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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Bereshit 5781

Torah Thoughts on Parashat Bereshit 5781

Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we begin anew the annual reading of the Torah. The first parasha of the Torah is Bereshit, which is also the name of the first book of the Torah, Genesis.

In the first chapter of the Torah the creation of the world is described. The Torah tells us the different things God created in each day of the week, namely light, the firmament, the dry ground and plants, the sun, the moon and the stars, the birds and the sea animals, the land animals and human beings. Finally, on the seventh day, the Shabbat, God rested from creating the world.

The Torah does not provide many details about each stage of the creation, nor about the nature of each thing that was created. Rabbis, sages, and commentators in all generations have tried to fill in the gaps. Let’s see a very simple example.

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Torah Thoughts: Simchat Torah 5781

Torah Thoughts on Simchat Torah 5781

Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

We are celebrating the festival of Sukkot (literally, “huts”). Apart from having our meals in the Sukkah, the other notable tradition of this holiday is to take four species (Lulav, Etrog, Hadas and Aravah), put them together, and say the corresponding blessing each day of the festival (not on Shabbat, though). 

There are many proposals that try to explain what this ritual means. Some say that taking the four species each day provides joy and also a necessary approach to nature. Others say that the movements we do with the Lulav (the “shaking”) express a hope and a prayer for the necessary rains, as well as a wish to avoid damaging winds. There are many midrashim that explain how the four species represent different kinds of individuals among the Jewish people (those who study Torah, or not; those who perform good deeds, or not), or different parts of the human body. As it happens with other symbols and rituals, the Jewish tradition provides us with multiple interpretations. 

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Torah Thoughts: Shabbat – Sukkot 5781

Sukkot: A Festival of Hope in the Midst of Adversity
B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This Shabbat we will start celebrating the festival of Sukkot. If you compare this festival with other Jewish festivals, you will find many differences. One of these differences is that most Jewish festivals celebrate a miracle that happened in the past. For example, during Pesach we celebrate the miracles God performed for the people of Israel like the sending of the ten plagues to the Egyptians, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the drowning of the Egyptians into the sea. During Shavuot we celebrate God’s revelation at Mount Sinai. On Hanukkah we celebrate the miracle of the oil, etc.

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Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Shuva 5781

Getting Ready for Different Kinds of Occasions
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This Shabbat we read Parashat Haazinu, which contains the long and beautiful poem that Moses said before he died. Some years, like this one, we read this parashah on Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat that is between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Some other years we read this parasha on the Shabbat between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. These two special shabbatot fall in the middle of two interesting periods of time.

There are ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  This time is known as “The ten days of repentance”, Aseret Yemei T’shuva.  We need these ten days to spiritually prepare for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During this time we reflect on our past year, ask forgiveness from our friends and also review our good and bad behavior before God. We hope and pray that He will forgive us during Yom Kippur. 

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Torah Thoughts: Rosh Hashanah 5781

“May this Year and its Curses End and may the New Year and its Blessings Begin”

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday we are going to start a new year in the Jewish calendar. Without a doubt, this Rosh Hashanah will be very different from other years. We won’t be able to see each other in person and pray together at the synagogue, as we do every year.

This year many of us won’t be able to get together in person with our family and friends and share meals and have a good time as we do every year.

However, we still are able to meet virtually and pray as a congregation, each one from his/her home. Thanks to the technology of our times, we have the opportunity to get together and celebrate and live these holidays in a meaningful and spiritual way. 

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Torah Thoughts: Parashot Nitzavim Vayelech 5780

Being United

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read two parashot, Nitzavim and Vayelech. The first of them, Nitzavim, is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. Why is that? It is because this parashah alludes to the Teshuva, return/repentance, and we are encouraged to repent before the High Holidays. For example, we read in this parashah, “and you will return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children” (Deuteronomy 30:2).

Another reason for reading Nitzavim on this Shabbat is that, at its beginning, it suggests that we are on the eve of the Day of Judgment, as it is written, “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God…” (Deuteronomy 29:9). As you might know, Rosh Hashanah is called the Day of Judgment.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Ki Tavo 5780

“Mikra Bikkurim” a Ceremony Designed to Encourage Gratitude
B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

The book of D’varim, the fifth book of the Torah, describes God in many places as a gracious giver of gifts to the people of Israel. For example, who has given rain and crops, blessings, cattle and sheep, towns, settlements, and the land of Israel.

