Author: Daniella

Beitzah 2

Almost all of the first daf of Massechet Beitzah (2) deals with the law of נולד (literally ‘that which is born’) – which is the term used with reference to an item or substance that either evolved into existence on Shabbat or Yom Tov, or assumed a new form that it did not previously have.…

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Yoma 88

For today’s final daf of Massechet Yoma, I decided to record my thought which I very much hope you enjoy! הדרן עלך מסכת יומא והדרך עלן.

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Pesachim 2

The first Mishna in Massechet Pesachim (1:1, 2a) teaches us that we perform the mitzvah of bedikat chametz (checking for chametz) with a light on the night (אור) of the fourteenth of Nissan, afterwhich our Sages then provide us a range of interpretations to the word אור while drawing numerous contrasts between day and night.…

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Two Bedroom Pool Villa

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Two Bedroom Pool Villa

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Deluxe tween

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Deluxe tween

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Suite with private pool

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Suite with private pool

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Queen terrace

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Queen terrace

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Two bedroom sea villa

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Two bedroom sea villa

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Sichot al Ahava v’pachad

‘Conversations on Love and Fear’ by Sharon Shalom. (Yediot Acharonot, 2018) Imagine a book, written by a wise, insightful and emotionally intelligent Jewish philosopher with a flair for poetic language, that explores the richness and complexity of Jewish identity, heritage and observance in the modern state of Israel. Imagine that instead of avoiding some of…

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Review Essay: And Beit Hillel Says (U’Beit Hillel Omrim)

  And Beit Hillel Says (U’Beit Hillel Omrim): Halakhic Rulings of the Rabbis and Rabbaniot of Beit Hillel (Yedioth Ahronoth/Chemed Books, 2018) Introduction December 2018 saw the launch of U’Beit Hillel Omrim (literally ‘And Beit Hillel Says’), which is a collection of halakhic rulings generated by members of the Beit Hillel organisation. Beit Hillel is an…

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Kissing children, and adults, in a shul

A shul is meant to be a place where we are in communion with God and where we nurture our awareness of standing in the presence of God. Given this, R’ Binyamin Ze’ev Marta (1475-1545), basing himself on Sefer Aguda and the Kol Bo, states that a person should not kiss their children in a…

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Minchat Asher: Klalei Hamitzvot

MINCHAT ASHER: KLALEI HAMITZVOT by Rabbi Asher Weiss Machon Minchat Asher, Ellul 5778 The study of the Talmud is a magnetizing process that draws a learner into debates of the past while urging them to consider how the laws and values emerging from those debates can be applied in the present and the future. This…

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#8days8teachers

DAY 1/8 – RABBI BARRY KATZ – #8days8teachers The best teachers aren’t those who wish to dazzle their students with their own bright light. Instead, they are those who help each of their students find and nurture the light within themselves – and one such teacher was Rabbi Barry Katz. In the years that I…

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Kol Nidrei Drasha: The Gates of Repentance (Hebrew & English)

דרשה לכל נדרי – שערי תשובה שלום וכתיבה וחתימה טובה לכולכם, המשנה בסוף מסכת יומא מתארת ​​את יום כיפור כמקווה, והלילה אנחנו מתחילים את הטבילה הארוכה שלנו לעשרים וחמש שעות של יום כיפור. כציבור וכיחידים תוך התפילות שנתפלל, החרטה שנתחרט והחמשה עינויים שנתקיים, אנו מקווים לטהר את עצמנו ולהשיג חתימה חיובית לשנה החדשה. עם זאת,…

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Should Jews be promoting moral behaviour to non-Jews?

We live in a society where telling someone else what to do considered insulting and offensive – not only because it undermines the concepts of freedom and autonomy, but also because it challenges the postmodern belief that there is no single source for truth. The problem arises given that Judaism is rooted upon the principle…

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A message to my teacher friends

Over the past week thousands of young men and women have been arriving in Israel to begin their year or years of study in Yeshiva or Seminary, and upon collecting their baggage at Ben Gurion airport carrying their unique name or a unique label they will present their regular or biometric passport to the border…

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Jewish guide to practical medical decision making

JEWISH GUIDE TO PRACTICAL MEDICAL DECISION-MAKING by Rabbi Jason Weiner  (Urim, 2017) It takes considerable skill to write a book about modern medicine, and even greater skill to explain how halakha (Jewish law) responds to the dilemmas generated by modern medicine. Still, even those with the requisite knowledge of medicine and Jewish law may struggle to…

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Insights to the Rosh Hashana Tefilot

Below is a collection of insights for the Kriat HaTorah and Musaf prayers on Rosh Hashanah which I delivered at Machon Ma’ayan on Rosh Hashanah 5777. While the insights originate from a variety of sources, the core theme of the ideas shared on the First Day of Rosh Hashanah was ‘Self-Change’, while those which I…

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40 quotes for 40 days

Over the years I have collected hundreds of inspirational quotes from a variety of Jewish and general sources. Here are 40 of those quotes which I hope you find both helpful and inspirational as we begin our 40 day spiritual journey from the 1st of Ellul to Yom Kippur: ASPIRATION: “If a person doesn’t constantly…

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Is Ellul about renewal or repentance?

This Motzei Shabbat is the first of Ellul, and from Sunday morning onwards until Yom Kippur, with the exception of Shabbatot and Erev Rosh Hashanah, a Shofar will be blown in Jewish schools and shuls each morning across the world and sefardim will start reciting selichot. For many people, the sound of the Shofar at…

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Smartphone use by Yeshiva & Seminary students

This weeks, Ben Gurion airport will be flooded with young men and women arriving from the United States, Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom to begin a year of study in yeshiva or seminary. These students come to Israel for a year of learning, growth, and personal development, and for many of them, the…

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An Open Letter to Yeshiva and Seminary Students

In the coming weeks or so, you will be returning home to the US, UK and elsewhere, to celebrate Pesach with your family. For many of you this will be the first time back since arriving at Yeshiva or Seminary, and even though technology has enabled you to maintain contact with family & friends, as…

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Reflections on Jewish Education in the Post-Churban Era

One of the few people that the Gemara (Bava Batra 21a) lists as being ‘remembered for good’ is Yehoshua Ben Gamla who is attributed as being the architect of the formal Jewish education system. However, what is less well known is that Yehoshua Ben Gamla was the Kohen Gadol in the years prior to the…

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10 Do’s and Don’ts for Jewish Educators

I was recently speaking to a good friend about Jewish Education and Jewish Educators, and I mentioned that I have a number of personal DO’s and DON’Ts which, to the best of my ability, I try to adhere to. I then realised that other Jewish educators may have their own set of personal rules and after asking around for…

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When does the mitzvah of Chinuch end?

1. INTRODUCTION We are taught that a parent is required to educate their child to observe the mitzvot asseh (positive commandments) and refrain from transgressing the mitzvot lo ta’aseh (negative commandments). This duty is known as the mitzvah of chinuch. According to Rambam,[1] this duty is derived from משלי כב:ו which states, “חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל־פִּי…

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Tu B’shvat

Tonight, Jews throughout the world are celebrating Tu Bishvat, often referred to as the ‘birthday for trees’. The source for Tu Bishvat is the Mishna Rosh Hashanah 1:1 in which we are told of 4 New Years: 1) The New Year for kings and for bringing gifts to the Temple during festivals (1st Nissan), 2) the…

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Why don’t we confess on Rosh Hashanah?

“Mirror, signal, manouvre”. These three words, which are the mantra of all driving instructors, succinctly express the idea that before travelling forward in a vehicle you need to look back and indicate that you are about to move. In a similar vein, I have always understood Rosh Hashanah as the start of a new spiritual…

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Maintaining religious identity in a secular society

Tonight I would like to address a topic that affects all of us who, in one way or another, live in a society whose values differ from our own. It is an issue that affects adults and children alike, and a problem which all of us have pondered at one stage or another. The question?…

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Redefining Simcha (Adar)

Life can be stressful. While there are moments in life when things go well, there are also situations that we encounter when things do not go to plan; as Shlomo Hamelech famously wrote עֵת לִבְכּוֹת וְעֵת לִשְׂחוֹק עֵת סְפוֹד וְעֵת רְקוֹד – [there is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time…

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Sefer Nishmat habayit

I. Introduction Over many years I have developed a great passion towards the study of contemporary halakhah – and specifically – towards contemporary She’elot U’Teshuvot (responsa literature). This is due to the fact that while codified halakhah is often recorded by the author ‘after examining the halakhic materials from a theoretical point of view’[1], responsa…

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Sh’ut Yishrei lev

SH’UT YISHREI LEV by HaRav Yonatan (Yoni) Rosensweig Introduction Responsa – or in hebrew, She’elot U’Teshuvot – are unique texts whose questions, no less than their answers, shine a light on halakhic trends and challenges in the Jewish world. As David Ellenson observes, they are ‘the crossroads where text and context meet in the ongoing…

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The shofar teaches us about the meaning of life

Embedded in the legal discussions regarding the methods of prayer and the shape of the shofar is a fascinating theological debate regarding our priorities in life. Simply put, should we focus on the physical aspects of our lives and the impact we can have on this world, or should we focus on the spiritual aspects…

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Hugging is better than kissing (Shavuot)

There are a number of reasons given as to why Megillat Rut is read on Shavuot.  For example, the Yalkut Shimoni explains that we read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot to teach us that the only way that Torah can become a meaningful part of our lives is through suffering as experienced by Ruth. Others such…

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The growing pains on the death of a teacher

THE GROWING PAINS UPON THE DEATH OF A TEACHER In this talk – which I have titled ‘the growing pains following the death of a teacher’ and which is inspired by a wonderful talk by R’ Yisroel Reisman – I would like to discuss how to harness the real pain felt when a teacher passes…

