5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Balak 5780

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

“When the Tents of Jacob Aren’t Beautiful: Fighting Domestic Abuse”

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“When the Tents of Jacob Aren’t Beautiful: Fighting Domestic Abuse”

What can we do to help a loved one, a friend, or a neighbor for whom venturing outside during this pandemic can mean risking their life, but for whom being at home presents an even more imminent danger?

Tragically, over the past few months of COVID-19, even those homes which were not infected with the coronavirus have become threatened by a different kind of pandemic: domestic abuse.

How heartbreakingly sad. What can WE do about this?

In our Torah portion, Balak, we find the famous blessing from the prophet Bil’am to the Jewish people :

“Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael” – How beautiful are the tents of Jacob, the dwellings of Israel

And the Midrash, cited by Rashi in his commentary on the Torah, explains that Bil’am is referring to the beautiful atmosphere of the Jewish home.

But what about when that reality is far from the ideal, and the atmosphere in the home is toxic and dangerous?

It’s true that the Midrash states that the Israelites’ tents in the desert encampment were arranged in such a way that one could not see into the entrance of one’s neighbor.

This may lead us to think that what happens behind closed doors is none of our business.

And maybe that’s true. 

However, in an instance when you know that domestic violence is taking place in that discrete tent, it is our halachic obligation to speak up for those inside who cannot.

First, let’s find a way to meet with the person who we suspect is being abused and let them know that there are professional organizations that can help them.

Share with them the best ways to get help, and make sure to follow up.

There are websites, on the screen, that can be used to help those. 

Don’t suggest that “It’ll all be OK”, or, “Perhaps the person had a bad day”.

Instead, be their friend and help them connect with qualified professionals and organizations that do work on behalf of abused spouses and children.

I would like to also address the person feeling rage.

If you are feeling rage during this very trying time that could lead to actions inconsistent with the ideal of “Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov”, please, for your sake, for the sake of your loved ones, seek the help that you and your family deserve!

Even if it is on Shabbat and you are feeling uncontrollable rage, Jewish Law demands that you immediately seek whatever help you can – including calling a hotline, or seeking help online.

Again, on the screen are two organizations that can be helpful.

Mark Twain once wrote about the Jew comparing him to all other peoples of the world, and I quote:

“The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

We have always known the answer to Twain’s question – it is the Jewish home.

We pray that the atmosphere in our homes is safe and healthy for everyone inside.

But prayer is not enough – when it is unhealthy and dangerous, we must work to make it right.

With God’s help, we will summon the strength and the courage to actualize the blessing of

“Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael”

Shabbat Shalom, and have a wonderful and healthy Shabbat. 

“Shabbat Shalom” – Chukat-Balak 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Chukat-Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel –  “The entire House of Israel wept over Aaron” (Numbers 20:29) Why was Moses, the greatest prophet who ever lived and who sacrificed a princedom in Egypt to take the Hebrews out of Egypt, denied entry into the land of Israel?  Was it because he …

Read more“Shabbat Shalom” – Chukat-Balak 5780

Chukat: The Red Heifer

Rabbanit Frankel

Parashat Chukat: The Red Heifer Rabbanit Naama Frankel, Rosh Beit Midrash of Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod We’re in the Book of Numbers, and the Jewish people are closer than ever to the entrance to the Land of Israel. With immense excitement, they stand in formation, according to their flags and tribes – for “… at Hashem’s command …

Read moreChukat: The Red Heifer

“Parsha and Purpose” – Korach/Chukat 5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Korach/Chukat 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Lifting Every Voice: Leadership in a Time of Unrest”

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“Lifting Every Voice: Leadership in a Time of Unrest”

The minute that Moshe is challenged by Korach as the leader of the Jewish people, God swallows up Korach and his entire rebellious cohort.

But then God says, “I want each tribe to take a staff, and the staff that blossoms will truly represent who should be the leader of the Jewish people.”

Why is there a need for another miracle?

Imagine a board meeting. The members begin to discuss the rabbi and immediately, those who are against the rabbi get swallowed up. Is there really still a need for a follow-up vote on whether or not to support the rabbi?

And yet, in our parsha, even after God makes it clear that Moshe is the leader and not Korach, He still demands that there be a blossoming of a staff to appoint the leader.

In the next parsha, Chukat, there’s the tragic episode in which Moshe is told by God, ve’dibartem el ha’sela. which really means, “and they [the Jewish people] should speak to the rock.” But what Moshe does is to hit the rock, and because of that, he cannot lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel. 

In both of these cases, there’s a common denominator. Our goal as leaders, whether it is in our families, in other areas of our lives, in the community or greater society, is to inspire change – not to compel it. Our goal is to create a collaborative environment, not to compel a vision.

What God is saying after Korach and his cohort is swallowed up is, I want people to realize that Moshe is the leader – not because his opposition has been swallowed up, but because his staff blossoms, and that is what defines leadership. 

