D'var Torah for Purim

written by: Renana Shalom, who becomes a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, 3/4/17

 

The Talmud states  "משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה" “as soon as Adar begins, one should increase joy”. But why? What is the sense in commanding joy and happiness? Today, as I turn 12 and become Bat Mitzvah, I would like to invite you on a journey to discover the unleashed power behind the Mitzvah of Simcha (joy) that our sages have commanded us.

 

Rabbi Nachman of Breslav writes the following:

“The essence of having inner peace and settling one’s mind is acquired with happiness, because with happiness, one can lead the mind per his own will, as happiness is the world of freedom, thus when one ties happiness to his mind, then his mind is in freedom and not in exile. Also, one should embrace oneself in whatever possible to find happiness, and especially try hard to find a good quality about himself to find that happiness…”

 

In the world we live in, there may be a concept that depth of thought and creativity comes bundled with hardness, sadness and despair. In the world of our sages, Chazal, it is the complete opposite. In order for one to receive Ruach Hakodesh (holy spirit from Hashem), one must be deeply endowed in happiness.

 

An example for this approach may be demonstrated via the world of dance. When a person is sad, it is well-recognized in the way he dances and carries himself on the dance floor, if he even dances at all. He is confined and distant, and enclosed in faraway world. Whereas, the happy person is open, inviting, connecting with the people around him and interacting with people on the dance floor. The happiness opens a gate for another world, or worlds, and helps us understand, receive, think and step outside of ourselves and be elevated.

 

The source of happiness is the trust in Hashem. He who puts his complete trust in Hashem can see that whatever he has in life was not just given to him from Hashem, but also tailored exactly to his needs, and fit him best. Thus, one should feel appreciation for the opportunity to learn the Torah and fulfil the Mitzvot given by Hashem, as these will lead him to ultimate happiness and joy.

 

We learn this incredible life lesson in simply 5 words in Masechet Avot:

"איזה הוא עשיר--השמח בחלקו" “Who is rich – he who is happy with his share”. Only he who truly believes that what Hashem entitled him to in this world is the very best possible for him, can reach the level of true and honest happiness.

 

On Purim, which we will be celebrating in one week, we are commanded with 4 Mitzvot which were meant to bring us special joy on this magnificent holiday. In each of these Mitzvot, the happiness is expressed in a different way.

 

The first Mitzvah is reading the Megillah, in which word Simcha (joy) is a very dominant one and shows up 5 times. This notion constructs the path in which the essence of Purim is taken through and built around.

 

The second Mitzvah is feast. The last Rabbi of Chabad wrote the following: Purim is different from Chanukah as it is “a day of feast and joy”. In Purim one must feast and the happiness is tied to earthly matters (such as food and wine). The reason for this is because that the Greek decree upon the Jews in Chanukah was meant to oppress the Jewish soul and spirit, "להשכיחם תורתך ולהעבירם מחוקי רצונך", whereas Haman’s decree was mainly meant to annihilate the Jewish people, and make the Jews extinct, "להשמיד להרוג ולאבד את כל היהודים מנער ועד זקן טף ונשים" Hence, the joy in Purim is also the joy of the body.

 

The third Mitzvah is Mishloach Manot. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef writes the following about Mishloach Manot: It is done in order for one to show his love and affection for his friend, and by sending gifts and presents, one expresses this emotion of care and fondness, and instills emotions of love, peace and friendship with his friend. When one treats his friend in such way, he will most certainly receive the same treatment, as this is the human nature, and the purpose of the holy Torah, to spread peace in the world, and by that spread more happiness and joy.

 

The fourth Mitzvah is Matanot Laevyonim (gifts to those in need).

The Rambam explains that if the choice is offered, it is better to increase efforts in the Mitzvah of gifts to the needy than Mishloach Manot or feast, and to use resources to give more Tzedakah, rather than have a bigger feast or send a better present to peers. The reason is because the ultimate joy comes from giving happiness to those in need. As Hashem himself is taking care of the poor and needy and by making them happy, one is taking upon the ways of Hashem.

 

The very act of giving and making someone happy, enables one with extraordinary inner joy and allows for a true elevation of spirit and soul.

In this day, I accept the not the burden but the gift of Mitzvot. I pray to Hashem that as the Mitzvot of Purim are set to bring us happiness and joy in this beautiful Chag, so will fulfilling the rest of the Mitzvot bring me happiness and joy in every step of my way as part of the Jewish nation.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

 

 

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Parsha Mishpatim

written by Elliot Sokol, 7th grader, who becomes a Bar Mitzvah on 2/25

 

In this week’s parasha, Mishpatim, we read about many laws that help us go through with our daily life. Last week’s torah portion was Yitro, a very dramatic and exciting parsha that talks about the time where Moshe went up Mount Sinai and got the Torah. There are many big moments in parashat Yitro, like when Hashem spoke to the Jews at Har Sinai, or when the Jews cried out to Moshe after they saw the light show and got terrified. This week's parasha, Mishpatim, is very different compared to parashat Yitro. Instead of a lightening and thunder show, or Hashem speaking to the Jewish people, we are given 53 laws that we must follow. 53 laws about living our life by a code, protecting other people’s property, and respecting a convert or a foreigner.

 

In the parasha, we hear many laws that help us go through with our day to day life. Why does Hashem talk about the detailed laws? Why doesn’t he talk about the big important laws? I think that the reason for this, is because Hashem knows that most of us aren’t going to experience a very big miracle like the Jews did at Mount Sinai. For most of our lives, we just wake up, go to school or work, come back home, do our chores, eat, and then go to sleep. Even though these things are ordinary, we can perform them in a way that makes them holy. 

 

Another way that we can be holy towards Hashem is when we protect the property of others. In the parasha, we are told that we need to protect other people's property more than we protect our own. Why do we have to protect someone else's property more than ours? I think that we need to do this because it creates trust between the two people and maybe even throughout the whole community. 

 

Another big idea in the parasha that we hear about, is respecting a convert or a foreigner. This law or idea is that you should treat everyone equally. In other words, treat people the way you want to be treated. In my parasha, it also says that we need to treat strangers equally because we were once strangers in Egypt. The Jewish people know how it feels to be strangers. 

 

For example, if there is somebody new at your work or school, you should treat them like they are your friend and not like a stranger. I think that this means we need to be nice to them or at least try our hardest to be kind. The reason that it is not okay to treat these people harshly is because they are new and you should give them a chance. Imagine if you were a new kid and everyone was mean to you, wouldn’t you feel horrible? You would say to yourself, "why didn’t they give me a chance?". The thing is that the new person might be really awesome or nice and you might end up being really good friends with them. 4 ½ years ago, I was the new kid. When I came into class, I was very nervous and I was hoping that somebody would befriend me. If it weren’t for my friends, I would probably be a very different person.

