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“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Tzav 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – “And brought near the second ram, the consecration-inauguration ram, and Aaron and his sons leaned their hands upon the head of the ram. And slaughtered it” (Lev. 8:22-23) The second part of our portion of Tzav deals with the seven-day induction ceremony of …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayikra 5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Vayikra 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Using the Head and the Heart: Addressing Halakhic Challenges in the Age of Corona”

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Using the Head and the Heart: Addressing Halakhic Challenges in the Age of Corona

Over the past few days we have received many questions from our rabbinic students and our rabbinic couples who are throughout Europe – questions dealing with the coronavirus.

Questions, for example, from a rabbinic couple who are about to, please God, have a baby. They know it’s a boy. They have a responsibility to their community, but if they stay in their community their child won’t have a brit in its proper time, on the 8th day due to travel restrictions. What are they to do?

Or even more challenging questions, in response to new rules that are in effect in certain areas of Europe, that if someone dies from the coronavirus, the body needs to be cremated. Should tahara, ritually washing the body, be performed even if there is not going to be a proper burial?

Another question arises from the fact that so many of our rabbinic couples are involved in virtual door-knocking, lifting up a phone and talking to shut-ins or people who are quarantined. Our couples are concerned that the people with whom they are in touch are in a depressed state. Are they permitted to call them on Shabbat? Are they permitted to keep their computer on before the holiday of Pesach, and create a Facebook Live Seder, so that those people aren’t alone, since being alone might cause them to be at a certain risk, either psychologically or physically?

These are some of the questions that we have been receiving over the past 72 hours from our Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel rabbinic and educational emissaries throughout the world.

How do we answer such questions? Sefer Vayikra reminds us of the responsibility to create a Mamlechet Kohanim, a community of priests. The book of Vayikra does not just focus on the responsibilities of the Kohen in the Temple, but the responsibilities of the priestly nation, the Jewish people, to create an environment which celebrates the notion of holiness.

It is why, in this book, we are told, Ve’Ahavta le’Reiacha Kamocha, love your neighbor as you love yourself. Kedoshim te’hiyu, we need to be holy, we need to create a holy environment.

This is the message that we need to communicate, to ourselves, and in our case, to our rabbis and educators throughout Europe – the responsibility to be Kadosh, to create holiness, to create new facts on the ground even in challenging times.

Indeed, the unique priestly vestments that the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest wore, give us some intuition and insight that can help us answer these questions.

The Kohen Gadol wore a tzitz on his forehead that said Kodesh la’Hashem, Holy to God, and a breastplate that represented all of the tribes of Israel with one stone representing each tribe. It is a reminder that when the Kohen Gadol answered modern contemporary questions of his time, he needed to first bring his arsenal of Torah knowledge, the tzitz, Kodesh la’Hashem, his holiness to God, into his answer of his question.

But being a person that simply spits out information, or Googles an answer, isn’t sufficient, because we also wear the Choshen, we also wear the breastplate over our hearts, to make sure that any answer to any question has to also contain a psychological understanding of where our people are.

The twelve precious stones, representing the twelve tribes, each has a different color, each has a different breaking point, and we need to recognize that as we answer our halachic questions.

It is the shiluv, it is the blending of the tzitz and the choshen, of the breastplate and the statement that we wear on our foreheads, of being holy to God, that allows us to answer these questions.

Please God, we will answer these questions properly. But we as a community, as we enter the reading of the book of Vayikra, have to understand that it is our responsibility to create holiness in the everyday. God willing, even in this challenging time, we will be able to accomplish that.

Parshat Vayikra: Accepting God’s Commandments, Especially when we don’t Understand

Rabbi Reuven Spolter

Parshat Vayikra: Accepting God’s Commandments, Especially when we don’t Understand Rabbi Reuven Spolter is the director of OTS Amiel BaKehilla Many years ago, in a discussion about the Passover Seder with a rabbinic colleague who happened to be a vegetarian, he explained that instead of a shank bone he would place a piece of sweet …

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“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Vayikra 5780

This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” has been dedicated by Mike Aron in honor of Issy Aron, a remarkable example of Chesed, Resilience and Emunah Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – “He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying…” (Leviticus 1:1) So opens …

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Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei: “The Wisdom of a Woman Builds her Home”

Tamar Oderberg

Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei: “Chochmat nashim banta beita“- The wisdom of a Woman Builds her Home Is the spinning of yarn mentioned in this week’s Parsha laudatory or derogatory? Adv. Tamar Oderberg is an attorney at Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline “And all the skilled women spun with their own hands, …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayakhel-Pekudei 5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Kindness as an Antidote to Isolation”

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Kindness as an Antidote to Isolation: Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei

I’m recording this on the Sunday of the week when we read the parsha of Vayakhel-Pekudei, a parsha that many of us may not be able to hear, for all the right halakhic reasons, because it’s forbidden for us to go to shul.

