Yitro 5782-2022

“Proving” G-d’s Existence"
(updated and revised from Yitro 5763-2003)

While we like to speak of "proof" of G-d's existence, Judaism does not really encourage this course of intellectual exercise, simply because the "finite" human mind cannot possibly comprehend the "Infinite." But, while there may not be any "ultimate" proof of G-d's existence, there are surely many, many indications and abundant evidence. Indeed, a most persuasive case, from a variety of disciplines, can be made for G-d's existence.

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B’shalach 5782-2022

“Bringing G-d Home”
(updated and revised from B’shalach 5763-2003)

The Song of Moses crossing the Red Sea contains the well-known verse: "This is my G-d and I will praise Him, G-d of my fathers and I will exalt Him." If G-d is only the G-d of our fathers, the only thing we can do is put Him up on a pedestal and exalt Him. However, if we make G-d our G-d, we can bring Him home! We bring G-d home by building a personal relationship with G-d through study and reflection.

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Bo 5782-2022

“Rituals Work, Rituals Work!”
(updated and revised from Bo 5762-2002)

The prodigal child of the Haggadah asks, "Why do we need all these mitzvot and all the rituals?" The rituals of Judaism are vitally important; they are the flesh that covers the bones, and give substance and meaning to the words of our sacred texts. Without rituals we are practicing an eviscerated form of Judaism, "Play-Dough" or "Mother Goose" Judaism, if you will.

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Va’eira 5782-2021

“Can We Question G-d and Get Away with It?”
(Updated and revised from Va’eira 5762-2002)

Parashat Va'eira opens with G-d berating Moses for saying that things have only gotten worse for the people of Israel since Moses’ intervention. Strict interpretation holds Moses accountable for his presumptuousness, eventually resulting in his inability to enter the Promised Land. The more liberal interpretation implies that G-d desires to be challenged, hoping to find justification that would exonerate those guilty of improper acts.

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Shemot 5782-2021

“The Circumcision of Eliezer: A Message for Busy Parents”
(updated and revised from Shemot 5762-2001)

Moses has been summoned by G-d at the burning bush to return to Egypt and lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Beginning his journey back to the land of Pharaoh, together with his wife and his sons, he stops at an inn where he is encountered by G-d, who seeks to kill him. Moses’ wife immediately takes a flint stone and circumcises the youngest child. What is the message that is communicated by this strange and eerie encounter?

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Vayechi 5782-2021

“The Debate: Burial in the Land of Israel”
(updated and revised from Vayechi 5762-2001)

In parashat Vayechi, both Jacob and Joseph request to be buried in the land of Israel rather than in Egypt. The Midrash Rabbah records a major debate between the sages regarding whether being buried in the land of Israel for someone who lived in galut is good or bad. The Abarbanel seems to assert that only those people who lived righteous lives outside of Israel are entitled to be buried in Israel, otherwise their bodies defile the land.

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Vayigash 5782-2021

“The Virtues of Assimilation”
(updated and revised from Vayigash 5762-2001)

Once the brothers arrive in Egypt, there develops a difference of “philosophy” between Joseph and his siblings regarding assimilation and the possible loss of national identity while in Egypt. The brothers prefer to avoid any hint of permanent settlement in Egypt. By not establishing comfortable homes in Egypt, they hope to assure Israel's eventual exodus. Joseph, however, was optimistic about his family being able to lead a productive Jewish life in Egypt. Joseph does not see assimilation as total evil, but rather as a possible source of cultural enrichment, without resulting in a loss of personal Jewish identity.

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0 Comments13 Minutes

Mikeitz-Chanukah 5782-2021

“What is Chanukah Really About?”
(updated and revised from Mikeitz 5761-2000)

Given the massive assimilation in our times, it is no longer enough to passively light our candles on our windowsills or in our doorways. We must light our candles in our homes, on our tables and in our hearts, thus reaffirming our Jewish commitment. In this manner we may increase the light of our Chanukah candles, until the entire world is illuminated by these lights, spreading the values of our Torah and our traditions to all.

