Parashat Noach!

Dear Friends;

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Parshat Noah begins by describing Noah’s righteousness, compared with the wickedness of his generation. As a result of Mankind’s evil, Hashem brings a flood to destroy every living creature, sparing only Noah, his family, and at least one pair of every animal species, who live in an ark during the lengthy flood. When the waters declined, almost a year after the rains first began, Noah sends out a raven and a dove so as to determine whether the land has dried sufficiently so that they can leave the ark to resettle the earth once again. Hashem promises that He will never again destroy all of Mankind by means of a flood, and He designates the rainbow as a sign for that eternal covenant.

Noah plants a vineyard, drinks from its produce, and becomes drunk. In his intoxicated state, he shamefully uncovers himself in his tent. While his son Cham dealt with his father inappropriately, Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Yefet, cover their father in a respectful manner. Once sober, Noah responds by blessing Shem and Yefet, and by cursing Cham and his son Canaan.

Generations pass and the world is repopulated. The people attempt to wage war against Hashem by building the Tower of Babel, and Hashem responds by mixing up their languages and dispersing them across the planet.

The Torah portion concludes on an encouraging note with Abraham’s birth and his marriage to Sarah.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

At the beginning of the Parsha, the Torah says: ” Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation…..”. So, the obvious question that comes to mind is why does the Torah mention “in his generation”, when it talks about Noah’s righteousness? Well, our sages have two opposing views regarding this matter. Some Chachamim praise Noah for his righteousness in his generation, since it is very difficult to stay righteous when you are surrounded with corrupt and evil people. They say, He would have been even more righteous, if he would have lived in some other times where they were more righteous people surrounding him. While others criticize him, for his righteousness is only apparent when is compared to wickedness of his own generation. If he would have lived in the times of Abraham, for example, he would have never reached his level of righteousness. With all being said, still Noah is the only person in the entire Torah to be given the title of “righteous” by Hashem himself. So, there is no question about Noah’s righteousness; the only doubt is about his level of righteousness.

But our sages say that despite Noah’s righteousness, he still didn’t have the zechut (merit) of becoming the forefather of the Jewish nation. Our family tree starts from Abraham and not from Noah. The Torah could have easily traced back Abraham to Noah and added him to the list of our forefathers, but decided not to. But why? Why didn’t our family tree start from the righteous Noah? What was he lacking, that disqualified him from joining the Jewish nation?

I read a very interesting explanation given by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He says that the answer could be found in this week’s Parsha. After the flood, Hashem tells Noah to get out of the Ark and fill up the earth once again — to grow, multiply and rebuild a society. But once Noah got out of the Ark, he looked back at all the destructions. Overwhelmed by grief, he found refuge in wine. Instead of starting to build his future, he built himself a vineyard! He became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.The man of God has become a man of the soil. The righteous man has become a drunkard. The man clothed in virtue now lies naked and unashamed. The most righteous man who walked with God now lies alone in disgrace! And all because he looked back instead of looking forward. G-d tells him to go and build your future, but instead, he concentrated on the destructions in the past! And this is what disqualified him from becoming a Jew — ‘Not having a vision for the future’. Because in Judaism, we build our future before we mend our past!

We can see many examples of vision for the future throughout the Jewish History. One of the more recent incidents is at the time of the Holocaust. After the fall of the Natzi regime, the European Jews did not sit idle and grieve over the loss of their loved ones. Instead, they immediately started to think about their future. They started to capture and rebuild the Land of Israel for the Jewish nation. They worked very hard to make Israel a prosperous country for their children which we do benefit greatly from it to this very day. Rabbi Sacks says that many of the Holocaust survivors didn’t want to speak about their past at the beginning. Only after many years, when they got settled in and were much older, they started to talk about their past and grieve over what they’ve lost. And all because, their future was more important than their past!

Yes my friends, Judaism is a religion of the future! We are always thinking about our future and that’s the secret to our success. The land of Israel prospers continuously, because the Jews in Israel are always thinking about building their future. Why do you think that the Palestinians never prosper and most of them live in poverty and under pressure?! Because they keep looking back instead of looking forward. They don’t care about building their future; all they think about is who did this land belonged to in the past!

B”H, the Mashadi community has always been a great believer of the future too. When our fathers left Iran, they did not sit back and grieve for what they’ve left behind, but rather, they immediately started to build the future for their family and their children in United States, and today we are enjoying the fruits of their labor. Even our leaders today, they all have a vision for the future. They see the needs of the community in many more years to come, and they act on it accordingly. May G-d bless them all.

So remember my friends, the secret to succeed in life is to have a vision for the future. Something that was unfortunately missing in Noah, which inevitably disqualified him to be the father of the Chosen People!

 

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov & Regards;

Martin

 

Parashat Vezot Haberacha & Simcha Torah!

Dear Friends;

I hope you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah on the Parsha and Simchat Torah;

 

” Parasha in a Nutshell “

 

Parashat Vezot Haberacha begins by Moshe blessing the tribes of Israel before he passes away. Each tribe gets its own blessing, just like Yakov blessed each tribe individually. Reuven is blessed with life, Judah with success in battle, Levi with serving in the Temple and being teachers of Torah, Benjamin is beloved by G-d, Joseph is blessed by sweet fruits on his land, Zevulun with success in trade, Issachar with success in Torah studies, Dan with a might of a lion, Naftali with fertile land and sea and Asher with sons.

After blessing the people, Moshe goes up Mount Nebo and G-d shows him the entire “Eretz Yisrael”. Then Moshe passes away at the age of 120. He is buried by G-d, and until today, nobody knows his burial place. The Jews mourned for Moshe for 30 days, and then Joshua became the new leader, who was respected by the entire congregation, just like Moshe.

The Parsha, and the entire Torah, ends with describing Moshe’s greatness. ” There arose never again a prophet in Israel like Moshe, whom G-d knew face to face……. and the great awesome things which Moshe did before the eyes of the Egyptians and all Israel.”

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

Every year, Parashat VeZot Haberacha, which is the last Parsha of the Torah, gets swallowed up by the Festival of Simcha Torah. It doesn’t have its own designated Shabbat like all other parashiot, and the Chag on which it is read, is so packed with activities such as singing, dancing, eating and drinking, that no one pays much attention to what is going on in the Parsha. Compared to the rest of the Parashiot in the Torah, you can find the least amount of commentaries, since most commentators are busy writing about Simcha Torah or Parashat Bereshit.

But why didn’t the Chachamim designate a Shabbat to the last parsha? How could they miss to comment on the last chapter of the Torah? For those of you who are book lovers, know for a fact that the last chapter of any book is by far the most exciting one of them all. Everyone is anxious to know what happens at the end! What will happen to the Hero? The excitement is overwhelming. Just before starting the last chapter, you feel the jitters in your body! Once you start reading the last chapter, there is no way you can put down the book until you have read the very last word. And then, you feel the ultimate satisfaction– which could be a feeling of accomplishment, excitement, joy, or even a feeling of sorrow. So, how come, we and the commentators, can’t reach the same level of excitement with our Holy book of Torah? After all, our Torah is a true-story book with its’ author being the G-d Almighty himself, and has Moshe Rabeinu as its hero. So, how can it be less exciting than any other book? Most of us don’t even read the English translation of the Parsha! Don’t you think it’s a little absurd? Don’t we want to know what will happen to Moshe at the end and how does the Torah end??

The answer is quite simple my friends. We don’t feel the excitement of the last Parsha of the Torah, because we believe that the Torah never ends!! That’s what Simcha Torah is all about! As soon as we finish reading the last sentence of the Torah, immediately, without a break, we start to read the first chapter, Parashat Bereshit. Apparently, there is no beginning or an end to Torah. It seems that the Torah is just one continuous book! Once you realize that there is no ending, then there is no excitement to read the last chapter! We believe that every chapter of the Torah is as important as the other and we should feel the excitement at all times throughout the year when we read the Torah. The celebration that we do on Simcha Torah, is not because we have finished or started the Torah, but rather, the celebration is because Hashem has given us another year to review this wonderful book.

But all being said, I still feel the urge to say a few words about the last chapter of the Torah. So, towards the end of the Parsha, which is the last few hours of Moshe’s life, we see that Hashem finally reveals his emotions. He talks so highly of his beloved servant, Moshe Rabeinu. He tells us that never again we shall see such a Prophet who can talk “face to face” to the Almighty, who can perform Hashem’s miracles with such greatness. Unlike all other prophets who could only communicate with Hashem in a vision, Moshe talked to Hashem face to face at anytime he wanted. To Hashem, Moshe was not just another human being; he was someone very dear to him. Not only Hashem talked to Moshe constantly, but He also consulted with him, He argued with him, He taught him, He listened to him, he punished him and he praised him. In the mortal world, it seems that Moshe was Hashem’s best friend; his buddy so to speak. The Torah finally tells us that the time has come for Moshe to die and be gathered to his people. How do you think Hashem felt at that time? Yes, we believe that once a person dies, his soul will go to “Olam Haba”, a place which the soul gets closer to Hashem; but as a human being, as a flesh and blood, he had to say goodbye to his best friend. The Halacha says that when a person passes away, the closest relative is responsible to do the burial. In the case of Moshe, Hashem felt that he was his closest family, and that’s why the Torah says that Hashem buried Moshe himself. It makes you wonder how painful it was for Hashem to bury his best friend?!?!

Yes, our hero dies at the end, but there is no reason to be sad, because Moshe left this world with dignity and pride as the best prophet of all times. A person who we still talk about him after 3000 years, is not considered dead! Moshe’s name is mentioned in nearly every Parsha of the four out of five books of the Torah. In “Pirkei Avot” its written “tov shem mi shemen tov”, which means a good name is better than a good oil since it lasts for much longer time. Moshe, was loved and respected by G-d because he in turn loved the Benei Israel so much that he was ready to give up his life for them! His love and devotion for his nation earned him the title of “the greatest prophet of all times”!! Anyone who has been loved by Hashem so much, should be adored by us too! May he rest in peace. What a great zechut we have to be a part of a nation who had Moshe Rabeinu as its leading prophet!

Although, Hashem punished Moshe severely for the only mistake of hitting the rock instead of talking to it, it did not take anything away from the love and respect he had towards him. And this is the greatest lesson we can learn from Hashem. Sometimes our children might do something that they are not suppose to, and we may end up punishing them. But that should not take away, by no means, from the love and respect that we have towards them. We punish our children because we love them and we want them to improve, and not because we don’t like them, G-d forbid!

