Showing posts from 2016

For Shabbos Chanukah 5777

I'd like to wish everyone a Lichtige Chanukah, a good Chodesh, and a good Shabbos.

First I'll quote something I heard from Michal Horowitz in her Chanukah shiur last Sunday. Chanukah, as we all know runs eight days, which means it always includes a Shabbos, obviously. But something unusal about it is that it also is a holiday that runs over Rosh Chodesh. She pointed out that in that way it counters the particular decress that the Syrian-Greeks made against Jewish identity by targeting three essential practices: Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and Bris Milah. The first two are included in the days of Chanukah and the eight days are a clear reference to Bris Milah, done on the eight day.

I wrote about other associations with eight in the past. One year, I observed that the 3 letters that make up the word for oil shemen also correspond to the root of the word shmone, the number 8. My husband then added that oil floats on top of water, just as the eighth level is lema'ala min hateva […

Which angel are you?

I heard Michal Horowitz reference this piece from Rabbi Yissocher Frand  today and felt I finally have proof positive that what I said many years ago was correct.  I once shared by recollection of what I considered a completely wrong lesson for children back in the days when my kids were small and I participated in a carpool. After she picked up my kid, the mother who was driving that morning got a request from a man who lived nearby. He was walking to the train station but found it difficult because his leg was in a cast, so he asked if she could drop him off there. She said she would take him but wouldn't bring him all the way to the train because she didn't want to go out of the way for the school, lest the kids arrive late.

To me it was crystal clear that this was the wrong thing to do. She should rather have driven him all the way,a nd if the kids would have been late, they could say it was for the sake of an act of chesed. That's positive chinuch in my view, as oppos…

Deck the bride

I had another idea to add on to an idea I presented here a few years ago. I posted it on my Times of Israel blog
For the blog I wrote last year on the parsha of Vayetzeh  based on my grandfather's sefer see

Posts on Parshas Toldos and the different marriage models among the Avos

The truth is whole and in order

A good chodesh!

In the past few weeks, we've been hearing a lot about fake news. Those on the left, tend to brand all conservative news outlets as peddlers of fake news, while those on the right fault left-leaning sites for the same. As Michael Tracey wrote here: fake news really is in the eye of the beholder.

Surely even fake news has some truth in it, so what makes one story a true account and another fake. It could be jumping to conclusions like the early accounts of the Ohio University attack that declared the attacker used a gun (that was due to taking the warning alert used in the school as a statement of actual fact). So there we have a modification of what really happened because that made the story fit a preconceived narrative about violent acts being linked to guns in the US. We also saw the NY Times fall into that kind of misrepresentation due to its own wishful thinking perhaps in…

Eliezer's account and Leah's Thanksgiving

Greeting guests and more in Vayera

For this week's parsha, I posted a blog on Times of Israel  that looks at what we learn from Avraham's actions in preparing for guests.  It contains a link to Rabbi Frand's Lesson #1 In Hospitality: Don’t Let Your Guests Feel Inferior.

For what my grandfather wrote about Sarah's laughter in the parsha,  and a brief insight into Lot's wife turning into salt see

For how Rivka is introduced see this explanation.

We can't identify with perfection

Today I went to Michal Horowitz's parsha shiur. She spoke about Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's take on the Avos and other Jewish leaders. He makes the point on Bereishis 12:10 on the question of Avraham's directing his wife to say she is his sister. The Ramban identifies this as a lack of faith on the patriach's part, but R' Hirsch offers a rationale. 
In ancient Egypt, it would have been safer to appear as  single woman escorted by her brother than as a married woman with her husband. That's becuase anyone who wanted to take the married woman would kill her husband, and the woman would be left defenseless and dishonored. That's what Avraham explains, "and they will kill me, but you they will keep alive" (12:12). That expression, “keep alive” is the same one used in Shmos in which the Egyptians plot to kill the Israelite baby boys but keep the girls alive for their own carnal purposes. By acting as her brother, Avraham would be able to negotiate and …

The right word

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. -  Mark Twain ( in 1888 )

Which word will bring which effect? The answer, of course, depends on the context.

As I reviewd Parashas Noach, I recalled a lecture that Rabbi Copperman delivered about the effect of language and why particular expressions are employed in particular contexts in the Torah.  When Noach is directed to gather the animals into the ark, he is told to take a pair of each (Bereishis 7:2):
וּמִן הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא טְהֹרָה הִוא שְׁנַיִם אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ
and of the animals that are not clean, two, a male and its mate.

