Sign In Forgot Password

235 Sunrise Avenue

Palm Beach, Florida 33480

Phone: 561-514-4064

info@newsynagogue.org

Facebook Page

Shavuot/Parshat Nasso

TORAH'S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim


"If there is no flour there is no Torah; if there is no Torah there is no flour." (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21)

The first part of this teaching is easy to understand. If one has no food and cannot sustain one's basic physical needs, one cannot study the spiritual wisdom of the Torah. Maharal explains further that Torah study requires peace of mind. If one is constantly worried about one's livelihood, one does not have the peace of mind required for deep Torah study. This is the reason the priestly blessings begin as follows: “Hashem should bless you and watch over you.” (Numbers 6:24) Rashi explains this blessing as a blessing for increased physical possessions which provide us with a livelihood. The priests are charged with blessing the nation with possessions and the ability to secure those possessions. Without this financial possession and security, there can be no Torah.

Once there is flour, Torah can be studied. Therefore, the second priestly blessing is: “May the Lord cause His countenance to shine upon you and favor you.” (Numbers 6:25) Rabbi Ovadia Sforno explains that this is a blessing for God to open our eyes and reveal amazing insights into Torah and God’s actions.

The real question is on the second part of the teaching from Pirkei Avot. There are many people with no knowledge or insight into Torah wisdom who, nonetheless, have been blessed with tremendous financial resources and security. Given this fact, what is the meaning of: “If there is no Torah there is no flour”? Maharal explains this as follows: financial security should not be the goal, but, rather, a catalyst to provide one with the peace of mind necessary for spiritual Torah study. Spiritual study and development, which lead to self-actualization, are the goals. Since the entire goal of life is to reach this higher level of meaning, if one does not have spiritual advancement, then financial resources are effectively rendered meaningless.

This is what is meant by: “If there is no Torah there is no flour.” If there is no Torah, then flour is rendered meaningless. This explains the celebration of Shavuot – we celebrate the fact that God gave us the ultimate guidebook for a life of purpose, growth, and meaning. May God bless us all with financial security to achieve our goal of spiritual advancement and of making a unique contribution to mankind.

Behar-Bechukotai/Bamidbar

LOVE IN A FLAG

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Parshat Bamidbar describes the formation in which the Jewish people were commanded to travel and dwell in their desert sojourns. The tabernacle was placed in the center and four camps were formed around the tabernacle. Each camp had its own flag and each tribe within a particular camp also had its own unique flag.

The Midrash (Midrash Rabba, Bamidbar 2) explains that when God revealed Himself at the time of the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people saw two hundred twenty thousand angels, each with its own unique flag. The Jewish people immediately longed for unique flags. The Midrash states that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, showed tremendous love for the people by giving them flags (like the angels) to make them distinctly recognizable. These teachings from the Midrash require much explanation. What did the people see in the angels’ flags that was so appealing to them? In what way did God express love for the Jewish people through commanding them to travel in specific formations and by giving them flags?

Every human being has a need for meaning and feels good when he/she is appreciated for his/her unique contribution. At the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people witnessed that each angel was unique and had a specific purpose (meaning) and role to play in the service of God. This is the meaning of the distinct flags which the Jewish people saw in each angel’s hand on Mt. Sinai. By giving each person, tribe, and tribe grouping a specific dwelling place around the tabernacle and distinct flags, each person understood that he/she was unique and had a specific role to play in the tapestry of the nation and service of God.

God filled the people with a feeling of uniqueness and meaning. This is, indeed, a tremendous expression of love. We love people and show our love to them by recognizing their uniqueness and honoring them for their unique life purpose and contribution. Let us be more aware and appreciative of the uniqueness of those who surround us and of their unique contribution to mankind.

Achrei Mot-Kedoshim/Emor

HUMAN RELATIONSHIP MITZVOT

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account. (Leviticus 19:17)

Maimonides understands this verse to contain three separate commandments: 1) the command not to hate one’s brother in one’s heart, 2) the command to rebuke someone who is transgressing Torah law, and 3) the command not to embarrass a person. The natural connection between these three commandments is brought to light by Maimonides in his epic work Mishneh Torah.

“When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as Samuel 2:13,22 states concerning the wicked: And Avshalom did not speak to Amnon neither good, nor bad for Avshalom hated Amnon.

Rather, he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him: Why did you do this to me?, Why did you wrong me regarding that matter? as (Leviticus 19:17) states: You shall surely admonish your colleague.

If, afterwards, the person who committed the wrong asks his colleague to forgive him, he must do so. A person should not be cruel when forgiving as implied by (Genesis 20:17) And Abraham prayed to God...

Thus, the connection between not hating another and rebuking another is apparent. When one feels resentful about being wronged by another, holding on to that resentment without dealing with it is forbidden. One is obligated to approach the person and deal with the issue. In the best-case scenario, one of the parties will either realize that he/she has been mistaken in interpreting the other’s actions or admit his/her negative behavior and ask for forgiveness. Worst-case scenario, the perpetrator will not admit fault and remain unrepentant. Although this is a difficult scenario to deal with emotionally, one has at least met one’s Torah obligation to express one’s feelings in an attempt to remove resentment from one’s heart.

Having said this, when one approaches another with words of rebuke, one should do so in a way that does not unnecessarily embarrass the person and that encourages the person to see his/her mistakes (so that the relationship can be repaired). This is why the Torah states that “You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account.

May we all have the courage to deal with our relationship challenges, to own and admit our own mistakes, and to forgive others when they sincerely request that we do so.

Shmini/Tazria-Metzora

A TIMELY LESSON

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Our Sages teach us that a great tragedy occurred between Pesach and Shavuoth. During this time period, 24,000 of Rebbi Akiva’s students had perished from a plague. Therefore, we are accustomed to observing a semi-mourning period during this time.

The Midrash says that the students of Rebbi Akiva perished because they were 'narrow eyed' one to the other. It is important to understand the meaning of 'narrow eyed' so that we learn the lesson of this time period.

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, in his work Sifsei Chaim, explains that when one student would see another student succeed, he/she would begrudge the success of the other student. To be 'open eyed' means to be generous of spirit and joyous at the success of others. To be 'closed eyes' means to secretly be pained by the success of others. I believe that the students of Rebbi Akiva were externally kind towards one another, however, they were unhappy when they witnessed their friends’ achievements.

Rebbi Akiva stated that the greatest principle in the Torah is the following verse: "You shall love your fellow as yourself". Nachmanides proves that the verse does not mean that our love for others should be as great as the love of ourselves. The Torah is commanding us to want for others what we wish for ourselves. We all want good health, blessing, and accomplishment, and this is exactly what the Torah is commanding us to want for others. Ironically, it was Rebbi Akiva's first group of students who did not internalize this message. Perhaps Rebbi Akiva taught this teaching in response to this very tragedy.

The critical question that remains is: How do we work on this character trait? How do we avoid jealousy of the success and advancement of others, who often seem to be succeeding far beyond our own successes? There are many techniques one can employ to work on one's joy at the success of others. Very often we don't celebrate the success of others because our egos feel threatened. Often the success of others shakes our images of ourselves, making us feel inadequate, and we, therefore, begrudge the success of others. One way of working on this is to minimize our ego-driven sense of self and realize that we have a far deeper self that cannot be threatened by anyone, a self that is magnanimous and rejoices at the success of others. A great tool for accomplishing this is mindfulness practice, a practice that enables us to fully fulfill the Mitzvah of loving our fellows like ourselves.