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Moshe, the people & spiritual evolution (VaEra)

Shabbat shalom, Chodesh Tov, and thank you so much for having me. Today I’d like to speak about an important topic that gets to the roots of the Torah: EVOLUTION.  Now before you start thinking that I am planning to talk about Darwin’s evolution of the species I should explain that I have no intention…

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Fragrant Jewish Living (Shavuot)

Chag Sameach! Thanks to Rabbi Davis and thanks to you all for your warm welcome. As we know, Shavuot is a festival of customs. For example, we have a custom of staying up late to study, and a custom of eating dairy food. Today I would like to discuss one of the many Shavuot customs…

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Nusach Achid & Am Echad

Today, I would like to tell you a story about Jewish unity – or at least, the attempt to create a sense of unity – by one of the most fascinating Jewish scholars and leaders of the past century. It is a story that is known by some in part, but to my mind, has…

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Humility as a prerequisite for receiving the Torah (Shavuot)

Shalom, Chag Sameach, and thank you so much for your generous welcome! Today, as we celebrate Shavuot, I would like to discuss a value that is so inextricably linked to the festival of Shavuot that – at least according to the Rabbis of the Midrash – it is the reason why Mount Sinai was chosen…

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Standing and learning together (Shavuot)

Today we celebrate Shavuot and commemorate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This was and remains a momentous event in our history and in the history of the civilized world, and it is referred to by our Rabbis as מעמד הר סיני. But, if we take a moment, we will come to realise…

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Faith without fear

FAITH WITHOUT FEAR: UNRESOLVED ISSUES IN MODERN ORTHODOXY by Michael J. Harris (Vallentine Mitchell, 2016) Rabbi Dr Michael Harris, whom I have the privilege of knowing, is a Modern Orthodox ‘academically-informed rabbi’ who has recently written a compelling, scholarly, yet lucid presentation exploring some of the most important issues facing Modern Orthodoxy today.In Faith without…

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The dangers of deconstruction (Bemidbar)

Parshat Bemidbar contains a detailed census of Bnei Yisrael, as well as instructions about how the Mishkan (Tabernacle) should be transported as Bnei Yisrael journey through the desert. However, even though the tribe of the Kehati family was responsible for transporting each part of the Mishkan, we are told that they were prohibited from observing…

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Cherishing the moments of Seder night

Tonight we will be sitting round a Seder table and reading through the Haggadah with family and/or friends. However, while it is certainly praiseworthy to read the Haggadah and to eat the Matzah and Marror, I believe that the objective of Seder night goes far beyond reading the Haggadah and eating symbolic foods. Instead, it…

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Errors in Emunah (Tazria)

While Parshat Tazria begins with the laws of childbirth, the major focus of this and the following parsha are the laws of Tzora’at. But while many commentaries highlight the association between Tzora’at and Lashon Hara, others offer a slightly different approach regarding the significance of this condition. The Torah distinguishes between Tzora’at on the body…

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Educating awe of God (Shemini)

For the past two months, the weekly Torah reading has almost entirely discussed details about the Mishkan. However, it is only in Parshat Shemini when the Mishkan completes its transformation from blueprint to building and when it becomes a fully functioning centre for religious life. Like all great institutions, the official opening of the Mishkan…

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Hasbara for Torah observance (Vayikra)

Parshat Vayikra concludes with the laws concerning guilt offerings for theft, and it is here where we learn that if someone has stolen an object then they are required by Torah law to return that specific object. But – ask our Rabbis – what if the object has since been sold or destroyed? In such…

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Celebrating spiritual growth (Pekudei)

Upon the completion of the Mishkan, we are told: ‘Moshe saw the entire work and lo! they had done it (וְהִנֵּה עָשׂוּ אֹתָהּ); as God had commanded, so had they done (כֵּן עָשׂוּ); and Moshe blessed them’ (Shemot 39:43). This verse is obviously puzzling since we are twice told that the people did what was…

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Living in His shadow (Vayakhel)

In Parshat Vayakhel, we read how the construction of the Mishkan was overseen by its chief architect Betzalel, and according to numerous sources, it was this role as architect of the Mishkan which explains why he was given the name Betzalel. Our Rabbis explain that the name Betzalel is a construct of the words ב-צל-אל…

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Standing up for God and Torah (Ki Tissa)

In Parshat Ki Tissa we read about the episode of the Egel Hazahav (golden calf) that Bnei Yisrael built in Moshe’s absence. On his return, Moshe broke the luchot (tablets), destroyed the Egel, challenged Aharon concerning his involvement in this episode and then gave an ultimatum to the remaining people: מִי לַה’ אֵלָי – who…

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A Torah diet and an olive tree (Tetzaveh)

Around six months ago we were blessed to purchase a house in Israel, and among the trees that the previous owner had planted in the garden is a pomelo, pomegranate & olive tree. When we moved in, all of these trees looked stunning with their green leaves and bountiful produce. But then autumn & winter…

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Make your shul a true Mishkan (Terumah)

Parshat Terumah begins with the instruction to construct a Mishkan (a tabernacle), and then proceeds to record the detailed measurements and necessary materials in order to do so. Among the various elements listed in the parsha are the קרשים – the vertical beams that were the basis of the walls of the Mishkan. However, rather…

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Answers that are both true and correct (Mishpatim)

Last Shabbat we read Parshat Yitro whose final verse informs us that the Kohanim were forbidden to ascend the altar on steps – which is why there was a ramp beside the altar. The following verse, which is the first verse of Parshat Mishpatim, begins with the words: ‘and these are the ordinances that you shall place…

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Think before you sing (Beshalach)

Parshat Beshalach is best known for the Az Yashir song that was sung by Bnei Yisrael upon crossing the Yam Suf. ‘On that day, Hashem saved Israel from the hand of Egypt, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great hand that Hashem inflicted upon Egypt, and the people revered…

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FALSE FACTS AND TRUE RUMORS

FALSE FACTS AND TRUE RUMORS: LASHON HARA IN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE by Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman Maggid Books/Michael Scharf Publication Trust of Yeshiva University Press, 2015  Very rarely is a book published that addresses an already familiar subject and revolutionises the way we understand it. Yet this is precisely what Rabbi Daniel Feldman has done in…

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The secret of Jewish continuity (Bo)

Parshat Bo describes the final three plagues that were meted out to the Egyptians, it details the laws of the Korban Pesach, and it instructs us to observe the laws of Pesach. But in addition to all of this, Parshat Bo reveals the secret of Jewish continuity and teaches us how to maintain our identity…

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You cannot measure success just by numbers (VaEra)

Parshat Vaera begins with a series of verses that describe the five stages of redemption from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Land of Israel, the last of which being that God promises to ‘bring you into the land… and I will give it to you as an inheritance’ (Shemot 6:8). Yet despite this…

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The power of the midwives (Shemot)

Early on in Parshat Shemot we are introduced to a new king of Egypt who is either unaware of the positive impact that Bnei Yisrael have had on Egypt, or chooses to ignore this fact. This new Pharoh began his reign by initiating the very first set of anti-Jewish laws, but to the frustration of…

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Live your life uniquely (Vayechi)

This Shabbat we read how Yaakov blesses each of his children before he dies, and what is particularly fascinating about these verses is that they highlight what Yaakov considered to be the individual destinies of each of his children. As Sforno explains, ‘to each of them he gave a blessing that was particularly suited for…

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The fast of Tevet

8TH, 9TH & 10TH OF TEVET This week is the fast of the Tenth of Tevet. However, while we only fast on the 10th of Tevet, this fast was established to commemorate three tragedies. Firstly, it was on the 10th of Tevet when Nebuchadnezar, king of Babylon, began his successful siege of Jerusalem which ultimately led to…

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Bringing our family together in peace (Vayigash)

Following the dramatic moment when Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, he sends his brothers to collect Yaakov in order to bring him down to Egypt.  During this journey, ‘God spoke to Yisrael in visions of the night, and said: Yaakov! Yaakov! [And] he replied: Here I am’ (Bereishit 46:2). A sensitive reader will notice…

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Pharoh and Al HaNissim (Miketz)

Parshat Mikeitz begins with a description of Pharoh’s two dreams, the first of which describes how seven lean cows ate seven fat cows, while the second describes how seven thin ears of grain swallowed up seven fat, full ears of grain. We are then told that Pharoh woke up the next morning feeling agitated by…

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How we live and how we advocate (Vayishlach)

One of the saddest moments throughout Tanach is found in Parshat Vayishlach when read about the death of Rachel who died while giving birth to her son Binyamin: ‘…as she breathed her last, she named the child Ben-Oni (My Sorrow’s Son). His father called him Benjamin. Rachel died and was buried on the road to…

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It’s never too early to pray (Vayetze)

Following his famous dream when en route to the house of Lavan, Yaakov makes a vow that ‘if God will be with me, if He will protect me on the journey that I am taking, if He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, if I return in peace to my father’s house,…

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We must constantly dig (Toldot)

In this week’s parsha we read how Yitzchak redug the wells of water which his father, Avraham, had previously dug and that the Philistines had spitefully filled up with dirt. While we could interpret this story as merely shedding light on the history of Israelite-Philistine tensions of the past, Rabbi Steinsaltz (in ‘Talks on the…

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All for the good (Chayei Sarah)

Our Parsha begins by informing us that Sarah died at the age of 127, and in response to the fact that the opening verse repeats that these were ‘the years of Sarah’s life’, Rashi remarks that כלן שוין לטובה – which is generally understood to mean that ‘every year in her life was equally good’.…

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Seeing the Shechina in one another (Vayera)

Parshat Vayera begins with Avraham sitting outside his tent having recently undergone his brit milah. As Avraham lifted his eyes, he saw three strangers passing by and he exclaimed “My Lord, if now I have found favour in Your eyes, please do not pass from Your servant” (Bereishit 18:3). While it would appear that Avraham…