So remember my friends, Simcha Torah is the celebration of continuing with the Torah. The Torah is our life; without it, we can not live! That’s why we keep reading it in a circle without interruption. The Torah is often compared to light. In today’s modern times, it’s electricity which gives us light at nights. Electricity is a flow of electrons around a circuit. You cut the circuit, there is no light………. You cut the Torah, there is no life!!!

 

Chag Sameach, Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

 

Parashat Ki-Tavo!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a short Dvar Torah;

 

“ Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Moshe instructs the people of Israel: When you enter the land that G-d is giving to you as your eternal heritage, and you settle it and cultivate it, bring the first-ripened fruits of your orchard to the Holy Temple, and declare your gratitude for all that G-d has done for you.

Our Parsha also includes the laws of the tithes given to the Levites and to the poor. Moshe reminds the people that they are G-d’s chosen people, and that they, in turn, have chosen G-d.

The latter part of Ki Tavo consists of the Tochachah (“Rebuke”). After listing the blessings with which G-d will reward the people when they follow the laws of the Torah, Moshe gives a long, harsh account of the bad things — illness, famine, poverty and exile — that shall befall them if they abandon G-d’s commandments.

Moshe concludes by telling the people that only today, forty years after their birth as a people, have they attained “a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear.”

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

Harvest time! After months of backbreaking work, a farmer can finally enjoy the fruits of its labor. He can reap all of his crops and G-d willing, it will cover his sustenance for the year to come. But before he can enjoy his freshly-harvested crop, the Torah commands in this week’s parsha that the farmer bring his “Bikurim”, or his first-ripened fruits, to the Temple in Jerusalem as a gift to the Kohen. The sages describe the remarkable scene of thousands of people, rich and poor alike, come together in Jerusalem, rejoicing in song and dance with their baskets of fruit in their hands, celebrating their successful harvest and offering thanks to Hashem.

Upon arriving in the Temple, the Torah commands: “The Kohen shall take the basket from your hand and leave it before the altar of the Lord your G-d”. The Talmud relates an interesting detail regarding this event. The wealthy people, would bring their fruits in exquisite gold and silver baskets and would hand them over to the Kohen. The Kohen would then remove the fruits and return the baskets to their owners. But for the less fortunate farmers who brought their fruits in cheap reed or straw baskets, the Kohen would not return the baskets to their owners; the fruits would remain inside the baskets until the Kohen took them home. The obvious question is, why does the rich get back his silver and gold basket, while the poor who might still have a need for his basket, goes home empty handed?! The Chachamim ask why does “the rich get richer, while the poor gets poorer”?! Is this justice in the eyes of Hashem? The Jewish laws which have always shown compassion towards the needy, seems to have missed this opportunity! Why is it so?

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky gives an interesting explanation. The wealthy farmer who owns many top quality fields, may probably have a lot of produce to present to the Kohen, and his fruits are beautiful and well-formed. The poor person, on the other hand, who probably has a much smaller field, the fruits that he brings to the Temple are most likely inferior both in quality and quantity. If the fruits would be removed in order to return the baskets to the owner, the poor farmer would be forced to suffer the embarrassment of having people see his inferior gift. The Jewish law therefore prescribes that the fruits should remain hidden in the basket. The Torah feels that a person’s dignity is worth more than a few dollars. Let the Kohen keep the fruit in the basket. Let it at least have the appearance of being something substantial. Let the poor man walk out with his dignity, even if the basket is something of a value to him. A person can always make a few more dollars. But It’s much harder to regain one’s pride!

Yes my friends, the Talmud is teaching us that every person deserves to have dignity and pride. We should try our best not the hurt other people’s feelings and avoid embarrassing them. The Almighty demands from us not to humiliate another person, not to put anyone to shame and above all, not to take away someone’s pride. Every person deserves to be respected since we are all created in the image of G-d. The whole theme of the Torah is about having compassion for your fellow human beings and to love your fellow Jew just like yourself.

Remember that Hashem accepted both fruits of the rich and the poor. Both were given the same respect to enter the holy Temple and to present their gift to G-d. Both walked in with  a joy in their hearts and both left with pride and dignity. In the eyes of Hashem, all of his children are dear to him the same way, and they should be dear to us too.

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Ki Tetzei!

  • Dear Friends;
  • I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;
  • ” Parsha in a Nutshell “
  • Seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 commandments are in this week’s Parsha. These include the laws of the beautiful captive woman, the inheritance rights of the first-born, capital punishment for the wayward and rebellious son, burial and dignity of the dead, returning a lost object, sending away the mother bird before taking her young, and the duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one’s home.
  • Also recounted are the judicial procedures and penalties for adultery, for the rape or seduction of an unmarried girl, and for a husband who falsely accuses his wife of adultery. The following cannot marry a person of Jewish lineage: a bastard; a male of Moabite or Ammonite descent.
  • Our Parshah also includes laws governing the purity of the military camp; the prohibition against turning in an escaped slave; the duty to pay a worker on time; the proper treatment of a debtor and the prohibition against charging interest on a loan; the laws of divorce (from which are also derived many of the laws of marriage); and the procedures for yibbum, marriage between the wife of a childless deceased to her brother-in-law.
  • Parsha concludes with the obligation to remember “what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt.”
  • ” Dvar Torah “

  • One of the most difficult tasks for any parents is to raise their children. There are no set of rules to follow. Even if there is, there is no guarantee that it will work on every child, since each child is different. One of the biggest nightmare for parents is, G-d forbid, to be faced with a problematic or a rebellious child. How can they avoid to have such a child?!
  • Well, in this week’s Parsha, the Torah talks about a wayward and rebellious son (Ben sorer u’moreh). The Torah says: ” If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they discipline him but he still does not listen to them, then the parents shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of the city and say to them, ” This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not listen to our voice, he is a glutton and drunkard ….. All the men of the city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die;”
  • The Chachamim say that the reason the boy is put to death is because the parents notice a trend in their young son’s spiritual growth that will almost inevitably lead to a lifestyle involving robbery and  even murder. One of the requirements for a child to be considered a “Ben Sorer U’moreh” is to be a glutton, indulging in excessive meat and wine. If a boy displays an uncontrolled lust for meat and wine, he will inevitably reach the point where he will rob and murder in order to obtain the money he needs to satisfy this lust. Therefore the Torah advises that he should be put to death “at the stage in life when he is still innocent,” rather than allowing him to mature to a point where he will actually commit the sin and will be deservant of death.
  • But the Talmud says that an actual case of “ben sorer u’moreh”, stoning of a child, has never happened and will never happen. There are too many laws and restrictions. Besides, no parents would have the heart to take their son to be stoned to death! The Torah is merely mentioning this law just for educational purposes. So, if the whole purpose of this law is to educate us, let’s see what we can learn from it.
  • The Torah says: ” If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother……..”. Accordingly, our Chachamim ask the following question. Why does the Torah mention the voice of the father and the voice of the mother separately? Why doesn’t it just say, “a son who does not listen to the voice of his parents?! Our Torah which is so careful with the use of words, why suddenly became so generous with throwing extra words?!
  • Rabbi Yissachar Frand gives an interesting interpretation. He says, in describing a rebellious child, the Torah is trying to stress that the parents were not of one voice and one opinion! The child did not listen to his father’s voice and independently he did not listen to his mother’s alternate voice either. When the child hears mixed messages, he does not listen to either parent and he goes after his own heart and hence, he becomes rebellious. When a child hears one thing from the father and another thing from the mother – that is a garden in which weeds can grow. Only subsequently, when the child has already left the right path, do the parents come and, sadly, tell the elders of the court: “Now we are together. Now we have a unified voice. Our son is not listening to OUR voice!” Unfortunately by then, it is too late. The son has already became a rebellious child, and it’s very hard to bring him back!
  • Yes my friends, There are no secret formulas for raising good children. Raising children is the most difficult job in the world. However, there are clearly certain things parents should try to avoid. Parents should always present a unified message of their expectations to their children. Parents may have disagreements among themselves as to what is the proper course in raising children. But those disagreements need to be decided among themselves; in private! When parents come before their children, they need to articulate a clear, decisive, and uniform message. For example, if a son comes and ask the mother for $20 and the mother says no, and then he goes and asks the father for $20 and he gives it to him, that’s considered talking in different voices. If the parents would have always talked in a unified voice, then the son would have never gone to the father and asked for $20! When the parents reach the status of “our voice” rather than “the father’s voice” and “the mother’s voice,” their chances of raising a proper child will be much greater.
  • So remember my friends, there are more things to learn from the Torah than just to read the plain text. Accordingly, the lesson that we can learn from “Ben Sorer U’moreh” is not how to kill a rebellious child, but rather, how to raise a good child who is respectful to his parents.
  • Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

             Martin

Parashat Shoftim!

  • Dear Friends;

 

  • I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;
  • ” Parsha in a Nutshell “
  • Moshe instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and law-enforcement officers in every city.
  • A minimum of two credible witnesses is required for conviction and punishment.
  • A Jewish king may only have possessions and symbols of power adequate for the honor of his office, but not for self glorification.
  • Hashem promises the Jewish people that he will send them prophets to guide them, and Moshe explains how a genuine prophet may be distinguished from a false one.
  • The Parsha includes the prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery; guidelines for the creation of “cities of refuge” for the inadvertent murderer. Also set forth are many of the rules of war: the exemption from battle for one who has just built a home, planted a vineyard, married, or is “afraid and soft-hearted”; the requirement to offer terms of peace before attacking a city.
  • If a corpse is found between cities, the elders of the nearest city must take a heifer, slaughter it, and wash their hands over it, saying that they are not guilty of the death.
  • “ Dvar Torah “
  • The foundation of civilization is based on justice! No civilized society can survive without a judiciary system, and a set of laws and order. And Judaism cannot agree more with this system. This week’s parsha starts off by telling us to appoint judges and lawmakers for ourselves. It continues by telling us the famous quote, “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof”….. “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue”……. But the true translation of it is: “Righteousness, Righteousness, you shall pursue”…..

 

          So, what does it exactly mean, tzedek, righteousness, you shall pursue? Rabbi Frand               says that it means that a person should be trialed in a righteous and a fair way. That’s             why the Torah tells us to appoint righteous and G-d fearing judges. A judge cannot                   take a bribe. A judge cannot take the side of the weak or the powerful, nor can he take           the side of a widow or an orphan. Indeed, a judge has to be totally unbiased and try                 his best to make a fair judgment.

