Devarim 5762

by Jennifer Krueger

In Parshat D’varim, the Jews have been traveling through the dessert for a while and are almost ready to enter the land of Israel. They have multiplied and increased and Moshe decides that he can no longer lead them alone. He says, “How can I carry by myself all of your bothersomeness, and your burden, and your quarrels.” Rashi cites the sages and explains the meaning of this pasuk. He explains that If Moshe would come out of his house early in the morning, the Jews would say, “Why is Moshe early? Perhaps he is having family problems at home. If Moshe came out late from his house, they would say, “Moshe stays home longer in order to devise negative plans against you.” The Jews would look for the negative inside of Moshe instead of trying to see the good in him.

Moshe brings this problem to the attention of the Jews at this time because this is something that they just eradicate from the nation before they enter the land of Israel. In Pasuk 21, Moshe says, “The Lord, your God, has placed the land before you: go up and possess it..Do not fear and do not lose resolve.” When the Jews entered the land of Israel, they needed to enter as a confident nation who felt good about themselves and who were comfortable with who they were. At this stage, the Jews did not possess these qualities. We learn this through the way that they treated Moshe. One who does not see the good in themselves will not be able to see the good in others.

USYers, the Jewish people eventually gain the self confidence that they need and they enter the Land of Israel. As the generation of the modern era, it is our job to continue to ensure that this pride and confidence is maintained within us. The only way that we will be able to do this is if we know who we are. Whether we are traditional, modern, religious, secular, we are each individual parts of the Jewish Nation and we all possess unique special qualities. We must be able to see these qualities not only in ourselves but in every Jew. There is good in each and everyone and it is our job to bring this out. In doing so, we will prove that we know who we are, that we are proud of being Jewish, and that as Jewish People we stand as one united, confident Nation.

Devarim 5769

by Joshua Seed

July 25, 2009/4 Menahem Av 5769

This week we begin reading the last of five books of the Torah with Parashat Devarim. One of the important messages presented within this parashah is the need for equality before the law.

The verse reads, “I commanded your magistrates at that time as follows, “Hear out your fellow men, and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out great and small alike. Fear no man, for judgment is God’s” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).

The words “Hear out great and small alike” can be understood in two ways. The Targum or Aramaic translation has its own explanation of the words. “You shall hearken to the words of the small as to those of the great,” that you should not say: This is a poor man and his opponent is rich and it is a mitzvah to support him. I will find in favor of the poor man, and he will consequently obtain some support in a respectable fashion.

Additionally, Rashi has his own explanation of the words. “How can I offend against the honor of this rich man because of one dinar? (a dinar was a unit of money). I will for the moment decide in his favor and when he goes outside [leaves the court], I will say to him, ‘Give it to him [the plaintiff] because in fact you owe it to him.’”

Rashi’s explanation is one that exemplifies Jewish law’s great concern for objective judgment in courts of law by saying that everyone is equal regardless of how much they earn, what they dress like or any other external factor. Do you think other nations were so strict? Why do you think Jewish law is so strict? Why is favoritism of any kind so bad? How would you apply this to our law and government today?

Did you know …
… that the purpose of the prayer Ein Keloheinu was to further a Jew’s opportunity to recite 100 blessings in one day? Each line would count as four blessings, for a total of 20.

Devarim 5770

by Scott Greenberg

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

These words were said by Lou Gehrig on July 4, 1939, in Yankee Stadium, to begin his farewell speech. Gehrig had been told less than a month earlier that, due to a muscular deterioration disease known as ALS, he would never be able to play baseball again. This was Gehrig’s final chance to address his supporters, his fans – and he used it to thank them for all they had given him.

But thousands of years before Lou Gehrig would ever take the plate, there lived a prophet named Moses. Just like Lou Gehrig, Moses had a prosperous and successful career. Similar to Gehrig, Moses knew that his death was approaching. And Moses too wanted to impart a final message, some last advice to the people that admired him so much.

This week, we start the fifth and last book of the Torah, D’varim, which is essentially Moses’s farewell speech. The Israelites are almost about to enter the land of Canaan, and Moses has already been told by God that he cannot enter with them. So he begins a speech so long that it takes 30 chapters and eight entire portions of the Torah to complete. What is in this speech?

