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Torah Thoughts: Parashat S’hmini 5780

“The Counting of the Omer, the plague which hit Rabbi Akiva’s students and the hope for the upcoming Lag BaOmer in our time”

B”H

Rabbi Daniela

From the second night of Passover until the eve of Shavuot we count the Omer for forty-nine days. Every night we stand, we recite the blessing and we count one more day.

It is written in the Torah: “And you shall count from the day following the holiday: from the day that you brought the Omer for rocking it, seven full weeks, will be. Until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days and then offer a new offering to Adonai ” (Vayikra 23: 15-16).

In the Biblical time, this period marked the beginning of the barley harvest when Jews would bring the first sheaves to the Temple as a means of thanking God for the harvest. The word Omer literally means “sheaf” and refers to these early offerings.

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Torah Thoughts Pesach 5780

Torah Thoughts Pesach 5780

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

The Passover Seder, the greatest gathering of the Jewish year, is nearly upon us, and this year it will be celebrated like no other. One of the most well-known texts we read (and sing!) during the Seder is Mah nishtanah ha-leila ha-zeh, “How different is this night from all other nights.” Indeed, in this year of the Coronavirus crisis, there is no question our Seder, and Passover in general, will be different.

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Parashat Tzav – Shabbat Hagadol 5780

Taking care of our Souls as well as our Bodies
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Rabbi Daniela Szuster

It is written in the beginning of this week’s parashah: “The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.” (Vayikra 6:5-6)

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Torah Thoughts on Parashat Vayikra 5780

The Virtue of Humility

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Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

When you read from a Scroll (a Sefer Torah) you notice that it has many secrets and details. There are letters that are bigger than others, smaller than others, longer than others, etc. There are letters that are upside down, cut off, or that have dots above them. It is not always clear the reason for these non-regular letters, but the sages tried to give a reason for every little dot they found in the Torah.

One of these non-regular letters of the Torah appears in our parashah. More precisely, it is the first word of the parashah, and also the first word of the Book of Leviticus. 

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Parashiot Vayakhel-Pekudei – Shabbat Hachodesh 5780

Shabbat Hachodesh: A Time to Adjust Ourselves to a Different Reality

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Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Hachodesh.” It is the last of four special Shabbatot before Pesach. It falls on the Shabbat before the month of Nisan or on Rosh Chodesh itself.

The special maftir reading is Exodus 12:1-20, which describes the night of the first Pesach before the children of Israel were liberated from Egypt. These verses describe the eating of the Pesach lamb sacrifice with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Besides this, this paragraph describes the order to paint the doorposts of Israelite houses with the blood of the sacrificed lamb. In addition, we find in these verses various laws of Pesach.

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Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Parah 5780

Being Together in Times of Isolation

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we have a special Shabbat named Parah, literally the Sabbath of the Red Heifer. It occurs on the Shabbat after Purim or, similarly, the Shabbat prior to Shabbat Mevarchim of the month of Nisan. This is the Shabbat in which we announce that the beginning of the Hebrew month of Nissan will occur that coming week. In addition to the regular parasha for the week (Ki Tisa, this year), we read a maftir reading from a second Torah scroll, Numbers 19:1-22. This text deals with the red heifer whose ashes were combined with water to ritually purify anyone who had been in contact with a dead person. In ancient times, when sacrifices were still observed at the Temple of Jerusalem, only people who were pure could eat from the Passover sacrifice. A corpse was considered to be the maximum source of ritual impurity. Through the ritual of the “red heifer” people were able to purify themselves in order to be ritually apt to eat from the Passover sacrifice. Shabbat Parah was like a public announcement right before Pesach was approaching, to remind anyone who may have become impure to purify themselves before making the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

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Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Zachor 5780

The Importance of Remembering

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

Judaism is a religious tradition built on the base of memory.  In his great work on the subject, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, the historian Yosef Haim Yerushalmi notes that the Hebrew word for remember, zachor, is repeated nearly 200 times in the Hebrew Bible! Israel is commanded to remember the Shabbat, the covenant with God, the exodus from Egypt, etc. We have constant exhortations in the Torah to remember different historical events. As Yerushalmi suggests, we can say that that the ability to remember has been central to the survival of the Jews in the diaspora over thousands of years. How else can we explain the continuity of the Jewish people through times of migration, persecution, destruction, renewal, and adaptation to new social, economic and religious realities?

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat T’rumah 5780

Creation of the World and the Building of the Miskan (Tabernacle)

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Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week´s parashah begins with God´s order to collect donations in order to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and then we have all the instructions Moses received on how to build it.

