Ekev 5769

by Judah Ari Kerbel

August 8, 2009/18 Menachem Av 5769

From the popular song by Woody Guthrie:
“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me”

I believe this song has a wonderful message about land – that not one person or group of people is completely entitled to all land. Who are people to monopolize land, thereby subjugating others to a second-class standing? Is it up to individuals to control who can step on what land?

The Torah makes it clear for us that land, while maybe being “made for you and me,” is owned by God. Throughout Parashat Eikev, Moshe discusses the issue of land with the Israelites. He reminds the Israelites that they are not worthy in any way of inheriting the land, but rather gain that opportunity because of the promise God made to the patriarchs and because of the “wickedness” of the other nations. If the Israelites stray from God’s mitzvot, they will be punished; the land will not yield for them and they will lose it. Additionally, Moshe discusses in the parasha how the Israelites will need to conquer the land, for it’s not handed to them on a silver platter.

The Israelites are repeatedly told that they are being brought to a “good” land. In Parashat Eikev (Deut. 8:7-10), Moshe says it’s a good land “with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey [7 species]; a land where you may eat food without sting, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which God has given you” (Etz Hayim translation). That last sentence serves as the source for Birkat Ha-Mazon, and we recite it in the blessing itself. B’nei Yisrael is reminded that they are lucky to be inheriting such a “good” land, and they must acknowledge and give praise to it, for after all, they are barely worthy of inheriting the land. Their residence on the luscious land is contingent on their observance of mitzvot.

In the Talmud (Berachot 35a), Rabbi Akiva teaches that “it is forbidden for a person to taste anything before he recites a blessing” (Schottenstein Edition Translation). However, the rabbis dispute that there is no source for having to recite a blessing before eating (the verse in Eikev only proves for blessing after), and they conclude that it is based off common sense that we are required to bless before eating. Then we have a sort-of “Yo Mama”-off of what a person who eats without blessing should be compared to. The rabbis teach in a baraita that one who derives benefit from this world without reciting a blessing is like one who steals directly from Beit Ha-Mikdash property. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel says that one who derives benefit from this world without blessing is like one who stole from the sanctified property of Heaven. Rabbi Chanina bar Papa said that one who derives benefit from this world without blessing is like one who steals from God and the Assembly of Israel. The Sages took eating very seriously in that eating without a blessing is basically eating at a restaurant without paying and is a very serious matter.

The mission of the Jew is often captured in the idea of being a “light unto the nations.” What the Torah here demonstrates, and hopefully the world will learn, is that we are not entitled to everything that’s just there – it’s not “mine, mine, mine” like the seagulls in Finding Nemo claim. We share the land with other people, like Woody Guthrie teaches us. It is also a divine gift that we earn only through our acknowledging of its source. If we can acknowledge the source, then perhaps we will treat our resources better and utilize it in ways that will benefit creatures of God and the earth itself.

Did you know
… that the section of ma’ariv “Baruch Hashem l’olam Amen v’Amen” was once a substitute for thema’ariv Amidah? In the Gaonic Era of Jewish History, minyanim would gather in fields for ma’ariv before dark, and in order to finish the service before dark so people could get home safely, they would recite this at ma’ariv and say the Amidah at home. It is often not said on Saturday nights after Shabbat (since no one would have been working in the fields that this would be needed), and in Israel it is completely omitted.

Va’ethanan 5762

by Joshua Rabin

“Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins” (Yishayahu 40:1-3).

This week’s Haftarah has us hear the ever famous lines from the prophet Yishayahu (Isaiah) of “nachamu ami,” that the people should be comforted in the midst of their exile from Yerushalayim. The Shabbat prior to Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Beit Hamigdash and other tragic events in Jewish history, we read this Haftarah and the parsha hashavua, Va’etchanan, every single year. However, what is the connection between the haftarah, which speaks directly of the destruction of the Beit Hamigdash, and the parsha?

The name of the parsha comes from the shoresh “hithannen.” Midrash tells us that this verb means, “to throw oneself at the mercy of the other, to plead with no grounds to justify one’s request” (Etz Chaim Chumash). Moshe implores upon the bnei Yisrael that they should follow the mitzvot, and should remain faithful to God. As we have seen, however, from Jewish history in the various Haftarot, we did not live up to that command.

Moshe recognizes this in his speech to the bnei Yisrael, and tells them of the exiles they will suffer at the hands of other nations. His speaks of the terrible tragedies that will befall them, showing both the bitter and the sweet of his people’s future. Yet in spite of it all, Moshe reminds the people of this: “But if you search there for the Lord your God, you will find Him, if only you seek Him with all your heart and soul—when you are in distress between all these things have befallen you and, in the end, return to the Lord your God and obey Him” (Dvarim 4:29-30). Indeed, God is impassioned, and oftentimes zealous when necessary, yet God is also compassionate. The parsha tells us that, “He will not fail you nor will He let you perish; He will not forget the covenant which He made on oath with your fathers (Dvarim 4:31). God is in it ‘for the long haul,’ and will not forget his people.

Here we find the connection between all three of these events; the parsha, the haftarah, and the observance of Tisha B’Av. One of the worst tragedies in our history, the destruction Beit Hamigdash in 586 BCE and 70 CE, occurred and inflicted tragedy upon our people, yet they, if they chose to, could find God at any point. They would not be forgotten. And these words of the Torah ring in the ears of Yishayahu when he says “nachamu ami”; the people should be comforted, for they would not be forgotten. Indeed, this message reigns true today. A person, no matter what their situation, can return to a more meaningful Jewish life, with a stronger identity, no matter their circumstances. Each of has the chance to get back and remain on the right path, even when we are in the most dire of circumstances, for each of us is a piece of chain, and we are only stronger through each person joining others as a part of klal Yisrael. Shabbat Shalom.

Va’ethanan 5769

by Alex Krule

August 1, 2009/11 Menahem Av 5769

This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Va’etchanan! Va’etchanan is a very interesting portion, beginning with God instructing Moshe to climb Mt. Nivo. God tells Moshe that he can look at Cana’an, but he can never enter it because he disobeyed God’s instructions. Moshe then begins to address the nation for one last time, his last chance to inspire the nation to do only good, and avoid evil. Moshe tells the Israelites repeatedly to follow God’s commandments. He also says that if they do not follow God’s commandments, he would pray for their destruction. Also, in Moshe’s last speech to Israel, a couple interesting texts come up: the second recitation of the Ten Commandments and the Sh’ma.

In Parashat Yitro, God delivers the Ten Commandments for the first time, however, in Parashat Va’etchanan, Moshe delivers them slightly differently. First of all, one of the most notable differences between Yitro (Shemot 20:2-14) and Va’etchanan (D’varim 4:6-19) is the first word of the commandment about Shabbat (the fourth one). In D’varim, it says Shamor, or observe, and in Shmot, it says Zachor, or remember. If you are familiar with Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy, then you might be familiar with a line in L’cha Dodi that says, “Shamor v’Zachor b’dibur echad,” or “’Observe’ and ‘protect’ uttered at once.” This comes from the tradition that when God delivered the Ten Commandments at Sinai, he said Shamor and Zachor at the same time. Because this divine language is incomprehensible to humans, it is written Shamor in Va’etchanan, and Zachor in Yitro to articulate just what God meant. In addition, in Va’etchanan, there is a word added to the tenth commandment (“do not covet”) that does not exist in the version in Yitro. In D’varim, it adds the word “fields” to the list of things that you are forbidden to covet, whereas in Shmot, it does not appear. This is probably because in Shmot, the Israelites had no land, whereas in D’varim, the Israelites are about to conquer their land and need to know not to covet their neighbor’s fields. There are plenty of other differences, and I hope that you look for them while following along!

Later in the portion, we find a passage that we recite every day: the Sh’ma. Beginning at Chapter 5, Verse 4 is the most widely known prayer in Judaism. Within this passage, we find our basic responsibilities as Jews: there is only one omnipotent God, we must love God, and we must teach these values to our children (of which there should be plenty). Other than Hillel’s concept of treating each other as we want to be treated, this paragraph is probably the most important passage within the entire book of D’varim, if not the entire Tanach, that continues to impact us to this very day.

Did you know …
… about the often forgotten holiday of Av, Tu B’Av (15th of Av)? It is the holiday of love – learn more here.

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.

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