This is a trying time for all of us, throughout the world community, and the parsha has a message for us, and that is, that we need to be “kindness commandos.”

Vayakhel. The parsha starts off by saying that Moshe gathered the people. He gathered the people to announce the building of the Mishkan, a conduit for a conversation, an interaction with God.

This week, we cannot gather as a community. We are challenged by the health risks that face us. We cannot be together as a community, but we can still act as a community.

For every single person whose hand we can’t shake, we can reach out with a phone call. For every single person whom we may not be able to hug, we can engage in a different way. When we go to the store to buy food for ourselves, let’s ask ourselves: is there someone else who needs a little extra?

Imagine the message that we give to our children, a message that will be much more profound than anything they can learn in school, if we show them that social distancing doesn’t mean that we ignore the other.

This is the time for Vayakhel. This is the time for us to come together and honor the message of the parsha. Maybe we cannot come together physically, but spiritually we can connect. This is a time for us to get to know ourselves better. It’s a time for us to get to know our families better. It’s a time of Vayakhel. It’s a time to come together.

Let’s be “kindness commandos,” to ourselves, and be healthy, to our families, to our children and grandchildren, to our spouses, to the larger world society. Let’s remember, that even though we can’t hug somebody and we can’t shake their hand, we can still show that we care.

Shabbat Shalom.

“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1 – 40:38) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3) The Sages of the Talmud query the significance of this verse; after all, the Bible commands us in several places not to do …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Tissa 5780

Screenshot from Bereishit video

“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Ki Tissa 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Finding Comfort in Times of Crisis”

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Parshat Ki Tissa: Finding Comfort in Times of Crisis

There’s a profound message in this week’s Torah reading about how to cope with a serious threat that faces human society.

First, recent events remind all of us that even if Chinese culture and Western culture are very different, and our societies are quite dissimilar, we recognize that we share one world and what happens in one country affects the entire world. What happens in China affects what happens in Europe and affects what happens in and America; we’re all part of one society even if we have different philosophical perspectives, traditions and values.

Kol haKavod to so many American rabbis (I had the privilege of joining them) who wrote a letter showing solidarity with Chinese Americans, and said that we can’t allow xenophobic feelings to affect the way we engage with others, and that we need to treat other minorities with respect during these times of challenge.

And I am especially appreciative of my students, participants in the Straus- and Beren-Amiel programs, rabbis and educators in Italy and throughout Europe, who are dealing with difficult decisions of whether to keep their synagogues open for community prayer or not, based on the rules and regulations of their respective countries regarding issues of health and the needs of every individual person that prays with them.

Kudos to them- the decisions that they are making instruct us all about the priorities within halacha of dealing with the safety, health and security of every one of our parishioners.

Parshat Ki Tissa teaches us a very important lesson that we can learn in relation to the corona virus: the mitzvah of the half-shekel.

This mitzvah is a reminder that everybody is obligated to give a half-shekel – not a full shekel. It calls attention to the fact that we cannot do it alone; we are part of a larger group, a larger team.

It is the only biblical commandment that one must borrow funds in order to fulfill, because it reminds us that as individuals we cannot move our goals along, but as a society, we can change the world.

And during this time of the corona virus we’re reminded of the fact that as individuals we’re really not effective, but if we’re careful and we engage as a society, we can deal with the challenges that we face.

Parshat Ki Tissa points out the responsibilities that we have as a society to make a difference in the world. That half shekel not only contributed to the building of the Temple, but to ensuring that the communal needs and issues that faced the Jewish community were supported by a common, cooperative effort by each and every individual.

This mitzvah emphasizes to all of us that as we’re dealing with the challenges throughout the Jewish world, and throughout the world community, of the corona virus, we are all just part of a whole. As individuals, we are all only part of the process. We need to be safe and secure, but that takes cooperation from everyone. We must recognize that we can each contribute to making a difference; we can each contribute our half-shekel portion. But individual action is not enough – as a society, we have a global responsibility to both confront this threat and deal with other challenges that beset mankind.

Shabbat Shalom

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Parshat Ki Tissa: Tablets and Fragments

Parshat Ki Tissa: Tablets and Fragments Did Moses break the tablets because he was shocked by the Golden Calf, or was it premeditated? Rabbi Shlomo Brown, Executive Director of Midreshet Lindenbaum  “As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his …

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“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Ki Tisa 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35) Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Two Tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (Exodus 34:29) What is the significance …

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