Parshat Bamidbar

Written by 6th Grader Noa Lerer, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat.


This Shabbat we start  ספר במדבר, Sefer Bamidbar, it is also called the book of the journey, the journey to Eretz Yisrael.


The Torah opens ספר במדבר with:


וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר שְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת כָּל זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם.


HaShem spoke to Moshe in the מדבר סיני Sinai Desert , in the אוהל מועד Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying:


Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by families following their fathers' houses; a head count of every male according to the number of their names.


Let’s look at the word “שאו” - it means to lift up, to raise. Raise your head up! Rise up. Each and everyone of us has our own unique term. The פסוק goes on and adds למשפחותם - each and everyone of us has the family we came from our ייחוס, our own nuclear family. And the פסוק goes on - “לבית אבותם” - each and everyone is also a part of a bigger family - our community. The Ramban says here that the counting wasn’t just literally counting numbers, but it was more significant. Each one was counted by name in his own unique name that holds the person’s character, skills and personality and the special role that only he or she can do.


Every person has a unique value. There is wholeness when every person contributes from their his own unique personality. The פסוק says שאו את ראש raise your heads - meaning that every person will know that only they he could fulfill their his role and no else can do it instead of them him. If one person is missing, then the nation is not complete. Just like if there is one letter missing from the ספר תורה, it makes the whole Torah is not כשר and it you may not be used it until it is complete, fixed. The same is for עם ישראל if there is one person that is not fulfilling their his role, it affects the whole nation.


The same idea can be found in the Parasha, where the Torah goes into great detail of how the שבטיםtribes camped in the desert. Each שבט had its own flag and its “parking”, camping place. It might seem a bit odd that the Torah describes in detail this “technical” aspect.


Rashi explains this pasuk that each שבט had an “אות” - a flag as a symbol.


Each shevet had its own flag with its specific color, the same color of the shevet in the stones that form the Cohen HaGadol Hoshen’. This way each one could know the color of his flag. Each flag characterizes the שבט not only by the color but also, as רשב”ם explains, that on top of the color, each flag had also an illustration that symbolizes the שבט. For example, in  יהודה’s flag, there was a lion - גור אריה יהודה; in יוסף’s flag there was an ox - בכור שורו הדר לו; in ראובן’s flag there was a man picking flowers, that remembers the דודאים, and in דן’s flag there was a snake - יהי דן נחש עלי דרך.


So, one can combine color and illustration to provide a better understanding what is the function of each שבט. In the desert, each one knew what is his function - תפקיד in the world. It could be learning torah, or working - עבודה, or charity - חסד. All together, makes a שלמות. We can take this example from בני ישראל in the desert to apply in our life, that means that everyone has its function - תפקיד and חשיבות, and has his flag to belong to, to be part of. And this is the real meaning, to make an אחדות  in עם ישראל.


There was a map with a color - always the same color. The blue, for example stood for ראובן, and שמעון and גד were the שבטים that always join him. יהודה had a color for another side and so did דן and אפרים.

The color of the flag was as the color of the stone in the חושן .


The רשב”ם explains it differently. He says that in every flag there was a drawing, an illustration that symbolized the שבט. On יהודה’s flag there was a lion - “גור אריה יהודה”. On Yoseph’s flag there was an ox -”  בכור שורו הדר לו”. The Rashbam goes on and adds that on ראובן’s flag a man picking flowers (דודאים) was illustrated, and on Dan’s flag there was a snake “יהי דן נחש עלי דרך”.


There is a beautiful parallel  - these illustrations are reflected in the illustrations of the כסא הכבוד Hashem's throne. The  כרובים had the faces of a  person, lion, ox and eagle. The same applies for the camp of עם ישראל the Israelites. The way they camped it may seem that the nation was divided: Yoseph, Yehuda, Reuven and Dan. That is the description of the phrase “איש על דגלו לבית אבותיו” - following their fathers' houses;. But it goes on “מנגד מסביב לאוהל” ….. As they camped - they surrounded אוהל מועד everyone together, everyone equal in their role as a nation.


Three years ago, my parents made a decision, that we are going on שליחות in Atlanta. As they told us, I started to cry. I knew that I would need to say goodbye to my friends, family and everything that was familiar to me and travel far away, to a new country with a new language and new people. So much was new and unfamiliar - that was scary! I really did not want to go, but I had no choice.


The beginning was hard. I didn’t understand anything in class, or going on around me. It took me forever to do homework. But with the help of my teachers and friends, I managed to learn and overcome the difficulties. And last, but not least, thank you - each and everyone of you, each one of you has had a part in our comfort here in Atlanta.


With your smiles and your warmth it made me realize, that we might be divided into tribes, but together we are one camp, all surrounding the same  אוהל center. We are returning to Israel soon, and I would like to remind you that - there is a home in Israel waiting for you with opened arms - let us give to you even just a bit of what you gave to us.


Shabbat shalom.


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Parsha Behar-Bechukotai

Written by Ian Maman, who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat


Behar-Bechukotai is a double portion and each Parsha teaches us very different concepts. In Behar, we learn that every seventh year is like a Shabbat for the land. We are instructed by Hashem to give the land a break. For six years, farmers may work the land, but in the seventh year, we cannot plant or harvest. This year is called Shemitah, and any vegetables and fruit that happen to grow during this time are free for anyone to take. Hashem promises that the sixth year, the year before Shemitah, will be SO bountiful that enough food for not one, not two, but for three years will grow. As a result, farmers and their families will have plenty of food.


In Behar, we also learn that every seven cycles, during the 50th or Jubilee year, all servants are to be set free and all property reverts back to the original land owner. Families who sold their land because of poverty will have their land returned to them. Behar teaches us that even land needs time to rest, refresh and restore itself. We are all a part of this incredible ecosystem, and we have been asked by Hashem to be considerate caretakers of our planet.


In Bechukotai, we read about the blessings Hashem will bestow upon us if we follow His commandments. If we do not keep His commandments and forget about our agreement with Him, many unfortunate things will happen to the Jewish people. In this Parsha, Hashem tells us that his covenant with the Jewish people is eternal. Just as a parent loves and corrects his or her children, Hashem will never turn his back on us. He may punish us, but he will never forget or abandon us.


Shabbat Shalom!


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Parsha Emor

Written by Josh Schulman, who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat


We are currently in the middle of reading the book of Vayikra, which is full of different rules and laws about how to treat other people, what and what not to eat, and how to manage different situations. My parsha, Parshat Emor contains many items that are very close to me and I wanted to share them with you.


