Rabbi Brander

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

“The Opportunity and Challenge of Yom Yerushalayim”

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Parshat Bechukotai (Diaspora) and Parshat Bamidbar (Israel)

“The Opportunity and Challenge of Yom Yerushalayim

It is April 29th-April 30th of 1948, the fifth day of the Omer, Chol HaMoed Pesach.

The city of Jerusalem is in a terribly challenging position. The Jews living in Rehavia, in the center of the city, are cut off from the Jews living in Makor Chayim and Ramat Rachel.

Arab Legion troops occupy the San Simon Monastery in the neighborhood of Katamon, and from the top of the monastery, they are able to, with sniper fire, pick off anyone who attempts to bring food to the Jews of Rehavia, Makor Chayim or Ramat Rachel. (In fact, “Katamon” is Greek for “by the monastery”, in this case, the San Simon Monastery.)

In response, the Jewish fighters of the Palmach decide to capture San Simon. They send 120 fighters to besiege the monastery.

One of the fighters throws a grenade into the monastery and it hits a room filled with fuel, creating a bright light, taking away the surprise of the darkness and allowing the Arab Legion soldiers to pick off many of the Jewish fighters who are trying to enter San Simon.

Out of the 120 fighters, 21 are killed and 83 are injured. The Palmach commander decided that the remaining soldiers should retreat in order to be able to be used in a more effective way to help protect the civilians of Jerusalem prior to the formal declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel, which would occur two weeks later.

At the same time, there was a concern: what would happen to those who had been too severely injured to be transported? If the Arab Legion were to capture them, they would burn and destroy them.

It was thus decided to create the “Masada of Jerusalem”. The commander of the fighting unit, a survivor of Auschwitz who had also witnessed Palmach colleagues burned by Arab Legion soldiers, decided that the fighters who could still leave on their own would leave along with those who had been lightly wounded.

The remainder of the wounded would stay with him, and he would prepare dynamite for the infirmary at the monastery. In the event that Arab Legion soldiers would overrun the property, he would detonate the building so that the Jews would not be placed in the hands of the Arab Legion fighters.

At the same time, Arab Legion reinforcements were on their way from Chevron. But the Gush Etzion fighters, several days before they would be decimated, were able to fight off the Legion, preventing them from coming to reinforce the battles in Jerusalem.

The Arab Legion, after hearing what happened with the fighters from Gush Etzion, decided to stop their advance on the San Simon Monastery, and instead retreated to the Old City.

And so the San Simon Monastery, with only a limited amount of fighters still able to literally walk, was saved. And the Jewish populations in the center of town (Rehavia) as well as in Makor Chayim and Ramat Rachel were able to replenish the food that they needed in order to be able to survive, not only for Pesach, but afterwards.

The gift of Jerusalem: the gift that HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave us:

“ושב ה’ אלוקיך את שבותך”

“And Hashem your God shall restore your captivity.”
[Deuteronomy 30:3]

Indeed, according to the Jewish Agency, in 2020, 47% of the Jewish people have already begun to live in the land of Israel.

And by 2038, it is estimated that 74% of the population of the Jewish people will live in the State of Israel. [Source: hanevuah.co.il]

In 1883, there were no homes in Jerusalem outside the walled city. In 2022, the joke in Jerusalem is that the national bird is the crane, because there is no block in Jerusalem in which building is not happening.

“עוד יקנו בתים ושדות וכרמים בארץ הזאת”

“Once again” – God proclaims through his prophet – the Jewish people “will purchase homes, fields and vineyards throughout Israel.” [Jeremiah 32:15]

We celebrate that gift that God has given us, of bringing Jerusalem together, on Yom Yerushalayim: we are now the “Startup Nation”; we have a strong economy.

According Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 1967, there were 200,000 people living in Jerusalem. Today, there are close to a million people in Jerusalem.

