(717) 581-7891

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayishlach 5781

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayishlach 5781

An Angel is Created out of each Good Deed we Perform

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

This week’s parashah begins by saying: “Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Bereshit 32:4). Since Jacob left the house of Laban with all his family, and he returned to the land of Canaan, he sent messengers to his brother Esau.

In the Hebrew text it is written “מלאכים” which usually is translated as “messengers” but also means “angels”. What did Jacob really send to Esau?

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayishlach 5781

Torah Thoughts on Parashat Vayetze 5781

Torah Thoughts on Parashat Vayetze 5781
Thanksgiving

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

For most American Jews, Thanksgiving is a chance to gather with family (well… maybe not this year!) and eat turkey and stuffing, like any other American would do.

The big majority of American Jews regard Thanksgiving as more akin to the Fourth of July than Christmas, since Thanksgiving is considered a civil celebration, lacking religious associations and offering an opportunity to fully embrace a widely observed American tradition.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts on Parashat Vayetze 5781

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Toldot 5781

“Isaac’s blindness and how we can open our eyes and see the big picture”
B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

The parasha for this Shabbat, Parashat Toldot, narrates the story of Isaac’s sons. First, Rebecca was barren, and then she was blessed and conceived twins. The Torah continues telling about the personality of each son: “And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison; and Rebecca loved Jacob” (Bereshit 25: 27-28).

The boys developed different styles of living: Esau was a man of the field, of dangers and risks, and Jacob a man of the house, of peace and reflection. These are two very dissimilar behavior patterns.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Toldot 5781

Torah Thoughts: Chayei Sarah 5781

Honoring Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l

Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

This week we read parashat Chayei Sarah, which literally means “the life of Sarah.” However, the first verses of this parasha actually tells us about Sarah’s death. Something similar happens with the last parasha of the Book of Genesis, which is called Vayechi, “he lived,” although it tells us about Jacob’s death. 

Our sages learn an important principle from these apparent contradictions. They stated that, צַדִּיקִים שֶׁבְּמִיתָתָן נִקְרְאוּ חַיִּים, “Righteous people are referred to as living even after their death” (Brachot 18:b). This means that righteous people live on through their teaching and living example, even after passing away. 

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Chayei Sarah 5781

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayera 5781

“The “Eshel” (tamarisk) Planted by Abraham and the Different Aspects of Hospitality”

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

In this week’s parashah, parashat Vayera, the Torah tells us that Abraham made a peaceful covenant with the king Abimelech and acquired a well at Beer – Sheba. After that, it is written in the text:

“Abraham” planted a tamarisk (eshel) at Beer-sheba, and invoked there the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.” (Bereshit 21:33)

It is nor clear why Abraham planted this tree there. Maybe he wanted to show his gratitude for acquiring that well.

There is a Midrash that explains the name of the tree “Eshel” saying that the three letters in the word א-ש-ל are an acronym for אכילה- שתיה- לינה that true hospitality involves providing one’s guests with food, drink, and lodging

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayera 5781

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Lech Lecha 5781

The Two “Lech Lecha”

By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky

Parashat Lech Lecha begins with the following verse: “And the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The words translated here as “go forth” are the ones that give its name to this parasha, lech lecha. These Hebrew words can literally be translated as “go to you,” or “go to yourself.” This is not a common expression in the Torah; in fact, it appears only twice in the entire book, both in the book of Genesis. The first time, in our parasha, this expression is said to Abraham by God to command him to go to the Land of Israel.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Lech Lecha 5781

Torah Thoughts: Parashat Noach 5781

“Abraham: The Founder of the Idea of Monotheism as well as an Ethical Person”

B”H

Rabbi Daniela Szuster

At the end of this week’s parashah, after the story of Noah and the Tower of Babel, we have a little bit of information about Abraham. It is written in the Torah: “Abram and Nahor took to themselves wives, the name of Abram’s wife being Sarai and that of Nahor’s wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren, she had no child. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah came to 205 years; and Terah died in Haran.”  (Bereshit 11:29-32)

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Noach 5781

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.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Bereshit 5781

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. 

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Simchat Torah 5781

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.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Shabbat – Sukkot 5781

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. 

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Shuva 5781

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. 

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Rosh Hashanah 5781

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.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashot Nitzavim Vayelech 5780

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.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Ki Tavo 5780

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.”

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Ki Tetze 5780

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.  

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Shoftim 5780

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?

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Reeh 5780

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.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vaetchanan – Shabbat Nachamu 5780

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).

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Chazon 5780

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.

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Matot Masei 5780

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).

Read More...

Comments Off on Torah Thoughts: Parashat Chukat 5780