The first part of Emor deals with the Kohanim and whom they can marry, live with, and even bury. A kohen must maintain a special level of purity and may not be with the body of someone who has just passed away. But the Torah points out that when it comes to family, the kohen can and must be of help. G‑d teaches us that families should always stay together: through hard times, happy times, and every day of our lives!


Family is the most precious thing we have and I’m sure as I get older I’ll come to realize it even more. Some people make the mistake of not giving their family much thought and taking them for granted. The Torah teaches us that family always comes first.

The next part of the Parsha talks about the special mitzvah of the Omer. We are in the middle of counting it right now and we celebrated Lag B’omer on Thursday. The counting of the Omer, which last for 7 weeks or 49 days is special because it starts on the second night of Pesach. It symbolizes freedom and leads up to the Jewish people receiving the Torah from Hashem at Har Sinai on Shavuot.


Parshat Emor also discusses the holidays of Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, the laws around the oil in the Menorah, and one of my favorite holidays, Sukkot. Even though in the Torah it says we must celebrate 7 days, we do 8 days here in America. I love being in the Sukkah, helping to build the sukkah, having our family and friends over for meals, and always bugging my parents to sleep outside in the sukkah even though it might be raining or cold. The powerful message of Sukkot is reminds us that Hashem has taken us out of Egypt and cared for us because we have followed his mitzvot.

The Torah also talks about two of my favorite things--- CHALLAH and Shabbat and the origin of why we have them.


וְלָקַחְתָּ֣ סֹ֔לֶת וְאָפִיתָ֣ אֹתָ֔הּ שְׁתֵּ֥ים עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה חַלּ֑וֹת שְׁנֵי֙ עֶשְׂרֹנִ֔ים יִהְיֶ֖ה הַֽחַלָּ֥ה הָאֶחָֽת׃

You shall take choice flour and bake of it twelve loaves.


It continues on to say:


בְּי֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֜ת בְּי֣וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֗ת יַֽעַרְכֶ֛נּוּ לִפְנֵ֥י ה' תָּמִ֑יד מֵאֵ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם׃

You should arrange them before Hashem on every Shabbat—it is a commitment for all time and for all of B’nai Yisrael.



Lucky for me, both my mom and my Bubbie make the best Challah. Every Friday night we either have Shabbos dinner at my house or at my Bubbie and Zayde’s house. When it is at my house my Grandma and Poppy come and if my Aunt Nikki and Uncle Phil are in-town they join us but we are always with family.



All the holidays and words in the Torah are very important since the Torah is a guide for how to live our lives as Jews.  But none of this is important without the action of brave people throughout the generations and people who have fought hard to keep our religion alive. Many of my great grandparents were Holocaust survivors and fought hard to stay alive in a very difficult time and keep their families together. Whether it was fighting in the Army, taking a train to Siberia without food, being a Partisan, living in a ghetto, or escaping a pogrom in the middle of the night. Although, many lives were lost I was lucky to enough to hear the stories from some of my great grandparents and hearing how important Judaism and family are. I feel lucky to become a Bar Mitzvah with many of my family and friends here today.


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Parsha Metzora

Written by 7th grader Ben Goldberg, who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat


The name of my Torah portion is Metzora. The verses I recite come from Leviticus, chapter 14:1-12. This parsha is mainly about a purification process and how one could cleanse himself from various ritual impurities. Thousands of years ago, the priests would offer an animal sacrifice to begin the purification process. Thankfully, that is no longer the case!


If we study the verses a bit more, we can see that this Torah portion teaches us important lessons about how we can change from impure to pure and how to regain a fresh start. We always have a second chance to improve and the ability to change. Although the unique rituals of the Torah don't make much sense to us today when read literally, they do serve as important reminders for us and our potential to start again. Let me tell you what I mean.


In the Torah, if a person was being cleansed from a ritual impurity, the priest would sacrifice a bird and then take some of the blood from that sacrifice and rub it on the ridge of the person’s right ear, on the person’s right thumb, and the big toe of the person’s right foot. Disgusting, and definitely strange! I thought about why these three locations on the body, the right ear, thumb and big toe, might have been chosen. I think the Torah is trying to teach us a lesson.


The first place on which blood was placed was the ridge of the person’s right ear. The ear actually has a lot more power than we might think. With the ear, one can choose to hear another’s words, to listen to someone’s problems, or sometimes to do neither. What if the ear was chosen as a way of reminding us to always think about who we choose to listen to, what we decide to hear, and when it is best to tune something out?


The ear can protect us from many things, it is not always strong enough to block out foul or hurtful language directed towards you, which can be very painful. While a punch or a slap might hurt for a short time, evil or hurtful speech can be damaging for years. Well, maybe my punches last a little longer when we’re talking about my sisters.

Why was the right thumb chosen as a place on which to put some of the blood from the sacrifice? Think about the power and all of the incredible things our hands do. The hand carries, writes, protects, helps others, hugs, and offers support, and much more. If we are using our hands for good, they can do amazing things for others. But, we also know that hands can be very dangerous and violent. They can not only strike others, but also push people away and keep us from connecting with others. With the simple wave or gesture of a hand, people can decline personal dialogue and dismiss someone instantly and without thought. Perhaps the idea of putting blood on a person’s right thumb is a way of reminding us of the hand’s power and potential in the hopes that we will always try and use our hands for good.

Lastly and certainly strangely, the big toe. If we think about it, our feet, just like hands, they have an enormous amount of abilities. Our feet, balanced by the big toe, enable us walk, run, dance, and participate in athletics. We can also use our feet to walk for an important cause, or run to help when we see someone in need. The foot can clearly do a lot of good. But we also know that, if misused, a foot can also harm others very easily.


Shabbat Shalom.

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Parsha Tazria

Written by 7th grader Sara Goldberg, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat


My Torah portion is Tazria from the book of Vayikra. This parsha is about the Jewish people having leprosy and having to be isolated for seven days to stop spreading the disease. Let me remind you, they didn’t have doctors, they were the kohanim, priests. On the seventh day of isolation, the priests would examine the patient and if their problem improved, they would be allowed to return to the community. But if the rash spread, then they were not healthy and it was declared leprosy.


Tazria is in the running for one of the most unsettling parshat in the Torah. Though, from the fact that it is unpleasant, it teaches everyone a very valuable lesson. When a person had leprosy, they were sent into isolation for seven days. Something that interested me was that leprosy in Hebrew is Tzaraat, and a person with Leprosy is called a Metzora. These sound very similar to Motzi Shem Ra, meaning a person who spreads gossip. One way of understanding this portion that is still relevant today is, a person who gossiped was removed from the people, not because they were sick physically but because they were spreading a figurative virus.