And that’s the challenge that Moshe has in Parshat Chukat. God is telling Moshe, the people need water. They have to learn that they don’t just have to go through you, they can send their own email, their own WhatsApp, their own letter to Me, to God.

The Jewish people have to grow up. They have to realize that they have a powerful voice. 

VeDibartem el ha’sela – “speak to the rock.” Teach them they can also pray, teach them they can also engage. 

But instead Moshe takes a direction which does not allow the Jewish people to have a voice. And because of that God determines the need for a new leader to replace Moshe. The leader will be Moshe’s student, but his style of leadership will be much different. The Jewish people will engage with him. It won’t be a top-down model; it will be much more collaborative. 

What powerful messages for us, and the type of lives we lead, especially during this time in which we’re seeing so much unrest throughout the world.

Imagine if we realize that we have a voice to make a difference, to inspire change in safe and creative and constructive ways. 

We can do that, and that’s what we’re seeing all over the world.

It’s not about striking the rock. It’s about speaking truth to power.

It’s about allowing our voices to blossom. 

And through that, we create leadership that is eternal, and make changes that will better society for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Korach: Disputes, Wars and Everything in Between

Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum

Parashat Korach: Disputes, Wars and Everything in Between The Torah and the Jewish mentality demand for there to be disagreement as the ideal state of things, precisely because Judaism isn’t a religion of dogma and conflict. Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, Director of the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Emissary Training and Placement Programs Constant disputes have been a …

Read moreKorach: Disputes, Wars and Everything in Between

“Shabbat Shalom” – Korach 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel –  “Moses said to Korach: ‘Hear me, sons of Levi: Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has set you apart … Must you also seek the priesthood?’” (Numbers 16:8-10)  Last week’s portion of Shelah, in which the desert Israelites …

Read more“Shabbat Shalom” – Korach 5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Shelach/Korach 5780

This week’s “Parsha and Purpose” is dedicated
in memory of Milton Eisner z”l 
beloved father of David Eisner
former President of OTS’ North American Board

“Parsha and Purpose” – Shelach/Korach 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The five? No, the SEVEN books of the Bible”

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“The five? No, the SEVEN books of the Bible”

The Book of BaMidbar is compelling and perplexing. There are three different components: the introduction – the movement of the Jewish people towards the final stage of redemption, entering the land of Israel. Moshe tells his father-in-law, Yitro, “join us.” 

We are introduced to laws, like Pesach Sheni – the second Paschal.

And we are also introduced to a formula that the Jewish people will use to decimate their enemies. 

Vayehi binsoa haAron, vayomer Moshe. Kumu Ado’shem veyafutzu oyvecha. We’re introduced to this language that will be recited and which will help the Jewish people capture the land. And then what happens is, this language, this mantra, is placed in between two upside-down, Hebrew letter nuns; frozen – as Rashi says, it becomes like a book out of place.

In fact, the Talmud tells us that the few verses of vayehi binsoa haAronare considered its own book. That essentially, the book of Bamidbar is actually three books. One book is pre-vayehi binsoa haAron; a second book is this small unit of text, and a third book is everything that follows.

The post-vayehi binsoa haAron book is the reason why the entire piece of vayehi binsoa haAron is put inside of upside-down nuns. Primarily what happens in the parshiot of Shlach and Korach. Because in these parshiot, the Jewish people failed to understand the singular quality of various components of our life. They failed to understand the singular component of the land of Israel. They failed to understand the unique qualities of Moshe and Aharon as leaders. 

In earlier post-vayehi binsoa haAron, such as Parshat Behaalotcha, Miriam and Aharon failed to understand the relationship between Moshe and God, and the Jewish people failed to understand the importance of food as sustenance in the whole story of the quail. 

So the book of Bamidbar is essentially three sections. Section one, the movement of the Jewish people to redemption; section three, their failure to understand the unique qualities of various spiritual and physical aspects of life. And the middle section, the vayehi binsoa haAron section, that is frozen by upside-down nuns and is out of place.

We have the power to remove those upside-down nuns. We can move the text from being suspended when we recognize the unique gifts that God has given us and that we can change the world. The Jewish people has forgotten our singularly important, God-given gifts. 

Each and every one of us has our own gifts. Let’s evaluate them. Let’s decide how to use them in a purposeful fashion, and through that, we can indeed redeem ourselves, and the Jewish people, and society. 

Vayehi binsoa haaron will then be removed from being frozen in time and will become a piece of our prayers that we will be able to actualize through our practices.

Shabbat Shalom.

“Shabbat Shalom” – Shelach Lecha 5780

This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” has been sponsored by Dr. Larry Bryskin in memory of Judy (Yehudit bas Levi) Steinbergwhose yahrzeit is on 28 Sivan Shabbat Shalom: Shelach Lecha (Numbers 13:1-15:41) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – “We should go up at once and possess it for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30) The …

Read more“Shabbat Shalom” – Shelach Lecha 5780

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