Ha’azinu 5758

by Joey Shapiro

Ha’azinu, the second to last parsha in the Torah read throughout the course of the year, is a very glorious one. The sedra is contained in two columns of the the torah which are divided into yet smaller columns. The words make up a song praising the glory of G-d and recalling his miraculous wonders which he did to aid Bene Yisrael in their years in the wilderness of Sinai.

On the surface this is a very happy, joyous, and festive sedra, one filled with spoken triumph, glory, and miracles. Yet, it contains a very sad, melancholy undertone. This is the final time that Moshe addresses the people. He is here reminding them orally of what G-d did for them so that they will continue to worship G-d throughout the ages, but Moshe is also, without saying it outwardly, trying to remind them what he has been through with him. He knows that this is his final day at the helm of the nation and wants not to be forgotten. He is sad; he knows he will now go off to die and does not want his people, his brethren to forget what he has tried to teach.

So, Ha’azinu is one last hurrah before the end, but it is overshadowed with the upcoming death of Moshe Rabenu.

Ha’azinu 5762

by Aron Cohen

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shuvah, and we read from Parshat Haazinu. Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. Shuvah comes from the root shav, literally meaning to return or to repent (to God, to the straight path).

The entire book of Devarim is Moshe’s final speech, delivered to the Children of Israel, summarizing the laws in the Torah. Moshe knows that he won’t be around much longer-the Israelites will enter the land of Israel, but he won’t be allowed to enter it with them. Devarim can be looked at as Moshe’s last chance to give the Children of Israel advice, just as a teacher will try to remind of all they’ve taught you before you leave him/her for the summer holiday.

If Devarim is Moshe’s last words of advice, Haazinu is Moshe’s last call to the Children of Israel with his most important thoughts, as your mother might call out to you as you are walking out the door to remind you to take a sweater. Moshe tells the people to remember Judaism, to remember Hashem, and to remember their roots. Moshe doesn’t know where the people will end up, but he knows he won’t be around to look after them and that they tend to get into trouble.

Haazinu consists of Moshe’s reminders to the Children of Israel for when they enter the land of Israel. As important as we believe first impressions to be, it is our last impressions of our friends that will remain embedded in our memories. Thinking back over my summer, I have memories of the first few weeks, but the last week of Wheels really determined how I remember people. Although God can easily recall the whole year, the way we act over the next few days reflects how we will be remembered for the entire year.

We are taught “On Rosh Hashannah it is written, and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed”-it being God’s decision to either inscribe you in the book of life or not. We are constantly given chances to repent. Even after our fate is written, we still have the chance to go back and change it.

We should take every opportunity to repent, to make things right. We won’t always be so lucky to have a second chance. Take a moment to call up that friend you haven’t gotten along with for a few weeks, or sit down with your parents if you’ve been arguing lately. While these people will most likely be around after Yom Kippur, it’s better to start out the year with a clean slate¼ on good terms with everyone, and especially, on good terms with God and with yourself.

May everyone’s year be one of blessing, and may you all have a meaningful fast on Yom Kippur. Shabbat Shalom and Shanna Tova!

Ha’azinu 5769

by Bekah Hakimian

Shana Tova and G’mar Chatimah Tovah! As we begin the second to last Parsha in the Torah, a poem of warning that was introduced in the previous portion is read. Moshe is instructed by God to recite this poem of moral teachings. Moshe calls upon the heaven and earth to witness his words. He begins by praising God and describing the special care God has given Israel. In response, the people have spurned God and God’s laws. Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, they will suffer God’s wrath. Ultimately, God will show mercy to the Israelites and deliver them from their enemies. Moshe tells the people to take the warning he has recited very seriously. Israel’s observance of God’s laws is no trifling matter. These laws are the essence of their lives. The portion closes with God directing Moshe to ascend Mount Nevo and to look at the Land promised to the Israelites. Moshe is told he will die on the mountain.

Ha’azinu means “give ear,” as in this portion, Moshe calls upon heaven and earth to give ear to these words of praise. Why did Moshe call upon heaven and earth? Devarim Rabbah 10:4 provides several possibilities. One of them implies that it was actually Israel who was called to witness, since God has compared Israel to the stars of heaven (Beresheit 15:5) and to the dust of the earth (Beresheit 28:14). This is also the second time that Moshe has utilized a poetic structure to communicate with the Israelites. The first time was after Israel’s rescue at the Red Sea (Shemot 15) where the start of the years of wandering began in the desert. Here, Moshe speaks to the Israelites at the conclusion of their wandering. The first poem praises God for delivering the people from Pharaoh’s hand. The content of the second poem forewarned the people of their impending rebellion. It spelled out the retribution God would exact and the fact that the people would be ultimately redeemed.

