Korach: Anger Management

Korach and his group disagreed with Moses in this parasha, and as we know, the earth "opened its mouth and swallowed" 250 people. But while we might think this story ends here, the latter part of the parasha surprises us with a much larger death toll; the very next day, the people of Israel blame Moses and Aaron for the death of Korach and his congregation, which causes a plague that kills 14,700 people. The story of those 250 people that the earth swallowed, relative to this new tragedy, suddenly seems like child's play.

The main trigger for this whole story was the controversy between Korach and Moses, and after what happened there, the situation should have returned to the status quo. So why does B'nei Yisrael keep the controversy going with their complaints, causing even more death? Could all of this really have been worth it? Haven't they learned from past mistakes? The people of Israel complained repeatedly--about the watermelons of Egypt, about the lack of water, and just about anything else they could think of. Just last week, we read about the affair of the spies and the people weeping in response to their report, which also took a heavy toll. Does it really pay to cry and complain? After all, they can see very well that it brings heavy penalties. So why do they keep doing it?


When we read these Torah portions, they can seem incomprehensible. It's simple to read these stories as an outsider, easy to criticize other people and accuse them of wrongdoing. But what about us? Do we always learn from our own mistakes? When someone annoys us, we can't always control our anger--when things aren't going our way, our spouses irritate us, our children wake us up in the middle of the night, drivers on the road cut us off, the boss yells, the handyman is destroying the house, money is running out, and everything is going wrong, we do not always manage to keep our cool. We don't always act as if all is well without complaint, even though we know that we shouldn't let these things upset us, and only bad things can result from that kind of behavior. We might even punch or kick a wall in anger and cause severe damage, even though nothing good can possibly come of it. They say that trouble comes in bunches, that when we think negatively, we create a negative reality. From complaints and anger, nothing good can grow.


We often experience disagreements and fights that cause trouble for everyone involved, but even then, we insist on being right and don't ever end the quarreling. Even if we do stop the fight, we always seem to need to reopen wounds over and over, to complain and restart a fight that ended long ago. It's tempting to complain, attacking everyone around us and destroying as much as possible. But why go through all this? The Korach story teaches us that those complaints seem to cost a lot more than even the dispute itself, which is the central issue in the parasha. Even if we win the fight, and we're right about everything, we will gain nothing from it. So why begin?


We've all gone through wars and conflicts with others--especially with ourselves. We all know that in the heat of the moment, it is very difficult to control ourselves, to realize that everything is from God, to be quiet and not complain. But when we see the parasha unfold before us, we understand the severity of the matter. It is difficult to act correctly in the heat of the moment, but if we prepare ourselves and try to be alert to what is happening, maybe we'll be able to detect such a moment of anger and disappointment coming, and prevent ourselves from reacting badly. Maybe we can just be happy without complaint even when everything is going wrong; and then, unexpectedly, we will find that it is our faith and joy that bring us salvation.


The other parshiot near the parasha of Korach detail the complaints of the people of Israel in the desert, one after another. Every time, the People complain and get hit hard. Every time, the penalty is so heavy and not worth the cost. So while we may experience the destructive urge to think in a negative way, when we examine the situation, we realize how unnecessary it is and that it's not worth it. When we think positively, we achieve spiritual elevation, move forward and thus, we can achieve our goals easily and efficiently.



Shabbat Shalom U'mevorach,


Moshe Hoch, Judaic Studies faculty
Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School

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Shelach: Leadership Lessons

At an impressive, well-attended ceremony, Moshe sends forth 12 spies--not in secret or in camouflage, not in hiding or in darkness, but in the light of day. As the pasuk says, "Moshe sent them forth from the Wilderness of Paran at Hashem's command; they were all distinguished men, heads of the Children of Israel. And these are their names..." (Bamidbar 13:3-4).


Is this how one sends out spies? Certainly not! One sends out spies the way Joshua does later in their history--only one pair, secretly and at night.


Why does Moshe send spies in this way? How can he send them so publicly, without worrying about their security? The answer is simple: The 12 men, heads of each tribe, are not really spies.


Yes, they are called spies. However, their mission was not solely to collect information.


Their main objective was to act as leaders.


Moshe tells them to go to the Land to see if it is good or bad, if its inhabitants are weak or strong. They are supposed to return and tell B'nei Yisrael, "Friends, we are going up, even if we appear like grasshoppers to the inhabitants of the land, even if they are giants in our eyes!" Their task is to return and encourage the people, to tell them, "Despite all these factors, we are going up to the land of Israel, and we will inherit it, because Hashem is enabling us to do so. Even if it is hard, even if it seems impossible, it is Hashem's plan." Their job was to rise above the details and the physical realities of the land and to have emunah, belief in Hashem. They were meant to declare statehood, despite the intelligence saying there is no way! They were supposed to blaze a trail, even if the realities were harsh!


However, of the 12 spies, only two succeed. "Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Yefuneh, of the spies of the Land, tore their garments. And they said...You should not fear the people of the Land, for they are our bread. Their protection has departed from them; Hashem is with us; do not fear them" (Bamidbar 14: 6-9).


Joshua and Caleb were not unrealistic or insane, G-d forbid. They also saw the fortifications, met the giants, and were up-to-date on all of the reports. Yet they possessed "a different spirit," the spirit of emunah, the spirit of leadership, the spirit that sees beyond the present details, the spirit that knows that Hashem is with us--and therefore, we shall inherit the Land.


