Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –And He called to Moses and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, anyone who brings a sacrifice to the Lord, from the animals, from the cattle and from …

Read more

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – And I shall provide peace in the land and you shall lie down at night without fear.” (Leviticus 26:6) This Torah portion comes at the end of The Book of Leviticus, called by our Sages “the Torah of the Kohen-Priests” – the …

Read more

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

Sefirat Ha-Omer: Repairing and Redeeming Society

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

Parshat Behar (Diaspora) and Parshat Bechukotai (Israel)

Sefirat Ha-Omer: Repairing and Redeeming Society

It was March of 1986, the week of Ta’anit Esther and Purim. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who traveled each week from his home in Boston to New York City in order to give shiur at Yeshiva University, had come in a day earlier than usual in order to give shiur before Purim, in order not to lose that week of presenting shiur to his students.

On that same day that Rabbi Soloveitchik arrived, the sad news came that Rav Moshe Feinstein had passed away.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s family had asked some of his students to make sure that he was not informed of this tragic occurrence for fear that his failing health would be further harmed as a consequence of hearing that Rav Moshe Feinstein – who was not only a relative but a very close friend – had passed away.

So we had a mission to make sure that the one day that Rabbi Soloveitchik was in New York, he was not informed of the passing of Rav Moshe.

Accordingly, the New York Times that he received every morning, did not arrive at his apartment, ‘oddly enough’. And the radio from which normally he listened to the news every morning, was somehow not functioning that day.

A few weeks later, soon before Pesach, Rabbi Soloveitchik was about to travel back to Boston to celebrate Pesach with his family. Someone placed a phone call for Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, the Rosh Kollel of YU’s kollel, asking him to let one of the students who studied in the kollel – namely, myself – to drive Rabbi Soloveitchik to the airport for his return trip to Boston.

Rabbi Schachter came into the beit midrash, informed me of this request, and of course, I drove Rabbi Soloveitchik to the airport.

As we were driving on the Grand Central Parkway to LaGuardia Airport to catch Rabbi Soloveitchik’s flight on the Eastern Airlines shuttle, Rabbi Soloveitchik turned to me and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that Rav Moshe Feinstein passed away?”

Even while I share this story with you several years later, I can still feel the challenge of staying in the lane on the Grand Central Parkway when Rabbi Soloveitchik asked me that very terrifying question.

Moments later, which seemed like hours, I responded to Rabbi Soloveitchik: “We didn’t inform you because your family asked us not to.”

And several moments of total, deafening silence in the car, I asked Rabbi Soloveitchik:

“Rebbe, how did you find out? After all, you didn’t receive the New York Times that day, and WINS News wasn’t functioning on your radio. So how did you hear about this?”

He turned to me and said: “It’s Erev Pesach. It was Rav Moshe Feinstein’s turn to call me to wish me ‘A Guten Yontif’, and if he didn’t call me before Yontif, there can only be one reason…”

The respect that two Gedolim had for each other: it was not just that Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rav Moshe Feinstein were cousins. That was the smallest connection that they had with each other. It was not that they agreed on everything.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s approach to women learning Torah She’bal Peh was different from that of Rav Feinstein’s. Rabbi Soloveitchik views about general academic studies were different from those held by Rav Feinstein.

But they respected each other. They talked to each other. They engaged in conversations with each other. And if one did not call the other before the chag, there could only be one reason: one was no longer in this world.

We are in the midst of Sefirat HaOmer. We spoke last week about the Biblical context of Sefirat HaOmer, but there is also a Rabbinic overlay: the mourning, because “לא נהגו כבוד זה בזה”, because Rabbi Akiva’s students did not respect one another. [Yevamot 62b]

And we commemorate that loss of Rabbi Akiva students which happened during the Bar Kokhba Revolt, specifically, during this period of time between Pesach and Shavuot, because we cannot be a free people, we cannot be people who embrace the covenantal relationship, if we don’t respect each other.

That is the message of Sefirat HaOmer: you cannot engage with God if you are not willing to engage with respect for the other.

This week, we also note the fact that Rabbi Riskin has made a decision to conclude presenting his weekly video on Parshat HaShavua, which he has provided every week for 13 years.

And it’s important that we recognize the fact that Rabbi Riskin’s entire life – “Ad Meah v’Esrim” (may he live to 120) – has always been a celebration of treating the other with respect, with dignity, of making sure that we create “geulah” by making sure that no one is treated as a “gola” (somebody who feels that they are in exile.)