 

My mitzvah project, making care packages for the homeless, relates to this last law that we just talked about. It is similar because the point of the project is to look at homeless people as people who deserve dignity. Some people look at homeless people and think that they are dangerous or scary. But all they want is some help so they can survive or have a better life. With these packages, we gave them clothes, food, toiletries, and kindness. The packages we gave out might make the homeless person’s day. Even though the packages were full of everyday things, they probably meant a lot to a person in need. And, it’s also a great example of how we can make even something that seems small and ordinary, into a holy deed for Hashem.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Parshat Yitro

February 17, 2017
21 Shvat 5777

 

Written by: Josh Weissmann – AJA ‘14

Our true release from the bonds of Egypt encapsulated 10 plagues, the miracles at the Splitting of the Sea, wondrous gifts from God in the desert, and concluded with the receiving of the Torah at Sinai in this week’s parsha – Yitro. Of course, the forming of a sovereign nation takes time, for only time can engender ideological and cultural changes in a stubborn-necked people. 

The goal of leaving Egypt, however clear we may feel it to be, is ambiguous in the Torah. Frequently God references the purpose of His plagues: “and you will know that I am God” (10:2), “in order that you shall know that the Land is Mine” (9:29), and so on. These explanations tend to overwhelmingly suggests that the impetus for leaving Egypt was to demonstrate God’s mastery to the world. Namely, the unshackling of the Jews was only the mechanism by which God demonstrated this eminence; the Jews were taken out from Egypt not for their sovereignty but for another purpose altogether. Through this lens of the Exodus Drama, the Jews become the puppets designed to reveal the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

This series of divine explanations suggests that the true culmination of the Exodus was not, as we often consider, Revelation at Sinai, but rather a distinct event which occurs at the beginning of Yitro. After Moses explains to his father in law Yitro the story of the Exodus, Yitro blesses God and voluntarily offers a sacrifice. That is, that which the non-Jewish world – epitomized by Yitro – heard about, was in awe over, and voluntarily offered sacrifices to, was due to God’s “actions” during his exposure in Egypt. The goal was accomplished, the story finishes here.

Yet the story, indeed, continues. There is a fascinating parallel here to Abraham during the Binding of Isaac, which sheds light onto the nature of the Exodus itself. In this week’s parsha, Yitro proclaims: “Now I know that God is greater than all other gods” (17:11). As God prevents Abraham from taking the life of his only son, He says: “Now I know that you are God fearing” (Breishit 22:12). The phrase “Now I know” appears minimally throughout Jewish liturgy, and only twice in the Torah. It is used almost exclusively regarding man’s understanding of a metaphysical Truth, or in Avraham’s case, God’s understanding of man’s devotion to Him. The 10 tests of Abraham crescendo until the most challenging of all, the sacrifice of Isaac, finally formalized and thus demonstrated Abraham’s unnerving dedication to God. Parallel but distinct, the saving of Israel from Egypt proved to man, not to God, His dominion. ‘Knowledge’ is something that is shared between these two instances: God needs to ‘know’ about man’s interest in the relationship as much as man needs to ‘know’ about God’s.

This parallel neatly relates the Exodus itself to Abraham’s merit. After all, God promised that his children would be strangers in a foreign land only to be saved carrying great wealth. The most concise way to say this is that nationalizing Abraham’s decedents necessitated their eviction from and their passing through the cauldron of Egypt (given some thought, the feeling of eviction and that of passing through the cauldron both occur and contribute differently to the formation of the Jewish national identity). This is precisely the opposite impetus that we had noted before. Whereas previously the purpose of the Exodus was to demonstrate God’s eminence, here it seems that the purpose is to make the Jews into a sovereign people. That is, the purpose of this process seems to be the formation of a Jewish nation, and the plagues, the splitting of the sea, and the miracles in the desert were only a mechanism for achieving that goal. 

How can we reconcile this difference? Why would God repeatedly say “in order that you shall know I am God”? 

We can suggest a third possibility, one with which we are all familiar. Jews are not missionaries in the classical sense – we do not proselytize, nor do we actively convert. We are messengers; we are People of the Book; we are middlemen between that which is divine and that which is not. Others might infer the Jews to be the ‘chariot’ upon which God’s dominion rests. The formation of such a nation, it seems, not only paralleled but necessitated God’s revelation to the non-Jewish world. In Abraham’s merit, the Jews formed a nation, but by God’s will they represented something far more fundamental. Our Exodus from Egypt was the mechanism for God to touch mankind – for mankind to “know” Him – in the same way that our lasting nationhood is meant to continue that relationship, that eminent reach to God, not just for ourselves but for all mankind; not just in the desert but forever on Earth. 

 

Josh Weissmann - class of 2014, spent a year at Yeshivat Har Etzion, sophomore at Princeton and majoring in Operations Research and Financial Engineering. 

 

 

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Parsha Yitro

written by: Leah Bader 11th grade, (AJA Class of '18)

 

This week’s parsha is a big one. Yitro comes to visit Moshe and helps set up the court system and Bnei Yisrael camp at Har Sinai where they receive the Torah.  Bnei Yisrael undergo a very prominent transition in this parsha, where they go from being a nation to Hashem’s chosen nation.  While this transition is very important, there is also another more subtle transition that we should focus on: the transition of Bnei Yisrael from a group of individuals into one nation.  Rashi identifies this transition for us, noticing that the phrase “וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר” “And Israel camped there opposite the mountain” contains the singular verb for camping instead of the plural verb that it should contain when talking about Bnei Yisrael as a group. Rashi explains this by saying that at that moment it was as if Bnei Yisrael were “כאיש אחד בלב אחד” “As one man with one heart”, united in anticipation of their receiving of the Torah, and that is why the singular verb was used.  This shows us how important it is to have a unified community, that it was crucial for Bnei Yisrael to come together like this in preparation for their receiving the Torah.  

We also see the importance of a unified community in Pirkei Avot ב:ד, where it says אל” תפרוש מן הציבור” “Do not separate yourself from the community”.  The Bartenura explains that this is because when a community is going through a difficult time, it offers comfort through shared hardship, because individuals can help lessen the pain for each other. We saw an example of this a couple weeks ago in Parshat Shmot, when Moshe went out of Pharoah’s house, “אֶל־אֶחָ֔יו וַיַּ֖רְא בְּסִבְלֹתָ֑ם” - to his people to see their labors and share their hardship. When he witnessed an Egyptian beating his fellow Jew, Moshe took action, killing the Egyptian and saving the Jew from the pain he was experiencing. Moshe’s determination to witness the hardship his people were experiencing drove him to stand up against the oppression of the Jews and lead them out of Egypt. Without Moshe’s desire to take part in his community, Bnei Yisrael would never have been able to reach Har Sinai and receive the Torah.

The value of community is proven vastly important in both this parsha and Shmot.  Coming together as a unified community can even have the power to elevate us, as we see in this week’s Torah reading when Bnei Yisrael camp as one around Har Sinai in preparation to receive the Torah. This is why I am so incredibly excited that the AJA community can all come together this Friday and wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness.  Pink Day at AJA is planned in coordination with Sharsheret, an organization that provides a community of support for Jewish women diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer.  Sharsheret provides services for those affected by cancer from individual personal support from other women who have been diagnosed to support for the entire family. The services that they offer for diagnosed women comes from all different parts of the community, all uniting to provide the strongest support possible.  Sharsheret provides yet another example of how coming together as a community makes us stronger.  Hopefully this Friday, we will all be able to become “כאיש אחד בלב אחד”  in our matching pink clothes and observance of Pink Day at our school!