That  formulation is repeated agin in the eight verse:
מִן הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהוֹרָה וּמִן הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנָּה טְהֹרָה Of the clean animals and of the animals that are not clean

It's particularly striking because the Torah doesn't add in excess words, and it is possible to write this in…

Circling from the end to the beginning

My grandfather notes a number of connections between the end of the Torah and its begiing:
1) What Rashi says on Bereishis בְּרֵאשִׁית
(ובשביל ישראל שנקראו (ירמיה ב ג
The last word of the Torah is ישראל

2)-בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹ ים'
The last letters of those 3 words spell out אמֶת = truth (credited to the Ba'al HaTurim) . And the truth of theTorah is made known to us through Moshe having demonstrated it to the eyes of all Israelאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה משֶׁה לְעֵינֵי כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל

3) בְּרֵאשִׁית= כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל
All of Israel = the beginning of everything, for it all depends on the unity of Israel , Only through that do we have standing and the possibility to keep all of the Torah.  

Related post:
I've completed the parsha posts with at least one representative piece from each parsha that is covered in the book. If I add from the book, it would be from some of the additional pieces that appear in the appendi…

Hoshana Rabbah and Vezos Habracha

The Parsha refers to Hashem's kingship 33:5: "הוַיְהִי בִישֻׁרוּן מֶלֶךְ בְּהִתְאַסֵּף רָאשֵׁי עָם יַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
And He was King in Yeshurun, whenever the sum total of the people were gathered, and the tribes of Israel were together.
Rashi first explains the word  בְּהִתְאַסֵּף as בכל התאסף ראשי חשבון אסיפתם. 
At every gathering of רָאשֵׁי - meaning, whenever their number is gathered. רָאשֵׁי as in the verse,“When you take the count (רֹאשׁ) of the children of Israel” (Exod. 30:12). These people are worthy that I should bless them.
He then offers another explaination:  , בהתאספם יחד באגודה אחת ושלום ביניהם הוא מלכם, ולא כשיש מחלוקת ביניהם:
When Israel is gathered together in a unified group, and there is peace among them, God is their King-but not when there is strife among them. — [Sifrei 33:5]

My grandfather quotes the second one and draws a connection to Hoshana Rabbah. That day is known as the final seal for all the days of judgement from the DAys of Awe. During the …

Understanding the present in light of history

Parshas Ha'azin is one of the most poetic sections of the Torah. It includes verses like this one 32:7: זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר וָדֹר Remember the days of old; understand the years from generation to generation  My grandfather suggests that this is to be read that from זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם, that is remembering the past, one would come to בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר וָדֹר,that is the causes of events in your generation and in your lives.  He says he only briefly presented the idea that is similar to what the Ramban expound on in explaining ma'aseh avos siman labanim the deeds of the fathers are a sign for the sons.

related post:

The end of Moshe's mission

Parshas Vayelech begins with Moshe telling Bnay Yisrael that he will not be leading them into their homeland. 31:2 I can no longer go or come לֹא אוּכַל עוֹד לָצֵאת וְלָבוֹא
Rashi explains that can here is used in the sense of may, not to signify a lack of ability but a lack of permission 

וילך משה וגו', לא אוכל עוד לצאת ולבא: יכול שתשש כחו, תלמוד לומר (דברים לד, ז) לא כהתה עינו ולא נס לחה. אלא מהו לא אוכל, איני רשאי שנטלה ממני הרשות ונתנה ליהושע:
Moses went…I can no longer go or come: One might think [this means] that Moses’ strength had ebbed [and that is why he could no longer go or come]. Scripture [however] states [regarding Moses], “His eye had not dimmed, nor had he lost his [natural] moisture” (Deut. 34:7) [which teaches us that his powers were intact even on his last day of life]. What then is [the meaning of] “I can no longer?” “I am not permitted,” because authority was taken from him and granted to Joshua.

My grandfather looks at the rest of the verse for the explanation o…

Shana Tova 5777

On Thursday night I heard Rabbi Eli Mansour speak in North Woodmere.He credited Rabbi Friedman with the concept, and it is written out and accessible online in both Hebrew: and English:

So you can read for yourself abotu the connections of the 100 sounds we hear on Rosh Hashana, birth, and R' Akiva.

Related post:

I'd like to wish every a kethiva vechathima tova. It should be a year of peace for all, one in which we can recognize and appreciate the sweetness in choosing life.

From speech to deed via the heart

The expression hearts and minds has become a cliche. But in the Torah there is more profound connection that extend to three parts: hearts, speech, and deed.