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Vayeishev 5782-2021

“Judah Emerges as the Leader of Israel”
(Updated and revised from Vayeishev 5763-2002)

As the natural, charismatic leader, Judah's brothers abide by his suggestion to sell Joseph rather than kill him. But now that father Jacob is inconsolable, the brothers blame Judah for their father's misery. Judah has a falling out with his brothers and departs from his household ostensibly renouncing his family connections. He marries a local woman, has three sons, two of whom die after they are married to Tamar. Unknowingly, Judah has a sexual relationship with his daughter-in-law Tamar who becomes pregnant. After sentencing Tamar to death by burning, Judah, rises to the occasion, admits his guilt and spares Tamar's life. Judah thus becomes the first Ba'al Teshuvah (penitent) and emerges as the leader of Israel.

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0 Comments13 Minutes

Vayishlach 5782-2021

“Yisrael: The People Who Wrestle with G-d”
(updated and revised from Vayishlach 5762-2001)

As the natural, charismatic leader, Judah's brothers abide by his suggestion to sell Joseph rather than kill him. But now that father Jacob is inconsolable, the brothers blame Judah for their father's misery. Judah has a falling out with his brothers and departs from his household ostensibly renouncing his family connections. He marries a local woman, has three sons, two of whom die after they are married to Tamar. Unknowingly, Judah has a sexual relationship with his daughter-in-law Tamar who becomes pregnant. After sentencing Tamar to death by burning, Judah, rises to the occasion, admits his guilt and spares Tamar's life. Judah thus becomes the first Ba'al Teshuvah (penitent) and emerges as the leader of Israel.

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0 Comments7 Minutes

Vayeitzei 5782-2021

“From Ish Tam to Business Mogul: The Transformation of Jacob”
(updated and revised from Vayeitzei 5762-2001)

How does Jacob, who is described in the Torah as an ingenuous man who sits and studies in the tent, become so incredibly successful--a master businessman? According to Professor Ernest Van Den Haag much of it has to do with education, one of the most exalted values in Jewish life. It could be that when Jacob took a 14 year detour to study at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever before he arrived at Laban's, he sharpened his cerebral skills to prepare for his encounter with the wily Laban. Could it be that Jacob's “Yeshiva” education also contributed to his incredible financial successes?

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Toledot 5782-2021

“The Deception of Isaac”
(updated and revised from Toledot 5762-2001)

How is it possible that the great patriarch Isaac wished to give the blessing to his son Esau rather than to the more deserving Jacob? A possible approach to this quandary may be found in the suggestion that Isaac never intended to give the Abrahamitic blessing of inheriting the land of Canaan to Esau. What he merely wished to promise Esau was wealth, success in the field and dominion over his brothers. Rebecca, however, was unaware of Isaac's true intentions. Unfortunately, Rebecca is unable to approach Isaac directly, resorting to a questionable strategy to make certain that Esau does not receive the blessings of Jewish destiny.

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Chayei Sarah 5782-2021

“Raising Jewish Children in a Challenging Environment”
(updated and revised from Chayei Sarah 5762-2001)

Abraham had eight children: Isaac, Ishmael and his six children with his wife Keturah. Only Isaac and Ishmael are reported to have attended Abraham's burial, and only Isaac is expected to continue the spiritual legacy of Abraham. Nevertheless, the Zohar Chadash notes that even the six children of Keturah are called “Abraham's children,” attesting to the fact that they carried the spark of Abraham in their souls, however much it may have been hidden. There are many lessons that we should learn from Abraham and his child-rearing experiences.

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Vayeira 5782-2021

“The Akeida”
(updated and revised from Vayeira 5762-2001)

The binding of Isaac, known as the “Akeida,” is one of the most noted and influential portions of the Bible, and one of the most enigmatic. The “Akeida,” proclaimed a new and vital message to the world, boldly rejecting the abominable practice of child sacrifice that was rife among the ancient people--and usually performed in the name of the pagan deity.

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Lech Lecha 5782-2021

“Understanding Ishmael”
(updated and revised from 5762-2001)

In order to truly understand Ishmael, we need to know the background of his mother, Hagar, the Egyptian princess, who renounced her pampered royal life and chose to serve as a handmaiden in the home of Abram and Sarah. After Hagar is expelled from the house by Sarah, she is promised by the angel that she will bear a child, Ishmael. Eventually, Hagar and Ishmael are again cast out, this time by Abraham, into the wilderness. The expulsion is the start of the great struggle between the children of Ishmael and the children of Israel. If we are ever to bring peace to our embattled nation, and to the world as a whole, it is important to understand the endowments and strengths of Ishmael.

