter of the Torah is as important as the other and we should feel the excitement at all times throughout the year when we read the Torah. The celebration that we do on Simcha Torah, is not because we have finished or started the Torah, but rather, the celebration is because Hashem has given us another year to review this wonderful book.

But all being said, I still feel the urge to say a few words about the last chapter of the Torah. So, towards the end of the Parsha, which is the last few hours of Moshe’s life, we see that Hashem finally reveals his emotions. He talks so highly of his beloved servant, Moshe Rabeinu. He tells us that never again we shall see such a Prophet who can talk “face to face” to the Almighty, who can perform Hashem’s miracles with such greatness. Unlike all other prophets who could only communicate with Hashem in a vision, Moshe talked to Hashem face to face at anytime he wanted. To Hashem, Moshe was not just another human being; he was someone very dear to him. Not only Hashem talked to Moshe constantly, but He also consulted with him, He argued with him, He taught him, He listened to him, he punished him and he praised him. In the mortal world, it seems that Moshe was Hashem’s best friend; his buddy so to speak. The Torah finally tells us that the time has come for Moshe to die and be gathered to his people. How do you think Hashem felt at that time? Yes, we believe that once a person dies, his soul will go to “Olam Haba”, a place which the soul gets closer to Hashem; but as a human being, as a flesh and blood, he had to say goodbye to his best friend. The Halacha says that when a person passes away, the closest relative is responsible to do the burial. In the case of Moshe, Hashem felt that he was his closest family, and that’s why the Torah says that Hashem buried Moshe himself. It makes you wonder how painful it was for Hashem to bury his best friend?!?!

Yes, our hero dies at the end, but there is no reason to be sad, because Moshe left this world with dignity and pride as the best prophet of all times. A person who we still talk about him after 3000 years, is not considered dead! Moshe’s name is mentioned in nearly every Parsha of the four out of five books of the Torah. In “Pirkei Avot” its written “tov shem mi shemen tov”, which means a good name is better than a good oil since it lasts for much longer time. Moshe, was loved and respected by G-d because he in turn loved the Benei Israel so much that he was ready to give up his life for them! His love and devotion for his nation earned him the title of “the greatest prophet of all times”!! Anyone who has been loved by Hashem so much, should be adored by us too! May he rest in peace. What a great zechut we have to be a part of a nation who had Moshe Rabeinu as its leading prophet!

Although, Hashem punished Moshe severely for the only mistake of hitting the rock instead of talking to it, it did not take anything away from the love and respect he had towards him. And this is the greatest lesson we can learn from Hashem. Sometimes our children might do something that they are not suppose to, and we may end up punishing them. But that should not take away, by no means, from the love and respect that we have towards them. We punish our children because we love them and we want them to improve, and not because we don’t like them, G-d forbid!

So remember my friends, Simcha Torah is the celebration of continuing with the Torah. The Torah is our life; without it, we can not live! That’s why we keep reading it in a circle without interruption. The Torah is often compared to light. In today’s modern times, it’s electricity which gives us light at nights. Electricity is a flow of electrons around a circuit. You cut the circuit, there is no light………. You cut the Torah, there is no life!!!

 

Chag Sameach, Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

 

Parashat Ki-Tavo!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a short Dvar Torah;

 

“ Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Moshe instructs the people of Israel: When you enter the land that G-d is giving to you as your eternal heritage, and you settle it and cultivate it, bring the first-ripened fruits of your orchard to the Holy Temple, and declare your gratitude for all that G-d has done for you.

Our Parsha also includes the laws of the tithes given to the Levites and to the poor. Moshe reminds the people that they are G-d’s chosen people, and that they, in turn, have chosen G-d.

The latter part of Ki Tavo consists of the Tochachah (“Rebuke”). After listing the blessings with which G-d will reward the people when they follow the laws of the Torah, Moshe gives a long, harsh account of the bad things — illness, famine, poverty and exile — that shall befall them if they abandon G-d’s commandments.

Moshe concludes by telling the people that only today, forty years after their birth as a people, have they attained “a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear.”

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

Harvest time! After months of backbreaking work, a farmer can finally enjoy the fruits of its labor. He can reap all of his crops and G-d willing, it will cover his sustenance for the year to come. But before he can enjoy his freshly-harvested crop, the Torah commands in this week’s parsha that the farmer bring his “Bikurim”, or his first-ripened fruits, to the Temple in Jerusalem as a gift to the Kohen. The sages describe the remarkable scene of thousands of people, rich and poor alike, come together in Jerusalem, rejoicing in song and dance with their baskets of fruit in their hands, celebrating their successful harvest and offering thanks to Hashem.

Upon arriving in the Temple, the Torah commands: “The Kohen shall take the basket from your hand and leave it before the altar of the Lord your G-d”. The Talmud relates an interesting detail regarding this event. The wealthy people, would bring their fruits in exquisite gold and silver baskets and would hand them over to the Kohen. The Kohen would then remove the fruits and return the baskets to their owners. But for the less fortunate farmers who brought their fruits in cheap reed or straw baskets, the Kohen would not return the baskets to their owners; the fruits would remain inside the baskets until the Kohen took them home. The obvious question is, why does the rich get back his silver and gold basket, while the poor who might still have a need for his basket, goes home empty handed?! The Chachamim ask why does “the rich get richer, while the poor gets poorer”?! Is this justice in the eyes of Hashem? The Jewish laws which have always shown compassion towards the needy, seems to have missed this opportunity! Why is it so?

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky gives an interesting explanation. The wealthy farmer who owns many top quality fields, may probably have a lot of produce to present to the Kohen, and his fruits are beautiful and well-formed. The poor person, on the other hand, who probably has a much smaller field, the fruits that he brings to the Temple are most likely inferior both in quality and quantity. If the fruits would be removed in order to return the baskets to the owner, the poor farmer would be forced to suffer the embarrassment of having people see his inferior gift. The Jewish law therefore prescribes that the fruits should remain hidden in the basket. The Torah feels that a person’s dignity is worth more than a few dollars. Let the Kohen keep the fruit in the basket. Let it at least have the appearance of being something substantial. Let the poor man walk out with his dignity, even if the basket is something of a value to him. A person can always make a few more dollars. But It’s much harder to regain one’s pride!

Yes my friends, the Talmud is teaching us that every person deserves to have dignity and pride. We should try our best not the hurt other people’s feelings and avoid embarrassing them. The Almighty demands from us not to humiliate another person, not to put anyone to shame and above all, not to take away someone’s pride. Every person deserves to be respected since we are all created in the image of G-d. The whole theme of the Torah is about having compassion for your fellow human beings and to love your fellow Jew just like yourself.

Remember that Hashem accepted both fruits of the rich and the poor. Both were given the same respect to enter the holy Temple and to present their gift to G-d. Both walked in with  a joy in their hearts and both left with pride and dignity. In the eyes of Hashem, all of his children are dear to him the same way, and they should be dear to us too.

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Ki Tetzei!

  • Dear Friends;
  • I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;
  • ” Parsha in a Nutshell “
  • Seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 commandments are in this week’s Parsha. These include the laws of the beautiful captive woman, the inheritance rights of the first-born, capital punishment for the wayward and rebellious son, burial and dignity of the dead, returning a lost object, sending away the mother bird before taking her young, and the duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one’s home.
  • Also recounted are the judicial procedures and penalties for adultery, for the rape or seduction of an unmarried girl, and for a husband who falsely accuses his wife of adultery. The following cannot marry a person of Jewish lineage: a bastard; a male of Moabite or Ammonite descent.
  • Our Parshah also includes laws governing the purity of the military camp; the prohibition against turning in an escaped slave; the duty to pay a worker on time; the proper treatment of a debtor and the prohibition against charging interest on a loan; the laws of divorce (from which are also derived many of the laws of marriage); and the procedures for yibbum, marriage between the wife of a childless deceased to her brother-in-law.
  • Parsha concludes with the obligation to remember “what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt.”
  • ” Dvar Torah “

  • One of the most difficult tasks for any parents is to raise their children. There are no set of rules to follow. Even if there is, there is no guarantee that it will work on every child, since each child is different. One of the biggest nightmare for parents is, G-d forbid, to be faced with a problematic or a rebellious child. How can they avoid to have such a child?!
  • Well, in this week’s Parsha, the Torah talks about a wayward and rebellious son (Ben sorer u’moreh). The Torah says: ” If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they discipline him but he still does not listen to them, then the parents shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of the city and say to them, ” This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not listen to our voice, he is a glutton and drunkard ….. All the men of the city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die;”
  • The Chachamim say that the reason the boy is put to death is because the parents notice a trend in their young son’s spiritual growth that will almost inevitably lead to a lifestyle involving robbery and  even murder. One of the requirements for a child to be considered a “Ben Sorer U’moreh” is to be a glutton, indulging in excessive meat and wine. If a boy displays an uncontrolled lust for meat and wine, he will inevitably reach the point where he will rob and murder in order to obtain the money he needs to satisfy this lust. Therefore the Torah advises that he should be put to death “at the stage in life when he is still innocent,” rather than allowing him to mature to a point where he will actually commit the sin and will be deservant of death.
  • But the Talmud says that an actual case of “ben sorer u’moreh”, stoning of a child, has never happened and will never happen. There are too many laws and restrictions. Besides, no parents would have the heart to take their son to be stoned to death! The Torah is merely mentioning this law just for educational purposes. So, if the whole purpose of this law is to educate us, let’s see what we can learn from it.
  • The Torah says: ” If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother……..”. Accordingly, our Chachamim ask the following question. Why does the Torah mention the voice of the father and the voice of the mother separately? Why doesn’t it just say, “a son who does not listen to the voice of his parents?! Our Torah which is so careful with the use of words, why suddenly became so generous with throwing extra words?!
  • Rabbi Yissachar Frand gives an interesting interpretation. He says, in describing a rebellious child, the Torah is trying to stress that the parents were not of one voice and one opinion! The child did not listen to his father’s voice and independently he did not listen to his mother’s alternate voice either. When the child hears mixed messages, he does not listen to either parent and he goes after his own heart and hence, he becomes rebellious. When a child hears one thing from the father and another thing from the mother – that is a garden in which weeds can grow. Only subsequently, when the child has already left the right path, do the parents come and, sadly, tell the elders of the court: “Now we are together. Now we have a unified voice. Our son is not listening to OUR voice!” Unfortunately by then, it is too late. The son has already became a rebellious child, and it’s very hard to bring him back!
  • Yes my friends, There are no secret formulas for raising good children. Raising children is the most difficult job in the world. However, there are clearly certain things parents should try to avoid. Parents should always present a unified message of their expectations to their children. Parents may have disagreements among themselves as to what is the proper course in raising children. But those disagreements need to be decided among themselves; in private! When parents come before their children, they need to articulate a clear, decisive, and uniform message. For example, if a son comes and ask the mother for $20 and the mother says no, and then he goes and asks the father for $20 and he gives it to him, that’s considered talking in different voices. If the parents would have always talked in a unified voice, then the son would have never gone to the father and asked for $20! When the parents reach the status of “our voice” rather than “the father’s voice” and “the mother’s voice,” their chances of raising a proper child will be much greater.
  • So remember my friends, there are more things to learn from the Torah than just to read the plain text. Accordingly, the lesson that we can learn from “Ben Sorer U’moreh” is not how to kill a rebellious child, but rather, how to raise a good child who is respectful to his parents.
  • Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

