Parsha Toldot

Written by 7th grader Adam Berkowitz who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

Yitzchak and Rivka were married for twenty long years without having children. Finally, Rivkah got pregnant with twins, but she was puzzled at the start of Toldot. She learned there were two children in her womb who would be the fathers of two nations, and the younger one would eventually rule the older one. The midrash is quoted in Rashi (25;22), and said that when Rivkah was pregnant, whenever she would go past the Yeshiva, Yaakov would kick, and whenever she went past a place of idol worship, Eisav would kick.  

 

It is a basic concept that to be able to be punished or rewarded by HaShem, one must have free will. If your entire life has been pre-destined to the extent that you control none of your actions or thoughts, then you are not to be held responsible for the actions that you do. The question is, if Eisav was already kicking out to Avodah Zarah (idolatry) before he was born, where was his free will? The answer is, as Ramchal points out in Derech Hashem, that free will does not mean that there is a completely equal pull to do good, as there is to do bad. Rather, as long as it is not one hundred percent inevitable to pick one option, there is still free will.

 

This struggle is shown in my favorite movie series, Star Wars, which has a central theme that each of us has a dark side and a light side and we must fight the urge to go to the dark side.

 

Eisav is like Darth Vader, whom Master Yoda immediately could tell had a huge dark side - just like Eisav was inclined to be evil, even from birth. Despite this inherent urge to do evil, we see Darth Vader has the freewill to choose the light side at the end of Return of the Jedi, when he gives his own life to save Luke Skywalker from the Emperor. Eisav had a strong urge to do Avodah Zarah even in the womb, but when he grew older he had the tools to fight that urge. For instance, we see Eisav willingly choose to sell his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. He cared more about his immediate comfort and rejected the ways of his father and grandfather.  

 

Yaakov is like Luke Skywalker, who inherently was a Jedi that had the urge to do good but was still capable of following his inner urges to give into the dark side like when he attacks Darth Vader in anger. Yaakov also is not perfect - he also acts on his yetzer hara (evil) when he lies to Yitzchak to get the blessing of the firstborn and pretend to be Eisav.  

 

In our daily lives, we can choose to do a good deed or we can choose to ignore the opportunity to perform mitzvot. For example, you can choose to stop and hold the door for the person behind you, or rush to your next activity and let the door slam without thought to those coming after you.  

 

The important takeaway for me as I become a Bar Mitzvah, is to follow the words of Hashem, immortalized by Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back:  “Do or do not, there is no try.”  

 

Shabbat Shalom!

 

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Parsha Vayeira

Written by 6th grader Caroline Cranman, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

In this week’s Parsha, Vayeira, three angels, who arrived appearing not as angels but as people, come to Abraham’s tent. Now, normally, when strangers appear at your house, you might not cook them a whole entire meal, you might not invite them in or, you might not even talk to them - but Abraham did all of that. We will get back to that in just a second.  

For my Bat Mitzvah project, I am giving newspapers, old towels, and some brand new towels to the Atlanta Humane Society for the animals to have a better place to rest and sleep. These animals do not have a home and they are not welcomed into people’s homes like Abraham welcomed these angels. If you want to help like I am, please make sure to drop some towels or newspapers in the bins at AJA or at Congregation Beth Shalom to help the Atlanta Humane Society.

Now let’s get back to the story. When the angels were about to leave, they informed Abraham that when they returned the next year Sarah would have had a baby. Abraham and Sarah had wished for a baby, but they were so old they didn’t think they could have one. So when Sarah (who was listening from inside) heard what the angels had told Abraham, she laughed (and that laughing is another whole story about faith in what G-d can do). But, sure enough, the next year they had a baby boy – and named him Isaac – and they loved him. One day G-d told Abraham to go to a mountain and sacrifice his son. If someone told you to sacrifice your child, you would probably be hesitant or even defiant, but Abraham was not. If G-d wanted Abraham to do something, Abraham was going to do it. G-d wasn’t actually going to make him sacrifice his son, but Abraham did not know that. It was a test to see how loyal Abraham was to G-d.  

G-d made this test hard. He said to Abraham: “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you.”  G-d wanted to see who Abraham was more loyal to, Isaac or G-d.  Sure enough, Abraham chose G-d.  So, the next morning Abraham saddled a donkey and took Isaac and two more men with him to travel the three days to their destination. Abraham took Isaac and they went to the spot where Isaac was going to be sacrificed.  Isaac thought that they were just going to sacrifice an animal, because that was common then. He did not find out that he was the planned sacrifice until they got to the spot.  While Abraham and Isaac were walking, Abraham was comforting his son and telling him everything was going to be alright. This part of the story really appeals to me: even though Abraham was likely confused on the inside and suffering himself at the assignment G-d had given him, he was taking care to comfort Isaac. My Hebrew name Nechama - means to comfort, so my awareness of this situation appeals to me because of that connection.  

