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

“Getting Dressed Up for Rosh HaShanah – Physically and Spiritually”

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“Getting Dressed Up for Rosh HaShanah – Physically and Spiritually”

“לבוש חגיגי – פיזי ורוחני – לראש השנה”

Rosh HaShana is next week!

Next week.

And the imminent arrival of Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment, provides us the opportunity to examine our values, our spiritual priorities, and evaluate if we are fulfilling the God-given potential that we each have. 

In particular, I would like to draw your attention to the issue of our clothes. Yes, our clothes.

In this week’s Haftara, the culmination of God’s comforting the Jewish People following the exile of our people, the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, the prophet Yeshayahu utilizes the imagery of clothing to portray a redemptive and purposeful life:

“My soul shall be joyful in God for He has clothed me with the garments of salvationHe has covered me with the robes of righteousness…”

How can clothing, a symbol of physical protective gear, a medium that often communicates a person’s stature, his or her mindset, something so superficial, convey a spiritual idea?

After Adam and Chava [Eve] commit their transgression in the Garden of Eden, the Torah states, “and the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and clothed them.”

The Midrash states, in the name of Rabbi Meir, that the word ‘ohr’ should begin not with the letter ‘ayin,’ but rather with the letter ‘aleph’, which radically changes the meaning of the verse, to read the following: Not that God made them garments of skin, but rather, God made them garments of light.

You see, when Adam and Chava sin, they do not require a physical cover-up; they need a spiritual one! 

It was their soul that was in danger of “catching a cold” and it was their soul that needed protection.

Rabbi [Yosef Dov Halevi] Soloveitchik, ztz”l, explains how fitting it is that this teaching comes from Rabbi Meir, because Rabbi Meir had two teachers, Elisha ben Avuya (known as “The Other”) and Rabbi Akiva.

More than most, Rabbi Meir understood the difference between physical and spiritual clothing.

The Romans took good care of Elisha ben Avuya, the “Other,” who had collaborated with them in their occupation of Judea. When Elisha ben Avuya passed, it was in the midst of material luxury; he was in his own warm bed, in protective clothing. And yet, because he committed treason against his people, he dies without a legacy. His soul comes before God totally unclothed.

In contrast, Rabbi Akiva’s final days were spent as a fugitive, hiding every night in a different location to elude capture by the Romans. His body lacked the comfort of warm clothing. And when he was captured, and certainly when he was murdered, he did not die in the comfort of his own bed but rather, he was martyred in the most cruel fashion, dying in total nakedness.

But Rabbi Akiva’s essence is immortal. He lives in the psyche and the literature of his people. He may have departed this world unclothed, but he was adorned with the finest of spiritual clothing.

So what is the state of our spiritual clothing? 

What can we do to repair its tatters, and what can we do to enhance its regalness?

Let us devote this time before Rosh HaShana for this introspection, to contemplate and address these questions. In the process, we will discover our capacity to dress ourselves in the finest of spiritual clothing, and to truly celebrate what these High Holidays are all about.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rav Udi Abramowitz

Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech: What is a Real Tikkun? Rabbi Udi Abramovitz is the Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod The Book of Deuteronomy is known for offering us a new way of looking at the events, the commandments and the concepts we encountered in the other four books of the Pentateuch, beginning with its attitude towards the …

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Shabbat Shalom: Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Behold, I give before you this day the life and the good, the death and the evil… blessing and curse; and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your seed…” (Deut. 30:15, 19) What does it mean, to choose …

Read more“Shabbat Shalom” – Nitzavim-Vayelech 5780

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

“Recognizing the Righteous and Stopping the Bullies: Shining a Light on Anonymity”

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“Recognizing the Righteous and Stopping the Bullies: Shining a Light on Anonymity”

What does our Torah have to say about the modern scourge of cyberbullying? How could its ancient words possibly be relevant to our digital age of social media?

The words of the Torah are, perhaps, ancient, but they are timely in every generation. We can always find new insights that are relevant to our modern lives. 

In this week’s portion, Ki Tavo, we read 

“ארור מכה רעהו בסתר”

“Cursed is the person who damages his friend in secret”

Commentaries have struggled with this verse. Why is the word ‘בסתר’, ‘in secret’, necessary? Isn’t it just as wrong to hurt someone in public?

Let’s look at this verse through the prism of today’s social media shaming culture, in which any individual can be damaged, defamed, even destroyed by nameless, faceless bullies. 

