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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayelech (Deuteronomy 30:1-31:30)/ Yom Kippur By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Now, therefore write this song for you, and teach it to the People of Israel…” (Deuteronomy 31:19). Is Yom Kippur a happy day or a sad day? Many associate the Day of Atonement with solemnity and trepidation. Indeed, according to …

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This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” has been sponsoredby the Charif Family of Sydney Australia in memory of Harry Sher (Hillel ben Chona)whose 24th Yartzheit is on 2 Tishrei, 5782 Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Not with you alone do I establish this covenant and this oath, but with those …

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This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” is dedicated in celebration ofLeia Elison’s 4th Birthday— 2 Elulby her loving grandparentsIan and Bernice Charif of Sydney, Australia Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “When a matter shall arise for you too wondrous for judgment, whether it be capital, civil, or ritual, you shall …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Re’eh 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“When the Torah Challenges our Engagement with God”

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Parshat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

“When the Torah Challenges our Engagement with God”

Our sense of morality feels violated when we see or hear about the murder of innocents, particularly children.
 
So what are we to do when the Torah itself, to which we turn for moral guidance, calls for that very action?
 
While it is tempting to gloss over these difficult encounters and some will  question why I bring this up in this parsha talk, it’s important to address them head on, driven by a deep love of God and the belief in the eternal truth of the Torah.
 
In this week’s parsha, Re’eh, we find an example of this. In Chapter 13 of the Book of Devarim, we read of the punishment for a city in which idolatry takes place.
 
If it is established that the majority of the town’s residents have rebelled against God by worshipping idols, the Torah requires that the town’s population be executed, that their possessions be destroyed and that the town be burned to the ground, to remain in an eternal state of ruin, never to be rebuilt, as a reminder to the Jewish people.
 
We can understand why the Torah is so adamant about deterring idolatry, but in any Jewish town, there will be innocents, including spouses and children, who will be condemned to death for something they did not do. 
 
How can this be? How can the Torah of compassion and righteousness require such a terrible injustice?
 
Maimonides, the Rambam, based on sources from the Talmud, stresses the very limited scope in which these laws could be implemented. (Rambam [Maimonides], Hilchot Avodah Zara / Laws of Idolatry Chapter 4)
 
In fact, the requirements that must be met in order for the High court to carry out the punishment are so specific that in reality, it never actually happened.
 
1. First, all of the negative influencers involved in perpetrating this crime must be all residents of the city, and from the same tribe, not other Jewish tribes. 
 
2. The courts need to ascertain that the majority of the residents have been involved in idol worship. 
 
Each person in the city is judged as an individual, and there must be two kosher witnesses that testify that they witnessed each individual worship idols until you get to a majority who have worshiped foreign gods.
 
3. If anything less than the majority of the population has been found to have transgressed this crime, the city is not classified as an idolatrous town.
 
4. Even if it has been established that a majority of the town’s population is guilty, a team of positive influencers are to be brought in to see if they can change the attitude of the town to try to get the residents to change their behavior. If that effort succeeds, all is forgiven.
 
Essentially the focus of this Torah section is on the seriousness of the event – rebellion against God – more than any possible consequence in this world.
 
It is like the verse an “eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24), where such a consequence for this heinous crime of maiming someone is not possible but the Torah refuses to limit its description to the consequence of paying different forms of financial compensation for a bodily injury.
 
Nevertheless, the fact remains that according to Maimonides, the law could have theoretically been applied, allowing for the killing of innocent children.
 
One of Maimonides’ contemporaries, Rav Meir HaLevi Abulafia, a highly regarded Spanish halakhic decisor and author of the sefer, “Yad Ramah”, challenges Maimonides and asks why innocents should face collective 
punishment.
 
Citing a verse from the Book of Job (34:10), Rav Abulafia writes: ‎“חָלִלָה לָאֵל מֵרֶשַׁע” – God forbid that He would demand such a wicked act.
 
According to Rav Abulafia, who also has sources from within the Talmudic tradition upon which to rely, the Torah never meant to include innocents among those to be punished.
 
Rav Abulafia knew in the Middle Ages that with no Sanhedrin, this commandment was no longer operative and perhaps could never be implemented.
 
Nevertheless, he debated it as a reminder that Torah scholars must challenge even halakhic giants such as Maimonides in order to ensure that interpretations of the Torah are consistent with the moral norms and values of the Torah.
 