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Outreach by ideas, not just personality (Lech Lecha)

Parshat Lech Lecha begins by telling us how Avraham and Sarah heard the call of God to journey to the Land of Israel, and while the Torah informs us that Avraham and Sarah were accompanied by Lot, the nephew of Avraham, it also indicates that others also joined Avraham and Sarah on this journey. According…

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Speak up! (Noach)

Parshat Noach begins by telling us that “Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations” (Bereishit 6:9), and though many take these words on face value, Rav Yochanan understands that the words ‘in his generations’ teach us that while Noach was considered righteous in his generation, he would not have been regarded as a…

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The sin of Adam (Bereishit)

Two of the most famous episodes in Parshat Bereishit are the sin of Adam & Chava (Bereishit Ch. 3) and the murder of Hevel by Kayin (Bereishit 4), and inspired by an insights in Thomas Furst’s Torah Mysteries Illuminated I would like to explain how these two episodes are connected. We know that Chava was tricked by the…

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Sukkot, Hospitality and the third Beit HaMikdash

The word ‘Sukkot’ appears three times in the Torah (see Vayikra 23:42-43). Yet, while on the first two occasions the hebrew word ‘Sukkot’ is ‘chaser’ (meaning that the word appears to be missing a ‘vav’), on the third occasion it is ‘maleh’ (meaning that it includes a ‘vav’). Though various explanations have been offered for…

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Sukkot and Affluenza (Ha’azinu)

Then Yeshurun became fat and kicked (Devarim 32:15). This verse in Parshat Ha’azinu is the first occasion in Tanach where we encounter the name Yeshurun, and as is evident, its initial appearance is not a positive one. Yet the name Yeshurun is, in fact, a very positive one. Yeshurun, whose root yashar means ‘straight’, refers to the way…

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What children teach us (Vayelech)

Parshat Vayelech teaches us about the mitzvah of Hakhel, which requires all men, women and children to gather and hear the king read from the Torah once every seven years (see Devarim 31:12). Yet, while it is clear why both men and women were required to attend this event, what is less obvious is the…

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Showing and Sharing Torah (Ki Tavo)

The last of the curses listed in Parshat Ki Tavo is “Cursed is he who does not uphold and keep this entire Torah” (Devarim 27:26), thereby emphasizing the general message of Sefer Devarim that adherence to Torah law is good, and failing to adhere to those laws is bad. However, many commentaries believe that this…

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Aggadah: Sages, stories & secrets

AGGADAH: SAGES, STORIES & SECRETS There are very few books that I wish to re-read the moment I finish them, but Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein’s ‘Aggadah: Sages, Stories & Secrets’, published by Mosaica Press,  is one of them. Like Aggadah itself, this beautifully designed book is multileveled; yet in contrast to the cryptic style of Aggadah,…

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What a judge should remember (Shoftim)

One of the most fascinating topics discussed in Parshat Shoftim is the hierarchy of the Jewish legal system. There we read that “if you are unable to reach a decision in cases that demand examination of different types of דם/blood (ie. capital cases), different types of דין/litigation, or different types of נגע/marks (ie. cases involving…

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Give what they need (Re’eh)

Among the many laws found in Parshat Re’eh is the instruction to provide the poor with whatever they need (see Devarim 15:7). Understood literally, it means that we must ensure that the poor are provided with basic food & housing. However, the Rabbis (Talmud Bavli, Ketuvot 67a) derived an additional rule from this verse, which is that we must…

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Israel as a standard setter (Ekev)

As the Jewish people prepare to enter Eretz Yisrael, Moshe reminds them of the unique beauty and bounty of the land, telling them “your God is bringing you to a good land… a land of wheat and barley, of vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of olives and dates” (Devarim 8:7-8), and in his commentary to the…

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Tu B’Av

This week we celebrate Tu B’Av (literally, the 15th day of the hebrew month of Av). According to the Mishna (Ta’anit 4:8), both Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur were days of great celebration because on both these days, the young men and women of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards and matches were made…

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Torah should be a free comodity (VaEtchanan)

Despite repeated pleading, Moshe is told by God that he will not step foot in Eretz Yisrael. Yet, notwithstanding his strong feelings of disappointment, Moshe channels his emotions and begins to teach the people about how life will be different once they enter the land. In contrast to the wilderness where food and water were miraculously…

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Tisha B’Av and the Individual

This Motzei Shabbat/Sunday is Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year. On Tisha B’Av we mourn the destruction of both Temples along with many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, and one of the ways we express our mourning is through the recitation of kinot (elegies). While many of the kinot…

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Transparent institutions (Mattot-Masei)

Parshat Matot includes the request to Moshe from the tribes of Reuven and Gad to remain across the Jordan. Initially, Moshe seems resistant to this arrangement as it would mean that these two tribes would choose a comfortable and undisturbed lifestyle while the rest of Bnei Yisrael fought to conquest the land of Israel. However,…