Please, God, we will continue to benefit from the wisdom of Rabbi Riskin. And please, God, we will understand the message between Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Soloveitchik. And through our activities, may we respond to the aveilut that we are commemorating, thereby guaranteeing the redemption of the Jewish people and of society through the mutual respect that we have for the other.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “If your brother becomes destitute and is then sold to you, you shall not make him work like a slave” (Leviticus 25:39) If indeed Judaism gave the world the idea and ideal of freedom – “I am the Lord thy God who …

Read more

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

“Counting Our Days: The Journey in Creating a Relationship with God”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

Parshat Emor (Diaspora) and Parshat Behar (Israel)

Counting Our Days: The Journey in Creating a Relationship with God

Whichever parsha you are reading this week, we are still in the middle of the Sefirat HaOmer; we are counting from Pesach to Shavuot.

Yes, there is a tragic overlay to this time, and we will discuss that in a different week, but this week I would like to discuss the Biblical mandate:

“וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת”

Mentioned in Parshat Emor, the responsibility to count seven complete weeks from Passover to Shavuot. [Leviticus 23:15]

Now, the interesting thing is, there are many times in the Torah we speak about counting.

For example, in Parshat Behar, for those of us in Israel, we are told about counting years until we get to the Sabbatical year. [Leviticus 25:3-4]

Yet there is no mandate to make an explicit count: “This is the first year towards the Sabbatical year. This is the second year towards the Sabbatical year”, etc. Counting is simply a mental note.

Likewise, we do not count the days towards the eighth day of circumcision; rather, it is a mental note.

The only time in which it is not a mental note, but we need to expressly articulate it, is when we count from the march from Pesach to Shavuot. [Leviticus 23:16]

There is a very important message to that. You see, what counts in creating a relationship with God, which is what Shavuot is all about, is the journey, the responsibility for every single day to be meaningful and purposeful.

That is why if we want to really celebrate our relationship to God, it is not about any particular mitzvah. That is why Shavuot has no specific mitzvot, no Biblical commandments attached to it.

Contrary to popular belief, eating cheesecake on Shavuot and even learning all night are not a Biblical mandate.

There are no Biblical commandments connected to the holiday of Shavuot because Shavuot is a day in which we celebrate the journey of creating a relationship with God.

Yes, it is a specific day in the month of Sivan, but the Torah does not tell us that specific day, because the Torah wishes to accentuate that what counts in creating a relationship with God is not a particular mitzvah, but rather the journey that we are on in creating that relationship.

There is another interesting thing:

“וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת”

“And you should count” [Leviticus 23:15] – “from the day after Shabbat”, which could mean Sunday if translated literally.

In fact, the Talmud has a whole debate, between those who embraced the Oral Tradition – and translated the word “Shabbat” as it is in other places, namely, as the day after the first day of Passover – and those who did not embrace the Oral Tradition. [Talmud, Menachot 65-66]

Some would count from the Sunday of the spring; and some – as we count – is from the day after Pesach.

The idea that the Torah uses this amorphous language is to highlight that human initiative is what creates a relationship with God.

We even have to interpret this pasuk, which tells us how to march to Shavuot.

“וספרתם לכם”

“You shall count…”

“ממחרת השבת

“…from the day after Passover.”

It requires rabbinic interpretation, human initiative, to understand the verse.

The counting of the Omer, the responsibility for each of us to ask ourselves the most important question: How am I marching to a relationship with God? How am I finding a space for God in my life?

That is why the Kabbalists assigned a special Kabbalistic mnemonic to each of the counting days of the Omer: to remind us of that message, to look inside ourselves and to find a way for us to become closer to God.

So whether you will be reading Parshat Emor or Parshat Behar, we’re all counting the Omer, and the Omer, in its enunciation, asks each of us: Nu? What are we doing to find a place for God in our lives? How are we counting these days and making them meaningful?

If we just take a moment and ask ourselves the question, then we will make these days truly meaningful days.

That is why the festival of Shavuot is unencumbered by any particular mitzvah, reminding us that what celebrates our relationship to God it is the way we engage with all aspects of our lives.