And this is a call to each and every one of us that we, too, must engage with our understanding of Torah to make sure our understanding is consistent with certain deep values of human life.
 
While reason does not lay down the path along which the person of faith walk, when we feel that an ideal of Torah will affect our engagement with God, then we need to explore our tradition/mesorah carefully, speak to rabbis, Talmidei and talmidot chachamim/Torah scholars, and learn an approach within our tradition that speaks to us – for, ultimately,
‎דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי ‎נֹעַם וְכׇל ‎נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם
The ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peaceful.  (Proverbs 3:17)
 
Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Reeh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “But the place which the Lord your God shall choose from among all of your tribes to place His Name there, for His dwelling place, shall you seek and shall you come there. And you shall bring there your whole burnt offerings …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Ekev 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Building the Jewish State with Human Initiative and Divine Guidance”

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Parshat Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

“Building the Jewish State with Human Initiative and Divine Guidance”

At this point, we have all become used to explaining to others the necessity of a Jewish state – especially when we are confronted with threats of BDS, from those who seek to delegitimize and ultimately dismantle the Jewish state.

But there is an even more important audience and an even more basic question.

The more important audience is us. And the basic question that we need to be able to answer is, “What is our role in the Jewish state?”

I’d like to share an insight from this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, which offers a powerful answer.

In Chapter 8 of the Book of Devarim, the Torah describes the Land of Israel in the most beautiful of ways, noting its natural beauty, produce, resources and minerals.

However, beyond the poetic beauty of the description lies an important sequence which teaches us a crucial lesson about our relationship with God.

The first verse relates that God is bringing us to a good land with flowing streams and springs. (Deuteronomy 8:7)

These are things that exist independently from our involvement; we are passive recipients. 

In the next verse, our active partnership is required, as we must plant and reap wheat, barley, vines, figs and pomegranates. (Deuteronomy 8:8)

The verse continues, repeating the word “Eretz”, and speaks of things requiring even more human initiative, as it is not enough to simply harvest the olives or the dates; but rather, one must crush an olive to obtain its oil and squeeze a date to access its honey. 

Next, the Torah refers to the Jewish People in the land not lacking for food, using bread – the staple food – in this context. (Deuteronomy 8:9)

Making bread is an arduous process which requires a lot more human participation than any of the previously-mentioned items.  

And finally, the Torah discusses the natural resources and minerals found within the Land of Israel: copper and iron and gas and oil, all of which require an immense amount of work to mine before we can benefit from them. 

And then, immediately after this progression from passively receiving the Land’s bounty to becoming active partners in its acquisition, the Torah mentions the necessity of thanking God:

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ה’ אלוקיך

And you shall eat and be satiated and shall bless the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 8:10)

This is the verse where we learn about the mandate for Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals, to be recited after eating bread.

Birkat Hamazon is longer and more comprehensive than the blessings “Bore Nefashot” and “Me’ein Shalosh”, which are recited after other foods.

Since a person doesn’t have to do much in order to benefit from grapes or other produce, and one can more clearly see God’s role in providing it, the blessing after consuming the product doesn’t need to be extensive.

However, the line from the wheat in the field to the bread on one’s table is less direct.

It’s not hard to start believing that the bread is the result of our own toil, rather than a gift from God.

It is human nature to forget about the central role that God plays in our lives when we invest so much into the initiative ourselves.

Therefore, the Grace after Meals after eating bread is more extensive.

And now, to answer our original question: What is our role in the Jewish state?

The messages of these verses are clear:

  1. The Land of Israel, given to us by God, requires human initiative in order to flourish; this is shown in the movement we see in the verses that describe the land. We must be actors in the ongoing drama known as Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.
  2. Whether it is the tilling of the soil, or the technological advances that so often emanate from this “Start Up Nation”, or the engagement of the hearts and minds of others who live in the land, it is our responsibility to grow the land, to actualize the potential of the land and to realize that while God is the Senior Partner in this process, we must also be active participants in the experience.
  3. God wants us in this land to be brothers and sisters, to engage and to use its gifts to better our lives. To never use His Torah, a Torah of peace, or the Land and its holy sites to divide people, but rather to transform this land of milk and honey into a place of harmony and a light to the nations of the world.

For these reasons and so many more, we need – and the world needs us – to help shape our Jewish state.

And we can play a role in this process whether we live within its borders or anywhere else in the world.

May we merit to continue working to fulfill Israel’s potential and its promise. 

Shabbat Shalom.