Rabbi Brander
OTS0303_ITSCS-Brand_RGB_011221

Episode 4: “In Search of Meaningful Prayer”

“The stones remember the prayers and the tears” explained the shul gabbai as he refused to allow the floor of his synagogue to be dismantled and used in a grand mosaic floor installation at Hadassah Hospital.

Today, this story’s protagonists are gone, but the stones remain – and they tell a story of authentic prayer. Watch the fourth episode in Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s powerful new series, “If These Stones Could Speak” about the hidden messages from our past that exist throughout the Land of Israel.

This week’s episode is dedicated in memory of the victims of this Shabbat’s terror attack who lost their lives outside of a different synagogue in Jerusalem. May all of the injured victims have a refua shlayma, a quick and full recovery.

Subscribe to be notified as each new video drops

Subscribe to receive each new video by WhatsApp

OTS0303_ITSCS-Brand_RGB_011221

Episode 3: “Elevating the Mundane”

How did Napoleon’s royal coat get from the snowy plains of Russia to the “Beit Israel” synagogue in Yemin Moshe, Jerusalem – the first shul to be built outside the Old City walls?

Subscribe to be notified as each new video drops

Subscribe to receive each new video by WhatsApp

OTS0303_ITSCS-Brand_RGB_011221

Episode 2: “A Community Built by Unity”

In Jerusalem, there’s a well-known Orthodox synagogue whose land was donated by the Conservative movement, while its first Torah scroll was dedicated by none other than Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Israel’s first Chief Rabbi. Would such a cooperation be possible today? 

Subscribe to be notified as each new video drops

Subscribe to receive each new video by WhatsApp

OTS0303_ITSCS-Brand_RGB_011221

Episode 1: “A Matter of Trust”

Why was there a large oven built behind the “Hagra” Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Shaarei Chesed neighborhood? Does the fact that each family has its own oven today distance us from one another? And how can we recreate a cohesive, trusting community atmosphere?

Subscribe to be notified as each new video drops

Subscribe to receive each new video by WhatsApp

“If These Stones Could Speak” is a powerful new video series following  OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander as he explores off the beaten track sites throughout Israel.  In each week’s short video, Rabbi Brander will bring to life long-forgotten stories and uncover hidden messages from the past that will help us build a better, more just and more unified future.

Subscribe to be notified as each new video drops

Subscribe to receive each new video by WhatsApp

Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander

The Light That Grows Each Night Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of the Ohr Torah Stone network There is a famous dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai regarding how we should light the Chanukah lights. Beit Hillel maintains that one should always increase, lighting one light on the first night …

Read more

President of Ohr Torah Stone: Many American Jews find it difficult to identify with Israel because of distorted media reports “The damage caused by the State’s indifference, the inability and lack of desire of the State of Israel to condemn the acts of the vocal minority and accommodate the needs of Diaspora Jewry in all …

Read more

“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayelech 5783 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

 “Joshua and the Power of Collaborative Leadership

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 Vayelech

“Joshua and the Power of Collaborative Leadership”

Parshat Vayelech marks the transition from Moshe to his prize student, Yehoshua. They are such different leaders, even though they have similar experiences.

For example, when Moshe has to cross the Yam Suf with the Jewish People, he does it by his mighty staff. (Exodus 13:17 – 15:21)

In contrast, Yehoshua has to cross the Jordan with the Jewish People. He tells the Jewish People, we can cross the Jordan only when there is a representative of every tribe. That begins the process with the Aron Brit HaShem, with the Ark of the Covenant. (Joshua 3:11-13)

Moshe formalizes a relationship between God and the Jewish People on Mount Sinai; Moshe is alone. (Exodus, Chapters 19-20)

When Yehoshua formalizes a relationship between God and the Jewish People, he tells the Jewish People that they must part of that covenant. They will have to agree to certain norms and mores, and as part of this covenant, they will have to state that they are committed to it. (Joshua, Chapter 24)

When Moshe becomes the leader, God tells him, “Shal na’alecha me’al raglecha”. Take off your shoes. (Exodus 3:5)

Shoes represent someone who treads in the everyday. God is making clear to Moshe, ‘You are going to be the leader of the Jewish People. You are not going to tread in the everyday.’