Early on in Parshas Nitzavim  we get directions about atzvah that we are assured is not far from us (30:11),:
כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא

 A few verses later (14), it is said to even be very כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂתוֹ: us, in our mouths and hearts.
כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂתוֹ

My grandfather cites the Ramban's explanation of the mitzvah in question and offers some of his own insight. I won't cover the entire piece but focus on the part in which he addresses the Ramban's take on this as referrring to kol haTorah kula. (The other view is that it refers to the mitzvah of tshuva).
My grandfather ask, according to the Ramban's take, why refer to what is in your mouth בְּפ…

Understanding comes from doing

In Parshas Kit Tavo 29:28

And you shall observe the words of this covenant and fulfill them, in order that you will succeed in all that you do.

חוּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת
וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם לְמַעַן תַּשְׂכִּילוּ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּן:
My grandfather points out that in addition to the meaning of being successful in this context, what is also indicated by תַּשְׂכִּילוּ is the meaning from the root SChL, referring to the brain, or understanding in this case. That is, if you keep the words of Torah, you will merit to understand them.
It is impossible to truly understand Torah without living it. Accordingly he understands what Chazl said in Yevamos 109b on the verse, in Vaethchanan 5:1 וּלְמַדְתֶּם אֹתָם וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם לַעֲשֹׂתָם: velimadetem otam ushmartem la'asotam learn them and observe them to fulfill them.  On that, they say, all that are doing are also learning; all that are not doing are not learning.  kol sheyeshna beasiya yeshna belemida, kol she'eyno b…

Keeping quiet is usually a good idea

In reviewing this past Shabbos' parsha, I was struck by the verse that deviates from the standard command or even a warning about consequences to give a simple piece of advice. That's in 23:23:
If you refrain from making a vow, you'll avoid sin וְכִי תֶחְדַּל לִנְדֹּר לֹא יִהְיֶה בְךָ חֵטְא

This is very much like the type of advice one finds in Koheleth (or Qoheleth if you prefer). As in 5:5-6 טוֹב אֲשֶׁר לֹא תִדֹּר מִשֶּׁתִּדּוֹר וְלֹא תְשַׁלֵּם
אַל תִּתֵּן אֶת פִּיךָ לַחֲטִיא אֶת בְּשָׂרֶךָ וְאַל תֹּאמַר לִפְנֵי הַמַּלְאָךְ כִּי שְׁגָגָה הִי 

Shlomo seemed to know that the wise man is careful about his words and doesn't promise what he can't deliver. (It goes without saying that anyone who runs for office must be lacking in such wisdom.) The Torah itself doesn't typically include that kind of advice in its accounts of mitzvos. One usually has to infer that something may be a bad idea, as in the juxtaposition of the eshes yifat toar to the ben sorrer umoreh  in …

Earthly and Heavenly Justice

Pashas Ki Tetzeh includes one of the more mysterious commands, that of the execution of the rebellious son בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה  As Rashi explains, he is killed for his end [as he will come to commit violent crimes even though he not committed them yet]. This raises the problem of how to reconcile a punishment based on a prediction with what we see elsewhere in the Torah?

Accordingly, my grandfather cites the Sifsey Chachamim's question of how this fits with what we learn out about Yishamel about whom it say ba'asher hu sham (Berishis 21: 17) on which Rashi says that he ws judged according to his deeds at the time rather than what he [or his descendants] would be doing in the future. However, in the case of Yishmael, he had not at that point doine anything that indicated a connection to a future intention of killing the children of Israel through thirst. And the Heavenly court does not judge according to one's future. On the other hand, there is a mitzvah on the earthly co…

The Rosh Hashana Reboot

This piece was first posted on Times of Israel What does it mean to start a New Year? Is it merely a matter of opening up a new calendar at some arbitrary date?  Dealing with my cars drained battery provided me with some insight about rebooting ourselves for the New Year. I drive a Toyota Sienna that was born the same year as one of my children. It’s well into its teens by now, but still going OK for my fairly short local driving needs – except when it refuses to start. In the past, I’ve had the problem blamed on the cold or too infrequent little driving. But now I know it’s something else. About a year ago, the car would lose power a bit at rest and be completely drained out if I left it for three days or longer. I was told that the battery was still good; the car just needed to be started more often. I got so tired of finding the car dead when I needed to go somewhere that I opted to replace the battery. Just after restarting the car with the new battery, I saw the “power door” light g…

The ends do not justify the means

One of the verse in Parshas Shoftim is a call for a high standard of justice (16:20)
כצֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ 
My grandfather suggests a reason for the repetition of the word tzedek [justice]: the means, as well as the ends, have to be just. On should not compromise standard on the means in the name of a just end. He quotes Mishei 3:17: "Deracheyah darchei noam vechol nethivortheya shalom" with a gloss on nethivotheyha - its paths that bring one ultimately to pleasantness have to have the quality of shalom [peace]. 