Moses’ farewell begins with a recounting of Israel’s journey from Egypt and through the desert: the places they had gone, the wars they had won, and wonders God had done for them. Then, Moses goes over many of the laws previously stated in other parts of the Torah, to serve as his last advice. He even adds some new laws, many of which have to do with entering the land of Israel. Finally, Moses outlines the positive and negative consequences that will occur to Israel if they choose to follow God’s word or not.

This is a very different farewell speech than Gehrig’s. Lou Gehrig focused on his thankfulness and the relationships he had made. Moses, however, used his last words to ensure Israel’s spiritual future and create a legacy for the laws he had taught. But these two very different farewell speeches do have one thing in common – both men felt that their lives and experiences deserved to be shared in some way.

Gehrig was able to look back at his life and consider himself lucky. Moses was able to look back at the journeys he had taken with Israel and provide them with the guidance that they’d need for a new chapter in their history.

When you look back at your life, what will you see? Will your life deserve to be shared? What type of farewell will you be able to give?

Mattot/Ma’asei 5769

by Arielle Beer

July 18, 2009/26 Tammuz 5769

This double parsha takes place at the end of the book of Bamidbar. We are heading towards the end of the journey to the Promise Land and an incident comes up that teaches us about solving a problem that will effect multiple tribes. The Israelites are about to cross over the Jordan to being to take the land. The tribes of Gad, Reuven, and half of Menashe have observed the beautiful land that has already been conquered and want to settle there. Moses becomes angry at this request so they reach a compromise in which the 2 and a half tribes will inherit the land and their wives and children may stay but the men must continue on to fight against the Canaanites. After all the land in Canaan has been conquered, the men may return to their homes.

This is a good example of a team effort that goes a little sour. Imagine having to accomplish something and members of your team back out on you after they accomplish what they but before you have. It is similar to being in a group for a project at school and having a partner that doesn’t care what grade you get on it because it won’t effect them. These tribes went on to help finish what they started which is a good lesson because you cannot be respected if you don’t help those you are working with finish what you all start as a team.

Mattot/Ma’asei 5770

by Jake Winn

“BUT WE’RE ANDY’S TOYS!” our small, cowboy friend proclaimed in the best movie of the summer (and potentially ever!). Yes, Woody is referring to a promise he and his friends made to their pal Andy, and a promise that they must keep no matter how dusty and scary the attic may be.

In this week’s parsha, Matot-Masei, Moshe is taught by Hashem the rules of the promise. If a man made a vow to God, he must carry out whatever he promised. But there were several exceptions to a binding promise: If a daughter made a promise in her father’s household, and her father learned of it and did not object, her vow would stand, but if her father objected on the same day that he heard about the promise, her vow would not stand, and God would forgive her. Similarly, if she was married while her vow was made, her husband would assume the same nullifying powers as her father once did. If her husband annulled one of her vows after the day that he learned of it, he would bear her guilt. However, on the contrary, the promise of a widow or divorced woman was binding.

In the movie Toy Story 3, the toys also learn about the power of a promise as they journey to the ends of the earth (or at least the city dump) to fulfill their vow to Andy (a metaphor for their toy Hashem). Similarly, the Israelites face the enormous task of “trashing” the wicked Midian town. Fulfilling his promise to God, Moshe commanded that they only spare the virgin girls as all other women and children that had been tainted by the Midianite bloodline would not be welcome into the Israelite tribe. In addition, Moshe made his army of soldiers go through a cleansing process after touching the bodies of the dead – a process much like the hosing that the toys went through after their visit to the dump.

On another trip from Jordan into Canaan, God commanded Moshe to kill all the inhabitants and divide the land amongst the Israelites. As a warning, God told Moshe that if the Israelites did not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, the ones that remained would become “stings in their eyes and thorns in their sides,” and would harass the Israelites in the land, so that God would do to the Israelites what God had planned to do to the inhabitants of the land. This is a warning that perhaps Woody should have had before he saved Lotso from the fate of the trash – maybe then Lotso wouldn’t have leave them to burn in the end.

The morals of the stories we’ve studied this week are simple:

  1. A promise is a promise: if you promise to take out the trash, finish you college applications or summer reading, or to take a shower one day this week – keep your promise!
  2. If you haven’t seen Toy Story 3, what are you doing with your life! Now you have to wait until motzei shabbos to go (good going!).
  3. God knows best, if you have doubts about God’s orders, chances are you’re not looking at the bigger picture, after all, if the toys had listened to Woody in the first place they could be waiting happily in the attic for the next time Andy came home from college … but, then again, there would be no adventure and no lesson, would there?