             Martin

Parashat Shoftim!

  • Dear Friends;

 

  • I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;
  • ” Parsha in a Nutshell “
  • Moshe instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and law-enforcement officers in every city.
  • A minimum of two credible witnesses is required for conviction and punishment.
  • A Jewish king may only have possessions and symbols of power adequate for the honor of his office, but not for self glorification.
  • Hashem promises the Jewish people that he will send them prophets to guide them, and Moshe explains how a genuine prophet may be distinguished from a false one.
  • The Parsha includes the prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery; guidelines for the creation of “cities of refuge” for the inadvertent murderer. Also set forth are many of the rules of war: the exemption from battle for one who has just built a home, planted a vineyard, married, or is “afraid and soft-hearted”; the requirement to offer terms of peace before attacking a city.
  • If a corpse is found between cities, the elders of the nearest city must take a heifer, slaughter it, and wash their hands over it, saying that they are not guilty of the death.
  • “ Dvar Torah “
  • The foundation of civilization is based on justice! No civilized society can survive without a judiciary system, and a set of laws and order. And Judaism cannot agree more with this system. This week’s parsha starts off by telling us to appoint judges and lawmakers for ourselves. It continues by telling us the famous quote, “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof”….. “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue”……. But the true translation of it is: “Righteousness, Righteousness, you shall pursue”…..

 

          So, what does it exactly mean, tzedek, righteousness, you shall pursue? Rabbi Frand               says that it means that a person should be trialed in a righteous and a fair way. That’s             why the Torah tells us to appoint righteous and G-d fearing judges. A judge cannot                   take a bribe. A judge cannot take the side of the weak or the powerful, nor can he take           the side of a widow or an orphan. Indeed, a judge has to be totally unbiased and try                 his best to make a fair judgment.

 

  • In western societies’ court of law, where there is a dispute between two parties, the judge has to determine who is right and who is wrong; who has to be rewarded and who has to be punished. The judge’s main role is to find who is guilty and who is innocent. The judge has the full authority to make this decision. In a Jewish court of law however, the judge has a different role. His role is to give the accused a fair trial — a trial which is based on fairness and righteousness. Indeed the Torah sets down numerous rules and regulations which delimit the judge’s power to judge, and ensure that when he does judge, he does so with utmost caution and sensitivity.
  • To get a better understanding of what it means by a fair trial, we can look at a criminal law discussion in the Talmud known as the “indefensible criminal” laws. The Talmud says: In the time of Beit Hamikdash, under the Jewish law, capital crimes were tried by a tribunal of 23 judges called a “Minor Sanhedrin.” After hearing the testimony of the witnesses, the judges themselves would split into two groups: those inclined to argue for the defense of the accused would serve as his “defense team” and seek to convince their colleagues of his innocence; and those inclined to convict him would serve as prosecutors making the case for his guilt. After each team presents their case, then the judges would vote. A majority of one was sufficient to set him free, while a majority of two was necessary to convict.
  • But  what happens if all the twenty-three judges join the prosecution team?! What if the evidence is so compelling and the crime so horrifying that not a single member of the tribunal chooses to argue in the accused’s favor? In such a case, says the Talmud, the accused cannot be convicted and this court is disqualified from making a judgement!
  • But you may ask yourself why? Why is the court disqualified? If the evidences are so strong against the accused, why can’t the court find him guilty?! Why does it matter if anyone is going to defend him or not? For example, if a killer is caught, and there are more than 5 witnesses who saw him kill the person, the guy is guilty and should be trialed and punished! So what if he doesn’t have a defence team?!
  • Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Late Lubavitcher Rebbe, explains the rationale behind this law as follows: No man is so utterly evil that there is nothing to be said in his defense. There is always some explanation, some justification, some perspective from which the underlying goodness of his soul can be glimpsed. This does not mean that he is going to be found innocent. But if not a single member of the court perceives the “innocent side” of the person standing accused before them, this court then obviously has very little understanding of who he is and what he has done. Such a court has disqualified itself from passing judgment on him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe therefore says that you cannot judge a person until you see something good in that person! Justice has to be done with righteousness, and righteousness is achieved when you can see the good in everybody first!
  • Yes my friends, in order to judge a person, we need to hear something in his defence first! That’s why the Torah is so much against “Lashon Hara”, evil speech or slander.  Because when you hear something evil about someone, you immediately become judgmental. But you can not judge him, because you haven’t heard anything in his defense yet! Judging people is one of the most difficult tasks and that’s why the Torah has  asked us to appoint professional judges who are righteous and know how to judge fairly. Us, the ordinary people, are not here to judge people —– we are here to love them!
  • So remember my friends, if you only see the bad in people, you are disqualified to judge them. But if you see the good in people, then you’ll be considered a “Tzadik”, a righteous person in the eyes of Hashem……
  • Shabbat Shalom & Regards;
  • Martin

Parashat Re’eh!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

Moshe says to the people of Israel, “I place before you today a blessing and a curse” —  the blessing that will come when they fulfill G-d’s commandments, and the curse if they abandon them.