 

Shabbat Shalom!


 

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Songs, Commandments, and Law

written by: Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, GHA Alum

 

This week’s parsha has the most famous song in the Torah, next week’s has the most famous collection of commandments and the week after that begins our long and loving interaction with law.

 

Each teaches us an idea and I suspect that each of these ideas are cumulative in some important ways, even. The song that the Jewish people sang reflects the idea that religious experience is deeply enmeshed in the emotionally redemptive power of God and religion. Faith inspires and in this case, quite literally, saved the Jewish people.  Commandments add to that and remind us that joy and faith alone cannot carry the ball for an extensive enough period of time to build a meaningful life – being observant of the big picture ideals and ideas of our faith is the next step after salvation.  Law (literally: mishpatim, the name of the final parsha in this trilogy) begins the Torah’s deep interaction with law generally, and it is the focus point of the important idea that neither joy nor righteousness and virtue are enough and law needs moral details to be important.  Neither the songs nor the ideals are a substitute for just laws.

 

Indeed, over the next few weeks we see this clearly – after the exodus from Egypt and the salvation by the sea, the Jews settle down to build a real religious life and Jews start coming to Moshe to resolve their disputes in order to build a just society.

 

In next week’s parsha, Yitro recommended that Moshe set up systems of judges and courts so that Moshe only needed to oversee the most complex of cases. (This system of religious judges and courts has remained intact, albeit in varying forms, throughout Jewish history continuing to today.)

 

In truth, Yitro’s advice is much more profound than one might think.  Yitro says to Moshe that for the Jewish people to survive, law must be systematized with principles and applications that can be taught to people in a code-like way, so that lower court judges can apply the law systemically.  Once that system is created by God, both in terms of rules of law, and in terms of principles of interpretation, then lower court judges could be selected by Moshe and taught the rules to be applied.

 

Shortly after Yitro makes this initial suggestion to Moshe, the first important set of laws is given – the Ten Commandments, and they are given in the parsha named after Yitro because his suggestion is directly responsible for the Ten Commandments being given. Mishpatim – the next set of laws, richer in detail and broader in scope – soon follow, because Yitro’s suggestion to Moshe requires that judges be given as much code to examine and follow as possible.

 

All of life starts with a song – but a song is just the starting point.  From the song comes commandments and from the commandments comes law. 

Rabbi Broyde went to the Greenfield Hebrew Academy for 4th, 5th and 6th grade where he has only wonderful memories of Rabbis Meltzer & Shloush and Dr. Shloush teaching him chumash.  He particularly remembers memorizing the shira for Dr. Shloush.

 

 

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Dvar Torah - Parashat Beshalach

written by: AJA 8th Graders, Matthew Kaplan and Daniel Mordoch

This week's parsha, is parshat Beshalach. In Beshalach, after Bnei Yisrael leave Egypt, they find themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s armies and the sea. Having nowhere to go, Moshe splits the sea for Bnei Yisrael and they escape, as the ocean closes in on Pharaoh’s men. After Moshe and Bnei Yisrael cross the sea, they sing a song of thanks to Hashem for saving them. Then the parsha continues with the complaints and worries of Bnei Yisrael for water and food. Hashem provides the manna each day, except for on Shabbat, when the people collected a double portion on Friday. The people complain twice more, the last time ending with Moshe being commanded to hit the rock which then provides water for the people.

 

After יציאת מצרים (the exodus),  קריעת ים סוף (the splitting of the sea) and all the great miracles that occurred we wouldn't expect the Bnei Yisrael to complain. Yet they do. After the third complaint, when they complained for water, Hashem tells Moshe:

וּמַטְּךָ, אֲשֶׁר הִכִּיתָ בּוֹ אֶת-הַיְאֹר--קַח בְּיָדְךָ, - take in your hand the staff with which you hit the Nile. וְהִכִּיתָ בַצּוּר וְיָצְאוּ מִמֶּנּוּ מַיִם - and you’ll hit the rock, and water will come out.

The language used was very similar to when Hashem commanded Moshe to take his staff and hit the Nile before the plague of blood. Bnai Yisrael knew that the plagues came from Hashem - even though they were performed through Moshe. Here, Hashem commanded Moshe to take that very same staff and to replicate that. Hitting the rock in the same way as he hit the Nile is a way of saying: “The G-d that did all those miracles in Egypt? That’s the same G-d providing for you right now!” And it’s even more than that: This staff which was an agent of destruction, isn't just the weapon. It’s a tool of a G-d who loves you and wants to provide for you.

 

The Bnei Yisrael discover what they couldn’t see when they were suffering in Egypt. Hashem’s agenda isn’t about destruction… it’s about recognizing Him as the Creator. He loves us and cares about us. Hashem demonstrates that to Bnei Yisrael over and over again, with miracle after miracle. The first and most important thing they need to know as a nation is: hashem wants to have a relationship. -

He took them out of Mitzrayim, saved them from Pharaoh, and he gave them manna. This teaches us not to lose faith in Hashem; He is not going to just forget about us and He will always be there. We need to look for Him in our daily lives, which are miracles in their own right. It teaches us that in a situation where hope is no longer a factor, the one thing we know we can always count on is Hashem. Even if the way you think He should be helping you isn't what actually happens, one thing we can be sure of is He has our backs wherever we go!

Shabbat Shalom!

Thank you and have a good week.


   

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Dvar Torah: Parashat Bo

February 2, 2017
6 Sh'vat 5777

written by AJA 4th grader: Oliver Mason

This week’s paarsha is Bo. Last week the Egyptians faced the first seven plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, death of the animals, blisters, and hail. This week, the Egyptians face the last three plagues: grasshoppers, darkness, and the death of the first born. During each plague, Pharaoh told Moshe that if the plague stopped he would let the Jews go.

So Moshe prayed to Hashem to stop the plague, and Hashem listened. But when each plague stopped, Pharaoh’s heart hardened, and he did not let the Jews go. And so, Moshe brought the next plague. Finally, during the last plague, death of the first born, Pharaoh let the Jews go. Pharaoh made the Jews leave so fast that he did not even give them enough time to bake bread. Why did Pharaoh make the Jews leave Egypt so fast? Pharaoh made the Jews leave so fast because he was a first born, and he did not want to die.

A very important thing that happens in this week’s parsha is that the Jews are commanded to eat the Korban Pesach. If there were not enough people to finish it by the next morning, they should invite other people such as friends and neighbors to finish it. This week our school is having its first whole school Shabbaton, a chance for us to get together as a community just like the Jews in Egypt did when they ate the Korban Pesach for the first time. The Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat Hagadol, when we, as Jews, remember the preparation of the Korban Pesach. Similarly, this is our “Big Shabbat” weekend together as an AJA community, a milestone shabbat that we will all remember.