Whereas traditional bullying used to be face-to-face, today’s weapon of choice is the keyboard, with camouflage offered by a screen.

Because of this physical disconnect from their victims, studies show that cyberbullies exhibit less remorse than physical bullies. 

But the victims’ shame can be far greater, as with each ‘share’ and ‘like’ by people all over the world, their damage grows exponentially. Youth who endure cyberbullying can experience a decline in academic performance and difficulties at home, and they are also at an increased risk of depression, anxiety and suicide. 

With this in mind, let’s return to our verse and translate it through the lens of contemporary life: “Cursed is the person who uses the cloak of social media to destroy the identity, the humanity of another”. 

The word בסתר – in secret – takes on an entirely new, contemporary meaning. 

I’d like to add an additional perspective to this verse.  This week we sat shiva for yet another victim of terror: Rabbi Shai Ohayon; father of 4, beloved husband and son who dedicated his life to Torah study after serving in the IDF.  

Rabbi Ohayon was a man who lived ‘בסתר’, “in secret” — an anonymous man dedicated to performing good deeds about which we are only learning now, after his murder. 

On the one hand, we live in a time in which all one has to do is Google someone’s name to find out everything about them. 

But at the same time, we  know so little about who they really, truly are.

Perhaps in a socially-distanced, safe way, it is time for us to reach out and learn about the people around us, so that no one lives ‘בסתר’-  alone and in darkness. 

We need to break down digital barriers and re-establish human contact, bringing the cyberbullying phenomenon out of the shadows.  

We should find out which of our neighbors need help and companionship, especially during this pandemic when so many elderly people and individuals in quarantine are being found dead, alone in their homes. 

And we should allow ourselves to get to know the stories of the anonymous heroes like Rabbi Ohayon that live amongst us, so that we can be illuminated and inspired by them. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Shay Nave

Parshat Ki Tavo – Etching the Torah in Stone Rabbi Shay Nave is the Director of OTS’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity For the Jewish people to return to its land, they must undergo a process of interpreting and clarifying the Torah. This is the process that occurred during the first return to Zion, led …

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Rabbi Riskin

Shabbat Shalom: Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Cursed be the individual who does not carry aloft the words of this Torah.” (Deuteronomy 27:26) Although I have been blessed with many magnificent students over my five decades of teaching, I shall never forget the piercing words penned by one of …

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Pnina Omer

Parshat Ki Tetze – A Women’s Protection Program  Parshat Ki Tetze establishes a hierarchy of values that we are to follow, which distinguishes between social standards and Jewish ethics. We must apply ourselves in order to preserve the dignity and the rights of women. Pnina Omer is the Director of OTS’s Yad La’isha: The Monica …

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

“A Tragedy We Can Prevent: The Case for Halakhic Pre-Nups”

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“A Tragedy We Can Prevent: The Case for Halakhic Pre-Nups”

Not all marriages can be saved – nor should they be. 

While the Torah celebrates the joining of a couple in marriage and all that it represents; the Torah also commands the protection of couples from unloving, unhappy or abusive relationships. 

The  formal procedure to end a marriage is based on a verse in our parsha, Ki Tetze: 

וכתב לה ספר כריתות ונתן בידה…

The husband writes and presents a writ of divorce – a get – to his wife…

The word “גט” – gimmel+tet – are never found together in Tanach, highlighting the fact that sometimes severance is best – when it is no longer in the best interest of the couple to remain together.

3,000 years ago, the idea of a formal get was a novel approach; the first concept in human history to ensure that a divorced woman would remain economically protected and not simply discarded.

But today this tool, created to protect, has been corrupted and turned into a weapon. Thousands of Jewish women around the world have become “agunot” – chained to marriages by recalcitrant husbands who hold them hostage by withholding their rightful get

Sometimes the price he asks for the get is custody of the children, huge sums of money or giving up on joint property. Other times, his motive is punishment, and no amount of concession will change his mind.

This ugly phenomenon of get-refusal creates misery for the aguna and devastates the family.

Get-refusal is nothing less than a chilul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, and it is inconceivable that such pain be inflicted under the guise of halakha.

You and I can change this.

We can and must insist that every couple get married with a halakhic prenuptial agreement – a document first conceived in the 17th century halakhic work, Nachlas Shiva. 