Tzav/Passover

  THE MESSAGE OF ISOLATION

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

At this time, when we are facing the coronavirus epidemic, I believe we should be doing two things: 1) meticulously follow all of the safety guidelines issued by our medical experts and all government ordinances, and 2) involve ourselves in some serious introspection and to use this plague as a catalyst to recalibrate our spiritual lives. While we may never know the reasons why the Almighty has brought this calamity upon us, we are obligated to apply our minds and hearts to all possible lessons that God may be communicating with us.

We have all been forced to isolate and remove ourselves from our societies. What is the message here? Where do we find this concept of isolation from society in the Torah? The Torah tells us that a person that has been afflicted with tzara’at (a biblical skin affliction) is obligated to remove him/herself from society and dwell separately while he/she undergoes a purification process. The Talmud (Arachin 16a) teaches us that tzara’at is contracted due to seven things: 1) lashon ha-ra, 2) murder, 3) false oaths, 4) sexual immorality, 5) arrogance, 6) theft, and 7) stinginess. All of these sins involve a person destroying, disregarding, and disrespecting members of society. The Torah commands a person who does not value and appreciate society and its members, to leave society and remain in isolation. A person struck with tzara’at would engage in a process of self-reflection, the goal of which would be to discover and appreciate the value of society and its members. This internal process would result in the person healing from tzara’at, and, thus, being allowed to return to society.

The message for us is clear. We need to be asking ourselves a number of questions: Do we speak badly of others? Do we see society as merely a means to benefit ourselves? Do we appreciate others and society as we should? Is there more we can do for others? Now that our societies are somewhat disbanded, and we see the consequences of societal isolation all around us, let us humbly realize our interdependence on one another as human beings, and renew our appreciation of others, our communities, and our societies.

As we approach the Passover holiday, we recall that our exodus from Egypt began with Joseph speaking badly of his brothers. We know that the second temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. In our isolation, G-d is reminding us that before the third Beit Hamikdash (Temple) is built and the ultimate unity of the Jewish people and all of mankind is restored, we need to inject more love, appreciation, and gratitude towards others into our world.

Vayakhel-Pekudei/Vayikra

  WHY THE CORONAVIRUS?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

We do not have the gift of prophecy today and, therefore, cannot be sure of the spiritual reasons why God has brought the coronavirus upon mankind at this time.  Nonetheless, it is clear from our sages that when great trials and tribulations affect us, we are commanded to introspect, search for possible spiritual causes and correct them.

The coronavirus epidemic has practically impacted the entire globe. As I write this, cities are enforcing curfews on their inhabitants, and we have all been encouraged to practice social distancing. What is it that is distancing us? A potentially lethal virus that is not visible to the naked eye. While considering the above, a specific Torah passage comes to mind.

In chapter 11 of Genesis, the Torah describes how the population of the entire earth spoke one language. They set out to build a city with a huge central tower in Babylon. The purpose of this central city was to prevent people from being scattered upon the face of Earth. The Torah describes how God was displeased with their plans. God divided them into different peoples with different languages and scattered them upon the face of the earth. The text does not explicitly state the cause of God’s displeasure or why God divided and scattered humanity.

Our sages explain (see Rashi, Midrashim) that humankind realized that it was vulnerable to natural disasters, such as the great flood that occurred in Noah’s generation. To alleviate this feeling of vulnerability, mankind decided to form a united and cohesive community that, together, would have the ability to fight off floods, diseases, and other natural disasters. As a united force, people were confident that they could conquer any natural obstacle and, therefore, would no longer feel vulnerable.

God was displeased with their plans. Their aspirations caused them to feel a sense of complete control and gave them an almost smug confidence that they could conquer any challenge. Humankind could solve every challenge and God would no longer be needed in their lives. They would have no deficiencies and, therefore, would have no need to turn to God as a source of redemption and salvation.

Our global society has made astounding progress in the areas of technology and medicine. Every day, scientists in our laboratories discover cures for illnesses that have plagued mankind for centuries. Perhaps we have put too much of our faith in our global human society and forgotten that we are truly dependent on God almighty. Perhaps after years of advancement of our global village, God is knocking on our door and reminding us that we are not as powerful as we had thought. We are being humbled and made to feel incredibly vulnerable again. The medical answer is to find antivirals and vaccines. The spiritual answer is to call out to God in prayer and deeply realize that our destinies are in His hands alone.

Let us consider what is occurring. We are forced to separate from one another and can only stand back and watch our entire civilization of activity and scientific advancement being brought to its knees by a tiny, invisible entity. Let us be humbled and, along with taking the essential physical protective measures, return our hearts to our Father in heaven.

Tetzaveh/Ki Tisa

DON'T COUNT PEOPLE

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted. This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of [such] a shekel shall be an offering to the Lord.” ( Exodus 30,11-13)

Rather than count the number of people directly, the Torah (in the above verses) instructs Moses to count the people by collecting a half a shekel from each person. Moses would then count the number of half shekels collected and, thereby, know the number of people. The purpose of counting this way was to avoid a plague, which could have resulted from counting the people individually. This is the source of the idea that we refrain from counting people individually.

This is very difficult to understand. What difference does it make if people are counted individually or via some other means (such as collecting money from each individual)? At the end of the day, the money is counted and the number of people is revealed.

The great Spanish Rabbi, Rabbi Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa (1255-1340), explains that when people are separated, by physically counting them individually, they are simultaneously highlighted as separate individuals in the spiritual world. This results in each individual being judged and scrutinized for his/her actions on an individual basis. This judgment is often not favorable and can result in judgments (plagues) affecting many individuals. Our sages teach us that we should never separate from the community. When we are part of a community, we have much more spiritual merit and protection. This is the reason Rosh Hashanah is a day of tremendous awe and trepidation – on Rosh Hashanah, we are judged by God as individuals!

On Purim, we have a Mitzvah to give gifts to one another (Mishloach Manot). This is an expression of our realization that only when we bond lovingly with one another, forming a strong cohesive community, do we have the spiritual merit to overcome anti-Semites like Haman! May we merit the unity to bring the final redemption of mankind speedily in our days.

Mishpatim/Terumah

REINCARNATION IN JUDAISM?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Believing in the reincarnation of souls is certainly not a fundamental tenet of Jewish belief. In fact, some medieval scholars were of the opinion that reincarnation is not part of the Jewish tradition. Kabalistic tradition, on the other hand, considers reincarnation a given fact.

A case in point is the Zohar’s (Kabalistic work authored by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) comment upon the first words of Parshat Mishpatim, “These are the laws…” The Zohar comments: “These are the orders of reincarnations.” The laws enumerated in Parshat Mishpatim are all civil laws. What does the Zohar mean when it states that: “These are the orders of reincarnations”?