Shabbat Shalom! Oliver Mason

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A Lesson Learned from Va’eira

written by Tali Feldman (GHA '06)

In this week’s Parsha, Va’eira, we begin to witness the beginning of the end of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt and, most famously, the introduction of the ten plagues. The story of Moshe, Pharaoh, and the Ten Plagues is one of the most recognizable storylines in all of Judaism, mostly because we read it every year around the Seder table. As the simplified version goes, G-d appears to Moshe and tells him that he is going to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land; but this comes at a large cost. Moshe, knowing Pharaoh is not going to listen to his pleas, asks G-d how this will actually happen. G-d responds by inflicting the ten plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, with Pharaoh only growing more and more stubborn with each passing plague. Eventually, Pharaoh is forced to give in, and we all know how this chapter of slavery happily ends.

We are typically taught that G-d used the ten plagues as a way to prove his power and might to the Egyptians. Essentially, G-d wanted to show Pharaoh who, exactly, he is messing with by keeping Moshe’s people enslaved for so many years. The Israelites, having been enslaved for hundreds of years, were also yearning for a sign from G-d that the end was near; but first, they had to endure Pharaoh’s stubbornness and ‘hardened heart’ after each passing plague.

These plagues came after hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt. The Israelites were exasperated and had all but accepted their fate. Just as the Egyptians saw the ten plagues as proof of G-d’s might, the Israelites also saw the plagues as a reminder that their higher power exists. This reminder provided the last sliver of motivation and guidance the People of Israel needed in order to push through.

In today’s world, it is almost too easy to get caught up in the world of politics, social media, and technology in general. In a time where the news is instant and it feels as though the world of politics and social media control our lives, we sometimes have to remind ourselves that there is something deeper and more powerful within us. Each person forms their own foundation to which they stay grounded, and this can always be there to serve as a reminder that there is something bigger, stronger, and deeper guiding us: our own morals.

For me, I try to ground myself by looking towards my own foundation of morals, which stem from my personal version of “my Judaism”. My strong foundation in Judaism largely comes from my experiences at GHA and growing up in Atlanta’s nurturing Jewish community. While I learned the importance of religion and the rules that govern it, I also learned valuable lessons in family, community, respect, and friendship. As I navigate through these next stages of my life, I always look back on my time at GHA as the period of time that formed the solid foundation for my life.

 

Tali graduated from GHA in 2006, and the University of Maryland in 2014. She will graduate from the University of Georgia in May 2017 with a Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology. 

 

      

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D'var Torah: Make Time

January 26, 2017

28 Tevet 5777

 

This D’var Torah was co-written and presented to parents and grandparents by our 5th Graders, Leora Frank and Mollie Glazer, at the Mishnah Day of Learning

 

The Tanna Rav Tarfon is quoted in Pirkei Avot teaches “Hayom Katzer Vehamelacha Merubah”- The day is short and the work is great!”. Time is something so precious and yet something constantly taken advantage of. Hours can just disappear. Days can disappear. And unfortunately, even years can disappear.

 

Jews take time very seriously. Our Torah begins with the words Beresheet Barah - “In the beginning,” while the Mishnah starts with the question, “From what time may one recite the evening Shema?”

 

The idea of making time קדוש, holy is one of the foundations of Jewish faith and practice. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the first Mitzvah given to the Jews as a nation was to create a calendar based on the cycle of the moon.

 

In next week's Parsha, Parshat Bo it is written  "And Hashem said to Moshe in the land of Mitzrayim החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים, This month is for you, the head of the months.

 

This Shabbat will mark Rosh Chodesh Shevat ... a reminder of the Mitzvah!!

 

We have learned to make time part of our lives. At school, at home, at shul, when we go to sleep, when we eat, and when we wake up. Time is everything. Without time we would be out of order, unable to relax at any point in time. Time tells us when to do certain things. Time tells us when the חגים are and when they end. Time tells us when we have to leave for work, when we have to go out for recess, when to eat meals, and when Shabbat starts and ends.

 

Sometimes we wish we had more time to do things. Have you ever heard the saying, "Time flies by when you are having fun?” you probably have. When you don't pay attention, time goes by really fast. When you are waiting for a certain time, people say it takes forever to get there. 

 

Nowadays, we have clocks and watches. What do you think early people did to keep track of time? For example the Jews in the Torah. How did they know when a holiday started? 

 

This Shabbat we would like you to think about these questions and talk with your family about them.

 

The Torah teaches us how to cherish time, and make the best possible use of it, we being a “co-creator” with Hashem we are able to “make” time for what is important.

 

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Parashat Shemot

written by: Asher Lytton and Zelik Silverberg - Grade 5

 

In this week's Parashat Shemot, the first words are ”ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה” - “these are the names of the sons of Jacob who are coming to Egypt”.

 

Rashi has a question about this. The Torah already says this at the end of last week’s parsha. Rashi says that Hashem lists the names of the brothers after their deaths to show his love for them. Rashi compares them to the stars which Hashem takes out and puts away by number and by name.

We are taught that counting the Bnai Yisrael is not permitted. As it says in Parashat Ki Tissa - you have to be careful how you count or a plague will strike. That is why in the Torah the Bnai Yisrael were counted with a half shekel. Rabbi Baruch Yerachmiel Yehoshua Rabinowitz said it is not that we shouldn’t be counted it is that we should not forget our name and our individuality. If we forget our name we may just disappear and become one of many. That is why Hashem lists everybody's name at the beginning of the parasha. While thinking about the Jewish people as one nation we should not forget we are a nation of individuals, each with his own name, each one loved by Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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Parshat Shemot - What's In a Name?

 

January 19, 2017
21 Tevet 5777

Written by: Rabbi
Joseph Shaw (GHA ’84) (AJA Lower School)

 

The name of this week's Parshah is, well, "Names" -- "Shemot," which is also the name of the entire second book of the Chumash. The source for this name of the book appears in early sources (such as the Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 3).

 

The English (or rather Latin) name of the Book, "Exodus," seems to make a lot more sense that the Hebrew name, "Shemot," or "Names." What does "Names" have to do with the contents of this book, which describes the events of the Exodus, the sojourn of the Jewish people in the wilderness, the receiving of the Torah, the building of the Tabernacle, etc.

 

The name "Shemot" seems to be a reasonable title for the Parshah itself. After all, the Parshah begins with a list of thirteen names of the members of Yaakov's family: "And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt..." (1:1). The emphasis on people's names continues as the Parshah relates, "The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of one of whom was Shifra, and the name of the second was Pu'ah" (1:15). (A topic for further discussion, however, is the Torah's abrupt cessation from this emphasis on names in chapter two, when it does not relate the names of the parents of Moshe (2:1-2), the name of his sister (2:4), the name of Pharaoh's daughter (2:5), and the name of Moshe himself (2:2-10), who is referred to merely as "the boy" until he gets a name (2:10).)