When Yehoshua becomes the leader, God tells him, “Shal na’alcha”, take off one shoe. (Joshua 5:15)

As the second leader of the Jewish People, you will be part of the everyday. But you will also be a spiritual oasis; you won’t be part of the everyday. You will have to tread between two paradigms at the same time.

Moshe has a prayer, “Az Yashir Moshe”, that he leads, and then the Jewish People follow. (Exodus 15:1-19)

Yehoshua’s prayer is “Aleinu Le’shabe’ach”, ‘we will pray together’. (Teshuvot HaGe’onim, Sha’arei Teshuva, Chapter 43)

They are different paradigms of leadership.

The paradigm of Moshe’s leadership is necessary to move the Jewish People from a slave mentality to a nation of destiny. Yehoshua’s leadership is necessary to move the Jewish People to a paradigm in which they enter the land and they will be able to engage in partnership and collaboration.

We live in a world of “Yehoshua”, where we are all leaders in our own lives and in the lives of our families and our communities. It is not about one person, but about the capacity to work together, to engage – like Yehoshua – in a partnership: to cross the body of water together, to tread by wearing one shoe on and one shoe off, to say a prayer such as “Aleinu Le’shabe’ach”, which emphasizes the need for all of us to collaborate.

We’re told in the Gemara:

פני משה כפני חמה; פני יהושע כפני לבנה

Moshe’s face radiates like the sun; Yehoshua’s face radiates like the moon.
(Bava Batra 75a)

At first glance, it seems like Moshe is the most powerful leader, while Yehoshua is a minor leader. But there is a different, deeper message here.

When you go out in the sun, all you see is the sun. That was Moshe. All you saw when Moshe led was the fact that he needed to do everything.

But when you go outside at night and you see the moon, you also see all the stars around the moon. Yehoshua’s paradigm of leadership was one in which he collaborated with others to move ideas forward.

As we are in the middle of the high holiday season and we refocus on our lives and what we want to accomplish, let us remember it is the Yehoshua paradigm of leadership that ultimately succeeds in bringing the Jewish People into the Land of Israel.

It is a paradigm of partnership and engagement, a paradigm of leadership that the Jewish People did not rebel against even once. It is the Yehoshua paradigm of leadership that we need to implement in our lives, in the lives of our children and family, and in our communities.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatima Tova.

In the leadup to Rosh Hashana 5783, KAN English news reporter Naomi Segal spoke to OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, about the “Shofar BaPark” initiative which brings the shofar blowing and Rosh Hashana celebration outside of the synagogue and into the public spaces, giving Israeli families an opportunity to mark the …

Read more

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

 “When the King is in the Field

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 Nitzavim / Elul

When the King is in the Field

“HaMelech ba’sadeh” – The King is in the field. 

This is the way the Ba’al haTanya describes the essence of the month of Elul. (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe; Likkutei Torah, Parshat Re’eh, 32b)

This is a tremendous difference from the way the Kabbalists discussed this month, which is that Elul is a time of fear.

“Tiku ba’chodesh shofar” – this is a month in which we blow the shofar – “bakeseh l’yom chageinu”. (Psalms 81:4)

We should be “kisuiy”: covered, intimidated and concerned.

But the Ba’al haTanya looks at it differently: “HaMelech ba’sadeh”, the King is in the field. To visit a king or a queen – as we’re learning about with Queen Elizabeth in her palace – that’s almost impossible. And when it happens, it’s very formal.

But when the king or the queen is in the “sadeh” – in the field – the informality allows for conversations with the common folk in a totally different way.

Asks the Ba’al haTanya: Do you know what the month of Elul is about? It’s not a month of trepidation or intimidation. It’s a month in which we have the opportunity to focus because God is walking in the fields. God, the King, is walking in the streets. 

He wants to say hello to us in the most informal fashion. He wants to have a relationship with us. And you know what happens when we can have an informal relationship with God?

When we can meet him in the highways and byways of life, we can meet Him on the street, then when we enter His palace during the holidays of Rosh HaShana (when we coronate Him as our King) and Yom HaKippurim, then the relationship is totally different, because the relationship started in a more informal, experiential manner.

May we truly understand this message of the Ba’al haTanya: “HaMelech ba’sadeh”, The King is in the field. He’s looking for us. He wants to engage us.

