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“Parsha and Purpose” – Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5780

Acharei Mot Kedoshim thumbnail

“Parsha and Purpose” – Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Finding Holiness in a Jerusalem Supermarket”

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Finding Holiness in a Jerusalem Supermarket

The other day, in a supermarket in Jerusalem, a woman with a full cart of groceries said to the cashier: “Please, when you get up to 600 shekels, let me know.” 

And as they got close to 590 shekels, the cashier said, “We’re almost there.” She looks at what has already been paid for; she sees that the juice and the cookies went through, but that the eggs and the diapers are still in the cart.  She tells the cashier that she only has 600 shekels for groceries so please, can he return the juice and the cookies, because the things still to come are more important. 

Immediately, the cashier – who also makes just minimum wage – says,  “You know, we have somebody who  wants to help people having trouble at this time to buy groceries.”

The woman refuses, but he doesn’t listen; he continues to scan all of her groceries, and swipes her credit card for just 600 shekel. After she leaves the store, he takes out his own credit card, and swipes it for the rest.  The cashier who makes minimum wage. 

He didn’t tell this story to anyone, except his girlfriend, but somebody who actually saw it happen posted to Facebook and it quickly spread, at least throughout Israel. 

Kedoshim tihiyu. The responsibility for us to be holy. We have 613 commandments, but sometimes, there’s something that may not be in a particular commandment that says, “We have to be holy. We have to help others.” 

Kedoshim is the name of the second Torah portion that we read this week and it focuses on our responsibilities to be kadosh – to be holy – and to help other people, both Jews and non-Jews.  

The first portion we read this week is Acharei Mot, which focuses on our relationship to God. 

Two Torah portions that really focus on different things. But they are put together is to remind us of the two complementary ways in which we engage in our Judaism. 

We are Jews who are supposed to engage in a relationship with God – that is Parshat Acharei Mot. But a relationship with God is only substantial when we are kedoshim – when we engage with others. 

It is why the Gemara tells us that someone who wants to be pious should study the laws of Nezikin, the laws that teach us how to engage with others. 

As we’re going through this challenging time, let us find ways to engage with each other. Even though there is social distancing, let us find ways to come together. 

Because we are kedoshim, we are holy, and that is our responsibility. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: How Much to Reproach?

RABBI DAVID BROFSKY

Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: How Much to Reproach? We are responsible for each other and can’t remain aloof to the deviant and harmful things happening around us. How, though, are we to observe the commandment of rebuking others without offending them? Rabbi David Brofsky is a Senior Faculty member of the Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas …

Read moreAcharei Mot-Kedoshim: How Much to Reproach?

“Shabbat Shalom” – Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27)                                                           By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel –  “And you shall observe My decrees and My laws which a human being shall …

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Tazria-Metzora: Is it Bad to be Impure?

Rabbanit Rivky Yisraeli

Parashat Tazria-Metzora: Is it Bad to be Impure?  Purity (tahara) and impurity (tum’ah) are manifestations of a routine relationship between man and his Creator. As it turns out, the distance that creates impurity has a role that we ought to exploit. Rabbanit Rivky Yisraeli is the Educational Director of the Neveh Channah High School for …

Read moreTazria-Metzora: Is it Bad to be Impure?

“Parsha and Purpose” – Tazria Metzora 5780

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

“The State of Israel and God’s Messengers”

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The State of Israel and God’s Secular Messengers

One of the questions that has been asked often in this generation is, Can the State of Israel really be the beginning of the Jewish People’s final redemption? After all, how can God’s work begin and be developed through people like Ben Gurion, who was not an observant Jew? Can it be that a non-observant Jew could be the leader of such a movement, of such a revolution, of such a Ma’aseh HaShem – an miraculous act of God?

This question is important this time of year because this Shabbat we usher in the new month of Iyyar.

On the 5th of Iyyar, we celebrate Yom haAtzma’ut.