A Temple should be established in “the place that G-d will choose to dwell His name there”, where the people should bring their sacrifices to Him; it is forbidden to make offerings to G-d in any other place.

A false prophet, or one who entices others to worship idols, should be put to death; an idolatrous city must be destroyed. The identifying signs for kosher animals and fishes, and the list of non-kosher birds are repeated.

A tenth of all produce is to be eaten in Jerusalem, or else exchanged for money with which food is purchased and eaten there. Firstborn cattle and sheep are to be offered in the Temple and their meat eaten by the Kohen.

The mitzvah of charity obligates a Jew to aid a needy fellow with a gift or loan. On the Sabbatical year (occurring every seventh year) all loans are to be forgiven.

Our Parshah concludes with the laws of the three pilgrimage festivals — Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot — when all should go to “see and be seen” before G-d in the Holy Temple.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

In this week’s Parsha, once again, Moshe reviews the commandments of the Torah with Benei Yisrael during the final days of his life. One of the commandments that he goes over is the mitzvah of giving charity. He tells them the following: ” If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers in one of your cities, in your land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother. Rather, you shall open your hand to him, and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs, which he is lacking.” Then a few pasuks later, Moshe continues to say: ” You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for in return for this matter, Hashem will bless you in all your deeds…”.

Interestingly, there are two phrases that have caused discussion among our commentators. One is,”You shall not harden your heart”…… and the other, “Let your heart not feel bad”….. The Chachamim say that when the Torah repeats itself, it’s try to convey an important message. Accordingly, the Chachamim derive from these two phrases that helping the poor has to be accompanied with good feelings of heart; meaning that you have to give charity with happiness and joy! To feel happy in your heart is as important as the act of giving charity itself! Some Chachamim even go as far as to say that the money given to charity without a joy and happiness of the heart, does not count as part of your “Ma-aser”- 10% obligatory donation towards charity.

But you may ask yourself, why is it so? Why is the Torah so concern about feeling of joy when we want to help the poor? If a wealthy guy, for example, wants to write a $500,000 check to a charity organization, why should it matter if he gives the check with a frown on his face? Shouldn’t the organization take the check anyway? Money is money; isn’t it??!! Also, when the needy comes and knocks on your door, he doesn’t want you to “open your heart”….. he wants you to open your wallet! So what is the big deal if we are not happy when we are giving charity or helping the poor?

Rabbi Frand gives a beautiful explanation to the above question. He quotes a story from the Talmud that best explains the reason for being happy when giving charity:  During the time of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a Jewish livestock owner was obligated to give 10% of his new flock to the Temple. How was this done? Every year, around Rosh Hashana, he would pen all his cattle, from a year old and younger, in an enclosure. He would then open up the gate and let them out, one at a time. As each animal exited the enclosure he would count: one, two, three,…… seven, eight and nine. When he counted the tenth he would mark the animal with a red dye. That animal would then be set aside to be brought to Jerusalem. The procedure was repeated until all the animals were counted.

A question is asked regarding this prescribed procedure. Why make the rancher go through the whole process of penning the animals and then driving them out the exit one at a time? Why not just take ten percent off the top, add a few extra to ensure that no less than required ten percent was given, and avoid this seemingly time consuming and senseless procedure?

The answer is that a very profound message is being conveyed to the rancher by virtue of this process. As each animal goes out the door, it is as if the Almighty is telling the person, ‘One is for you, two is for you, three is for you…’ After giving the owner nine, the Almighty then asks for only one. After getting to keep nine, the rancher is content and realizes how all of his wealth comes from the G-d Almighty and although he is giving, but he gets to keep much more for himself.

Rabbi Frand says that this is precisely the reason why we should be happy when we give to charity. When we are donating to charity, first we need to realize that everything we have comes from Hashem and we should be delighted that we are able to share a very small amount of it with others! The only reason we may feel unhappy about giving to charity is when we wrongfully think that we have made our money on our own. “I worked hard for this money…… I want to keep it for myself”, we may say to ourselves. Only then, it will be difficult to give it away.

Yes my friends, when you are giving charity with joy, not only are you helping the poor, but you are also acknowledging that everything you have comes from Hashem. The word for charity in Hebrew is “tzedakah”. Tzedakah does not mean charity. It means “righteousness”. We don’t give charity because we have pity on the poor; we give charity because it’s the right thing to do. If Hashem has blessed us with wealth, then we should be delighted to share some of it with our needy brothers. If Hashem can be so giving, then why can’t we?!

So the next time a poor knocks on your door, it’s up to you if you want to give him money or not. But if you do decide to give him, make sure you smile at him first! Feel happy about what you are doing. Rejoice, celebrate and dance with the poor for this is a happy occasion. This is what Hashem expects from you and this is what your heart should desire!

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Ekev!

  • Dear Friends;
  • I hope you’ll enjoy the following Parashat summary followed by a Dvar Torah;
  • ” Parsha in a Nutshell “
  • Moshe continues to encourage the Children of Israel to trust in Hashem and in the wonderful rewards which He will provide them if they keep the Torah. Moshe assures them that they will successfully defeat the nations of Canaan, at which point they must remove every trace of idol worship remaining in the Holy Land.
  • Moshe reminds them about the miraculous manna and the other wonders which Hashem provided for them throughout the past forty years, and he warns them to beware of their own future prosperity and military success which might cause them to forget Hashem. He further reminds them of their transgressions in the desert, retelling the story of the golden calf at length, and describing Hashem’s abundant mercy with them.
  • Moshe teaches the people the second paragraph of the Shema which stresses the fundamental doctrine of reward and punishment based upon our performance of the mitzvot. The Parsha concludes with Hashem’s promise that He will provide the Jewish people with protection if they observe the laws of the Torah.
  • “ Dvar Torah “
  • In this week’s Parsha, Moshe continues with his farewell speech to the Benei Israel before he passes away. He continues to tell them that the secret to their survival in the Promised Land is to keep Hashem’s commandments. But in the middle of his speech, he tells them the following sentence which really touched my heart:
  • “A Land that Hashem, your G-d, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year “.
  • What a beautiful statement about the land of Israel. G-d is always watching over the Land of Israel. But what is the significance of this declaration? Why is it important for Benei Israel to know that G-d is always protecting Israel?
  • Well, Rabbi Frand says that in order to understand this declaration, we need to evaluate the sin of the spies which occurred 40 years before. So, what exactly did the Spies do wrong? They honestly believed that it would be impossible to conquer the land. What they said was the truth. The people who lived in the land were giants. Even the greatest army could not defeat them. So why did they get punished?  
  • Well, The Baal HaAkeidah (a Torah scholar) suggests that the spies’ sin was to add their own conclusion to the facts. They should just have described the situation, and left it to Moshe to interpret it for the people. They should not have proclaimed that there was no way for the Jews to conquer the land. They should have kept their opinion to themselves.
  • But Shelah Hakadosh, another commentator, rejects the approach of the Akeidah. After all, he says, Moshe did ask them to share information regarding the strength of people living in Canaan at that point, which requires subjective judgment. One cannot expect a messenger to deliver only the facts on a matter that is so subjective without adding a conclusion?! For example, when you want to buy a new home, you will probably get an inspector to inspect the house first. After doing an inspection, he will give you a report of all the problems that exists in the house. There is a plumbing problem in the bathroom; there is a leak in the roof; the kitchen faucet is not working; and so on….. But at the end, you expect him to tell you if you should buy the house or not. Same way, the report of the spies asks for their opinion! We see that  two of the spies, Caleb and Yehoshua, also gave their opinion. They said that we can surely conquer the land. But they did not get punished! So why should the rest of the spies be at fault just for stating their opinion?!
  • Shelah Hakadosh suggests that Moshe was interested in hearing the Spies opinion, but not one based solely on military actions. Instead he wanted to hear their opinion based on spirituality and to show faith in G-d. Moshe knew that they would find fortified cities inhabited by powerful giants. But the appropriate response to such findings should have been, “Yes, they are strong, and yes, their cities are protected, and through natural means, we don’t stand a chance. But Hashem has told us that we should go into the land, so we will certainly defeat them.” They were supposed to remind the people that just as Hashem had saved them miraculously at the Yam Suf, the same way He will miraculously conquer the land for them too. The spies mistake was to not take into consideration the power of G-d!
  • But Rabbi Frand still has a problem with Shelah’s interpretation. He says that according to Jewish law, we cannot base our actions only on miracles. For example, if G-d forbid someone gets sick, he cannot sit at home and just pray to Hashem that he should miraculously get cured. The halacha says that he has to go to a doctor and try his best to get treatment. He cannot just rely on prayers. Accordingly, you cannot expect from the spies to purely rely on a miracle from Hashem to conquer the land! So why were they punished so severely?!
  • Rabbi Frand answers that although in all other areas of life, we should avoid depending on miracles as much as possible, when it comes to conquering Eretz Yisrael, we should ALWAYS rely on Hashem’s help. There is no way to live in Eretz Yisrael under natural circumstances. Without Hashem’s Presence, Eretz Yisrael is not inhabitable. And this is exactly the mistake of the spies. When it comes to conquering Israel, they could and should have relied on G-d’s miracles only.
  • And this is what Moshe is trying to teach them now as they are about to enter the land. That the land of Israel is a special land, different than all other lands. Because it is “A Land that Hashem, your God, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your God, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end”.
  • Yes my friends, Israel exists only because G-d is watching over it at all times! You don’t need to be a genius to realize how miraculously Israel continues to exist and prospers. Surrounded by millions or maybe billions of enemies, being continuously under attack, it still continues to thrive. Israel exists not because it has one of the best armies in the world, but rather, it exists because G-d is watching over it. Let’s not lose perspective. Israel’s existence is a supernatural phenomena!
  • A few years ago, Israel was under heavy attack by scud missiles. Israel used Iron Dome to intercept these rockets and B”H there were no fatalities. The whole world was amazed by Israel’s anti-missile invention. If you were in Israel at that time, you could have looked up in the sky and saw the Iron Domes actually intercepting the rockets. You could have seen a small explosion in the sky. But if you would have looked beyond the explosion, most probably, you should have been able to see the hand of G-d………
  • Shabbat shalom & Regards;
  • Martin

Parashat Vaetchanan!

