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Tetzaveh/Ki Tisa


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.



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.



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.



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.



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!



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a fine woolen coat. And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully (Genesis 37,3-4.)

The important lesson that emerges from the above verses is pointed out in Tractate Shabbat (a book dedicated to the laws of Shabbat) of the Talmud. A person should never treat one child differently from his/her other children. The small amount of fine wool that Jacob gave to Joseph and not to his other sons caused his other sons to hate Joseph and, ultimately, led to the bondage in Egypt. Another powerful takeaway message is that not everything that is felt should be expressed.

Joseph’s brothers hated him so much that they could not even greet him and speak to him in a nice way. On the surface of this, one might assume that the Torah is expressing how bad the brothers were. Not only did they hate him in their hearts, but they also expressed this hatred towards him. Rashi, however, quoting our sages, says that the Torah is in fact speaking positively about Joseph’s brothers. They were not false people – they were not one way in their hearts and a different way in their mouths. They called “a spade a spade” and were truthful, honest people.

It is clear from the above that we are to act with integrity and ensure there is a consistency between the way we feel about people and the way we treat them. However, not every feeling and emotion needs to or should be expressed, especially when withholding such expression will not compromise our integrity.  In such instances, we must be careful not to express our feelings and emotions in ways that will hurt others and create unnecessary discord.



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

 “And Isaac loved (Vaye’ehav) Esau because game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loves (Oheves) Jacob.” (Genesis 25:28) This verse describes the love of Isaac and Rebecca towards their children, Esau and Jacob. A closer look at the language of the verse reveals two subtle but very revealing distinctions.

When describing Isaac’s love for Esau, the Torah uses the future conjugation of the Hebrew root Ahav (meaning love) and adds a conjunction letter so that the future form becomes past tense and,  therefore, reads “And Isaac loved (Vaye’ehav) Esau…” However, when describing the love of Rebecca for Jacob, the Torah uses the present tense form “…but Rebecca loves (Oheves) Jacob.” Additionally, the Torah gives a reason for Isaac’s love of Esau but provides no reason for Esau’s love of Rebecca. What is the reason for these textual differences?

Isaac saw great future potential in Esau. He saw his potential to serve God while being involved in hunting (the material world.) He envisioned a world in which Esau would partner with Jacob, providing Jacob with the physical sustenance necessary to pursue greater spiritual heights. Isaac did not love Esau for what he was but, rather, loved him for what he anticipated Esau could accomplish in the future. Rebecca, on the other hand, loved Jacob’s essence. She simply loved his essence without any external reason and without any future expectations or demands. In the end, when Isaac realizes his mistaken future vision of Esau, his love for Esau becomes a thing of the past. Rebecca’s love for Jacob, on the other hand, endures.

I think there is a very important life lesson here: Love towards a person that is in any way dependent on the person changing his/her behavior in the future, is doomed to failure. Only love that is based on what is present here and now will endure. It is common for people to remain in relationships with the delusion that in the future they will change their partners. Loving a person for how he/she is now and accepting his/her deficiencies (which we all have) completely are the ingredients necessary for true lasting love.

Vayeira/Chayei Sarah


By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

God is about to destroy the wicked inhabitants of Sedom as well as its surrounding cities and informs Abraham of His intentions. Abraham beseeches God to save the cities. He first asks God if He would agree to save the cities if fifty righteous people could be found. God agrees and then Abraham asks God if He would agree to save the cities if only forty-five people could be found. God agrees and then Abraham asks God if He would agree to save the cities if only forty people could be found. This cycle continues until God agrees to save a city even if only ten righteous people could be found.

The Telze Rov, Rabbi Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch, points out that Abraham’s interaction with God seems somewhat strange. If Abraham felt that, perhaps, God would agree to save a city with ten righteous individuals, then why not begin with ten? Then, if God declines the request, try and renegotiate at twenty and so on. If Abraham felt that God would only save the cities if there were fifty righteous individuals, then why does Abraham ask for more once God grants his initial request?

Rabbi Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch answers that Abraham initially felt that God would not agree to save the cities if there were fewer than fifty righteous individuals. Therefore, he did not bother praying for fewer than fifty righteous individuals. However, once Abraham connected deeply to God in prayer, Abraham’s perception of God changed. He realized God’s love and compassion on an even deeper level and then felt that perhaps God would save the cities if there were forty-five righteous people. Abraham again proceeded to connect with God in prayer and then gained even deeper insight in to God’s love and compassion and therefore was able to ask God to save cities for forty righteous people. In this way, Abraham’s interaction with God continued.

The above explanation helps us to understand a common question: Why pray for a particular result? If a particular result is good for a person, God will deliver that result with or without prayer, so why pray? When we sincerely pray to God, we change and transform ourselves. We become different people and our perception of God matures. A particular result may not have been appropriate for person A (the individual before prayer), but may be appropriate for person B (the individual transformed through prayer.) God does not need our prayers. He commands us to pray to change ourselves and to help us grow and mature in our understanding and connection to Him.

Parshat Noach and Parshat Lech Lecha


By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“And the Lord said, "I will blot out man, whom I created, from upon the face of the earth, from man to cattle to creeping thing, to the fowl of the heavens, for I regret that I made them." And Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6, 7-8)

From these verses, our sages in the Midrash understand that even Noah did not merit, in his own right, to be saved from the destruction of the world. The only reason he survived was because he somehow found favor in the eyes of God; It is interesting to note that this is reflected in Noah’s name. In Hebrew, Noah’s name is comprised of the Hebrew letters chet and nun, which also spell out the Hebrew word chen (meaning favor or grace).