 

Rabbi Ezriel Tauber once told of the following incident that took place in the city of Bnei Brak in Israel. Two boys found some money in the street. One of the boys wanted to keep the money based on the Talmudic teaching that if one finds money scattered in the street one can keep the money. The Talmud’s reasoning is as follows: the owner would have checked his/her pockets and realized that the money was missing. Knowing that there was no possible way to uniquely identify the money as belonging to him/her, the owner would certainly give up hope of retrieving the money. The boy’s friend had a different opinion. He reasoned that since there is a possibility that the owner had not checked his/her pockets, keeping the money would possibly be theft. Therefore, he suggested giving the funds to charity. The boys argued back and forth and eventually decided to ask the Chazon Ish (a great Rabbi of their day) to rule on the matter.

 

The Chazon Ish ruled that the boy who wanted to keep the money was correct. Chazon Ish explained that since keeping the money was the correct ruling according to Torah Law, based on the assumption that the owner would have given up hope of retrieving the object, it would be perfectly moral to keep the money. He then explained to the boys that even if the owner had not given up hope on retrieving the object, it is possible that this owner owed them money from a previous lifetime, and that this Torah law was ensuring that they get payed back. He explained that this is the meaning of the Zohar’s comment: “These are the orders of reincarnations.” The Zohar teaches us that when Torah law is followed correctly, justice is not only executed in one lifetime but across many lifetimes!

Beshalach/Yitro

IS IT A MITZVAH?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The first of the ten utterances states: "I am the Lord your God, who extricated you from the Land of Egypt, from the house of bondage." (Exodus 20,2)

Maimonides (Rambam) understands this utterance to be one of the 613 commandments of the Torah. He states: "The first mitzvah is that we are commanded to acquire knowledge of the nature of G-d's existence, i.e. to understand that He is the original cause and source of existence who brings all creations into being. The source of this commandment is G-d's statement (exalted be He), 'I am G-d your Lord.'" (Sefer Hamitzvot) It is clear from the above that to Maimonides there is a mitzvah to believe in a supreme being (God). 

Other great commentators (such as Baal Hilchot Gedolot) disagree with Maimonides. They explain that the concept of a commandment is premised on the clear understanding that there is a commander. Put in simpler terms, only once a king takes power can he make decrees. Similarly, the belief in God is the essential idea that forms the basis for a commandment (mitzvah). Therefore, a command to believe in God is illogical because without the concept of God, there cannot be commandment. This logical analysis seems iron clad and a very strong question on the opinion of Maimonides. 

Rabbi Chananya Kazis, the chief Rabbi of Florence, Italy in the 17th century, offers a solution to the above question on Maimonides. His answer has tremendous practical application to our lives. He explains that having experienced the great miracles involved in the Exodus from Egypt as well as the divine revelation at Mt. Sinai, the Jewish people's belief in God's existence was tremendous. At the Sinai revelation, God commands the nation to ensure that they maintain that high level of faith to future generations. It is not easy to maintain our faith in God at such a high level. Life's difficulties and challenges tend to diminish the belief in a supreme God from our minds. We are constantly commanded to strengthen our belief and connection to God. I would add to Rabbi Kazis' explanation that the belief in God is not a 'binary switch--belief in God is a spectrum. While involved in business and worldly matters, it is very easy for us to lose our composure. This, in and of itself, shows a diminished belief in a supreme God, a God constantly looking out for our best interests, and a God that is completely in control. We are commanded to constantly remind ourselves of God's existence and presence in our lives as well as to work on climbing the ladder towards greater belief and connection to our Father in heaven.

Vaera/Bo

EGYPT, EGYPT, AND MORE EGYPT

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

We are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt every morning and every evening. On Passover, we recall the Exodus from Egypt for an entire week. Our tefillin, mezuzot, and many other mitzvot are reminders of the Exodus from Egypt. We mention the Exodus from Egypt in grace after meals, in Kiddush on Shabbat, in the Ten Commandments, and throughout our prayer services. The first four Torah portions of the Book of Exodus deal almost entirely with the Hebrews' experiences in Egypt and their exodus from Egypt. Why does the Torah find it so important to etch the memory of the exodus into our minds and hearts?

 

At the end of Parshat Bo, Nachmanides (Ramban) addresses this question. He says that the miraculous nature of the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt proved three fundamental principles: 1) Human affairs are not arbitrary and random; There is divine intervention in human matters on both an individual and national level, 2) There is a creator of the world that created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), and 3) God is omnipotent (almighty). In summary, the miracles performed during the Exodus from Egypt showed God to be involved in human affairs, the creator of the universe, and omnipotent.

 

The dilemma of modern man is that we live in a world that, very often, feels arbitrary, random, and unjust. For many reasons, the Divine wisdom has decided that er not be privy to open and revealed miraculous events, the likes of which our forefathers experienced in Egypt. How, then, are we to connect to the above principles? We do so by studying , understanding, and constantly remembering the details of the Exodus from Egypt that have been transmitted from generation to generation until today.

 

Nachmanides states: "From the grand public miracles a person recognizes the hidden miracles which are the foundation of the entire Torah. Indeed, a person has no portion in the Torah of Moses, our teacher, unless he/she believes that all our affairs are miraculous." The Ba'al Shem Tov would explain that the difference between a miracle and a natural occurrence lies only in the frequency of the occurrence. The sun rising and setting each day is no less miraculous (directed by God) than the splitting of the Red Sea or the plagues in Egypt. Our focus on the Exodus from Egypt does not propel us back to the past, rather, it teaches us to fulfill our purpose of recognizing that, although hidden from plain sight, God is omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (almighty), and involved in every aspect of our daily existence.

Vayechi/Shemot

BEFORE WE ACT

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength and the first of my might. Superior in rank and superior in power. The restlessness of water, you shall not have superiority, for you ascended upon your father's couch; then you profaned my bed.” (Genesis 49, 3-4)

After Rachel passed away, Yaakov moved his bed into Rachel’s maidservant's tent. This angered Reuven who felt that his mother, Leah, was insulted by Yaakov’s actions. Reuven then moved Yaakov’s bed into Leah’s tent. In the verses above, Yaakov explains to his son Reuven that although he was the natural choice to lead his brothers, he acted impetuously out of anger and, therefore, has lost his leadership (birthright) responsibilities and benefits.

Like water hurrying down a stream, Reuven hurried to act out of anger. Since leadership requires that a person have the ability to restrain him or herself from acting irrationally based on strong emotions, Reuven's actions disqualify him from leadership. A leader must have the wisdom, patience, and self-awareness to know when emotions are running high and must ensure that action is only taken with a calm and balanced mind. Had Reuven delayed his actions and calmed his mind down, he may have thought of other possibilities. Perhaps he would have realized that his father had spiritual calculations of which he was not aware. Perhaps he could have approached his father and explained his feelings and his father would have put his mind at ease.

The Torah makes us aware of the importance of ensuring that we refrain from taking any action or arriving at any conclusion when we are not of a calm and balanced mind. This requires the qualities of awareness and patience. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz points out that when we lose our peace of mind and are overcome with emotion, we can drop many spiritual levels in an instant. The sin of the golden calf is a typical example of this. Moses did not descend from Mt. Sinai when the nation expected him to do so, which led the nation to panic and build the golden calf. Personal and mass hysteria are incredibly dangerous. Had the Jewish people had more patience and awareness, and delayed any action until their equanimity (mental calmness and composure) returned, the history of the Jewish people would have been very different.

Let us learn the self-awareness, patience, and control to act and react from a more calm and tranquil place. This will enhance our leadership abilities in our community, family, and personal lives.