Shabbat Shalom U'mevorach,



Shachar Shalom, Judaic Studies faculty


Atlanta Jewish Academy

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Behaalotcha: Lifelong Learners

In this week's parsha, Beha'alotcha, Moshe says "Stand, and I will hear what Hashem will command you." Rambam tells us that Moshe is unique among prophets in that only he could speak to Hashem whenever he desired. Because of this distinction, it is surprising that Yehoshua declines Moshe's offer to answer any questions for him before Moshe passes away. As a consequence, Yehoshua forgot 300 laws and became murky on many other ideas, and once Moshe had passed away, there was no longer a way to clarify these laws or ideas on his own. R. Yaakov Kamenetsky suggests that Yehoshua should have deferred to Moshe's knowledge of what he needed, as his teacher.


 width=One lesson for the students among us is that we never stop learning and should never believe that we know all there is to know. Even Yehoshua, who had constantly been by Moshe's side, erred in not asking for Moshe to complete his instruction as he deemed fit. 


A subtler lesson that may be inferred here might be that as a teacher, it is important that we teach students how to learn on their own in the eventual case that we are no longer there to guide our students. In fact, we find out in Tractate Temura that Asniel Ben Kenaz stepped in and deduced the 300 lost laws through the skills he had acquired as a learner. If students can only learn from us, then their learning will cease when we are separated. If our students know how to learn on their own, then their learning never needs to end. In this particular case, of course, Moshe did not have the luxury or ability to train Yehoshua in communicating with Hashem at will; this was why Yehoshua's response to Moshe's offer for further instruction particularly had to be answered in the affirmative!  


May we all strive to be lifelong learners who teach our own students and children how to be lifelong learners themselves.



Shabbat shalom,



Dr. Paul Oberman, Associate Head


Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School


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Shavuot: Loving Kindness

The custom to read and study Megilat Ruth on Shavuot is first mentioned in the period of the Gaonate.  The Gaonim, of whom Saadia Gaon was most famous, lived and built their great institutions of Torah study from approximately 600 to 1100 CE.


Numerous reasons are cited for this ancient custom. It has been pointed out that Ruth, and the book about her and her treatment of her mother-in-law Naomi, is full of chesed (loving kindness) and unconditional love. Our Holy Torah is likewise a Torah of Chesed, which we receive anew each year on Shavuot. Another reason cited is because the book ends with the birth of David, a direct descendent of Ruth. David was born and died on the chag (holiday) of Shavuot. 


 width=The Book of Ruth is a key book in the biblical canon, as it gives direct legitimacy to the existence of the Oral Law, or Talmud, which was fully mastered and disseminated by the great schools established by the Gaonim.  The very idea of shaylot u'tshuvot, writing to a rabbinic scholar to ask key questions about the law and then collecting and printing the answers, continues to flourish during and beyond this period and to this very day, making up a critical component of study for any rabbinical student.



Boaz, the hero of Ruth's story, seems to defy the accepted religious authority.  He agrees to do what others refuse to do.  He agrees to marry Ruth, a descendent of the People of Moab, about whom the Torah instructs us, "Lo yavoh amoni u'moavi bekehal Hashem," forbidding Jews to marry into the nation of Moab.  The reason given for this by the Torah is because they showed their true colors when they refused to allow the Jews traveling to Israel water or bread.  Such middot (character traits) are not to be brought into the nation founded by Avraham our forefather, who was all chesed.

 


Boaz, a Judge and Master of the Oral Law, knew that this prohibition against marrying into the people of Moab was only directed at the males of Moab, who were guilty of cruelty and the disregard of others in need. The females did not have the ability to step out of their communities to help; as the Talmud teaches, Amoni veloh amonit, moavi veloh moavit. In fact, Ruth was very much a follower of Chesed Avraham.


Knowing this halacha, Boaz chose to do the mitzvah of levirate marriage (yibum), and married Ruth despite the uproar.  He validates the Oral Law by teaching this forgotten ruling. Throughout Jewish history, there have been many attacks on the validity of the Oral Law. The Book of Ruth serves as a powerful source text for Torah she-Ba'al Peh.  The Almighty applauds the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, and signs off on the halachic decision of Boaz by ensuring that the eternal Jewish King and Messiah comes from their union. The giving of the Oral Law at Sinai and the House of David are both eternal.  No book fits better with the beautiful chag of Shavuot.


Reading Megilot Ruth on Shavuot is an ancient custom.  It reminds us of the importance of chesed and the full legitimacy of our holy Oral Law, given to us by the Almighty at Sinai for all time.


Read it this Shavuot, and fall in love with this most beautiful and moving story.



Chag sameach,

 



Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, Head of School

Atlanta Jewish Academy


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Behar/Bechukotai: Real Life Applications

The second of this week’s double parshiot, Bechukotai, begins with the following: “If you follow My statutes (בְּחֻקּתַי) and observe My commandments (מִצְוֹתַי)..." (Vayikra 26:3). The commentaries all ask a simple and obvious question. How do “statutes” differ from “commandments”?

 

 width=Rashi, based on Torat Kohanim, notes that the verse commands us to observe “My commandments.” He thus asks, what does following “My statutes” come to add? He concludes that this phrase must mean that we are to toil in the study of Torah, for the Hebrew תֵּלֵכו, which is usually translated as “follow,” literally means “walk,” which (as explained in the Gur Aryeh) can be a strenuous activity.

 

Rashi expounds on this theme in commenting on the phrase “and observe My commandments.” Why must we toil in the study of Torah? In order to observe and fulfill the commandments.

 

With these two comments, it is as if Rashi were sitting in any of the Judaic Studies classes at AJA Upper School. Unlike the theories studies in our advanced physics classes, or the theorems learned in our top math classes, our Judaic Studies classes focus on the practical aspects of our day-to-day life. Yes, we intensely study the biblical narrative set forth in the books of Chumash and Navi. Yes, we follow the give-and-take of the halakhic arguments in our Talmud classes--and our students do so with interest and academic rigor. However, at the end of the day, it is how our students make these lessons an enduring part of their lives that matters most.