 

Still, though, in what way does the name "Names" represent the essence of the Parshah or the essence of the Book of Exodus?

 

The Book of Exodus is the story of the development, or perhaps more specifically -- the birth, of the Jewish people. Until now, the Torah spoke of individuals -- Adam and Chavah, Noach and the individual members of his family, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, and so on. Now that the Torah introduces us to the people, it is easy to forget that each member that makes up that people is important and significant in his or her own right. One may have a tendency to think: What does it matter what I do, when there are millions of others? I'm just one person in a huge group; I'm insubstantial, my significance is infinitesimally meager. I'm dispensable.

 

What is a name? A name is a way to designate an item (or person) as distinct from another. A name ("Shem") enables us to identify and locate ("Sham") an individual. It designates me as separate and apart from you. It gives me significance as a unique individual, apart from, and a part of, the group of which I am a member. It tells me that I am important, it tells you that you are important, and it tells me that you are important. It helps strike the balance between recognizing my individual strengths and my uniqueness, and recognizing that those strengths must be contributed to the group for the greater good of all of us.

 

This perspective has wide-reaching implications, from the way I view my own role in the world, to the way I raise my family, to the orientation of the school to which I entrust the education of my children. This is part of what the name "Shemot" teaches us and why it is the name of this Parshah and this Chumash.

 

Rabbi Joseph Shaw graduated from the Greenfield Hebrew Academy (AJA Lower School) in 1984. He, his wife, and their eleven children live in Israel, where he teaches at Machon Yaakov and works as an educational consultant for individuals and organizations.

 

 

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Parsha - Vayech

 

January 13, 2017
15 Tevet 5777

written by Helayna Minsk, Graduate of GHA (AJA Lower School) and Yeshiva Atlanta (AJA Upper School) 

This week’s parsha, Vayechi, is the last in the book of Bereshit, and tells of the blessings that Yaakov, coming to the end of his life, bestows on his 12 sons.  Yet, for the first half of the parsha, it’s his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe, who are his focus.

“So he (Yaakov) blessed them (Ephraim and Menashe) on that day, saying:  ‘By you shall Israel bless, saying:  May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe. . . .’ “  (Bereshit 48:20)

On Friday nights and Erev Yom Kippur, Jewish parents have the tradition of blessing their children.  But unlike girls, who are blessed to be like the Matriarchs, boys are blessed to be like Ephraim and Menashe, rather than the Patriarchs.  Why?

Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and his sons had all experienced the spiritual power of living in Israel, the most nurturing Jewish environment.  But after Yaakov and his sons moved to Egypt, Judaism would have to survive in an environment of decadence, where Jews would risk assimilation.  To be great among great people is an achievement, but maintaining a high level of spirituality in a society lacking morals and ethics is the real test.  Despite great odds, Ephraim and Menashe stayed true to Torah ideals and Jewish observance in Egypt.  Knowing that this would be the challenge faced by the generations following his sons, Yaakov models how parents will need to bless their sons, to follow in the footsteps of Ephraim and Menashe, to hold to their beliefs and morals, and withstand peer and societal pressure in a secular world.

This is further reinforced when Yaakov, despite Yosef’s attempts to intervene, makes a point of blessing Ephraim before his older brother, giving him the greater blessing.  Rather than blessing his grandsons according to their birth order, Yaakov blesses them according to their names, which reflect Yosef’s own journey:  

When Menashe was born, Yosef had overcome the hatred of his brothers, being sold into slavery, and years spent in servitude and prison.  He named Menashe (“forgetting”) because “Hashem has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household.”  (Bereshit 41:51)  Yosef had become the viceroy of Egypt, arguably the second most powerful man in the world.  As difficult as it was for him to be away from his father, Hashem had given him the strength to do so, and replaced his memories and longing with other thoughts. 

But by the time his second son is born, Yosef realizes that despite having achieved great success, he is an alien in a country and culture that are not his.  He is still in exile; Egypt is not his spiritual home.  So he named him Ephraim, because “Hashem has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”  (Bereshit 41:52)  Yosef remembers that for all wealth and power, Egypt is not who he is, where he comes from, or where he belongs—all the things he sought to forget when Menashe was born.

Ephraim, even more than Menashe, represents the spiritual awareness that, despite living in the Diaspora and the challenge to acculturate to the country and society in which we live, our true belonging is elsewhere.  Day school education is an effective tool in helping children navigate life in the secular world while holding fast to Jewish ideals and traditions, and maintaining strong ties to our spiritual homeland in Israel.

 

Helayna Minsk is a graduate of Hebrew Academy of Atlanta (AJA Lower School) and Yeshiva Atlanta.  She holds a BA from Brandeis University and an MBA from Columbia University.  She is currently working as Group Vice President, Walgreens Retail Brands, in Chicago.

 

    

 

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Parashat Vayechi

Written by, Noam Glazer, 3rd Grade

פרשת ויחי

In this week’s parsaha, Parashat Vayechi, we learn why we say Ephraim and Menashe in the beracha (blessing) that we give our children on Friday night.

Last parasha we learned that Yaakov finds out that Yosef is alive. Yaakov had not seen Yosef for about seventeen years. Yaakov goes to Mitzraim, Egypt, before he dies.

This is where our story starts.

In Mitzraim, Yaakov is about to die. Yosef’s guards told him that his father was sick. Yosef comes and visited Yaakov. Along comes Ephraim and Menashe, Yosef’s sons. Before Yaakov died, he wanted to give Ephraim and Menashe a blessing. Yaakov put his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Menashe. Yaakov was supposed to put his right hand on Menashe, though, because his right was the strong hand and it was supposed to go on the oldest child. Yosef saw that his father made a mistake, and he told his father "you made a mistake—you put the right hand on the wrong son". Yaakov said, "I know. I purposely did this because I know that farther in life Ephraim will be greater than his older brother". Yosef tried to move his dad’s hands, but Yaakov refused to switch. And then he gave Ephraim and Menashe their blessings. Ephraim and Menashe heard the conversation between their father and grandfather, but they did not get upset. So this was the first time in the Torah that brothers didn’t fight. So, in the beginning of Breishit, Kayin and Hevel got into a fight and Kayin killed Hevel. Later on was the fight between Yaakov and Eisav and then a fight between Yosef and his brothers. Now this was the first time brothers did not fight. Their reward was that Yaakov blessed them. Now we bless our kids and say the same beracha—that our kids should be like Ephraim and Menashe.

 

Shabbat Shalom. 

 

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Lessons from Parsha Vayigash

written by: Shana Frankel, (YA '10)

            In this week’s Parsha, Vayigash, there are many core lessons to be learned. I have narrowed them down to two that I feel relevant to my life in the present: the power of letting go of judgement, and the importance of channeling passions.

