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Haazinu and Succos: Commanded to Be Happy

written by: Matthew Minsk, 8th Grader

October 14, 2016
12 Tishrei 5777


This week’s parsha is Parshat Haazinu. Except for the very end, the entire parsha is a song, one of the ten Songs that will be composed in the history of Creation. The ten songs include songs such as Az Yashir, the song at the splitting of the sea, the song of Channah when she has her child, Shmuel (which we read as the haftarah on Rosh Hashanah) and Shir Hashirim, Song of Songs, composed by King Solomon and one of the five megillot, which we read on Pesach.

Overall, all of these songs are happy and are in thanks to Hashem. However, Haazinu is not happy. Half of the song of Haazinu is tragic, a depiction of what will happen when the people don’t follow Hashem’s commands and are then sent into Exile. The first part of the Song tells of the amazing things Am Yisrael will benefit from in the land of Israel. But then the second part tells of how they will become corrupt, and how they will be exiled. This part begins with the phrase וישמן ישרון Yeshurun will become fat, which comes directly after a verse telling how the nation will be rich in food. It talks about the goodness of their food, but then it becomes bad, and they become fat.

When he was king, it is said Solomon collected a tremendous wealth, so much that it would tempt anyone to become greedy and jealous and turn away from G-d. He believed he wouldn’t be tempted because he was on such a high spiritual level. In fact, he was right. However, after his death, his sons couldn’t resist the temptations, which led to a civil war and a split of the Kingdoms of Judea and Israel. A couple hundred years later, this lack of unity led to Assyria dispersing the Ten Tribes and Babylon destroying the Beit HaMikdash, and other consequences foretold later in this parsha.

Next week is Succos, called Z’man Simchaseinu, the time of our happiness. But yet on Shabbas Chol HaMoed, we will read Koheles, which is written by Solomon and is just utter sadness and despair, saying there is no hope. The complete opposite of Z’man Simchaseinu. The Rabbis teach us we read Koheles on Succos so that we see that even in our happiness, we can’t be too happy. We are still in exile.

This does not mean we shouldn’t be happy, that we shouldn’t feast with the good things Hashem gave us. Because we should. Not even an hour after we read Koheles, in Mussaf, we still call Succos a time of happiness. We are still commanded to be happy, even while reading Koheles.

Last week, we had Tzom Gedaliah, the fast of Gedaliah. What is the purpose of being hungry on fast days? One purpose is to remind us all is not right, we are in exile, which is not where we need to be. We need to work for the Ultimate Redemption.

We bide our time, keeping our Jewish identity in schools such as AJA, and try to do mitzvot until Hashem decides the time is right. We work for that time, when we will have an opportunity to be in the Land of Israel and use what He gave us in the right way.

Then, maybe instead of having the futility in Koheles bring us down in our time of happiness, we can rejoice even more, and read the tenth song. This is the song that hasn’t been written yet, the song of the exiled being redeemed, the Song of the Mashiach.

Until then, Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!





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Parashat Yayelech: Walking in the Ways of Hashem

written by: Debbie Bornstein, Director of Judaic Studies EC-8

October 7, 2016
5 Tishrei 5777

וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ משֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֛ר אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:

And Moshe went, and he spoke the following words to all Israel.

Where did Moshe go?

Ramban explains that Moshe went to each shevet’s (tribe's) camp, as a sign of kavod (honor/respect), asking their permission before he left them for the last time.

However, Kli Yakar explores this expression on a deeper level, comparing this use of ‘vayelech’ with the other times that it is used in our parsha. The shoresh ‘halach’ appears three times in Vayelech. The first is here, ‘וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ משֶׁ֑ה’ (Devarim 31:6) when Moshe goes to talk to Bnei Yisrael, the second is in relation to Yehoshua’s appointment as Moshe’s successor – וַֽה' ה֣וּא הַֽהֹלֵ֣ךְ לְפָנֶ֗יךָ ה֚וּא יִֽהְיֶ֣ה עִמָּ֔ךְ (Devarim 31:8) and the third being where Bnei Yisrael are told that Hashem will guide them - “כִּ֣י ה' אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ ה֚וּא הַֽהֹלֵ֣ךְ עִמָּ֔ךְ לֹ֥א יַרְפְּךָ֖ וְלֹ֥א יַֽעַזְבֶֽךָּ” (Devarim 31:6).

