“Shabbat Shalom” – Naso 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – This week’s reading of Naso describes the “Sota,” the woman who acts immodestly. At the very least, she sequesters herself alone with a man despite the fact that her husband warned her against seeing that person. She therefore undergoes the test of the …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Shavuot/Naso 5780

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

“Shavuot, God and Creating Eternal Holiness”

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“Shavuot, God and Creating Eternal Holiness”

Did you ever wonder why, when it comes to the holiday of Pesach, Sukkot, or Rosh haShana or Yom Kippur, there are specific mitzvot to do- whether it’s eating matza and maror, sitting in the sukka or shaking lulav and etrog, hearing the shofar, or fasting. But when it comes to the holiday of Shavuot, which concretizes our relationship with God, there are no particular commandments! Eating cheesecake is not a biblical commandment. Why are there no particular commandments for the holiday of Shavuot?

I believe there is a deep message here for us. First, the acknowledgement of the fact that our relationship with God, which is fully celebrated on Shavuot, cannot be limited to a particular basket of commandments. It’s the way we engage with God every single day that’s important.

We take out 25 hours – or outside of Israel we take out two days – to reflect upon that perspective: that Shavuot is about the way we talk to our neighbors, how we fill out our tax forms, how we interact with our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, our parents. 

And that’s why it’s not limited to specific commandments. To highlight the fact that Shavuot requires us to realize that our engagement with God is based on our entire weltanschauung on life.

It is God who creates the holiness on Mount Sinai, and therefore when God leaves, the holiness dissipates. But in  the Temple, it wasn’t God alone that created the holiness; the holiness was created by the partnership with the Jewish people. Likewise our synagogues: the holiness may emanate from God, but that holiness is created because the energy of the community, the energy of the people. And when holiness is created in partnership, between God and the Jewish people, that holiness is eternal.

What an important message for us! We are the ones who guarantee the eternality of the holiness. We guarantee that holiness lasts forever. We play a role in the future of the Jewish people, in the future of society, and even – according to Rav Kook – in the future of God, in the future of God’s role within this world. 

And therefore Shavuot is not limited to a particular commandment. Holiness created in partnership with God lasts forever, and holiness that is created by God alone just lasts for a moment. 

What a power we have, the capacity to change the world! Let’s recognize that as we celebrate this holiday of Matan Torah, this holiday in which we also – in Israel at least – read on Shabbat the Parsha of Naso, of rising and playing a leadership role in our relationship with God, and let us understand that we need to take a moment back on Shavuot and ask ourselves how each and every one of us can change the world around us, can transform ourselves, and in the process, transform society around us. 

Chag Matan Torah Sameach, Chag Shavuot Sameach.

“Shabbat Shalom” – Shavuot 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Shavuot By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – The Scroll of Ruth contains one of the most idyllic stories in the Bible, a tale of “autumnal love” between a widow (Ruth) and a widower (Boaz), within the backdrop of diaspora inter-marriage, conversion to Judaism, and the agricultural life in ancient Israel.  The Rabbinic Sages …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Bamidbar 5780

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

“Redemption in the Air: Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot”

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“Redemption in the Air: Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot”

Chodesh haZiv. The name that this month of Iyyar is given by the Tanakh and Talmud. It means the sprouting of new light, because we are now blessed in Israel with the blossoming of all the flowers and of the trees. The beginning of the spring. 

We start to hear the birds in the air. It’s Chodesh haZiv because it is the complete month, the month of Iyyar. From Pesach to Shavuot, where we count up from the beginning of the redemption of the Jewish people, to the final component of the redemption of the Jewish people. 

It is the beginning of the spiritual light. It is Chodesh haZiv because it is also the month that the Gemara, in Rosh Hashana, on page 11A, tells us that the patriarchs were born. 

The sprouting and the beginning of the nation. 

But for us in this generation it is also called Chodesh haZiv, the beginning of the sprouting of new light, because in this month we have been fortunate to have Yom haAtzmaut on the fifth of Iyyar – Israel Independence Day – and Yom Yerushalayim, the reunification of Jerusalem, on the 28th of Iyyar, this Friday. 

After all, what better way to celebrate Ziv, the beginning of the flourishing of the new light, when we have been blessed in this generation with these two new holidays. 

Purim and Pesach; our paradigms of redemption. Purim represents redemption that comes from humankind, from Mordechai and Esther, who galvanize the Jewish people, with God operating behind the scenes. Pesach is a miracle that is orchestrated by God. He is the primary conductor, with the Jewish people playing a secondary role. 

On Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, you have the themes of Pesach and Purim together: an initiative by humankind, Jews throughout the world, human beings throughout the world, that move to help the Jewish people have its homeland. It is the celebration of the Purim experience in modern-day time. 

But you also have the initiative of God, who uses His powerful hand to empower the army of the Jewish people to defy all the military odds, to guarantee the immortality of the Jewish people. 

In this generation, we have been blessed with the full blossoming of Chodesh haZiv, the full blossoming of a radiant light in this month. 

It focuses on our movement towards Shavuot. It focuses on finding God in nature, the beginning of the Jewish people through our patriarchs, and the continuation of the story, through Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. 

The message that we have for this week, to be blessed, to be zoche, to merit to be part of this generation, where we see the beginning of the final redemption of the Jewish people. 

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Yerushalayim Sameach!

Bamidbar: “Take the Levites”

Rav Yoni Rosensweig

Parashat Bamidbar: “Take the Levites” Why does the Torah go to such lengths to keep the Levites completely separate from the rest of the Israelites? Why did it order a separate census of the Levites? Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig, Faculty of the Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program at Midreshet Lindenbaum Parashat Bamidbar contains technical lists of …

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“Shabbat Shalom” – Bamidbar 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel –  ‘And God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they came out of the Land of Egypt’ (Numbers 1:1) Bamidbar, or “In the desert,” …

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Behar-Bechukotai: Does the Curse Overpower the Blessing?