Then we will truly be able to make sure that we have a meaningful and purposeful relationship with God, which will not only change the world, but also indeed help us improve ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of [the first day of the Festival of Matzot] …“ (Leviticus 23:15) Since Judaism teaches that all Jews are responsible for each other, the hemorrhaging of the number of diaspora Jews actively involved …

Read more

“Parsha and Purpose” – Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The Stones of Redemption and the Rebuilding of Zion”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

Shabbat of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut

“The Stones of Redemption and the Rebuilding of Zion

This weekend, as we conclude the celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut and the commemoration of Yom Hazikaron, I would like to remind us of a pasuk from Yishayahu, where God says that in the building up the Jewish people in Zion, He will create a foundation stone.

What type of stone will it be? The verse states: “אבן בוחן פינת יקרת מוסד מוסד” – it must be a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a stone that will be a sure foundation. (Isaiah 28:16)

Rabbi Shai Finkelstein of the Nitzanim Congregation in Jerusalem points out an amazing interpretation of why the prophet uses seemingly redundant language in the definition of what type of stone this needs to be.

He quotes the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Visser, זצ”ל, 1809-1879, Ukraine; died in Kyiv), who explains that the new stones of redemption have to be, first and foremost, a tried stone, a stone that is solid and won’t crumble, and which is not comprised of dust (“אבן לא מורכב מעפר”).

And indeed, the State of Israel represents a tried stone, because in Israel, modern statecraft and the bringing of Mashiach are one and the same.

In Israel, there is no separation between big ideas and mundane decisions. If you work in mergers and acquisitions; if you’re a venture capitalist in Israel, you’re creating the infrastructure that supports the modern state, you’re creating the infrastructure for the government that is the largest supporter of Torah in the world.

The stone also has to be an “אבן יקרה” – a precious stone. Indeed, our soldiers – whether formally religious or spiritually connected – bring values to every moment in the way they serve.

The stones also have to be “יסוד היסודות” – stones that can be bedrock stones, because in the modern State of Israel, we are creating institutions that are at the bedrock, making Torah relevant to every aspect of our life, every aspect of the generation.

It is why we have a responsibility in the State of Israel to find a place for the refugee,

to engage with minorities and to obliterate the Chillul Hashem of Get refusal.

It is why Torah is relevant to every aspect of warfare; that there is the concept of “Safra v’Saifa”, that Jewish tradition and the Jewish sword must work together.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, זצ”ל, quoted from Tehillim – “יקר בעיני ה’ המותה לחסידיו” – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his pious ones.” (Psalms 116:15) He explained that those killed in acts of terror and those who have been lost to us in defense of the country are the precious ones who sit at the foot of God’s throne in Heaven.

And we recognize that Israel wasn’t given to us on a silver platter, but rather through the selfless sacrifices of those who gave up their lives Al Kiddush Hashem.

Those who understand that these are the stones and – “המאמין לא יחיש” – “he who believes shall not make haste.” This is because we recognize that this is a process of building. And we mark this process – given to us by God and in which we are partners – by commemorating it on Yom HaZikaron and celebrating it on Yom Ha’atzma’ut.

Chag Atzma’ut Sameach! Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “You shall love your friend as yourself – I am the Lord“ (Leviticus 19:18) These five Hebrew words – “You shall love your friend as yourself” – are designated by the renowned Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva as “the greatest rule of the …

Read more

“Parsha and Purpose” – Acharei Mot/Kedoshim 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“5G Holiness – Creating a Relationship with God Everywhere”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

Parshat Acharei Mot (Diaspora) and Parshat Kedoshim (Israel)

“5G Holiness – Creating a Relationship with God Everywhere

Depending where you live in the world, you will read one of two parshiot this Shabbat: if you live in the Diaspora, you will read Acharei Mot. If you live in Israel, you will read Parshat Kedoshim.

Acharei Mot speaks about the formula necessary for the High Priest to enter into the Holy of Holies, to the Kodesh Kodashim. In fact, the word “Kodesh” is mentioned in the first chapter of Acharei Mot more than half a dozen times. (Leviticus, Chapter 16)

But that’s not what we entitled this section of the Torah. We simply call it “Acharei Mot”, which refers to an event that happened to Aaron’s children two weeks earlier. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

Next week’s parsha for those in the Diaspora – or this week’s parsha, for those in Israel – is called Kedoshim.

It really doesn’t mention how to enter into the inner precincts of the Temple, but it is called “Kedoshim”, because it teaches us something much more important: holiness and Judaism are not about how to enter the inner precincts of the Temple, but how you engage in the everyday. And Parshat Kedoshim focuses on how to create a rendezvous with God and how to engage with society.