A contemporary version, established by the Beit Din of America and Rav Mordechai Willig, with the strong support of Rav Herschel Schacter and the approval of poskim such as Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, zt”l, and libadel may’chayyim l’chayyim, Rav Asher Weiss and others, has been in use for more than 25 years, during which time tens of thousands of North American couples have signed it without one single case of aguna!

Here in Israel, similar documents have been created, but much work needs to be done to increase awareness of the issue in Israeli society.

By using the links that appear on the screen, you can download the halakhic prenup from the Beit Din of America; an Israeli version of it from Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha: Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline for agunot; or a slightly different Israeli version promoted by the Tzohar rabbinical organization.

What better way can a couple demonstrate how much they care for one another, how much they truly love one another, than to promise to never hurt one another? 

Just as it is a mitzvah to end an unhappy marriage, let us recommit to ensuring that this sad process includes this important and common sense step in protecting our daughters, granddaughters and all Jewish women from avoidable agony and suffering.

We have the ability to end this chilul Hashem. Let’s do our part.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “An illegitimate person [mamzer] shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even his tenth generation shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord”  (Deuteronomy 23:3) One of the most difficult biblical laws to understand is that of the mamzer, …

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

“Leadership and the Law: Building a Just and Moral Society”

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“Leadership and the Law: Building a Just and Moral Society”

We are living in the midst of a pandemic in which our leaders have the awesome responsibility for so much of our communities’ health and wellbeing.

In some countries, notably Israel and the United States, citizens are challenging those leaders – on the streets and in the courts.

Specifically in these times of crisis, the relationship between leaders,the courts and citizens is an important aspect of a healthy and robust society.

While I believe that leaders deserve respect, it is in this week’s parsha that a Biblical constant is framed

שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך

You shall appoint shoftim – judges – and “shotrim” in all of your communities

What are “shotrim”? In spoken Hebrew, they are police officers. And the most famous of Torah commentators, Rashi, also understands it that way.

In a modern context, it would speak to the fact that it is the responsibility of the judiciary (shoftim) to ensure the rule of law even on shotrim, law enforcement. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of law enforcement to help implement the laws. We see the vast majority of law enforcement doing so do even when it puts them in harm’s way. Yet the juxtaposition of Shoftim v’Shotrim obligates us to ensure that structures are in place that allow us to call out law enforcement that does not follow its own code of conduct. It is a sacred responsibility to maintain checks and balances between the Shoftim, judges, and Shotrim, law enforcement.

Yet many commentators and Midrashim translate “shotrim” not as police officers but rather as “leaders”. According to this interpretation, the verse reads: You shall appoint judges and leaders in all of your communities.

The Torah’s juxtaposition of  “judges” with “leaders” wishes to accentuate that it is in the best interest of any society even with the most regal of leaders to have checks and balances. That was the role of the Biblical prophet with the leader of the Sanhedrin and the King. 

Government requires structures that allow for a balance of power, if we are to  build a just and moral society.

In such a society, citizens have the right – and I believe even the responsibility – to respect their leaders, but, when necessary, to question them. The judiciary and government leaders are שלוחי דרחמנא – emissaries of God to help shape a more perfect society.   

The judiciary serves as a check on the power of leadership, ensuring that it remains responsive and accountable .

It is telling that the continuation of our verse continues with the words,

אשר ה’ א-להיך נותן לך

“…that Hashem your God is giving you.” 

Through these words, the Torah reminds us that as God gives us the Land, it is in the context of building a society in which no single branch of government holds all of the power. 

We have been given the responsibility of creating a just society. I applaud the work of hard working selfless civil servants. Without them we would destroy each other.  

But let us never forget that only by creating a civil society – embracing the concept of justice and compassion, Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – we will truly be deserving of inheriting the land that God has given us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rav Avishai Milner

Parshat Shoftim- Crony Capitalism and How to Be a King in Israel  Rabbi Avishai Milner is the Rosh Yeshiva of Neveh Shmuel Yeshiva High School, named in memory of Samuel Pinchas Ehrman  The King of Israel – mission impossible? Well, nearly impossible… One of the main motifs of the Book of Deuteronomy is how the …

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This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” is dedicated in celebration of Leia Elison’s 3th Birthday— 2 Elul by her loving grandparents Ian and Bernice Charif of Sydney, Australia Shabbat Shalom: Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “The Levitic kohanim, the entire tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; the Lord’s …

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