Miketz/Vayigash

Life, Happiness, and Godliness

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Joseph's brothers return to the land of Canaan and inform their father, Jacob, that Joseph, Jacob's long-lost son, is still alive. Jacob, who has been separated from his son for 22 years, initially struggles to absorb the news. The brothers tell Jacob of their conversation with Joseph and show their father the wagons that Joseph sent to transport him, and Jacob finally absorbs the fact that Joseph is still alive. 

After realizing Joseph is still alive, the Biblical narrative continues "...and the spirit of their father Jacob lived. And Israel (Jacob) said, "A great amount (plenty). My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die."" (Genesis 45, 27-28) Jacob's reaction requires further explanation. What does the verse mean when it states: "and the spirit of their father Jacob lived"? Joseph was the one who was thought to have died, not Jacob. Additionally, what does Jacob mean when he says, "A great amount (plenty)?” A great amount of what? Rashi explains that the divine presence that left Jacob had now returned to him and, therefore, his spirit was alive again. Jacob then declared that, now that his son Joseph is alive, he has plenty of happiness to look forward to in his life. 

Our sages explain that from the moment that Joseph disappeared, Jacob could not bring himself to feel true joy. Jacob had some level of depression and uneasiness that constantly accompanied him. The divine presence (related to the ability to prophesize) only dwells upon a person when he/she is in a state of happiness. When Jacob internalized the fact that Joseph was still alive, his melancholy feeling was lifted and he felt a sense of tremendous joy and happiness. He felt joyous and alive for the first time in many years and the divine presence immediately returned to him.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that it is a mitzvah to be in a state of joy and happiness. In a state of happiness, spirituality and Godliness are more easily attained. It is, therefore, very important that we work on making ourselves joyous and happy. How do we become happy? There are numerous techniques – Rabbi Nachman suggests focusing on the good in ourselves and others as an important technique in bringing joy and happiness. I have personally also found mindfulness practice to be a powerful tool in manifesting a sense of joy, well-being, and vitality. Whatever works for you, do it! Because it is a mitzvah to be happy and it brings God into our lives.

Vayishlach/Vayeshev

UNDERSTANDING THE EVIL INCLINATION 

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim 

Towards the end of Jacob’s struggle with the angel, Jacob says, “Now tell me your name,” and he (the angel) said, “Why is it that you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. (Genesis 32:30) Both Jacob’s question and the angel’s response require more understanding. Why was Jacob interested in finding out the name of the angel? And, if indeed Jacob had a valid reason for requesting the angel’s name, why does the angel not tell Jacob his name? 

The Malbim (Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser), a great 19th century scholar, offers an insightful explanation. The angel with whom Jacob wrestled with was the angel associated with Esau who represents physicality and the evil inclination. Our sages teach us that a name is not a random, arbitrary assignment. A name is the reflection of the essence of the entity being described by that particular name. Jacob wanted to know the angel’s name in his quest to better understand the nature and essence of his opponent. This explains Jacob’s request for the angel’s name.

Rabbi Nachman, in the work Sichot Haran, gives the following analogy to explain the evil inclination. A man approaches people with a closed fist and tells them that he is holding on to something awesome. Each person imagines that what the man holds in his fist will fulfill his/her particular desire, whether it be for physical pleasure, wealth, honor, or power. The man eventually opens his hand and it is revealed that he is holding nothing. It was all just an illusion; he was holding nothing of substance. Evil operates by creating a deceptive smokescreen of illusion and desire which, ultimately, proves to be unsatisfying and empty.

We all live with many illusions created by the evil inclination. One of its favorite illusions relates to future happiness. We believe that when we have achieved a certain amount of wealth or a certain status or a certain level of achievement, we shall finally be at peace and happy. But once we achieve that level, we realize we are still largely empty-handed, and the goal then shifts to attaining a higher level of wealth, honor, or status achievement.

This explains the angel’s reply. The angel answers, “Why is it that you ask for my name?” meaning: “Why do you request to know my essence? My essence changes all the time and is built on emptiness and illusion.” When we truly realize and understand the illusory and transient nature of pleasures of the flesh, honor, and desire, we are able to escape the emptiness and illusion of the evil inclination. Our charge is to be like Jacob and constantly pierce the veil of illusions presented to us in this world of challenge. May we deeply internalize the ultimate emptiness in a life built on the pursuit of material wealth, honor, and desire.

Toldot/Vayetzei

THE CRITICAL BALANCE - LIFE'S CHALLENGE

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Many commentators and historians point out that the bible was written with an unparalleled level of objectivity.  The faults of the greatest biblical figures are written bluntly for all to see. The bible writes that Moses and Aron did not merit to enter the land of Israel because “you (Moses and Aron) did not believe in me…” (Numbers 20:12) Their lack of belief was probably on a subtle level, nonetheless the bible boldly records it. Other ancient man-made documents simply lack this objectivity. The leaders were perfect and never erred. The objectivity of the bible demonstrates the truth of the biblical narrative.

The sages of the Midrash similarly analyze and criticize the behavior of biblical figures. Abraham is partially blamed for Yishmael straying into the world of idolatry. Our sages say that Abraham showed too much kindness and understanding towards Yishmael, and gave him too much freedom. He should have set more boundaries, discipline and consequences for Yishmael.

Similarly, our sages partially blame Isaac for the fact that Esau went on the path of evil. The verse states “And the youth grew up together…” (Geneses 25:27) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that Isaac gave both his children, Jacob and Esau, the same education. Both of them were brought up with strict discipline and were probably forced to sit down and study for hours on end. For Jacob this was a pleasure. Jacob was a studious and intellectual person who would have naturally spent his time in this way. Esau on the other hand was by nature a worldly person. He was full of energy and needed to spend more time in physical activity. Isaac’s strict disciplinary approach was a contributing factor in Esau’s rebellion and choice of a negative lifestyle.   

Abraham’s core attribute was kindness. Isaac’s core attribute was strength. While both kindness and strength are virtuous qualities, too much of these attributes can have disastrous effects. Abraham’s inappropriate kindness towards Yishmael and Isaac’s inappropriate strength towards Esau both had tragic consequences. Our sages are teaching us that the art of life is to combine kindness and strength in the right proportions depending on the specific situation. This is the critical balance of life and indeed a life-long challenge. We pray that God helps us to balance kindness and strength in our lives. The correct balance leads us to our goal which our sages call tiferet, a beautiful and balanced life!

Vayeira / Chayei Sarah

WHEN ALTERING THE TRUTH IS NOT A SIN

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Talmud teaches us that God’s signature is Emet, meaning truth. One of the thirteen attributes of God we recite throughout the Selichot prayer services and on Yom Kippur is Emet, truth. God represents the ultimate truth and the ultimate in truthfulness and we are commanded to emulate God and be exceedingly truthful people.

 

When Sarah overheard the angel telling Abraham that when he returns Sarah will have a son, she laughed and said, “After I have become worn out, will I have smooth flesh? And also, my master (Abraham) is old.” God turns to Abraham and asks “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Is it really true that I will give birth, although I am old?’ Is anything hidden from the Lord? At the appointed time, I will return to you, at this time next year and Sarah will have a son.” God reported Sarah’s statement differently. Sarah said that Abraham was too old to bear children, but God reported to Abraham that Sarah had said that she was too old to bear children. The Talmud (Bava Metziah 87a) learns from this: Peace is of such great importance that even the Holy One, Blessed be He, altered the truth for the sake of preserving peace. Even God who is the ultimate truth, altered the truth for the sake of peace. We learn from this that altering the truth is permitted to promote peace.