The use of the shoresh ‘הלך’ has different connotations in these three instances. When used regarding Bnei Yisrael, Hashem is portrayed as walking with the people. In relation to Yehoshua, Hashem walks before him (ie. Yehoshua follows Hashem). Concerning Moshe, he simply ‘walks’ and is not accompanied.

From this comparison, we see that the verb ‘halach’ implies the status of one’s relationship with Hashem. The Kli Yakar illustrates this further with use of a mashal. Moshe, on the highest level, is like the sun – he radiates independently and ‘vayelech’ – he walks on his own and does not need to be accompanied. Yehoshua is compared to the moon, who gives light only as a reflection of the sun, but still lights up the night sky. Contrastingly, Bnei Yisrael need full guidance – Hashem walks with them, and they are like the stars, which light up the sky, but in a scattered and disjointed fashion. Together, all three types of luminaries serve to provide the earth with light throughout time.

Throughout the Torah we see many times that the verb, halach, is used as a reference to one's relationship with Hashem. This idea stems from a passuk in Parashat Eikev: מָה ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ:...לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל-דְּרָכָיו...

What does Hashem want from us? To walk in His ways.

The ability to walk is uniquely human. Yechezkel prophesies about the angels that ‘Ragleihem regel yeshara’ (Yechezkel 1:7)– ‘their leg is a straight foot’ – they cannot move from where they are. Man, conversely, has two legs and thus has the ability to move and change, progress and grow.

We are now in the days in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur , where we particularly want to make use of this special ability to change and do Teshuva. As it is written about the shofar at Matan Torah ‘וַיְהִי קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר, הוֹלֵךְ וְחָזֵק מְאֹד (Shemot 19:19)– the sound of the shofar went and became stronger’, we also want to take advantage of our ability and become stronger as individuals and as a nation.

G'mar Chatima Tova!





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Ki Tavo: Giving Appreciation

written by Natalie Newman - 6th grade

September 23, 2016
20 Elul 5776

What is the best way to give appreciation?

In this week's parsha we see how the Jewish people were required to bring the first fruits to the Temple בית המקדש to demonstrate their gratitude towards Hashem 'ה.

וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֞ מֵֽרֵאשִׁ֣ית | כָּל־פְּרִ֣י הָֽאֲדָמָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר תָּבִ֧יא מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֛ אֲשֶׁ֨ר ה' אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָ֖ךְ וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ בַטֶּ֑נֶא וְהָֽלַכְתָּ֙ אֶל־הַמָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָֽׁם:

You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which Hashem, your God, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which Hashem, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there.

In ancient times when the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) was still standing, the B’nai Yisrael (sons of Israel) were commanded to show their appreciation to Hashem by doing a number of things.

  1. They needed to bring the Bikurim (first fruits) to the Beit Hamikdash, which often meant weeks of travel to Jerusalem.  

  2. When the Bikurim were brought there, the owner needed to say a special Tefillah (prayer) of thanks, reflecting on how Hashem took the Jewish nation out of Egypt.

The Tefillah starts in the singular, changes to the plural, and then back to the singular, in order to indicate the individual's personal connection to the history of the nation. This memory of the exodus is one we share as a nation. One must not simply offer their thanks but must live with gratitude, as well.

In our everyday lives, we have many reasons to offer thanks. Sometimes it is on those special occasions when we recognize that in order to truly appreciate the richness in our lives, we must reflect on how we got to that point.

When I found out I was going to New York to visit family, I was the most happy I have ever been. I was going to meet my new baby cousin! I kept thanking my parents for the trip. Clearly this was a reason to be thankful but when I got to New York it meant so much. Saying “thank you” to my parents meant so much more to me, because then I better understood what it took to get me there.

In order to truly have appreciation, one needs to enter.  
Reflect on the good and be “in the moment”!

Shabbat Shalom.