I learned a story once about a man who gossiped and felt bad about it, so he went to his Rabbi and asked what to do. The Rabbi said to take a lot of feathers and throw them all over his backyard. The man did this, came back to the Rabbi who then told him to try to pick up all of the feathers. This was impossible since they had been scattered by the wind, just like gossip is spread. Some people may end up forgetting it but not all will. Spreading gossip is like spreading leprosy, spreading a virus of evil.


Many people have trouble avoiding gossip. When a person avoids gossip, they show a power of strength. It shows our ability to not be taken into the dark world of gossip. During the time of the Torah, the person with leprosy was isolated for seven days. Perhaps if in our world today we isolate someone who gossips, we might have a more peaceful community. By this I mean, there are so many mean-spirited and thoughtless people in our world who never consider how hurtful their words are. If we were to isolate them and stop listening to them, they might realize their problems and how to resolve them.



Shabbat Shalom.

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Parasha Tzav

Written by 7th grader Zachary Katz for his Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat


As you may know, today is not only Shabbat, but it is also Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. While there are different explanations for why the Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol, for me, it is certainly a big Shabbat.  I can only imagine what was going through my parents’ heads just thirteen years ago when I was born right before Pesach. I’m sure they were busy trying to deal with me, getting ready for Pesach, and a Bris. And I bet that when they got through all of that, they sat down and said, “Wow! In thirteen years we’ll get to make a Bar Mitzvah right before Pesach. What fun!”  


In the many months leading up to this special day, I spent numerous hours learning how to read this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Tzav. Rabbi Shneur Zalmen of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, once said, “We should live with the times” in reference to the Torah portion of the week. What this means is, that not only should we read and study the Parasha each week, but we should also find ways to apply what we find in the Torah to our daily lives.


Parashat Tzav teaches us about some of the Korbanot, sacrifices, that were brought by the Kohanim. (Hey, my dad’s a Kohein which makes me a Kohein…) The Parasha goes into great detail explaining when the Korbanot should be brought, how they should be brought, what should be used for each type of Korban, where the fires should be lit, what should be done with the ashes and which parts of which Korbanot should be eaten by whom.


As we currently do not have a Mishkan or a Beit Hamikdash, we may wonder how we can apply information about the sacrifices to our everyday lives.


On a very simple level, this week’s Parasha can serve as a reminder to each and every one of us of the importance of Tefillah, prayer. In our times, we have Tefillah, in place of bringing Korbanot. When we read this Parasha, we need to take some time to examine how we pray to Hashem. Each time we daven, we should use the time wisely to properly connect with Hashem and get close to him just like when the Korbanot were brought so many years ago. Today, I read the following words:

“Aish Tamid tukad al hamizbayach, lo tichbeh”, “an everlasting fire should always be burning on the Mizbayach, the altar, it should never be extinguished.”


In the Mishkan, there was a fire on the Mizbayach at all times. This eternal flame can also refer to a burning love for Hashem that we should have in our hearts at all times. We should each strive to keep this burning flame of Judaism and love of Hashem alive and active within ourselves each and every day of our lives. When we do a Mitzvah it should be with a great love for Hashem. This lesson is particularly important for me as I reach this important day in my life. As I celebrate my Bar Mitzvah, I understand that while it is nice for me to have a great big celebration with my family and friends, there is something else that is happening within me as well. As a Bar Mitzvah, I am now responsible for my actions and obligated to fulfill the Torah and Mitzvot.


As I set upon this great task of fulfilling the many Mitzvot, I will try to do them with a great love for Hashem and I ask that each of you try to do the same. Just like it was the Kohein’s job to keep the fire always burning, so too as a Kohein I carry the same responsibility. If we all try to keep this flame burning, we will ultimately make this world a better place. With the freedom of Pesach upon us, we hope and pray that the final freedom will come soon with the coming of Moshiach.


Shabbat Shalom!


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Parsha Vayikra

Written by 7th Grader Ryan Lips for his Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat


In this week's Parsha Vayikra, there are many details about sacrifices. Even though that is the main theme in this week's parsha, I would like to talk about something different. What I would like to talk about is the word Vayikra at the beginning of the parsha.  This word looks different from all of other words. It looks normal except for the small aleph at the end of the word.


So exactly what does this small aleph mean, you may ask yourself? The small aleph in the word Vayikra at the beginning of the parsha can symbolize a few different ideas. One idea would be that Hashem is being humble. Another idea is that Moshe is being humble. Now you may be thinking in your head “how can a small aleph symbolize that a person is humble?”


Let’s start with the idea that the small aleph symbolizes the humility of Hashem. According to Rashi, Hashem wanted to use the word Vayikra (which means and “he called”) in this pasuk.


Hashem is being very polite and says, “Moshe, is now a good time to talk?” This is a sign of Hashem’s humility - that he is asking if it is Moshe has time to talk.


Another idea is that this small aleph is a sign of Moshe’s humility. This is a sign of Moshe being humble because he really wanted to put the word Vayikra, without an aleph. This implies that Hashem and Moshe just happened to meet at the OHEL MOED or tent of meeting and not Vayikra, which means that He called for Moshe politely. Moshe agreed to write “Vayikra”, but he wrote the small aleph to stay humble, but also to do what Hashem wanted. In conclusion, we see that it is Moshe and Hashem who are being humble with their actions. If Moshe and Hashem can show humility, then all of us can too.


Have a great Shabbos!

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Chet HaEgel

Written by 6th Grader Hadara Seeman


I invite you to join me on a journey back in time. We’ll start as observers of Chet Ha’Egel, the sin of the Golden Calf, looking at the mountain from the back of the crowd and then shift over to Moshe’s perspective in order to understand how his zealotry affects his reaction to Chet HaEgel. It’s a complicated moment in our people’s history, so sit back, put on your imagination caps, and allow me to introduce you to Moshe Rabbeinu and B’nei Yisrael.