If anything, this Parsha should give us hope for the new upcoming year. This Shabbat is indeed Shabbat Shuva (the Shabbat of Returning), the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It even says in the Parsha that God is redeeming. Personally, the High Holidays can often be a little daunting for the sole reason that we are trying our hardest to become better people and to finally be sealed into the Book of Life. I often read the English in the Mahzor to try and understand what exactly we are saying. The God that I am use to, the one who is compassionate and giving, is not always mentioned in the High Holiday prayers. We are pleading for our lives, and it is often very frightening to think about that. It is human nature to make mistakes and we are not always as perfect as we want to be. It is important to remember that and really strive to be a better person for the year to come. G’mar Chatimah Tovah. May you and your loved ones be sealed in the Book of Life and may this New Year bring peace and happiness to us all.

Vayelech 5762

by Hadar Schwartz

This Shabbat we read from the parshiot Nitzavim and Vayelekh.

In Vayelekh, God tells Moshe that he is about to die and that Joshua will soon be appointed ruler of Israel. Moshe wants to remind his people one more time that they should follow God and not sin. Moshe knows that he will no longer lead his people but he wants to remind his people of their faults. Then, the Parashah introduces the poem, Then Moses recited the words of this poem to the very end in the hearing of the whole congregation of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:30) This is the last line of the Parashah, it just ends. This Parashah seems almost like a cliffhanger: it introduces something, gets us all hyped for this poem, that we won’t hear until next week in Parashat Haazinu.

Parashat Vayelekh seems to fit perfectly with this time of year and this coming week. We are repenting for our sins for last year, all the things we could have and should have done differently. We begin to think forward to the upcoming year, this is what will happen, and then the page goes blank! The story for next year is not yet written another cliffhanger! However, in this story, the ending is up to us.

Ki Tavo 5762

by Mimi Arbeit

Parshat Ki Tavo discusses the relationship between God and the newborn nation of Israel. The parshat opens by introducing the offering of the first fruits. Then, a new covenant is formed between God and the Jewish people: God will protect them as long as they remain loyal. Moses gives the people four ceremonies that they will perform upon entering the land in order to remind themselves of their covenant with God. First, they will write the Law on twelve stones at Mt. Ebal. Second, they will erect an Altar there. Third, they will ratify the covenant on Ebal and Gerizim. Fourth, the Levites will pronounce the twelve dooms– the consequences of disobeying the commandments.

In order to better understand the message behind the twelve dooms, we can divide them into three categories. The first type of doom falls upon Israel when they will not listen to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments (Deut. 28:15). Following is a list of suffering such as loss of crops, sick beasts, and illness. The second type of doom falls upon Israel when they did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart (28:47). The following list is even worse than before, including war and cannibalism. The last type of doom falls upon Israel when they will not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awful Name (28:58). Then, God will strike them with every sickness and every plague not yet recorded, and seek to destroy them.

In summary, failure to obey the commandments extracts a certain level of suffering, while failure to serve God joyfully extracts even more suffering, and failure to fear God deserves ultimate destruction. This pattern shows that Judaism is rooted in feelings. If someone slips in their observance of the commandments, then his joy in serving God may eventually bring him back to his righteous path. If someone loses his inner joy, then at least his fear of God shows that he still acknowledges God’s power, and with time he may come to love that power once again. But if someone no longer fears God, no longer accepts His reign over all of creation, no longer reveres His everlasting glory– that is the ultimate betrayal.

We learn from Parshat Ki Tavo that our true connection to God lies in our hearts, in our emotions. When we love God and fear God, then our faith is secure. From there, we progress to serving God with joy and to observing the commandments. USY embodies the path between these last two steps. We come together on the premise of our Judaism, our dedication to God. And in coming together, we try to develop an atmosphere of joy and happiness in which we can celebrate serving God together. From there, we hope that individuals will be inspired to challenge themselves to increase their personal level of observance beyond USY events. We encourage each other to dine at Kosher restaurants, to keep Shabbat, and to learn Torah. But we know that the most important thing is that we revere God, that we love God and each other, and that we enjoy doing it. Shabbat Shalom!