Let us find the moments to create an informal relationship with God. It will help us on the High Holidays and it will help us for the rest of our life.

Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva v’Chatima Tova.

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

 “Inspiration, Empowerment and a Stolen Shofar

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 Ki Tavo / Elul

“Inspiration, Empowerment and a Stolen Shofar”

We find ourselves right before Rosh Hashana, and there is a very interesting halakha regarding the shofar:

הגוזל שופר ותקע בו יצא…

Normally, we do not allow the use of a stolen object to fulfill a mitzvah. Nevertheless, if you steal a shofar and you hear that sound, it’s obviously not the best sound that you can hear on Rosh Hashana – no one wants to hear a sound on Rosh Hashana from a stolen shofar – but if that’s the sound that I hear, I still fulfill my obligation. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 586:2)

Why is this? Because of the halakhic principle of

אין בקול דין גזל

There is no such thing as stealing a sound. (Maimonides, Laws of Shofar, Sukkah and Lulav 1:3)

Yet there is another interesting halakha that states:

המתעסק בתקיעת שופר להתלמד לא יצא ידי חובתו וכן השומע מן המתעסק לא יצא

If I’m walking by a person’s yard or a person’s home, and a person is practicing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, and I hear 100 blasts from his practicing, I do not fulfill my obligation. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 589:8)

Why is it that I can fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the sound of the shofar blasts via a stolen shofar, but not if I hear a person practicing with a pristine shofar on Rosh Hashana?

I believe that the underlying message is that Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the process of re-engaging with God.

We are trying to find our own sound, and there will always be something that is not perfect about our sound when we begin to create a relationship with God.

It will never be fully authentic.

Every one of us on Rosh Hashana is not fully engaged yet – it’s the beginning of the process.

As much as we try, and as hard as we work beforehand, a stolen sound still works, because all of us – even with the most pristine shofar – have a little bit of a stolen sound in our psyche, in our essence, we’re just not there yet.

But we have to try. We have to work hard. Therefore, we cannot fulfill the mitzvah via a shofar sounded not in order to inspire and empower us, but rather sounded for practice, because it must be a shofar sound intended to inspire the people around him.

It must be a shofar sound committed to trying to make a difference.

As we begin the process of Rosh Hashana, let us work to realize that it is okay if our spiritual sound is not completely authentic.

At the same time, it cannot be that we are in a state of “מתעסק” / practicing; that we are just in a state of a robotic routine.

Instead, we have to work hard to find a new energy, a new music in our relationship to God, in our relationship to our families, and really in our relationship to ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva v’Chatima Tova.

 

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

 “Purim in Elul: Creating a Loving 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 Ki Teitze / Elul

“Purim in Elul: Creating a Loving Engagement with God

We have entered the month of Elul, the month of preparation before the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom HaKippurim and Sukkot, those days of awe.

Elul, the time in which we ask ourselves the most challenging questions: “What have we accomplished?” “What more can we accomplish?” “How can we grow into the people we can truly be?” “How can we improve our relationship with our family, our engagement with society?” “How can we create and reconcile our relationship with God?”

In fact, the Rabbis suggest that Elul [אלול] is an acronym for:

אני לדודי ודודי לי 

I am to my Beloved (God), and my Beloved is to me (God needs me, also). (Song of Songs 6:3)

Elul is about a rapprochement between ourselves and God.

However, others suggest that Elul represents something totally different, namely, that the acronym of the word is:

איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים

…[sending gifts] to one another and presents to the poor. (Esther 9:22)

In other words, Elul is a time for us to re-engage with our friends, and this is a time to make sure that we are responsible to help those in need.

What connection does that have to the month of Elul? I thought that that is really the theme of Purim.

In fact, the Rabbis are making a very important point.

If we want to reconcile and improve our relationship to God, we have to first realize it’s “איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים”: We have to improve society.

We have to be concerned about the way we engage and talk with our friends. We have to be concerned with those who are living in challenging times.

It is only when we do “איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים”; it is only when we celebrate that acronym that we can then achieve “אני לדודי ודודי לי”. It is only then that we can create a loving engagement, a loving interaction with God.

Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva v’Chatima Tova.