Part One


You look up from your spot at the back of the crowd and see Moshe with a glowing face holding two slabs of what look like ordinary stone, but they have writing engraved on the front and back. You wonder how in the world the writing could be on both sides like that. You don’t have enough time to think it through before Moshe makes it to the foot of the mountain holding the tablets. Someone leans over and says something to Moshe. You realize it’s Yehoshua bin Nun warning him that there’s the sound of war in the camp. “War?” you think. “This isn’t the sound of war.” Evidently Moshe agrees with you. But he looks less and less happy the closer he gets to the camp. No one seems to notice his arrival, which is pretty weird given how upset everyone was when he didn’t come down at the time they expected. Everyone around you is dancing and singing around a golden calf. The energy in the camp is electric. But Moshe doesn’t join in. He looks furious. “Uh oh,” you think to yourself. This can’t be good. You remember hearing about the last time Moshe looked liked that and he ended up killing an Egyptian.


Before you can leave, Moshe throws the tablets and smashes them at the foot of the mountain. “Oooh,” you think, “This is definitely not good.” He takes the Golden Calf, burns it up into ash, mixes the ash with water and makes the people drink it. Then you hear him call out:

מי לה’ אליי?!?

"Whoever believes in God come to me!”


The next thing you know, the Levi’im are going through the camp killing sinners. It’s not a lot of people compared to everyone in the camp, but whoa was it scary. There must have been 3000 men from the Eruv Rav, the riffraff who tagged along with the nation of Israel when they left Egypt, who were killed. On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe shows up in front of us again, tells us that we had sinned a great sin, and just like that, he goes back up the mountain. “Well that was crazy,” you think. With that, people started to get sick, really sick - a plague ripped through the camp. What in the world is happening? A plague from HaShem? If Moshe killed the perpetrators, why would HaShem hold the rest of Bnei Yisrael responsible? Then again, shouldn’t they have tried to stop the troublemakers?


Let’s shift to Moshe’s perspective to see if he can help us shed some light on these questions.




Part Two


“These people are driving me crazy…. Give me water to drink, Moshe.” and “Why did you bring us out of Egypt just to kill us from thirst, Moshe?” Ugh. And now this. I was just on a mountain for 40 days and 40 nights with no food or water. And I did it for them and their relationship with HaShem. Now I come down from the mountain and I see them dancing around a statue? What were they thinking? What was Aharon thinking? It’s no wonder that Hashem sent me down off the mountain. And then to find the right people to kill the 3000 troublemakers, that was not simple. But then again, was it right to direct the Levi’im to kill them? I wonder whether I should have listened to their side of the story. I know that they had their reasons. I went out with Rashi a few nights ago [cause you can totally do that in Shamayim!] and he said that they only made the calf because they wanted multiple gods but they know better than that. When I spoke with the RambaN about it he said that maybe they wanted another me, because i was late coming down from the mountain, another leader to guide them going forward. Then last week I saw the Ibn Ezra and he made me feel a little bit better about their relationship with HaShem. He told me that they were building a statue so that Hashem’s presence could rest on it. Maybe B'nai Israel don’t know that only holy things which Hashem ordered to be made are things upon which HaShem’s presence can rest?


I’m concerned that I was too hard on them. I know that people describe me as zealous. Is it possible that in the midst of my zealotry, I went too far? Last time I got this impassioned, I killed an Egyptian and got myself in enough trouble to go into hiding for decades. It’s hard to look at commanding the Levi’im to kill 3000 people and not remember myself back in Mitzrayim. I know that Pesikta DeRav Kahana holds me accountable for the death of those 3000 people and Devarim Rabbah criticizes my anger and shattering of the tablets saying that my “zealotry at the Golden Calf was even worse than the Golden Calf itself.”


That is a serious burden to carry and one that the Levi’im still carry today. Remember Rabbi Zvi Grumet’s understanding of the Levi’im? He explains that Shevet Levi isn’t counted with the people, doesn’t camp with the people, and doesn’t fight alongside the people because of this! Rabbi Grumet asks, “Is it possible, after their violent rampage through the camp, that they were socially isolated from the rest? After all, who would want Levi as a neighbor? Hashem, recognizing that reality, acknowledged their isolation but transformed it into a place of honor. From now on, Levi would dwell close to Hashem whose honor they protected, surrounding the Mishcan.”


And as for me, Moshe? I hope that people remember me not for my anger, but for the good things I used it for. I was angry at injustice, and saved a slave from his master. And by the same token I worked to save the Jewish People. By giving them a punishment they could bear and focusing only on the main sinners, I saved the rest from destruction. I hope many people learn from my example and learn to use their anger for good things and only when necessary to save people.




Part Three


Now that we’ve looked at this from the viewpoint of someone who stood at the sin of the golden calf and we heard from Moshe Rabbeinu as well, I’d like to share my own voice on this topic with all of you.


As I become a Bat Mitzvah, I have been thinking a lot about perspective. The fact that things often look different from different points of view. The sin of the Golden Calf - Chet Ha’Egel - looks different from the perspective of Moshe than it does from the perspective of everyday people. It also looks very different from the perspective of commentators like Rashi, Ramban, Ibn Ezra, or the author of Pesikta Derav Kahana. Part of growing up means learning to express my own opinions and share my perspective with respect. I know that I can both speak passionately AND learn to appreciate the perspectives of others. When I put myself in someone else’s shoes, I’m able to understand that things aren’t always what they seem. I know that it’s important to ask for more information and think about things from someone else’s point of view. I realize that people in positions of great responsibility sometimes have to make decisions that don’t look fair from one perspective. But when you look more deeply, it may turn out to be what’s necessary in order to save everyone.


Learning all of these different perspectives about the same story in Chumash was a great experience for me. It taught me to appreciate the perspectives of the different commentaries as different understandings of what actually happened and I know that I can learn from all of them, even though they disagree with each other. After learning so much with my Ema and Abba towards becoming a bat mitzvah (and enjoying plenty of laughs along the way!), I look forward to continuing to grow in Torah and mitzvot.


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Do the Clothes Really Make the Man?


Written by Upper School Instructional Team Leader of Judaic Studies Rabbi Allan Houben


In his famous “to thine own self be true” speech of fatherly advice, William Shakespeare has Polonius tell his son Laertes that  “the apparel oft proclaims the man” William Shakespeare (Hamlet 1:3), a few hundred years later, the old adage we are all familiar with that “Clothes make the man” is attributed to Mark Twain, and we have all heard the advice to: Dress the part… or Dress for success.


At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Hashem commands Moshe to have priestly garments, בגדי כהונה, fashioned for Aharon and his sons. The passuk states that these clothing are “לקדשו לכהנו לי” “to sanctify [Aharon], to serve [Hashem] as a Kohen.”


This concept is codified in Halakha, “...בזמן שבגדיהם עליהם כהונתן עליהן” “When they are wearing their priestly garb they are enrobed by their Kehuna..."