Ki Tavo 5769

by Judah Kerbel

September 5, 2009/16 Elul 5769

What’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Is there a difference between a person who is knowledgeable in an aspect of life and a person that is wise?

In the classic 1930s movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy meets three friends – the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion – who seek a heart, a brain, and courage, respectively. While in my opinion, “knowing stuff,” knowledge of things, only requires a brain, wisdom requires all three of the above mentioned items combined. The essentials are in fact a brain, constituting knowledge; a heart, constituting emotions; and courage.

In our Torah portion, Ki Tavo, after Moshe outlines all of the grotesque curses to come with disobedience of the covenant, he reminds the people of all of the miracles and signs they saw from God. Yet it is not until this day that they had the heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear. What does it mean to have a “heart to know” – isn’t the heart usually associated with feelings, not knowledge?

Rashi comments on this phrase lev la-da’at as “l’hakir chasdei ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu u’lidabek bo. A heart to know is to recognize the acts of kindness of God and to cling to God. In other words, it’s not until after 40 years of wandering that they have the maturity, experience, and the heart to understand the significance of these miracles, that God is with them. Think about all of the times that they complained about lack of food and water, that it was better in Egypt, not to mention the Golden Calf incident after God had commanded the Israelites in the Ten Commandments to not make any graven images of God or other “gods.” Was there a significant moment where the Israelites demonstrated true loyalty to God and put their full trust in God?

Today, too, our society is caught up in complaining and not appreciating the richness of life. It constantly cries “FML” and “my life is average.” But no, life is great! In daily life, we need the power of knowledge to be open-minded, hearts for having the compassion that carious us through our lives, and courage to confront daily obstacles with love and understand how lucky we are to wake up every morning to the things that form the positives of life and to say Modeh Ani. This is true wisdom, this is what the Israelites lacked in their forty-year journey, this is lev la-da’at.

May we all have the strength in our days to make the best of our days and of the gifts we receive from God daily.

Ki Tavo 5770

by Jamie Schwartz

As I was walking through the halls of my school today something caught my eye. As the person in front of me reached to kiss the mezuzah on the doorpost, he did not realize that his hand never actually touched the mezuzah – therefore not technically performing the custom. I noticed this happen two or three times and it got me thinking about how often we do things without kavana (intent). Think about it, how many times a day do you do something without considering the reasoning behind it? We do these type of things automatically, and often times don’t pay attention to the “why?”

In this week’s parsha, parshat Ki Tavo, the Jewish people are commanded to bring the first sacrifices required of them once they enter the land of Yisrael. The parsha then continues with a detailed recap on tithings, and then the parsha concludes with a list of brachot and tochachot, blessings and curses, which would befall them if they do not follow Hashem’s mitzvot.

In perek 26, passuk 13, Hashem addresses the people and instructs them to vocalize that they have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of his mitzvot. Looking closely at this verse, it seems repetitive saying that the people have neither transgressed nor forgotten. In the book Sefat Emet, Yehuah Aryeh Leib of Ger wonders about the seeming repetition in this verse. To him it seems obvious that if we have not transgressed we have clearly not forgotten, so why does the Torah add in this extra phrase? He explains that these extra words serve the purpose of reminding us to be aware of the mitzvot we are performing as we perform them, because they tend to become so routine to us that we lose sight of the meaning behind them as we do them.

Just as the person walking through the halls of my school, there are times in which each of us loses sight of the intent behind things we do on a daily basis, and from this parsha we can learn to pay closer attention to this as we go throughout our day. What is the purpose of us saying a bracha before we eat? Is it just so that we can eat, or rather is it to thank Hashem for the food and the nourishment He has provided us with? When we ask forgiveness for a wrongdoing and say “sorry,” do we say it because we mean it – or because we want to exempt ourselves from the mistake that we made? Furthermore, when we use foul language what are we trying to accomplish? Do we really mean the words we say, or are we simply frustrated and try to rid of the frustration through the use of insensitive words?

This is a powerful lesson which we can learn from this parsha; not only do we have to do the mitzvot, but we must do so with the awareness that they are from Hashem. We need to think while we act and make certain that our actions reflect the type of person, USYer, and dugma we want to be.

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