 

This is why we take such great pride in the high percentage of our graduates who opt to defer college and spend a gap year in Israel devoted to serious Torah study. They do so not merely for the intellectual pursuit, but in order to live richer and fuller lives in the service of Hashem.

 

This week marked the final day of classes for our graduating seniors. They are a fine group of young men and young women. And we, their teachers at the Upper School, have little doubt that they will continue to follow Hashem’s statutes and observe His commandments.

 

We wish them all much success in their studies in Israel and in college.

 



Rabbi Reuven Travis, Judaic Studies faculty,

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School


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Emor: Counting the Days


In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Emor, the entire Jewish nation finds themselves counting, as the Torah commands us with the mitzvah of S’firat Ha’Omer, the counting of the Omer.  The Torah tells us, U’sfartem lachem mimacharat haShabbat, “on the day after Pesach begins, you shall count for yourselves,” sheva Shabbatot t’mimot t’hiyena, “seven complete weeks you shall have.” In other words, everyone has the mitzvah to count the seven weeks from Passover until Shavuot.


 width=When something is truly exciting, you count every single day leading up to it with great anticipation--as I did when I was preparing for my Bat Mitzvah. But what is so special and exciting that causes the Torah to command us to count every day between Pesach and Shavuot?


The answer is that when B’nei Yisroel left Egypt, it took seven weeks for them to arrive at Har Sinai, where they received the Torah. This journey was not only a physical one, but a spiritual one as well. When we left Egypt, we were slaves; only once we arrived at Har Sinai did we experience true freedom. It was during those seven weeks that the Jewish people ascended the spiritual ladder that enabled them to be worthy of receiving the Torah on Shavuot. Since Matan Torah was the greatest event that took place in all of Jewish history, we continue the mitzvah today, as we joyfully count each day leading up to it with great excitement and anticipation.  


In fact, yesterday, we counted 33 days of the Omer.  This day has particular significance because of another historic event that took place during this time of year. The Gemara in the Tractate of Yevamot, page 62b, tells the story of the great Rabbi Akiva who led an enormous yeshiva filled with many learned young men. Once, a terrible disease plagued his school, and was claiming the lives of thousands of his students. After 33 tragic days, wherein 24,000 students died, the epidemic suddenly ended. This day happened to correspond with Day 33 of the Omer--also known as Lag B’Omer--which we joyously celebrated yesterday.


However, you have to wonder: If these were such great scholars, what could they have done that would have caused them to suffer such a terrible epidemic? The answer given by the Talmud is that they died Shelo nahagu kavod zeh lazeh, “because they did not show proper respect to one another.” In fact, if you look closely at the Gemara, you’ll see that it records the number of students that passed away not as 24,000 individuals, but as 12,000 pairs. Why?


Perhaps we can suggest that the entire reason for the epidemic was due to a lack of partnership between them and their friends. This teaches us that it is not enough to receive and study the Torah; we have to live it, treating all people according to the Torah’s laws. 


We see from this that the mitzvoth of the Torah are not there to burden us, but to teach us how to live a proper life full of meaning. Therefore, when we count the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot, the mitzvah is there for us, for our own sake. Perhaps that is why the Torah commands us u'sfartem lachem--to count it for ourselves. 


Shabbat Shalom,



Rachel R., Grade 11

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
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Acharei Mot/Kedoshim: Loving Our Neighbors


Most people don't have any trouble being concerned about their own wants and needs. When we're hungry, we eat. When we're tired, we rest. But when it comes to the wants and needs of other people, the feeling may not come so easily.


This means that we should try to become so loving and sensitive to the people  width=around us that we care just as deeply, just as naturally, about fulfilling their needs as we do about fulfilling our own. When we do, we will find ourselves able to give of ourselves more and more in order to help them. The Torah is informing us that deep down, we are really all connected. Living with this awareness brings a lot of love into the world--and into our lives.


When we commemorated Yom Hazikaron in Israel, we heard the stories of six people who lost their lives while defending the State of Israel: four soldiers, one medic and one civilian. These individuals--as told to us by their family, friends and colleagues--exemplified the essence of giving. They gave of themselves daily until they made the ultimate sacrifice simply because they were Jewish and defending the Land of Israel. 


We discussed the need to learn a lesson from these brave men and women in how to conduct our daily lives, understanding that--as we learn from this week's parasha--we are all connected; and that strengthening that connection brings greater love into our lives. 


The love our students already had for the Land of Israel and the Jewish people was strengthened by every step we took and every experience we had in Eretz Yisrael.



Shabbat Shalom,



 

Debbie Bornstein, Coordinator of Experiential Jewish Learning

Atlanta Jewish Academy, Greenfield Middle School
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Tazria/Metzora: It Seems to Me...


In Israel this week, we will read the portions of Achrei Mot/Kedoshim, but I want to share a thought on Tazria/Metzora, the portions being read this week in the United States and everywhere outside of Israel. The parshiyot of Tazria and Metzora, as reflected by their names, deal primarily with the laws of the metzorah, one who is afflicted with the spiritual disease of tzara’at. It was possible to find signs of tzara’at on one’s body, one’s clothing, or one’s home.


On the topic of finding tzara’at in one’s home, the Torah states: "And he who owns the house shall come and tell the Cohen, saying, 'It seems to me as if there is a plague in the house'" (Leviticus 14:35). 


Why does the Torah tell us that the owner should say, "It seems to me there is tzara’at," rather than, "there is tzara'at?” 


Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz notes that there is very little difference between "it is" and "it appears as if." In either event, it depends upon a Cohen to come and make the determination of whether or not the house is afflicted with tzara'at. However, the Torah is teaching us a practical lesson on how we should speak. 


People think that everything they say is correct, but we all too often make mistakes because of wrong information or faulty perception. By recognizing this reality about ourselves and then prefacing our statements with, "it seems to me," it is easier to concede that someone else is correct. Also, it makes it easier for others to agree with you. It facilitates communication and finding truth.  


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As we commemorated Yom Hazikron and Yom Ha’atzmaut this week, we witnessed the beauty of being Jewish and being in Eretz Yisrael. With our own eyes, we saw the sadness before the celebration, the sorrow before the joy, and recognized the sacrifices of those who have given their lives for the sake of our people and our land. It has been an experience that neither I nor our 8th graders will ever forget.  


We witnessed unity both in the mourning and in the celebration, and through it all, we recognized that--regardless of our personal views--we are bound together as one people, with one land, through our history and mesorah.  


Shabbat Shalom,



Debbie Bornstein, Coordinator of Experiential Jewish Learning

Atlanta Jewish Academy, Greenfield Middle School
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Parshat Shemini: Asking Questions


This week's parsha, Shemini, contains the halfway point of all the words in the Torah. This halfway mark (there is literally a mark in many Chumashim) comes after the word darosh and before the word daraysh, two words whose roots both mean "to inquire." (Together, these words are translated as "inquired insistently.") Degel Machaneh Ephraim suggests that this teaches us that Torah learning should be focused on asking questions and deepening our understanding through the vehicle of inquiry. 

 width=Of course, asking questions is critical to any learning environment, and particularly to schools. Think of the number of expressions in the English lexicon regarding asking questions:



  • There is no such thing as a stupid question.

  • The only stupid question is one that you never ask.

  • Who questions much shall learn much and retain much (Francis Bacon).


One of my personal favorites is Voltaire's opinion that we should "Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers."



All of these quotes rightly support and encourage the asking of questions as a learning tool without parallel. And of course, this is exactly the lesson the Torah attempts to teach us.

Some of the very best features of the AJA Upper School are in place because students and teachers asked great questions. The question, "How can we teach a really unique set of classes while also learning the core of an excellent education?" led to the formation of our minimester program. The question, "How can we acquire more current novels of interest?" resulted in a student-run and student-supplied portion of our library. The question, "How can every student have an opportunity to speak in front of the school about a passion?" was answered with Senior Talks. 

May we all be blessed with children who ask excellent and plentiful questions.



 


Shabbat Shalom,



 

Dr. Paul Oberman, Associate Head

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
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Redemption: Are We There Yet?


How are we to understand geulah, redemption? Is it something that comes upon us suddenly, or is it a slow process? Are we part of creating and bringing the redemption (and therefore, our actions matter), or are we to be passive and allow geulah to act on us, or even despite us? 


 width=If we examine the historic day of our people's redemption, the 14th of Nissan, we find that the 14th is a divided day. In the morning, we are still permitted--and even commanded--to consume chametz. From noon on, we are biblically forbidden to partake of chametz, but we are not yet commanded to eat matzah; in fact, we are forbidden to partake of the matzah until after nightfall. This leaves a vacuum of sorts during the day of the 14th that is neither chametz nor matzah.  From noon to nightfall, no chametz, no matzah. What is this neutral time all about? 


Interestingly, the holiday of Sukkot has no such vacuum. We may eat until the night of the 14th of Tishrei in our comfortable permanent homes. It is only at nightfall of the 14th that we enter the sukkah. The moment we are forbidden to have a meal outside of the sukkah is the same moment we are commanded with the mitzvah to eat in the sukkah. 


 width=The movement from home to sukkah is sudden; there is no transition. The sukkah is very much like real life. Moving--or being forced to move--from comfort comes quickly; it overtakes us. Moving from a distressed situation to a more comfortable situation takes time; it has lapses. That is possibly why there is this gap on the 14th day of Nissan, noon to nightfall. Similarly, the Holocaust fell upon us suddenly, with no time to prepare or react, whereas redemption is a slow, laborious, and painful process. So, too, the trip of our forefathers down to Egypt was fast, but the Exodus and the trip to the Land of Israel, our homeland, took us over forty years. Suddenly, we realize that items are gone, and it takes a lot of searching time until we successfully recover our valuables. Loss is quick, recovery is slow and deliberate. It has lapses and neutral periods of time. 


 width=Redemption is all about healing, recovery, becoming whole again. It is a treasured gift, one that cannot be acquired in a hesech hada'at (loosely translated as inclining your mind to it), without careful preparation and planning. It is a gift that can only be found after one searches for it as one would search for diamonds. We are mistaken to think that by merely leaving slavery, we automatically are free and redeemed. Leaving avdut, servitude, does not necessarily mean entering cherut, freedom. There is a vacuum, a space between the enslavement of chametz and the freedom and redemption of matzah--a space we must first fill if we are to achieve true and total redemption. 


 width=Even today, we have these three spaces. Morning to noon for chametz; noon to nightfall, a vacuum; and nightfall, redemption and matzah. We have a minority of Jews who are still in avdut, servitude--Jews who are still trapped in Ethiopia, Syria, and the like. Like chametz, they are not yet free. We have Jews who have made the move to Israel for the start of their redemption, at nightfall. And then, there are the Jews like us. We are in between; not enslaved, with our free and wonderful lives here in the USA--but still living in galut, exile, and not fully redeemed, whether we recognize it or not. We are between the chametz and the matzah. For us, it's the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan. In truth, even those living in Israel are not yet secure, and thus not yet fully redeemed, physically or spiritually. You see, redemption can only be fully achieved if all of us are redeemed: all for one or none. 


 width=We see this as well when looking at the arbah kosot, the four cups. There are four "languages of redemption," four phrases describing the process of geulah. The first language of redemption that signifies the first of the four cups is vehotzeyti etchem miMitzrayim, "I removed you from Egypt." The phrase for the fourth cup is velakachti etchem li le'am, "I took you to be my people." Between this first cup of vehotzeti and the fourth cup of velakachti, we need to undergo the process of vehetzalti me'avodatam, "I will deliver you from servitude", as well as vega'alti, "and I redeemed you." And yet, even after all four cups, we still haven't reached veheveiti etchem el ha'aretz, "I will bring you into the Land"--how many were sacrificed and continue to be lost to us in the last hundred years of Jewish history to get us, as a people, to the veheveiti etchem el ha'aretz


Like Israel of old, it took more than just one miracle to get us from the chametz of Egypt to the matzah of redemption in Israel--from the ha lachmah anya, the bread of affliction, to the matzot mitzvah, baked with the recitation of Hallel. There was the miracle of the ten plagues and there was the miracle of kriyat yam suf, the splitting of the sea. There was the miracle of water from a stone, the miracle of the manna, and the miraculous military victories over Amalek, Sichon, Og, Midyan, and much more; miracle after miracle to get us, finally, to the Promised Land. 


 width=Like Israel of old, we, too, require the daily miracle and providence of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, of G-d, blessed be He, to continually sustain us. But these daily miracles require our participation as well. Just as each of the ten makkot, plagues, required Moshe and Aharon to stretch out their hands as they held G-d's staff to start the miracle of each plague, so, too, we must become partners with Hashem in the miracle of our own future redemption, to help move ourselves from the no-man's land that is neither chametz nor matzah, neither the painful exile nor the promised geulah sh'leimah, the total redemption. We have the power given us by Hashem to affect His miracles and our own destiny; to help free ourselves. For in the end, only we--with Hashem's help--can fully achieve the true geulah sh'leimah for all of Israel. 


 width=For us, it will require a metaphorical bedikat chametz, inspection for hidden chametz, to locate the chametz in ourselves, the seor shebeishah--the chaff that is hidden in our hearts and souls must be located and purged. Once found, we need to rid ourselves of the chametz: sell it (mechirah), or throw it to the winds, toss it in the sea, burn it (biyur), so that we may move from chametz to matzah--to a pure existence, one that is balanced, humble, and redemptive. We must once and for all rid ourselves of this pollutant chametz because we know that chametz sheavar alav hapesach, owned on Passover, is assur, forbidden to us. 


This is what Chag haPesach, the holiday of Passover, is truly all about. Pesach--movement from one place to another, from one domain to another, from a state of non-redemption to a state of total redemption.  


May we merit it this year. 


Chag kasher v'sameach,



 

Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, Head of School

Atlanta Jewish Academy
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Tzav: Thanksgiving Offerings

In this week's parsha, Tzav, we learn about different offerings, including the offering of thanksgiving, which is composed of 40 loaves. Our sages inform us that once Mashiach comes, these are in fact the only offerings that will remain! From this we understand how critical it is to express our thanks.

 

 width=In that light, it is important to recognize and thank those at AJA responsible for recent huge successes. Student leaders Ariella Shapiro and Zoe Ogden, and adviser Talya Gorsetman, led a wildly successful Chagiga production of A Tsuris Line; Mr. Dave Byron and all of his students involved in the Cause Fair deserve huge praise and thanks for all of their efforts. Our boys basketball team just returned from the Red Sarachek tournament at Yeshiva University, where senior Samuel Kalnitz was named to the All-Star Team after scoring the most points in the tournament and in any single game of the tournament (45).

 

It's also important to recognize less public efforts. One of our students chose to continue to pursue her cause fair project, resulting in the opportunity for AJA students to experience a tech-free area each day at school. Were it not for her perseverance, this opportunity would not exist.

Years ago, at a memorial service for a colleague, I was moved by the kind words spoken about this friend and simultaneously saddened that he was not around to hear such nice things spoken. From that point on, I resolved to tell those I loved how important they are to me.


In the spirit of the thanksgiving offering, may we all endeavor to express our gratitude to those who have made a difference for the better in our lives. 

 

Shabbat Shalom, and an upcoming Chag Kasher V'Sameach--

 

Dr. Paul Oberman, Associate Head

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
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Vayikra: "I Was Wrong"


In this week's Torah portion, we learn about a most humbling experience: how Jews must react when they commit a sin. Hashem's instructions for how Jews should proceed once they have unintentionally committed a sin are very clear. What I have found particularly interesting is the text that says, "If his sin that he has committed is made known to him, then he shall bring his offering" (Vayikra 4:28). It seems like the Torah is punishing people because they realize that they made a mistake. This seems highly unfair, and almost antithetical to our religion. We always recognize the fallibility of humans--it is a very basic principle in Judaism--and so it simply doesn't sit right with me to believe that G-d would punish us once we realize we have unintentionally broken his rules.


 width=I believe this ruling was put in to teach us an invaluable lesson, straight from Hakadosh Baruch-Hu. One of the hardest things humans have to do is admit when they are wrong. Day in and day out, we all make mistakes; but I have found that my difficulty has never been in realizing my misstep, but in admitting it to other people. It is built into us, practically part of our genetic makeup: people hate to be wrong. So when G-d is giving us rules about how to live our lives and how to approach our everyday endeavors, it is necessary for him to mention how to deal with our mistakes. 


I believe the hardest midah (character trait) to achieve is humility. I was always impressed when I learned about Moshe, because he is famous for his humility. Moshe serves as the epitome of a humble man, and is someone I look up to with true respect. With that in mind, I still find it to be the most difficult midah to embody, so this Torah portion really gave me strength. It shows me that G-d recognizes how difficult it is to be humble and to admit we are wrong. G-d is taking extra measures to be sure that His people never become too egocentric or full of themselves to admit their errors, even when those errors are unintentional. Just as a father always reminds his son to say please, thank you, and sorry, G-d reminds His children to do the same.


 




Shabbat shalom, 

 

Rachel R., Grade 11

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
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Vayakhel-Pekudei: Accounting for Our Gifts




(אֵלֶה פְּקוּדֵי הַמִשְכָּן... (ל:יג



And these are the accountings of the מִשְכָּן...


In the beginning of פַּרְשַת פְּקוּדֵי, the תּוֹרָה offers an exact list of the amounts of the precious materials that were donated for the מִשְכָּן. Rav Moshe Feinstein points out a tremendous lesson the תּוֹרָה is teaching us by giving us this exact list, and what everything was used for.



Hashem gave us, and gives us, all we have--our lives, our health, our strengths, our capabilities--everything! Hashem did not give these to us to waste; rather, they were given to us for a purpose. Just as in the מִשְכָּן there was an exact reckoning of how much there was and what it was used for, so, too, we must work out how much ה' has given us and what we are using it for. Are we using our time properly, or are we wasting it? Are we using our money for good things, or are we spending it on the trivialities? Are we using our capabilities for good things, to treat others well, or are we using our strengths in negative ways?

פַּרְשַת פְּקוּדֵי teaches us to stop and think, to calculate our actions and abilities, and to ensure that we are using them wisely.

 



Shabbat shalom, 

 

Debbie Bornstein, Coordinator of Experiential Jewish Learning

Atlanta Jewish Academy Middle School
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Vayakhel-Pekudei: Giving Generously



Oftentimes, when we give, we do so to reach a goal, and without much sincerity. Everyone can admit to doing so at some point in their lives. Whether we give to appear generous, to have a favor returned, or just give even as we subconsciously resent it, we don't always have the right intentions. While this is completely understandable, and quite possibly part of human nature, it can take away from the beauty of generosity.

 

 width=In this week's parasha, Vayakhel-Pekudei, Moshe reiterates to B'nei Yisrael the instructions to build a Mishkan. Along with these instructions, the materials needed for the Mishkan were also listed. B'nei Yisrael then donated an abundance of materials. They donated things that are obviously valuable, such as gold, silver, precious stones, and animal skins; and seemingly everyday things, such as wool, olive oil, and herbs. The sheer plenty given by B'nei Yisrael was so great that Moshe had to tell them to stop giving.

 

This concept of sincerely giving as much as we can is, I believe, a characteristic we should all work towards integrating into our lives. We must learn that the goal to be accomplished is often more important than our own personal agendas; it doesn't matter how or what we contribute, as long as we give our best. Our generosity can come in so many forms--helping someone with homework, lending someone a few dollars, or just giving up time to help someone else. If we all take an active role incorporating genuine generosity into our minds and actions, we'll be able to build an even greater environment in school, in our community, and in every aspect of our lives. 

 



Shabbat shalom, 

 

Daniella S., Grade 11

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
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Ki Sisa: The Everlasting Covenant

Ki Sisa: The Everlasting Covenant


This week's parsha, Ki Sisa, is jam-packed with significant quotes and events that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. In Ki Sisa, B’nei Yisrael is given the commandment of Shabbat. We immediately sin with the golden calf, causing Moshe to drop the tablets and ascend Har Sinai once again, where Hashem recited His thirteen Attributes of Mercy. With so many to choose from, it is easy to draw meaning from this parsha; I have chosen to tie together the mitzvah of Shabbat with the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s mercy found in Slichot.  


Personally, I find it very scary when Hashem commands B’nei Yisrael to keep the Shabbat and continues by stating that those who desecrate it shall be put to death. This, however, should show Jews the importance of Shabbat, something many people often forget. To explain why this day is so important, Hashem states that Shabbat should act as a  בְּרִית עוֹלָם, an everlasting covenant between G-d and His people. With the example of Purim this past week, and the reading of the Megillah in which Hashem's name does not appear, we learned that Hashem’s hand is truly behind everything, even when it seems hidden. By keeping Shabbat week after week, we are reminded that Hashem is playing an active role in all of our lives, even though during the week, with everything moving so quickly, we don't always see it. 


Towards the end of the parsha, Hashem is extremely angered by the incident of the golden calf, yet He recites His attributes of mercy and compassion. This shows B’nei Yisrael that, while it is a commandment to keep the Shabbat--and it is written in the Torah that breaking Shabbat is punishable by death--Hashem has everlasting love for His people, and is always willing to give second chances to all of His children. It is never too late to do teshuva and reinstate the everlasting covenant made by Shabbat between Hashem and His people.


Shabbat shalom, 


Rina S., Grade 10


Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School

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Parlor Meetings and the Purim Story

After a close reading of Megillat Esther, one may wonder: Why the need for the first chapter? It shares little, if anything, related to the miracle of Purim. 


In the book The Dawn: Political Teachings of the Book of Esther, author Yoram Hazony addresses this very question. Hazony sees more in the Megillah that just the wonderful story of Purim. To him, the story is also instructive as a list of political dos and don'ts for leaders. 


In Chapter One, the king is surrounded and advised by a large number of experienced and thoughtful advisors. They each voice their views, the king decides, and the kingdom prospers.  


All this stops after Bigtan and Teresh plot to kill the king. Achashverosh is already suspicious of the old guard because he is not of royal blood. For this reason, he moves his capital city to Shushan and builds a new palace, away from the old seat of power. 


The king's fears are realized with the disclosure of the attempt on his life, and this serves to increase his paranoia. Achashverosh then promotes one adviser over all the others. Whereas before, there were multiple voices heard and opinions shared, now there was to be but one voice.


It is for this reason that Mordechai, knowing the danger of such a political mistake, refuses to bow to Haman. It is this act of defiance that, in the end, will save the king and the kingdom. 


True freedom is about a multiplicity of opinions and beliefs honestly expressed and listened to with sincere interest. It is so important for leaders to hear multiple voices, and for everyone to feel safe sharing their thoughts! I invite you to come out and make your voice heard. There are many avenues through which to share your ideas--our News & Schmooze series of parlor meetings, the survey you have all received, and my always-open office door are just a few of them. 


We hope that you will partner with us in developing our beloved school and its programs. We look forward to hearing from you as we continue to improve AJA and strive for true excellence in everything we do.


 


Purim samayach, 


 


Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, Head of School


Atlanta Jewish Academy

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Parshat Terumah: The Real Point of Judaism

The second pasuk in this week's parsha goes as follows:  דבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי


"Speak to B'nei Yisrael and have them take for Me a portion; from every person whose heart inspires him to give, you shall take My portion." If you think about it, there are different ways to phrase this pasuk. When donating to Hashem, aren't we giving to Him and not taking? So why does the Torah use the verb לקחת (to take) to describe an action that is actually a form of giving? 


 width=Someone who donates her time and money is called a "giver." Sometimes, when someone gives, she has ulterior motives; she may give with the intention to look good or to look nice to peers, not for the altruistic sense of the action. But, to me at least, that says something--the fact that our society thinks highly of someone who is charitable with everything she has speaks well for us. Giving is highly acclaimed in the Torah; we see its importance from the first man to act as a Jew.  


Also mentioned and described in this week's parsha is the structure of the actual building of the Mishkan. The walls of the frame of the Mishkan were made of individual beams of wood. Those beams were held together by a crossbeam that ran through the center. Interestingly, according to Targum Yonatan, the wood of the crossbeam was made of Avraham's famous tree. Under this tree, Avraham waited for travelers to pass so he could invite them into his house as guests. The very wood used to hold together the Mishkan, the center of B'nei Yisrael's camp and Judaism at the time, was once used by the kind master of chesed and giving himself. The original purpose of the Mishkan's support beam was to aid in giving, so the center of Judaism must be giving, too.  


In truth, giving is rewarding. When we put out our hands to another, Hashem rewards us with more than we started with. It is the center of our religion, the crux of our purpose in this world.  


Sometimes, people forget that. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the details of every mitzvah and everyday life that we forget to keep an eye out for one another and lend each other a hand. This week's parsha stands to emphasize--especially right after Yitro, the parsha in which the Torah was commanded, and Mishpatim, a parsha full of halachot that deal with bein adam lechavero (between man and his friend)--that kindness and giving are essential to our success as individuals and a nation.


Shabbat shalom, 


 


Zoie W., Grade 10 


Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School


 

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Parshat Mishpatim: Interest-Free Loans

 



וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם:


And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them.


 


As the very name of the parasha implies, it is replete with commandments, 53 in total, 23 positive and 30 prohibitions. These include the laws of the indentured servant as well as the penalties for murder, kidnapping, assault, and theft. However, much of the parasha relates to civil laws such as those pertaining to redress of damages, the granting of loans, and the rules governing the conduct of justice by courts of law. The commandment I'd like to focus on today, however, is the prohibition of charging interest to a fellow Jew.


Typically, when we think of civil laws, they strike us as logical, as making good sense. They generally do not leave us pondering their purpose like shatnez (the prohibition against mixing linen and wool) and the parah aduma (the red heifer). And yet, when we read the laws of interest set forth in this week's parasha, we are taken aback. Rationally speaking, one would think that there is nothing ethically wrong with interest. A lender ought to be entitled to a return on his or her capital. Conversely, a borrower would gladly pay for the use of someone else's capital. Nonetheless, the Torah forbids interest payments on loans, not once, but with five separate injunctions (Shmot 22:24, Vayikra 25:36 [twice in the same verse!], Devarim 23:20 and 23:21). Moreover, the Torah does not merely prohibit usury, an exorbitant amount of interest charged. From the Torah's perspective, the rate of interest charged is irrelevant. Interest is forbidden, not only to one who seeks to collect it but also for the borrower who seeks to pay it. In this regard, interest differs from other civil wrongdoings in that it is not open to the victim (the borrower) to consent to suffer paying interest. Interest taken by consent remains interest (see Ramban, Devarim 23:20).


Why is this so? Why is the Torah so fiercely opposed to interest? Given that God generally does not seek to place unreasonable burdens on his people, especially when it comes to earning a livelihood, there must be something more going on here. Perhaps the Torah's prohibition on interest is to be understood as being based on the religious obligation to make interest-free loans available to fellow Jews. Advancing an interest-free loan is a form of charity, an act of chessed. The Torah requires us to be benevolent towards our brethren and to accommodate them with funds in their time of need, without seeking reward for it. Thus, taking interest does not constitute a civil wrong but rather a lack of high moral conduct.


This notion that the prohibition against interest is grounded on moral considerations as opposed to being a civil misdeed is reinforced by the fact that the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch both chose to include the laws of interest in theYoreh Deah section of their respective codes, a section which deals with ritualistic precepts, rather than in Choshen Mishpat, the section which deals with civil laws. The inclusion of the laws of interest in Yoreh Deah demonstrates that the purpose of these laws is not to prevent exploiting one's fellow man. Rather, the laws belong to the category of mitzvot "between man and his Maker."


It is for this reason that rabbis across Atlanta are speaking this Shabbat about JIFLA, Atlanta's Jewish free loan society. JIFLA provides financial assistance to Jewish individuals and families in the greater Atlanta Jewish and surrounding communities. It helps our neighbors and friends remain self-supporting and self-reliant members of the community with dignity and respect through interest-free loans.


Over the last four years, JIFLA has made over 60 loans totaling $190,130 to Jews across Atlanta. In doing so, JIFLA has helped people keep their homes, put food on the table, pay for car repairs so people can retain their jobs, pay for medical procedures, and many other things. JIFLA allows people to get through difficult times with dignity by providing a hand up instead of a handout.  One of the goals of this Shabbat Parasha Mishpatim is to get the word out about JIFLA--which remains one of the best kept secrets in Atlanta.


If you are unfamiliar with JILFA, I want to encourage you to visit their website after Shabbat: jifla.org. There, you can learn more about this important organization. For those of you who are in need, you will find a link on JIFLA's home page that will allow you to privately and confidentially apply for a loan. For others, visiting the website will allow you to contribute financially to this very worthwhile organization.


 



Shabbat shalom, 

 

Rabbi Reuven Travis

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
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Parshat Mishpatim: The Importance of Kindness


In this week’s parsha, Parshat Mishpatim, the concept of “ein mukdam u'muktar beTorah, there is not necessarily an order to the Torah,” is very relevant. Rashi staunchly believes that the Torah isn’t always written in chronological order; rather, it is written to teach us a lesson, which doesn’t always mean that it is written exactly as events unfolded. Ramban, on the other hand, believes the Torah is written in order, and therefore the two famous rabbis disagree on many events throughout Tanach. 

 

I width=n Parshat Mishpatim, matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, seems to be plugged in somewhat extraneously between other laws that have little to do with it. Upon reading the verses, I was originally very confused as to why phrases about matan Torah would possibly be (randomly?) included here. However, after reading Rashi’s explanation, I gained a greater understanding for the verse “ein mukdam u'muktar beTorah.” While it may seem random and strange that the verse discussing the giving of the Torah is inserted here at the end of Parshat Mishpatim, Rashi tells us that the reason for the verse’s placement here is to teach us the connection between the simple mitzvot surrounding it and what the giving of the Torah encompasses. Surrounding the verses discussing the giving of the Torah are verses discussing how to treat a Jewish servant--these laws form the foundation for derech eretz(treating someone properly). Since derech eretz and the Torah are so connected, it now seems extremely relevant that the two verses are juxtaposed.

 

In contrast, Ramban may take a different approach and say that this juxtaposition of verses was simply the way the events occurred--also an entirely plausible option. I tend to agree more with Rashi, because I believe the Torah is not a history book; rather, it is a guidebook of how to live our lives. Therefore, every word or phrase written is written for a reason, and is there to teach us a lesson. The placement of the verses about the giving of the Torah next to the treatment of a Jewish slave shows how important it is to treat one another kindly--the principle underlying the entire Torah. 


 

Shabbat shalom, 

 

Talya G., Grade 12 

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School
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Parshat Yitro: With a Little Help from Our Friends

This d'var Torah is sponsored in honor of the birthday of Jonah Newman (Yonah Shalom) by his grandparents, Daniele and Steve Newman. Mazel tov!



Every week, my father tells me how impressed he is with each student-written D'var Torah, and that (G-d willing), he looks forward to the day that I will prepare one, too. So this week, I have volunteered to write a D'var Torah, and I dedicate it to my loving father.


 width=In this week's parsha, Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, Yitro, hears about all of the amazing miracles that G-d did for the Jewish people, and brings his daughter and grandchildren, Moshe's wife and children, along to see Moshe. When they get there, they discover that Moshe is working himself to exhaustion! Any time the Jews have a problem, or they want to understand how to do a certain mitzvah, they come to Moshe. Every day, from morning until night, Moshe sits and answers questions. Yitro tells Moshe that he is working too hard, and advises him to appoint judges to help make decisions and settle arguments. This way, Moshe will only get the hardest questions, and he'll then have time for other things. Moshe sees that Yitro is making a wise suggestion, and he does as his father-in-law says. Then, Moshe is able to return to his family and share the responsibility of judging with more members of the community.  


Next, the Jews travel to a part of the desert called Sinai, where G-d tells them that if they accept the Torah, they will be a chosen and special nation. The Jews respond, "Everything that G-d says, we will do!" They are told to prepare for an awesome event that will soon happen on Mt. Sinai. When the time comes, there is thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud over the mountain; they hear a long, powerful blast of the shofar. G-d comes down and proclaims the Ten Commandments, but the people cry out to Moshe that the revelation is too intense for them to bear, begging him to receive the Torah from G-d and convey it to them. 


We can learn a couple of things from this parsha. First of all, it is important to look for solutions before complaining to friends about their behavior. Yitro didn't just criticize Moshe; he offered an answer to his problem. Think about times when you wished someone would do something differently. Did you complain about what your friend was doing, or did you offer a way to fix it? This Torah portion tells us that we have a responsibility to help others by offering helpful suggestions. 


Second, Moshe took responsibility and showed true leadership skills when he listened to Yitro's advice. This shows us that if we are exhausted, we sometimes need to do what's best for us and get assistance from others. We can't always be independent, and it is important to realize that there are always going to be people who will help you when you need it. Everyone should have the opportunity to do their best, and sometimes that's only possible with a little help. 


Shabbat shalom,



 

Devra S., Grade 12

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School

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