At the same time, the book of D’varim is also concerned that these gifts could be taken for granted. That the people of Israel won’t feel grateful for them and will forget that God was the one who had given those gifts to them.

At the beginning of the book of D’varim we can find two examples of two kinds of situations where people might not be grateful with God.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Ki Tetze 5780

Torah Thoughts on Parashat Ki Tetze 5780

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read parashat Ki Tetze. Like in other sections in Deuteronomy, we can find in this parasha a paragraph that instruct us on how to improve the society and discipline its members. At the end of some of these paragraphs, especially when an exemplary punishment is described, we can find the phrase, “And you shall wipe out the evil from among you, and all Israel will listen and fear” (for example, in this week’s parasha, on Deuteronomy 21:21). 

In the original Torah text in Hebrew, the “among you” is conjugated in the second person singular (bekirbecha). Therefore, the phrase could be paraphrased as, “first you need to clean out your own evil (singular) and then all Israel will hear and fear.”

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Shoftim 5780

“The ideal King/Leader of the Torah”
B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

If you think about a king, how do you portray him? Based on history, movies and stories, you may imagine him as a very wealthy person, brave, strong, and with the power to do whatever he wants to do. 

However, if you look at the Torah, you will find a different kind of ideal king. How should he be a king for the people of Israel? In this week’s parashah, parashat Shoftim, you can find the rules for different kinds of leaders as the judges, kings, priests, and prophets.  Regarding the king, you will find many restrictions and only one commandment he has to do.  

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Reeh 5780

Personal Responsibility
B’’H

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read Parashat Reeh, which begins: “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

In English, “you” can be singular or plural. However, in Hebrew we use different words (pronouns, verbs) for each form of the second person. The paragraph quoted above starts with a call in the singular form, “see.” After that, the whole paragraph is written in plural. Why did the Torah start calling the individual and then switched to addressing the people, the collective?

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vaetchanan – Shabbat Nachamu 5780

“After Destruction and Desolation, comes Hope and Consolation”

B’’ H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster 

This Shabbat, which falls after the commemoration of Tisha B’Av, a day when we remember the  destructions of the Temples in Jerusalem, among other tragedies in the history of the Jewish people, is called Shabbat Nachamu because the special Haftarah that is read on this Shabbat begins with the words:  “Nachamu, Nachamu ami”…, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people…” (Isaiah 40:1).

There is a period of seven weeks between this Shabbat and the Shabbat prior to Rosh Hashanah, during which a prophecy by the prophet Isaiah is read on each Shabbat.  This cycle of Haftarot is called Shiva denechamata, “the seven haftarot of consolation,” those that speak about the comfort that God will gradually provide to the people of Israel.

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Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Chazon 5780

The Importance of Asking the Right Question
B”H

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, literally the “Shabbat of the Vision,” named after the opening word of the Haftarah for this week, which is also the first word of the Book of Isaiah. This is the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the fast of the ninth of Av.

Isaiah’s vision describes the sins of the Children of Israel of his time, as well as the destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sins, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Matot Masei 5780

“Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah: five sisters, who united, were able to claim, with dignity and courage, a right that they deserved”

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week’s parashah tells us about a special situation that I would like to focus in this message. The Torah tells us that there were five sisters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, daughters of a man who was called Zelophehad. These five sisters approached Moses, Elazar the Cohen (priest), the chieftains and the whole assembly to explain their situation and to ask for a change in the law. (B’midvar 27:2).

What was their request? It is written in the Torah: “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against the Lord, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (B’midvar 27:3-4). These five sisters are claiming the right to inherit the land of their father because he didn’t have sons.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Chukat 5780

The Leader’s Punishment
B”H

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read parashat Chukat. One of the stories told in this parasha is the famous (and sad) story of “Moses and the rock.” In this episode, Moses, the longtime leader of the Children of Israel, loses control of himself and is punished by God in a particularly harsh way. Let’s review this story. 