"אין בגדיהם עליהם אין כהונתם עליהן" “But if they are not wearing the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, their status as Kohanim is lacking.” While practically this only means that if the kohanim are not wearing their בגדי כהונה their avodah/service in the temple is disqualified, and they do maintain their status of Kohen without them, why is such an import placed on the role of the בגדי כהונה, the uniform of the Kohen? Is the Torah sending us a message that the clothes make the man?



While many commentators focus on the description of the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, as “לכבוד ולתפארת” “for honor & beauty” and understand the role of the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, to be about the grandeur of the position, a way of honoring Hashem, as with many of the aesthetics of the temple in general, I’d like to humbly suggest a deeper message here in the concept of בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments. We often think of clothing as a mode of self expression- what I wear is in some way a reflection of my inner feelings, of my mood, etc. The entire fashion industry is built on the idea that clothing design is a mode of conveying ideas. Wearing clothing, then, is about the message I am sending to those who perceive me. This is certainly the idea behind the lines of Shakespeare and Twain- that what I wear affects how others perceive me and thus I can control how I am perceived by wearing clothing that sends the desired message.


Perhaps the Torah here is flipping the script, reversing the equation. The same way that the Sefer Hachinuch suggests “אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות” that our actions have the ability to change us, perhaps the same can be true of clothing- that what I wear can affect who I am. Maybe the same way habituating myself to doing mitzvot can influence my character, my personality, habitually wearing certain types of clothing can indeed affect how I think and act. While this may sound far fetched, it is exactly the findings of Professor Adam D. Galinsky and Hajo Adam 2 psychologists who coined the term Enclothed Cognition to refer to this phenomenon that the clothes you wear can affect how you think and act. Their research showed that based on the symbolic meaning of a specific article of clothing or uniform and the psychological experience of wearing this clothing my cognition and my behavior actually changes.


Using this lens, I’d like to suggest that the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, are intended to influence the wearer, the Kohen- as the passuk says: “לקדשו לכהנו לי” “to sanctify him, to serve Hashem as a Kohen.” These clothing are intended to make the wearer take his duties seriously (act w/ כבד ראש). The realm of the temple is one that is governed by clear commandments of ritual practice and this is an essential piece in the life of a Kohen when he is serving. It is, therefore, not a coincidence, that the two parshiyot in the Torah that deal with the inauguration of the Kohanim -צו & this week’s parsha תצוה- share the same root meaning commandment.


If the Torah intends for us to see the priestly garments as influencing the Kohen, then certainly by analogy the same is true for all Jews, after all we are called by Hashem a “ממלכת כהנים” “a kingdom of priests.” We too need to internalize the message of the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, in our own lives. If the Kohen has clothing designed as a regal reminder of the seriousness of their role and their responsibility in the temple, we should reflect and ask ourselves- how should our dress influence our thoughts and actions? What is our uniform? What is our dress code? How does it serve to remind us of our role and responsibility in the greater world in which we serve Hashem?


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Parshat Terumah

Written by 7th Grader, Zachary Amdur


This week's torah portion, Terumah, is about building the Mishkan. It discusses the architecture and process of building a dwelling place for Hashem. “Veasu le mikdash veshachante butocham--you shall make a dwelling place for me and I will in them”. Of the many specific items in the Mishkan, a key item was the Menorah. It’s purpose was to bring light to not only the Mishkan but also to the entire world.  


How can a Menorah which had seven lights and was placed in a single place offer light to the entire world? The answer to this question is in the building of the Menorah itself. Moshe was asked to build the Menorah, yet when trying to fulfill the task, he found it was too complicated. For this, he went to Hashem asking for guidance in building it to which Hashem responded... “just take all the gold and throw it into a fire”. Moshe did what Hashem asked and behold the Menorah came out.


What was so complicated about constructing the Menorah? I have one at home and it does not seem to be the hardest thing to build. What Moses really found difficult was that the Menorah was a physical object that could spread the light of Hashem and to the outside world. Hashem understood Moshe’s hesitations and agreed that indeed, using physical objects to bring awareness of Hashem is impossible for us to do on our own. He therefore told Moshe to cast the gold into the fire and that the Menorah would take form by itself.


Similarly, Hashem requires us to transform all our material pursuits, the fun things we do, the good food that we eat, to serve a higher purpose.  Hashem also knows that we cannot do this on our own. All He asks is that we cast it all into the “fire” of our hearts, to let our love for Him in all we do and He will do the rest. This concept can be included in everyone's life. I took all the practice to get to here devoting almost a year to my bar mitzvah, which will lead to me shining my light tomorrow to everyone.


Shabbat Shalom!

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Parsha Mishpatim

Written by 6th graders Yael Mainzer and Kayla Minsk


This week's parsha is Mishpatim. It talks about many laws, but one in particular sparked our interest. In perek  כג  pasuk ב it says:


-ב לֹא־תִֽהְיֶ֥ה אַֽחֲרֵֽי־רַבִּ֖י אַֽחֲם לְרָעֹ֑ת וְלֹא־תַֽעֲנֶ֣ה עַל־רִ֗ב לִנְטֹ֛תרֵ֥י רַבִּ֖ים לְהַטֹּֽת:׃.


You shall not follow the majority for evil, and you shall not respond
concerning a lawsuit to follow many to justice.



Rashbam says that if the majority is about to commit a crime, you should say something, even if you know they will not accept you after that. This teaches us not to be a bystander and to do the right thing.


Hashem gave us the ability to think and come up with our own ideas. We should not be influenced by other people who are doing the wrong thing. We should not give up our own gift because the majority of people feel another way.


This also reminds us to choose our friends carefully. When we choose people who do the right thing, that pushes us to do the right thing.


Shabbat shalom!


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Parsha Yitro


February 2, 2018
17 Shevat 5778

Dear AJA Community,

Last month, before the icy days lead us to cancel, we were scheduled to hold our first ever alumni reunion. Well, the bad weather can’t stop us! We’ve moved the date to February 22 at 6:00 pm at AJA. Please RSVP HERE - it will be wonderful to reconnect with so many of our alumni, old teachers and faculty and even glance through some old yearbooks and photos. Please join us!

We are incredibly proud of our Alumni - from ALL of the schools who are part of our history: YA, YHS, HA, GHA and AJA. It's always a joy to share an Alumni D'var Torah. Below, you will find the D'var Torah for this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, written by Ben Huisman, a YA ‘13 graduate and a current Senior at the University of Maryland.