It is not at all surprising that many of the ancient near-East documents contain parallel stories to the flood. Perhaps the most famous, is the Babylonian flood story known as the "Epic of Gilgamesh." And yet, despite the parallels, the stories are profoundly different. While the details regarding the flood are similar, the Torah revolutionizes the flood story by introducing what is most significant--the element of moral accountability.

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Bereshith 5782-2021

The early chapters of Genesis inform us of the incredible creativity of the descendants of Cain. The great-grandchildren of the world's first murderer become the builders, the ranchers, the musicians and the forgers of metal implements of the ancient world. It is as if the Bible is informing us that the great creative forces emerge from the violent person. What exactly is the message that the Torah is trying to convey?

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0 Comments20 Minutes

Sukkot 5782-2021

“A Sukkah Memory”
(updated and revised from Sukkot 5763-2002)

Back in the good ol' days of the Bronx, there weren't many religious Jews, and very few private Sukkot. My father, of blessed memory, was not happy with the drab way the local synagogue had decorated its sukkah, and took it upon himself to redo the decor. The results of his interior decorations surprised everyone.

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0 Comments5 Minutes

Yom Kippur 5782-2021

“Smashing the Golden Calves”
(updated and revised from Yom Kippur 5764-2003)

The sin of the Golden Calf is perhaps the most reprehensible crime that the Jewish nation has committed against G-d. At the foot of Mount Sinai, immediately following the miraculous exodus from Egyptian slavery, when the Al-mighty showed the world that He had chosen the Jews as His people, the people brazenly defied Him, and were unfaithful to their beloved Creator. Yom Kippur is a day to express regret, and vow to change the many ways that the Jewish people may have betrayed their relationship with their Father-in-Heaven during the previous year.

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Vayeilech 5782-2021

“Appreciating our own Inner Worth”
(updated and revised from Vayeilech 5761-2001)

Unfortunately, there are many who feel themselves unworthy of G-d's forgiveness, or unworthy of participating in the communal contrition of the Jewish people. Judaism rejects that assumption, insisting that each and every soul is precious to G-d, and surely qualifies for Divine forgiveness.

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0 Comments11 Minutes

Nitzavim 5781-2021

“Striving to Reach Heaven During the Days of Awe”
(updated and revised from Nitzavim 5761-2001)

During the period of selichot, the Jewish people have a unique opportunity to ascend and grow morally and religiously. It is an opportunity for each of us to improve our attitudes and behaviors, to work on our relationships with both humans and with G-d. If we strive to reach heaven, we can rest assured that we will be blessed, because we are on the right track.

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0 Comments8 Minutes

Kee Tavo 5781-2021

“A Contemporary Interpretation of an Ancient Reproof”
(updated and revised from Kee Tavo 5762-2002)

As we read the תּוֹכָחָה--“Toh’cha’cha,” G-d’s reproof of the people of Israel for their sins in parashat Kee Tavo, it is impossible not to recognize the evils of contemporary society predicted and fulfilled. G-d begs His people to “choose life.” If we indeed choose life, the tragic predictions of the Torah should never occur. In fact, we can forestall almost all evil by properly educating ourselves and our children to conduct our lives properly, fulfilling our responsibilities to others and to the environment, with genuine loving-kindness.

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0 Comments19 Minutes

Kee Teitzei 5781-2021

“Transforming an Enemy into a Friend”
(updated and revised from Kee Teitzei 5762-2002)

The Torah contains two quite remarkable laws concerning the treatment of animals. In parashat Kee Teitzei, we learn of the law of טְעִינָה--teh'eenah, the requirement to help a friend load an animal whose load is falling off. In parasahat Mishpatim, we learn the law of פְּרִיקָה--peh'reekah, the requirement to help a friend unload an animal that is falling under its load. From the Talmudic discussion concerning one who is confronted with two animals--one that needs to be loaded and another that needs to be unloaded, we learn some remarkable laws about both animals and human beings.

