(717) 581-7891

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Devarim–Shabbat Chazon 5779

A Time for Us

B” H

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This Shabbat we begin the reading of the fifth and last book of the Torah, Sefer Devarim, Deuteronomy. This Shabbat has a specific name, Shabbat Chazon, or the Shabbat of the Vision. Shabbat Chazon takes its name from the Haftarah that is read on this Shabbat immediately prior to the fast of Tisha B’Av, from the words of rebuke and doom coming from the prophet Isaiah.

This Shabbat is traditionally considered a sad one, perhaps the saddest Shabbat of the year. This is because it is the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the day on which we remember the destruction of the two Temples of Jerusalem and many other calamities that befell the Jewish people throughout its history.


Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Devarim–Shabbat Chazon 5779

Parashat Matot Masei 5779

“Reflecting on Our Own Journeys”


Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week we read two parashot, Matot and Masei, the last parashot of the book of B’midvar.  At the beginning of the second parashah, the Torah provides the names of each and every camp the Israelites established during their journey in the desert.

It is written at the beginning of parashat Masei:

“These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron.

The Israelites set out from Rameses and encamped at Succoth. They set out from Succoth and encamped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness.


Comments Off on Parashat Matot Masei 5779

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Pinchas 5779

Two Important Lessons


By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read Parashat Pinchas. It is one of the five parashot in the whole Torah that has a name of a person as its title. The other ones are Noach, Yitro, Korach, and Balak. It is notable that last week’s parasha, Balak, was also one of these five Torah sections. Is there anything we can learn from comparing these two characters, Balak and Pinchas, who have their names as the title of two consecutive parashot? Of course we can! Let’s see how…


Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Pinchas 5779

Tora Thoughts: Parashat Sh’lach Lecha 5779

A Sin Against Your People


Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read the well-known story of the twelve spies. Before starting the conquest of the land of Israel, the Israelites needed to know what kind of country it was, and what kind of people lived in it.

Moses sent twelve spies, one for each tribe, to scout the Land of Canaan. After travelling the land for forty days, they returned and split themselves in two groups. The smallest group, consisting of Caleb and Joshua (from the tribes of Judah and Ephraim respectively), gave an encouraging report. The second group, consisting of the other ten spies, provided a very negative report about the inhabitants of Canaan. They described them as giants, whom the Children of Israel would not be able to defeat in war. Upon hearing this discouraging report, the people cried out, publicly expressing that they wished they had died naturally in Egypt instead of having to die at the hands of the giants that inhabited the land of Canaan. Ultimately, God punished this generation, condemning them to die in the desert and not allowing them to enter the Land of Israel.


Comments Off on Tora Thoughts: Parashat Sh’lach Lecha 5779

Parashat Behaalotcha 5779

A Short Prayer Can Be More Powerful, Meaningful, and Successful Than Texts with Hundreds of Words

B” H

by Rabbi Daniela Szuster

At the end of Parashat Behaalotcha, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because he married a Cushite woman.  Also, they criticized Moses by saying that God spoke to them and not only to Moses.  (Bemidvar 12).

It is not clear what was the motivation behind Miriam and Aaron’s actions. Rashi imagines Miriam criticizing Moses for neglecting his wife in order to serve the people of Israel. In Rashi’s view, Miriam was motivated more by her concerns for the Moses’ wife than by feelings of jealousy and rivalry. In other words, we may say that Miriam wanted to advocate for women’s rights!

Consequently, I think that Miriam and Aaron’s mistake was not what they said but rather how they said it. They spoke against Moses in front of all of the people of Israel rather than confronting him directly. This is a behavior that a leader should avoid. In this way, they harmed Moses and also the people of Israel.


Comments Off on Parashat Behaalotcha 5779

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Naso 5779

A New Torah Each Day

B” H

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read parashat Naso, the longest parasha of the Torah (176 verses!). We usually read this parasha during the Shabbat after the festival of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. Why do we read the longest parasha right after Shavuot? Well, a good way to understand this reason is to think about a child with a new toy. As we all know, a child who receives a new toy wants to play with it all of the time. He/she cannot leave it for a moment. There is nothing more important for him/her than the new toy.

The same thing happened with the Children of Israel and the Torah. After they received the Torah at Mount Sinai, during Shavuot, they really wanted to stay close to it, read it, and study everything they could. On the Shabbat after Shavuot, the Children of Israel were given the opportunity of reading the longest Torah section, Naso, and thus were able to stay attached to the “new” Torah a little bit more than usual. This explains why


Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Naso 5779

Parashat B’midvar – Shavuot 5779

B” H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

“For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Book of Ruth 1: 16)

This Saturday night, Sunday and Monday, we are going to celebrate the Festival of Shavuot, the “Feast of Weeks.” It is celebrated seven weeks after the second evening of Passover.

Shavuot combines two major aspects, the agricultural and the historical. The first aspect is related to the grain harvest, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. It was one of the three pilgrimage festivals of ancient Israel when Israelites were commanded to appear before God in Jerusalem, bringing offerings of the first fruits of their harvest.

The historical aspect is the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai seven weeks after the exodus from Egypt. It was one of the milestones of our history, where the people of Israel entered into a covenant with God, receiving the rules, values, and traditions of the Torah.

One of the names of the Festival of Shavuot is “Z’ man Matan Torateinu,” “the season of the giving of our Torah.” It is a time of the year when we also should open our hearts and minds to receive the Torah.


Comments Off on Parashat B’midvar – Shavuot 5779

Parashat Bechukotai 5779

Parashat Bechukotai 5779                                             

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

“And I walk among you, and will be your God, and you will be my people” (Vayikra 26:12).

This week we read the last Torah portion from the book of Vayikra. Some call this parashah “Tochecha Haktana,” “short warning,” in contrast to “Tochecha Hagdola,” “long warning” that appears in Parashat Ki Tavo, in the book of Devarim.

A striking aspect of this parashah is that the custom is to read the warning verses in a special way. We read them quietly, so much so that they are hardly heard. Whispered so low, what we read seems more terrible than if it were read aloud in a normal voice.

In addition, as is a very dramatic text, no one wants to have this Aliyah because people fear it. There is a custom to call “Iaale mi sheirtze,” whoever wants to have this Aliyah. Rabbi Chaim used to say, “Everyone who goes to this Aliyah harei ze meshuvach” (he or she will get many blessings), encouraging someone to have this Aliyah.

If no one rises, there is a custom to pay the shamash to do it. A third custom is


Comments Off on Parashat Bechukotai 5779

Torah Thoughts: Lag B’omer 5779

B”H Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky Lag B’omer This Thursday, May 23rd, we are celebrating Lag B’omer. It is a minor holiday that occurs on the 33rd day of the Omer, the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot. In fact, Lag B’omer literally means the 33rd day of the Omer. The Omer period is a time of semi-mourning when, among other signs of grief, weddings and some celebrations are forbidden, and we

Read More…

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Lag B’omer 5779

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.


Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Emor 5779

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?


Comments Off on Parashat K’doshim 5779

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.


Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Yom Hashoah 5779

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.


Comments Off on Shabbat – 8th Day of Pesach