Shabbat Shalom! 

Rivka Monheit (YHS '92) and Danny Frankel (GHA '79, YA '84)
Alumni Committee Co-chairs


In this week’s Parsha, the Torah describes the revelation at Har Sinai. This moment is unrivaled, as we, the Jewish people transitioned from a broken enslaved people into the glorious, chosen nation of G-D.             

It is interesting to look at Hashem’s opening words atop the mountain,

אנכי ה' אלהיך,

I am Hashem, your God.

On this very line, the Midrash comments and informs us that the word “אנכי” is an Egyptian word. It’s quite odd for Hashem to start communicating in the Egyptian language. After all, our Rabbis tell us that one of the main reasons the Jewish people deserved to be freed from Egypt was because they never changed their language! It truly makes no sense for Hashem, who rewarded the Jews for maintaining their own language for 210 years by freeing them, to then start a relationship in Egyptian.

I believe that the answer lies in an unbelievable distinction. When a person endures a tough period or event in their life, they have to settle and cope with what happened and find a way to “get to the other side”. The person’s focus is to find a place for what has happened and to go on living a life that is as normal as possible, as fast as possible… This approach has some benefits: Surviving these experiences while incurring minimal harm makes someone very lucky. However, this approach has one inherent danger: the possibility to completely abandon the experience all together.

If a person who has to deal with a tough circumstance comes out on the other side merely as a “survivor” (not to underestimate this in any way), essentially, he has gone through a horror with nothing but a few battle wounds to show for it. Now, it is simply an obstruction to life, a waste of time. However, if one can find a way to integrate the tough experience into his or her life, one can convert the experience from an obstruction into an opportunity. Now he/she does not merely see this as, “I survived,” but instead as “Wow, that was difficult but I’m glad I learned from this and can use it to help guide me.” This is because no experience is meant to be just an experience. Rather, our experiences should serve to be a powerful tool for living.

This point is exactly what Hashem is trying to convey to the Jews at Har Sinai. Hashem begins by speaking in Egyptian because he wants to clarify to Am Yisrael that if they want to have any success in the future they must use this plateau moment and integrate it into their past. Instead of viewing Egypt as a 210 year hump of wasted time that the Jews managed to survive, they must see Egypt as an experience that makes them great.

This message that Hashem empowered us on Har Sinai must be treasured. Without a question, every single one of us will go through difficult experiences. G-D has given all of us the tools to persevere and make it through these challenges. What we need to do, is to decide if we choose to abandon these experiences, or if we choose to learn from these experiences and improve our lives.

Ben Huisman graduated from Yeshiva Atlanta in 2013. Since then, he spent a year in Derech Etz Chaim, a Yeshiva in Israel, and is currently in the final semester of his Senior year at the University of Maryland. He has been a leader in the Jewish community at Maryland through his involvement with several Jewish and pro-Israel programs. Currently, he is enjoying the life of a second-semester Senior, and is interviewing for jobs in the communication and marketing industry.

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Parshat Beshalach

Written by 8th graders Ella Goldstein, Margalit Lytton and Daliya Wallenstein


This week’s parsha is parshat Beshalach. In this parsha, many importants events occur such as, the splitting of the sea, the continuation of the exodus of Egypt, Maan, and more. The parsha starts with Bnei Yisrael camped by the Red Sea, when Pharaoh comes with his army. Moshe cries out to Hashem for help, and Hashem tells him to stretch out his arm and split the sea. In perek יד pasuk כא it says:


וַיֵּט משֶׁה אֶת־יָדוֹ עַל־הַיָּם וַיּוֹלֶךְ ה' | אֶת־הַ֠יָּם בְּרוּחַ קָדִים עַזָּה כָּל־הַלַּיְלָה

וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּם לֶחָֽרָבָה וַיִּבָּֽקְעוּ הַמָּֽיִם

“And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea, and Hashem led the sea with the strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land and the waters split.”  


Right after the splitting of the sea, Bnei Yisrael had just witnessed the greatest miracle and had complete gratitude and faith in Hashem. But just after just three days of traveling in the desert, Bnei Yisrael had lost faith. They wanted to go back to Egypt, where they claimed they lived a much better life.


To renew Bnei Yisrael’s trust, Hashem provided them with Manna (bread). But only on the condition that they may only take one day’s portion (except for on Shabbat). In Perek ט”ו pasuk ט”ו it says:


זֶ֤ה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' לִקְטוּ מִמֶּנּוּ אִ֖ישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ עמֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּלֶת מִסְפַּר נַפְשׁ֣תֵיכֶם אִישׁ לַֽאֲשֶׁר בְּאָֽהֳלוֹ תִּקָּֽחוּ:


“This is the thing that Hashem has commanded, Gather of it each one according to his eating capacity, an omer for each person, according to the number of persons, each one for those in his tent you shall take.”


This forced them to have faith that Hashem would be there to provide them with food every day. From this we can learn that we should have faith in Hashem and trust He will help us.


There is a midrash that before the splitting of the sea, everyone was davening and crying out to Hashem for help. Hashem told Bnei Yisrael to walk forward, even though there was a sea in front of them. All the tribes were hesitant and didn’t want to go in. However, the midrash tells us that Nachshon Ben Aminadav jumped in, the sea split and Bnei Yisrael was saved. This reminds us that we can’t rely on Hashem to do everything for us, but that we should take action and Hashem will meet us halfway.


Even though we don’t witness miracles as obvious as the splitting of the sea today, we have to remember that Hashem is still creating miracles today. It might be harder to notice them but it is important to have faith in Hashem and realize the small miracles in our daily lives. Although we know Hashem is looking out for us and guiding us, we need to recognize that for Hashem to help us, we have to help ourselves first and meet Hashem halfway.


Shabbat Shalom!



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Parshat Va’eira

Written by 8th Graders, Shamai Frenkel and Ella Goldstein


This week, the 8th Grade went to the King Center to the “Celebrating Difference” event to learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy and how it affected others. The participants were a very diverse group of students from different backgrounds and schools. There were a few guest speakers, such as Hank Thomas (an original Freedom Rider), Dr. Bernice King (MLK’s youngest daughter), and Isaac Newton Farris Jr. (MLK’s nephew). They spoke about how diversity is a good thing and how we need to celebrate that. They told us how we can make a difference in our communities. They told stories of the past and what it was like to be an African American at that time in history. They taught us about non-violence and how to make a difference.


