Rabbanit Sally Mayer

Parshat Va’etchanan: Finally Finding Comfort Rabbanit Sally Mayer is the Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program We just experienced Tisha B’Av, the day we mourn the loss of the beit hamikdash and many other tragedies we have endured as a people over the centuries. This week is Shabbat Nachamu, when …

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

 “The Power of a Whisper

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The Power of a Whisper

In Parshat Va’etchanan, we are introduced to “Shema Yisrael”, the passage that speaks about our faith and fidelity to God. [Deuteronomy 6:4-9]

The Talmud [Pesachim 56a] records a dispute over how to recite these passages in our prayer services. According to one opinion, we should read it in the sequence in which it appears in the Bible:

“שמע ישראל ה’ אלוקינו ה’ אחד”
“Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad”
“Hear, O Israel…the Lord is one”, immediately followed by the words:

“ואהבת את ה’ אלוקיך…”
“Ve’ahavta et Hashem Elokecha…”
We are to love God, to know God, engage with God, etc.

Another opinion maintains that we should recite these passages in the way in which it occurs at Jacob’s deathbed. The Sages teach that Jacob gathers his children around and wants to share the prophecy of the End of Days, but he is unable to. [Genesis 49:1, and Rashi’s commentary]

He fears that like his father and his grandfather, it is because his home is incomplete. After all, Avraham had Yishmael and Yitzchak had Eisav. Immediately, his children, in unison, answer “Shema Yisrael – Yisrael, Jacob – we are one; we are totally committed to God.”

And he responds, “Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va’ed” – God’s Name and what He represents is eternal in my family.

The Talmud resolves this conflict with a compromise: we should recite the Biblical text of Va’etchanan aloud, and we should whisper “Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va’ed”.

And that’s what we do: We recite “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad” aloud, then we utter, in a whisper, “Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va’ed”. And then we return to the verses in the Torah:  “Ve’ahavta et Hashem Elokecha bechol levavcha u’vechol nafshecha u’vechol me’odecha”, etc.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik recognized the fact that we do something more than just whisper the words that are found in the dialogue of Jacob and his children. He taught that we actually collapse the dialogue into a monologue.

And the reason is that when we recite the Shema of Parshat Va’etchanan, we play the role of two different characters: we first play the role of Jacob’s children – “Shema Yisrael” – “Hear O Israel”. Hear, the Jewish people, “Hashem Elokenu, Hashem Echad”. We are committed to being the children of Israel. We are committed to the tradition. We are committed to the values of what it means to study Torah and to find a relationship with God.

But then we merge in a whisper, to be not just like the children of Israel, but also like Jacob the teacher, “Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va’ed”.

We also have to be able to take on the mantle of leadership, to teach the vision of Judaism to our family, to ourselves, to our community and to society.

We play both roles: we are the student – “Shema Yisrael” – and we are the teacher – “Baruch shem kevod malchuto”. We must be both.

So, too, Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort, requires us to play both roles. It requires us to pursue the role of student, of constantly engaging and renewing our relationship to God, but never allowing that to prevent us from also being the teacher, in making our families better, in making our community better, and making our society better.

“Nachamu nachamu ami”, we will be comforted and redeemed when we take on both of these responsibilities, the responsibility of being the student and simultaneously, the responsibility of being the teacher. The responsibility of saying “Shema Yisrael” and also “Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va’ed”.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And we dwelt in the valley, opposite the Temple of Peor” (Deuteronomy 3:29) The contents of the final book of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy, are almost sandwiched between two curious references to a detestable idol: Ba’al Peor. At the conclusion of the first …

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“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.

Rav Noam Sendor

Shabbat Nachamu: To shake off the dust and start healing Rav Noam Sendor studied at Yeshivat Hamivtar from 2008-2011 and received Semicha from the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary. He is currently the rabbi at Blake Street Hebrew Congregation and a teacher at Leibler Yavneh College in Melbourne, Australia, where he lives with his …

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Parshat Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Comfort you comfort you my nation, says the Lord your God.” (Isaiah 40: 1) This Shabbat takes its name from our prophetic reading  (Shabbat Nachamu,  the Sabbath of comfort.)  Indeed, the entire month is known as Menachem Av, the comforting month of …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Va’etchanan 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Becoming the People We Want to Be”

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“Becoming the People We Want to Be”

We all want to be more consistent, and to live the values that we espouse. But sadly, we occasionally fall short.

What can we do to erase the gap between the person we want to be and the person we often are?

An answer can be found in this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, where we read about the revelation at Sinai, one of the seminal events in world history. 

At the conclusion of that critical moment, God tells Moshe, “Lech, Emor Lahem“, go and tell the Jewish people, “Shuvu Lachem L’ohaleichem,” go back to your tents. Deuteronomy 5:27

What does this mean?

Where else would they have possibly gone?

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z’t”l, extrapolated from this verse that our challenge as members of the Jewish people is to take the values of Sinai –  not stealing, not cheating, not coveting, concern for the vulnerable in our society – and to incorporate them into our “tents”: our homes, schools, communities and society. 

This sounds simple enough, yet often any of us, even great people, even rabbis and leaders, can find it difficult.

And this difficulty is alluded to in the Torah itself, where we find a prohibition on the Jewish people ascending Mount Sinai at the time of the revelation.

Why would this be?

What better opportunity to bask in holiness than at the moment and place in which Torah was revealed?

But embedded in the question is the answer.

Finding holiness in the ethereal on God’s mountain is easy. There were no distractions from connecting with God.

Instead, God challenges us: “Shuvu Lachem L’ohaleichem”, “Go back to your tents”, which the Emek Davar, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, explains to mean: Haamek Davar on Deuteronomy 5:27

לחיי בשרים ותענוגות בני האדם כטבע האנושי

To a life of temporal human pleasures, as is the nature of humanity.

That is to say, take the holiness and the values from your experience at Sinai and incorporate it into your day-to-day physical lives.

We are not to bifurcate between the holy and the mundane. Rather, our complicated challenge is to elevate the mundane and infuse the holy with real purpose.

We recite Kiddush when Shabbat begins, to sanctify the day.

But we also recite Kiddush, in the form of Havdalah, at Shabbat’s conclusion – to sanctify the days ahead – reminding us to take the spiritual refreshment of Shabbat to infuse our actions during the entirety of the coming week.

May we successfully meet God’s challenge, elevating our everyday lives and become the people we want to be.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Riskin

Shabbat Shalom: Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “You are a holy nation to the Lord your God… a treasured nation from amongst all the nations…. It was not because you were more numerous than all the nations… that God chose you since you are the smallest of all nations. It …

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Rabbanit Renana Birnbaum

Parshat Va’etchanan: The Ten Commandments as a model for a healthy relationship The Ten Commandments infuse our relationships with meaning, and provide the infrastructure for building a better home. Some food for thought on the internal code of the nation that gives meaning to marital relationships as well. Rabbanit Renana Birnbaum is the Director of …

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