My grandfatther cites  the Mishna Peah 8:9 that quotes this verse: "If a person pretends to be blind or disabled in order to receive charity to which he is not entitled, he will ultimately become the thing he pretended to be, as per Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” He explains how it fits with his take on the means being held to a standard of justice, as well as the ends. The person who pretends a d…

Hearing the voice as well as the words

In Parshas Re'eh, we are enjoined: (12:28)
Keep and listen to all these wordsשְׁמֹר וְשָׁמַעְתָּ אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה 
My grandfather refernces the Ohr Hachaim's interpretations which includes this take on the juxtaposition of keeping and listening: if you wish to understand the truth of Torah, you have to keep the mitzvos. In other words, the acceptance of mitvos is a prerequisite for intensive Torah study. 

In a similar vein, my grandfather says, he has explained Chazal's take of na'ase venishma, [we will do and we will listen] which prompted the exclamation, Mi gila livni raz zeh [who revealed this secret to my children?] That is because the na'ase is the condition for the nishma. Without a commitment to the mitzvoss, it is impossible to plumb the depths of the Torah's secrets. How lofty is the spiritual level of Yisrael that they were able to reveal this secret!

Further on in this Parsha 13:5, it says וְאֶת מִצְו‍ֹתָיו תִּשְׁמֹרוּ וּבְקֹלוֹ תִשְׁמָעוּ …

The Kethuba

It's read at every Jewish wedding to form a disruption between the erusin  and the nesuin. It's also the document that the bride receives and must retain in her possession for the duration of her marriage. Basically, it's a contract that delineates the husband's obligation to support his wife and the sum of money she must be paid in case of divorce. True, that sounds very utilitarian and not really romantic, so here's something more to associate with the kethuba.

The kethuba begins with the day of the week on which the marriage takes place. It also begins with the letter beth . In Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide, (Moznaim Publishing, 1983) Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (p. 107) points out that the first letter of each kethuba is the same as the first letter of the Torah. Just as the Torah attest to the bond between G-d and His people, the kethubah documents the bond between husband and wife. I would add to that what our Sages say about the beginning of the Torah fits i…

The individual as part of the whole

In Parshas Ekev, we get an injunction that echoes the word of Shma, prompting Rashi to ask about the apparent repetion and answer that there it was for an individual and here for the tzibur
[To love the Lord…] with all your heart, and with all your soul: But did he not already admonish us, [by the words]“[And you shall love the Lord, your God,] with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 6:5)? [That, however, was] an admonition addressed for the individual, [while this is] an admonition to the community. — [Sifrei]בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם: והלא כבר הזהיר על כך (דברים ו, ה) בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך, אלא, אזהרה ליחיד אזהרה לצבור:
My grandfather asks why it is necessary, for if every individual is wanred, doesn't that cover the tzibur? He references Ramban's suggestion that the miracle of rain is determined by the actions of the majority of the nation. But he believes that there is another aspect to reward and obligation that this teaches us. An individual does not fulfill his duty …

Keeping the mitzvos

In Parshas Vaeschanan, we have the aseres hadibros presented for the second time. Within, two mitzvos are juxtaposed, that of keeping the Sabbath and that of honoring parents. Both add the phrase, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ, stressing as Hashem has commanded.

My grandfather suggests "al derech hadrash" that the stress for these tow is because they may be be perceived as actions that one does for his own inclination. It's nice to take a day off each week even without a religious motivation to do so. Likewise, it is a socially acceptable thing to honor one's parents. That is why it stresses that one keeps this commandments because they were commanded. Our motivation should be observing the mitzvos in the vein as what Chazal said about kosher observance.  One should say, "Yuck, pork is disgusting!" Rather he should say, "It is appealing, but I have to abstain because it is forbidden to me."

Related posts:…

The Last Laugh

This blog was first posted on The Times of Israel under the same title

You probably have heard some variation of this stereotype.  How many times does an Englishman laugh at a joke? Three times: first when he hears it, again when it is explained to him, and the third time when he gets it. What is striking is not just that that he laughs in public when he doesn’t get the joke but that he laughs again when he still doesn’t get it. It is only after some time as elapsed that he finally understands what is funny about the joke and laughs for the last time.  We are in the same situation as the Englishman. We put on a laugh, so to speak, when we affirm, “It will be good.” But we likely feel the difficulties and the pain of the here-and-now more than the promise of a bright future. That is the state of galut [exile].  We are doing the equivalent of laughing without really getting the joke because we feel it is expected of us, and we come to expect it of ourselves. In contrast, when we arrive at …