One of the speakers, Hank Thomas, talked about how when there was a lot of racism and hate, the Jews were their biggest allies. He reminded us that 2000 years ago, we were in a similar situation in Egypt. He told us how much respect he had for the Jews, remembering their 2000+ year past, and making sure the oppression never happens again, even to other people. He encouraged people to go out and defend other people who need help defending themselves.


In this week's Parsha,  Parshat Va’eira, Moshe and Aaron repeatedly asked Pharoah to “let their people go”. Each time he said no, another plague is brought. Just like how African Americans didn’t stop protesting and standing up for what they believed in. Hank Thomas told us that he got arrested 22 times, sometimes just for sitting on a bus. We had an amazing and powerful experience that will stay with us for a long time.


Shabbat Shalom!


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Parshat Va-Yigash


Aware of the incidents that led to the sale of his son, Jacob seeing the official escort sent by the Egyptian king, the eternal hope of a parent was rekindled. For the first time in twenty-two years Jacob was no longer a mourner; he would see his son! Jacob was now happy, and the Divine spirit returned to him (Rambam Genesis 45:27).  A rekindled Jacob immediately sets out for Egypt.


En route, Jacob demonstrates his appreciation and gratitude by offering sacrifices to Hashem. To be sure, it does not come as a surprise that a patriarch would mark a debt of gratitude by offering a sacrifice to Hashem. However, it is Hashem’s response that is curious. Astonishingly, Hashem responds, "I am the Lord – Lord of your father, do not fear in descending to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there" (Genesis 46:3).


Jacob was presumably not expecting a response from Hashem, but certainly did not expect Hashem to say “don’t be afraid.” The Torah articulates no explanation as to why Jacob should be fearful. In fact, it is Hashem’s “reassurance” that is the source of Jacob’s realization that there was cause for concern.  Why does Hashem tell Jacob not to fear when Jacob did not appear frightened?


Recall the Brit Bein HaBetarim, the "covenant between the parts," where Hashem promises Abraham that his children will be slaves, but will ultimately be redeemed from slavery and accrue great wealth. The slavery and redemption had to occur in its providentially appropriate time, which is why Hashem also forbade Isaac to enter the land of Egypt.  “Go not down into Egypt; rather dwell in the land which I will tell you of” (Genesis 26:2).  


Although Jacob was thrilled to reunite with his son, the Hizkuni alludes to an underlying fear that plagued Jacob. Jacob was indeed scared, he was fearful regarding the future of the Jewish people. Jacob considered that traveling to Egypt, without the consent of Hashem, might cause the years of slavery foretold to Abraham and Isaac to ensue prematurely and negate the covenant. Consequently, Hashem comforts Jacob by telling him fear not, the promise of redemption remains intact and you will be a father of a great nation.  


When faced with decisions, whether they appear straightforward or life altering, we ought to consider the myriad of consequences that flow from our actions.  We routinely look at the immediate ramifications of our decisions, often neglecting the future implications of our actions. With each little short-term decision, we must reflect on how it will affect our long-term aspirations. The magic of a good strategy is that it takes little additional work in the short term, but you actually arrive somewhere in the long term.


Jacob considered the ramifications of his actions.  He not only measured the implications to those around him, but also concerned himself with the future generation.  It is with this perspective that Hashem reassures Jacob, and future generations.  Provided that we are not shortsighted, and take concern for those around us, Hashem informs us that there is no cause for worry.

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Parashat Miketz


Written by 6th grader Kayla Feingold, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat


When it comes to being Jewish, Yosef lived differently throughout his life.


When he was young, he lived with his Jewish family, did Jewish things, and overall was about as Jewish as he could possibly have been.


Even when his brothers sold him into slavery and he arrived on his own in Egypt, he remained very Jewish, and stuck to his Jewish values, even though he was the only Jew in Egypt.


For example, when Mrs. Potiphar tried to seduce him, he stuck to his Jewish ethical beliefs, and ran away. When he was in jail, he told the baker and winemaker, that God is the interpreter of dreams, and not he.


However, as he grew older, and went from being a slave to the second in command of the entire nation, he shed his Jewishness, and became Egyptian. Let’s see how.


Remember Pharaoh’s dream? Yosef predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, so Pharaoh put him in charge of preparing for the hard times, by saving food during the seven years of plenty. In fact, there was so much food saved, that they had extra food to share with their neighbors. It was during the famine, that Yosef’s brothers traveled to Egypt in search of food for their families.


When they arrived, they assumed that they were asking a random Egyptian for food, when in fact, it was their brother, who they didn’t recognize.  


I think you would agree that you have to be pretty Egyptian to not be recognized by your brothers, right? Let’s look at how he appeared. He had an Egyptian name: Zapenat Paneach. He had an Egyptian wife, Osnat (what a great name, right). All his his friends were Egyptian. He even seemed to have a special cup he used for Egyptian Sorcery, which was forbidden as a Jew. So he looked like an Egyptian, talked like an Egyptian, and probably even walked like an Egyptian. That’s pretty Egyptian to me, and there doesn’t seem to be much Jew left at all.


But in truth, it’s not that simple. For even this Egyptian, who acted so very not Jewish, gave his children Jewish names.


Why would someone who was so Egyptian in every way, give his children a Jewish name? It seems to me that he still wanted to be a little Jewish even though he loved his Egyptian life. That he realized the decision to be Jewish or Egyptian was not really black or white, Jewish or Egyptian. Rather, it’s about being somewhere on a spectrum. It’s Jewish and Egyptian. It’s about bringing out your Jewishness as part of who you are.


That’s how I see myself, too. I go to a Jewish school, I’m having a Bat Mitzvah, and belong to a great synagogue (by the way, that means to me that the people are great, not the building). Deep down, I know I’m Jewish, and embrace my Judaism, but it’s not all of who I am. I’m a gymnast, I’m a good friend, I’m a good student. And I’m Jewish. These are all important parts of who I am, but none of these are all of who I am. And that feels about right to me.


There are so many different kinds of Jewish in this world, and even in this room. I hope everyone can find the kind that is right for them.



Thank you and Shabbat Shalom!



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Parshat Vayeshev

Written by 10th graders Hannah Solon and Eitan Linsider, presented at the Evening of the Arts


In this week’s parsha, Parshat Vayeshev, we read the story of Yosef and the multi-colored coat he received from his father, Yaakov. Yaakov gave him this coat to show his immense love for his favorite son. In Perek Lamed Zayin, Pasuk Gimmel, it says,

וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אָהַ֤ב אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִכָּל־בָּנָ֔יו כִּֽי־בֶן־זְקֻנִ֥ים ה֖וּא ל֑וֹ וְעָ֥שָׂה ל֖וֹ כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים:


And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age and he made him a fine woolen coat.