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai: Does the Curse Overpower the Blessing?  The disparity between the relatively meager description of the blessings and the richer description of the curses beckons us to take a deeper look, which may allow us to arrive at a good explanation for the substantial difference between the blessing and the curse. Rabbi Netanel Lederberg …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Behar-Bechukotai 5780

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

“Planting Seeds: Changing Ourselves and the World”

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Planting Seeds: Changing Ourselves and the World

This week, we’re introduced to this unbelievable, fascinating halacha about the sabbatical year.  And there is a fascinating law that shares with us a difference in mindsets, a difference between Shabbat and the sabbatical year. 

On Shabbat, if I take a seed and I plant it, and an hour later I remove the seed from the ground, I’ve still violated the prohibition of doing a creative action on Shabbat, even though the seed has not yet taken root.

With a sabbatical year, if I plant a seed, something that is prohibited during the sabbatical year, and a day later, before it takes root I remove the seed, I have not violated the sabbatical year.

Why is there this difference between Shabbat and the sabbatical year?

Let me suggest an answer that was written in the mid-1800s by Rav Avraham Borenstein of Sochaczew, the Sochatchover Rebbe, in his Eglei Tal. He explains that on Shabbat, what counts is my melechet machshevet – my creative thought process. 

The fact that I have a picture in my mind that I want to plant a seed is sufficient to have violated the prohibition of not doing creative labor. 

On the sabbatical year, what counts is my influence over the world, and therefore it’s not enough to plant the seed. The seed needs to take root.

What a wonderful message for us! The idea that we have to live in both paradigms. 

The Shabbat paradigm, the melechet machshevet.  We have to be creative – and often our creative thoughts are really critical and really important in developing ourselves.  When we have a commitment to our own self-development, that commitment to that self-development that takes root in our mind is sufficient to be transformational.

But when we engage in the outside world, it’s not enough to have a mindset. It’s not enough for a seed to be planted in our mind, or for a seed to be planted. The action has to take root.  It’s not enough to think about helping my neighbor. I actually have to do something. 

We live on these two levels. We live in these two dimensions. The responsibility of celebrating the message of Shabbat every single day. Of having creative actions, creative mindsets, of making sure we improve ourselves, that new ideas take root in our mind. 

And our responsibility to engage in the world, the sabbatical paradigm.  To make sure that our actions really celebrate our commitment to changing the world, and the responsibility to do that. 

Shabbat Shalom, and may we always celebrate the Shabbat and the sabbatical paradigms in our life.

“Shabbat Shalom” – Behar-Bechukotai 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel –  “And you shall count for yourselves seven cycles of Sabbatical years, seven years, seven times… forty-nine years… you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants; it shall be the Jubilee year for you.” (Leviticus 25:8-10) This …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Emor 5780

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

“Priest and Prophet; Ritual and Relevance”

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Priest and Prophet; Ritual and Relevance

I am sharing with you, the priests and the prophets of the Jewish people, a very interesting idea. Yes, you – the priests and the prophets. 

We are all priests and prophets, and in this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to the whole notion of what it means to be a priest – a kohen. 

The kohen has two requirements before he can serve in the Temple. First, he has to be a descendant from the seed of Aaron. All that counts is his lineage. Second, he must wear certain garments. He must wear bigdei kahuna – the priestly vestments; if he’s missing even one, he cannot serve in the Temple. 

And then there is the prophet: it doesn’t make a difference who his or her parents were. In fact, King David, the progenitor of the Messiah, the quintessential prophet who engages God and puts together Tehillim, is descended from the controversial convert Ruth, and from the illegitimate relationship between Yehuda and Tamar. 

And it doesn’t matter what the prophet is wearing. The prophet can be wearing formalwear, a tuxedo, or jeans and a t-shirt. If he or she has a relationship with God, that is all that counts. 

We need to assimilate both of these paradigms of leadership into our life and weltanschauung. On the one hand, we need to celebrate the message of the priest; the idea that there’s a certain sense of the eternality of the Jewish people when we are committed to the rituals. The kohen is the guardian of the rituals, and that’s why his holiness is based in externals: vestments and lineage.

When we are involved, when we sing the same songs that our grandparents sang at the Shabbat table, when we use the same kiddush cup that our grandfather or grandmother used, there’s a certain sense of the immortality of the Jewish people. 

However, if the only reason why we are celebrating our Judaism is based on the past – on the continuity of rituals – then Judaism becomes a dead symbol.Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of the prophet to make sure that Judaism is imbued with relevance, and is connected to day-to-day reality. 

Therefore, the prophet sometimes admonishes the Kohen, saying, “Why does God need your sacrifices? Why does God need the everyday routines in the Temple, if they are not imbued with a passion and with spirituality?”

During this period, in which we have so much time for reflection and introspection, let’s think how we can take the mantles of the priest and the prophet and imbue them into our daily lives. How we can celebrate ritual and routine, but also recognizing that the ritual must be imbued with meaning and relevance. When we achieve that, we will truly be the mamlechet kohanim – the priestly nation.

Each and every one of us can be the priest and the prophet, if we’re committed to the ritual and if we ensure that it is imbued with a passion that inspires our daily life.

Shabbat Shalom.

Parshat Emor: People with Disabilities in the Holy Temple

Parashat Emor: People with Disabilities in the Holy Temple Rabbi Rafi Ostroff teaches Talmud at the Neveh Channah High School for Girls, in Memory of Anna Ehrman The first part of this week’s parasha concerns the laws of kehuna, priesthood. Arguably, this may be the main parasha to discuss the laws of the sanctity of …

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