Some sages found that there are many similarities between the building of the Mishkan and the creation of the world described in the book of Bereshit. They found that there are common action verbs and expressions in both stories. There are so many similarities that many sages believe it couldn’t be a coincidence.

In this table you can find

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Mishpatim 5780

“Remembering our sufferings should lead us to be sensitive, compassionate, and kind with the ‘ger’, stranger, who lives in our societies”

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week’s parashah deals with different kinds of laws: civil, moral, and religious. Among these laws, there is one related to strangers. This law appears twice in this week’s portion of the Torah:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Sh’mot 22:20)

“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Sh’mot 23:9)

This law does not appear only in this portion of the Torah but it appears, according to the Talmud, thirtysix times in the Torah! (Talmud Babli Baba Metzia 59b).

Why do we have this law so many times in the Torah? Maybe to highlight the importance of this law. It is important and essential to not oppress the stranger who lives in our societies.

What is the reason for that? You may say that because the stranger is a human being, it is created in God’s image.  Therefore, he deserves respect and be treated with dignity as every person does. These are rational reasons.  However, it is interesting to note that the Torah does not appeal to a rational argument but to an empathetic one.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Yitro 5780

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Yitro 5780

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Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

The parasha for this week, Yitro, includes the reading of the Ten Commandments. The first word of the Ten Commandments is Anochi, “I” in Hebrew. The Hebrew word anochi starts with the Hebrew letter aleph, which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It seems natural to have such an important text as the Ten Commandments start with the first letter of the alphabet.

However, there is another very important text in the Torah that starts with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, bet. I am referring to the creation of the world (and you could say, to the Torah in general), which starts with the word Bereshit, “In the beginning.”

There is a charming Midrash that describes how the letter aleph was so upset with God, and angrily complained to Him that He should have created the world with her (starting the story of the Creation of the world with the letter aleph). After all, she was the first letter! Why had God started his creation with the second letter of the alphabet?

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat B’shalach 5780

The Dropping of the Manna as a Way to Rebuild the Israelite’s Trust in God

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

 

After the Israelites were liberated from the tyranny of Pharaoh, after six weeks of the Exodus, the people started to complain. First, because they were thirsty and then, because they were starving. God, immediately, provided them with water and food. Regarding the food, God said to Moses:

“I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion—that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not.” (Sh’mot 16:4)

The Israelites were starving, and God assured them food giving them bread from the sky. At the end of this verse it is written, “that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not.” What does it mean? Did God give them manna to feed them or to test them? How did God test the people providing them manna?

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Bo 5780

“Come with Me”

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By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

 

This week’s parasha is titled Bo, which literally means “come.” On this parasha we are told about the last three of the ten plagues. Many commandments appear on the last part of the parasha.

The first verse of this Torah section read, “The Lord said to Moses: “Come to Pharaoh…” The meaning of this order seems to be “Go to Pharaoh,” but, as I already wrote, the literal meaning is, “come to Pharaoh.” Why is this and what can we learn from this?

According to the famous Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (better known as the Kotzker Rebbe, Poland, 1787-1859, he was a Hasidic rabbi and leader), this verse hints to God’s omnipresence. Since God is everywhere all the time, you cannot really walk away from God. As it is written in Isaiah (6:3), “the whole earth is full of His glory.” Therefore, God tells Moses, “come, let us go to Pharaoh.” Moses cannot go alone, because God is always with him.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vaera 5780

The Diversity of God’s Names

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

“God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Lord, I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name YHVH.’” (Sh’mot 6:2-3)

This is the beginning of this week’s parashah. Several questions arise from these words, concerning the names of God. God affirms that he appeared before the patriarchs in a particular way, as El Shaddai, while He reveals Himself before Moses with the name of Adonai (YHVH).

What does this difference in God’s revelations mean? Why did God choose to appear as El Shaddai before the patriarchs and as Adonai before Moses? What do each of these names represent? Is one of them more important than the other? These words hold a large spectrum of mysteries as regards to God’s names.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Shemot 5780

Preserving Human Life

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By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we begin the book of Shemot, Exodus. It begins by telling us that a new king arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph. This new king saw that the Israelites were very numerous and, in fact, could threaten his kingdom. This Pharaoh taxed the Hebrews and forced them to work for him, but despite these hardships the Hebrew people continued to increase in number.

Pharaoh then decided to make harsher rules against the Israelites. He decreed that

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayeshev 5780

Reuben’s Fears and the Consequences of not Acting with Determination

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Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week’s parashah, Parashat Vayeshev, starts telling the story of Joseph and his brothers which lasts the four last parashiyyot of the Book of Berehsit.  The Torah tells us that Jacob favored Joseph among his children and gave him a special garment. Joseph loved to tell his dreams to his father and brothers. Joseph had grandiloquent dreams where he appears as the star and the rest of the family are like his servants. Besides this, the Torah tells us that Joseph brought bad reports of their brothers to his father. In sum, Joseph had very bad relationships with his brothers. They hated him and could not stand him anymore. Joseph’s brothers hated him so much at the point that they wanted to kill him.  What evil plans did they have?