Rashi explains that “fine woolen coat” means that the coat was indeed very colorful, while other commentators add that it was striped, but it was unanimously agreed upon that coat was exceedingly beautiful. Yaakov felt like the best way to express his love to Yosef was by giving him this coat, instead of giving him something else, possibly like the most upscale tent in all of Canaan.


Yaakov understood that sometimes it is the smallest things that can make the biggest impact in life. Yosef was able to find the beauty in the coat that his father had given him.

Tonight we are all here for Evening of the Arts. Numerous students have worked tirelessly on the artwork, music, and various other performances being showcased tonight. All of these things have a certain beauty to them.


In life, finding the beauty in any and every situation is what makes life worth living. Sometimes, beauty is apparent, and sometimes it takes a little digging to find, but beauty is in everything and even the smallest and cheapest things can sometimes make the biggest impact.


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Parsha Vayishlach

Written by 7th grader Jordan Steinberg who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat

This week’s parsha, Vayishlach, features our forefather Jacob, who is traveling back to the land of Canaan finally after many years of trials and tribulations. On his way, he encounters his estranged brother, Esav, from whom he stole his birthright years before. During Jacob’s travels before he meets Esav, he is alone at night camping out and he encounters a man. As it says in the text (Chap. 32, verse 25):

 וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

Who was Jacob wrestling with? Some say it was the angel of his estranged brother, Esav. Some say that he was wrestling with himself—the Jacob who stole the birthright and ran away from his older brother and the mature Jacob, who will confront his older brother, hopefully in a peaceful reunion, but fearing that it may not be. Jacob emerges from this wrestling match triumphant, with a new name, Yisrael, meaning “May G-d prevail.” Jacob ends up maturely facing his brother with much trepidation, and they reunite without a fight.


As a Bar Mitzvah, I realize that this is a milestone in my growth as a person and a Jew. I realize I will have some struggles as I progress and advance in my life. This is natural, and expected. I will try to maturely work through these struggles myself, influenced by the knowledge and guidance of my supportive family, teachers, and friends. Sometimes I may limp away from these struggles, like Jacob did from wrestling with the angel, but that’s part of growing up. I will remember to draw from the strength of Jacob, as I navigate my path through growing up.  


Shabbat shalom!

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It's My Turn

November 16, 2017

27 Cheshvan 5778


Dear AJA Community,

It's my turn.

I’ve watched and participated in the many simchas for AJA students. I’ve been there for the morning Torah readings during davening with the proud parents looking on. I’ve witnessed the shpilkes they all feel on Shabbat morning before their child steps up to read Torah and lead the service. And now, it’s my turn.

This Shabbat, my little girl will become a Bat Mitzvah. I am excited for her, as she takes the next step on her Jewish Journey. However, Florence and I are also filled with some bittersweet of our babies is becoming an adult in the eyes of Jewish Law. It’s a day we have thought about since her birth, and at her naming at our shul in Riverdale, NY. It’s a day that is an important milestone in her life as a Jew.

I am grateful for the Jewish Day school education Aviva has received at incredible institutions, especially AJA. My daughter has gained knowledge, commitment, a strong Jewish identity and a responsibility toward the community and Israel. We couldn't be prouder. I am thrilled to mark this moment of achievement and to take time to stop and smell the roses.

This Shabbat is not simply a marker of a year’s worth of study and practice but 12 years of an educational and spiritual journey. In 1st Grade, she received her Siddur. In 2nd Grade, she received her Chumash. In 5th Grade she began learning Mishna and this year, she learned how to read Torah. Her Jewish education has not only been about “the books”. It’s about the middot, the empathy, the chesed, the learning to know right from wrong and the nurturing of a loving, caring, inclusive community - that has been a huge piece of her journey. It truly does take a village (and, p.s., your child is also on this journey and is receiving these same gifts!).

[Taking “Proud Parent” hat off, and putting on “Rabbi” Kippah]

A Midrash from this week’s parsha comments on the nature of the family connections in the lives of the patriarchs.

“The crown of the elderly are their grandchildren, and the glory of sons is their fathers.” [Prov 17:6] Fathers are a crown to their children, and children are a crown to their fathers. Fathers are a crown to their children, as is said, “and the glory of sons is their fathers”; and children are a crown to their fathers, as is written, “The crown of the elderly are their grandchildren.”

The idea conveyed here is the other side of a deeply-rooted and widely-quoted Rabbinic concept of zekhut avot, namely that we merit and are shaped in part by our ancestors. This midrash has me thinking a lot about the reverse - What will I impart to my children and beyond? What is ultimately my role as a father? How do I parent and live day to day, while keeping my focus on what is really important and the big picture? Although she will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, Aviva will still continue on this journey for years to come (and so will I!). This is just the beginning of what we hope and dream will be a meaningful and fulfilling journey for her and we recommit to do our role as parents and community members.

But, enough about my perspective. You read that every Thursday! I wanted to have the Bat Mitzvah share HER perspective with you. So...Aviva, what’s on your mind?


Aviva Leubitz:

A week ago it all became real. I’m honestly not nervous yet, but I’m sure I will be on Friday morning! I’ve been studying my Parasha with my Dad, in preparation for me to read on Shabbat. Since I’m reading in the afternoon, my portion is Parshat Vayeitzei. The Shabbat portion is also relevant to me, because it’s about journeys, and I’ve been on a lot of journeys. Since I was born, I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and now Atlanta. My life has been a journey!


I’ve been thinking about the new obligations as a Bat Mitzvah. I am going to continue lighting Shabbat candles every week and also keeping my eye on Hachnasat Orchim (inviting guests). Why did I choose those? Once you become a Bat Mitzvah, I feel that you need to start lighting candles weekly. When we moved here last year, starting on my new journey at AJA, I was SO nervous. People here were so nice and inviting to me and now, I want to do that for others.


I know you’re expecting to read my D’var Torah here. My parents and I hope you’ll join us at Young Israel of Toco Hills this Shabbat - and you can hear it in person!


Thanks to my daughter for sharing her words with all of us.

We have another Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat. Please read Adam Berkowitz’s D’var Torah HERE, and join me in wishing Adam and his family Mazel Tov, as he becomes a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat in Israel.



Rabbi Ari Leubitz


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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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