The day prior, we mourn all of the soldiers who’ve given their lives al kiddush haShem, for the establishment and for maintaining the State of Israel. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, said, if somebody wants to pray by the grave of a righteous person, they don’t need to travel to Tzefat or to Hevron; they can simply go to Har Herzl military cemetary and pray by any of the graves of the young people who gave their lives al kiddush haShem.

Iyyar is also the month in which we celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem, on the 28th. Can all of these miracles have been initiated by a group of individuals who were not formally observant?

This week’s Torah portion answers that question for us. It focuses on the metzora, the leper; someone who is removed from the camp because he or she is involved in idle gossip. 

And the Haftara for Parshat Metzora, (if it were not Rosh Chodesh, as it is this year) is the story about Gehazi and his three children. They were the assistants to Elisha,  the prophet of their time, until they sold him out. And yet, we are told in the Haftara that these spiritual lepers, these individuals who embarrassed the spiritual leader of the Jewish People and created a chillul haShem, were the individuals who brought salvation and redemption to the Jewish People in the northern kingdom, when the Shomron was besieged. And they report the miracle that has happened to the Jewish People to save them from certain death.

Rav Aharon Soloveitchik wrote in an article that if you want to understand the fact that anyone who is motivated to save the Jewish People can be God’s shaliach, can be God’s messenger, it’s in the Haftara of this week’s Torah portion. Gehazi, who was a spiritual leper – much worse than any of the leaders that helped bring the redemption – people who may not have been formally observant, but were totally committed to the Jewish People.

The Haftara that reminds us that anyone can be the shaliach of HaKadosh Baruch Hu; anyone can be God’s messenger. 

We are not here to question who God uses as His emissaries to bring the redemption, but we must have Hakarat haTov, we must celebrate what HaKadosh Baruch Hu has done in this generation.

“Even ma’asu haBonim hayta leRosh Pina” – the brick that was viewed by the nations of the world as something to be destroyed, ignored; the stone that was to be outcast, the Jewish People, has become a centerpiece of the world – started by people like Ben Gurion. 

Rav Chaim Ben Atar, the Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh, tells us in Sefer Vayikra that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is going to look for the final redemption to come from the tzaddikim, from the righteous, but they will be preoccupied with other things, so HaKadosh Baruch Hu will turn to other Jews, who may not be as formally observant, and they will help bring the redemption.

It is up to us, all Jews, all people, to celebrate the gift of the State of Israel, and for us to recognize that even in these challenging times, we need to recognize the miracles that God has given us in this generation. 

Chag Atzma’ut Sameach! Enjoy the holiday of Yom haAtzma’ut, perhaps in a muted way, just with our family. Let us remember those who have given their lives in order to allow all Jews around the world to understand the freedom that comes with Medinat Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom.

“Shabbat Shalom” – Tazria-Metzorah 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)                                                                  By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel –  “Speak to the children of Israel saying, when a woman conceives (tazria) …

Read more“Shabbat Shalom” – Tazria-Metzorah 5780

Parshat Shemini: A Fire that Consumes

Rabbi Ronen Ben David

Parashat Shemini: A Fire That Consumes Where does the desire to cut corners come from? How can we channel our positive enthusiasm and good intentions, and not let them devolve into a fiery ever-turning sword? Rabbi Ronen Ben David is the Headmaster of the Neveh Channah High School for Girls, in Memory of Anna Ehrman …

Read moreParshat Shemini: A Fire that Consumes

“Parsha and Purpose” – Shemini 5780

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

“The Lonely Man of Faith: Comfort and Guidance from Rav Soloveitchik in the Age of Corona”

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The Lonely Man of Faith: Comfort and Guidance from Rav Soloveitchik in the Age of Corona

Twenty-seven years ago, one of the towering figures of modern Jewish history was taken from us: Rabbi Yosef Dov haLevi Soloveitchik – “the Rav”.

In the early 1960’s, Rabbi Soloveitchik composed an important article, The Lonely Man of Faith, which is so relevant to us in our time.

Rabbi Soloveitchik composed this article against the following backdrop: he was feeling the fragility of life – he was suffering from cancer. As he said, “I suddenly ceased to be immortal; I became a mortal being.”