The Hebrew word for free/undeserving is chinam, which shares the first two letters of the word chen (meaning grace). One of the thirteen attributes of mercy is that God is chanun, meaning that we appeal to God to extend mercy upon us and to help us even though we do not truly deserve God’s kindness. Our forefathers understood the tremendous importance of being a recipient of God’s deep compassion and, therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all blessed their children to have the attributes necessary to draw on this deep level of undeserved kindness from God.

None of us can say we truly deserve anything and we could never repay God for the gift of even one moment of life. It is therefore important for us to discover ways to find favor (chen) in the eyes of God and to thereby merit God’s divine grace (chen.) How do we go about attaining grace and favor in God’s eyes and in the eyes of others?

Our sages learn from a verse in the book of Proverbs that studying Torah in a deep and profound way brings grace and favor to a person. Deep Torah study brings a person grace. I would like to suggest an additional technique to bring a person chen. Often in our interpersonal relationships we tend to feel the need for reciprocity. If we give more than someone else does we feel that that person is no longer deserving of our benevolence. If we were to suspend our balance sheets and simply focus on something good or special in another person and continue to bestow kindness despite the lack of reciprocity we would be emulating God’s attribute of chen. We know that God’s interaction with us is always exactly measure for measure. When we show this benevolence God too will suspend all balance sheets and focus on the good within us. We will thereby merit divine grace and favor.

Sukkot 2018


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 by 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 noticeable 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, rather, it 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. Thus, we refer to Sukkot as our time of joy. Therefore, it makes sense that Sukkot follows Yom Kippur. We celebrate confidently, knowing that we have repaired our relationship with the Divine.


A Question For After 120

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“You shall not commit a perversion of justice with measures, weights, or liquid measures. You shall have true scales, true weights…. I am the Lord, your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19, 35-36.) This verse in Parshat Kedoshim speaks of the imperative of being honest and upfront in one’s business dealings.

The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) states that one of the first questions we will be asked when we leave this world, after 120 years is: Did you conduct your business dealings with Emunah (faith or faithfulness)? The simple meaning is obvious. We will be asked whether we were honest and faithful in our business dealings.

A number of Rabbis with a deeper understanding of this explain Talmudic text. The question is not simply whether we dealt faithfully in business but, rather, whether our business dealings were done with faith in God. Did we understand and believe that our successes and failures in our business endeavors were in the hands of God? Did we truly believe that our livelihood was dependent upon God? Did we believe that every person got what he/she needed to accomplish his/her spiritual task on Earth? These are the questions that will be asked of us after our 120 year sojourn on planet Earth.

When one begins to consider the matter more deeply, one realizes that the simple understanding of the Talmud and the deeper understanding of the Talmud are, in fact, strongly correlated. When one truly believes that God is watching over us, that our livelihoods are dependent upon Him alone, and that we will all be blessed according to what is, indeed, best for us, then honesty and integrity in business follows naturally. It is then obvious to us that dishonesty will not benefit us in any way. We become acutely aware that only honest gains carry God’s divine blessing.

Friends, let us together work on infusing our business dealings with faith in God and, thereby, manifest faithfulness, honesty, and integrity towards our fellow man/woman.




It’s Not Chess Without the Rules

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“And Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)

On the day that the tabernacle was erected, and God’s presence had descended, Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu were inspired to bring incense offerings before God. Aaron’s children were seemingly performing an act of service of God. It is difficult to understand their fatal error.

Our Rabbis point out many different misgivings performed by Nadav and Avihu. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that their most fundamental error is clearly recorded in the text: “which He had not commanded them.” When we serve o-d in the way that we choose to serve God, our service is not an act of obedience, but rather an act of spiritual self-gratification. The role of the priests in public temple services is to show obedience as the nation’s representatives to serve God. The good of the nation and fostering obedience towards God is of primary importance. Just like our physical desires need to be harnessed, so too our spiritual inspiration has to be harnessed. True service is when we are serving God and not our personal physical or spiritual aspirations.

When we express our individuality within the framework of the rules and guidelines set aside by God, the divine presence descends and all is well. I once heard a great analogy with the game of chess. If your opponent does not adhere to the rules of the game, it is unpleasant and the game simply doesn’t work. When both players adhere to the rules, the game works and is challenging and stimulating. Although the game has very specific rules limiting the movement of various pieces in different ways, you very rarely see two games of chess played exactly the same way. Each player is able to express their individual expression within the rules of the game. The same is true with Judaism. The Torah rules structure the practice of Judaism, but within the framework of the rules there are infinite ways to express individuality. It’s not chess without the rules and it’s not Judaism without the Torah’s commandments.


Just Do It - Give

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

"Every man whose heart uplifted him came, and everyone whose spirit inspired him to generosity, brought the offering of the Lord for the work of the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments." (Exodus 35:21)

This verse divides those who were inspired to donate to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) into two distinct categories: those "whose heart uplifted him" and those "whose spirit inspired him." Many commentators endeavor to explain the difference between these two categories of people.