They finally get to the spot, and Abraham was holding up his knife, and, suddenly, an angel appeared and said “stop”. The angel explained it was all a test and that G-d wanted to see how loyal he was to him. (I am sure Isaac was happy to hear that). Abraham saw a ram in the bushes and sacrificed it instead of Isaac. I admit this story seems odd and uncomfortable – as we don’t want to, or, at least, I don’t want to think of G-d as asking someone (especially someone like Abraham who seemed like a pretty good guy) to sacrifice his child.  At the same time, I like the part where Abraham welcomed visitors and provided them with food, water and rest. I also like that G-d provided Abraham and Sarah with a child they had hoped for with a home where he was loved. As as scary as the test was, Abraham was true to G-d, comforted his son in a challenging time, passed the test, and showed Isaac his love for G-d and his love for Isaac. I am sure Abraham was thanking G-d for days for not making him sacrifice his son.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

 

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Parsha Lech Lecha

Written by Eva Beresin, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat.

 

In this week’s Parsha Lech Lecha, G-d gave Abraham a difficult task. Abraham was told to pack up his stuff, gather his family, and leave his country to travel to an unknown land, trusting that G-d would lead him down the right path. How would you handle leaving everything that you have ever known and moving to a new country, especially when you have no idea why you are leaving, or if you are going in the right direction? After all, Waze didn’t exist back then.

 

Today, I would guess that most people would find that challenging, but Abraham did not seem to have a problem with it. The Torah does not tell us whether Abraham debated leaving or not, but it seems like as soon as G-d finished talking, Abraham was already preparing for his big journey ahead. He either really trusted G-d, or he was already bored of Haran and eager to get out! Thousands of years later, we know that Abraham made the right choice, but Abraham could not read the future, so he did not know that when he left.  He just had to believe that it was actually G-d steering him in the right direction, and also that it was not silly to go through all of this trouble.

 

I think the reason that Abraham had such an easy time deciding what to do was because Abraham focused on the positives instead of the negatives of the situation. Instead of saying, "Is this really G-d talking to me?" or "I don’t have time to pack up my stuff and say goodbye to everyone on such short notice!". Instead, he decided to be brave, believe in himself, and follow whatever path his life might take. No matter the time, being an optimist is always the best way to go.

 

While I admire Abraham’s quick departure, I think that he had to have given the matter some thought. Most people today would probably hesitate before making a huge decision like the one he did. I definitely think I would. Sometimes, it’s better to think things through before you do them. For example, I sometimes am rude to my brother. Later on, I wish that I had actually taken a second and thought about what I was doing before I did it. Especially today, it is extremely important to think before acting because of the latest technology. Phones and emails make it much easier for for people to bully or tease others without thinking, because all of the hurtful stuff online never really goes away, despite what most people think. Every person, young and old should take a second to think before they click send, or open their mouth to say something.  

 

Even though I have never been asked by G-d to journey away from my home, my parents have taught me to think before I act, on both big things and small.  I am sure that G-d will not ask me to leave Atlanta and move away, but I know there are plenty of big decisions that I will have to make in my life.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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Parsha Noach

Written by 6th grader Mollie Glazer, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

For the past two years, my Mom and I have been learning Seder Moed, which contains the mishnayot talking about the holidays and festivals. Together, we learned masechtot Shabbat, Sukkah, Rosh Hashanah, and Yoma. These are the holidays in תשרי around my birthday. I was born on the first day of Sukkot, so learning about them was meaningful to me.

 

I noticed an interesting connection between the holiday of Sukkot and Parshat Noach, which I am leyning this Shabbat - the theme of water. I noticed that water in these two places is used in very different ways. In Noach there is a huge flood and the water is used for destructive purposes. It is used to destroy life. However, on Sukkot, as I learned in masechet Sukkah, we pray for water, because water is used to bring life to humans, plants and animals.

 

In the fourth chapter of masechet Sukkah, we learn about a special ritual that was done in the beit hamikdash called nisuch hamayim. It was done all 7 days of Sukkot, where the kohanim would pour water onto the mizbeach and it was done with a lot of celebration. In fact, there was another ceremony done on Sukkot called the simchat beit hashoevah, where they would dance all night in celebration of drawing water from the Shiloach stream each morning for the nisuch hamayim ritual. And the Mishnah teaches us that whoever hasn’t seen the simchat beit hashoevah has never seen joy. These rituals were all done so that God would bless the Jewish people with a year of good rain.