 

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz (1902–1979), the Mir Rosh Yeshiva asked a powerful question on this teaching from the Talmud. Abraham was almost 100 years old when he was told Sarah would have a son. He was clearly an elderly man. Surely, he knew that he was getting on in years. Sarah, thinking it unlikely for him to have children at his age, was perfectly reasonable. If God would have communicated to Abraham Sarah’s true thoughts that Abraham was too old to have children would that have created conflict between Abraham and Sarah? This does not seem to be an example of altering the truth for the sake of peace at all. How would their relationship be negatively influenced by Sarah stating an obvious fact?

 

Rabbi Shmuelevitz answers that we see from this is that our understanding of the concept of peace in relationships is not entirely correct. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. That is just the beginning of peace. Peace also applies to the level of closeness and connection within a relationship. Abraham would not have been upset with Sarah stating the obvious fact that he was old. Nonetheless, Abraham’s conscious knowledge of his wife perceiving him as less vibrant and elderly changed their relationship in a certain very subtle way. This too falls under the category of making peace. Everything we can do to improve human relationships and closeness on a deeper lever falls under the broad category of making peace. May we merit to bring much needed peace to our world on every level.

Noach / Lech-Lecha

IT IS NOT JUST WHAT WE SAY...

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah prohibits various categories of speech. Speaking negatively about a person is forbidden. When the content of the negative speech is true, the prohibition of lashon harah (evil tongue) is transgressed. When the content of the negative speech is false, then the prohibition of motzi shem rah (literally, bringing out a bad name) is transgressed. Transmitting information that can create strife and conflict among people is prohibited under the category of rechilut. Saying harmful words which hurt a person’s feelings is prohibited under the category of Ona’at devarim.

 

In Parshat Noach, the Torah teaches that both pure and impure animals (kosher and non-kosher) came with Noah into the ark before the flood. The Torah expresses this fact in the following way: “From the pure animals and from the animals that are not pure [asher einena tehora].” We know that every letter in the Torah is there for a specific reason and that the Torah does not use letters unnecessarily. The above verse could have been significantly shortened (by eight Hebrew letters) and simply have stated ‘From the pure animals and from the animals that are impure [temeiah].’ Why does the Torah use extra letters and a more cumbersome form “animals that are not pure” when it could have simply been stated “impure animals”?

 

The Gemarah (Pesachim 3a) addresses this question. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: A person should never express a crude matter, as the formulation of a verse was distorted by the addition of eight letters rather than have it express a crude matter. To refer to an animal as temeiah (defiled) is a crude, unrefined manner of speaking. The Torah is teaching us that even while engaging in speech that is permitted, one should be careful to express one’s speech in a refined manner.

 

It’s not just what we say that counts, but also the language we use to express ourselves. This is part of our mandate to conduct ourselves in a holy fashion. The Torah requires us to be a refined mensch.

Ha'Azinu / Bereishit

Sukkot Now?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Talmud quotes two reasons for the Mitzvah of dwelling in a Sukkah. One opinion is that the Sukkah reminds us of the temporary huts built by the Jewish People in the desert. The other opinion is that during their travels in the desert, the Jewish people were surrounded with seven protective clouds of glory. These clouds protected the Jewish People from the difficult desert conditions. It seems therefore, that Sukkot is celebrated at the wrong time of year! The Jewish people left Egypt at the time of Pesach, in the Jewish month of Nissan. Surely, the temporary huts or clouds of glory which protected them immediately, should be commemorated in Nissan? Why do we wait six months to celebrate Sukkot in the month of Tishrei?

Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher (Tur) answers that Passover is celebrated in Nissan, which is spring time. Naturally, in the spring, people tend to leave the warmth of their homes and spend more time outdoors. If Sukkot would be celebrated in the spring, it would be less recognizable that people are leaving their homes for the Sukkah in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah. Therefore, the Torah placed Sukkot in autumn so that it would be obvious to all, that people were leaving their permanent homes to dwell in the Sukkah for the sake of fulfilling the Mitzvah of Sukkah.

The Vilna Gaon has a beautiful, ingenious explanation: Our tradition teaches us that when the Jewish People sinned with the golden calf, God removed the protective clouds of glory. This symbolized the divine presence distancing itself from the Jewish People. This began a repentance process which culminated on Yom Kippur when God told Moses 'I have forgiven' and culminated in God giving Moses the second set of tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Yom Kippur is celebrated on the 10th day of Tishrei. The following day - the 11th day of Tishrei, Moses gathered the people and instructed them to bring materials for the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle - Portable Temple). They did this for two days as is indicated by the double language 'In the morning, in the morning (Exodus 36:3).' So they gathered materials on the 12th and 13th days of Tishrei. On the 14th of Tishrei, the raw materials were counted and divided up among the various artisans. Finally, on the 15th day of Tishrei, construction began and the clouds of glory returned. Amazingly, the 15th day of Tishrei is the day that the Torah commands us to observe Sukkot.

Sukkot does not celebrate the original protective clouds of glory, but rather, celebrates the return of the clouds of glory. On Sukkot, we celebrate not our initial relationship with God, but the reparation of our relationship with God. We are overjoyed that we can again feel close to God and enjoy His protection. We therefore refer to Sukkot as our time of joy. It therefore makes sense that Sukkot follows Yom Kippur. We celebrate confidently, knowing that we have repaired our relationship with the Divine.

Ki Tavo / Naitzavim / Vayelech

Don't Get Old, Grow Old

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Colonel Sanders was well over sixty when he made it big with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Before that, he simply sold chicken and other food at a service station in Corbin, Kentucky. When the Interstate 75 was built, diverting traffic away from his restaurant, his business was close to failing. Yet Sanders believed that he could do it. Instead of despairing or muddling through somehow, he adapted. He walked the long miles, pitching his unique recipe and was knocked back 1009 times before someone decided to give him a chance to build what is now known today as the highly successful food chain KFC. Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu – conceived Isaac, the forebearer of Israel, the Jewish Nation which brought monotheism, law, morality and ethics such as the ten commandments to all humanity - at the ages of one hundred and ninety respectively.

Colonel Sanders, and Avraham and Sarah, about whom we read on Rosh Hashanah, all teach us one fundamental life lesson. There is no direct correlation between age and productivity. While many people are most productive and successful as young or middle-aged adults, many are more successful in their more senior years. Which years will be most fruitful? One never knows and therefore one should never stop producing. “In the morning sow your seeds and in the evening do not rest your hands.” Of this verse from Ecclesiastes our sages explain that just as one learns and teaches Torah when one is young, one should learn and teach Torah when one is old. If one has children when one is young, one should have children when one is old. Who knows which will be more successful? Rabbi Akiva had 24000 students in his younger years and all 24000 died in a plague. He then taught five students in his later years and it was these students who formed the link in the chain of transmission of the Torah to the next generation.