The Israelites are camped at Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, when Miriam, Moses’ sister, suddenly dies. Immediately after that we are told that the people don’t have water. The people start complaining bitterly about the lack of water to Moses and Aaron. God instructs Moses to, “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock and give the congregation and their livestock to drink” (Numbers 20:8).

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Korah 5780

“Be Holy” versus “We Are Holy”:

Korah’s Misunderstanding of the Concept of Holiness

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week’s parashah begins telling us that Korah, with a group of people, confronted Moses and Aron publicly.

It is written in the Torah: “Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook 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, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?” (B’midvar 16:1-3).

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Shlach Lecha 5780

Torah Thoughts on Parashat Shlach Lecha 5780
B”H

Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week’s parasha narrates the well-known story of the twelve spies or scouts. Moses sends a representative of each tribe to scout the land of Israel to find out about the land and its inhabitants.

Upon their return, two of the twelve spies give a positive report, but the other ten give a very negative report about the inhabitants of the land, adding that there was no way the people of Israel could defeat them in battle. These words demoralize the people, leading to a major crisis.

The Torah relates that when the people heard the ten spies saying they would not be able to conquer the enemy, they wished they had never left Egypt, and they cried bitterly (Numbers 14:1). According to tradition, that day was the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the same day on which the two Temples of Jerusalem were destroyed many hundreds of years later, the day of national mourning for the Jewish people

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat B’Haalotcha 5780

“Looking for a Balance Between our Private and Public Lives”
B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

Chapter 12 of this week’s parashat starts saying: “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Cushite woman!” (B’midbar 12:1).

It is written here that Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings, spoke against Moses because he married a Cushite woman. What was the problem with this? Who was the Cushite woman? Is the text referring to Zipporah, Moses’ wife, or to another woman?

Most of the sages agree that the text is referring to Zipporah. So, again, why did Miriam and Aaron talk against Moses about this? What was the problem?

 Rashi, based on a Midrash, says that “Miriam opened the conversation; therefore, Scripture mentions her first. And whence did Miriam know that Moses had separated himself from his wife (for this was the statement she made?

Rabbi Nathan answered: “Miriam was beside Zipporah when it was told to Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp’ (B’midbar 11:27). When Zipporah heard this, she exclaimed, Woe to the wives of these if they have anything to do with prophecy, for they will separate from their wives just as my husband has separated from me!” It was from this that Miriam knew about it, and she told it to Aaron.” (Sifrei B’midbar 99).

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Tora Thoughts: Parashat Naso 5780

B”H

Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read Parashat Naso, which happens to be the longest parasha of the Torah. This is partly due to the fact that parashat Naso also contains the longest chapter of the whole Torah. Indeed, Numbers chapter 7 is 89 verses long! 

What do we find in the longest chapter of the Torah? This chapter tells us that on the day when Moses had finished setting up the Tabernacle and sanctified and anointed it, the heads of the tribes (the nesiim, the “chieftains of Israel”) brought offerings before God. These offerings included money, animals, flour, incense, gold, and silver. 

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Torah Thoughts: Shavuot 5780

The Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai: A Covenant of Fear or of Love?

B¨H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday 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.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Bamidbar 5780

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Bamidbar 5780

Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

Last Monday I delivered a D’var Torah during the Board of Directors meeting. I would like to share that message with everybody. 

This week we begin the reading of the fourth book of the Torah, Numbers, or Bamidbar in Hebrew. Our parasha receives the same name as the entire book, as it happens with the first parasha of each book of the Torah. 

The first verse says, “And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness” (Numbers 1:1). Why does the Torah need to explain that God’s words were said in the Sinai Wilderness? A Midrash (Bamidbar Rabah 1:7) explains that, “from here the sages taught that the Torah was given through three things: fire, water, and wilderness … How do we know it was given through wilderness?

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Parashot Behar – Bechukotai 5780

Acquiring the Virtue of Savlanut, patience
B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

Many times, in the Torah and in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), God expresses frustration, disappointment, and anger over Israel’s persistent disobedience. Despite God’s anguish, we can find many examples which show us that God will not abandon the people of Israel.

This week’s parashah contains an extensive list of conditional blessings and curses. This list expresses that if the people obey God’s commandments, they will be rewarded and if not, they will be punished.

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