 

How interesting is it that last week, on Sukkot, we were singing and dancing for water, that the water should come in its proper time and be a blessing for us. Yet in Parashah Noach, it is a destructive force that kills living creatures. And this got me thinking, what other things can be both destructive and productive, depending on how they are used? I know we can’t control how water is used, but two things came to mind that we can control. The first is our hands. We can either use our hands for productive purposes, like doing mitzvot, building a sukkot, or giving tzedakah, or we can use our hands to hurt people. Another thing is our speech. Our language can be used for good, like praising Hashem, or lifting people up, or it could be used to hurt people’s feelings or for lashon harah. This lesson teaches us that we need to be very careful in how we use the things that we can control. Especially our speech and our hands. I think this lesson is always relevant.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

 

Mollie Glazer

 

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The Mitzvot of Sukkot

Written by: 4th graders Ari Monheit and Molly Engler

 

ברוכים הבאים

Welcome to our Sukkah, we are so happy that everyone can be here today.

 

Sukkot has many different mitzvot, we want to talk about two of them.

The first one is to shake the Lulav. The Lulav isn't just the Lulav, it has 4 parts. The Lulav, the Etrog, the Hadasim and the Aravot.  The taste and smell of each one represents a different person, some who learn more Torah, some who do lots of good deeds, some who do both and some who don't do very many of either.

 

But here is the important part- On Sukkot we combine all four species together. This is like Am Yisrael, we are best when ALL of us are together as עם אחד. Just like we have everybody together right now! Because in any situation the best ingredient is the people.

 

Another Mitzvah is:

"וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֖ בְּחַגֶּ֑ךָ … וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ׃"

 

Hashem gave us a mitzvah to be happy on the chag. Today, we are certainly fulfilling that mitzvah because we are so happy you are here to join us to celebrate sukkot

 

 

חג שמח

 

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Yom Kippur

Written by Debbie Bornstein, Lower and Middle School Judaic Studies Instructional Team Leader

 

"More than Yom Kippur expresses our faith in G-d, it is the expression of G-d's faith in us"

-Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

 

Rabbi Sacks is expressing to us something fundamental about how to view our relationship with G-d at this time of the year, but we can take that thought and explore how it can apply to each and every one of us every day. G-d's faith in us is not limited to how we interact with Him. He expects us and has faith in us to do the right thing between each other.

 

Across our school, we are working with our students to understand what that means to them. It means that not only do we have a meaningful and spirited Tefillah each morning, but we work with the same enthusiasm on developing lasting bonds in the class. We are encouraging students to reflect on their relationships -- examining if there are repairs that need to be made. G-d cannot forgive us if we hurt someone else, but we have to ask forgiveness from that person directly.

 

Often the most difficult of relationships to repair are those with whom we are the closest. As parents and children, we often do not even realize that stress placed on our bonds, and we must take time, particularly at this time of the year to examine where we can improve and build on our love, our dedication, and our communication. We all have the responsibility to mirror G-d's faith in us with faith in each other and our entire community.

 

May each of us be inscribed for life and health in 5778.

 

גמר חתימה טובה

 

Debbie

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Shana Tova!

Written by AJA 12th grader Nicole Dori and 11th grader Shani Kadosh

 

Before we end off our year, we want to leave you with a few words of inspiration to guide you through these next few days. So as you are all well aware of, hopefully, tonight is a very special night. It’s not just any night, it’s a very special holiday. And it’s not just any holiday, but rather the holiday that begins all holidays--Rosh Hashana. But what exactly is so special about this holiday. We understand it’s the start of the new year, but so what? Why do we care?


We’d like to bring up a few ideas we learned throughout these past days. As we began yesterday and finished this morning, the upper school girls talked about the meaning of the actual words “Rosh Hashana.” We have two separate words: “Rosh” meaning “head” or “beginning” and “shana” coming from the shoresh of “sheeneh” or “meshaneh” meaning change. So this holiday marks the beginning of change, of our transformation into or back into the people we want to be.

 

This concept of change and transformation is widely known as the concept of Teshuva. A specific symbol throughout the holiday which is used as representation of this is through the blowing of the shofar. Now, the shofar wasn’t randomly chosen as the image of Teshuva; it has great significance that some of us might ignore or simply don’t know about.

 

At the most basic level, we have the actual sound of it. Normally when the shofar is blown, you might jump or are caught by surprise because of how loud and sudden it is. That is the exact goal of the shofar. It’s noise is like an alarm clock for us, to wake us up and draw attention to the fact that it is time for Teshuva, it is time to return back to Hashem. The noise of the shofar is there to wake us up and notify us of the special time ahead of us.

 

Then we get into the physical shofar, how it looks, where it came from… We know that the shofar is a ram’s horn, but why do we choose the horn and why of a ram? An interesting idea we learned was that the ram’s horn is the only internal bone that actually penetrates the skin, meaning it is the only bone of the ram that begins inside and ends outside.

 

How can we relate this to ourselves? Over the course of Rosh Hashana, we are repenting for our past, devoting ourselves to a better future, but most importantly, we are choosing what kind of people we want to be moving forward. In this phase, we are trying to embody the moments when we wholeheartedly followed in the ways of Hashem, living lives full of morality and integrity.