Yet the challenge of Jerusalem is still before us: because while Jerusalem is supposed to be a place that brings us together – and while God has done his part, as is evident, such as miracles that happened at the San Simon Monastery – we have not yet done our part.

We have not yet come together. And even though it is a united city, geographically, it is not yet a united city, spiritually.

There are still skirmishes by the Kotel. There are still issues in the way we talk to each other.

Yes, Yom Yerushalayim must be a celebration of the gift that God has given us. But it also has to be a celebration of the responsibility that we have – once God has given us this gift – to do our part, how we talk to each other, how we engage with each other.

It is the message of Sefirat HaOmer, with the overlay of the new Chag, Yom Yerushalayim.

Please God, wherever we live in the world, we will celebrate the unity of Jerusalem in the way we talk to each other and about each other.

And we will recognize that unity requires us to be able to understand, that despite any of our differences – with all the different denominations, or the way we as Orthodox Jews celebrate – what we have as a united community is so much stronger.

Yom Yerushalayim Samayach and Shabbat Shalom.

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

Sefirat Ha-Omer: Repairing and Redeeming Society

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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.

“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”

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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.

“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”

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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!

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

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

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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.

From Matza to Chametz: The Redemptive Journey of Pesach to Shavuot Rabbi Kenneth Brander is the President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone Times are turbulent – war in Ukraine, riots in Jerusalem; a sense of anarchy in the economy and uncertainty with the stability of our government in Israel. It is a holiday …

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The Blessing for Eating Chametz on Pesach Rabbi Kenneth Brander is the President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone On Pesach in Bergen-Belsen, Rabbi Aaron Issachar-Bernard Davids, who was Chief Rabbi of Rotterdam, Holland before the war, instructed his fellow prisoners to eat chametz; a decision he made due to the Jewish principle of …

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

“Shabbat Hagadol: Exploring Our Engagement with God”

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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

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

“When Creativity Is Lost: Understanding Ritual Impurity”

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Parshat Tazria (Leviticus 12:1 -13:59

“When Creativity Is Lost: Understanding Ritual Impurity

Ritual impurity, the topic discussed in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, is one of the most complicated subjects in Jewish tradition.

However, perhaps the guiding light to understanding ritual impurity is the recognition of the fact that any time an object loses creativity, it becomes a vessel that emits ritual impurity.

For example, the “avi avot hatum’ah”, the most intense ritually impure object, is the object that represents the most creative entity in the world: a human being when he or she passes away. [Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Defilement by a Corpse, Chapter 1]

The most creative object in the world, when it can no longer function, becomes the greatest source of ritual impurity. And so in other instances, as well. For example, a deceased animal, which is creative, emits ritual impurity when it passes away (although it does not emit the same level of ritual impurity as a human being when he or she passes away).

In other words, ritual impurity highlights the idea of the loss of creativity.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we are introduced to the idea of ritual impurity in the context of childbirth: “אישה כי תזריע”, when a woman conceives, “וילדה זכר”, and gives birth to a male, she is ritually impure for a whole period of time, “שבעה ימים”, seven complete days. [Leviticus 12:2]

This is because when the woman becomes pregnant, she is actualizing her potential to produce life. So when she gives birth, she loses the creativity she had been carrying in her womb, and therefore, ritual impurity setas in.

And three verses later, the Torah states: “ואם נקבה תלד”, and if she gives birth to a female human being, “וטמאה”, she is ritually impure not for one cycle of time, not for seven days, but “שבועיים”, two weeks. [Leviticus 12:5]

And that’s because when a woman is carrying a female, she is not simply developing a fetus that represents a human life, she is carrying a fetus that has the potential to also create life. Thus, when she gives birth to a female, she is now emitting a dual level of impurity, because her level of creativity rose twofold when she was pregnant.

Ritual impurity reminds us that our responsibility in this world is to create “taharah”, purity. We create purity in this world when we are creative beings that can change the world, when we respond to “tum’ah”, ritual impurity, with “taharah”, by engaging and doing magnificent things in this world.