 

  • In western societies’ court of law, where there is a dispute between two parties, the judge has to determine who is right and who is wrong; who has to be rewarded and who has to be punished. The judge’s main role is to find who is guilty and who is innocent. The judge has the full authority to make this decision. In a Jewish court of law however, the judge has a different role. His role is to give the accused a fair trial — a trial which is based on fairness and righteousness. Indeed the Torah sets down numerous rules and regulations which delimit the judge’s power to judge, and ensure that when he does judge, he does so with utmost caution and sensitivity.
  • To get a better understanding of what it means by a fair trial, we can look at a criminal law discussion in the Talmud known as the “indefensible criminal” laws. The Talmud says: In the time of Beit Hamikdash, under the Jewish law, capital crimes were tried by a tribunal of 23 judges called a “Minor Sanhedrin.” After hearing the testimony of the witnesses, the judges themselves would split into two groups: those inclined to argue for the defense of the accused would serve as his “defense team” and seek to convince their colleagues of his innocence; and those inclined to convict him would serve as prosecutors making the case for his guilt. After each team presents their case, then the judges would vote. A majority of one was sufficient to set him free, while a majority of two was necessary to convict.
  • But  what happens if all the twenty-three judges join the prosecution team?! What if the evidence is so compelling and the crime so horrifying that not a single member of the tribunal chooses to argue in the accused’s favor? In such a case, says the Talmud, the accused cannot be convicted and this court is disqualified from making a judgement!
  • But you may ask yourself why? Why is the court disqualified? If the evidences are so strong against the accused, why can’t the court find him guilty?! Why does it matter if anyone is going to defend him or not? For example, if a killer is caught, and there are more than 5 witnesses who saw him kill the person, the guy is guilty and should be trialed and punished! So what if he doesn’t have a defence team?!
  • Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Late Lubavitcher Rebbe, explains the rationale behind this law as follows: No man is so utterly evil that there is nothing to be said in his defense. There is always some explanation, some justification, some perspective from which the underlying goodness of his soul can be glimpsed. This does not mean that he is going to be found innocent. But if not a single member of the court perceives the “innocent side” of the person standing accused before them, this court then obviously has very little understanding of who he is and what he has done. Such a court has disqualified itself from passing judgment on him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe therefore says that you cannot judge a person until you see something good in that person! Justice has to be done with righteousness, and righteousness is achieved when you can see the good in everybody first!
  • Yes my friends, in order to judge a person, we need to hear something in his defence first! That’s why the Torah is so much against “Lashon Hara”, evil speech or slander.  Because when you hear something evil about someone, you immediately become judgmental. But you can not judge him, because you haven’t heard anything in his defense yet! Judging people is one of the most difficult tasks and that’s why the Torah has  asked us to appoint professional judges who are righteous and know how to judge fairly. Us, the ordinary people, are not here to judge people —– we are here to love them!
  • So remember my friends, if you only see the bad in people, you are disqualified to judge them. But if you see the good in people, then you’ll be considered a “Tzadik”, a righteous person in the eyes of Hashem……
  • Shabbat Shalom & Regards;
  • Martin

Parashat Re’eh!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

Moshe says to the people of Israel, “I place before you today a blessing and a curse” —  the blessing that will come when they fulfill G-d’s commandments, and the curse if they abandon them.

A Temple should be established in “the place that G-d will choose to dwell His name there”, where the people should bring their sacrifices to Him; it is forbidden to make offerings to G-d in any other place.

A false prophet, or one who entices others to worship idols, should be put to death; an idolatrous city must be destroyed. The identifying signs for kosher animals and fishes, and the list of non-kosher birds are repeated.

A tenth of all produce is to be eaten in Jerusalem, or else exchanged for money with which food is purchased and eaten there. Firstborn cattle and sheep are to be offered in the Temple and their meat eaten by the Kohen.

The mitzvah of charity obligates a Jew to aid a needy fellow with a gift or loan. On the Sabbatical year (occurring every seventh year) all loans are to be forgiven.

Our Parshah concludes with the laws of the three pilgrimage festivals — Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot — when all should go to “see and be seen” before G-d in the Holy Temple.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

In this week’s Parsha, once again, Moshe reviews the commandments of the Torah with Benei Yisrael during the final days of his life. One of the commandments that he goes over is the mitzvah of giving charity. He tells them the following: ” If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers in one of your cities, in your land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother. Rather, you shall open your hand to him, and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs, which he is lacking.” Then a few pasuks later, Moshe continues to say: ” You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for in return for this matter, Hashem will bless you in all your deeds…”.

Interestingly, there are two phrases that have caused discussion among our commentators. One is,”You shall not harden your heart”…… and the other, “Let your heart not feel bad”….. The Chachamim say that when the Torah repeats itself, it’s try to convey an important message. Accordingly, the Chachamim derive from these two phrases that helping the poor has to be accompanied with good feelings of heart; meaning that you have to give charity with happiness and joy! To feel happy in your heart is as important as the act of giving charity itself! Some Chachamim even go as far as to say that the money given to charity without a joy and happiness of the heart, does not count as part of your “Ma-aser”- 10% obligatory donation towards charity.

But you may ask yourself, why is it so? Why is the Torah so concern about feeling of joy when we want to help the poor? If a wealthy guy, for example, wants to write a $500,000 check to a charity organization, why should it matter if he gives the check with a frown on his face? Shouldn’t the organization take the check anyway? Money is money; isn’t it??!! Also, when the needy comes and knocks on your door, he doesn’t want you to “open your heart”….. he wants you to open your wallet! So what is the big deal if we are not happy when we are giving charity or helping the poor?

Rabbi Frand gives a beautiful explanation to the above question. He quotes a story from the Talmud that best explains the reason for being happy when giving charity:  During the time of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a Jewish livestock owner was obligated to give 10% of his new flock to the Temple. How was this done? Every year, around Rosh Hashana, he would pen all his cattle, from a year old and younger, in an enclosure. He would then open up the gate and let them out, one at a time. As each animal exited the enclosure he would count: one, two, three,…… seven, eight and nine. When he counted the tenth he would mark the animal with a red dye. That animal would then be set aside to be brought to Jerusalem. The procedure was repeated until all the animals were counted.

A question is asked regarding this prescribed procedure. Why make the rancher go through the whole process of penning the animals and then driving them out the exit one at a time? Why not just take ten percent off the top, add a few extra to ensure that no less than required ten percent was given, and avoid this seemingly time consuming and senseless procedure?

The answer is that a very profound message is being conveyed to the rancher by virtue of this process. As each animal goes out the door, it is as if the Almighty is telling the person, ‘One is for you, two is for you, three is for you…’ After giving the owner nine, the Almighty then asks for only one. After getting to keep nine, the rancher is content and realizes how all of his wealth comes from the G-d Almighty and although he is giving, but he gets to keep much more for himself.

Rabbi Frand says that this is precisely the reason why we should be happy when we give to charity. When we are donating to charity, first we need to realize that everything we have comes from Hashem and we should be delighted that we are able to share a very small amount of it with others! The only reason we may feel unhappy about giving to charity is when we wrongfully think that we have made our money on our own. “I worked hard for this money…… I want to keep it for myself”, we may say to ourselves. Only then, it will be difficult to give it away.

Yes my friends, when you are giving charity with joy, not only are you helping the poor, but you are also acknowledging that everything you have comes from Hashem. The word for charity in Hebrew is “tzedakah”. Tzedakah does not mean charity. It means “righteousness”. We don’t give charity because we have pity on the poor; we give charity because it’s the right thing to do. If Hashem has blessed us with wealth, then we should be delighted to share some of it with our needy brothers. If Hashem can be so giving, then why can’t we?!

So the next time a poor knocks on your door, it’s up to you if you want to give him money or not. But if you do decide to give him, make sure you smile at him first! Feel happy about what you are doing. Rejoice, celebrate and dance with the poor for this is a happy occasion. This is what Hashem expects from you and this is what your heart should desire!

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Ekev!