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0 Comments6 Minutes

Shoftim 5781-2021

“The Torah-the First Environmentally-Friendly Treatise"
(updated and revised from Shoftim 5762-2002)

Among the many revolutionary laws found in the Torah, are the environmental laws found in parashat Shoftim. G-d’s commandment in Genesis to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, "to work the land and to protect it," was humanity's first call for conservation and protecting the environment. This revolutionary message that the Torah introduced 3,300 years ago is as fresh, as vibrant and as green as if it were given today.

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0 Comments10 Minutes

Re’eh 5781-2021

“The Elusive Blessing of ‘Peace’”
(updated and revised from Re’eh 5763-2003)

In parashat Re'eh, we read of the "simple" formula for bringing peace to the Jewish people: "hearken to the commands of the L-rd." Over 3,000 years of empirical evidence confirms the fact that there has never been a period of peace for the Jewish people without a concomitant return to G-d. The elusive blessing of peace will be ours if we only "hearken."

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Eikev 5781-2021

“Worshiping G-d with All One’s Heart”
(Updated and revised from Eikev 5762-2002)

In this week's parasha, we read the verse advising worshipers to pray to G-d with "all their heart." But, much of traditional Jewish prayer is fixed and rigid, and seems to be bound by so many rules and requirements that there is hardly an opportunity for worshipers to express their own personal feelings and needs. And, yet, it is the structure and the rigor of the traditional prayer formula that makes certain that our prayers not become self-centered and entirely focused on only our own needs and desires.

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Va’etchanan 5781-2021

“Loving the Land of Israel”
(Updated and revised from Va’etchanan 5762-2002)

One of the kinot, the liturgical poems that are read on Tisha b'Av, speaks of the calamity that befell the Jewish communities of the Rhineland, Germany--Worms, Speyer and Mainz (Mayence)--in the year 1096, during the First Crusade. The ArtScroll commentary on this poem throws out a profound challenge to the Jewish people today. Will we rise to the occasion and acknowledge the special gift of the land of Israel, or will we ignore it, and continue to compose elegies for the losses that we sustain?

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Devarim 5781-2021

“Judging Our People Favorably”
(Updated and revised from Devarim 5762-2002)

The powerful words of Isaiah in this week's Haftarah resound today with surprising relevance, as if they were pronounced only yesterday. Despite Isaiah's harsh assessment of the people, we, like the prophet of old, need to look upon the people of Israel and judge them favorably. After all, contemporary Jews face similar challenges to those of the ancients, and need to be judged favorably as well.

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0 Comments9 Minutes

Matot-Masei 5781-2021

“Does the Torah Allow Its Citizens to Take the Law Into Their Own Hands?”
(updated and revised from Matot-Masei 5762-2002) 

In parashat Masei, we encounter the fascinating and perplexing law known as Eir Miklat, the City of Refuge. It is to the City of Refuge that an accidental killer must run in order to escape the vengeance of the next of kin, who has the right to kill the perpetrator if he catches him before he enters the city. Does Judaism allow its citizens to take the law into their own hands?

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Pinchas 5781-2021

"Loving the Land of Israel”
(updated and revised from Pinchas 5762-2002)

In parashat Pinchas we read about the five trail-blazing daughters of Tzelafchad who approach Moses claiming legal rights to their deceased father's property in the land of Israel. The Al-mighty rewards the women's passionate commitment to Israel by declaring that the daughters shall inherit their father's land. How does Tzelafchad's daughters' great love of Zion compare with contemporary Jewry's, at best, casual commitment to the State of Israel?

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0 Comments9 Minutes

Chukat 5781-2021

“The Paradox of the Red Heifer”
(updated and revised from Chukat-Balak 5762-2002

In this week's parasha, parashat Chukat, we read of the paradox of the Red Heifer whose ashes were used to purify those who were ritually contaminated. The Red Heifer rendered those who were impure, pure, and those who were pure, impure. Perhaps it is teaching us that there is a significant price to pay for trying to improve others. But, we must be prepared to pay that price. It is, after all, the way to achieve ultimate perfection.

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0 Comments7 Minutes