This week’s parsha is Ki Teitzei. Throughout the parsha Moshe gives over many commandments, many of which deal with not only ritual but also interpersonal dynamics. The parsha reveals that Judaism is an all encompassing way of life.
One of the themes found in the parsha is the rebellious son. If a set of parents have discovered that their son does not listen to them, despite attempts to discipline him, or that he is a drunkard and glutton he is taken to the elders of the city and if they determine it so, he is pelted with stones to death. The Talmud relates that he stole the money from his parents to buy the excess food and alcohol. The execution is not so much for what the son had done, but for what he still could turn into.
Question: Have the parents given up on their child? Have they reached the point where the son cannot be rehabilitated? Is the Torah saying that mistakes can’t be fixed?
In the Book of Mishlei (Proverbs) King Shlomo wrote, “A righteous person fails seven times, yet rises again.” Mistakes and failures are part of life, and as we continue through the month of Elul which is often the time for personal introspection before the advent of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we need to realize that failures and mistakes do not define us. As painful as they sometimes are, failures are opportunities to learn, to grow and to improve.
Life is often called a test. We have challenges, whether at work or with our families. There are moments when it can feel overwhelming. Just as the sun sets each day, it also rises. Along with mistakes are the successes. Thomas Edison failed many, many times before inventing the light bulb. However, he is reported to have said, “I didn’t fail, I just found many way that didn’t work before hand.”
Shabbat shalom, one and all.
The month of Elul has begun and as the shofar is sounded daily, we are reminded that Rosh HaShanah will soon be upon us. This is a time of reflection and introspection as we ponder how we can improve.
There is story from the Talmud from Tractate Ta’anit that has resonated with me for a long time. It is told that Rabbi Elazar was returning from Migdal Gedor after learning with his teacher and feeling very proud with what he had learned. As he was traveling, he encountered a man on the road about whom the Talmud describes as not having an appealing appearance. The man wished him, “Peace upon you, Rabbi.” Rabbi Elazar responded, “Are all the people of your town as ugly as you?” The man replied, “I don’t know, you need to ask craftsman who made me?” When Rabbi Elazar realized his sin, he descended from his donkey and asked forgiveness. The man refused and continued on his way with Rabbi Elazar following him all way to his town begging forgiveness from him. The townspeople prevailed on the man to forgive Rabbi Elazar, and he finally did so.
The passage has always given me personal reflection. As the townspeople were urging the man to forgive Rabbi Elazar, he said, “If this man is a rabbi, let there be no more like him.” Rabbi Elazar was the personification of what it meant to be a rabbi, a learned Jew who upheld the dictates of the Torah. There would be no doubt regarding Rabbi Elazar’s observance of Shabbat, or kashrut, however part and parcel of Jewish practice is how we relate to other people. Our words and our actions towards people have ripple effects that sometimes we can’t even see.
This week’s parsha is Shoftim and the Torah predicts that there will be a time when the people ask for a king “to be like the other nations.” The Torah gives certain parameters regarding who this king should be and what he shall do. Included is the mandate that he write two Torah scrolls, one to keep in his treasury, and the other to keep with him at all times, from which to constantly read and learn. In fact, the Rambam says that even if a king inherited the monarchy from his father, he must write his own Torah to keep with him. The continued review of the Torah, with its ethical dictates, is meant to humble him, to give him the equilibrium that power could throw off.
This is where Rabbi Elazar got it wrong. He failed to remember that the hallmark of a Jew is humility and it is the Torah that is supposed to instill that important trait into a person, hence the reason the king needed to keep that Torah scroll with him all times. The man thankfully reminded Rabbi Elazar, and me, of just that.
Shabbat shalom to all.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger
Have you asked a teacher lately, “How is it going?” With the reality having set in that summer really is indeed over coupled with classroom set-up, then add in meetings, the response may not be so cheery. Yes, the beginning of school is a harried time for teachers as they prepare for their important work over the next 10 months.
The beginning of this week’s parsha, Re’eh, the Torah says, “See, I place before you a blessing and a curse.” While the Torah itself describes what one needs to do or not do in order to receive that blessing or curse, I would like to be bold and add my own spin.
There is verse in Sefer Tehillim, the Book of Psalms, which says, “Happy is the man who strength in You, those whose hearts focus on upward paths.” The Hasidic master, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz (1745-1815,) known as the Chozeh M’Lublin (Seer from Lublin) asks a question on this verse. He asks why the verse begins with a singular noun, man, in the first half, and then switches to plural, hearts, in the latter? His answer is that one person has the ability to affect many people. Indeed, as teachers we have that opportunity everyday to change the lives of our students every day. Parents as well have the same opportunity with their children.
In truth, the same lies in everyone’s hands. There is a story of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the Mussar Master of the 19th Century. Just before Rosh HaShanah he encountered a man in the street who had a very dire expression on his face. When asked about it, the man said, “The Day of Judgement is approaching!” Rabbi Yisrael Salanter replied, “Yes, that is true, but your face is public property for all to see.” We have the opportunity to positively affect others just by our interactions, by our relationships.