It was also at a time in which he was privileged to be asked, after the passing of Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, to consider being the next Israeli Chief Rabbi; the only person living outside of the State of Israel who was asked to think about being a candidate for the Chief Rabbi of Medinat Yisrael.

It was on the backdrop of the Cold War, where President Kennedy announced, in May of 1961,that he would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

During that time, during all of these events, the Rav developed and published the ideas that are found in The Lonely Man of Faith.

He elaborates in The Lonely Man of Faith on the first two chapters of Bereshit (Genesis), focusing on the alleged contradiction between the two stories of creation: 

In Chapter One, Adam and Chava are created at the same time: Zachar u’Nekeva Bara Otam. They are given the mandate, mil’u et ha’aretz, to fill the land, ve’chivshu’ha, to have dominion over it. And in that chapter, God the Creator, haKadosh Baruch Hu, is called Elokim – the God of Strength.

In Chapter Two, Adam and Chava are not created simultaneously, but rather as an extension of one another. And the creation of Adam and Chava in the second chapter, in Perek Bet, is much more intimate. Vayitzar Ado’shem Elokim et haAdam: God crafts Adam from the earth of the ground, Vayipach be’apav nishmat chayyim – and He breathes life into him.  Chava is created as an extension of Adam in this chapter, and the name of God that is used is Yud-K-Vav-K: the God of Intimacy. 

Adam and Chava are not co-workers, but rather, they are an extension of one another. They are soulmates,  part of a covenantal community.

And the responsibility of Adam and Chava in Chapter Two is le’avda u’le’shamra: they are to watch over the world, not conquer it; they are to reflect on the world, get to know it, and because they get to know the world, they have the privilege of naming the world’s creatures.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that there is not actually a conflict between these two chapters, but rather they represent two paradigms of human existence. Our existence oscillates between these two paradigms, and together they comprise the human experience.

So relevant in our day and age. Adam One is responsible for conquering the world, and today we call on that Adam One to harness all of our intellect, all of our compassion as majestic men and women, to find a cure, heal the sick, feed the unemployed. 

We’re so privileged to be able to say thank you to all the healthcare workers who are indeed acting as Adam One, making a difference to defeat COVID-19, and we cannot shrink from that responsibility.

But at the same time that we’re Adam One, we’re also feeling very fragile, very uncertain and very alone.

Nonetheless, that loneliness should not allow us to feel depressed. In that loneliness, yes, we find fragility, but in that fragility we can also find God. We can search for that relationship. As accomplished as Adam One is, it’s not the whole story.  Kevodo Malei Olam: God’s presence is all over the world; but sometimes, in times like this, Ayei Makom Kevodo: we search for Him. 

And in those moments of being fragile – hard to explain from an intellectual perspective, but I think we’ve all felt it – in those moments of feeling alone, we can feel God’s hand on our frail shoulder.

The paradigm of Adam Two is a relationship that helps us build the spiritual antibodies we need to defeat this disease at a time when we feel so fragile. 

This essay of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s, The Lonely Man of Faith, serves as a deeply-needed road map to help give us guidance at a time in which we feel that the world is spinning beyond our control and comprehension.

It is a message that is as clear today as it was over 50 years ago, when the words were first written. 

May Rabbi Soloveitchik, and may all of our efforts, be a Melitz Yosher, as we pray for the speedily-to-be-returned days of happiness and health, for all humanity.

Shabbat Shalom.

“Shabbat Shalom” – Shemini 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)  By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel: “And it happened on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel” (Leviticus 9:1 )   One of the most moving rituals of the Jewish week, at the advent of the eighth day, is the havdalah (“separation”) ceremony, …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Pesach 5780

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

“Our Challenging Pesach:
The Circuitous Route to Redemption”

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Our Challenging Pesach: The Circuitous Route to Redemption

The Jerusalem Talmud asks a question that we all are familiar with: Minayin l’Arba Kosot?  How do we know that there are four cups of wine on the Seder night? 