  • Dear Friends;
  • I hope you’ll enjoy the following Parashat summary followed by a Dvar Torah;
  • ” Parsha in a Nutshell “
  • Moshe continues to encourage the Children of Israel to trust in Hashem and in the wonderful rewards which He will provide them if they keep the Torah. Moshe assures them that they will successfully defeat the nations of Canaan, at which point they must remove every trace of idol worship remaining in the Holy Land.
  • Moshe reminds them about the miraculous manna and the other wonders which Hashem provided for them throughout the past forty years, and he warns them to beware of their own future prosperity and military success which might cause them to forget Hashem. He further reminds them of their transgressions in the desert, retelling the story of the golden calf at length, and describing Hashem’s abundant mercy with them.
  • Moshe teaches the people the second paragraph of the Shema which stresses the fundamental doctrine of reward and punishment based upon our performance of the mitzvot. The Parsha concludes with Hashem’s promise that He will provide the Jewish people with protection if they observe the laws of the Torah.
  • “ Dvar Torah “
  • In this week’s Parsha, Moshe continues with his farewell speech to the Benei Israel before he passes away. He continues to tell them that the secret to their survival in the Promised Land is to keep Hashem’s commandments. But in the middle of his speech, he tells them the following sentence which really touched my heart:
  • “A Land that Hashem, your G-d, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year “.
  • What a beautiful statement about the land of Israel. G-d is always watching over the Land of Israel. But what is the significance of this declaration? Why is it important for Benei Israel to know that G-d is always protecting Israel?
  • Well, Rabbi Frand says that in order to understand this declaration, we need to evaluate the sin of the spies which occurred 40 years before. So, what exactly did the Spies do wrong? They honestly believed that it would be impossible to conquer the land. What they said was the truth. The people who lived in the land were giants. Even the greatest army could not defeat them. So why did they get punished?  
  • Well, The Baal HaAkeidah (a Torah scholar) suggests that the spies’ sin was to add their own conclusion to the facts. They should just have described the situation, and left it to Moshe to interpret it for the people. They should not have proclaimed that there was no way for the Jews to conquer the land. They should have kept their opinion to themselves.
  • But Shelah Hakadosh, another commentator, rejects the approach of the Akeidah. After all, he says, Moshe did ask them to share information regarding the strength of people living in Canaan at that point, which requires subjective judgment. One cannot expect a messenger to deliver only the facts on a matter that is so subjective without adding a conclusion?! For example, when you want to buy a new home, you will probably get an inspector to inspect the house first. After doing an inspection, he will give you a report of all the problems that exists in the house. There is a plumbing problem in the bathroom; there is a leak in the roof; the kitchen faucet is not working; and so on….. But at the end, you expect him to tell you if you should buy the house or not. Same way, the report of the spies asks for their opinion! We see that  two of the spies, Caleb and Yehoshua, also gave their opinion. They said that we can surely conquer the land. But they did not get punished! So why should the rest of the spies be at fault just for stating their opinion?!
  • Shelah Hakadosh suggests that Moshe was interested in hearing the Spies opinion, but not one based solely on military actions. Instead he wanted to hear their opinion based on spirituality and to show faith in G-d. Moshe knew that they would find fortified cities inhabited by powerful giants. But the appropriate response to such findings should have been, “Yes, they are strong, and yes, their cities are protected, and through natural means, we don’t stand a chance. But Hashem has told us that we should go into the land, so we will certainly defeat them.” They were supposed to remind the people that just as Hashem had saved them miraculously at the Yam Suf, the same way He will miraculously conquer the land for them too. The spies mistake was to not take into consideration the power of G-d!
  • But Rabbi Frand still has a problem with Shelah’s interpretation. He says that according to Jewish law, we cannot base our actions only on miracles. For example, if G-d forbid someone gets sick, he cannot sit at home and just pray to Hashem that he should miraculously get cured. The halacha says that he has to go to a doctor and try his best to get treatment. He cannot just rely on prayers. Accordingly, you cannot expect from the spies to purely rely on a miracle from Hashem to conquer the land! So why were they punished so severely?!
  • Rabbi Frand answers that although in all other areas of life, we should avoid depending on miracles as much as possible, when it comes to conquering Eretz Yisrael, we should ALWAYS rely on Hashem’s help. There is no way to live in Eretz Yisrael under natural circumstances. Without Hashem’s Presence, Eretz Yisrael is not inhabitable. And this is exactly the mistake of the spies. When it comes to conquering Israel, they could and should have relied on G-d’s miracles only.
  • And this is what Moshe is trying to teach them now as they are about to enter the land. That the land of Israel is a special land, different than all other lands. Because it is “A Land that Hashem, your God, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your God, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end”.
  • Yes my friends, Israel exists only because G-d is watching over it at all times! You don’t need to be a genius to realize how miraculously Israel continues to exist and prospers. Surrounded by millions or maybe billions of enemies, being continuously under attack, it still continues to thrive. Israel exists not because it has one of the best armies in the world, but rather, it exists because G-d is watching over it. Let’s not lose perspective. Israel’s existence is a supernatural phenomena!
  • A few years ago, Israel was under heavy attack by scud missiles. Israel used Iron Dome to intercept these rockets and B”H there were no fatalities. The whole world was amazed by Israel’s anti-missile invention. If you were in Israel at that time, you could have looked up in the sky and saw the Iron Domes actually intercepting the rockets. You could have seen a small explosion in the sky. But if you would have looked beyond the explosion, most probably, you should have been able to see the hand of G-d………
  • Shabbat shalom & Regards;
  • Martin

Parashat Vaetchanan!

Dear Friends;

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Moshe tells the people of Israel how he implored G-d to allow him to enter the land of Israel, but G-d refused, instructing him instead to ascend a mountain and see the Promised Land.

Continuing his “review of the Torah,” Moshe reminds them of the glorious seen at the Mount Sinai: ” Did ever a people hear the voice of G-d speaking out of the midst of the fire… and live? … You were shown, to know, that the L-rd is G-d… there is none else beside Him.”

Moshe predicts that, in future generations, the people will turn away from G-d, worship idols, and be exiled from their land and scattered amongst the nations; but from there they will seek G-d, and return to obey His commandments.

Our Parshah also includes a repetition of the Ten Commandments, and the first paragraph of the Shema. The Torah then tells us to bind “these words” as tefillin on our arms and heads, and inscribe them in a mezuzah and put them on the doorposts of our homes.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

I would like to dedicate this week’s Dvar Torah Le Eluy nishmat “Reuven Ben Mashiach”, my late father Z”L who passed away 11 months ago. May he rest in peace;

 

The book of Devarim is all about Moshe’s final days in this world. So too, in this week’s Parsha, Moshe continues to prepare the Benei Yisrael for a life without his leadership in the land of Israel. He tells them that the secret to their survival in the promised land is by keeping the commandments of the Torah. So not to our surprise, he relates to them the Ten Commandments once again, and reminds them how important it is to keep them. Although, the wording of the Ten Commandments said by Moshe now is very similar to the one that they received at Mount Sinai about forty years before, but still, the commentators could find a few little changes.

One of the differences between Moshe’s version of the Ten Commandments and the original one found in the book of Shemot is found in the fifth commandment which is to “Honor your parents”. The pasuk says: “Honor your father and mother, as Hashem your G-d has commanded you, so that you may live long….” The Chachamim immediately notice that Moshe has added a phrase to this commandment which is: “as Hashem your G-d has commanded you”. This phrase was not mentioned in the first version of Ten Commandments. So, why did Moshe add this phrase?!  What is the significance of this additional phrase?

Rabbi Frand explains that usually a mitzvah which sounds to be logical is much easier to keep. Honoring the parents should be common sense, since everyone who has a child knows that raising children is very costly, time consuming and needs a lot of patience, energy and dedication. Parents lose many nights of sleep and many days of work when raising a child. Accordingly, every person also understands that he has a moral obligation to repay his debt of gratitude to his parents. Therefore, the least people can do is to honor their parents. It’s not so difficult to make a small payment on such a large debt.

But G-d forbid, what if you think that your parents didn’t do much for you when you were a child? Do you still have to honor them? I remember once, that my grandfather told me that when he was a kid back in Mashad, many people in the Mashadi community were poor. The parents could not afford to spend money on their kids and the boys had to work from the early age of ten in order to support themselves and their families. But still, the children of those days had much more respect for their parents than we see today. And this is exactly what Moshe is trying to teach the Benei Yisrael that honoring parents should not depend on how much they’ve done for you in the past, but rather, you should honor your parents only because “Hashem your G-d has commanded you!”

It was so appropriate for Moshe to relate this message to Benei Israel  now, after they had spent their last 40 years in the desert.  Since during those years, raising children was much easier than it was ever before or after. The parents didn’t have to do much for their kids at all. They didn’t need to buy them food since there was manna given from heaven. The children didn’t need new shoes or clothing since nothing ever wore out! They did not need to pay for Yeshivas or Talmud Torahs; since the Levites taught them for free! They did not need to take them on vacations or put them in summer camps, and I’m pretty sure that they didn’t need to go to orthodontist either! Life in the desert for the parents was like a paradise since they didn’t have to do anything for their kids. But still, Moshe reminds them that the Torah demands that parents should be honored. Clearly, the obligation is to obey Hashem’s commandment rather than to repay a debt of gratitude.

Yes my friends, we don’t keep the mitzvot of the Torah because they make sense, but rather, we keep them because Hashem our G-d has commanded us. Judaism is not a religion of logic; it’s a religion of faith! We believe what Hashem asks us to do is 100% good for us whether we understand it or not. We don’t respect our parents because we have an obligation to repay a debt, but rather, we respect them because Hashem our G-d has commanded us. They are the ones who have given us our lives and that’s all the reason we need to love, respect and support them for the rest of their lives. The Torah is teaching us that the parents are not obligated to have done anything for us to earn their respect. We have to respect them no matter what! And to help us to do this great mitzvah, the Torah is even telling us the reward for it: “so that you may live longer”! Therefore, honoring parents is the best life insurance policy you can ever buy for yourselves!

Keep in mind that respecting parents is not only about showing them courtesy by kissing their hands and standing up in front of them when you see them. Honoring parents is also about supporting them physically, mentally and financially when they get older. Unfortunately, there may come some days that we have to miss work, sleep and leisure time in order to be with them and help them in every way we can. But in no way we should feel proud of our actions and feel special for what we do. This is the least that we could do for our parents, and I’m sure we would all do a lot more for them if we were able to. Respecting parents does not end when they pass away. We can still honor them by doing mitzvot and “maasim tovim” (good deeds). Because people know us as our parent’s children, and anything good we do, gives honor and respect to them and their legacy will live forever.

So my friends, if your parents are still alive, love and respect them as much as you can. This is what Hashem has commanded you and this is what your heart should desire. Cherish every moments with them, for you’ll never know the heartache until you see their empty chair…..

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Devarim & Tisha B’Av!