And therefore, this Torah portion is read before the holiday of Pesach, which reminds us that with freedom comes responsibility. With freedom comes the capacity to create purity in the world, to be creative beings in this world, to change our destiny, the destiny of our families, the destiny of our people and that of society.

Shabbat Shalom.

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

“Sacrificing Our Spirituality For The Growth of Others”

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Parshat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1 -11:47

“Sacrificing Our Spirituality For The Growth of Others

Parshat Shemini coincides this year with Parshat Parah.

Parshat Parah is a very interesting experience in which you take the ashes of the Red Heifer (“Parah Adumah”) and you sprinkle them upon those individuals who are ritually impure in order to allow them to enjoy the experiences within the Temple. [Numbers 19:1-22]

But, paradoxically, those who are involved in the ritual of helping others become ritually impure! What is the deeper message of this procedure, which creates purity for those who are impure, only to render impure those involved in the purification process of others?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, זצ”ל, once shared a story, the details of which I regrettably don’t recall, but essentially, there was an unbelievable student at the Yeshiva of Volozhin who the Rosh HaYeshiva hoped would remain in the yeshiva, learn with him, and become a great scholar.

However, the student refused, instead preferring to serve a community as its rabbi rather than spending the rest of his life in the yeshiva.

The Rosh HaYeshiva turned to him and said, “I don’t understand. You have an unbelievable opportunity here. Why are you giving it up?”

“I had a dream,” replied the student, “and in the dream, the Rosh HaYeshiva and I were in Gan Eden learning together. And indeed, to spend the next decades learning with the Rosh HaYeshiva would indeed be like being in Gan Eden.”

The Rosh HaYeshiva responded, “If that’s the case, why didn’t you agree to stay with me?”

“Because,” the student answered, “I also saw in the dream that the rest of the Jewish people were not in Gan Eden, but in Gehinom. And I decided that I would rather be there with the rest of the Jewish people than be with the Rosh HaYeshiva.”

This is a very important point, because the message behind the Parah Adumah is that often in our journey to help others, we ourselves can become sullied; we ourselves can go through difficult ordeals.

Our efforts to inspire others, to help them find their spiritual wings – wherever it takes them – requires both physical and spiritual sacrifice on our part.

And that’s okay, because that is the message of the Parah Adumah: helping others comes at some personal risk. But as human beings, and as Jews, it is our responsibility to finish the work of God.

Yes, in the process, we might get a little dirty; we might become ritually impure. But in the process, we are also inspired and empowered by the ability to help others.

Shabbat Shalom.

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

“Purim and the Parsha: Making a Difference”

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Parshat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1 -8:36

“Purim and the Parsha: Making a Difference

We’re living in very complicated, perplexing, difficult times, where so many people – Jews and non-Jews – are being terrorized and being hurt simply because of the location they live in.

I’m so proud of my son and his friends for going to Ben Gurion Airport and welcoming in hundreds of refugees on a regular basis, to let them know that this is their home and they are welcome to be part of our “Medinat Yisrael”, the State of Israel, both Jews and non-Jews alike.

On a personal level, as someone who is now seeing children coming, not because they’re orphaned, but because their parents have given them up temporarily, in order to make sure they are saved, I’m reminded of the experiences that my father went through as a hidden child during the Holocaust – I’m not comparing the two experiences, because they’re incomparable – but this one is, indeed, still a tragic experience.

And I asked myself, “What am I to learn from the reading of the Megillah and from the parsha, Tzav? What messages does it share with me that I need to internalize into my essence, and the way I engage?”

Megillat Esther reminds us of the fact that God is not found in the Megillah, because the change that happens in the destiny of the Jewish people is because of the initiative of people like Mordechai and Esther.

The heroic activities of Esther and galvanizing energies of Mordecai transform the moment.