Dear Friends;

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Moshe tells the people of Israel how he implored G-d to allow him to enter the land of Israel, but G-d refused, instructing him instead to ascend a mountain and see the Promised Land.

Continuing his “review of the Torah,” Moshe reminds them of the glorious seen at the Mount Sinai: ” Did ever a people hear the voice of G-d speaking out of the midst of the fire… and live? … You were shown, to know, that the L-rd is G-d… there is none else beside Him.”

Moshe predicts that, in future generations, the people will turn away from G-d, worship idols, and be exiled from their land and scattered amongst the nations; but from there they will seek G-d, and return to obey His commandments.

Our Parshah also includes a repetition of the Ten Commandments, and the first paragraph of the Shema. The Torah then tells us to bind “these words” as tefillin on our arms and heads, and inscribe them in a mezuzah and put them on the doorposts of our homes.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

I would like to dedicate this week’s Dvar Torah Le Eluy nishmat “Reuven Ben Mashiach”, my late father Z”L who passed away 11 months ago. May he rest in peace;

 

The book of Devarim is all about Moshe’s final days in this world. So too, in this week’s Parsha, Moshe continues to prepare the Benei Yisrael for a life without his leadership in the land of Israel. He tells them that the secret to their survival in the promised land is by keeping the commandments of the Torah. So not to our surprise, he relates to them the Ten Commandments once again, and reminds them how important it is to keep them. Although, the wording of the Ten Commandments said by Moshe now is very similar to the one that they received at Mount Sinai about forty years before, but still, the commentators could find a few little changes.

One of the differences between Moshe’s version of the Ten Commandments and the original one found in the book of Shemot is found in the fifth commandment which is to “Honor your parents”. The pasuk says: “Honor your father and mother, as Hashem your G-d has commanded you, so that you may live long….” The Chachamim immediately notice that Moshe has added a phrase to this commandment which is: “as Hashem your G-d has commanded you”. This phrase was not mentioned in the first version of Ten Commandments. So, why did Moshe add this phrase?!  What is the significance of this additional phrase?

Rabbi Frand explains that usually a mitzvah which sounds to be logical is much easier to keep. Honoring the parents should be common sense, since everyone who has a child knows that raising children is very costly, time consuming and needs a lot of patience, energy and dedication. Parents lose many nights of sleep and many days of work when raising a child. Accordingly, every person also understands that he has a moral obligation to repay his debt of gratitude to his parents. Therefore, the least people can do is to honor their parents. It’s not so difficult to make a small payment on such a large debt.

But G-d forbid, what if you think that your parents didn’t do much for you when you were a child? Do you still have to honor them? I remember once, that my grandfather told me that when he was a kid back in Mashad, many people in the Mashadi community were poor. The parents could not afford to spend money on their kids and the boys had to work from the early age of ten in order to support themselves and their families. But still, the children of those days had much more respect for their parents than we see today. And this is exactly what Moshe is trying to teach the Benei Yisrael that honoring parents should not depend on how much they’ve done for you in the past, but rather, you should honor your parents only because “Hashem your G-d has commanded you!”

It was so appropriate for Moshe to relate this message to Benei Israel  now, after they had spent their last 40 years in the desert.  Since during those years, raising children was much easier than it was ever before or after. The parents didn’t have to do much for their kids at all. They didn’t need to buy them food since there was manna given from heaven. The children didn’t need new shoes or clothing since nothing ever wore out! They did not need to pay for Yeshivas or Talmud Torahs; since the Levites taught them for free! They did not need to take them on vacations or put them in summer camps, and I’m pretty sure that they didn’t need to go to orthodontist either! Life in the desert for the parents was like a paradise since they didn’t have to do anything for their kids. But still, Moshe reminds them that the Torah demands that parents should be honored. Clearly, the obligation is to obey Hashem’s commandment rather than to repay a debt of gratitude.

Yes my friends, we don’t keep the mitzvot of the Torah because they make sense, but rather, we keep them because Hashem our G-d has commanded us. Judaism is not a religion of logic; it’s a religion of faith! We believe what Hashem asks us to do is 100% good for us whether we understand it or not. We don’t respect our parents because we have an obligation to repay a debt, but rather, we respect them because Hashem our G-d has commanded us. They are the ones who have given us our lives and that’s all the reason we need to love, respect and support them for the rest of their lives. The Torah is teaching us that the parents are not obligated to have done anything for us to earn their respect. We have to respect them no matter what! And to help us to do this great mitzvah, the Torah is even telling us the reward for it: “so that you may live longer”! Therefore, honoring parents is the best life insurance policy you can ever buy for yourselves!

Keep in mind that respecting parents is not only about showing them courtesy by kissing their hands and standing up in front of them when you see them. Honoring parents is also about supporting them physically, mentally and financially when they get older. Unfortunately, there may come some days that we have to miss work, sleep and leisure time in order to be with them and help them in every way we can. But in no way we should feel proud of our actions and feel special for what we do. This is the least that we could do for our parents, and I’m sure we would all do a lot more for them if we were able to. Respecting parents does not end when they pass away. We can still honor them by doing mitzvot and “maasim tovim” (good deeds). Because people know us as our parent’s children, and anything good we do, gives honor and respect to them and their legacy will live forever.