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Earning our inheritance (Pinchas)

Parshat Pinchas contains a number of stories which seemingly have little in common. We read about Pinchas who killed Zimri & Kozbi, we are told of the census of the Jewish people and the distribution of Eretz Yisrael, we hear about the claim of the daughters of Tzelofchad and we read about the appointment of…

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What values do we value? (Balak)

At the beginning of Parshat Balak we read how Balak sent messengers to Bilam to ask him to ‘put a curse upon this people’. However, having received an instruction from God that he should not go with these messengers or curse the people, Bilam refused the invitation. Then, in response to a second request by a more senior…

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How we look at ourselves (Shelach-Lecha)

Parashat Shelach-Lecha describes the tragic episode of the meraglim – the spies, who were sent to journey around the land of Israel to find out ‘what kind of land it is. Are the people who live there strong or weak, few or many?’ (Bemidbar 13:18-19). Unfortunately, they returned with a negative report. ‘The land that…

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The triple tragedy in the wilderness (Chukat)

According to tradition (Ta’anit 9a), Bnei Yisrael were sustained throughout their journey in the wilderness by water from a miraculous well which was provided in the spiritual merit of Miriam. This means that immediately upon the death of Miriam, ‘the community was without water’ (Bemidbar 20:2) and they complained harshly to Moshe & Aharon. Moshe…

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Being there (Balak)

This Shabbat in Israel we read Parshat Balak which tells the story of Bilam the prophet who went OTD (Off the Derech). Bilam was a man of considerable spiritual gifts, with prophetic ability equivalent to – and possibly even greater than – Moshe, and it was precisely due to Bilam’s spiritual talents that Balak, King…

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Two kings & One crown (Pinchas)

This Shabbat in Israel we read Parshat Pinchas which describes the process by which Yehoshua was appointed successor to Moshe. Once Moshe was informed by G-d that Yehoshua was going to take over the leadership, he was told to ‘lay your hands upon him’ (Bemidbar 27:18), and to ‘give him your majesty’ (ibid. 27:20) which…

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Acts of mercy, gifts of food (Ki Tavo)

This Shabbat we read Parshat Ki Tavo which describes the ritual of bringing the Bikkurim to the Kohanim in the Beit Hamikdash, and this Motzei Shabbat Ashkenazim begin reciting Selichot (which Sephardim have already been reciting since the start of the month of Ellul) which has at its core the י”ג מדות הרחמים (the 13…

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Erev Rosh Hashanah at Yad Avshalom

Rosh Hashanah has a dual identity. It is a day of hope and celebration on which we look towards the future (which is why we don’t confess on Rosh Hashanah), and it is also a day on which each of us are described as passing by God like sheep to be judged (as expressed by…

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A map to make the right choices (Nitzavim)

One of the most important ideas developed in the Torah is freedom of choice and consequence of actions, and perhaps the starkest expression of this idea is found in our parsha where we read: “See! Today I have set before you [a free choice] between life and good, and death and evil” (Devarim 30:15). Simply…

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The song of Torah (Vayelech)

This Shabbat we read Parshat Vayelech which contains the instruction to “write for yourselves this song and teach it to the children of Israel” (Devarim 31:19). From this verse our Rabbis learn that we have a duty to write, or take part in writing, a Sefer Torah. However, what is particularly noteworthy is the fact that…

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The comforts and discomforts of Sukkot

This week we will be celebrating the festival of Sukkot, and though Sukkot in Israel is truly magnificent, the reason we dwell in our sukkot is not to provide us with physical pleasure (see Tur, Orach Chaim 625). Instead, its purpose is to show our faith in G-d. In fact, it would seem that part…

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Share your Torah (Ha’azinu)

We’ve almost reached the end of the Torah and in Ha’azinu we find Moshe’s swan song in which he communicates some of the most important lessons he has learnt throughout his life in a stunning and inspiring song. In Ha’azinu Moshe speaks of the love and justness of God, and the danger and impact of…

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The meaning of Reishit (Bereishit)

This Shabbat we restart our reading of the Torah with Parshat Bereishit, and as Rabbi Sacks has previously pointed out (Three Approaches to Halacha, 1987), the very first word of the Torah hints to a tension regarding the priorities of every Jew, and in particular, every halakhic decisor. Rashi notes (commentary to Bereishit 1:1 s.v.…

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Making the wrong choice (Noach)

Following the flood that destroyed almost human being on earth, we are told that Noach planted a vineyard, drank of the wine, became drunk, and then uncovered himself in his tent (see Bereishit 9:20-21). Yet while our Rabbis seem imply that Noach’s choice to plant a vineyard immediately upon exiting the ark was misguided, they…

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On valuing people and valuables (Lech Lecha)

