Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “This is my God ve-anveihu, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” (Exodus 15:2) What is the best way to give thanks to God? As the walls of the sea come crashing down on the elite Egyptian chariots, and the Israelites realize …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And it came to pass that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon, and all the …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vaera (Exodus 6:2- 9:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And I will bring you into the land that I promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you as a morasha [heritage]: I am the LORD.“ (Exodus 6:8). It is only natural for parents to desire …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Shemot (Exodus 1:1 -6:1) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Why is Joseph, the towering personality of the last four portions of the Book of Genesis, not considered the fourth patriarch of Israel? After all, he receives a …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Pekudei 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“When We Put Service To God Over Concern For Others”

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Parshat Pekudei (Exodus 38:21 -40:38

“When We Put Service To God Over Concern For Others

Parshat Pekudei: the final parsha in the Book of Shemot, and the last section to talk about the construction of the Tabernacle, and essentially the blueprint for the construction of the Temple.

Now, we have already discussed that the Tabernacle/Temple is really a place in which an individual can create sacred moments in time with God, a way in which we can find multiple portals of entry, to feel a connection with God, a romance with God.

Yet, even in this structure, which speaks about connection to God, there also must be a recognition of a sense of respect and dignity. The Gemara tells us that it used to be that the priests would run up the altar, ascend the ramp of the altar to be engaged in one of the first services in the morning “דישון המזבח” the cleaning off of the Ashes of the Mizbe’ach.

The Talmud tells us that once, as the Kohanim were running up the ramp, one Kohen saw that the other Kohen was going to get to the top first and therefore, he pushed him off the ramp so that he could get there first to perform the mitzvah. [Yoma 22a]

In effect, he was willing to ignore the dignity of the other in order to serve and have a relationship with God.

The Talmud then quotes an even more perplexing story: one Kohen saw another Kohen getting to the top of the Altar and took out a knife and stabbed him in order that he, instead, could ascend the altar and perform the service, again putting service to God over concern for the other. [Yoma 23a]

In fact, the story continues with an even more tragic consequence: the father of the child who had been stabbed, also obviously a Kohen, runs over to his son and sees that his son is still alive, and says to a Kohen: “Quick, quick, quick! Pull the knife out of my son while he’s still alive so the knife does not become ritually impure.”

The perplexing component to these stories is that often in our service to God, we forget derech eretz, respect for another person. And when we forget respect for the other person, even the service of God can be destructive. As the Talmud’s narratives we referenced demonstrate: even the service of God can cause a chasm in our relationship to God.

And so as we conclude the story of the building of the Tabernacle – an edifice that is there to empower us to create a relationship to God – let us remember that with all mitzvot, what is of paramount importance is not just the way we engage in the mitzvah, the zealousness and the service of the mitzvah. Rather, it is the derech eretz, the respect for the other, which must come before the observance of the mitzvah, because that in itself is a prerequisite for us to be able to engage with God.

Sadly, we look all over the Jewish world and we see that this message of treating others with respect has been lost. We look all over the world and we see that this message has been lost.

Please, God, as we conclude this section of Shemot, we will take a pause in order to remind ourselves of the responsibility to engage with God through the performance of mitzvot with the recognition that the first step in the performance of mitzvot is derech eretz, is the way we treat the other.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of God filled the Tabernacle… When the cloud was raised up from the Tabernacle, the Children of Israel would embark on all their journeys… For the cloud of God was on the Tabernacle …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayakhel 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Redemption Begins With Chesed”

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Parshat Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1 -38:20

“Redemption Begins With Chesed

This week, we bless Rosh Chodesh as we usher in the second month of Adar, Adar Bet, in which we celebrate Purim. Now, logic dictates that Purim should be celebrated during the first Adar, to be consistent with the idea of “מצוה הבאה לידך אל תחמיצנה”, if you have the ability to do a mitzvah, do it right away. [Midrash Mechilta to Exodus 12:17]

So why don’t we celebrate Purim in the first Adar? The halakha is such because there is a need to celebrate Purim as close to Pesach as possible, to promote a juxtaposition between Purim and Pesach. [Talmud, Megillah 6b]

What is the idea behind this connection?

I believe that there’s a message regarding the two different paradigms of redemption that are seen on Purim and Pesach.

There is redemption that is achieved simply by the grace of God, what the kabbalists call “אתערותא דלעילא”, an awakening by God to save and to aid His people. That is what Pesach is all about. Even when the people are so distant from God, there are times in which God feels the need to engage with the Jewish people.

There are times in which God feels that there is a time for salvation, and even when the redemption is directed and fully choreographed by God – of course, there is human initiative, as in the case of Pesach.

We see the role of Moshe, the role of the women ensuring Jewish continuity, the role of Miriam and Yocheved in saving Moshe and modeling how to save the male children.

Yet, there is this idea that the centerpiece of the redemptive experience is totally Divinely-driven. Human actors in the experience, including Moshe, are not really mentioned in the Haggadah.

And then there’s a second paradigm of redemption, “אתערותא דלתתא”, an awakening that comes from below, redemption that is driven by the enterprise of humankind, where the redemptive activity, as we see on Purim, are the actors of Mordechai and Esther. Their initiative is what is critical.

There are no plagues, there’s no splitting of the Sea. Yes, God plays a role. After all, the randomness of the coincidences in the story are too perfect for God not to be orchestrating it behind the scenes.

And, in fact, we hint to God in the Megillah with the words “HaMelech” on top of each column, but the emphasis is on humankind.

The Megillah celebrates human-driven redemption, and while God is hinted to, His name is not even mentioned.

Yet, there are similarities to the way we celebrate both of these holidays:

  • First of all, it is these days that we have a concern for the poor: Matanot L’evyonim and Kimcha D’Pischa; the responsibility of not eating the Paschal sacrifice alone, but rather consuming it with the other; and on Purim, the responsibility to send gifts of food to the other.

We commemorate our brush with annihilation with the reminder that redemption of any sort in Judaism starts with us being kind and concerned for the other.

  • Both holidays, the one celebrated in Adar Bet and the one celebrated in Nissan, at the core, recognize the fact that redemption isn’t possible when we are separate from the other.

The core of the celebrations of both of these holidays is the fact that irrespective of the person’s background, disposition, religious persuasion, redemption of the self and of the community is only possible when we’re willing to recognize the greatness of others.

So we wait for Adar Bet to celebrate Purim so that Purim and Pesach “dance together”.

They celebrate two paradigms of redemption which we honor when we understand that our redemption happens only when we are concerned with the other.

Shabbat Shalom.