Our Sages are teaching us that we need to be challenging ourselves, to be growing and to be producing constantly. We need to grow old, not get old. This is the message of Avraham and Sarah. In Torah thinking retirement from the corporate/working world is a voluntary privilege, but retirement from growing spiritually, developing one’s character, having dreams, goals, aspirations and being a contributing member of society is forbidden. Every day provides us with experiences that enable us to become wiser, a better spouse, a better parent and a greater member of the community. It is no wonder our Rabbi’s teach us that the Hebrew word for an elderly person, zakein, is an acronym for “zeh shekanah chochma” – the one who has acquired wisdom.

A year has passed since last Rosh Hashanah and we are all one year older. The question that Rosh Hashanah asks is not whether we are getting older, but rather whether we are growing older. This Rosh Hashanah we should commit ourselves to exit the mindset of retirement and commit ourselves to growing and thriving, irrespective of our ages or past accomplishments. In the merit of this commitment may God grant us another year of good health, wealth, happiness and productivity. Shana Tova!

Shoftim / Ki Teitzei

LIVING WITH GOD

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“Be tamim (wholehearted) with the Lord, your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13)

The Torah instructs us to be tamim (wholehearted) with God, but what exactly is this verse instructing us to do? There are explicit commands to love, fear, and serve God so being tamim (wholehearted) with God must indicate something different.


Rashi quoting the Sifri explains “Conduct yourself with Him with simplicity and depend on Him, and do not inquire of the future; rather, accept whatever happens to you with simplicity and then, you will be with Him and to His portion.” In line with this explanation the Code of Jewish Law states that it is forbidden to consult with astrologers, sorcerers and the like regarding the future. (Shulchan Aruch YD: 179:1)

There is a natural human need for security and control. The future is uncertain and somewhat out of our control leaving us with worry and fear. We would like to know the future in order to prepare ourselves for future events and gain some control. To alleviate our discomfort with an uncertain future we approach astrologers and fortunetellers.

The Torah forbids us to alleviate our anxiety regarding the future by consulting fortune tellers and astrologers. Rather we are to relieve our fear and worry by placing our trust completely in God with the firm knowledge that everything that will occur in the future emanates from Him and is for our ultimate good. Additionally, the Ramban explains that we are to know and believe that the future is not static. Our deeds and behavior affect the future and God can and does change things at will. We are not to be fatalistic but rather to live with God and pray for our futures and the future of others.

Furthermore, our sages teach us that when we put our reliance and faith in God almighty we are elevated above the fatalistic world of nature into the world of the miraculous where all is possible. Our charge is to rely on and trust in God and therefore literally have Him at our side and therefore be confident in the knowledge that all our life experiences and occurrences are ultimately engineered by God for our good!

Eikev / Re'eh

ROSH HASHANAH PREPARATION

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim


With just over a month to Rosh Hashanah we begin to focus on the Day of Judgment. In the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah we say that repentance, prayer and charity remove the harshness of the decree. We are being advised to involve ourselves in these three activities to mitigate harsh judgment. In our weekly Torah reading in Parshat Re’eh we find the commandments of giving charity, so our focus will be on this aspect of our preparation for Rosh Hashanah. Why does giving charity mitigate harsh judgments?

Rabbi Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa explains that a poor person is experiencing a level of God’s attribute of judgment (often for reasons beyond our understanding) and therefore experiences a withholding of blessing. The wealthier person on the other hand has experienced God’s attribute of compassion (also often for reasons beyond our understanding) and has therefore received merciful blessing. Through giving to the poor, the giver essentially mitigates the harsh attribute of justice effective on the poor person by an act of compassion (using the merciful blessings they received from God.) In this way giving charity is in fact the attribute of compassion overcoming the attribute of judgment.

When God sees us giving from our resources with compassion and easing the burden of others experiencing judgment and constriction, God in turn showers compassion upon us and mitigates our judgments. This is why charity has the power to mitigate harsh judgments. Based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov we can understand the process differently. The mitzvah of charity requires that we overcome our own judgments and tendency to withhold our hard-earned resources and give to others. This internal work requires us to use our internal attribute of compassion to overcome our internal attribute of judgment. When we accomplish this God uses his attribute of compassion to overcome His judgments.

May we merit to give and emulate God’s ways and in so doing merit the great blessings God promises in Parshat Re’eh “You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this thing the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors.” (Deuteronomy 15: 10)

Devarim / Va’etchanan

THE ROOT OF BASELESS HATRED

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Our sages teach us that the second temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. Since baseless hatred was the cause of the destruction of the temple it behooves us to understand baseless hatred and avoid this catastrophic sin. Hatred is something very understandable and most of us have probably experienced an emotion which we would define as hatred at some point in our lives. The difficulty lies in understanding the notion of baseless hatred. When we feel threatened by another or if we are harmed or mistreated by another, we may feel hatred towards the perpetrator of the threat or the harm. Our hatred is ignited by a specific stimulus, a perceived threat or sustaining physical or emotional harm. Whether the reason is justified or unjustified there is a reason for hatred. What then is the meaning of baseless hatred?

 

We can better understand this with an enlightening, and in many ways frightening, statement of the Vilna Gaon, “Someone who’s heart is filled with the attribute of trust (in God), even though he transgresses severe transgressions, is better than one who is lacking trust (in God) because through this he comes to jealousy and hatred, even though he is involved in Torah and good deeds, because all this is just to boost his name.” It is true that when we believe that we have to get ahead of others in order to succeed in life, we will naturally feel jealousy and hatred toward those we perceive as our competitors. It is also true that when we are harmed by others, we feel hatred and resentment towards the perpetrator. Nonetheless this hatred is considered baseless. It is baseless because when we truly trust God we know that we get what is good for us. It is baseless because when we truly trust God, we will not feel threatened by any other human being. It is baseless because when we truly trust God, we realize that those harming us are merely the staff which God is using to teach us the life lessons we need to learn.

 

Our charge during this time period is to work on ways to increase our trust in God and free ourselves from baseless hatred. May we thus merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash soon in our days.

Pinchas / Matot-Massei

A MAN WHO HAS SPIRIT WITHIN HIM?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: Let the Lord, the God of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd. The Lord said to Moses, “Take for yourself Joshua, the son of Nun, a man of spirit, and you shall lay your hand upon him.” (Bamidbar 27, 15-18)

Moses approaches God and asks him to appoint a new leader for the Jewish people to lead them into the promised land. His use of the rarely used expression “Lord, the God of spirits of all flesh” in this context requires further explanation. God responds that Joshua should become the new leader and that he is indeed a man of spirit. The term “a man of spirit” also requires further explanation.

Rashi explains that Moses was in fact asking God for a leader with a specific character trait. He was effectively saying to God: “God, you created all these different people and know how each of them is unique. Please appoint a leader who is able to deal with each person based on their individual personalities.” God responds by saying that Joshua should be chosen because he has the ability to relate to each individual person.

Rabbi Yisroel Miller points out that the ability to relate to different people requires empathy. One has to have the ability to put oneself in the other’s position and feel and view life from their vantage point. Moses felt for each individual and felt their pain. He was thus able to constantly look for mitigating factors in defense of the nation and plead to God on their behalf for forgiveness. Empathy is not a character trait that is either naturally present or naturally absent. It is a character trait which we can and should always and actively work to develop and improve. In so doing we will also become greater leaders in our personal, family and national lives.
date this content.