 

In reference back to the horn, just like the shofar is the only bone that is taken from the inside to the outside, so too should we take what’s inside of us, our neshamot, and bring it out. We try to emulate our neshamot, take that purity inside of us and express it on the outside in our day-to-day lives.

 

We’d like to bring this all together with one final idea. When blowing the shofar, a small puff of air goes in and out comes a huge sound that can be heard from many meters away. All it takes is for a small breath to create such a large sound.

 

Just like this small breath can cause great things, so can our Teshuva, no matter how small. So even if you’re going into this holiday feeling down or scared, remember that a single breath, a puff of air, can fill a whole room with greatness, so just imagine what power a single word can have.



Shana Tova!

 

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Parshat Ki Tavo

Written by 8th grader Ari Gabay who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

This week, we read about Bikkurim, the first fruit offerings Jewish farmers in the Holy Land were commanded to bring to G‑d as thanks for the land and its produce. On a basic level, Bikkurim reminds us never to be ungrateful for the things we are blessed with in life.

Knowing that our friends and cousins are still fighting to keep Israel safe,  somehow takes away the appetite for celebration, even if we personally may have reason to rejoice. One Jew's satisfaction is not complete when he knows that his brother has not yet been taken care of.

So, if you have a job, think of someone who doesn't. If you have a lot of friends, think of someone who might need friends. If you know someone who suffered devastation after  Hurricane Harvey hit, help them out. If you know where the poor live, go there and help them get back on their feet. I am helping other people by raising money for leukemia and I am helping the food bank feed more people. This is what this Parasha means to me.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

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Parshat Ki Teitzei

Written by 8th grader Max Schorvitz, who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat.

Seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot are in Parashat Ki Teitzei. These include the laws of the inheritance, rights of the firstborn, the wayward and rebellious son, the burial of the dead, returning a lost object, sending away the mother bird before taking her young, the duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one’s home, and the various forms of forbidden plants and animal hybrids.

This Parasha also includes laws governing the military camp; the prohibition against turning in an escaped slave, the obligation to pay a worker on time, allowing anyone working for you to eat on the job, the proper treatment of a debtor, and the prohibition against charging interest on a loan; the laws of divorce.

These are the mitzvot that we, as Jews, are to live by each day.  They teach us morality, compassion, justice and humility. These mitzvot are not there just as laws we are obligated to follow but as a guide to help us live our lives in a righteous manner.  We need to understand these mitzvot and figure out how to apply them to our own lives.  

For example, a person is obligated to “send away the mother bird before taking her young.”  This means that although we may take what we need to sustain ourselves, we cannot take without the consideration to others.  We need to ensure we do not inflict any unnecessary pain.  

Another example is, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.”  This explains how it would be cruel to expect the same thing from two very different creatures.   

As I become a Bar Mitzvah, I will take these mitzvot to heart.  I will remember them and try to apply them to my everyday life.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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Parashat Shoftim

Written by AJA teacher: Moishik Hoch

This week's parasha opens with the following passuk:

 

שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך...ושפטו את העם משפט צדק

 

"You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities... they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.”

 

The commentators ask: What is a judge? What is an officer? And what are the gates at which they should sit? The judge is our thoughts, our ability to think about and analyze our actions before we act. The officers are our hearts that add the emotional component. Both are intellect (the judges) and our emotions (the officers) should be components of our actions.

The gates are our bodies. Our physical bodies, the mouth, eyes, hands etc. are what make our thoughts, both intellectual and emotional into reality.

 

As educators and parents we need to take all of this into account. It is not enough to nurture a child's intellect, we must nurture their hearts as well, often placing that above the intellect. We educate the whole child, creating a safe and secure environment while nurturing the intellectual as well. Every child is a precious neshama (soul) and it is our goal to give them the tools to soar.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Moishik Hoch

 



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Parashat Shoftim

Written by: 8th grader, Noah Kalnitz, who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

I was reading through my Parsha, Parshas Shoftim, and in the seventh Aliyah I saw that there is a Pasuk that mentions the commandment to destroy the seven nations when the Jewish people enter Israel.

 

As I was reading the Pasuk, I noticed that there were only six nations mentioned. The nation of Girgashi is missing! Instead, the Torah ends the Pasuk with the words כאשר צוך ה' אלוקיך – As Hashem, your G-d commanded you.

 

So the question is: Why did the Torah leave them out?

 

I came across several answers to this question, but I want to focus on the answer of the Ibn Ezra. The Ibn Ezra says that the nation of Girgashi was the smallest of the seven nations. They had the fewest numbers and that is why the Torah left them out.

 

But the question remains: Why does the Torah replace the small nation of Girgashi with the words: כאשר צוך ה' אלוקיך – As Hashem, your G-d commanded you? What does one have to do with the other?

 

For this we have to ask a different question about the whole concept of destroying the seven nations. As Jews, we believe in peace. Why would Hashem command us to destroy all these

nations?

 

The answer is in the very next Pasuk, which says that the nations take us away from serving Hashem. Therefore, we are commanded to destroy them and remove them from our land so that we may serve Hashem without other temptations.

 

With this understanding, it becomes clear that the Girgashi are part of the idea of things that take us away from serving Hashem. When it comes to that, small numbers don’t count! But when it comes to serving Hashem, כאשר צוך ה' אלוקך – then every single Mitzvah counts. Even one Mitzvah deserves to be written in full!

 

!I find that this is a great lesson for me as I become Bar Mitzvah. A Bar Mitzvah means someone who is connected to Mitzvos. Every single one counts

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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Parashat Re'eh

 

Written by: Third Grade Teacher Morah Michal Hoch

 

What make a person respectable?

 

Back in biblical times there was hardly anyone with a lower status than an indentured servant - someone who had to work without pay as a virtual slave to pay off his debts. Yet in this week’s parsha, the Torah teaches us that the wealthy person who had indentured servants was required to treat those servants just as well as he treated himself. He had to give them the same high-quality food, drink, accommodations etc. If he ate fancy food - they ate fancy food! This is a lesson for all times that every human being, regardless of his position or 'status,' deserves respect. No one should be looked down upon.

 

As we go back to school, we must remember that good grades and achievements are important but respecting our peers and teachers is the most important.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Morah Michal


 

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Parshat "Va'etchanan" and Shabbat Nachamu

בס"ד

 

Parshat "Va'etchanan" and Shabbat Nachamu

Written by Morah Tali Dan, (our new 2nd Grade Judaic Studies / Hebrew teacher)

 

In this week's Parsha, "Va'etchanan", we once again merit mention of the עשרת הדברות, the Ten Commandments.

The Commandments are divided into two distinct groups.  The first of the five Commandments is:  אנכי ה' אלקיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים -“I am the Lord, your G-d.” The sixth Commandment is: לא תרצח “ Thou shalt not kill.”  The first begins the Commandments which deal with mitzvot between Hashem and man. The sixth begins the Commandments which deal with mitzvot between man and his fellow man.

Is it by chance that these two Commandments are at the beginning of  their respective groups? These Commandments are embodied in Moshe's speech in our Parsha. On the one hand, essential belief and faith is the foundation of our relationship with Hashem. On the other hand, the sanctity of human life is the basis of society's code of human interaction which ensures meaningful life.

These two Commandments which Moshe prefaces with are the keys to two relationships in life – the spiritual and the social. As educators, we must always nurture an environment which fosters a spiritual faith in our teaching and that also ensures a positive and empowering social environment which leads to a healthy, happy classroom and school.

May we gain strength and inspiration from "Shabbat Nachamu" or Shabbat of Comfort as we start preparing for the coming school year and infuse our school with the spirit of Torah, Ahavat Yisrael and Friendship.

Shabbat Shalom!

tali dasn.png




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Parshat Devarim

Written by AJA Shlichim Galia Magen

This week׳s Parsha, parshat Devarim, teaches us a valuable lesson in the power and impact of our words on each other.  

In the beginning of the parsha it says,”These are the words which Moshe spoke to all of Bnai Yisrael on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and adi Zahav.” Why is it necessary to list the places Bnei Yisrael had been?

Rashi explains one reason for this long list of places. These were all places the Bnei Yisrael had sinned and rather than listing their sins, Moshe alludes to them by where those sins happened. This is just enough information for Bnei Yisrael to understand the significance of each place. Moshe did this out of respect for Bnei Yisrael.  While meant as words of rebuke, Moshe honors Bnei Yisrael by just alluding to the sins by where they occurred rather than actually describing each sin.

Moshe loved Bnei Yisrael immensely and his actions and words teach us that constructive criticism should always come from real concern and understanding and be done gently so as not to embarrass anyone.

This week, as we mark Tisha b'av, and the destruction of both Temples, we are reminded by Moshe’s careful language and love of Bnei Yisrael of the power of caring for one another and helping each other.

שבת שלום

 

Galia Magen

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Parsha Massei: Winning the Lottery  

 

Written by: Rabbi Allan Houben, Instructional Leader, US Judaic Studies

 

The odds of winning a standard 6 number lottery are 1 in 14 million. That means if you would buy one lottery ticket every week, you can expect to win approximately once every 269 years. For the more high stakes lotteries like Mega Millions, however, your odds plummet to approximately 1 in 176 million. That means you are approximately 20,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the Mega Millions jackpot. And yet, in this week’s parsha everyone wins the lottery in an odds defying display. I am referring to the lottery by which the land of Israel was split up among the tribes of Israel.