  • Dear Friends;
  • I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah on Tisha B’Av;
  • ” Parsha in a Nutshell “
  • Moshe begins his revision of the Torah to the assembled Children of Israel, reviewing the events that occurred in the course of their 40-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, rebuking the people for their failures and sins, and encouraging them to keep the Torah and observe its commandments in the land that G-d is giving them as an eternal heritage, into which they shall cross after his death.
  • Moshe recalls his appointing of judges and magistrates to ease his burden of judging people; the sending of the Spies and the people’s subsequent rejection of the Promised Land, so that G-d decreed that the entire generation of the Exodus shall die out in the desert. “Also against me,” says Moshe, “was G-d angry for your sakes, saying: You, too, shall not go in there.”
  • And at the end of the parsha, Moshe gives assurance to his successor, Joshua, who will take the people into the Land and lead them in the battles for its conquest: “Fear them not, for the L-rd your G-d, He shall fight for you.”
  • ” Dvar Torah “
  • “Mourning”, is a period of time when a person grieves for the loss of life of a loved one. For those of us who unfortunately have had the experience, mourning can be a very difficult and devastating period of time, since when a loved one passes away it creates a vacuum in our lives which is very hard to fill. So, how can we cope with the pain? How can we find comfort and solace?!
  • Well, our sages tell us that in order to receive comfort and feel relief from the pain, G-d has blessed us with a sense of “forgetfulness”. As the time passes by, and as much as we try not to, we start to forget about the deceased. And as we tend to forget, slowly, slowly, the pain starts to go away and we begin to get a feeling of comfort. If G-d forbid, the human mind didn’t have the power to forget, then the mourning period will never come to an end and the people will continue to mourn for the death of a loved one for the rest of their lives. Although, memory is one of the great functions of the mind, but lack of memory, or forgetfulness, is a great blessing that Hashem has bestowed upon us!
  • The three weeks between 17th of Tamuz and Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) is also a period of  mourning. The mourning intensifies as it gets closer to Tisha B’Av. And on Tisha B’Av, it’s the ultimate day of mourning. We don’t eat, we don’t wear leather shoes, we don’t listen to music, etc……. The reason that we are mourning is because our two Batei Hamikdash (Temples) which were destroyed almost 2000 years ago. We are not simply grieving over a magnificent building which was destroyed a long time ago, nor are we crying over the Temple’s physical structure which was burned, but rather, we are mourning because the Shechina (G-d’s presence) has left us. It seems that our connection to G-d has been lost. Since the destruction of Beit Hamikdash, we can no longer witness open miracles; we can no longer bring sacrifices for Hashem on daily basis and we cannot perform the Yom Kippur services in the holy of the holies. And above all, we no longer had any true Prophets that could relate to us the words of G-d. To this very day, many people still cry heavily and mourn on Tisha B’Av because we’ve lost our connection to G-d.
  • But the question that comes to mind is quite simple. Why can’t we find comfort after so many years? Why doesn’t the formula of forgetfulness work in the case of Tisha B’Av? Why do the tears still come out of our eyes and why doesn’t the pain go away? Surely 2000 years should be enough to forget!! Why should the Tisha B’Av mourning be any different to the mourning for a loved one?? After all, we tend to forget a loss of life after a few years, but it seems that we can not get over the loss of our connection to G-d after 2000 years?!
  • Once again, Rabbi Frand gives a beautiful explanation. He says that the formula for forgetfulness only works when the person is actually dead. Only after you bury the deceased, you can start to forget and find comfort. But if the person is only missing and is still alive, then you can not forget about him! Yaakov Avinu continued to mourn for his son Yosef, for a full 22 years and couldn’t find comfort– because Yosef was not dead; he was still alive! Accordingly, if we still feel the pain, if we still express the sorrow over the loss of Shechina, then it surely means that our connection to G-d is not dead. It is still alive! We just don’t see it, but the connection is still there! Although, the Shechina is not among us anymore, but we are confident  that Hashem is watching over us and is protecting us from the far.
  • On the day of Tisha B’Av, “Tachanun” is not recited because the day has elements of joy to it. Although, Tisha B’Av is the saddest day marked on the jewish calendar, it’s the ultimate day of “hope”! Because we strongly believe that Mashiach is going to come and rebuild the third Beit Hamikdash and the Shechina is going to come back and live among us once again. The question is not “if” Mashiach is going to come, but it’s only a matter of time, “when”?! Even though, we might not have the “zechut” to see the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt in our times, but we are confident that our children, our grandchildren or great grandchildren will have the merit to see the glorious Temple build once again. And because of these happy thoughts, we don’t say Tachanun on this day.
  • Keep in mind my friends that we have a G-d who is invisible. Although we can not see him, He can see us. We can not hear him, but He can hear us. We can not touch him, but he’s still in touch with us! He is still watching over us and He will never abandon us! And that’s the true message of Tisha B’Av…..
  • May we see the coming of Mashiach very time soon, and hope that next year we will be dancing and celebrating on Tisha B’Av, instead of mourning and crying!
  • Shabbat Shalom & Regards;
  • Martin

Parashiot Matot-Masei!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parshiot summary, followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parshiot in a Nutshell “

 

Moshe teaches the rules and restrictions governing oaths and vows especially the role of a husband or father in either upholding or annulling a vow of a woman.

Benei Israel wage war against Midian. They kill the five Midianite kings, all the males and Bilaam. Moshe is upset that women were taken captive since they were the reason for the immoral behavior of the Jewish People. He rebukes the officers. The commanding officers report to Moshe that there was not even one casualty among Benei Israel.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by half of the tribe of Menasseh) ask for the lands east of the Jordan as their portion in the Promised Land, these being prime pastureland for their cattle. Moshe is initially angered by the request, but subsequently agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead, in Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan.

In Parshat Masei, The Torah names all 42 encampments of Bnei Israel on their 40-year journey from the Exodus until the crossing of the Jordan River into Eretz Israel.

G-d commands Bnei Israel to drive out the Canaanites from Eretz Israel and to demolish every trace of their idolatry.

The boundaries of the Land of Israel are defined, and the tribes are commanded to set aside 48 cities for the leviim, who do not receive a regular portion in the division of the Land.

Cities of refuge are to be established: Someone who murders unintentionally may flee there.

The daughters of Tzelofchad marry members of their tribe so that their inheritance will stay in their own tribe.

 

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

 

In the first of the two Parshiot of this week, Parshat Matot, the Torah talks about when the Benei Yisrael reached the borders of Israel and were granted entry. But the task was not so easy, since the land was occupied by other nations. So, in order to conquer the land, they had to wage a war against the occupiers.

The Torah then tells us that the Benei Yisrael were just on the east side of Jordan River and were about to go into combat with the occupying nations. But suddenly, a strange scenario takes place. The representatives of the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moshe with a very seemingly shameful request. “We don’t want to enter Israel,” they exclaimed. “The land here is very suited for our cattle, and it would be quite beneficial if we were to remain here”. Moshe, shocked by their request, immediately starts his rebuke by recalling the calamity of the ten spies who successfully discouraged an entire nation from entering Israel. “Do you remember what happened 40 years ago? Do you want to, once again, demoralize your brothers and sisters as did the spies? Do you remember that your parents and an entire generation perished in the desert because of that sin? And now,” he concluded, “you have risen in place of your fathers to rekindle the burning wrath of G-d?” The representatives, sat quietly through the denunciation and then spoke. “No, Moshe,” they exclaimed. “It was never our intention just to remain here. We’ll build stables for our livestock and homes for our children. Then we will join our brethren in the fight for Israel. We will go in the front lines! Only after all is conquered will we return home and settle.” Moshe, who was calmed by the quick and obviously well prepared response, reviewed their request. “OK,” he countered, “you shall arm yourself for battle, cross the Jordan and fight with your brothers until Hashem drives out the enemy. Once the Land is conquered and settled, you can come back here and this land will be a heritage for you”. Then, he asks them to do what they asked for in the beginning. “Build cities for your children and pens for your livestock, and you shall observe the words that left your mouth.”

The Chachamim immediately took notice of the obvious change of words by Moshe. The Gadites and the Reubenites ask to built pens for their cattle first, and then built shelters for their children; while Moshe tells them to build shelters for their children and then worry about their livestock. Rashi explains that Moshe did so intentionally. Moshe wanted to teach them that children are more important than their possessions. Moshe sensed that their first priority was their money and property. The first thing that came out of their mouths was “let us build barns for our cattle!” The children were an afterthought. He promptly corrected them: “First take care of your children, and then worry about your cattle.”

Although, what the Reubenites and the Gadites did was approved by Moshe, but still, their action was criticised by many commentators. The whole idea of leaving their children behind the Jordan River because they wanted a safe haven for their cattle was wrong. Rabbi Frand explains that the whole conquest of Eretz Israel took more than 14 years and by the time the men of tribe of Gad and Reuven came back to their families on the other side of Jordan River, their toddlers and children became teenagers and young adults. The children hardly knew their fathers, and the fathers hardly knew their children! They missed the sweetest time of their children’s childhood, only because they were worried too much about their fortune!

Yes my friends, how easy is it for us to criticize our ancestors, but are we any different ourselves? When we put in so many hours in developing a business, on advancing professionally or establishing a practice, and our children get the short end of the stick, do we see ourselves making the same mistake as did the Gadites and the Reubenites? Unfortunately, a lot of times we make sacrifices for earning our livelihood that sometimes our children get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we get so much involve in our businesses that we forget for who are we working so hard for. To make more money becomes a priority and our family becomes a secondary. We lose focus. We lose perspective. We start to gain a lot of capital and our fortune becomes more dear to us than our children.

Remember that nothing can replace the “time” that you spend with your children; not even an iMac, iPad or an iPhone. Children need our attention and our guidance. We need them as much as they need us! Let us not miss the sweet time of their childhood, and let us not repeat the same mistake as the Gadites and the Reubenites!

Rabbi Frand says that the desire for making money is greater than any other physical pleasures, since it is the only one that is insatiable. There is a limit on how much you can eat; there is a limit on how much you can drink or indulge in sexual activities. But there is no limit to how much money you can accumulate. The quest for wealth can become more obsessive than any other quest. And all too often, the children have to pay the price!

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

Parashat Pinchas!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

Aaron’s grandson, Pinchas, is rewarded for his act of zealotry in killing the Shimonite prince Zimri and the Midianite princess: G-d grants him a covenant of peace and the priesthood.

 

A census of the people counts 601,730 men between the ages of 20 and 60. Moshe is instructed on how the Land is to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The five daughters of Tzelafchad petition Moshe that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons; G-d accepts their claim and incorporates it into the Torah’s laws of inheritance.

 

Moshe empowers Joshua to succeed him and lead the people into the Land of Israel. The Parshah concludes with a detailed list of the daily offerings, and the additional offerings brought on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and the festivals of Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

After almost forty years of wandering in the desert, the Jews finally reached the borders of Israel and were allowed to enter the land. At this point, Hashem tells Moshe how to distribute the land among the Children of Israel, which was done by lottery, and a portion is given to each tribe. And each tribe distributed its land among the heads of each family, which unlike today’s times, the head of the family was the man of house! However, Tzelafchad, a man from the tribe of Menasheh, died in the wilderness and left no sons behind. He was not part of Korach’s rebellion and his five daughters wanted to make sure that they receive his share in his name. So they came up to Moshe, Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly asking the following: “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s brothers!” Moshe, not sure of the law regarding father’s inheritance towards daughters, brings the issue before G-d, and G-d responds saying “The plea of Tzelafchad’s daughters is just: you should surely give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them”.

 

However, in tracing the background of the daughters of Tzelafchad, the Torah seems to provide redundant information. The pasuk says: “The daughters of Tzelafchat, son of Hefer, son of Gilad, son of Machir, son of Menasheh, son of Joseph came near, …… and they stood before Moshe…” The Chachamim ask why did the tracing back their ancestors stopped at Yosef and didn’t go all the way back to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Rashi explains that the Torah is trying to show to us that the love for Eretz Yisrael is genetic. Yosef loved the Land of Israel and insisted that his bones be returned there after his death. This love for Eretz Yisrael ran in his family all the way down to Tzelafchad’s daughters, who insisted that they be given their fair portion in the Land.

 

Although Rashi’s commentary may explain the Tzelafchad’s daughters’ love for Eretz Israel, but still leaves a doubt in our mind. What if they were interested in the land for its financial benefit? After all, one of the biggest assets that people possessed in those days was owning a piece of land. So, how do we know their love for Eretz Yisrael was genuine?