This is the blessing.
The curse? Knowing we could have, but didn’t(?)
The school year has begun. I wish everyone, teachers, parents, and all those involved in our GBDS a wonderful, successful, productive 2016-2017/5777 school year, filled with learning and growth for all. I thank you all for the hard work you will put in on behalf of the 103 students who enter are halls each day.
What a blessing.
This week we read Parshat Naso. The parsha describes the dedication ritual of the Mishkan. Each tribe brought its offering to the mishkan which the Torah describes in detail. In fact each offering was exactly the same and many of the commentators deal with the reasons as to why the Torah in fact describes each tribe’s offering if they are all the same as opposed to describing the offering only one time and saying that this is the offering that each tribe brought. One of the explanations is to highlight the importance of the individual; that each person counts.
Even before the dedication ritual is described, the Kohanim are instructed to bestow upon the Jewish people a blessing. It is probably one of the more famous, if not the famous, blessings known.
“HaShem spoke to the Moshe, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, so shall you bless the Israelites: May HaShem bless you and keep you; May HaShem shine His face on you and be gracious to you, May HaShem life His face to you and grant you peace’”
This blessing, Birkat Kohanim , comes from HaShem through Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim. Today the blessing is recited by the Kohanim in synagogue on the Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. In Israel, the Kohanim recite this blessing over the people every day. This is also the blessing which parents give their children on Friday nights.
The idea of giving another a blessing is interesting. What exactly are we expressing when we “bless” our children for example? According to Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (1749 – 1821), the prime student of the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720 – 1797) who writes in his classic work Nefesh haChaim, a blessing connotes the idea of an increase. Gematriya is the system where each letter has a numerical value. If we take the Hebrew letters of the root to bless, the Bet equals 2, the Kaf equals 20 and the Raish equals 200. The word itself points to an increase, that we are blessing the individual with a increase in something, whether it be a blessing for a livelihood, for health, or more globally for peace.
A blessing, for our children, or for anyone, is a liturgical device to build that up both emotionally and spiritually. When we bless our children we are expressing our desire, our hope, that their talents and their potential increases.
At noon today, the school year comes to an end. It has been a wonderful year. Our students are not the same as they were when they walked through our doors back on September 2. They have grown, physically and in every other way. I thank all the parents for entrusting us to care for and educate your children. I thank all the teachers who come every day and work hard to facilitate that growth in the 97 children that transverse our halls. My blessing (if I may be so bold) to them is a wonderful, restful, peaceful summer.
I thank Mr. Smolen for having enough faith in me to give me opportunities to take on more responsibility in GBDS and helping grow (I hope) in my administrative role. I additionally thank the teachers for their confidence in me this year as they accepted me in this position. I pray I was worthy.
I thank everyone for reading these Divrei Torah each week. If I was able to provide some insight, some inspiration from the weekly Torah portion, dayenu. That should be my reward.
Wishing all a wonderful summer.
This week we begin to read the fourth book of the Torah. As Parshat Bamidbar opens, the Israelites are in the wilderness in the second year of what will become, unbeknownst to them, a 40 year sojourn through that wilderness towards the Land of Israel.
The parsha begins with Moshe being commanded to take a census of the people. This is in fact the third such census in a year. Two questions: First, why the need for a census, wouldn’t HaShem already know how many people there were? Second, why three in a year? Rashi’s explanation can answer both questions, saying that the command to count the people was to demonstrate Divine love for the people. Like a collector will count those items he collects because those items are dear to him, so too, the Israelites were dear to HaShem and as such the people were counted, and counted a number of times.
There is something significant to Parshat Bamidbar other than being the opening parsha of the book itself. It is very often read on the Shabbat prior to Shavuot, the holiday on which we commemorate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Both the parsha and the giving of the Torah take place in the wilderness. The midrash gives several explanations as to why the Torah was given in the wilderness. One is that the wilderness is an open place not owned by any one person, and therefore anyone can come into it. In that same vein, the Torah is open for all, meant for anyone.
Seven weeks ago we were at the seder table drinking four cups of wine and eating matzah. Pesach celebrated our physical redemption from slavery. But what was the purpose of that redemption? Shavuot is the culmination of Pesach, the two being connected through the counting of the Omer. It is not enough to be freed from something. There must be a reason for that freedom in order for that freedom to have meaning. The ultimate goal of the exodus from Egypt was to bring the Jewish people to Sinai to receive the Torah which gave the people a framework for life, to live as a special nation connected to the Divine. It is the Torah that binds us together with a common history, a common destiny, and through the covenantal relationship that exists, a common responsibility.
The wilderness in which the Israelites found themselves had its challenges, as very often, life itself. Just as the Israelites had the Torah to give them direction, a Divine scaffolding to face those challenges ahead and to live a life infused with the sacred, so too, we have that same Torah.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Samayach.