If you take a close look at Parshat Lech Lecha it becomes evidently clear that a major theme in the parsha is the relationship between Avraham and his nephew Lot, and as Nechama Leibowitz (Studies in Bereishit pp. 122-123) beautifully explains, the verses themselves highlight why their relationship became strained over time. We begin with…

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Beautiful name, Ugly deeds (Toldot)

In Parshat Toldot we are introduced to Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov was an איש תם, literally ‘a simple man’, but as Rashi explains (on Bereishit 25:28), this term also refers to Yaakov’s sincerity. As he explains, כלבו כן בפיו, ‘what was in his heart was expressed by his mouth’. Contrasting this is Esav who was…

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Revelation and vulnerability (Vayetze)

Parshat Vayetze begins with the famous dream of Yaakov in which he sees angels ascending and descending a ladder resting on the group and reaching into heaven. The dream is a revelation, and its rich imagery offers Yaakov a profound understanding of the relationship between heaven and earth and the significance of Jerusalem as the…

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The danger and duty to stand alone (Vayishlach)

Parshat Vayishlach describes the events leading up to, and including, Yaakov’s confrontation with Esav, and it is while travelling towards Esav that we are told about Yaakov’s encounter with an angel with whom he wrestles until morning. Yet just before describing Yaakov’s encounter with the angel, the Torah records a number of curious details concerning…

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Not in God’s name (Miketz)

Parashat Miketz tells the dramatic story of Yosef’s sudden rise power and his harsh treatment of his brothers. Having accused his brothers of coming to Egypt with the intention of spying, Yosef exclaims: ‘by Pharaoh’s life – you will not leave here except with the arrival of your youngest brother here’ (Bereishit 42:15). But as…

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The growth of Tu B’shvat

Tonight is Tu B’Shvat, and many Jews around the world will hold a Tu B’Shvat seder or eat some extra fruit. But what is the history of Tu B’Shvat and why have Tu B’Shvat seder’s become so popular? As I shall explain, and like trees themselves, Tu B’shvat has developed over time, and it is…

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The test of the manna (Beshalach)

In Parshat Beshalach we read about the manna – the heavenly bread – which the Bnei Yisrael received as a divine gift six days a week, with a double portion being provided on Friday. However, while the Manna was a gift, it was not an unconditional gift. Instead, God used the manna to test the…

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Hearing with our eyes (Yitro)

Among the many unique aspects of Matan Torah we are told that “all the people saw the sounds, the flames, the blast of the ram’s horn and the mountain smoking” (Shemot 20:15), and according to a fascinating debate recorded in the Mechilta, this verse can be understood in two very different ways. According to Rabbi…

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Shabbat and our inner Mishkan (Terumah)

Parshat Terumah focusses on the building of the Mishkan, and it is here – and in the following parshiot – where we are given detailed information about the fittings and fixtures of the Mishkan. Yet it is precisely these details which led our Sages to the conclusion that the Mishkan’s elaborate features could not simply…

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Economic equality in the Midbar (Vayakhel-Pekudei)

When describing the voluntary donations to the Mishkan, Parshat Vayakhel informs us that both ‘men and women, all whose hearts moved them’ (Shemot 35:22,29) made contributions, which included the different coloured wool that was spun by the women (35:25-26). But as Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Ta’am V’Daat on Shemot 35:26) points out, despite the beauty of…

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Atonement through Chessed (Vayikra)

This Shabbat we begin our reading of Sefer Vayikra, and a major part of the book concerns itself with the laws of korbanot (sacrifices). As the Torah explains, the primary function of the korbanot was to enable people to draw close to G-d and to achieve atonement from G-d. As such, when the Second Beit…

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Shehecheyanu on a bat/bar mitzvah

The Shehecheyanu bracha is a religious expression of joy & happiness, and it would be natural to presume that this bracha is recited at religious milestones such as Bat/Bar Mitzvah. It is at Bat/Bar Mitzvah when young women and men become autonomous spiritual agents carrying personal responsibility for performing the mitzvot, and since Shehecheyanu is…

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Starting your day right (Shmini)

Parshat Shmini begins on the eighth and final day of the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and it was meant to be a day of pure celebration. Having invested so much time, energy & money in the construction of the Mishkan, this centerpiece of the Israelite camp was intended to remind the people of their…

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Remember you’re unique (Tazria-Metzora)

In Parshiot Tazria-Metzora we learn about the Tzora’at affliction which, we are told, appears in response to a variety of spiritual failings – including lashon hara. As such, it would appear that these laws are intended to serve as a reminder for us to live with a heightened level of spiritual awareness and with a…

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Make Jewish observance easier (Beha’alotecha)

Parshat Beha’alotecha begins with the instruction to light the Menorah in the Mishkan, and though not explicit in the verse, our Rabbis explain that the Kohen would stand on a stone in which three steps had been cut out in order to light the Menorah. But as Rabbi Mordechai Carlebach explains in his Havatzelet HaSharon,…

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Effective successors and effective leaders (Shlach-Lecha)