 

Well, Rabbi Yissachar Frand gives a beautiful explanation. He says that in order to answer this question, we first need to know who Tzelafchad was. There are difference of opinions regarding Tzelafchad’s identity. Some say that he was the wood-gatherer who desecrated Shabath and was killed, while others believe that he was among the group who tried to force their way into Canaan after the decree of the spies and was killed by the Canaanites. Either way, Tzelafchad’s death occurred some 38 years before the events of this week’s Parsha. If Tzelafchad’s daughters were interested in their father’s estate from a strictly financial point of view, why would they have waited 38 years to ask for it? Also, inheritance is not limited to land. What about his cattle? What about his other properties? Apparently, they were not interested in that. It was only now, when they were on the doorstep of Eretz Yisrael that they came pressing their claim for inheritance of their father’s portion. This is the demonstration of their love for the Land. They were silent regarding the cash and other valuable properties. However, their inheritance in the Land of Israel mattered greatly to them. And they inherited this affection to the Land from their great grandfather, Yosef!

 

Yes my friends, loving Eretz Israel is genetic! It’s in our blood! Throughout the Bible, people showed their love for Eretz Yisrael even before seeing the land. Avraham left the comfort of his hometown, where he was well known and successful, to move to Israel, a land he has never seen before. Moshe Rabeinu pleaded with G-d several times to let him walk across the land just for once, which was unfortunately denied. Ruth the Moabites, followed her mother in law, Naomi, who had nothing to offer her, except the land of Israel!

 

So, what is it about this land that everyone is so crazy about? Is it because the land is holy and you feel closer to G-d? Is it because even the first time you step foot on this land, it feels as if you’ve come home? Is it because everyone around you is Jewish and you feel safe and secure living among your brothers? Is it because, Hashem protects and blesses the Land, as long as we keep his commandments? Is it because the land prospers miraculously, when it’s in the hand of the Jews? Or, could it be all of the above???

 

The Chachamim go as far as to say, that just breathing the air in Eretz Yisrael has a mitzvah! It is a privilege to live in our times; the time that we can walk freely on our land and see for ourselves the land flowing with milk and honey. It’s not a coincident that for 2000 years, when Israel was in the hand of other nations, it did not prosper and was just a desert. And now, only after 69 years, once the Jews took over, it has become one of the most advanced and productive countries in the world. B”H, I had the zechut to go to Israel once again this year. B”H, the country has everything. It has farms and fruit trees in the North, holy sites in Jerusalem, vacation resorts in the south and skyscrapers in Tel-Aviv. We don’t need to be a genius or a Torah scholar to see that G-d wants the Jews to live in this land. He wants us to love and cherish this land, just like our ancestors did. The land that Moshe dreamed to put his feet upon it. Let’s not take it for granted!

 

In Iran, there is a city called Esfehan, and because of its charm, beauty and character, it’s been given the title of “nesfeh Jahan”– “half of the world”! But I’m afraid that they’ve got it all wrong, since the WHOLE world can be found in our land, the land of ISRAEL!

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

 

Martin

 

Parashat Korach!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

 

Korach, Datan and Aviram, and 250 leaders of Israel rebel against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The rebellion results in their being swallowed by the earth. Many resent their death and blame Moshe. G-d’s “anger” is manifest by a plague that besets the nation, and many thousands died. Moshe intercedes once again for the people. He instructs Aharon to atone for them and the plague stops. Then G-d commands that staffs of all the tribes, be placed in the Mishkan. In the morning the staff of Levi, bearing Aharon’s name, sprouts, buds, blossoms and yields ripe almonds which proves that Levi’s tribe is chosen for priesthood and verifies Aharon’s position as the High Priest.

The specific duties of the levi’im and kohanim are stated. The kohanim were not to be landowners, but were to receive their sustenance from the tithes and other mandated gifts brought by the people to the Mishkan.

 

 

“ Dvar Torah “

 

 

In this week’s Parsha, Moses and Aaron’s leaderships were challenged by a group of distinguished and G-d fearing people. The story goes as follows:

Korach, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi separated himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth – descendants of Reuben – to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, leaders of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. They gathered together against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “It is too much for you! For all the community are holy, all of them, and Hashem is in their midst. Why then do you elevate yourself above the Lord’s congregation?”

At first Moses tried to reason with them but was unable to succeed. So, he decided to have a contest for the leadership. Moshe said to Korach, ” tomorrow, let each man take his fire-pan and you shall place incense on them and you shall bring your fire-pans before Hashem, 250 fire-pans, and yours and Aaron’s. ” And G-d shall decide who is the chosen one!

So they took – each man his fire pan – and they placed the fire and incense on them, and they stood at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, with Moses and Aaron, and the glory of Hashem appeared to the entire assembly.

However, just before the contest, Moshe was exceedingly distressed by the disrespectful attitude of Dathan and Abiram who said to him, “Why did you bring us up from a land flowing with milk and honey to cause us to die in the desert?” In turn, Moses said to the Lord, “Do not accept the offering [of Korach and his cohorts]. I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them.”

Hashem tells Moses to tell the people to distance themselves from the tents of Korach, Dathan and Abiram. Moses relates the message and adds this statement: “By this you shall know that it was the Lord who sent me to do all these things; that they are not of my own devising: if these men die as all men do, if their lot be the common fate of all mankind, it was not the Lord who sent me. But if the Lord brings about something unheard of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive to the pit, you shall know that these men have provoked the Lord.”  No sooner had he finished speaking, than the ground opened up and swallowed the rebels.

Well, we all would think that the previous paragraph was the end of story. The miracle Moses predicted, happened. Heaven had answered his call in the most dramatic way. He had been proven right and Korach and his followers were wrong. Now, people would believe in Moshe and Aaron and would respect them wholeheartedly. End of revolution. End of story.

But surprisingly, the story does not end here. The next day, the whole Israelites community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the people of Hashem,” they said. Before, Moses had just over 250 people rebel against him, and now, he has the whole congregation against him!

This time, it is G-d himself who intervenes. He tells Moses to take twelve staffs, one for each tribe, and deposit them overnight in the Tent of Meeting. The next morning, the staff bearing the name of Aaron and the tribe of Levi had sprouted, budded, blossomed and borne almonds. Only then did the rebellion end.

The question that comes to mind is as follows. Why did the great miracle of the ground opening up and swallowing Moses opponents not secure his position and end the conflict? Why was the gentle miracle of the dead wood that came to life again, gave flowers and bear fruits, more impressive in the eyes of the people which brought an end to the rebellion?!

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gives an interesting answer. He says that the use of force never ends a conflict. It merely adds grievance to injury. Even the miracle of the ground opening up and swallowing his opponents did not secure for Moses the justification he sought. Force never ends conflict, not even when the force is miraculous. In this case, what ended the conflict was the quiet, gentle miracle that showed that Aaron was the true emissary of the God. Flower is a sign of peace, which brings tranquility to the people, and that’s what people needed to come to their senses and accept the fact that Moshe and Aaron were their true leaders!

Yes my friends, in Judaism, conflict resolution is not done by force, but rather, it’s done by pleasantness and peace. To end a war, people need to see peace and harmony in the horizon. Killing and suffering doesn’t bring an end to the conflict — It creates hatred. And hatred ignites the use of force.

Remember that a piece of wood blossoming and giving flowers had more power than ground opening up and swallowing the people alive. So try to get your spouse flowers once in awhile —— you’ll never know what great powers would it have?!

 

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov & Regards;

Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parashat Shelach!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

 

Moshe sends twelve spies to explore the Land of Canaan. Forty days later they return, carrying a huge cluster of grapes, a pomegranate and a fig, to report on the land of Israel. But ten of the spies warn that the inhabitants of the land are giants and warriors “more powerful than we”; only Caleb and Yehoshua insist that the land can be conquered, as G-d has commanded.

The people weep that they’d rather return to Egypt. G-d decrees that Israel’s entry into the Land shall be delayed forty years, during which time that entire generation will die out in the desert. A group of remorseful Jews storm the mountain on the border of Land and are defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

A man violates the Shabbat by gathering sticks and is put to death. G-d instructs to place fringes (tzitzit) on the four corners of our garments so that we should remember to fulfill the mitzvot of Hashem.

 

 

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

 

 

Do you know what is the difference between a tourist and an inspector? They both explore their surroundings, however, one explores his surroundings to capture the beauty, while the other explores to look for faults!

In this week’s Parsha, we read about the tragic story of the spies. An entire generation of the Jewish People perished as the result of the incident of the spies. The Torah says that right before entering the land of Israel, Hashem tells Moshe, if he wants, he can send out agents to investigate about the land. So, Moshe sends out twelve spies one from each tribe, all of them Princes, men of renown, G-d fearing people and physically strong. Their mission was, to see the Land — how is it? And the people that dwells in it — are they strong or weak? Are they few or numerous? And how is the Land in which they dwell in it — is it good or is it bad? And how are the cities in which it dwells — are they open or are they fortified? And how is the land — is it fertile or is it lean? ……. and so on!

After forty days, the spies returned and ten out of twelve spies, unfortunately, brought an evil report. They said that ” we have no chance in concurring the land. The people that we saw in it were huge! We were like grasshoppers in their eyes. The land that we passed through, inhale its inhabitants “! And the people believed the spies’ report and they wept that night. And they said to one another, ” let us appoint a new leader and let us return to Egypt! ” And Hashem got angry at the spies and at the people. All the spies who brought the evil report died in a plague, and all the people who wept that night had to wander in the desert for forty years and die in the desert. Only their children were allowed to enter the land in the future.

The question that comes to mind is as follows.  Why were the Benei Yisrael punished so severely? We can understand why the spies were punished, but the whole generation to die in the desert and not be able to enter the promised Land, just because they panicked, is hard to digest. Surely if all the 12 spies would have brought back a positive report, the people would have never asked to return to Egypt. The spies caused panic amongst the people and that’s why they cried that night! It was the spies’s fault — not the people’s! The majority of people usually believe what they hear. So why was Hashem so angry at them?!