             In the first Pasuk of Perek 45, Joseph makes the decision to reveal himself to his brothers after witnessing their loyalty to one another. This one action is so telling of Joseph’s character, and what immediately popped into my mind as so admirable is his ability to look past the unthinkable act of his brothers and be the one providing them with comfort. In this transitional time from 2016 to 2017, this message feels like a necessary reminder for myself and my community. Between a nonstop feed of social media, a society’s chronic obsession of wanting more, and the need to label everything, I have begun to feel like my everyday life has turned into a routine of judgement, as opposed to once of acceptance and appreciation for differences. Judgement is the easier route, and many of us succumb to the momentary, fleeting relief we feel from it; however, if we are able to look beyond the present moment and into the depths of the future, we can learn from Joseph that making the decision to look past judgements, or wrongdoings, can have a major positive impact.

             Fast forwarding a bit through the Parsha, we reach the point where Joseph and Jacob finally reunite. Pasuk 29 describes the reunion through the act of Joseph falling on his father’s neck and weeping. According to Rashi, Jacobs reaction to seeing his son did not seem emotionally charged in comparison; rather, he recited the Shema. Author Chaya Weisberg touches on this commentary by referring to the Chasidic masters: “Jacob knew that never in his life would his love be aroused as it was at that moment. So he chose to utilize this tremendous welling of emotion to serve His Creator, channeling it to fuel his love for Gd.” In the intensity of this moment, Jacob had the capability of recognizing how strong and deep his emotions were, and was able to make the decision to channel that towards what he was most passionate, prayer to Hashem. As a young adult in her mid-twenties, I find myself in a state of questioning different aspects religion, but one part that never wavers is my passion that I feel towards my Judaism and how I was raised. In that regard, I credit my family as well as GHA and YA for instilling a lifelong love of Israel and connection with the Jewish people.

Shana Frankel, (YA '10), graduated from the University of Maryland in 2015, is currently a preschool teacher in Washington, DC and will be pursuing her Masters in Social Work. 

 

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Parsha Vayigash

written by Dr. Paul Oberman

 

In this week's parsha, Vayigash, Pharaoh asks Yaakov "How many are the days of the years of your life," and Yaakov answers in kind "The days of the years of my sojourns..." But all years are made up of days, so why be so specific? R' Hirsch suggests that--though we live for many years--we may live very few meaningful, productive days during that lifetime. Indeed, Yaakov answers modestly that his days have not been as meaningful as those of his forefathers. 

In a school setting, it is easy for students to wish away time. Some students look forward to a test being complete, to a school vacation, to reaching driving age, or to graduation. Perhaps most symbolic of this intention is the question "will this be on the test?" Teachers may become frustrated by the implication that the present is only meaningful if it will serve some purpose in the future, because we all want to believe that what we are teaching each day has inherent value. The exchange concerning "the days of the years of your life" above seems to suggest to all of us to focus on a present-orientation, so that we may live each day of our lives meaningfully... regardless of whether it may appear in examination form later in our lives.

 

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Parshat Vayeshev

 

written by: Sylvia Miller, Class of 1979
In memory of my father, Donald Miller - 4th Yarhrzeit 25 Kislev

 

Parshat Vayeshev, is one of those parshiyot that thrill a master storyteller! It speaks of parental favoritism, and a coat of many colors, a plot to kill, a journey to a land far away, self-control, undying faith, a butcher, a baker and the rise to dream interpreter fame…

This parsha also falls on the night before we light the first Chanukah candle in celebration of our festival of lights, Chag Ha Orim.

Is there a connection between the story of Joseph (Yosef) and his brothers and the festival of Chanukah?

Is it possible to look deep into the story of Yosef and the laws of candle lighting and glean an eternal message for parents and teachers?

“Now, Israel (Yaakov) loved Yosef more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colors." (Bereshit 37:3)

Back in the day, shepherds wore coats.  Plain and “robe- like” coats.  These robes were used to stay warm and keep cool. Robes were used to carry belongings and sometimes served as collateral. They were utilitarian.

The Torah describes Yaacov’s gift  to his son, Yosef, as a “coat of many colors”.  A very unique and special coat. That “coat” created a feeling of jealousy among Yosef’s brothers. “And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully.” (Bereshit 37:4)

In a 2013 Time Magazine article on parenting and favoritism, it was noted, “In some families, certain siblings need more attention or support than others, and parents should discuss with their kids why they are approaching siblings differently to avoid any misunderstanding. Children 'don’t mind that parents treat them differently,’ They only mind when they see that differential treatment as unfair.”

Similar parenting advice can be found in our tradition. The Midrash criticizes Yaacov for showing favor to one son over the others. Resh Lakish said in the name of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah: "A man must not make a distinction among his children, for on account of the coat of many colors which our ancestor Jacob made for Joseph they hated him (Midrash Rabbah - Bereshit)

Regardless of one’s particular parenting style, parenting experts and educators know that when raising or teaching children, it is healthy approach to differentiate; making sure that each child is nurtured for their unique gifts and supported when necessary.  As King Solomon reminds us, "Chanoch l'naar al pi darcho “(Educate a child according to the child’s way).

And yet, it is human nature. Some parents might have a tendency to shower one child with more attention. A teacher, without intent, might call on one students more often than on the others.

So, how does the story of Yosef and his brothers connect to Chanukah, the festival of lights?

There are laws that must be followed when lighting the menorah and there are customs that color the eight days that are grounded in the law.

Maimonides in Hilchot Chanukah (3:4) states that each individual has a requirement to light Chanukah lights, or to have an agent kindle the lights for him.

Customs differ among households. In some homes, it is a minhag (custom) that the entire household light only one menorah. The person who lights is a representative for the rest of the family.

In other homes, it is a custom that every member of the family, every child and even every guest, lights his or her own menorah. No favorites!

Regardless of how one might  perform the mitzvah; the custom of every child having his or her own menorah to light could represent a powerful lesson for parents and teachers.

The Talmud blames Yaacov for showing favoritism and warns parents: “One should never favor one child over his other children, for it was the mere two shekels worth of silk, which Jacob gave to Joseph over and above that which he gave to his other children, that caused the brothers to be envious of him, leading eventually to our forefathers’ descent into Egypt.” (Shabbat 10b)

It is NOT accidental that Parshat Vayeshev’s unfolding story which begins, with Yaacov showing a special love for Yosef over his brothers, connects with Chanukah.

It is a timely teaching for parents and teachers to be mindful of how showing preferential treatment to one child over others can cause a ripple effect lasting beyond a lifetime. Let us all work on supporting our individual children’s special light and watch them shine because of that!


 

Sylvia Miller graduated from the Greenfield Hebrew Academy (AJA Lower School) in 1979. She is the School Counselor for AJA Lower School and Middle School.

 

 

 

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An Ultimate Mitzvah

Written by Rabbi Yogi Robkin, (GHA ‘94, YA ‘98)

 

Just last week my father, Shai Robkin (YA '65) donated a kidney.  There was no one in our family in need of a kidney (except their own!) and there was no one he was aware of who could use his spare, and so he decided to become what's known as an altruistic living kidney donor.  