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Ki Teitzei - Gratitude

Written by: Jonah Gordon, AJA 7th grader who becomes a Bar Mitzvah on 9/17/16

September 16, 2016

13 Elul 5776

Gratitude is a central theme in my bar mitzvah parsha, פרשת כי־תצא. The many mitzvot in my parsha include שלוח הקן, sending the mother bird away from her nest.

The mother bird sits on her eggs or with the young birds. If a Jew wants to take the birds or the eggs, the person must first chase the mother bird away if she is there. If she returns the person must chase her away again. The person may not take the eggs or the young birds from the nest while she is there. Interestingly, this mitzvah only applies to kosher, wild birds. It does not apply to ducks or hens.

The torah doesn’t tell us the reason for this mitzvah, but two possible explanations include, showing mercy to the mother bird, or avoiding unnecessary emotional pain to the motherbird.

Like all other mitzvot we don’t really need a reason to keep it aside from the fact that Hashem gave us the mitzvah. But, for שלוח הקן, the reward is specifically mentioned in the Torah. The Torah states that you will live a good, long life if you shoo away the motherbird. The question that may grab your attention is, what other mitzvah in the Torah offers one a long life? The answer is the fifth commandment, which is honoring your parents.

So I thought to myself, which mitzvah is harder. Honoring your parents or sending away the motherbird? I have never had to send away a motherbird, so that mitzvah is not very hard to keep. On the other hand, honoring your parents is a mitzvah that is done daily.

How could the Torah offer the same reward for an easy and a hard mitzvah? It doesn’t seem logical. Well, who am I to say that some mitzvot are more valuable than others. This shows us that we should not do a mitzvah for the reward. We should do it because Hashem told us to.

Which people in the world should we have the greatest sense of gratitude towards? The people without whom we wouldn’t exist, and who care for our every need from the time we are born into adulthood. These people are our parents. Therefore, it makes sense why we honor and respect our parents. The general idea of being thankful is central to being a Jew and a good human being. On a daily basis in our prayers, we thank Hashem for everything.




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Ki Teitzei: Respect and Sensitivity

Written by: Raina Grosswald, AJA 8th grader who becomes a Bat Mitzvah on 9/17/16


September 16, 2016
13 Elul 5776

In this week's parsha, Ki Tavo, Moshe begins to instruct B’nei Yisrael what to do as they settle in the land Hashem has given them. After their crops grow, they are to bring the first ripened fruits, called bikkurim, to the Temple. This makes perfect sense as I am the first fruit of my parents, and they declared their gratitude to Hashem like B’nei Yisrael had to. But wait! That happens to be next week’s parsha which I learned perfectly, and then figured out it was the wrong one! So let me start again. NEXT week's parsha is Ki TAVO, THIS week's parsha is Ki TEITZEI.

This portion includes 74 of the Torah’s 613 commandments. One of the commandments that stood out to me, talks about a misbehaving child, who doesn’t listen to his parents, even after his parents tell him to listen. Therefore, they take him to the elders where he is stoned for not listening. Clearly in this society we don’t stone people. An example of a more appropriate punishment would be if I misused my phone, I would get it taken away for a certain amount of time. When I received this punishment, my siblings would learn from my mistake, and try not to make the same one.

Of the 613 commandments, only 2 of them specify an exact reward for following them. These two mitzvot are honoring your mother and father, which is not in this week’s parasha; and sending away the mother bird, which is in this week’s parsha. Sending away the mother bird refers to when a hunter wants to take the young, he must first shoo away the mother. In this law, Hashem is trying to remind us that it is animal instinct to love and care for one’s young. He is also trying to tell us to be kind and not make the mother suffer by watching her young be taken. Even though most of us don’t observe this law today, we still have to be sensitive to all of Hashem’s creations, and show all creatures the respect they deserve.

I’ve learned how to treat people the way they want to be treated during my summers at Camp Barney. Through experiences at Camp Barney, I’ve learned to listen to people and work with them, as well as how to be a good roommate. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have had many summers there, and friendships that will last a lifetime.

The privilege of Jewish summer camp is one that I would like to share with as many people as possible. Therefore, for my bat mitzvah project, I have chosen to raise money for One Happy Camper, a charity whose mission is to build a strong Jewish future through transformative Jewish summers. I will also be contributing a portion of my Bat Mitzvah money to One Happy Camper.





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