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky gives a very interesting explanation to this question. He says that in the book of Devarim, Moshe tells the new generation that it was the people who wanted the land to be checked out……. it was not him, nor was it Hashem who wanted! The people demanded a thorough inspection! They wanted chapter and verse and an in-depth survey: Can we conquer the land? Can we defeat the enemy? How big are the people who dwell in it? Is the land fertile or barren? How closed are their cities? The spies’ mission was doomed to fail from the start since the nation didn’t want the spies to be mere day-trippers returning with a few souvenirs and some happy memories. They wanted them to act as strict inspectors and look for faults which they did find them quite alright! But the inspection wasn’t necessary since G-d had already promised them that the land is very good and He will conquer it for them. The whole nation showed lack of faith in G-d even before the spies entered the land……. and that’s why Hashem was so angry at them. And because they didn’t believe in G-d, they found themselves on the longest journey in history — forty years, each year corresponding to the forty-day trip of the spies. In principle, G-d was not opposed to the spies entering the Land, as we see forty years later that Yehoshua also sends spies before conquering the land. However, the mission of Yehoshua’s spies were no more than a “tourism” trip, sufficient to breathe the holy air of the Land, absorb its sanctity, and return refreshed and inspire the people. But unfortunately, this was not the case for Moshe’s spies………… their mission was to look for faults!!!

Yes my friends, you can also go through life as a tourist or as an inspector! The choice is yours! You can either explore and appreciate all the beauties surrounding you and be thankful to Hashem for all the blessings that He has bestowed upon you, or you can just look for faults and be dissatisfied with your life! Because if you look for faults, you will surely find them. “My wife burnt the food…… The business is slow……. Why can’t I afford a bigger house”…… and so on! But when you are dissatisfied with what you have, it means that you are not happy with what Hashem has given you and that’s wrong. It shows lack of faith. But on the other hand, you can look for the good things in life and be grateful to Hashem. Appreciate your healthy spouse and children being around you….. Appreciate the times and the country you live in, where you can live in peace and exercise your religion……Appreciate your health….. And so on! Remember that life becomes more meaningful when you appreciate it.

So my friends, choose to live like a tourist. Capture all the beautiful things around you. Capture the happy moments and cherish them. Enjoy the good things in life and try to avoid looking for faults. After all, where do you see more smiles? On the face of a tourist or an inspector?!

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

 

 

 

Parashat BeHaAlotecha!

Dear Friends;

 

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parasha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

 

 

 

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

 

 

 

Aaron is commanded to raise light in the lamps of the menorah, and the tribe of Levi is initiated into the service in the Sanctuary.

 

A “Second Passover” is instituted in response to the petition “Why should we be deprived?” by a group of Jews who were unable to bring the Passover offering in its appointed time because they were ritually impure. G-d instructs Moshe on the procedures for Israel’s journeys and encampments in the desert.

 

The people are dissatisfied with their “Heavenly Bread” (the manna) and demand that Moses supply them with meat. Moshe appoints 70 elders, by divine order, to assist him in the burden of governing the people.

 

Miriam speaks negatively of Moshe and is punished with “Tzaraat”; Moshe prays for her healing with the famous expression: “El Na Refa Na Lah”, which means:”Please G-d, heal her now.” The entire community waits seven days for her recovery.

 

 

 

 

“ Dvar Torah “

 

 

 

Moses! The greatest prophet of all times. The man who performed miracles left and right, who was the voice of the Divine word, who was not afraid to confront Pharaoh nor his own people, the man who shattered the tablets engraved by G-d himself and who challenged Him to forgive His people, “and if not, remove me from the book You have written”! The man who led a nation known as “stiff-necked people” for more than 40 years. Moses was a figure of strength, yet compassionate at the same time.

 

But in this week’s Parsha, we see a different side of Moses. A man who does not have the strength to carry on and wants to give up. This is how the story goes: The people are complaining again about the food. They have manna but no meat. They falsely fantasize about: “How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for free! And the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic!” This was one act of complaint too many for Moses which broke him down. He in turn says to G-d:  “Why did You bring all this trouble to your servant? Why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, that You are placing the burden of this entire people on me!  Did I conceive this people or give birth to them, that You tell me to carry them in my lap the way a nurse carries a baby… I cannot carry this whole nation! The burden is too heavy for me!  If this is how you are going to treat me, please kill me now, if I have found favor in your eyes, because I cannot bear seeing all this misery!”

 

Wow! The same man who wanted to give up his life for the sake of his nation, now he wants to die because he can’t stand this nation! The man of strength became weak! It’s not the first time that the Benei Israel complained and it won’t be the last. So, what happened to Moses this time? Why the change of heart? What made him break down?!

 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gives the following interesting interpretation. He says that Moses greatest characteristic was his humbleness. That’s what made him the great prophet that he was. But in this week’s episode, we see Moses losing this great characteristic, even though, it was just for a short period of time. Listen again to what he says: “Why have you brought all this trouble upon ME? … Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? … Where can I get meat for all these people? … I cannot carry all these people by MYSELF; the burden is too heavy for ME.” In every sentence he used, you find the words “I,” “me” or “myself.” He sees the Israelites’ behaviour as a challenge to himself, not G-d. Moses lost his temper, because he started to think about himself; something which opposes humility! Moses’s secret weapon to enable him to carry this nation was his humility, but once this characteristic went away, he didn’t have the desire to carry on. Rabbi Sacks says that humility is not thinking less of yourself; It is thinking of yourself — less. True humility means silencing the “I.” For genuinely humble people, it is G-d, and other people and principle that matter, not me. This was Moses trademark up to now — not to think about himself, but unfortunately, he lost it for a while!

 

But it was only for a short while. He regains his humble character after Hashem shares his spirit with seventy elders to help him out, which brings an end to his depression. Towards the end of the Parsha we see a fine demonstration of Moses humbleness. Moses’ own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, started slandering about him. The cause of their complaint was the “Kushit” woman he had taken as wife which is beyond the topic of our discussion. The point, though, is that  Moses was betrayed, or at least slandered, by those closest to him. Yet Moses is unaffected and is undisturbed by the complaint of his own brother and sister. He wasn’t thinking about himself, instead, he prayed to G-d on Miriam’s behalf to heal her when she was punished with leprosy. It is here that the Torah makes its great statement: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than any other man on the face of the earth”. He had recovered his humility.

 

Yes my friends, humility is one of the greatest characteristics anyone can possess. It makes you realize that life is not just about you, but it’s about others too. It helps you to be more caring. It makes you to be calm and not get angry. It is also the greatest single source of strength, for if we do not think about the “I,” we cannot be injured by those who criticise us.

 

It’s amazing how different we are with the other nations. Other nations’ leaders are proud, magnificent, distinguished by their dress and appearance. They built temples in their own honor. Their role is not to serve but to be served. Everyone else is expected to be humble, but not they. Humility and majesty do not coexist in their cultures. But our greatest leader was the most humble person on the face of the earth! Moses title was not king, lord or your majesty, but rather, he was called “Eved Hashem”, G-d’s servant! And that’s his greatest title that we all respect him for……

 

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

 

Martin

Parashat Bamidbar!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parashat summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

 

Parshat Bamidbar, is primarily involved with the census taken of the Jewish people in the second month of their second year in the desert. After listing the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Torah presents the totals of men between the ages of twenty and sixty for each tribe, the overall count being 603,550. The encampment structure is then described, with the tribe of Levi in the middle, safeguarding the Tabernacle and surrounded by the twelve tribes of Israel, each in their own designated area. The appointment of the tribe of Levi as the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people is presented, and their own census is taken, apart from the rest of Israel

The Parsha concludes with the instructions given to the family of Kehat, the second son of Levi, for their role in dealing with the most sacred parts of the Mishkan.

 

 

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

 

 

This week’s Parashat Bamidbar, which is also the start of the book of Bamidbar, begins with taking a census of the Israelites. That is why it is known in English as the book of “Numbers”. The first few chapters in particular are a statistician’s delight! It lists the number of army-age men in each of the twelve tribes, both individually and in the aggregate. This is the third time in span of a single year that Hashem takes the census of Benei Yisrael. He counted them when they were about to leave Egypt. He counted them after the sin of the Golden Calf to establish how many were left. And now that the building of the “Mishkan” was completed and He was about to cause His presence (Shechina) to rest upon them, He counted them again.

The question that comes to mind is why did Hashem count the Israelites so many times in such a short period of time? Surely one time would have been sufficient! Well, Rashi says that the acts of counting in the torah are gestures of love. When G-d counts the Israelites it is to show that He loves them. The more he counts us, the more he loves us!

But our sages tell us that it’s not good to count the Jews. The Torah itself warns us about the dangers of counting the Jews and advises us against it. We find the reason for it given in the book of Shemot where it says: “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each must give to G-d an atonement for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you count them.” This means that there is a risk involved when counting the Jews and we should try to avoid it as much as we can. We see that when centuries later, King David counted the people without the G-d’s approval, there was Divine anger and 70,000 people died.

So the obvious question that remains is: If counting is an expression of love, why is there a prohibition for us against counting the Jews? Why can G-d count the Jews but not us?! What is the significance of this prohibition?!

Well, there are many interpretations given by our commentators, but once again, the one that I liked the most is given by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He says that in taking any census, there is a tendency to focus on the total crowd and not on the individual. For example, here is a nation of 100 million people, or a company with 100,000 employees or a sports crowd of 60,000. Any total tends to value the group or nation as a whole. However, counting devalues the individual, and tends to make him or her replaceable. If one soldier dies in battle, another will take his place. If one person leaves the organisation, someone else can be hired to do his or her job. That’s why G-d tells Moses that there is a danger, when counting a nation, that each individual will feel insignificant. “What am I? What difference can I make? I am only one of millions, a mere wave in the ocean, a grain of sand on the sea-shore.”

But when Hashem counts us, it is different. He values each individual. The Hebrew word for “to count” is “lifkod” or “lispor”. But the Torah does not use these words for counting the Jews. Instead, the phrase used for counting is, “Se’u et Rosh” which means to “lift the head”. Hashem tells Moshe that when the people come to me for taking census, make sure that they each lift their heads up and be proud of who they are, because they each count and they matter as individuals to me! When Hashem counts, he doesn’t look at the aggregate number, he looks at each individual with pride and gives them the same number which is one!

Yes my friends, every soul is precious and dear to G-d. We each have different characteristics and a different role in life. Some of us are meant to be politicians, some are meant to be businessmen,  some teachers, musicians, scientists, speakers or even writers. Some of us are meant to take care of the elderly and sick. Some of us are meant to raise children. Everyone has a purpose in life and contributes to the society. Each role is as important as the other. The Chachamim say that even the beggar has an important role in life, because if he wasn’t around, none of us could fulfill the mitzvah of giving charity.

The Torah teaches us that each individual counts, however, there is a world of difference between “individuality” and “individualism”. Individuality means that I am a unique and valued member of a team. Individualism means that I am not a team player at all. I am interested in myself alone, not the group. Judaism values individuality, not individualism! We need to belong to a community, but we each have an important role as an individual.

So remember my friends, we are all important individuals, but we are all part of a team. And the only way a team can succeed is when its members get along and respect each other!

 

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov & Regards;

Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parashiot Behar-Bechukotai!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parashiot summaries, followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parashiot in a Nutshell “

 

On the Mount Sinai, G-d tells Moshe the laws of the sabbatical year: every seventh year, all work on the land should cease, and its produce becomes free for the taking for all, man and beast.

Seven sabbatical cycles are followed by a fiftieth year — the jubilee year, on which work on the land ceases, all servants are set free, and all ancestral estates in the Holy Land that have been sold revert to their original owners. Additional laws governing the sale of lands and the prohibitions against fraud and lending money for interest are also given.

G-d promises that if the people of Israel will keep His commandments, they will enjoy material prosperity and dwell secure in their homeland. But He also delivers a harsh “rebuke” warning of the exile, persecution and other evils that will befall them if they abandon their covenant with Him. Nevertheless, “Even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away; nor will I ever destroy them and to break My covenant with them; for I am the L-rd their G-d.”

The Parshah concludes with the rules on how to calculate the value of different types of pledges made to G-d.

 

” Dvar Torah “

 

Parashat Behar starts off by talking about the laws of “Shemitah”- the Sabbatical year for the land of Israel. The land should lie fallow in a seven year cycle. All agricultural work must come to stop in the seventh year. The land needs to be at complete rest for the entire year. It means that on the seventh year there should not be any planting of seeds, plowing, pruning or harvesting. Additionally, any fruits which grow of their own accord are deemed ownerless and may be picked by anyone.

This is an extremely difficult mitzvah to observe, especially in the old days, when the majority of the people were either farmers or shepherds. Not only you were unable to plant in order to feed your own family, but cutting off your livelihood completely for an entire year, can be very worrisome and challenging.

However, Hashem gives his assurance for those who keep the laws of Shemitah. The Torah says: ” The land will give its fruit [in the preceding years] and you will be satisfied; you will dwell securely upon it”. After such a powerful promise, the Torah then brings up a hypothetical question raised by the people, namely, “What will we eat in the seventh year — behold! we will not sow and we will not gather our crops!”. And then Hashem reassures the people by saying: ” I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and [the land] will yield a crop sufficient for three-year period “. This means that the sixth year will give sufficient crops until the end of the eight year, since anything planted in the eight year, will only produce its crops in the ninth year.

Although, it feels great to have such a guarantee from the G-d Almighty himself, but the Chachamim are bothered by the double assurance. After the Torah tells them that ” The land will give its fruit and you will be satisfied”, why should there be a doubt in people’s mind to ask ” What will we eat in the seventh year?” Why does Hashem need to promise again that the sixth year will produce three times a regular year?? Shouldn’t the first assurance be sufficient??

Rabbi Yissachar Frand gives the following beautiful explanation. He says that in order to answer this question, first we need to understand the purpose of Shemitah. The reason that Hashem has given us this mitzvah is not because the land needs to rest. Land does not need to rest! This is apparent from observing the lands outside Israel. The non-Jews work their fields year after year after year, without a break, and they still produce good quality crops and fruits! Do you think that the vineyards in California or France produce less quality grapes than the ones in Israel? Accordingly, Rabbi Frand says that the whole purpose of Shemitah is for the farmers to take a break from their routine lives and come to realize that it’s not because of their hard labor that the land produces so much crops, but rather, it’s because of G-d’s will. Hashem can still feed the farmer even if he doesn’t work! The seventh year is the time for the farmers to take their minds off the physical world and engage themselves in spirituality. It’s the time to remind themselves that their livelihood comes from the Heaven above, and not from the strength of their arms, nor from the intelligence of their brain!

Accordingly, Rabbi Frand says that Hashem has given us the mitzvah of Shemitah in order to test our faith! Those who are true believers are satisfied with Hashem’s first assurance; that ” the land will produce its fruit and you will be satisfied “. They fully trust in Hashem that he will provide, and they are satisfied with whatever Hashem provides for them! But those who lack in faith, they want to see a physical miracle. That’s why Hashem gives a second assurance for those people, that ” in the sixth year you will yield three times the regular crops! Since these people don’t have a strong faith, Hashem doesn’t want them to enter the seventh year being worried! He shows them the miracle beforehand! Hashem can tolerate people who lack in faith, since even these people are blessed to get crops for the seventh year. But G-d forbid, for those non-believers who don’t keep the laws of Shemitah at all, the Torah says that they will eventually be thrown out of their lands!

Yes my friends, all of our sustenance comes from the Heaven above. No matter how smart we are or how mighty is our physical strength, our livelihood is fully dependent on G-d’s will! And to realize that, we need to take some time off from our routine lives and spend it with the Almighty.  Rashi comments that the Shemitah concept is a direct parallel of the weekly Shabbat. When a Jew keeps Shabbat he or she is making a statement about their belief. The reason we keep Shabbat is not because we need a day of rest, but rather, once a week we need to stop working and come to realize that it’s Hashem who is providing our sustenance. It’s not because of our strength or intelligence!  Accordingly, Shabbat should be a day that we should spend with the Almighty and be thankful to him!

So, remember my friends, Hashem will provide for us as long as we believe in him. All we need to do is to STOP once in awhile and show our gratitude.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

 

Parashat Emor!

Dear Friends;

 

I hope that you’ll enjoy the following Parsha summary followed by a Dvar Torah;

 

” Parsha in a Nutshell “

 

This week’s Parsha begins with the special laws dedicated to the Kohanim, the Kohen Gadol (“High Priest”), and the Temple service. A Kohen may not become ritually impure through contact with a dead body, unless it’s a close relative. A Kohen may not marry a divorcee, nor a harlot; and a Kohen Gadol can only marry a virgin. A Kohen with a physical deformity cannot serve in the Holy Temple, nor can a deformed animal be brought as an offering.

A newborn calf, lamb, or kid must be left with its mother for seven days before being eligible for an offering; one may not slaughter an animal and its offspring on the same day.

The Torah then discusses the festivals throughout the year: (Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret); followed by two constant mitzvot maintained in the Mishkan: the lighting of the menorah every day and the displaying of the “show-bread” every week.

The parsha concludes with the horrible incident of a man who cursed G-d’s name (blasphemy) and was subsequently punished with the death penalty at Hashem’s command.

 

“Dvar Torah “

 

In this week’s Parsha, in the middle of the detailing the Jewish Holidays of the calendar year, the Torah gives us the following commandment: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corners of your field as you reap and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest; for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them; I am Hashem Your G-d.” Basically, we are commanded to leave over certain parts of our harvest to the needy and the stranger in our midst. A Jew must leave the corners of his field for the poor. Likewise, if he forgets to pick up certain parts of the harvest, these too become “Gifts for the Poor”.

Rashi explains the phrase “For the poor and the strangers you shall leave them….”, means that you should literally leave the crops for the poor and they will pick it up themselves; you may not assist them with their gatherings.

But sometimes, Rashi’s commentaries are difficult to digest. They need explanation by other commentators. Accordingly, the following question pops up. Why can’t we help the poor with his gathering?! Why can’t we lend the poor a basket or a sickle to make it easier for him to gather the crops? Why can’t we just roll up our sleeves and give him a helping hand too?! If the intention is to help the poor, why can’t we do it properly by helping him all the way?

But strangely enough, Rashi says that the Torah rules to the contrary. The commandment says: “Leave it for them.”…… means Do Not be a nice guy. Do not help them! The pasuk concludes with the words “I am Hashem your G-d”. Rashi says that the intent is a promise: “If you leave them alone and allow them to pick it up themselves, I am the L-rd who will give you your reward.”

Once again, Rabbi Yissachar Frand comes to the rescue and gives a beautiful explanation to Rashi’s commentary. When the poor person comes to the field and the owner comes to greet him and says: “Let me help you to collect the crops”, or alternatively, when the owner rushes to cut down the stalks for the poor person and hands it to him, the owner of the land is acting as if he’s the owner of the leftover crops!! He may think that he’s giving the poor a gift, and the poor may think that he is getting a gift from the landowner. But that’s not the case. The leftover crops do not belong to the landowner. They belong to the poor!  And that’s what Rashi is trying to explain. When the owner gives a gift, he expects the poor person to be grateful to him and appreciate his generosity. But the owner should know better that the gift is not coming from him…. It comes from the G-d Almighty himself! The corners of his land belonged to the poor from the beginning. He was just a messenger to hand them over! That’s why the landowner should not take part in the distribution of these items. Let the poor collect it themselves — it is after all their property in the first place! Only when the landowner comes to realize that it’s not him who is helping the poor, but it’s Hashem our G-d, only then he’ll be qualified to be rewarded by the L-rd!

Yes my friends, when Hashem has been good to us and we’ve been blessed with extra funds to give to charity, we should not think of our charitable donations in terms of  ” I am giving MY money to charity.” Hashem has given us the extra money to give to charity. Those money do not belong to us anyway. They belong to the poor! Hashem is just testing us to see what we do with that money! We, basically, act as the treasurer of Hashem’s charitable Foundation. We decide how to distribute the funds. We are merely a trustee, charged with guaranteeing that the funds are distributed.  But we have to realize that the money does not belong to us; it belongs to the foundation! That’s why, when we give out money to charity, we are not giving out the money from our own pocket — it comes from G-d’s table. That’s why the greatest way to give charity is when the donor and the receiver don’t know each other, because the poor should not feel grateful towards the donor, but rather, he should be thankful to Hashem!

So my friends, when you give charity, be thankful to Hashem for giving you the extra money to give to the poor. But never take pride in giving to the poor. After all, that money wasn’t yours anyway…… it belonged to the poor all along…….

Shabbat Shalom & Regards;

Martin

 

13th Annual Mashadi Open Tennis Tournament

13th Annual Mashadi OpenTennis Tournament:  The summer tournament for community members. Singles & Doubles. We are also looking for volunteers to help us organize the tournament. Ages 16 and up (please specify singles, or doubles, or both)

Also: if we have enough sign ups we will also organize a Women’s Tournament! Please let us know if you are interested.

Cost: FREE

Registration deadline: Friday May 19th, 2017.  All players are to schedule their games with time & location of their choice, within the allocated timeframe. Please email  mashaditennis@gmail.com to signup.

For any questions, please contact one of the following: David Karimzadeh  (david@karimzadeh.com), Alex Rahmani alexanderrahmani@gmail.com, Simon Kashfi (simonkashfi@me.com), or Igal Nassim (igal.nassim@gmail.com)