His kidney would go to a stranger, someone he could meet only if the recipient agreed to meet with him, and the rules being the way they are, he would have no control over who would receive his life saving gift.  That being said, my father had no interest in earmarking his kidney to a person fitting any particular set of specifications (age, ethnicity, religion, favorite baseball team etc.) even had he been able to.  His sole motivation: get his "extra" kidney to another human being who needed it.  

The lucky recipient ended up being a seventy year old African-American mother of three named Glorious from Carrollton, GA.  Glorious had been on dialysis for five years leading up to her recent transplant and is, thank G-d, doing great now and fully off of dialysis!  Glorious's daughter, Latausha, who was willing to give her mother a kidney but was unfortunately not a match, signed up to become a living donor herself, thereby pushing her mother up the transplant list and increasing her odds of eventually receiving her life saving transplant.  In the very same Atlanta area hospital, on the very same day, two kidneys were removed, one from my father and one from Glorious's daughter Latausha, and two kidneys were interred into two individuals whom the two donors had never met before in their lives!  

 

My father got to meet Glorious and Latausha the day after the surgeries and together with my mother and sister in the hospital room proceeded to have the mother of all cry-fests. The nurses cried with them.  It was the ultimate Kodak moment, a moment to remember for a lifetime.  Through her tears, my mother explained to Glorious and Latausha that we were Jewish and that as Jews we saw this deed as a mitzvah, an obligation to help our fellow man.  It may seem to an outsider that this moment was short in coming, but the tears in my father and mother's eyes were two years in the making. Two years prior my father had begun the process of researching the possibility of his becoming a kidney donor.  He spoke to his doctor, read medical literature and subjected himself to the many tests one was required to pass in order to become a donor.  On his final test he failed.  He was told that he had high blood pressure and would not be a candidate for the surgery.  My father argued that he had never had a high blood pressure result in his life and asked if he could retake the test and they eventually acquiesced to his request.  He would not fail this test twice!  When a match was found for his kidney he called us all to let us know that there was a date on the calendar set for his surgery.  The rest, as they say, is history.

 

This feel-good storyline is certainly worthy of public dissemination on its own merits (all the more so in an endless "if it bleeds it leads" media cycle) and yet I feel that I would be remiss if I did not share what is, perhaps, a more profound lesson for us all that lies not so much in the public details of this story (as it's easy and enjoyable to read a moving real-life account of heroism and return to our regularly scheduled lives) but rather in the private and perhaps difficult decision to donate one's kidney in the first place.  After the operation was finished, and the nerves that pulse through the heart of a child whose father is on the operating table settled down, I found myself trying to pinpoint the roots of my dad's decision to donate a kidney.  Why had he done what so few people had done?  What gave him the courage, the vision, the desire?  It would be easy to turn to the life and pattern of giving that has been the hallmark of my parent's lives as the explanation for his desire to give the ultimate gift, and, although certainly true and central to his decision, I knew that there was something else inside of him, some missing link that was helping inform his decision making process that was unaccounted for.

 

Just a day before the operation was scheduled to take place I received an email in my inbox from my father with a link to a story in Vanity Fair about a pair of Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, pioneers in the burgeoning field of behavioral economics.  Next to the article's link were a few words from my dad.  "If you took the time to read my behavioral economic analysis of Trump's election, then perhaps you'll have the patience to read a fascinating piece (fascinating for me, at least) about my heroes, without whom I probably wouldn't be donating my kidney next week."  In the excitement and nervousness of this time in our family's lives, I hadn't been fully cognizant of the import in my father's message.  Something in this article unlocked the key to his decision to donate.  But what?

 

More than anything else, the study of Behavioral Economics attempts to understand the determining factors in the human decision making process.  How much weight does logic have in our decision making process.  Do we rely upon probability or statistics to help us resolve our queries?  What role does heuretics play, the reliance upon our gut, rules of thumb or other classical decision making tools in the final analysis?  And what of the role of our subconscious biases?  Daniel Kahneman had an early formed proposition that would be vindicated time and time again through the course of his many years of study: People don't depend upon hard data like probability and statistics to form a final decision.  As Daniel stated later in life, "No one ever made a decision because of a number - They need a story."  This, and the compound effect that "gut feelings have a mysterious power to steer us wrong,"  led Kahneman and Tversky on a two-man crusade to re-educate the world and its decision making leaders to reconsider the way they solved problems and made both small and large determinations.  

 

The pair of Middle Eastern psychologists also noticed a fascinating phenomena in the human psyche.  Human beings have a much more acute response to the possibility of impending loss than we do with the possibility of a consummate gain that might come our way.  In other words, we are programmed to run from danger more than we are programmed to run towards opportunity.  This mental default position may help us escape from impending threats but it also compromises our decision making.  In the world of finance our fear of loss leads us to sell our shares when stock prices fall dramatically even as we know that a statistical study of the stock market over the last century would lead the discerning investor to buy at this juncture in time instead.  Our collective aversion to loss leads us to take risks when we shouldn't and stand still when strict logic and analysis advises us to move.

 

The decision making process surrounding kidney donation ("to give or not to give, that is the question") starts the way any decision making process might begin, weighing the pros and cons, the potential gains versus the potential losses.  The thing is, a sensitivity to the findings of Kahneman and Tversky in "decision analysis," as they called it, would naturally inform us that most of us, when made aware of the possibility of our becoming someone's kidney donor, would run far away from the procedure for fear of what we would perceive as severe impending loss (the loss of the kidney itself, the concern over future health problems that the loss of a kidney could cause (real or imagined), the possibility of one's own future renal failure and the danger of suffering that fate with only one kidney etc. etc.).  Unlike what we currently know about the real risks of kidney donation there is no end to the scope and limitations of the human imagination.  This is not to say that the decision to give a kidney is without any  serious cause for concern.  Any surgery has its dangers as does the loss of any organ.  The point is that my father understood as a student of Behavioral Economics that we tend to overestimate loss and underestimate potential.  Knowing what he does, my father was able to push aside his natural fear of loss and focus instead on the facts, statistics and advice of medical professionals.  Were the dangers great enough to impede my father's desire to save another's life?  In my father's final analysis they were not.

 

After years of prodding people in high places to reconsider the way they make decisions, Kahneman and Tversky grew pessimistic about the role they could play in decision analysis.  "We have attempted to teach people to be aware of the pitfalls and fallacies of their own reasoning.  We have attempted to teach people at various levels in government, army etc. but achieved only limited success."  The way Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and author of an upcoming book on the academic duo, describes the pair's feelings about their lifelong work, is that "they'd found decision analysis promising but ultimately futile."  Perhaps if they would have had (Tversky died in 1996) or will have (Kahneman is alive and ticking and still educating in the U.S.) the privilege to meet my father they would think differently about the impact that their work had on this Earth.  

 

It's hard to know whether we have made all the right decisions in our lives, but my dad is convinced that he got this one right.  He put it to me this way just the other day: "Imagine you were given one million dollars that could either be thrown in to the grave along with you, or could be given away to your favorite charity during your lifetime.  Which would you choose?" To my father it is as simple as that.  G-d gave us a gift at birth - one kidney for ourselves and one kidney to share with someone else in need.   