Parshat Shelach Lecha tells the story of the twelve spies who came to the land of Israel to find out if it was good or bad. As we know, ten of the spies returned with a negative report, while Yehoshua & Kalev – together – offered a more upbeat message. However, as Rav Tamir Granot…

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When words come to an end (Korach)

This Shabbat we read about two groups who challenged Moshe & Aharon in the wilderness. One was Korach and his followers who challenged the priestly prerogatives, and the second was Datan, Aviram and others who came to express their anger in response to their demotion in place of the Leviim. The former were punished with…

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Book burning and collective loss (Chukat)

This Shabbat we read Parshat Chukat which begins with the law of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) whose ashes purified the impure, and ‘impurified’ the pure. Interestingly, according to the Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 580:9), the Friday before Shabbat Parshat Chukat also conjures up images of ashes. However, in this case the ashes only have…

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The transformative waters of Torah (Balak)

Some of the most exquisite words of prophecy found throughout Tanach are uttered by Bilam in this week’s parsha where he extols the virtues of the Jewish people. Certainly, the most famous of these verses is מה טובו אהליך – How goodly are your tents etc., which though literally as referring to Jewish homes, is…

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The day the music died (3 weeks)

It is the custom of many Jews to refrain from listening to instrumental music during the Three Weeks, and many people – myself included – often struggle to cope with this eerily silent period of the year. But what we often forget is how the destruction of the Temple was, in a very real way,…

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Family is Family (Devarim)

Parshat Devarim is Moshe’s ‘Last Lecture’ where he reviews the journey of the Jewish people, highlights where they erred, and reviews the laws and values that they should follow upon entering the Land of Israel. Yet, as Rav Shimon Schwab observes, Moshe uses a strange phrase when recounting one particular story that previously occurred. To…

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Half-measures (VaEtchanan)

This Shabbat we read Parshat VaEtchanan in which Moshe reminds the people about the importance of maintaining their commitment to G-d and Torah especially once they enter the Land of Israel. Yet it is noteworthy that Moshe – who was to die in just five weeks – interrupts his stirring words to designate three of the…

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Troubled children and children in Trouble (Ki Tetze)

One of the many (challenging) laws found in Parshat Ki Tetze is that of the ‘wayward and rebellious son’ (Devarim 21:18-21). According to a literal reading of this law, a Jewish court may put a boy to death having heard his parent’s testimony concerning his repeated disobedience and gluttony. However, given the obvious dissonance between…

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On death and rebirth (Ki Tavo)

Towards the end of Parshat Ki Tavo we encounter one of the most cryptic verses in the Torah, yet upon closer inspection, perhaps one of the most important. Having outlined the blessings for those who observe the Torah, and the curses for those who abrogate the Torah, Moshe on his final day on this earth…

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Tremping & Talking in Learning (Nitzavim-Vayelech)

“It is in your mouth and in your heart to do it” (Devarim 30:14) In this week’s parshiot Moshe emphasises the value of Torah study and how our choices should be guided by the laws and values of the Torah. Rather than Torah being a distant and disconnected discipline, we are told that we should regard…

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Arguing Together (Toldot)

This Shabbat we read Parshat Vayetze, and it is noteworthy that the opening pesukim of our parsha are the basis for some of the most creative and inspiring midrashim found across Rabbinic literature including the oft-cited Midrash involving the stones on which Yaakov placed his head. Having arrived in what we are told was the…

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Fighting your past to bless your future (Vayishlach)

This Shabbat we read Parshat Vayishlach which tells us about the fight between Yaakov and an angel. Of course, there are many profound lessons that we can learn from this extraordinary encounter which ended with Yaakov receiving the name Yisrael. However, I would like to focus on a single yet incredibly powerful lesson that we…

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Real leaders cry (Vayigash)

There is no doubt that one of the most emotional moments throughout the Torah occurs in Parshat Vayigash when Yosef reveals himself to his brothers. Yet it is noteworthy that even before Yosef famously declares ‘I am Yosef – is my father still alive?’, Yosef begins to cry (Bereishit 45:3). Interestingly, this is not the…

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Our outstretched Hands (Bo)

Parshat Bo tells the incredible story of how Bnei Yisrael transform from being a slave nation to a free nation. However, if we look a little closer in the Torah text we learn of another transformation that conveys a powerful message about shifts in the priorities of Bnei Yisrael as they leave Egypt and journey…

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Sefer Devarim as the ultimate Mussar Sefer

Last Shabbat we began reading Sefer Devarim, often referred to by its rabbinic name Mishne Torah, which on first glance is a summary of the previous four books of the Torah. However, a closer look at Sefer Devarim shows that there is far more than mere repetition in this book. In fact, 200 of the…

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Mishpatim

Parshat Mishpatim is the primary source of Jewish tort law and it is where we learn about the four Avot Nezikin (primary forms of damages). According to the Mishna (Bava Kamma 1:1), the four Avot Nezikin are a shor (an ox), a bor (a pit), a mav’eh (a person who causes damage) and hev’er (fire),…

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