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Torah Thoughts: Simchat Torah 5780

Dancing with our Books!

B”H

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

Simchat Torah‎, literally “The Joy/Rejoicing of the Torah” is the holiday that celebrates and marks both the conclusion of the annual cycle of the ritual Torah reading and the beginning of a new cycle. It also marks the end of the “holiday season” of the month of Tishrei, which includes Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret.

The main celebrations of Simchat Torah take place in the synagogue during evening and morning services. On each occasion, the worshippers leave their seats to dance and sing with the Torah scrolls. In the morning, the last and the first paragraphs of the Torah are read

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Haazinu 5780

“I will Hide My Countenance from Them” (Devarim 32:20)

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Rabbi Daniela Szuster

Parashat Haazinu is the only parashah where most of the text is written in a poetic manner.  In this song, Moses speaks mostly of the future, but without forgetting the present and past.  He warns his people, guides them and advises them, just before he passes the mantle to Joshua, after Moses’ many years of leadership.

In this opportunity, I would like to focus on one verse from this parashah:

“The Lord said: I will hide My countenance from them, and see how they fare in the end. For they are a treacherous breed, children with no loyalty in them.” (Devarim 32:20)

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Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Shuva 5780

A Good Start to a Good Year

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By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This coming Shabbat, the one happening between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is called Shabbat Shuva. These are the first words of the special Hafatarah we read during this Shabbat, which begins with the words Shuva Israel, literally “Return people of Israel.” Some people call this Shabbat Shabbat Teshuva, meaning the Shabbat of repentance. In both cases, it is clear that this Shabbat is an appropriate time for repentance, right before Yom Kippur. As Maimonides wrote in his Mishne Torah (Hilchot Teshuva 2:6), “Although it is ever well to cry out and repent, but during the space of the ten days’ time between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom ha-Kippurim it is exceedingly better, and the supplication is presently accepted, even as it is said: ‘Seek ye the Lord while He may be found’ (Is. 55.6)”.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Nitzavim 5779

What Do We Stand For this New year?

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Rabbi Daniela Szuster

“You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day.” (Devarim 29: 9-14)

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Ki Tavo 5779

“During the year, we live our lives forward, during the High Holidays we are encouraged to understand our lives backwards”

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by Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week’s Parasha begins by saying: “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in … “(Deuteronomy 26: 1).

After so much suffering as slaves, after years of wandering in the desert, the special moment finally came, the entrance to the desired land of Israel.  The people went through many obstacles and made many mistakes; they experienced pains sorrows and fears.

 At last came the long-awaited moment.  What should the people have done as they entered the land of their dreams?  What would you have done upon arriving there? What did God command in the Torah?

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Ki Tetze 5779

Go Out and Face your Conflicts

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By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read parashat Ki Tetze. It begins with a series of laws regarding the war. The very first verse of this parasha says, “If you go out to war against your enemies…” (Deuteronomy 21:10). In the original Hebrew the verse can be perfectly understood, not as a conditional, but as a sentence describing a situation. That would read as, “when you go out to war against your enemies.” In fact, you could even understand this verse as if it was encouraging the reader to go out to war. Why would that be?

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Shoftim 5779

Who Are the Guardians of the City?

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Rabbi Daniela Szuster

Who Are the Guardians of the City?

This week’s parasha, parashat Shoftim, begins by saying: “You shall appoint magisters and officials for your tribes, in all settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice” (Devarim 16:18).

This verse literally expresses the importance of having judges and policemen in each one of the cities, granting justice and equity to the inhabitants. 

However, some sages interpreted this verse differently.  In the verse it says: “Judges and offices shalt thou make thee…”  (Titen Lecha). The sages call attention to the words “thou make thee;” saying that one should judge himself first, and after that, one may judge his fellowman. In other words, we should be our own judges and policemen.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Re’eh 5779

Getting Ready for the High Holy Days

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By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This coming Shabbat is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul. As you probably know, Elul is the last month of the Hebrew calendar, and it is considered a month of preparation for the High Holy Days. 

How can we get properly ready for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? There are many customs that help in this regard. First, we include the reading of Psalm 27 after the morning and evening services. Psalm 27 is an appropriate reading for this time of the year as it has some references to the festivals of the month of Tishrei.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Devarim–Shabbat Chazon 5779

A Time for Us

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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.

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Parashat Matot Masei 5779

“Reflecting on Our Own Journeys”

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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.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Pinchas 5779

Two Important Lessons

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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…

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Tora Thoughts: Parashat Sh’lach Lecha 5779

A Sin Against Your People

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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.

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Parashat Behaalotcha 5779

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

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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.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Naso 5779

A New Torah Each Day

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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

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Parashat B’midvar – Shavuot 5779

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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.

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Parashat Bechukotai 5779

Parashat Bechukotai 5779                                             
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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

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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

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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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