 

Last week my father gave his kidney to a woman who is no longer a stranger and we are all the more proud of him for it.

 

Rabbi Yogi Robkin (graduated AJA 1994 and Yeshiva High School 1998) is the Director of Outreach at DATA of Plano in Plano, TX.  He is married to Shifra Robkin and they have 5 children, Shira (14), Dina (12), Rachel (10), Shimon (8) and Hillel (7).  They live in Plano, TX.

 

My father, Shai Robkin, in the center, flanked by the recipient in bed and her daughter, Latausha, herself a kidney donor, standing.

 

 

 

My father, Shai Robkin, in the back center. I'm to his right. My mother, Judy Birnbrey Robkin (YA '65) is the center of the photo.

 

 

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What It Means To Be Holy

written by: Rabbi Ayal Robkin (GHA '00)

 

On the Thursday after Thanksgiving my father anonymously donated a kidney. On Friday he met his recipient. I entered this week with an image of my father and his recipient in my inbox. Pride is immeasurable when it comes from a place of truth.

 

I've been grappling for years with what it means to be holy, to become holy. Is it years of asceticism, a great burden on which you bear the weight of the world? Is it a born-in quality reserved for the select, privileged few?

 

This afternoon I learned about a Rabbi named Avraham Chen, a mid-Twentieth century mystic from Jerusalem. Interwoven into the story of his life were brief but beautiful descriptions of his teachings along with glimpses into his character, a picture of what clicked for me as the essence of holiness. The book's author found himself waiting for the Rabbi at the Rabbi's table with Shabbat coming to an end, but there were only three other men at the table. When the Rabbi walked in he showed no signs of disappointment.

 

Holiness, in his path, was the luckiness to have acquired wisdom and the diligence with which you work to embody that wisdom. I may know that every human is divine but I may not see it when I greet him on the street. I may know that the opportunity to encounter and help one, singular life is worth the entire world - but I may still be disappointed when only five people show up to a class. So, to come across wisdom is easy; to put in the years of work to walk in the ways of that wisdom is exponentially difficult. "Her ways are the ways of pleasantness and her path the path of peace."

 

My father, I know, has been incredibly lucky to come across his wisdom. It seems as though one fortuitous moment led to another and one fortuitous book led to another. It is amazing how one incredibly generous act can mythologize a character. Reading the posts on Facebook, one would think I grew up with a saint for a father. I'm not sure about Sainthood, for my father or for anyone else. But if he were to achieve that title it would be for one thing, his diligence. If nothing else, he is a diligent man.

 

When I saw the picture of the woman his kidney saved, I was disappointed to find an older woman lying next to my standing father. I had expected the recipient to be young and hadn't noticed the expectation. Holiness sees a life and knows that that life is divine - no matter whose. Holiness knows that actions speak much louder than words. For a brief moment this week, my father became holy, elevated, separated and sanctified. Times of uncertainty call for wisdom and wisdom calls for action. Pride is immeasurable when it comes from a place of truth.

 

Rabbi Ayal Robkin graduated from the Greenfield Hebrew Academy (AJA Lower School) in 2000. He currently teaches Tanach, Talmud, Mussar, Jewish Spiritual Practices and Mindfulness Meditation at The Heschel School in Manhattan.

 

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Parsha Vayishlach

written by: Talia Sarnat, AJA 4th Grader

This week’s parsha is Vayishlach, where the Torah continues to tell us the story of Yaakov’s life. A well-known story in this parsha is when Yaakov gets into a fight with an angel, who is a messenger of Hashem. After a difficult struggle, he defeats the angel who then changes Yaakov’s name to ‘Yisrael’ – which according to some, means ‘Fights with Hashem’.  

I realized that the Jewish People are also called bnei yisrael, the Children of Yisrael. I think this name was given to us on purpose and tells us that we should never be afraid to take time to understand what we are supposed to do as Jews, even if it means struggling with or questioning Hashem.

We can also learn from this story the importance of never giving up, even during difficult times and struggles.


Shabbat shalom.

 

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Parsha Vayetzei

written by Ayla Cohen, who becomes a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, 10 Kislev 5777

 

This week's Parsha is Vayetzei. The parsha says והנה  מלאכי אלקים עולים ויורדים בו (and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.) The commentators notice that the verse specifically says עולים ויורדים instead of יורדים ועולים. But, don’t the angels start in heaven and then go down to earth? Shouldn’t the text say going down and then up? The answer depends on your view of language.  

 

For most of the medieval commentators, the Torah has a reason for putting the words in a specific order. They think that it is written like that in a precise way in order to convey additional meaning.  Most of them put some sort of meaning on each and every word and on the order of עולים ויורדים בו. They all have the same idea of the angels starting on the ground and then coming up, but have very different perspectives on why that would be.

 

First I would like to talk about Rashi. He believes that angels accompany every traveler wherever they go. The angel varies depending on where you are. Different angels accompany people in Israel than outside of Israel.  So as Yaakov enters into the land of Israel, the foreign angels must go up the ladder to heaven and new ones come down to Israel. Like guards going on and off duty.

 

אברהם בן עזרא better known as the Ibn Ezra, also thinks that the word order matters, but thinks less about the angels and more about the symbolism of the סלם (ladder) and what’s going on in Yaakov’s head. He thinks that the angels symbolize our Tefillot. First we say the prayer and it goes up to heaven, which corresponds to the angels going up, and then, like the angels coming down, our prayers get answered so that ישועה (salvation) comes down the ladder.

 

Radak also thinks that the ladder is symbolic but he focuses on what the dream is showing Yaakov about the future of his descendants. He thinks that Hashem is giving Yaakov a hint for what is to come. For Radak the angels going up the ladder are Moshe and Aharon receiving the Torah and that the angels going down are the ones giving the Torah.

 
I started out with Rashi, Rashbam’s grandfather, and lots of times the grandson does not exactly agree with his elder. Only Rashbam thinks that the order of עולים ויורדים doesn’t matter at all. He thinks that it is written that way because that’s just how you say it in common speech. As you would say "I’ve been going up and down the stairs all day long", not "down and up the stairs" - even if you started on the upper floor.

In my opinion Rashbam’s explanation is the one I agree most with, but I still see the value in the others’ explanations.
 
Another thing I found interesting is that the parsha begins with a מזבח (altar) and ends with a מזבח (altar). The first time a מזבח is spoken about is after Yaakov has his dream. He picks up the rock he was sleeping on and pours oil over it and marks it as a מזבח, this one marking a place where Hashem lives.
 
The מזבח at the end is when Lavan follows Yaakov and his large family to somewhere in the mountains. Lavan and Yaakov basically make a peace treaty. Lavan will not cross over to Yaakov’s side to harm Yaakov and Yaakov will not cross over to Lavan’s  side to harm Lavan. The מזבח is to mark whose side is whose and where the boundaries are. I think the מזבח also has some sort of connection to the סלם. I think that the סולם and the מזבח are alike because they both mark where two domains meet.

 
Shabbat Shalom.
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