Chukat / Balak

Dealing With Setbacks On The Road

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“They journeyed from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to circle the land of Edom, and the people became impatient because of the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this desert, for there is no bread and no water, and we are disgusted with this rotten bread." Bamidbar (21,4-5)

The Torah relates that after the passing of Aharon on Mount Hor, the Jewish people were commanded travel away from the Land of Israel in the direction of Egypt before their final journey to enter the Land of Israel. As a result of this travel ‘setback’ the people became impatient, frustrated and disheartened. The nation’s anger is projected towards Moses, and they accuse him of bringing them up from Egypt to die in the desert. God sends venomous snakes which attack and kill a great number of people. The nation recognize their rebellion against Moses and God and ask Moses help them stop the plague. The Torah described how God commands Moses to remove the plague from their midst.

The Torah records these events to teach us an important life lesson. We are all on a life journey to fulfill certain goals and aspirations. When everything is going according to plan and we seem to be moving in the ‘right’ direction we are naturally elated. However, as we all know, obstacles and challenges present themselves on our journey through life. We often have to take a few steps backwards before resuming our journey. We then have a choice. We can become angry, frustrated and disheartened and rebel against God for presenting us with these challenges or we could choose to embrace our challenges with faith, acceptance of what is, and resolve to overcome challenges and return to our life destinations.

For a person of faith, life’s challenges and setbacks are an opportunity to notice our tendency to become negative, complain and give up. The choice can then be made to strengthen our faith that somehow all life’s obstacles and challenges are divinely orchestrated for our ultimate good. Let us learn to embrace life’s road with all its twists, turns and setbacks. Perhaps that is life’s true goal and destination!

Shlach / Korach

ONLY THE FACTS ARE THE FACTS

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

In Parshat Shelach, the spies were sent into Israel and returned with a report stating that, although the land was flowing with milk and honey, the local inhabitants were powerful giants. They further advised that the Jewish people had no chance of conquering the land from the local inhabitants.

They expressed their sentiment by saying, “There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes (Bamidbar 13:34.) The Midrash explains that God could forgive them for saying that they felt like grasshoppers but would not forgive them for saying “and so we were in their eyes.” I believe the Midrash is teaching us a value lesson. Their expressing inadequate feelings was factual; That was the way they truly felt. However, the implication that in the eyes of others they appeared to be “grasshoppers” was not factual. It was simply their impression of how they appeared to others.

Similarly, their opinion that the Jewish people would be defeated by the local inhabitants was not factual, it was simply an opinion. I imagine that the statisticians would have predicted the destruction of the State of Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. That would have simply been an opinion, not a fact. The fact is that, thank God, the Jewish people won all these wars in convincing fashion.

Similarly, I recently saw a response by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein where he states that from the fact that the Torah exempts women from certain Mitzvot one cannot imply anything regarding spiritual standing of women. He maintains that they are of equal spiritual standing and brings a number of proof texts. The fact is that men and women have different roles and obligations in the Torah. Implying anything more is simply opinion at best and very often false.

In relationships it is critical to distinguish between fact and implication/opinion. Someone says something and we often immediately assume and imply things that they never intended in the first instance. This is a common cause of arguments, strife and resentment among people.

Our charge is to very clearly distinguish between the actual facts and opinions/implications. Only the facts are factual!

Vayakel/Pikudei

WHY THE REPETITION?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The last two Torah portions of the Book of Exodus (Vayakel and Pikudei) describe, in detail, the construction of the Tabernacle, the vessels of the tabernacle (ark, menorah, alter…), and the clothing the priests are to wear while serving in the Tabernacle. The difficulty is that the preceding Torah portions (Terumah, Tetzaveh, Ki Tisa) already contain detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, its vessels, and the clothing of the priests. In light of our tradition, that every letter and word in the Torah is there for a reason, the seemingly redundant repetition of the details of the construction of the Tabenacle is perplexing.

Ramban (Nachmanedes) suggests that the initial instructions which God taught Moses concerning the construction of the Tabernacle were taught to Moses on Mt. Sinai, when Moses ascended to receive the first tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Upon Moses’s descent, he saw the Jewish people serving the golden calf and broke the first set of tablets. Around eighty days later, God forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf and Moses again descended Mt. Sinai with the second set of tablets. Upon Moses’ descent, he gathered the entire nation and informed them of God’s initial detailed instructions regarding building the Tabernacle.

Moses did this to impress upon the nation that God had forgiven them, that He desired to dwell amongst them and be present in their lives, and that their initial loving relationship had been restored. It seems to me, that every detail had to be shared with the entire nation at this juncture to teach the following fundamental lessons: 1) No matter how far one has strayed from God, complete reparation is possible and desired by God; One should never feel or think that one cannot completely repair one’s relationship with God, and 2) Closeness to God and the Tabernacle is not solely the domain of a select group of priests or artisans; God wants every person to feel that the Tabernacle represents them and understand that the Tabernacle’s purpose was to bring Godliness into the lives of every single individual.

Tetzaveh/Ki Tisa

WASHING HANDS - CLEANLINESS AND HOLINESS

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Code of Jewish Law instructs us to wash our hands each morning and recite the blessing “Blessed are you… upon washing of hands.” There are a number of reasons given for this law. The Code of Jewish Law explains that when we sleep at night an impure spirit rests on our hands and in order to remove it we wash each hand three times from a vessel alternating hands (first the right, then the left). Rosh (Rabbi Asher Ben Yechiel, 1250 -1327) suggests that since it is only appropriate to recite one’s morning prayers with clean hands, one should wash one’s hands which may have touched unclean body parts during the night.

Rashba (Shlomo ben Aderet, 1235–1310) offers a different interpretation based on a Mitzvah in Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30,19). There is a positive commandment for a Cohen to wash his hands and feet from a large copper vessel in the morning before performing the temple service. The Cohen washing his hands and feet had nothing to do with physical cleanliness. The Cohen would sanctify and dedicate his physical activity for that day to God (symbolized by the hands and feet) by washing his hands each morning before serving in the temple.

The Rashba says that each morning we arise like new creatures, obligating us to thank God for creating us to serve Him and bless His name. We, therefore, begin each day sanctifying ourselves (as a Cohen) by washing our hands with a vessel (like a Cohen would) from the copper washstand in the temple courtyard. Washing our hands in this way each morning is the Jewish way of thanking God for giving us another day of life in His service.

In his Mishna Berura, the Chofetz Chaim explains that the Halacha follows the opinion of both the Rashba and the Rosh (there are practical differences between them beyond the scope of this D’var Torah.) Philosophically speaking, this implies that both physical cleanliness and spiritual sanctification are essential preparations for the service of God. Let us start each day with these preparations in gratitude to God for yet another day in His service.

Mishpatim/Terumah

THE MOST IMPORTANT CROWN

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

In Parshat Terumah the Torah describes the articles that were to be placed in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). A special awning (crown) was to be placed surrounding these vessels on their upper edges. These vessels were: the ark containing the Torah and the Ten Commandments, the table upon which the showbread was arranged, and the golden incense alter. Our sages relate these crowns to three areas of greatness. The crown upon the the ark represents the crown of Torah, the crown upon the table represents the crown of kingship, and the crown upon the incense alter represents the crown of priesthood (Kehunah.) The crowns of kingship and priesthood both have hereditary limitations; To be a priest one must be a descendent of Aron, and to be a king one must be a descendent of King David. The crown of Torah is open to every human being. Anyone dedicating themselves to character development and deep Torah study can merit this crown.