The Jerusalem Talmud gives the following answer: “ke’neged arba Geulot,”  to mark the ‘four redemptions’ that happen to the Jewish people in Egypt: v’hotzeiti, ve’hitzalti, ve’ga’alti, ve’lakachti (I will take you out, save you, redeem you, take you). That God slowly takes us out of Egypt in four linear, progressive steps.

But the Jerusalem Talmud gives three other answers as well. Rabbi Levi says, ke’neged arba malchuyot – because of the four diaspora experiences that we’ll have, and the fact that God will redeem us from those diaspora experiences.

“VeRabbanan amri” – and the Rabbis say – “ke’neged dalet kosot shel poraniyot,” because of the four types of punishments that God will visit on the nations of the world, because they abused us during the diaspora experience.

But in addition to these explanations there’s one more which seems somewhat challenging. And that’s the answer of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, Do you know why we have four cups of wine on Pesach night? “Ke’neged arba kosot shel Par’o,” because of the four cups of wine that are discussed in the dialogue and in the experience between Pharaoh and Joseph. 

Now, I understand all the other reasons given by the Jerusalem Talmud. Four redemptions that happened in Egypt, or, a larger narrative, of the redemptions of the Jewish people from the entire diaspora experience. After all, the Haggada doesn’t just focus on the Egyptian experience; the second half of the Haggada, the post-meal Haggada, focuses on the final redemption of the Jewish people. 

I also understand the comment that suggests that it’s focusing on the four statements of punishment that God says he will visit on all of those who abused us.

But what exactly is the connection between the redemptive experiences and the whole saga of Joseph and Pharaoh, and their four cups of wine? 

Indeed, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is trying to teach us another paradigm of redemption, one that is so relevant to us in this time. And that is that there’s another story of redemption, a story of redemption in which the path of redemption is not linear but rather circuitous. A story that has its ups and downs; a story of the Joseph saga. Where he’s given a garment by his father to show his stature. But the minute that he gets that garment, then there’s trouble. He is sold into slavery and he begins to live a life of anonymity. Until then, he is chosen by the Egyptian minister Potiphar, to be in charge of his home, only to be in trouble with Potiphar’s wife, and then to sit in jail – again in anonymity – until he answers dreams of those in the jail with him. He’s promised that he’ll be remembered, only to be forgotten. But eventually he is chosen to answer the dreams of Pharaoh, which leads to his becoming the viceroy to the king.

A circuitous journey, one with ups and downs. 

And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, you know why we have four cups of wine on Pesach night? Because life sometimes has its ups and downs! That even when we are talking about redemption, sometimes we go through challenging times. Even on an upward trajectory there can be ups and downs, there can be challenges. 

And so therefore, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, these four cups of wine don’t just focus on miraculous redemptions; they focus on redemptions that sometimes happen with ups and downs – much like the challenges that we’re facing now. 

Thank God, even though we’re facing so many challenges, and so many of us have lost loved ones, we have to remember that the message of Pesach is that we move towards a redemptive experience. That even though this is a Pesach in my lifetime and so many of my friends’ lifetimes, in my siblings’ lifetimes, that has been unprecedented with challenges, that, please God, we will be committed to the four cups of wine and realize that we can find redemptive moments even in the time of challenge. 

Says Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, look at the Joseph saga. It has its ups and downs, it has its dire death moments, but it also has redemptive moments. It’s all in our outlook, it’s all in our perspective. 

Please God, as we sing about the [Cup] of Elijah, the Kos of Eliyahu, we will be reminded that Eliyahu is there to teach us that even in the most challenging of times, he is there to escort us, and to remind us that “Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker”, the eternality of the Jewish people is guaranteed, and so is the future of humankind.

Chag Kasher veSameach, may it be a healthy holiday for all of us.

“Then”, Moshe and the Children of Israel Shall Sing

“Then”, Moshe and the Children of Israel shall sing By Rabbanit Rachel Reinfeld-Wachtfogel, Rabbanit of OTS Jennie Sapirstein Junior High and High School for Girls in Ramot, Jerusalem On the seventh day of Passover, we will read (individually this year, in our homes) a passage of the Torah describing one of the greatest and most …

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