So my friends, if your parents are still alive, love and respect them as much as you can. This is what Hashem has commanded you and this is what your heart should desire. Cherish every moments with them, for you’ll never know the heartache until you see their empty chair…..

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Devarim & Tisha B’Av!

  • Dear Friends;
  • I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah on Tisha B’Av;
  • ” Parsha in a Nutshell “
  • Moshe begins his revision of the Torah to the assembled Children of Israel, reviewing the events that occurred in the course of their 40-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, rebuking the people for their failures and sins, and encouraging them to keep the Torah and observe its commandments in the land that G-d is giving them as an eternal heritage, into which they shall cross after his death.
  • Moshe recalls his appointing of judges and magistrates to ease his burden of judging people; the sending of the Spies and the people’s subsequent rejection of the Promised Land, so that G-d decreed that the entire generation of the Exodus shall die out in the desert. “Also against me,” says Moshe, “was G-d angry for your sakes, saying: You, too, shall not go in there.”
  • And at the end of the parsha, Moshe gives assurance to his successor, Joshua, who will take the people into the Land and lead them in the battles for its conquest: “Fear them not, for the L-rd your G-d, He shall fight for you.”
  • ” Dvar Torah “
  • “Mourning”, is a period of time when a person grieves for the loss of life of a loved one. For those of us who unfortunately have had the experience, mourning can be a very difficult and devastating period of time, since when a loved one passes away it creates a vacuum in our lives which is very hard to fill. So, how can we cope with the pain? How can we find comfort and solace?!
  • Well, our sages tell us that in order to receive comfort and feel relief from the pain, G-d has blessed us with a sense of “forgetfulness”. As the time passes by, and as much as we try not to, we start to forget about the deceased. And as we tend to forget, slowly, slowly, the pain starts to go away and we begin to get a feeling of comfort. If G-d forbid, the human mind didn’t have the power to forget, then the mourning period will never come to an end and the people will continue to mourn for the death of a loved one for the rest of their lives. Although, memory is one of the great functions of the mind, but lack of memory, or forgetfulness, is a great blessing that Hashem has bestowed upon us!
  • The three weeks between 17th of Tamuz and Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) is also a period of  mourning. The mourning intensifies as it gets closer to Tisha B’Av. And on Tisha B’Av, it’s the ultimate day of mourning. We don’t eat, we don’t wear leather shoes, we don’t listen to music, etc……. The reason that we are mourning is because our two Batei Hamikdash (Temples) which were destroyed almost 2000 years ago. We are not simply grieving over a magnificent building which was destroyed a long time ago, nor are we crying over the Temple’s physical structure which was burned, but rather, we are mourning because the Shechina (G-d’s presence) has left us. It seems that our connection to G-d has been lost. Since the destruction of Beit Hamikdash, we can no longer witness open miracles; we can no longer bring sacrifices for Hashem on daily basis and we cannot perform the Yom Kippur services in the holy of the holies. And above all, we no longer had any true Prophets that could relate to us the words of G-d. To this very day, many people still cry heavily and mourn on Tisha B’Av because we’ve lost our connection to G-d.
  • But the question that comes to mind is quite simple. Why can’t we find comfort after so many years? Why doesn’t the formula of forgetfulness work in the case of Tisha B’Av? Why do the tears still come out of our eyes and why doesn’t the pain go away? Surely 2000 years should be enough to forget!! Why should the Tisha B’Av mourning be any different to the mourning for a loved one?? After all, we tend to forget a loss of life after a few years, but it seems that we can not get over the loss of our connection to G-d after 2000 years?!
  • Once again, Rabbi Frand gives a beautiful explanation. He says that the formula for forgetfulness only works when the person is actually dead. Only after you bury the deceased, you can start to forget and find comfort. But if the person is only missing and is still alive, then you can not forget about him! Yaakov Avinu continued to mourn for his son Yosef, for a full 22 years and couldn’t find comfort– because Yosef was not dead; he was still alive! Accordingly, if we still feel the pain, if we still express the sorrow over the loss of Shechina, then it surely means that our connection to G-d is not dead. It is still alive! We just don’t see it, but the connection is still there! Although, the Shechina is not among us anymore, but we are confident  that Hashem is watching over us and is protecting us from the far.
  • On the day of Tisha B’Av, “Tachanun” is not recited because the day has elements of joy to it. Although, Tisha B’Av is the saddest day marked on the jewish calendar, it’s the ultimate day of “hope”! Because we strongly believe that Mashiach is going to come and rebuild the third Beit Hamikdash and the Shechina is going to come back and live among us once again. The question is not “if” Mashiach is going to come, but it’s only a matter of time, “when”?! Even though, we might not have the “zechut” to see the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt in our times, but we are confident that our children, our grandchildren or great grandchildren will have the merit to see the glorious Temple build once again. And because of these happy thoughts, we don’t say Tachanun on this day.
  • Keep in mind my friends that we have a G-d who is invisible. Although we can not see him, He can see us. We can not hear him, but He can hear us. We can not touch him, but he’s still in touch with us! He is still watching over us and He will never abandon us! And that’s the true message of Tisha B’Av…..
  • May we see the coming of Mashiach very time soon, and hope that next year we will be dancing and celebrating on Tisha B’Av, instead of mourning and crying!
  • Shabbat Shalom & Regards;
  • Martin

Parashiot Matot-Masei!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parshiot summary, followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parshiot in a Nutshell “

 

Moshe teaches the rules and restrictions governing oaths and vows especially the role of a husband or father in either upholding or annulling a vow of a woman.

