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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Emor 5779

This week we read Parashat Emor. This parasha includes different topics related to mourning and grief and to happiness and celebration. It opens with a warning for the priests, the Cohanim, that they shall avoid impurifying themselves by being in contact, or even being close, with a dead person (that is why, by the way, Cohanim until today avoid going to cemeteries, unless it is for the burial of a close relative.) Parashat Emor ends with a long list of the biblical festivals, setting up a happy tone for its ending.

What can we learn from the fact that sad and happy topics in our parasha come one after the other? According to Rabbi Menachem Baker, author of the Midrash and Chasidic commentaries compilation Parperaot Latorah, we can learn that real life is like our parasha. We all experience bitter and sweet moments, sometimes one right after the other. The lesson we always need to have in mind is that we must never give up when we are experiencing sad moments because happier times could be around the corner. Such is the nature of life.


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Parashat K’doshim 5779

This week’s parashah, parashat K’doshim, deals with many rules related to ethical and good relationships with our fellows.

This is one of the precepts: “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Vayikra 19:17-18). It is interesting to note that these verses start with the prohibition against hating our fellows and end with the commandment of loving our fellows as ourselves. How can we transform our hate into love? Is it possible?

The Talmudic commentary Avot d’Rabbi Natan (on Mishnah Avot 4:1) states that the really mighty man turns his enemy into his friend. How does one turn an enemy into a friend? What is the process of moving from regarding someone negatively to regarding that person positively? Can this be possible?


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Torah Thoughts: Yom Hashoah 5779

This week we read Parashat Acharei Mot. However, my Torah Thoughts for this week will be dedicate to Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day or, as we say in Hebrew, Yom Hashoah Vehagvura. We remember the six million of our brothers and sisters who were killed by the Nazis and their partners in crime during the dark years of 1939-1945. Yom Hashoah happens every year on the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nissan. This year it begins on the eve of May 1st and continues through May 2nd. 

The official name for this commemoration of the victims of the Shoah is Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah, “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.” We remember    what the Nazi regimen did to our people, but we also remember the heroism of all of those who actively resisted the Nazis during the Shoah. We remember the anti-Jewish hatred and systematic murder of Jews perpetrated by the infamous Nazi regime. And we don’t forget how heroically our parents and grandparents tried to resist and oppose the Nazis.

This year in particular, American Jews commemorate Yom Hashoah with an especially bitter feeling. For years we were used to saying, “let’s not forget, so this cannot happen again.” We followed with amazement how other countries, especially in Europe, were experiencing antisemitism over and over again. Antisemitism seemed to be on the rise in many parts of the world, but here in America, we Jews felt safe and relieved.


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Shabbat – 8th Day of Pesach

Among the fifteen steps we have in the Passover Seder, Maggid consists of the retelling of the story of Exodus. It is based on Midrashim which try to explain some verses of the Torah related to the story of Exodus. There are different versions of the Midrashim used to explain the story in different Haggadot.

One of the verses is: “We cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.” (Devarim 26:7).

According to this verse, the people of Israel prayed to God, and God listened to them and saw their suffering while they were slaves in Egypt.

It is interesting to note that the Torah uses the same action verb, “see”, when it describes the first time Moses was walking around Egypt.

It is written in the Book of Sh’mot: “Sometime after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and he saw their burdens” (Sh’mot 2:11)

This means that when Moses grew up and walked around the streets of Egypt, he could see the plight of the Hebrews. He was not indifferent to the suffering of the people of Israel. He was not happy to see someone suffering.

Many times, we walk and don’t see what really is happening around us. Moses stopped and saw the slaves’ suffering.


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