Maharal explains that priesthood is the crown of bodily sanctification, kingship is the crown of emotional sanctification, and Torah is the crown of spiritual and intellectual sanctification. This explains why our sages teach us that the greatest crown of all is the crown of Torah - spiritual sanctification is the highest level of sanctification. Torah is the greatest crown. In Ethics of the Fathers, our sages introduce the idea of a forth crown (the crown of a good name) and state emphatically that the crown of a good name is the greatest of all the crowns. This teaching leaves us with a number of questions. What exactly is this crown of a good name? How does one attain this good name? Why is a good name the greatest crown?

Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura explains that a good name is acquired through doing good deeds. Through performing good deeds and conducting oneself in an ethical fashion, one acquires a good name. Without a good name, Torah scholars, priests, and kings are not worthy of respect and honor. Without a good name, all other crowns are disgraced and lost. A good name is the greatest crown, in the sense that all other crowns are dependent on the crown of a good name. Some commentators explain that the Menorah and its shining lights represent good deeds and, therefore, a good name is as is stated in Proverbs "Indeed a candle is a Mitzvah..." (Proverbs 6:23) Let us strengthen our commitment to performing great deeds and living according to the lofty ethical standards of our Torah.

Beshalach/Yitro

ALWAYS BE ARMED

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“God led the people around by way of the desert to the Red Sea, and the children of Israel were armed when they went up out of Egypt. Moses took Joseph's bones with him, for he [Joseph] had adjured the sons of Israel, saying, God will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you.” (Exodus 13:18-19)

The connection between the Israelites leaving Egypt armed and Moses removing the remains of Joseph from Egypt requires explanation. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (1550-1619) addresses this issue in his commentary Kli Yakar. He explains that, just as the Jewish people would take the Holy Ark containing the tablets of the Ten Commandments with them to war (symbolizing that the merit of the Torah protected them and assisted them in defeating their enemies), so, too, before the giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai, spiritual protection was essential for their victory. Joseph, who was an incredibly righteous individual, had the Ten Commandments spiritually etched on his bones. The Torah teaches us that Moses considered the spiritual merits of our nation to be essential weapons in our national security and success.

By collecting Joseph’s remains upon leaving Egypt, Moses teaches us a critical lesson. Although we are obligated to arm ourselves with physical weapons, we are never to forget that the nation of Israel needs spiritual weapons for its protection as well. Without the spiritual weaponry of Torah and mitzvot, our national security would be significantly compromised, heaven forbid.

We are fortunate to live in a time when the Israel Defense Force is well armed and at the cutting edge of military technology. However, we dare not forget that there were times when Israel was militarily weaker than our neighboring nations who attempted to destroy us on numerous occasions. God saw the spiritual merit of our nation and, miraculously, protected Israel. Even today, with our powerful army, we need to understand that our ultimate protection comes only from God and that our spiritual armament is as essential as ever.

Vaeira/Bo

MOSES AND PHARAOH - THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah relates how Aron and Moses approached Pharaoh over and over again demanding that he allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt.  Pharaoh refuses and is then warned that he and his people will be afflicted with a plague. Moses and Aron approach Pharaoh as they please and, after threatening him, leave Pharaoh’s presence unharmed. Rabbi Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch asks the following: Pharaoh was the leader of the mighty Egyptian empire. Why on earth does he allow Moses and Aron open access to him and why does he tolerate their constant threats? Surely, he should have and could have simply commanded that Aron and Moses be eliminated.

Rabbi Bloch answers as follows: When one is involved in a war situation or a physical conflict with others, physically eliminating one’s opponent is a sign of strength. However, when one is involved in a philosophical conflict, physically eliminating one’s opponent is a sign of weakness and defeat. Pharaoh and Moses were engaged in a deep and intense philosophical dispute. They were debating whether or not the universe had a creator, whether or not the creator was still involved in the universe, and whether or not the creator guides the course of history. Each plague related to the subject matter that was being discussed in the corresponding debate. On each level, Pharaoh, the skeptical genius, is defeated and the argument shifts to the next level.

The reason we read these sections of the Torah annually is not simply to remember our history. We read these sections because within each and every one of us is a Moses and a Pharaoh competing for supremacy. The struggle is ongoing and we are always left with the choice of either accepting the miraculous hand of God at work or skeptically attributing life events to random or natural phenomena. Our sages point out that even the splitting of the Red Sea could possibly be explained as a natural occurrence. The Torah itself states that a great easterly wind blew the entire night before the splitting of the sea. There is always room to deny God’s involvement in the world; This is essential for man’s struggle towards recognizing God’s hand in our “natural” universe.

We learn Torat Moshe (The Torah of Moses) to give us the tools, strength, and faith necessary to defeat Pharaoh’s ideology. May we be successful in this endeavor.

Vayechi/Shemot

YOSEF, YEHUDAH, AND CHANUKAH

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

At the time of Chanukah the Greek empire attempted to assimilate the Jewish people into their naturalistic, Godless belief system. They made decrees against Torah study, circumcision and other such decrees, in an attempt to rid the Jewish people of their belief in the transcendent (holy) and spiritual. We celebrate that a number of young zealous priests (the Maccabees) fought for their religious freedom and thereby reversed the trend towards total assimilation.

Here in America we are fortunate to live in a land with religious freedom for all. We are, thank God, not subject to religious oppression of any kind. Despite tremendous religious freedoms, assimilation has unfortunately taken a toll on the Jewish people. While legally religious freedom has been granted to all, there are clearly other forces in modern society undermining religious belief and observance. Clearly religious freedom will not secure the future of Judaism. So what does secure the Jewish future?

“He had sent Yehudah ahead of him to Yosef, to point the way before him to Goshen. So when they came to the region of Goshen” (Genesis 46:28) Before Jacob returns to Egypt he sends Yehudah to Goshen to pave the way for their arrival. Our sages explain that Ya’akov instructed Yosef to set up a Yeshiva so that upon their arrival there would be a place for the Torah to be studied and taught. Ya’akov understood that the secret to our national spiritual survival was Torah study and education.

One of our commentators, Bnei Yisaschar, suggests that the letters on the Chanukah dreidel Nun, Gimel, Heh and Shin which stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham have their origin in the Hebrew word used in the above verse Goshnah meaning (to the city of Goshen.) The secret of the dreidel which represents survival of our nation from spiritual assimilation is the Yeshiva which is to be founded in Goshen.

When we bless our children on Friday night we say “May Hashem make you like Efraim and Menashe.” Efraim and Menashe were Yosef’s two sons. Why do we bless our children specifically to be like Yosef’s two sons? Our commentators point out that Efraim and Menashe unlike the other sons and grandsons of Ya’akov grew up in an Egyptian hedonist and paganist culture. Nonetheless Yosef was successful in bringing up these two sons to be true to the religious traditions of Ya’akov’s family. We bless our children to have the strength and fortitude to hold on to our religious beliefs and practices. May Hashem bless us all with the strength and fortitude to proudly kindle the lights of our awesome tradition!

Sat, June 6 2020 14 Sivan 5780