Benei Israel wage war against Midian. They kill the five Midianite kings, all the males and Bilaam. Moshe is upset that women were taken captive since they were the reason for the immoral behavior of the Jewish People. He rebukes the officers. The commanding officers report to Moshe that there was not even one casualty among Benei Israel.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by half of the tribe of Menasseh) ask for the lands east of the Jordan as their portion in the Promised Land, these being prime pastureland for their cattle. Moshe is initially angered by the request, but subsequently agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead, in Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan.

In Parshat Masei, The Torah names all 42 encampments of Bnei Israel on their 40-year journey from the Exodus until the crossing of the Jordan River into Eretz Israel.

G-d commands Bnei Israel to drive out the Canaanites from Eretz Israel and to demolish every trace of their idolatry.

The boundaries of the Land of Israel are defined, and the tribes are commanded to set aside 48 cities for the leviim, who do not receive a regular portion in the division of the Land.

Cities of refuge are to be established: Someone who murders unintentionally may flee there.

The daughters of Tzelofchad marry members of their tribe so that their inheritance will stay in their own tribe.

 

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

 

In the first of the two Parshiot of this week, Parshat Matot, the Torah talks about when the Benei Yisrael reached the borders of Israel and were granted entry. But the task was not so easy, since the land was occupied by other nations. So, in order to conquer the land, they had to wage a war against the occupiers.

The Torah then tells us that the Benei Yisrael were just on the east side of Jordan River and were about to go into combat with the occupying nations. But suddenly, a strange scenario takes place. The representatives of the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe with a very seemingly shameful request. “We don’t want to enter Israel,” they exclaimed. “The land here is very suited for our cattle, and it would be quite beneficial if we were to remain here”. Moshe, shocked by their request, immediately starts his rebuke by recalling the calamity of the ten spies who successfully discouraged an entire nation from entering Israel. “Do you remember what happened 40 years ago? Do you want to, once again, demoralize your brothers and sisters as did the spies? Do you remember that your parents and an entire generation perished in the desert because of that sin? And now,” he concluded, “you have risen in place of your fathers to rekindle the burning wrath of G-d?” The representatives, sat quietly through the denunciation and then spoke. “No, Moshe,” they exclaimed. “It was never our intention just to remain here. We’ll build stables for our livestock and homes for our children. Then we will join our brethren in the fight for Israel. We will go in the front lines! Only after all is conquered will we return home and settle.” Moshe, who was calmed by the quick and obviously well prepared response, reviewed their request. “OK,” he countered, “you shall arm yourself for battle, cross the Jordan and fight with your brothers until Hashem drives out the enemy. Once the Land is conquered and settled, you can come back here and this land will be a heritage for you”. Then, he asks them to do what they asked for in the beginning. “Build cities for your children and pens for your livestock, and you shall observe the words that left your mouth.”

The Chachamim immediately took notice of the obvious change of words by Moshe. The Gadites and the Reubenites ask to built pens for their cattle first, and then built shelters for their children; while Moshe tells them to build shelters for their children and then worry about their livestock. Rashi explains that Moshe did so intentionally. Moshe wanted to teach them that children are more important than their possessions. Moshe sensed that their first priority was their money and property. The first thing that came out of their mouths was “let us build barns for our cattle!” The children were an afterthought. He promptly corrected them: “First take care of your children, and then worry about your cattle.”

Although, what the Reubenites and the Gadites did was approved by Moshe, but still, their action was criticised by many commentators. The whole idea of leaving their children behind the Jordan River because they wanted a safe haven for their cattle was wrong. Rabbi Frand explains that the whole conquest of Eretz Israel took more than 14 years and by the time the men of tribe of Gad and Reuven came back to their families on the other side of Jordan River, their toddlers and children became teenagers and young adults. The children hardly knew their fathers, and the fathers hardly knew their children! They missed the sweetest time of their children’s childhood, only because they were worried too much about their fortune!

Yes my friends, how easy is it for us to criticize our ancestors, but are we any different ourselves? When we put in so many hours in developing a business, on advancing professionally or establishing a practice, and our children get the short end of the stick, do we see ourselves making the same mistake as did the Gadites and the Reubenites? Unfortunately, a lot of times we make sacrifices for earning our livelihood that sometimes our children get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we get so much involve in our businesses that we forget for who are we working so hard for. To make more money becomes a priority and our family becomes a secondary. We lose focus. We lose perspective. We start to gain a lot of capital and our fortune becomes more dear to us than our children.

Remember that nothing can replace the “time” that you spend with your children; not even an iMac, iPad or an iPhone. Children need our attention and our guidance. We need them as much as they need us! Let us not miss the sweet time of their childhood, and let us not repeat the same mistake as the Gadites and the Reubenites!

Rabbi Frand says that the desire for making money is greater than any other physical pleasures, since it is the only one that is insatiable. There is a limit on how much you can eat; there is a limit on how much you can drink or indulge in sexual activities. But there is no limit to how much money you can accumulate. The quest for wealth can become more obsessive than any other quest. And all too often, the children have to pay the price!

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin