LECH LECHA (Genesis, 12:1-17:27) — “The Soul Maker”

He gazed into her eyes.  He whispered to her words he had never said before.  “I now realize how beautiful you are!” 

How romantic!  Who was this young man, who was expressing his fond appreciation of his beloved’s radiance?  Who was this lovely young beauty, the subject of his admiration? 

This couple, who had dedicated their lives to teaching Torah, were no youngsters.  He was 75 years old.  She was 65.  His name was Abram; hers, Sarai.  (Later known as Abraham and Sarah.)… 

Read more. 

Additional messages from previous years: 

The Surrogate Mother and the Terrorist” (2009)

“CHANGE!!” (2008)

“Tune that Name!” (2006)

“There Goes the Neighborhood!” (2005)

“The Salem Trial” (2002)

“The Reward for a Mitzvah…” (2001)

“A Covenant of Dedication” (2000)

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Published in: on October 10, 2013 at 8:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

NOACH (Genesis, 6:9-11:32) — “A Tale of Two Cities”

… G-d has limited patience with wicked people. Nineveh was slated for destruction.  The prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh to warn them of their imminent doom.  They got the message.  They repented their evil ways and were spared. 

As a result of their actions, the (belatedly) righteous citizens of Nineveh  serve as an annual Yom Kippur role model to teach us what we can accomplish by returning to G-d. 

Now let us look at another Biblical city.  We will read in a few weeks about Eliezer’s journey to the city of Nachor…In Nachor he finds murderous, wicked people.  … “Laban, son of NACHOR”, (Genesis, 29:5) is one of the symbols of the enemies of Israel.  He is also identified with Balaam, who did everything in his power to curse and destroy Israel. 

There you have it.  Two cities. Nineveh, which teaches us how to return to G-d and become better people, and Nachor, a city that teaches us treachery and unrepentant evil. 

We, can, perhaps, see the roots of these cities’ differences in this week’s Torah Portion… 

Read more.

Additional messages from previous years: 

 “Murdering the Murderer?” (2008) 

 “How to be an Orthodox Jewish Gentile” (2006) 

 “No Pot of Gold…” (2005)  

“Yerachmiel’s Ark”  (2004) 

“Quoth the Raven . . .” (2003) 

 “You Can’t Climb a Grapevine” (2002) 

“Sweat the Big Stuff…and it’s ALL Big Stuff!” (2001) 

 “A Pig by Any Other Name…”  (2000) 

 

Published in: on October 3, 2013 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

KI SAVO (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) — “A Basketful of Thanks”

… The farmer would go out to his field.  He would examine his olive orchards and his vineyards.  As soon as he saw the first bud that became a ripe fruit, he tied a string around it for future identification.  (“This Bud’s for You!”)  At harvest time, he would take that olive, or that cluster of grapes, or that wheat stalk and bring it to Jerusalem in a basket… 

After all the love and protection that G-d has bestowed upon His children, how dare we thank Him with a measly single fruit?  “Thanks for saving my life and making me a millionaire.  Here, have a raisin!”… 

Read more. 

Additional messages from previous years:

 “It’s Aramaic to Me!”(2008) 

“Gateway to the Holy Land” (2005) 

“How Could G-d Let This Happen to Me?” (2003)

“Blessings and Curses on the West Bank” (2002) 

“Let There Be Light” (2001) 

“Watch Out For WHAT Car?” (2000) 

Published in: on August 22, 2013 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

RE’EH (Deuteronomy, 11:26-16:17) — “The Goose Slayer”

ELUL 

Next Wednesday will be the first day of the Jewish month of Elul.  The month of Elul is traditionally a time of introspection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  After services every weekday morning, we sound the Shofar as a reminder that Rosh Hashanah is a mere month away.  Our prayers get a little longer and become a little more sincere.  We use this time to get our spiritual act together in time for the New Year when G d will decide our fates for the coming year. 

“The Goose Slayer” 

…  While I can understand how someone could become emotionally attached to a dog, or even a cat, that is not the case with poultry.  They are not affectionate at all; in fact, they are nasty, and sometimes vicious.  …

So no, we don’t at all subscribe to the opinions of the crazies at PETA who see animals as our equals.  My birds are treated well, with the end goal of serving man (and G-d!) at a Shabbos or Holiday meal…

Read more. 

Additional messages from previous years: 

“The Emperor’s New Tallis”(2010) 

“The Tire Kicker” (2009) 

 “Birds of Different Feathers …?”(2007) 

“You!”  (2006) 

“Terrible or Tear-able? – The Living Talk about Dying” (2005) 

“A Little Bit Kosher?!” (2004)

“A High Fly Matzah Ball into SHALLOW Center Field” (2003) 

 “Spring Ahead …” (2002) 

“BREAD, MATZAH…AND PIZZA” (2001)

Published in: on August 2, 2013 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

VE’ ESCHANAN (Deuteronomy, 3:23-7:11) — “I Understand Exactly How You Feel”

 In my line of work as a rabbi, I find myself involved in lots of lifecycle events.  Since I am a chaplain for senior citizens, these events are, all too often, sad ones.

What does one say to a mourner who is sitting Shiva for a loved one?  Something I was taught early in my career was to never, but never, say, “I know how you feel.”

Because you don’t.  No one does…

I prepared to leave.  I offered them the traditional farewell to a mourner…

Then I paused.  “Today,” I said….”

 Read more.

 Additional messages from previous years: 

 “Thou Shalt Not Pray?!” (2007) 

“Do as I Say, Not as I Do!” (2005)

“Sheepskin or Cheapskin?” (2004) 

“Why are we Whispering?  What’s the Big Secret?” (2003) 

“Double Talk” (2002)

“The Devil Made Me Do It!” (2001)

Published in: on July 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

DEVORIM (Deuteronomy, 1:1-3:22)/TISHA B’Av — “Selective Memory”

 TISHA B’AV 

This Monday night through Tuesday will be Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the disastrous month of Av.  This full-day fast is similar to Shiva.   We sit on low chairs, refrain from socializing, and wear only non-leather footwear.  This time is spent in contemplation of all the calamities that have befallen our People on Tisha B’Av, including the burning of both Temples, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, Pogroms and the beginning of World War I.  The fast begins Monday at sundown, and ends on Tuesday at dusk, (25-72 minutes after sunset, depending upon local custom. To find sunrise and sunset times for your community click here.) 

For a brief listing of infamous events that took place on Tisha B’Av throughout history, click here

For more information on the observance of Tisha B’av and the days leading up to it, click here and here 

“Selective Memory” 

… Did Moses give a fair description of the events as they actually occurred?  Based on Moses’ version, it seems like the people heard a positive report and rejected it.  In reality, as we see from actually reading about it, there was a spirited debate.  Ten spies said it was bad; two spies said it was good… why did Moses change the story?  Why did he imply that there had been no negative report at all? …

Read more. 

Additional messages from previous years: 

“Dropping Hints and Lifting Spirits”(2010) 

“Back to Normal?” (2009) 

“Wearable Clothes for Terrible Times” (2007) 

 “Torah Talk” (2006) 

“Cry, O Zion …” (2005)

 “How Did This Happen??!! (And How Do We Fix It?)” (2002) 

 “Tears of ‘OY’ and Tears of Joy” (2001) 

Published in: on July 11, 2013 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

MATOS-MASEI (Numbers, 30:2-36:13) — “One Small Step for a Man…”

 

 

“THE NINE DAYS” 

This Sunday evening, July 7, is Rosh Chodesh Av, the first day of the tragic month of Av.  It marks the second phase of the three weeks of intensified mourning leading up to Tisha B’Av.   During those nine days, we avoid consumption of meat and wine (with the exception of “Mitzvah Meals” such as Shabbos, Bris celebrations, and a few others). Like a mourner during Shiva, (R”L) we avoid bathing as much as possible.

We are supposed to feel the pain of the destruction of the Temples and all of the suffering our People have endured while waiting for the Final Redemption and the building of the Third, the permanent Temple in Jerusalem. 

———————————————————————————-

“One Small Step for a Man…” 

…I once heard movie critic Michael Medved asked on the radio how he maintains a spiritual life, in spite of his exposure to some of the non-spiritual (to be kind) elements of the world of “entertainment.”  Mr. Medved responded that …  

There is something else Mr. Medved does to maintain a holier way of life.  He does it by keeping the spiritual level of his home on a higher plane than the average home.  He doesn’t…  

Read more. 

Additional messages from previous years: 

“The Pope and the Designated Hitter” (2007)

“The Silverware Garden” (2005)

“First Things First!” (2003)

“The Long and Winding Road”  (2011)

“The Language of G-d” (2010)

“Hey! Ya Never Know!” (2004) 

“Say a Little Prayer for Me” (2001)  

Published in: on July 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

PINCHAS (Numbers, 25:10-30:1) — “Why Don’t You Just…um, uh… Speak Nicely?”

The Torah records, by tribe, the names of the major family groups… the Torah lists the families based upon the sons of the heads of the tribes…

There are a few exceptions in this method of listing.  One of those exceptions is the Tribe of Asher.  The list starts off typically, mentioning Asher’s sons and their families.  Then we see some grandsons. (Still typical.)  Suddenly, the Torah throws in a “token” daughter:

The name of Asher’s daughter was Serach.

That’s it.  A brief mention of Serach, and no mention of her descendents.  Who was she and what is she doing in this list?!…

Serach was an old lady.  A very old lady.  … How did Serach manage to get so old?  How much older did she get?  How old was she when she finally succumbed? …

What did Serach do to deserve this special treatment?…

Read more.

Additional messages from previous years:

“G-d’s Apology” (2011) 

“A Covenant of Pieces” (2010) 

“Mosquito Repellant”(2006)

“Righteous Indignation vs. Abortion Clinics”(2005) 

“The REST of the Story” (2003) 

 “King?…President?…or LEADER!” (2001)

Published in: on June 27, 2013 at 6:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

BALAK (Numbers, 19:1-25:9)/ 17th of Tamuz and the Three Weeks — “Will the REAL Jackass Please Speak Up?”

THE 17th OF  TAMMUZ AND THE  THREE  WEEKS

Next Monday night thru Tuesday, June 24-25, is the 17th of Tammuz, which begins a three week period of increasing mourning leading up to Tisha B’av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple.

Much like a mourner during the 30 days following the death of a loved one, we refrain from listening to music, making weddings, and taking haircuts during these three weeks.  The 17th of Tammuz itself is a fast day.  It is permitted to get up early Tuesday morning to eat before the fast begins.  The fast begins Tuesday at dawn, (72 minutes before sunrise.) It ends at dusk, (25-72 minutes after sunset, depending upon local custom.)  For sunrise and sunset times for your community click here.

The 17th of Tammuz commemorates five events:

1) Moses came down from Mt.  Sinai and broke the Tablets when he saw the Golden Calf.

2) Due to the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, there were no longer sheep available for the daily offering in the first Temple.

3) The Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem, three weeks before destroying the second Temple.

4) A Torah scroll was burnt.

5) An idol was placed into the Temple.

Some people make the mistake of assuming that the main Mitzvah on a fast day is to refrain from eating.  This is a fallacy.  The purpose of a fast is to turn our focus away from the physical and material, and to emphasize the spiritual.  It is a time to evaluate our relationship with our Creator.  A fast day is a time to ask G-d to watch over our Nation and keep us safe and secure.

Some commemorative days can be a little difficult to really relate to.  On Shavuos, for example, it is a challenge to put oneself in a mindset where we can actually envision ourselves standing at Mt.Sinai.  The 17th of Tammuz is different.

Jerusalem and all of the Land of Israel are under siege at this very moment.  Our People are being murdered and world opinion is increasingly aligned against us.

It is time for us to take the situation seriously and beg G-d to help us. Let us pray that this year will be the last year that the 17th of Tammuz is a fast day, and that we will soon be privileged to see the redemption of our People, the rebuilding of our Temple, and peace in the world.

 

“Will the REAL Jackass Please Speak Up?”

… Balaam still didn’t get it.  Three times, Balaam tried to curse the Nation of Israel; three times, they came out as blessings… Fired from his job by Balak, Balaam went home in disgrace.

What was going on in Balaam’s head?  How could a great oracle who was “One who knows the mind of the Supreme One,” make such a mistake?  How could he be so blind to the fact that G-d didn’t want him to go on this mission?  How did this brilliant prophet allow his donkey to make a jackass out of him?!

The answer can be seen from one of Balaam’s communications with Balak…

Read more.

Additional messages from previous years:

“Rocky Road” (2010)

“How Good is YOUR Tent?” (2007)

“Of Television, Toilets, and Idolatry” (2003)

 

Published in: on June 20, 2013 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

CHUKAS (Numbers, 19:1-22:1) — “Tattle-Snakes & Copperheads”

… G-d said to Moses, “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole.  Anyone who has been bitten will look at it and live.”  Moses made a snake out of copper and placed it on a pole; so it was that anyone who had been bitten would stare at the copper snake and live

The symbolism is beautiful.  Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, they sinned with their tongues.  Since they acted like snakes, they were punished with snakes.  After sinning with their mouths they repented with their mouths.  They corrected the wrong by using their mouths properly.  Moses undid the poison of the miraculous punishing-snakes with a miraculous healing-snake.

Great!  Just one question.  What’s the deal with the copper?…

Read more.

Additional messages from previous years:

 “A Sad Shabbos in New York State” (2011)   

“Who’s ‘The MAN’? … YOU’RE ‘The MAN’!” (2010)

“The Kiss of LIFE” (2004) 

“Stone Drunk” (2002) 

“The Bigger They Are…” (2001) 

Published in: on June 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment