Parashat Balak

Written by Tamar Lerer AJA Judaic Studies Teacher

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,
Tamar Lerer  

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Parashat Chukat

Written by Kitah Alef teacher - Yael Perez


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


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


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


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


Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,


Morah Yael Perez

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

Written by Judaic Studies Teacher Jill Mainzer

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

וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֨ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵֽינֵיהֶֽם   


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


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

מֵֽרֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם תִּתְּנ֥וּ לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה תְּרוּמָ֑ה לְדֹרֹ֖תֵיכֶֽם:

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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



Shabbat Shalom

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Parashat Behalotcha

Written by new Shlichim Matan and Dalia Magen


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה אֵין כֹּל בִּלְתִּי אֶל הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ:

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


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


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


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


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


Shabbat shalom!


Matan and Galia

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Parshat Nasso

Written by Amir Dan, New Shlichim

This week's Parsha, Nasso, follows immediately after the celebration of Shavuot.  Looking closely, we find a thematic thread between them.  

Parshat Nasso deals with many subjects of the individual and the group and the balance between them. The parsha begins with the counting of the People of Israel:

נשא את ראש   (Take a census of)

The Hebrew however, holds within it the focus of the way the census should take place. Even though the individual is counted within a group – their family, their father's houses – each individual should raise their heads, stand straight and create their own presence.

The Parsha ends with the description of the 12 Nesi'im, chiefs of the 12 tribes of Israel, bringing forth their sacrifice for the dedication of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

The sacrifice is the same and the Torah elaborates twelve identical descriptions in a repetitive fashion instead of one concise Pasuk summarizing it all. We know that not one letter in the Torah is redundant. Therefore, this repetition comes to teach us that while the sacrifice itself was the same, each chief had his own personal expression and kavanah (meaning) behind their individual sacrifice.

In the middle of the Parsha, as the focal point, is the Birkat Kohanim, the Priests' Blessing. Birkat Kohanim comes to bless the entire People of Israel, but it is written in singular form:

יברכך ה' וישמרך

יאר ה' פניו אליך ויחנך

ישא ה' פניו אליך וישם לך שלום

This is to teach us that while the Kohanim are blessing the congregation as a whole, the blessing itself is a personal blessing aimed directly at each individual.

How does this connect to Shavuot? When B’nai Israel camped at the base of Mount Sinai, the Torah writes:

ויחן שם ישראל – once again in singular form.

The Midrash says – singular form because the nation was "כאיש אחד בלב אחד" as one man with one heart. Wasn't it enough to say one man, why elaborate one heart as well? This is to teach us that "as one man" is not enough. Each year on Shavuot we renew our acceptance of the Torah as a people, but also each of us personally as individuals "with one heart" – in the hearts of each and every one of us.This balance of the group and the individual manifests itself in our personal lives as well.  


Entering a classroom to teach our students, we the teachers walk in with the best of intentions to give our hearts to the group as a whole – but also to see the individual in each of our students; to allow them to stand straight, have their presence and to see each individual contribution:  כאיש אחד בלב אחד

Shabbat Shalom to Each and Every One of You!

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Moshe at Mt. Sinai in Parshat Bamidbar

Written by Daliya Wallenstein and Jonah Gordon



This weeks parshah is Bamidbar. In the parsha Hashem commands moshe to count all of the Jewish people who can join the army. Those are all of the men between the age of twenty and sixty. Each tribe had a nassi who would help count their tribe. The tribe of Levi was counted separately because they had not sinned in the golden calf. The next thing that is talked about in the parshah is the traveling in the desert. The Leviim would bring the the mishkan with the Jews everywhere they went in the desert. While they are in the desert Hashem speaks to Moshe and Aharon.

. וְאֵ֛לֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹ֥ת אַֽהֲרֹ֖ן וּמשֶׁ֑ה בְּי֗וֹם דִּבֶּ֧ר יְהוָֹ֛ה אֶת־משֶׁ֖ה בְּהַ֥ר סִינָֽי:


The pasuk says these are Moshe and Aharon’s descendants, but it only lists Aharon’s descendents. So why would it say Moshe’s descendents? We figured that this must have a deeper meaning. So we looked to see what Rashi said about the pasuk.


Rashi explains it’s like they are Moshe’s children because he taught them Torah.

ואלה תולדת אהרן ומשה: ואינו מזכיר אלא בני אהרן. ונקראו תולדות משה, לפי שלמדן תורה. מלמד שכל המלמד את בן חבירו תורה, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו ילדו:


This pasuk relates to our relationship with our teachers. In a way, we are our teacher’s children. For a year, they have taught us what we will need to know when we leave school. Just like Moshe taught Aharon's descendants, our teachers have taught us. They are like our metaphorical parents.


The pasuk finishes with the words בְּי֗וֹם דִּבֶּ֧ר יְהוָֹ֛ה אֶת־משֶׁ֖ה בְּהַ֥ר סִינָֽי.  On the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai.


Why is the date relevant to the beginning of the Pasuk? How is it important to the descendants of Moshe and Aharon? Rashi explains that Aharon’s descendents only became Moshe’s descendents when Moshe taught them what Hashem said to him. ביום דבר ה' את משה: נעשו אלו התולדות שלו, שלמדן מה שלמד מפי הגבורה:


Again, this connects to our relationship with our teachers. We only become our teacher’s descendents when they have taught us all that they can. Today, on the last day of school, we have grown to become our teacher’s descendents. For months, they have taught us, and now we can start to use what we have learned.



Shabbat Shalom!


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8th Grade Recognition Ceremony Parshat Bamidbar

Written by Raina Grosswald and Matthew Minsk, for the occasion of the 8th Grade Recognition Ceremony.


Today we are taking part in an important milestone and transition on our journey of education. Next week is Shavuot, a transition for the Jewish people. During the chag, we celebrate Matan Torah, receiving the Torah. This story truly parallels our experiences at AJA.


When בני ישראל first reached הר סיני, they had to prepare to receive the knowledge of the Torah “הֱי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לִשְׁל֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים (19:15”. The purpose of 1st - 4th grade is to learn how to learn: creating a base of knowledge. Lower school prepares and develops the foundation of all our future learning.


Once Am Yisrael is prepared, Hashem reveals the עשרת הדברות in an instant. Rashi explains this utterance from the words את כל הדברים האלה. Hashem uttered ALL of these words, quickly. The nation was overwhelmed by the large amount of instruction. When we moved up to 5th grade, we received a larger workload than we were used to, becoming very overwhelmed.  Just as B'nai Yisrael were overwhelmed, we were overwhelmed when we transitioned into middle school.


עם ישראל became frightened until Moshe repeated the final 8 commandments, in a manner they were able to accept, comprehend and connect to. After the very beginning of 5th grade, we began to settle in. The work became less overwhelming and became manageable. Moshe is called Moshe Rabbeinu, our teacher. Just like Moshe, our teachers broke down the information to help us understand and connect.


The next parsha, Mishpatim, lists 51 mitzvot. Learning the mitzvot, Am Yisrael understood the עשרת הדברות at a deeper level and could apply them to other areas of their lives. The foundation was becoming reality. For the past two years we have taken everything we’ve learned so far and applied it to our learning, developing it further. In both situations, the comprehension and depth of knowledge continues to evolve and grow.  


However, even after Mishpatim, there are still hundreds of mitzvot that the nation received in the desert. Despite the initial understanding of the עשרת הדברות there is so much more for to learn and understand. The transformation and progression of knowledge continued. Leaving middle school, we, like עם ישראל, still have so much more to learn and understand as we transition to high school and beyond.


Never stop learning - we see that so often in our lives. When finishing a perek of Gemara, it is customary to continue and briefly learn the first Mishna of the next perek. On Simchat Torah, we immediately start over reading “בראשית ברא אלוקים”. Ideas and concepts in Torah study are constantly revisited to further develop  meanings and applications of the words Hashem first uttered at Har Sinai.


On the last days of Pesach, we don’t say the full hallel signifying that everything is leading up to shavuot. יציאת מצרים, the exodus, and the hardships prior to that were to prepare Am Yisrael for קבלת התורה, receiving the Torah on Shavuot. Our entire time at this school has lead up to this ceremony. The learning of the aleph-bet, the studying of shapes, all of the foundational blocks brought us here. We are at הר סיני. We, like Bnai Yisrael, are at a transition. We have learned a lot, but we still have more to learn.


Shabbat Shalom.





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Parsha Bamidbar

Written by JJ Brenner, AJA 7th Grader


We are celebrating my Bar Mitzvah in the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas. It was built by Jews who came there from other places to be free. They left behind other synagogues, and built a new one that reminded them of home. My ancestors were among that group, which is why we decided to go there for this special occasion.


A long time ago, we could take our synagogue with us. The tabernacle was like a portable synagogue. It had a tent, and walls and altars and other kinds of things, but it moved with the Jewish people wherever they went. So, there were people who had to help move it.


My Torah portion is Naso, where everyone gets a job to set up, take down, or move a specific part of the Mishkan, the tabernacle. Each person knew what thing they had to move so nothing would be left behind.


This was extremely important because if someone did the wrong task, the whole thing would get messed up. This would be like my Dad trying to work at a phone store, or like when my Mom tries to play my guitar - it just wouldn’t end well.


There was a specific age when people got their jobs - 30 years old. Before that time they were practicing, but now they had a specific job to actually do.


This is like becoming a Bar Mitzvah, because until now I’ve been practicing for this job of being a Jewish man, even though I’m only 13 not 30. My job doesn’t involve moving things, instead I continue passing down our traditions. I will be wearing a tallis. I will lead prayers for the first time. I’ve been studying Torah for a long time, but now I will be able to teach Torah, also.


I have already starting to give Tzedakah. For my Mitzvah project, I am raising money for the family resource center in St. Thomas. The center collects goods for people who have suffered domestic abuse.


In learning about the center and families that have some problems, I appreciate my family even more.


Shabbat Shalom





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Parshah Behar-Bechukotai

Written by: AJA Third Grader Noa Tsur


In Parshah Behar-Bechukotai, we learn about some very important mitzvot.


The first one is shemittah.  The concept can be explained like this:  


Do you know how the number seven is very important in Judaism? Well, in this mitzvah we shall work six years but in the seventh year of shemittah we shall stop and rest.  G-d says to not worry about not having enough food, for example from not harvesting that year, because if you follow this rule G-d will provide for you until you are satisfied.  


And in this seventh year, things will be much better.  For instance, no wild animals or armies will come, we will win wars, and the land of Israel will be secure.


After seven cycles of shemittah (49 years), we are to return things to their original owners.  It is like we take a few steps backward.  Things that we bought go back to stores.  Property we bought goes back to the person we bought it from.  But keep in mind – punishments from G-d cannot be avoided during shemittah.


Shemittah represents the same idea as the seventh day of rest on Shabbat.  It teaches us that G-d wants us to work very hard but also to take time to rest and enjoy what we worked so hard for.


So on this Shabbat and after, always remember the lessons of shemittah.


Shabbat shalom!

Noa Tsur

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Mitzvot in Parshat Emor

Written by Moishik Hoch, Upper School Judaics Studies Instructor


Parshat Emor begins with teaching Mitzvot and educating Bnei Israel. We can see a redundancy in the way the the Kohanim are addressed twice as Emor (say) and Amarta Alehem (say to them). Rashi explains the reason that the educators and elders should take extra care in educating the next generation is to Lehazhir, (warn) them to refrain from straying from the right path. Rashi uses the word for "warn", which also means "to shine".


The Parsha teaches us that educating the next generation may be a way of warning or shining a light. Educators should use both ways wisely, and primarily in the way of shining a light and bestowing love and peace upon their students.


Shabbat Shalom


Moishik Hoch

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Parshat Emor

Written by Brooke Maman, AJA 3rd grader

This week’s parsha is Parshat Emor. The word, emor, means “speak.” In this parshat, Hashem told Moshe to tell the Kohanim the laws. The Kohanim are teachers and Hashem trusted that they would pass along the laws and traditions of the Torah and ensure that they would not change.

After speaking about the laws to the Kohanim, Moshe spoke under Hashem’s guidance about the laws and rules of the holidays. The holidays include Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Hashem wanted Jews to commemorate and remember these important dates. Even now, we remember these special holidays each year – from thousands and thousands of years ago.

My favorite Chag is Pesach. Like Jews for generations my family gets together for the seder. It is amazing to be with them, tell the stories and enjoy all the good food, especially the maror (bitter herbs).

Shabbat Shalom!


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Tazria Mezora

Written by Jolie Intro, 6th grader, for her Bat Mitzvah on April 29th


Nelson Mandela once said “Our clean flowing rivers must be known by my grandchildren’s grandchildren, many years from now just as I knew them as a child many  years ago.” The Earth is a present to us from HaShem and we should be thankful and care for it, not just for ourselves but for future generations.


After HaShem created Adam and Eve they lived in the Garden of Eden or Gan Eden. Hashem told Adam to work and guard his place. To me that shows us that the Earth is a vital part of our lives and it reminds us to be responsible. HaShem trusts us to take care of the land.

It says in Tehillim Perek 89 פט pasuk 12 יב “You are the heavens yours too is the earth the world and all it’s fullness you found them.“ Again it says in Perek 24 כד In the first pasuk  that HaShem’s is the earth and its fullness the inhabited land and those who dwell in it. We are the ones chosen to take care of the land and we should make certain that we are not destroying HaShem’s gift.

In my d’var torah today, I will share words from parshat Tazria. This parsha talks about skin disease, the punishment for gossiping, and the laws of purity and impurity. Although, what I learned was certainly interesting, it was tricky connecting this skin disease, tsarrat, to my present day life.

So, I had a challenge placed before me when studying this parsha. How can I connect skin disease and gossip and all that was within this parsha to my life and to my love of rivers and nature?

First, Tazria, the name of my parsha, means seeds. Seeds planted allow things to grow, to thrive, and allow our Earth to bloom. Now that it is spring, we take notice of nature. We are more aware of the vivid flowers and of our land waking up from a winter’s sleep. For me being outside in nature makes me feel calm and at peace, so I certainly appreciate the seeds and all that they provide.


Now, here is how I connected my love of rivers with learning about the punishments for gossip. As a punishment for speaking poorly about other people/Lashon Harah, people would be given a form of skin disease- Tzaraat. It was a symbol of impurity for others to see.  Besides the skin disease, those that spoke gossip were also sent away to think about what they did before they could return.  When they were sorry and after some time, the disease would clear.


Lashon Hara or gossip never ends well for anyone. It seems to be a part of everyday news and life.

Today we do not get visible blemishes marking ourselves and our sins like Tzaraat, but we should still be careful with what we say.   It is simply unkind to talk about others.  When I am around people who speak unkindly, I consider the fact that they might speak about me when I am not around. It is hard for me to walk away, but also challenging to not worry or wonder what they will then say about me. I always try to think before I speak. We are human, though. Our tongues can react quickly. So fast…. that it is sometimes hard to not say something rude and painful. There is a pasook in Mishlei that says:  “Death and life are in the hands of the tongue.” מָוֶת וְחַיִּים, בְּיַד-לָשׁוֹן   


So when you say something nice to people you feel good, but when you’re not nice you feel horrible and feel regret. Today people could use their words to be kind and to model kindness for the younger generation.  It is important to surround yourself with those that speak nicely. The Kohanim would not judge a person if they had Tzarat until they checked them twice. We learn from this that when we have a chance we should feel sympathy for people and to not run and judge others. Even teachers can give second chances if we are struggling.  I know I feel happy when I get a second chance in school. So, again, can I connect this parsha to my love of rivers and nature? I can.


One: We must remember to always be thoughtful of those downstream of us. This can mean, protecting the cleanliness of our rivers so that pollution doesn’t continue to flow and disturb the quality of life downstream. In connecting this back to my parsha, this can also mean that you must protect your words as they too might flow in an unwanted direction.


Two: Just as rivers do We must remember to flow around obstacles with grace. Relating this to my parsha, I have learned to flow around people that aren’t typically kind to me or ones that gossip. I go with the flow. I move around them and continue on.


Shabbat Shalom!




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Tazria Metzora

Written by AJA 10th grader Summer Pitocchelli


In this week’s parsha, the main focus is on impurity and the journey back to purity, as well as tzaras, a spiritual skin disease. Tzaras typically was the result after one spoke lashon hara (evil tongue) about another person; which, considering the context, begs a question. Why are the laws of purity and tzaras placed next to each other?


The obvious answer is that a person with tzaras is declared impure, and must leave the encampment or city for an entire week or more, depending on the person’s teshuva (repentance) process and consequent disappearance of the tzaras. However, this seems rather harsh, especially compared with the other purification processes. The metzora (one who is diseased) must leave his home, not only bringing shame to himself but to those around him, and dwell outside the city for a week. He can’t talk to anyone, and food must be left for him at least a mile away. There are even different opinions on how far he should walk away from people who come out of the city, just to maintain that distance! What is the point of this separation, and why is the consequence for lashon hara so much more severe than for other forms of impurity?


According to the Ramban in Bereishis 2:7, "every word we speak has the potential to make the world a more spiritual place, or to demean it". For example, we need to speak in order to learn, however we can use that same ability to be hurtful to someone else. The process for becoming pure from lashon hara must be harsh, in order to reconnect both man and his actions to Hashem. He wouldn’t have sinned without this weak link; now he has the chance to correct himself and come back onto the right path.


Another way to think about this is by looking at the actions of a child. If a kid is mean to his friend, we usually put him in time-out, where he cannot talk to another or come out until he has thought about what he has done. We aren’t trying to be mean to him; we’re trying to teach him a lesson. So too, the word punishment is, in this case, a misnomer. Just like the child, the metzora is simply being taught a lesson about using his gifts, and the tzaras is representative of the adult that is not “out to get him”, but rather a compass to refocus us to our true purpose.


Each one of us has personal challenges and obstacles; some hurdles are higher than others. However, we are also granted the potential to overcome these tests, and to grow because of them. Once we do so, and once we fulfill this higher capacity, we will be that much closer to bringing the final Geulah (the beginning of the redemption).


Shabbat Shalom.



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Parshat Shmini-Importance of Kosher

Written by Debbie Bornstein, Director of Judaics Studies EC-8th


In this week’s parsha, Shmini, we are taught about kosher animals and non-kosher animals.

ג. כֹּל מַפְרֶסֶת פַּרְסָה וְשֹׁסַעַת שֶׁסַע פְּרָסֹת מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה בַּבְּהֵמָה אֹתָהּ תֹּאכֵלוּ:

Any animal that has a cloven hoof that is completely split into double hooves, and which brings up its cud, is one you may eat. The Torah then goes on to identify a few animals that are not kosher – the camel, rabbit and pig, for example. But look at how the Torah mentions their non-kosher status!

ד אַךְ אֶת-זֶה, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה, וּמִמַּפְרִסֵי הַפַּרְסָה: אֶת-הַגָּמָל כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס--טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם. ה וְאֶת-הַשָּׁפָן, כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא יַפְרִיס; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם. ו וְאֶת-הָאַרְנֶבֶת, כִּי-מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא הִפְרִיסָה; טְמֵאָה הִוא, לָכֶם. ז וְאֶת-הַחֲזִיר כִּי-מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא, וְשֹׁסַע שֶׁסַע פַּרְסָה, וְהוּא, גֵּרָה לֹא-יִגָּר; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם.


In each passuk, 11: 4-7, Hashem states what they have that might qualify them as kosher animals, but then the Torah says what they don’t have. Why say it like that? If it’s unkosher, just say it’s unkosher. Why state the kosher sign – it’s not meaningful or relevant at all…or is it? What can be learned from that?

The Midrash says that here the Torah is teaching us a lesson. That even if you have to say something negative about something or someone and disqualify him/her or it, one should always make sure to isolate and stipulate the positive. There is a positive element in everything and everyone.

Shabbat Shalom



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Parshat Shmini- Kosher Laws

Written by Rabbi Noach Muroff, Upper School Judaics Studies Instructor


In this week's Torah reading, we are taught about kosher dietary laws. We are taught that all land animals must both chew their cud and have split hooves in order to be kosher. Fish must have both fins and scales. When it comes to birds, the Torah does not tell us any specifications, but it lists 24 types of birds which are not kosher.  The Talmud tells us that kosher birds cannot be birds of prey.


After telling us the requirements of land animals, the Torah then specifies four animals that are not kosher: the camel, the hyrax, the hare, and the pig. The reason that these four are singled out from all of the non-kosher animals is because each of these animals possesses one of the two required kosher signs. The pig, however, is the only animal which has the external sign of having split hooves, but is lacking the internal sign of chewing its cud.  This is, perhaps, why the pig has become "the worst" of the non-kosher animals. The pig is giving the message of being fit outwardly, but internally, it is not fit at all.  


We are right now in the period of Sefirat Haomer. It was during this period of time that 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students died for not showing proper respect to each other. These students were all great Torah scholars; however, they did not act in a way which represented the Torah that they studied. Their internal actions did not match their external actions of piety. If you can't walk the walk, then don't talk the talk.  


We could all learn from this message that the Torah is teaching us and work on improving our internal actions to match or even supersede our external actions.


Rabbi Noach Muroff

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Peseach- The Four Questions

Written by: 8th graders Gefen Beldie & Shayna Shapiro

As you all know, Pesach is in a couple of days. We are pretty sure most of you are familiar with the different personalities of the four sons, the questions they ask, and how their parents answer them. When we compare the answers from the Torah and the Haggada, it is clear that they are interpreted differently. Why? The easiest way to answer is to say that the answers were just translated incorrectly, it was a misconception. But no, within this drash there is a reasoning beyond the thought of a mistranslation.

If we examine these four questions, we should be able to see how each related to the personality of each son. However, we do not. Instead, we find that each son is plainly asking a question about a different topic. For example, the wise son asks, “What are the laws that G-d has commanded us?” This is also understood as, “What is the reasoning behind the laws that G-d commanded us and why?” Perhaps each son is asking the question specifically in regards for Pesach. Although we know that is not possible because as we just saw, the wise son asked a question that is not related to Pesach at all but about Judaism and the Torah as a whole.

To further prove that the personalities of each child have no part in what questions they asked, we can see that it’s almost as though the Torah  is expecting or wanting all children to ask all these questions. Does the Torah really want to identify someone as wicked based on the question he asked? Aren't we encouraged to ask questions? Instead of looking at the description of the 'sons', we need to look at the questions themselves. Every question deserves to be answered in a respectful manner, taking into account the personality of the person who asks it.  

One of the mitzvot of the seder night is והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר - to tell the story of the exodus to your children, each child in his own way to further his understanding and love of all that we do.

Thank you,

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

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The Meaning of Matzah at Pesach

Written by: Zach Mainzer, AJA 9th Grader



In a few short days, the Jewish nation will start celebrating their miraculous escape from the Land of Egypt after 210 years spent in exile. Of course, one of the famous stories that is told on Pesach is of the Matzah our ancestors baked on their way out because the dough didn’t have time to rise. The Hagaddah even tells us:

מצה זו שאנו אוכלים על שום שלא הספיק בצקם של אבותינו להחמיץ

This Matzah that we eat is because the dough of our ancestors didn’t have enough time to leaven. However, the Vilna Gaon points out that this is not the only reason for the Matzah. Earlier in the Haggadah, we establish:

הא לחמא עניא די אכלו אבהתנא בארעא דמצרים.

This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt. In contrast to the above statement, which implies that we were already on our way out of Egypt when we made Matzah, this statement seems to say quite clearly that our ancestors ate the Matzah while they were still slaves in Egypt. So how can we reconcile these two statements? One seems to clearly say that Matzah is the bread of freedom; we were baking it as we left the burden of slavery behind us. But we open our Seder every single year with the phrase “This is the bread of affliction,” bread which is supposed to remind us of the hardships of slavery. How can we say both are true?


There is a concept mentioned in Mishnah Pesachim that on Pesach, we start with the distressing times and end with praises of Hashem. The distress is represented by Matzah being the לחמא עניא, the bread of affliction. It was the only food that our ancestors could manage to make while they were laboring in Egypt. But how does the bread of freedom relate to the praises of Hashem with which we end our Seder? We can say that Matzah does represent our freedom, as it commemorates the time when we were no longer slaves. However, it was not pure freedom to do absolutely whatever we wanted. We were free to create our own schedules and could eat and sleep whenever we wanted, but we were not as free as the Egyptians, who were known for their corruption and immorality. It was important for the Jewish nation to realize that while we were no longer slaves in Egypt, we were still ‘עבדי ה, servants to Hashem, and were not free to wander into the ways of Egypt. We are free to choose to be Hashem’s servants; this servitude is the ultimate freedom, which we celebrate on Pesach.


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Zach Mainzer


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Vayikra - The Sacrifices

Written by: Rebecca Hatami, AJA 3rd Grader

In this week's parasha, Vayikra, we talk about sacrifices. G-d was asking the Jews to bring sacrifices during different occasions in their lives. When they were happy, when they were sad, when they sinned, etc. Why would the Jews sacrifice in the first place? The shoresh (root) of the word קרבן is קרוב which means 'close'. The Jews would make sacrifices to get closer to G-d. However, after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash the Jews didn't have a place to bring their sacrifices. Because of this, they started to pray instead of bringing sacrifices. They prayed when they were happy, sad or when they had sinned. Now, we use our prayers to get closer to G-d instead of קרבנות. This shows that we always find our way to practice our beliefs even when there are obstacles in our way. Every morning at school the first thing we do is Tefillah. I am very fortunate to be able to start my day by thanking G-d for life and to be able to have that special connection with my religion and G-d.

Shabbat Shalom.   



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Parsha Vayikra


Written by: Dr. Paul Oberman, Upper School Associate Head of School


In this week's parsha, Vayikra, there is a discussion of sin offerings. These offerings cannot make up for intentional sins and are not necessary for sins committed without intent and accidentally. So what type of sin is left? Sins due to carelessness. Ramban notes that these are indeed violations because we have allowed the conditions to be ripe for them to happen by not taking them seriously enough and "building a fence" around the sin.


One challenge in school davening--and indeed in shul davening--is trying to remain completely focused on prayer. Sometimes when people are rebuked for talking one of them will respond "but I wasn't talking...he was talking to me!" This is the type of subtlety the Torah is addressing in terms of sin offerings. Certainly if we make it clear that we are 100% focused on davening, we will not be approached by friends who want to chat with us. Although we may have not spoken ourselves, usually we have created the conditions that allow people to feel comfortable talking to us.


Recently I heard a shul Rabbi rebuking his congregation for talking; he compared the conditions to a theater, where talking would certainly not be tolerated and mentioned how we should not tolerate talking in the service of Hashem. I have heard the distinction made by some that because of the sheer amount of time we spend in shul, we become more lax than in other settings. The implication is that perhaps if we were in the theater for so many hours, conditions would change there to allow for more conversation simply because being in the theater would be eventually taken for granted. (Saturday Night Live's "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey" humorously makes a similar point: "If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.") Indeed this is a challenge for most people, keeping davening fresh in spite of the frequent repetition.


May we all be granted additional strength to build a strong fence around these sins of carelessness moving forward.


Shabbat Shalom.




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Torah and Mitzvos

written by: Elad Asulin, AJA Program Director


"These are the reckonings of the mishkan, the mishkan of testimony, which were reckoned at Moshe's bidding." (Ex. 38:21)

The mishkan and all its holy vessels were completed. Moshe gave the Jewish people a calculation of how he had used every single ounce of gold, silver and copper which had been contributed. The verse opens, "These are the reckonings..." which implies that this was considered counting, while some other instance of reckoning was not considered a counting. (1) What is this reckoning coming to reject?


The verse is telling us that the only meaningful use of money is for building G-d's sanctuaries or for other heavenly purposes. Only such investments are eternal; others are transitory. (2) When a person dies, his Torah and mitzvos accompany him and provide him merits in the world to come, but the money which he spent all his life working for will be left behind.


Before dying, Baron Rothschild handed his children two letters. He instructed them to open one immediately following his death, and the second a month later. They opened the first letter and discovered the following message: "My last request is that I should be buried wearing my socks." Even though his children were perplexed by such a request, they still tried to honor it. They fought hard, but the Rabbis would not allow it and buried him without his socks. After the month had passed, his children anxiously opened up the second letter to discover another message: "I know that you did not bury me wearing my socks as I had requested, since it is against Halacha, Jewish Law. You are most probably wondering why, then, did I request it in the first place. My answer to you, my dear children, is to teach you an eternal lesson: a person can spend his life amassing a great amount of possessions and money, but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot even take his socks with him to the next world! Only the money which he used for Torah and mitzvos will accompany him."



Shabbat Shalom.

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