 

The Torah, in Massei, the second of this week’s double parsha, makes reference to the dispersal of lands through a lottery. In chapter 33 verse 54, the Torah tells us that the land will be divided through a lottery, and that the tribes with greater population will receive a larger inheritance and those with smaller populations will receive a smaller section of the land.

 

The Gemara in Bava Batra goes into more detail about the process of splitting up the land, informing us that not only was there a lottery, but that Elazar the Kohen Gadol would also declare which tribe was destined for which section of land through prophecy.

 

Why was there a need for a lottery in addition to a prophetic declaration? What could the lottery possibly add to the communication of Hashem’s intent through prophecy?

 

To answer this question we must first understand what is the goal, the message, of a lottery. While our gut reaction may be to say that a lottery is random, I like to think a lottery forces us to give up control and acknowledge there are many possible outcomes. Entering a lottery we need to be amenable to whichever outcome wins out. This crucial point, of giving up control and accepting the fate of the lottery, the hidden hand of Hashem working behind the scenes, is the difference between prophecy and lottery.

 

Why does this matter? Why did the tribes need to be ok with whichever piece of land they received?

 

Aside from the obvious,  there is something deeper at play. The land of Israel is called “שער השמים,” the “Gateway to the Heavens,” when Yaakov encounters Hashem in his vision of the ladder, just before he leaves the land. This has been homiletically understood to mean that the land itself represents the various pathways of עבודת השם, serving Hashem, and that each section of land that the tribes would inherit represents a unique way of serving and relating to Hashem. The tribes each wanted to receive the area that would mirror their form of עבודת השם, and that is indeed what occurred and what was decreed by the Kohen Gadol. Hashem, however, wanted to ensure that each tribe understood that while their approach to עבודת השם worked for them, it was not better than the approach of any other tribe. By requiring a lottery, it forced the tribes to face the possibility of receiving any of the portions, any of the forms of עבודת השם. This ensured a sense of mutual respect and understanding.

We today face a similar challenge to the tribes all those years ago. We all choose to live and pray in communities and shuls that best fit our way in עבודת השם. While we align ourselves with like-minded friends and communities, it is important that we never look down on others who do things differently. No matter where we fit in on the spectrum of Judaism, no matter what form our personal or communal עבודת השם takes, we cannot lose sight of the fact that ours is one of many. We must follow and model this mutual respect and understanding, accepting all types of Jews and Jewish practice, if we are to accomplish the unity we all strive for- especially at this time of year. May we always remember that there is so much more we have in common than, so much more that unites us than divides us, and may we merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash speedily in our days.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Rabbi Allan Houben

 

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Parashat Pinchas

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה עֲלֵ֛ה אֶל־הַ֥ר הָעֲבָרִ֖ים הַזֶּ֑ה וּרְאֵה֙ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תִּי לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ וְרָאִ֣יתָה אֹתָ֔הּ וְנֶאֱסַפְתָּ֥

 אֶל־עַמֶּ֖יךָ גַּם־אָ֑תָּה כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר נֶאֱסַ֖ף אַהֲרֹ֥ן אָחִֽיךָ׃

 

written by Eviatar Lerer, Judaic Studies

 

In this week's Parasha, Hashem orders Moshe to climb up to Mt. Nevo, and look upon the land of Israel to just look, not to enter the promised land.

This seems like an added punishment for Moshe. Not only can't he enter the land but he also is teased by seeing it. This is like a child who has a treat dangled in front of him, only to be told he can't have it because he behaved inappropriately.

Anyone else that in that situation may have gotten angry - isn’t it enough to get the punishment? Why does Moshe need to see the land he will not enter? Isn't just seeing the land increasing the pain and the suffering?
 

Now let's look back at the pesukim – look at Moshe's reaction.

Moshe is concerned about who will be their next leader, and is asking who will lead and support Am Israel once they enter the promised land.

That is true leadership and the greatness of Moshe. In every phase he is looking after Am Israel, even when he hears his sentence. He does not express his pain, does not complain, he fully accepts his punishment and now he is back to the role of the leader that is looking after his nation.

R. Akiva Yosef Schlessinger says in his book "Torat Yechiel" that going to Har Nevo is not to increase Moshe's sentence but the contrary, Moshe is the one that asks to see Eretz Yisrael. He continues to be the great leader and before he steps down Moshe wants to make sure that the promised land is a wealthy land of "ארץ זבת חלב ודבש ", flowing with milk and honey.

After Moshe sees that, he can leave his beloved people peacefully. He is happy to get Am Israel to the point where they enter their land and continue to build as a nation in their own land.

May it be Hashem's will that we all merit to see the returning of Am Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael. 

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

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Parashat Balak

Written by Tamar Lerer AJA Judaic Studies Teacher


In this week's parasha there is a strange story - Balak, the King of Mo’av sends for Bil’am, the prophet of the 'nations of the world'. Balak wants so badly to harm Bnai Yisrael that he tries to attack them physically and spiritually. Balak's plan didn’t work out as he planned. Bil’am tries three times to curse the Jewish people, but instead of a curse, a blessing comes out.

