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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0 Comments13 Minutes

Noah 5782-2021

“The ‘Myth’ of the Great Flood”
(updated and revised from Noah 5762-2001)

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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0 Comments11 Minutes

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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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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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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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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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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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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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

Balak 5781-2021

"Words of Eternal Truth from the Evil Prophet Bilaam”
(updated and revised from Balak 5761-2001)

Despite Bilaam's best efforts to curse the Jewish People, his prophecies turn into blessings. While Balak, the king of Moab, is terribly disappointed with Bilaam's words, Bilaam's prophecies actually contain amazing and enduring insights into the nature of the Jewish People.

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0 Comments7 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

Korach 5781-2021

“The Origin of the ‘Big Lie’”
(updated and revised from Korach 5762-2002)

According to the Midrash, Korach was a brilliant provocateur who was able to convince the hordes to believe that he was rebelling for the sake of the common good, instead of for his own personal benefit. By drawing a distorted caricature of the mitzvot of the Torah, Korach was able to convince the people that Moses and Aaron were personally benefitting from the mitzvot and observances that they were advocating.

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0 Comments16 Minutes

Shelach 5781-2021

“What’s in a Name?”
(updated and revised from Shelach 5762-2002)

Unexpectedly, the Torah spells out the names of each of the twelve leaders who were sent to represent their tribes and scout out the land of Israel. However, when we compare the names of these individuals with the names of the princes who were selected in Numbers 1 to help Moses count the tribes, we see something rather startling. The names of the princes are far more complex, and contain many religious references. They are substantial names for substantial people. The names of the scouts, on the other hand, are very short, and have few references to G-d. What is the message that the names communicate?

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B’ha’a’lot’cha 5781-2021

“Is This What the Torah Predicted?”
(updated and revised from B’ha’a’lot’cha 5762-2002)

In parashat B'ha'a’lot'cha we find two extremely telling stories concerning two groups of ancient Israelites. The first, the "mixed multitude," cry out, "Our souls are dried up, there is nothing at all!" The second group protest to Moses that they do not wish to miss celebrating the ritual of the Pascal sacrifice together with their families and the entire people of Israel. These two groups may very well represent the millions of alienated contemporary Jews who have declared that their souls are dried up, as well as another growing number of contemporary Jews who love their Judaism and wish to engage and inspire their turned-off brothers and sisters who are ignorant of their heritage.

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Naso 5781-2021

“The Challenge of the Priestly Blessings”
(updated and revised from Naso 5762-2002)

The issue of whether human beings can “encourage” G-d to bless them, or if human beings can actually bless G-d, is not easily resolved. One thing we know for sure is that mortals certainly need G-d's blessings.

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0 Comments5 Minutes

Bamidbar 5781-2021

“Counting on the People of Israel"
(updated and revised from Bamidbar 5762-2002)

The excruciating detail that the Torah goes into when reporting on the census of the People of Israel, underscores the importance of the organizational structure of the Jewish people. The redundant counting of the Jewish people in the parasha may be a rabbi's nightmare, but the details underscore each individual Jew's preciousness.

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0 Comments10 Minutes