The Netziv explains that these categories refer to two different motivations for giving. The first category refers to people who are motivated to give to good causes with ulterior motives. They give to avoid being embarrassed by others or for fear of divine punishment for not giving. The second category is those that give because their intellect and good spirited nature inspires them to give.

Clearly the second motivation to give is a significantly higher level than the first motivation. Nonetheless, it is the view of our Sages that we should not discard or put down completely those who give with ulterior motives. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that the very act of giving changes the person giving and in time motivates the person to give willingly with a generous spirit. Giving is also something that takes practice and repetition to perfect.

Additionally, the Netziv points out that although one’s initial motivation to give may not be the purest, once one has decided to give, one proceeds to give with a pure heart. This is why a few verses later, the Torah tells us: "Every man and woman whose heart inspired them to generosity to bring for all the work that the Lord had commanded to make, through Moses, the children of Israel brought a gift for the Lord." (Exodus 35:21) Their initial intentions may have been impure but when they gave, they gave for the sake of the Lord.

In time we come to realize that we are not giving at all. We are receiving the greatest gift, the gift of giving.

Tetzaveh/Ki Tisa

Who should pray?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

There is a dispute among our early commentators as to whether or not daily prayer is a Biblical obligation. However, all commentators agree that praying when in crisis or going through troubling times is a biblical obligation. Both men and women are obligated to pour their hearts out to God in times of difficulty.

We pray directly to God and not through any intermediary. Every truthful, heartfelt prayer before God is meaningful and heard by God. I once heard that someone visiting Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, of blessed memory, mentioned that he was going to pray at the Western Wall. The Rabbi asked his visitor to pray for him as well. The Rabbi was teaching his visitor that the sincere prayer of an average person is also meaningful and powerful.

Having said this, we find an interesting teaching in the Talmud. “Someone who has a sick person within their household should go to a wise (righteous) man and ask compassion for him…” (Baba Batra 116a.)

Why go to the righteous man? If all sincere prayers are accepted, then shouldn't we simply pray ourselves? I believe the answer to this question is that we need to recognize that there are some learned and extremely pious individuals that are more spiritually developed than we are. As a consequence of their closer relationship with God and their deep understanding of the workings of the spiritual world, they are able to pray with more intention, power, and effectivity than the average person. This is why the Talmud instructs us to approach a righteous man to pray for our cause.

 In Parshat Ki Tisa, after the sin of the golden calf, God tells Moses that he will destroy the Jewish people in a moment and build a new nation through Moses. Moses pleads to God on behalf of the people who are in mortal danger and appeases God to give them another chance. This is the very same model of the righteous man accomplishing more through his prayers than others are able to do on their own. 

It is important to point out that this does not exempt or minimize our obligation to pray in troubled times. As Rabbi Sholmo Zalman Auerbach taught us, every prayer counts and we need to flood the heavens with prayers for compassion. May God answer all our prayers and help us in overcoming challenges.


The Essential Character of Torah

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

At the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Torah describes how God appeared to Moses and the elders of Israel in the following perplexing verse:

“And they perceived the God of Israel, and beneath His feet was like the forming of a sapphire brick and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity (purity).” (Exodus 24:10)

The symbolism of the sapphire brick formation and the heavenly clarity, described as being under the feet of God, requires explanation. Rashi, based on the Midrash, explains that the sapphire brick formation represents the bricks formed by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt under conditions of back-breaking labor. These bricks were before God at this difficult time for the Hebrews. The heavenly clarity, on the other hand, represents the joy and light of the redemption that was before God at the time of the redemption. 

According to this interpretation, the elders perceived God’s feet resting upon the Jewish people’s painful exile and joyous redemption. What is the meaning of this? Why is this the way that God chooses to be perceived, particularly at the giving of the Torah (which took place almost two months after the exodus from Egypt)?

I would suggest the following explanation: God wanted the elders to perceive the essence of what motivated Him to give the Torah to the Jewish people as well as the essential nature of the Torah itself. The essential character of the Torah is not the commandments in and of themselves. The essential character of the Torah is that human beings have a close and intimate relationship with God. The commandments are the tools that create the optimal relationship and connection but are not the purpose in and of themselves.


The ‘Wow Factor’ and God’s World Plan

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Zohar on Parshat Yitro states that when one declares, as Yitro did, "And now we know that God is greater than all the other gods..." the name of God is honored and elevated. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains (Likutei Moharan Lesson 10) that the main revelation of God's greatness occurs when even idolaters come to realize that there is one God who governs and rules everything. When someone distant from God comes closer to the service of God, it creates a 'wow factor' that impresses us greatly. God's status is not only elevated in the eyes of the idolater but also in the eyes of the believer. The believer is both impressed, inspired and strengthened by the journey of the ex-idolater towards God.

I would suggest that one of the reasons the Torah teaches us about Yitro’s journey towards a recognition of the one, omnipresent, and omnipotent God is because ultimately this is God’s master plan for all humanity. We accept the yolk of heaven by reciting “Hear Israel, Hashem who is our God, Hashem is one.” Rashi interprets this verse as follows: Understand Israel that the one God whom you recognize will ultimately be recognized by all humanity. We conclude every prayer service with the messianic prophecy of Zechariah “And God will be king over all the world, on that day God will be one and His name will be one.” Our sages explain this to mean that while God is one, not all humanity recognize God. In the messianic age, all humanity will recognize God’s unity and return to Him.

