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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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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Emor 5780

Sanctifying God’s Name
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week’s Torah portion begins with a detailed description of the laws that the kohanim, the priests, had to follow, and ends with specific instructions regarding the cycle of the Biblical festivals. Between these two sections, we find the following verse,

“וְלֹ֤א תְחַלְּלוּ֙ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֔י וְנִ֨קְדַּשְׁתִּ֔י בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל

אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם”

“You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 22:32).

From this verse, we learn the commandment of sanctifying God’s name, known in Hebrew as Kidush Hashem, as well as the commandment of not desecrating God’s name, known in Hebrew as Chilul Hashem. Although these two precepts seem to be complicated and hard to follow, in fact, their practical implementation is much simpler than might appear.

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Parashot Acharei Mot- Kedoshim 5780

The Jewish Duty of Taking Good Care of our Bodies

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week we are going to read two parashot, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. The second parasha, Kedoshim, starts with these words: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Vayikra 19:1).

How can we be holy? The Torah enumerates a long list of laws that enable us to become holy people. There are laws related to different aspects of daily life. They deal with ritual, with business ethics, with proper behavior toward needy and afflicted people, and with family and social relations. They are very meaningful and important laws.

In this opportunity, I would like to focus on one of these laws: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” (Vayikra 19:28) It means that we shouldn’t injure or damage our body.

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Tora Thoughts: Parashot Tazria-Metzora 5780

Judaism is a Combination of Ethics and Ritual
B”H

Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

Last week’s parasha, Shemini, ended with many of the laws of kashrut. Specifically, it contained a long list of animals that are permitted or forbidden to eat. The first parasha we read this week, Tazria (this week we read two parashot, Tazria and Metzora), deals with the laws of negayim, different health conditions that could affect people. Most notably, the disease called tzaraat (sometimes understood as leprosy), is described. 

As usual, the rabbis try to learn a lesson from the fact that one topic in the Torah comes right after a very different one. In our case, why would the Torah set the rules for eating kosher right before the rules about the Biblical diseases called negayim? I would like to share with you an explanation provided by Rabbi Israel Lipkin from Salant (also known as Israel Salanter, 1809, Zhagory – 1883, Königsberg; he was the father of the Musar movement).

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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
B”H

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

B”H

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

B”H

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)

B”H

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

B”H

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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