Why is this story of a foreign prophet in the Torah? Can’t we just rely on Hashem’s Brachot or on Moshe's speeches to Bnei Israel? Why do the Jewish people need the blessings of Bil'am?


The source of the answer lies in Bil’am's description of Bnai Yisrael.  In these blessings they are compared to a Lion. This is not the first time Am Yisrael is compared to a lion, yet the meaning here is deeper than its first glance.

 

"הֶן־עָם֙ כְּלָבִ֣יא יָק֔וּם וְכַאֲרִ֖י יִתְנַשָּׂ֑א.."
Behold, a people that rises like a lioness and raises itself like a lion.

Rashi has a different approach to this pasuk, he explains that this is referring to the individual:

הן עם כלביא יקום וגו'. כְּשֶׁהֵן עוֹמְדִין מִשְּׁנָתָם שַׁחֲרִית, הֵן מִתְגַּבְּרִין כְּלָבִיא וְכַאֲרִי לַחֲטוֹף אֶת הַמִּצְוֹת — לִלְבּוֹשׁ טַלִּית, לִקְרוֹא אֶת שְׁמַע וּלְהָנִיחַ תְּפִלִּין:

Rashi explains that the battle is not against different nations, but for each person to overcome himself, to wake up excited to do the Mitzvot.  

Such a great quality - to rise quickly and enthusiastically to do Mitzvot, that is something that needs to be said, and repeated to Bnai Yisrael. The fact that Bil’am, an outsider, could see that just from looking at the camp of the Jewish nation, shows us how, despite all the difficulties in the desert and all the complaining, Am Israel was and still is eager to fulfil their true destiny.

Placing Parashat Balak here, after a couple of weeks of difficulties and inter-conflicts, makes a stand - shouts out loud that Am Yisrael is constantly under Hashem's wing, and even when we may seem unfocused or complaining we still have the ability to shine among the world.


Shabbat Shalom,
Tamar Lerer  

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Parashat Chukat

Written by Kitah Alef teacher - Yael Perez

 

In this week’s parasha we discuss the importance of being a role model and the power of speech. As an educator, I am a role model to my students and using the power of speech I have the ability to influence them in a positive way.

 

We learned that while the Bnei Yisrael were in the desert, they received mun (food that has the ability to taste like anything), clouds, and water in the merit of Moshe, Aaron and Miryam. The Torah Temima explains that the three combined were really in the merit of Avraham Avinu.  How?  Avraham did hachnasat orchim (welcoming and hosting his guests). By offering them water, we received the bear miryam. For the shade he gave his guests, we received the annanei ha-kavod. For the food he offered his guests, we received the mun. This shows us the importance of every action of our ancestors is recorded and comes back to a future generations. As an educator, our actions are not only recorded and observed by our students, but have impact on them and their future generations.

 

The parasha also talks about the incident involving Mei Merivah (water of conflict) where there are different opinions of what exactly Moshe’s aveira (sin) was and why as a result of it he was unable to enter Eretz Yisrael. According to many opinions, the aveira was that Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it. The question posed here is- what difference is there between speaking and hitting the rock? After all, it’s just a rock. Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l explains that sometimes in life we will have situations where we have to “speak to rocks”. We may give a class where no one listens or a parent speaks to an unresponsive child. The message here is clear, it is very important to speak to others even when we feel like we are in fact “speaking to the rocks” and they are not listening.

 

The Chafetz Chaim states, “it is necessary to speak to people whether one thinks it will help or not”. By speaking to someone, seeds are planted for the future. Sometimes we speak to students and children and we think they are not listening, but subconsciously our message is planted within them. The lesson of Mei Merivah showed us that even when a person speaks to an inanimate object like a rock, there can be results. Even more so, when speaking to a child the impact can be enormous. In addition, we see that Maasei Avot Siman Le-Banin (the actions of our ancestors) affect our everyday lives even if it is generations later.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

 

Morah Yael Perez

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Parashat Shelach - “It’s All in Your Mind”

Written by Judaic Studies Teacher Jill Mainzer

In this week’s parasha, Shelach, we have the well-known story of the twelve spies.  Moshe sent the spies to scout out the land of Canaan.  All twelve men saw the same thing - all twelve were part of the same experience.  However, Yehoshua and Calev came back with a glowing report about the beauty and bounty of the land.  The other ten spies came back with a frightening report bemoaning the giants that occupied the land and the inaccessibility of the fortified cities.  The ten spies famously said: “In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” (Bamidbar 13:33)

וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֨ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵֽינֵיהֶֽם   

 

How is it possible that all twelve men went to the same place but they came back with such different reports?

 

Later in the parasha, in Bamidbar 15:18-21, we are given the mitzvah of “taking challah.”  We learn that when we come into the land of Canaan, we must take from the first portion of your dough you shall give a gift to the Lord in [all] your generations.”

מֵֽרֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם תִּתְּנ֥וּ לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה תְּרוּמָ֑ה לְדֹרֹ֖תֵיכֶֽם:

This is an important mitzvah - one that many of us do each week.  But why is it here in this parasha?

 

At the very end of the parasha, the mitzvah of tzitzit is given. Bamidbar 15:39:

“This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.”

וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֘ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַֽחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַֽחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַֽחֲרֵיהֶֽם:

 

Spies, challah, and tzitzit all in one parasha - what is the connection?

 

The spies saw the land with different frames of mind.  Yehoshua and Calev saw the land through a lens of faith and confidence.  Calev and Yehoshua were confident in HaShem’s promise to give Bnai Yisrael the land.  The size of the inhabitants did not inspire fear as they looked at it through a lens of faith. Through that lens, they were able to see the grapes, pomegranates and figs and to imagine living in this beautiful land.  The other ten spies saw the land through a lens of fear and uncertainty.  Through this lens they could only see the giants and fortified cities and view themselves as like grasshoppers. Some approached the experience with faith, others with fear.  The frame of mind made all the difference.

 

What is the purpose of taking challah?  It is one way to remind us that all of our blessings come from HaShem and we must give back  We must acknowledge HaShem’s role in our success.  Even when baking bread it is important take a moment to express gratitude and humility.  It is at this moment that we set aside some dough to give back.  This enables us to get into a certain frame of mind; one that approaches the world through the lens of appreciation and giving.

 

Why are we given the mitzvah of tzitzit?  The stated purpose in the text is to be reminded to keep the mitzvot. We are not to follow our eyes or our hearts, which may lead us astray.  Tzitzit are a visual reminder to focus on the mitzvot, on faith, on humility, on gratitude - to approach each day with the right frame of mind.  

 

A common theme in this parasha is having the right frame of mind - of looking through a certain lens.  This affects how we see the world and how we interact with HaShem and with others.  Like Yehoshua and Calev, we should approach the world with faith.  Taking challah teaches us to approach the world with gratitude and humility.  Tzittzit teaches us to approach the world with an understanding that we can easily go astray and we need reminders stay on the right path.  We decide through which lens we see the world.  It’s all in your mind!  May we all live our lives with faith, gratitude, humility, and devotion to the mitzvot.   

 

 

Shabbat Shalom

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Parashat Behalotcha

Written by new Shlichim Matan and Dalia Magen

 

“Are we there yet? Is there anything to eat? I’m tired.”  How many times have we headed out on a trip or had to get everyone out for school only to hear a long list of complaints from the family? This week’s Parasha includes a valuable lesson in helping our kids and ourselves recognize and find the good in every situation.

 

Parshat B’Haalotcha begins with Bnei Yisrael complaining.  They begin by crying for  meat:  

וישבו ויבכו גם בני ישראל ויאמרו: מי יאכילנו בשר?"

"Then even the children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, "Who will feed us meat?"

 

Then, it was about all the "good" food they ate in Eygpt:

זָכַרְנוּ אֶת הַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם חִנָּם אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים וְאֶת הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת הַבְּצָלִים וְאֶת הַשּׁוּמִים:

"We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic."

 

And finally, as if crying for what they had in Egypt were not enough, Bnei Yisrael then begin to cry over their current, miraculous Manna that God has given them in the desert:  

וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה אֵין כֹּל בִּלְתִּי אֶל הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ:

"But now, our bodies are dried out, for there is nothing at all; we have nothing but manna to look at."

 

How is this possible? Didn’t Bnei Yisrael witness great miracles? Did they so quickly forget all the pain of Egypt?

 

At the end of the parsha, we experience a completely different story. We are told that when Miriam  speaks Lashon Harah about Moshe, Hashem punishes her with Tzra'at and Hashem sends Miriam outside the camp for a week. During the week she is sent away, Bnei Yisrael are commanded not travel at all. Rather they stayed in one place. Rashi explains that because Miriam stood by Moshe at the river when he was a baby, Hashem is showing Hakarat Hatov here in our parasha to her by having Bnei Yisrael wait for her to be able to travel again.

 

What can we learn from these two contrasting stories in this parasha? These two stories together teach us a lesson about our lives. Often, we get caught up in the here and now and complain about all of the little things going on. We forget where we came from and where we are going. The story of Miriam is a strong reminder of the importance of always looking for and seeing the good around us and remembering to say THANK YOU!

 

We are so excited to be joining the AJA community in August. We are busy packing, having a baby and trying to figure out all of the details. We have tremendous Hakarat Hatov to all of you at AJA for all that you are doing to prepare for our arrival and we can’t wait to meet you in August.

 

Shabbat shalom!

 

Matan and Galia

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