Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – The very joyous and ritually rich festival of Sukkot comes at the heels of Yom Kippur, the Day of Forgiveness and Purity. Now that, hopefully, we have been forgiven for our transgressions, we begin afresh with a clean slate. It is certainly …

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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 
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.

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

“Are We Meeting the Challenge of Inspiring our Children?”

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Parshat Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11 )

“Are We Meeting the Challenge of Inspiring our Children?”

Raising a Jewish family is a tremendous privilege, and with it comes an enormous responsibility to pass Jewish traditions to the next generation.

It is easier said than done.

We are all aware, whether in our own family, or even among Torah scholars, of children who have grown up and chosen a path that differs from that of their parents.

How do we do our absolute best to give our children the kinds of experiences and emotional support that we hope will lead them to remaining on the path of Jewish tradition?

I’d like to share an insight into this issue from the most famous and often-recited paragraph in the Torah, the first paragraph of Shema which begins with “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad” and which is introduced to us in this week’s parsha, Va’etchanan.

In the Shema, the Torah speaks about our love, awareness and commitment to a relationship with God. 

There it states:

וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם
Repeat these things to your children

בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשׇׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ

when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you wake up. (Devarim 6:7)

This is the basis for our twice-daily obligation to recite the Shema: in the darkness of night, representing times in our lives when things are challenging, when because – or perhaps despite – the fact that we don’t have clarity, we wish to connect with God. And also in the light of day, when things are going well, when we are prone to feel that we are responsible for our successes; reciting the Shema is a “pledge of allegiance”; a recognition of the role that God plays in our lives. 

“Shema Yisrael” is also the utterance of those who have performed the ultimate act of sacrifice – martyrdom – for the sake of ensuring the eternality of the Jewish people.

So important, in fact, is the recitation of the Shema that the first Mishnah in the first tractate in the oral tradition, Berachot, begins with the Shema:

מאימתי קורין את שמע בערבית?

When can one recite the evening-time Shema? (Berachot 1a)

And after offering several opinions regarding the question of “until when can the evening Shema be recited?”

The final opinion comes from Rabban Gamliel, who states that one may recite the Shema until dawn. 

The Mishna then continues with an anecdote involving Rabban Gamliel’s sons returning very late from a party.

The sons told Rabban Gamliel that they were preoccupied at a party and had not yet recited the evening Shema. 

Could they still recite it?

His response to them was – since the dawn had not yet arrived, they were still obligated and permitted to recite the evening Shema.

Why does the Mishna need this anecdote involving Rabban Gamliel’s sons? It seems extraneous. 

Rav Shlomo Vilk, Rosh Yehshiva of Ohr Torah Stone’s Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva, points out the Mishna is focusing on the challenge and ideal of Jewish spiritual continuity and finding it in the everyday. To be able to speak about the challenges of being out at a late-night party engaged in activity which may seem antithetical to a transcendent life, yet it is the job of the parent to find ways to help the next generation to connect with the ideals of the Shema. 

The fact that this story is inserted in the first Mishnah of our Oral tradition highlights the need to promote dialogue regarding spirituality between parent and child.  For such dialogue helps to ensure that spirituality is found in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives. 

What an important message this first Mishna of the oral tradition teaches us: the responsibility, indeed the mandate, that an essential component of our relationship with God of our Judaism is to find God while engaging in the everyday and even in the joys of the everyday. 

This is our opportunity and our challenge!  

Inserting this story into the Mishnaic conversation implores us to work to create an environment of spirituality that is meaningful and relevant to our children and grandchildren as they engage in the wondrous opportunities and challenges of everyday life experiences.

The first Mishna of our oral tradition reminds us that if we are to guarantee our Jewish future, we must create a religious language that speaks to the everyday experiences of our children and grandchildren.

Shabbat Shalom.

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

“‘Where Are You?’ The Most Important Question of Tisha B’Av

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Parshat Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22)

“‘Where Are You?’ The Most Important Question of Tisha B’Av”

When a loved one dies, God forbid, the intensity of our mourning is seen in its most dramatic form on the day of burial and then gradually diminishes from the first through the seventh day of shiva, through the next 30 days – the shloshim – and in the case of a beloved parent, throughout the year of mourning.

Our communal mourning for the destruction of our holy Temple, on the other hand, progresses in the exact opposite direction.

For three weeks, catalyzed by the fast of the 17 of Tammuz, we refrain from joyous activity. 

Then, during the final nine days of those three weeks, beginning on Rosh Chodesh Av (or, for Sephardic Jews, during the final week preceding the ninth of Av,) we progress to an even more heightened state of mourning. 

Ultimately, the pinnacle of mourning occurs on Tisha B’Av – the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.  

The reason for this opposite pattern is because unlike mourning a family member, it is so hard to sincerely mourn a 2000-year-old tragedy.

It’s true that the loss of our holy Temple led to the loss of our sovereignty and, even more significantly, the loss of our connection to God. 

But still it’s hard to immediately and emotionally connect to it. 

We need time to enter into the necessary mindset. 

The build up from 17 Tammuz to Tisha B’Av gives us the opportunity to think beyond the “what” of this period’s mourning practices and focus on the “why”.

One idea for getting into this “why” comes from the teachings of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, ztz”l, based on the central text read on Tisha b’Av: Megillat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations.

Rav Soloveitchik teaches that Megillat Eicha also known as the Book of Kinot provides us with prophetic license to ask the ultimate question: “Eicha?!” – how God could this have happened?

How God can you have abandoned us the Jewish people to our enemies?

How God can you have allowed the Temple, Jerusalem and the Land of Israel to become desolate?

We begin Tisha B’Av by reading this book of Eicha, this book of Kinot, which gives us permission to question, and then spend the next 24 hours engaged in seeking the answers.

Rav Soloveitchik explained that when we read the word “Eicha,” we must also read it the first way that it is pronounced in the Bible, when God asks Adam and Chava: “Ayeka”? Where are you? (Genesis 3:9)

Eicha – how did this happen? – and Ayeka – where are you? – are intertwined. Because in order to repair the devastation , we must investigate where we are? 

Where are we in the treatment of other Jews and other human beings?

Where are we in our support of Israel?

Where are we in pursuit of unity?

Do we still not recognize that ultimately it was the judgmental hatred and the disrespect between us that caused famine, torture and the final destruction of the second Temple and all of its ramifications? (Yoma 9b)

Where are we in the process of trying to perfect the world, and help bring about the ultimate redemption?

This approach enables us to also mourn things taking place in our lives and in our generation, which are actually extensions of the tragedies that occurred two millennia ago, making the tragedy more relatable.

In the merit of heartfelt mourning over what we have lost and a resolution to prioritize fixing that which we have broken, may we witness the words of our Sages:

 כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה

Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit and see her future joy. (Taanit 30b)

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and then a meaningful and easy fast.

“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…” Isaiah 61:10

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.” Genesis 3:21

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. Bereishit Rabbah 20:12

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 …

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