Pinchas 5762

by Aron Cohen

Parshat Pinchas opens with the discussion of Pinchas’s award, God’s blessing of peace upon him and his family, for his zealous actions. Last week, we read that Pinchas took initiative by killing an Isralite having sex with a Mideanite in the tent of meeting. His action proved that he was a capable leader through his example. He knew that the Israelite and Mideanite’s actions were wrong in the eyes of God, and took the appropriate steps. He was leading by example.

Later in the Parsha, we read a discussion between Moshe and God, in which Moshe asks God to appoint a leader over the Children of Israel. Moshe knows that he will not be allowed entering the land of Israel, and wants a capable leader for his people.

He asks God to appoint someone who “may go out before them (the Children of Israel), and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in.” Moshe wants someone that will fight at on the front lines when the Children of Israel are entering the land of Israel. Essentially, Moshe is asking for someone who can lead by example.

The saying is common. One must lead through example. You have to be a dugmah. Is it really that important to practice what you preach? Well, yes. How many times have you heard a parent yelling at his children not to yell? The scene is absurd. If the parent wants the child not to yell, it makes more sense for him to also not yell.

In USY, many of us become leaders in one way or another. Hundreds of USYers are on chapter boards. Each of these positions carries a certain weight. In each of these chapters, the board members are leaders. On regional board, many of us are required to keep Shabbat, and to observe Kashrut. This is so important because leading by example lays the groundwork for an observant community. When a leader is willing to take the initial step in his or her actions to do what is right, it makes it that much easier for the next person to do the same.

We can learn a great deal from Pinchas’s actions. We can do what we know is right, in God’s eyes and in our hearts, and take the first step. Being a leader doesn’t mean being in front of people yelling at them to observe Shabbat. Leading means observing Shabbat, and showing those around you how incredible Shabbat can be. Leading means doing something of your own volition because you know it is right, and showing, not telling others that it is the right thing to do. Shabbat Shalom.

Balak 5770

by Batya Franklin

In this week’s parsha, Balak, the Moabite king named Balak sends Bil’am to curse B’nei Yisrael because Moav was afraid of the Israelites’ strength. Before Bil’am can leave for his mission, Hashem speaks to him telling him not to go to curse B’nei Yisrael, for they are blessed. After declining Balak’s mission for him, Bil’am is approached yet another time by Balak’s messengers. This time Hashem tells Bil’am that if the messengers have invited him to go, he may do so, on the condition that he do anything Hashem tells him to. Bil’am takes his donkey and begins his journey toward the Israelite camp. On his way, Bil’am tries to curse B’nei Yisrael, but three different times his donkey prevents him from doing so. The Torah tells us that Bil’am’s donkey could see the mal’ach Hashem, the angel of God, that had been sent before them. After preventing Bil’am from cursing B’nei Yisrael these three times, the donkey speaks to Bil’am asking why he keeps beating her each time she prevents him from speaking. Immediately afterwards, Hashem shows Bil’am the/ mal’ach that he had not been able to see until then.

Bil’am ultimately gives three long blessings about B’nei Yisrael, including the familiar, mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael! This week, as you read this d’var Torah, I am celebrating Shabbat in Krakow, Poland on Ramah Seminar. Interestingly, this week’s parsha is quite fitting for my Poland experience. Just as Bil’am tried to curse B’nei Yisrael in the Torah, the Nazis cursed the Jews of Europe. The difference, of course, is that the Nazis succeeded and managed to kill six million innocent Jews. As we approach Shiv’a Asar B’tamuz, the 17th of Tamuz, and later Tish’a B’av, the 9th of Av, we think about the two destructions of the Beit Hamikdash in ancient times. As we all know, throughout our history as a Jewish people, countless other nations have threatened our existence. However, as members of USY, each one of us is living proof that Am Yisrael Chai, the People of Israel, are alive. We have overcome innumerable challenges over the past 3,000 years, and we must continue to live as Jews, proud of our heritage, and passionate about keeping it alive for another 3,000 years. USY, I wish us all a Shabbat filled with pride in our Jewish identities and love for our traditions!

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