And while God is there somewhere, His name is not found in the Megillah – although it is hinted to – because ultimately what helps us bring the Mashiach is our energies; it’s our efforts.

It’s why the Rambam tells us [Mishneh Torah, Scroll of Esther and Hanukkah 2:18] that in the time of Mashiach, the books of the Bible that will be of consequence are the Five Books of Moses and Megillat Esther – not the rest of the Prophets and Writings.

Megillat Esther speaks to the fact that we can change the destiny of the world through our activities, through our essence, not through the miraculous activities that are discussed in the other books, but rather the human initiative that is discussed in the Megillah.

Parshat Tzav speaks about the fact that “אש תמיד תוקד על המזבח”; the need for there to be consistency: a fire must be lit on the altar at all times. [Leviticus 6:6]

Constant consistency. That’s also a message.

And I take away from Parshat Tzav and from the Megillah the responsibility that I have – indeed, I think that all of us have – to make a consistent and constant difference.

“אש תמיד”

We have to constantly understand that our responsibility as Jews, as human beings, is to be God’s partner and to right the wrongs in the world.

And our responsibility as we celebrate the experiences of Megillat Esther is to realize that human initiative can make the difference.

That’s why I’m so proud of institutions such as Hatzala and Chabad, which are doing amazing work. And indeed our own rabbis from the Straus-Amiel / Beren Amiel Institute of Ohr Torah Stone, who find themselves throughout Europe working on behalf of refugees; and the fact that so many of my colleagues have traveled to Poland during Purim to make a difference and to be involved in the humanitarian effort.

“אש תמיד תוקד על המזבח”

We can make a consistent difference, and we recognize from the story of the Megillah that it’s up to us to change the destiny of the world.

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach!

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

“Being a Priestly Nation During a Humanitarian Crisis”

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Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 -5:26

“Being a Priestly Nation During a Humanitarian Crisis

In 2002, Yossi and Chanah Dickstein and their nine-year-old son were murdered in an act of terror. Their younger son, Benaya, was married this past week to his bride, Neta.

The story of Amalek: Even though we know that the physical nation no longer exists (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 5:4-5) – its vicious, so to say, “spiritual progeny” – those whose agenda is to destroy the Jewish people through their horrific acts of antisemitism, as well as those who are committed to destroying other nations for reasons just to promote their own agenda.

The mitzvah of blotting out the memory of Amalek is a Biblical commandment (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) which we are mandated to read to remind us that we need to speak out against antisemitism and we need to speak out against any attack against an innocent nation.

Indeed, this book of Vayikra is called Torat Kohanim, the Book of the Priests/Leviticus, not only because it focuses on the Temple service, but because it speaks about the responsibility of the Jewish people to be a priestly nation, to be a nation that promotes justice, that speaks out not just with words, but also with actions against injustice.

That’s our responsibility as Jews and as citizens of the world. It is a reminder on Shabbat Zachor, a reminder with the introduction of Sefer Vayikra, of our responsibilities to speak truth to power.

Natan Sharansky spoke at one of the sheva brachot at the Dickstein wedding, where he mentioned that, growing up in Donetsk, Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union, everyone carried a government-issued ID card which said whether you were from Ukraine or Russia or Kazakhstan, or if you were Jewish.

If you were from Ukraine or from anywhere in Russia, that identity card was still an entry, grades permitting, into university. But even if grades permitted, your identity card said ‘Jew’ – even if you knew nothing about your Judaism – your ability to attend university was impossible.

And now, said Sharansky, as people are leaving Ukraine as refugees, and presenting their identity card stating their Jewish identity at neighboring countries’ borders, being Jewish is not something that deters you, but something that actually welcomes you into the embrace of others who are willing to help Jewish refugees.

The truth is that’s our responsibility, but it’s also our responsibility to help all people: Shabbat Zachor and Sefer Vayikra, reminding us of our responsibility to be a priestly nation in our engagement with society.

Shabbat Shalom.