We, the Jewish people are to be the catalyst in this process. Our role is to live exemplary, ethical lives in accordance with the dictates of the Torah and thereby be a light unto all the nations of the world. This role is both a great privilege and a tremendous responsibility. Let us assume this challenge and pray for a time when we are all elevated and inspired by the most distant people returning to the one and only God.


Looking Outwards, Looking Inwards

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

"So the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and He commanded them concerning the children of Israel and concerning Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to let the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. (Exodus 6,13)

Many commentators address a glaring difficulty in the above verse. It is understandable that Pharaoh should be commanded to free the children of Israel, but why should the children of Israel be commanded to free themselves? The Jerusalem Talmud addresses this difficulty and explains that the children of Israel were commanded in the Mitzvah of freeing Hebrew slaves. Therefore both Pharaoh and the children of Israel were commanded to free the children of Israel. While this explanation answers the difficulty in the verse, the timing of the Mitzvah of freeing slaves seems strange. Why was this Mitzvah not communicated to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai, together with all the other Mitzvoth?

Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, in his commentary Meshech Chochmah, explains that not all the tribes were enslaved equally in Egypt. Many of the tribes of Reuven, Shimon, and Levy were respected officials and noblemen and bought Hebrew slaves from their Egyptian oppressors. These tribes of the children of Israel were commanded to free their brethren before Pharaoh was commanded to free the children of Israel.

I believe this explanation carries within it an important take away lesson. We are very often guilty of the same behavior we accuse others of perpetuating. While the Egyptian oppressors were more cruel and brutal, the children of Israel themselves were guilty of enslaving one another, to a lesser degree. God was effectively telling the children of Israel that before he would deliver them from their oppressors, they should get their own house in order and stop oppressing one another. Let us use our judgment of others as a catalyst to seeing our own flaws and getting our own homes in order. God will then surely redeem us from our external oppressors.



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years, and Jacob's days, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty-seven years.” (Genesis 47:28)

Parshat Vayechi begins with the above verse. In the prior Torah reading, Parshat Vayigash, Yaakov goes down to Egypt and tells Pharaoh that he is one hundred and thirty years old. If the Torah would have simply stated that Yaakov lived for a hundred and forty-seven years we could have easily calculated that he spent the last seventeen years of his life in Egypt. Why then was it necessary for the Torah to write that he lived in Egypt for seventeen years?

Yaakov had lived an incredibly difficult life up until that point. For twenty-two years before his reunification with Yosef in Egypt he could not feel complete joy and was somewhat depressed. He could not prophesy in that time period because prophecy requires a tranquil and joyous state of mind and heart. The Torah therefore explains to us that his final seventeen years were good, happy and fulfilling years. The last seventeen years of his life were the best years of his life.

Malbim explains that after the Torah tells us that his last years were years of life, the Torah tells us that this great ending transformed his entire life retroactively. Since his last seventeen years were years of life and success, his entire life is considered to be one of true happiness, life and success. Malbim explains that when things are good, the suffering of the past is forgotten. I would add that when something ends in a good way one realizes that somehow one’s prior pain and suffering was a necessary process in the accomplishment of peace, happiness and tranquility.

One should never give up hope and always remember that a good, happy and successful end can turn everything around.



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Joseph’s behavior is very difficult to understand. As viceroy of Egypt, he has the means to contact his father but refrains from doing so. When his brothers come down to Egypt to buy food supplies, he puts them through an emotionally torturous ordeal. He imprisons his brother Shimon and will only release him, if the brothers return with their younger brother Binyamin, something he knows would be incredibly hard on his aging father. When Binyamin finally comes down to Egypt, he frees Shimon and sends them home. Yet, he tortures them once more by setting up Binyamin as a thief.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains Joseph’s calculation as follows: Joseph understood the importance of reuniting his family and deeply desired this unity.  However, he knew that for a real and meaningful unification he had to overcome his resentment towards his brothers and they had to realize and regret mistreating him in such a horrific way. Making contact with his family before mending the underlying resentments may have ended up destroying the family and hurting his father even more. His brothers lack of compassion as he cried out to them to save him was etched deep in his psyche. He knew that both he and they had work to do before a meaningful reunified family would be a remote possibility.

He does not put his brothers through difficulties for the purpose of torturing them, but rather, for the purpose of waking them up to see and regret their dreadful behavior towards him. Only upon observing their true regret and change was Joseph able to overcome his deep pain and resentment towards his brothers.

Joseph is struggling. On the one hand, he desperately desires a reunited loving family. On the other hand, he is honest with himself and realizes that, although he wants family harmony restored, it cannot happen until he is able to drop his deep seated resentment towards his brothers. He works towards this goal and is finally able to overcome his feelings of negativity towards his brothers and restore family peace and unity.

We learn from Joseph that our goal should always be harmony and peace. At the same time, we need to be real and honest with our feelings and work on ourselves to create true peace and harmony. This is our challenge!



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah describes Joseph’s ascendancy in the house of his master, Potiphar: “And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and whatever he (Joseph) did the Lord made prosper in his hand.” – Genesis 39, 3. Our tradition teaches us that Potiphar was not a righteous individual. How then did Potiphar see that God was with Joseph?

The Malbim explains that the answer is contained in the words “…and whatever he (Joseph) did the Lord made prosper in his hand.” Potiphar saw that Joseph was successful in endeavors with a very low probability of success and therefore concluded that this supernatural success resulted from God being with Joseph and blessing all his activities.

The Midrash Tanchuma offers a different explanation. Joseph would enter to serve Potiphar and whisper to himself “Master of the universe, my trust is in You, You are my solution. Let me find grace, kindness and compassion in Your eyes, in the eyes of all who see me and in Potiphar’s eyes.” Potiphar would inquire as to Joseph’s whispering and Joseph would explain that he was praying to God to find favor in Potiphar’s eyes. Throughout Joseph’s work activities the name of God would be upon his lips in prayer. According to this beautiful interpretation, Potiphar saw that Joseph was constantly connected to God in prayer.

Joseph teaches us that prayer is not only reserved to the domain of specific timeslots in the setting of a holy place. Prayer is a way of life, a deep realization of our complete dependence upon the almighty God, and therefore manifests in our daily work and activities. Talking to God is the domain of the bus, car and airplane. Praying for grace, kindness and compassion is the domain of a stroll on the beach, the doctor’s office, the workplace, the kitchen and all our daily activities. Let us learn from Joseph and turn our trust towards God to such a degree that it becomes apparent that God is indeed with us. 


Just When I Thought It Was Over!

 By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Rivka left her home environment to marry Yitzchak. She did so voluntarily. Nonetheless, this was surely not an easy move for her. She is then faced with another challenge. She struggles to conceive a child whom she no doubt desperately wants. Yitzchak prays to God and Rivka conceives. The stage is set for a happy ending. However, this was not to be. Rivka has such a troubling and painful pregnancy that she gets to the point where she wonders why she wanted to fall pregnant in the first place.

She gives birth to twins. Rivka sees the righteousness of her son Yaakov and the negative nature of her son Esau. Her challenge is that her husband Yitzchak sees things very differently - he loves Esau and wants him to be his primary heir. She devises a plan to deceive her blind husband into making Yaakov his primary heir. Esau is enraged and awaits his father’s death to kill his brother Yaakov. Rivka is forced to send her son away to her father’s house for safety and to marry there. The separation could not have been easy for Rivka and based on the calculation of our sages, it seems that Rivka never saw Yaakov again. This is a brief summary of Parshat Toldot.

Yaakov’s life follows a similar pattern. He is forced to leave home and is constantly deceived by his uncle Lavan. When Yaakov leaves Lavan's home, Lavan attempts to kill him. He has to then face Esau upon his return. Initially, Esau plans to harm Yaakov and his family; In the end, though, Esau softens his stance towards Yaakov. Yaakov’s daughter is raped and his beloved son Yosef, the apple of his eye, is abducted and separated from him for twenty-two years. Thank God for the happy ending of Yaakov reuniting with Yosef.

There is an important lesson here. Our national patriarchs’ and matriarchs’ lives were filled with challenges. Our sages teach us that what occurred to our ancestors is a mapping of what shall occur to their offspring. Have you ever noticed that just as one overcomes one particular challenge or difficult situation that another one presents itself and you say to yourself ‘When will it end? One difficult situation after the next!’ Rather than simply dealing with challenges as they arise and trying to avoid those challenges that are in our control to avoid, our disbelief and disappointment creates extra challenge and suffering. It is important for us to change our expectations and accept that this world is the world of growth and challenge. God designed it this way. The ironic thing is that this attitude of acceptance, itself, gives us the strength and peace of mind to negotiate life’s challenges more effectively. How does one know if one’s life work and challenge is over? If one is alive.

Vayeira/Chayei Sarah

Natural or Mechanical Kindness

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

It is interesting to note that there is nothing specific commanding us to perform acts of loving kindness. The Torah does not state: “Thou shall do acts of loving kindness.” The Torah does not explicitly command us on many of the specific acts of loving kindness that we all take for granted, such as visiting the sick or comforting mourners. So how do we know that we are, in fact, commanded to do so?

The sages of the Talmud explain that we learn that we are commanded to perform acts of loving kindness from the verse: “Thou shall walk in God’s ways.” (Deuteronomy 28,9) Just as God is kind, we are commanded to be kind. Just as God is gracious, we are commanded to be gracious. Just as God visits the sick, we are commanded to visit the sick. Just as God visits Abraham when he is sick after his circumcision, we are commanded to emulate God’s ways and do the same. Our obligation to perform acts of loving kindness stems from the obligation to emulate God’s ways. But why does the Torah command us to perform loving kindness in such a vague way? Why not simply command loving kindness and specific acts of loving kindness, such as visiting the sick?

This can be explained by a verse in the prophet Micha (6,8) ‘He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your God.’ The Chofetz Chaim points out that the prophet understood that God not only wants us to perform acts of loving kindness because we are commanded to do so, but also to love performing acts of loving kindness. We are commanded to become people who perform acts of loving kindness because that has become our nature and not people performing mechanical actions of kindness that we are commanded to perform.

Therefore, the Torah does not command us to perform loving kindness directly, but commands us, rather, to emulate God’s acts of loving kindness. God performs acts of loving kindness without any command or coercion simply because His essence is kindness. God is, similarly, commanding us to transform our essence in such a way that kindness flows from us naturally. To become such people is our challenge and divine calling.

Noach/Lech Lecha


By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah describes how Noah opened the window above the ark and sent out a raven. The raven did not venture out and circled the ark continuously. Rashi quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108b) that states that the raven refused to venture out fearing that Noah wanted to unite with the raven's mate, the female raven. Why would the Torah find it necessary to share this incident with us? What possible lesson can we learn from this irrational raven?

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108b) also teaches us that although all creatures were commanded not to engage in procreation in the ark, the raven was promiscuous and did not heed this warning. Maharal explains that although the raven acts instinctively and has no free will, we learn an important lesson regarding human nature from the raven. The raven irrationally projects its desires onto others. That is why the raven suspected Noah of desiring to cohabit with its mate.

We human beings do exactly the same thing. We often irrationally assume that our desires and worldview are shared by others. Making false assumptions based on our own desires and viewpoint is often a cause of stress in human relationships. The Torah is teaching us to become aware of this tendency and to use our human faculties to counter this tendency. One of the best ways to avoid this trap is to accustom oneself to ask others what they desire or for their viewpoint. This habit results in us being less focused on ourselves and more focused on others. This is the lesson of Noah’s raven.


By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

There was a little girl, whose father was a clergyman.

One day, she came to her father and said, "Daddy, can a person go their whole life without sinning?"

The father answered, "No, honey, I'm sorry, but that's just not possible."

"What about a year, daddy? Can a person go a whole year without sinning?" She continued.

"No, I don't think that's possible either."

"What about a day, can a person go a day without sinning once?"

"It's very unlikely. No, I don't think they can."

"What about one moment, daddy, can a person go one moment without sinning?"

"Yes, that is possible."

"Then daddy, I want to live my life, moment by moment." Author Unknown

This beautiful anecdote contains within it a number of really meaningful and deep life messages relevant to our Yom Kippur experience.

Firstly, the idea of taking life one moment at a time and making a conscious choice to live in that moment and choose good for that moment. Friends, God has given us the most precious gift: an opportunity in every moment of the next twenty-four hours to cleanse our souls of all the negativity and spiritual impurities we have, unfortunately, accumulated over the past year. Yom Kippur is the high efficiency washing machine of the year. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter explains that one moment of repentance – the high efficiency detergent of the day – can cleanse and prevent a person from enduring much pain and hardship, God forbid. So, let us use each moment in the Mitzvah of cleansing and purifying ourselves before Hashem.

Secondly, this anecdote raises an important question: if it is indeed possible to go one moment without sinning, then why is it impossible to go one day without sinning? I think that the simple answer is that one of the greatest challenges we face in our lives is the challenge of consistency. It is easy to choose good in one moment, but to do the right thing and choose the right path consistently is the real challenge in life.

And, finally, this anecdote leaves us with a wonderful spiritual life message: if it is indeed possible not to sin for one moment, then it must (by definition) also be possible not to sin for a day, a week, a month, a year, and a lifetime. This follows logically from the fact that a lifetime is merely the collection of many individual moments. You see, friends, the key for attaining consistent morality is the ability to live this very moment as if it were our last. When we live life with that attitude, it is indeed possible to live a life free of sin. However, if we live our lives focusing on the long, arduous task at hand and the incredible moral consistency required, it appears inconceivable and impossible to live a life without sin.

This pertinent point was noted by the great sage Rebbi (or Rabbi) Nachman of Breslov 200 years ago when he commented upon the verse we say in the first psalm of Kabbalat Shabbat every Friday night: “Today, if you listen to His voice…” The secret of service of God is to focus on today as if that is all that exists. This Yom Kippur let us not commit ourselves to a sin-free year, which appears impossible; rather, let us commit ourselves to that which is indeed possible, to live each moment free of sin as if it were our last.



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Parshat Re’eh begins “See, I am place before you today, blessing and curse. The blessings (will be bestowed upon you) when you listen…’ The word today seems to be redundant. The Toshe Rebbe of blessed memory suggests that when it comes to repentance and performing good deeds, procrastination is one of the greatest obstacles. The tendency to rationalize the delay of repentance and good deeds is what often results in repentance and good deeds never getting done. Therefore the Torah instructs us that our blessings and curses (God forbid) are dependent on us acting today and seizing the moment.

After Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God explains why he banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden: “The Lord God said, "Behold, man has become like one of us, having the ability of knowing good and evil, and now, lest he stretch forth his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat and live forever."” (Genesis Chapter 3 vs 22)

Our sages (Midrash Raba) learn from the term ‘and now’ that God opened up an opening of repentance for Adam. Our sages learn this by associating this verse with another verse in Deuteronomy in which the term ‘and now’ appears - “And now Israel, what does the Lord your God seek from you, only to fear the Lord, to love Him…” (Deuteronomy Chapter 10 vs 12) Our sages therefore conclude that the expression ‘and now’ refers to repentance - returning to God.

It seems then that repentance is represented by the notion of today and the idea of now. Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (Menuchas Hanefesh) writes that one should consider this very moment as their only moment. Every moment of our lives has a unique purpose. This is included in what Hillel teaches us in "Ethics Of The Fathers" (Source) “If not now, when?”

Similarly, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (Likutei Moharan 272) teaches, “This is a great principle in the service of God, that a person should only cast his eyes on today….because a person only has in their world that day and that moment in which they are standing (now) because tomorrow is a completely different world altogether.” In this way he explains the verse in psalms “, if you listen to my voice (Psalm 95).”

Let us do it now because tomorrow may never come! The best and only time is now!  

Devarim - Va'etchanan


By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

In the reading of Shema, which is recited twice daily, we are commanded to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our possessions. Our commentators explain that although emotions cannot be commanded, the Torah is commanding us to take practical steps to elicit certain emotions. The question then becomes: Which steps bring about the emotion of love towards God?

Maimonides (Mishneh Torah Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah Chapter 2) states: “What is the path [to attain] love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify Him, yearning with tremendous desire to know God's great name, as David stated: ‘My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living God’ Psalms 42:3.” Maimonides teaches us that contemplating the wondrous intelligence and brilliance contained within the created universe, elicits feeling of awe and love within us. We are being commanded to open our eyes and see the spectacular inner intelligence in the world around us. 

In his Sefer Hamitzvot Maimonides explains another technique to bring the emotion of love of God to the fore. “We are commanded to love God, that is, to meditate upon and closely examine His commandments and His works, in order to understand Him; and through this understanding to achieve a feeling of ecstasy. Maimonides quotes the Sifri that proves that Torah study brings one to love God. Immediately following the command to love God in the Shema, the Torah commands us to place the words of the Torah on our hearts (study them deeply) and then to teach Torah to our children. We learn from this that deep Torah study brings one to a greater connection and love of God. 

The classic work Chovot Halevavot suggests a different technique for attaining feelings of love towards God. He suggests that one contemplate the tremendous blessings that are present in one’s life and the kindness that God has shown one in the past. One is filled with love for the creator of all things, who, despite His infinite greatness, has showered kindness upon us lowly beings. 

Contemplating the majesty and brilliance of the universe, connecting with God through delving into the infinite wisdom of the Torah, and feeling gratitude to -od for all our blessings, not only lead us to the love of God, but also spells out a wonderful recipe for a meaningful and joyful life. “And You Shall Love Hashem Your God”

In the reading of Shema, which is recited twice daily, we are commanded to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our possessions. Our commentators explain that although emotions cannot be commanded, the Torah is commanding us to take practical steps to elicit certain emotions. The question then becomes: Which steps bring about the emotion of love towards God?

Maimonides (Mishneh Torah Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah Chapter 2) states: “What is the path [to attain] love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify Him, yearning with tremendous desire to know God's great name, as David stated: ‘My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living God’ Psalms 42:3.” Maimonides teaches us that contemplating the wondrous intelligence and brilliance contained within the created universe, elicits feeling of awe and love within us. We are being commanded to open our eyes and see the spectacular inner intelligence in the world around us. 

In his Sefer Hamitzvot Maimonides explains another technique to bring the emotion of love of God to the fore. “We are commanded to love God, that is to meditate upon and closely examine His commandments and His works, in order to understand Him; and through this understanding, to achieve a feeling of ecstasy. Maimonides quotes the Sifri that proves that Torah study brings one to love God. Immediately following the command to love God in the Shema, the Torah commands us to place the words of the Torah on our hearts (study them deeply) and then to teach Torah to our children. We learn from this that deep Torah study brings one to a greater connection and love of God. 

The classic work Chovot Halevavot suggests a different technique for attaining feelings of love towards God. He suggests that one contemplate the tremendous blessings that are present in one’s life and the kindness that God has shown one in the past. One is filled with love for the creator of all things, who despite His infinite greatness has showered kindness upon us lowly beings. 

Contemplating the majesty and brilliance of the universe, connecting with God through delving into the infinite wisdom of the Torah, and feeling gratitude to God for all our blessings not only lead us to the love of God but also spell out a wonderful recipe for a meaningful and joyful life.



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

I recently came upon a video in which Rabbi David Lapin describes his encounter with  Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, in 1976. At the time, Rabbi Lapin was involved in both business and had a role as a community Rabbi and outreach personality in the South African Jewish community. He was finding the demands of both these endeavors overwhelming and went to seek the Rebbe’s sage advice.

The Rebbe advised him to continue and even increase his communal involvement and simultaneously to continue with his business endeavors.  Rabbi Lapin expressed that this was unrealistic and that he was not even coping adequately with the current situation. The Rebbe then turned to him and said that he understood Rabbi Lapin’s problem. He explained to Rabbi Lapin that his difficulty was that he viewed human interaction incorrectly and explained as follows: 
You (Rabbi Lapin) view human interaction like a chemical reaction. Two elements interact and form a combined third element. Human interaction does not work this way. Human interaction is not a chemical reaction. Human interaction is a nuclear reaction! A nuclear reaction reverberates out from the core of the explosion in all directions. When you touch just one person’s heart that is a nuclear reaction. Thousands of people are impacted and influenced by that one person during their lifetime. 

The key to extending one’s circle of influence lies not in directly influencing masses of people. The key is to provide enough energy and attention to each individual interaction to create a nuclear reaction which will then in turn impact the lives of thousands of people. 

We are now in the period know as Bein Hametzarim between the seventeenth day of Tammuz and the ninth day of Av. Let us resolve to counter the baseless hatred that caused the destruction of our temple by focusing on giving those with whom we come into contact our fullest attention, support and kindness. May these interactions fuel the nuclear reaction needed for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the restoration of  peace and harmony throughout the world.



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

In Parshat Chukat, we are instructed how to purify a person who has come into contact with a dead body. It is a complex procedure requiring the ashes of the red heifer to be sprinkled upon the impure person at two specific times during a week long purification process.

On the other hand, one that comes into contact with an animal carcass has to undergo immersion in a Mikvah (Ritual body of water), a short and straightforward purification process. Rabbi Soloveitchik (The Rav Thinking Aloud on Sefer Bamidbar) points out that Jewish law considers the death of an animal and human so differently because of the great difference between human life/death and animal life/death. He points out that while death of a human being is considered tragic, the death of an animal is not generally experienced as a tragedy. This is because an animal is not really considered to have individualistic existence. An animal does not have a spiritual personality so to speak. Despite the death of this particular animal, the species will survive. Human beings on the other hand are different. Within every human being there is a spiritual personality, a unique individuality unlike any other. A human being exists not only as a representative of humankind but has his/her own independent existence and right to exist. Therefore the death of a human being is indeed tragic. The death of one human being is the death of an entire unique species. The recent death within our community has affected many of us greatly. One of the profound lessons for me has been a deeper understanding of the unique preciousness of every human being. Unfortunately we often only truly appreciate the value and preciousness of someone once they are no longer with us. The challenge for us is to notice, appreciate and do for others while they are still with us. While death is tragic, not noticing and appreciating others while we are all alive is also tragic. Let us work on having and showing appreciation, respect and honor to every human world around us.  



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Reading through these Torah portions can really get one down on the Jewish people. They seem to be constantly rebelling, complaining and ungrateful. However, it is interesting to note that according to the Ramban all these disturbing events took place within the first year and a half of the exodus from Egypt. The only exception was when the people became agitated and ungratefully complained about the heavenly Manna food after Aharon’s death in the last year of their forty-year sojourn in the desert. This changes our perspective. For thirty-eight years they were perfectly righteous with no ungrateful complaining and no rebellion whatsoever. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin inquires as to why it is that these rumblings specifically occurred at the beginning and end of their stay in the desert?

Rabbi Sorotzkin suggests that the answer is ‘change.’ When the Jewish people left Egypt, it was naturally a tremendous upheaval for them. They were unsettled and without absolute peace of mind. They subsequently became accustomed to their new surroundings and circumstances and were settled for the next thirty-eight years. As the time was approaching for their move into the land of Israel and change was imminent they became unsettled and lost their peace of mind. The psychological state of the Jewish people at the bookends of their travels explains why they specifically were more prone to sin during those time periods. When one loses one’s peace of mind, one is unable to think clearly, use proper judgment and make wise decisions. One becomes irrational, and negative character traits such as anger, hatred, jealousy and desire tend to emerge. 

Some change and upheaval in life is inevitable, nothing in our world remains constant forever. Change naturally has the tendency to disturb our peace of mind. The takeaway message is that we should be acutely aware of our state of mind. At times when we are unsettled and do not have complete peace of mind, we need to be aware of the dangers of that state of mind. Decisions should be avoided and no action should be taken until we are confident that our actions or speech are underpinned with a clear and peaceful state of mind. I therefore suggest that it is a Mitzvah to cultivate a state of inner calm and peacefulness to ensure we act with wisdom and pure intention. We are then able to serve God appropriately. Our mindfulness class on Shabbat afternoon is part of this holy endeavor to create a calm inner state of mind.



By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The following discussion arose at a Shabbat table I attended twenty years ago: According to Jewish law, a person is defined as Jewish if their mother was Jewish. A person that was not born to a Jewish mother can become Jewish by undergoing a conversion process. The question posed at the Shabbat table was: What would you do if you somehow discovered that you were not Jewish?

Our Shabbat host, a Rabbi, stated that he would opt not to convert to Judaism. He explained that Judaism believes that all human beings are commanded in the seven basic Noachide laws. Judaism does not believe that in order to get salvation or be saved from hell that one needs to convert to Judaism. Anyone keeping the seven Noachide laws which God instructed in the Torah is considered a righteous person. He went on to explain that keeping all the laws of the Torah and being Jewish was a tremendous responsibility. Given the choice, he would opt for less responsibility and an easier lifestyle.

 Having posed the question to a number of people over the years, I have come across a number of different approaches. Some concur with my Rabbi host that they would not convert, others say they would ask their Rabbi’s advice, and others say they would immediately undergo a conversion. Another common approach is the Sabbatical approach: - take a year off to enjoy cheese burgers etc. and then convert to Judaism.

 In order to bring the Korban Pesach, the Pascal lamb offering, one is required to be free of impurity. There were a number of people that had come into contact with a dead body and were therefore not able to offer the Pascal lamb on Pesach. They approached Moses saying, “We are ritually unclean [because of contact] with a dead person; [but] why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?” Moses then requested clarification from God. God commanded them to bring the Pascal lamb offering one month later on the day we call Pesach Sheni (Second Pesach.)

 Although these Jews were technically exempt from fulfilling the mitzvah of the Pascal lamb they were disturbed by the fact that they could not fulfill the mitzvah. They viewed God’s commandment as a privilege and not simply as an obligation. I have no doubt that given the dilemma described above, these people would have demanded to be converted instantly.

 There is no doubt that being Jewish carries tremendous responsibilities. The question boils down to our attitude. Do we view being Jewish predominantly as an obligation or predominantly as a privilege? Pesach Sheni teaches us to aspire to the lofty attitude that each divine command is not simply an obligation but indeed an awesome privilege.

Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780