And therefore the Torah waits to use that word “kodesh”, “holy” – not on the parsha that speaks about how to enter into the Holy of Holies – but on a parsha that focuses on how we are to engage with society.

This is an important message for us. It’s not that the Temple isn’t important. It’s not that it’s not a central address for us to be able to feel the presence of God.

But true holiness is found when we leave the synagogue, when we leave the Temple, and we’re able to create a relationship with God in the everyday, and we’re able to create a relationship with God in the way we engage with other members of society.

Shabbat Shalom – whichever parsha you’ll be reading – enjoy it and grow from the spiritual experience.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Aharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And you shall observe My decrees and My laws which a human being shall perform and he shall live by them; I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:5) It is fascinating that our Bible commands us to perform the laws and statutes …

Read more

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

“Shabbat Hagadol: Exploring Our Engagement with God”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

Parshat Metzora (Leviticus 14:1 -15:33

“Shabbat Hagadol: Exploring Our Engagement with God

Shabbat Hagadol, the “Great Shabbat” that occurs immediately prior to the holiday of Pesach, derives its name from the special reading from the Prophets this Shabbat [Malachi 3:4-24].

The special Torah readings on the Shabbatot of the past few weeks – Shabbat HaChodesh, which speaks about the new month; Shabbat Parah, which speaks about the Red Heifer; Shabbat Shekalim, which speaks about the giving of the Half Shekel; and Shabbat Zachor, which speaks about remembering Amalek – are Talmudic enactments.

In contrast, according to many rabbinical authorities, there was not even supposed to be a special reading from the Prophets on Shabbat Hagadol. [Or Zarua, Volume 2, Laws of the Torah Readings for the Four Parshiot and Holidays, Chapter 393; R. Ovadia Yosef, Shu”T Yehavei Da’at, Volume 1, Chapter 91].

The bottom line is, the Jewish people have concluded that the custom is that we read the final section of the Book of Malachi on this Shabbat, with the closing verses mentioning the phrase “Yom Hashem Hagadol”, the “Great Day of God”, and thus this Shabbat is called “Shabbat Hagadol”.

But when you read this final section of Malachi, you realize it does not mention Passover at all. Not once. Why is it, then, that the Rabbis wanted us to read this final section of Malachi as an introduction to the Passover experience, to the month of Nissan?

There are discussions throughout the ages of two specific reasons:

One reason mentioned is in the opening verses of the Haftarah. God warns the Jewish people that He will be a relentless accuser against us if we abuse the other; if we commit adultery; if we swear falsely and therefore cheat laborers; if we subvert; if we compromise the widow, the orphan, the stranger, those who are the most challenged within our society.

Redemption can only occur – indeed, we can only truly celebrate Pesach – when we realize that we can achieve that goal, when we treat the other with respect.

Therefore, this is our Haftarah, which reminds us that part of the redemptive experience involves welcoming in the stranger.

Another answer given – although the previous answer would have been sufficient – is that this is the final section from all of the words of the Prophets. It reminds us of the fact that after the Prophetic Era, in order that we become a redeemed people, we have to find our own voice with God.

Thus, we read this final chapter of Prophetic revelation to remind us that redemption requires us to create the next chapter of engagement with God, one in which we do not hear the voice of God from the Prophets.

Rather, we hear the voice of God through our study and through our engagement with God, through a searching for a powerful, meaningful relationship with God.

Therefore, our pre-Passover Haftarah concludes with the following words [Malachi 3:23] –

“הנה אנכי שולח לכם”, Behold, I will send to you, “את אליה הנביא”, Elijah the Prophet (who is mentioned at the Passover Seder), “לפני בוא יום ה’ הגדול והנורא”, before this Great and Awesome Day (which represents the Messianic Age).

But what will bring about the Messianic Age? The final verse of this Haftarah – in fact, the final verse of the Prophetic text of all of Tanach – tells us: “והשיב לב אבות על בנים, ולב בנים על אבותם”. When mothers and fathers and grandparents will re-engage with their children; when children will re-engage with their parents and grandparents in the heritage of the Jewish people.

Redemption will come when we are engaged in that rapprochement, when we are willing to create that opportunity, for there to be an intergenerational conversation about what it means to be part of the Jewish people and to be redeemed during the month of Nissan.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher v’Sameach