It is written in the Torah: “They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer! Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we can say, ‘A savage beast devoured him.’ We shall see what comes of his dreams!” (Bereshit 37: 19-20).

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayishlach 5780

A Recipe for Spiritual Growth

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Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

At the beginning of our parasha, Jacob returns to Canaan. He has been living in Charan for 20 years avoiding meeting with his brother Esau. Esau had expressed his intention of killing Jacob, as revenge for taking his blessing from their father Isaac.

Before the feared reunion, Jacob sends representatives to Esau in hope of a reconciliation, but his messengers report that his brother is coming to him with 400 armed men. A well-known commentary by Rashi to this Torah section explains that we can learn from these verses that Jacob prepares himself for the high-stakes meeting by doing three things: He prays to God, he sends Esau a huge gift (consisting of hundreds of heads of livestock) to appease him, and he gets ready for war.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayetze 5780

Looking for Meaning in our lives

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week’s parashah tells us that Jacob ran away from his family’s home because he feared that Esau would kill him after Jacob tricked their father into giving him the blessing, the blessing that should have been given to Esau.  

Jacob, our patriarch, reached Haran, where his mother’s family lived.  He saw Rachel there, and it was love at first sight. It is written in the Torah: “Jacob kissed Rachel and broke into tears.” (Bereshit 29: 11). He was so excited to find the love of his life that he cried with emotion.

After that, Jacob made an agreement with Laban, Rachel’s brother.  Jacob would work for him for seven years in order to marry Rachel. The Torah says, “Jacob loved Rachel so answered, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel” (Genesis 29:18).

This verse is very special, given that there are few places in the Torah that use the verb ‘to love’ between a man and a woman. We could say that Jacob was the first romantic lover to appear in the Torah.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Toldot 5780

Living Meaningful Lives

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By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
 
In this week’s parasha, Toldot, the Torah tells us that Rebecca and Isaac had twins, Jacob and Esau. We also find the famous story of the “sale of the birthright” by Esau to Jacob. We read the story of Isaac and Rebecca in Gerar in the land of the Philistines, including the problems Isaac had there with both the wells that his father Abraham had dug, and the wells Isaac himself dug. Finally, we are told what happens when Isaac, old and blind, is tricked by his son Jacob into giving him the firstborn blessing. Fearful of how his brother Esau might respond to the deception, Jacob leaves his home.

Toldot is the only parasha in the book of Genesis where we can find Isaac as the main character.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Chayyei Sarah 5780

Abraham and Rebecca: Leaders in Kindness and Hospitality

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By Rabbi Daniela

This week’s parashah, parashat Chayyei Sarah, begins by telling us about Sarah’s death and her burial at the cave of Machpela. After this, Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to Haran in order to find a wife for his son Isaac.

When Abraham’s servant came to the spring of Haran, he met a young woman who was carrying a jar on her shoulder. Then, it is written in the Torah: “The servant ran toward her and said, “Please, let me sip a little water from your jar.”  “Drink, my lord,” she said, and she quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and let him drink. When she had let him drink his fill, she said, “I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking.” Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels.” (Bereshit 24: 18-20)

After these actions, Abraham’s servant realized that this young woman would be the appropriate wife for Isaac. Why? Because through these actions she showed her kindness, generosity, and compassion for human beings and for animals.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayera 5780

Thanks, God, for the Guests!

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By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

At the beginning of our parasha Abraham is sitting in his tent when God appeared to him. He sees three men nearby. The Torah says: “And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw, and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground. And he said, “My lords, if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant. Please let a little water be taken, and bathe your feet, and recline under the tree. And I will take a morsel of bread, and sustain your hearts; after[wards] you shall pass on, because you have passed by your servant.” And they said, “So shall you do, as you have spoken” (Genesis 18:3-5).

This is considered a classic Jewish source for Hachnasat Orchim, the mitzvah of welcoming guests. As you may know, inviting and welcoming guests is considered a great commandment, a great honor, and a great pleasure at the same time. That is why you will see observant people trying to have guests whenever they are able to, especially for Shabbat and festival meals.

Among the verses I quoted above, you can find Abraham telling his prospective guests,

“וְאֶקְחָה פַת לֶחֶם וְסַעֲדוּ לִבְּכֶם”

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