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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Parshat Vayakhel: Lighting a Fire

written by: Rabbi Daniel Estreicher, AJA Upper School Judaics Teacher


In Parshat Vayakhel, the Torah states, "Do not light a fire in all your dwelling places". Simply speaking, the Torah is teaching us the prohibition of lighting a fire on the Shabbat.


Many rabbis derive a very important ethical lesson from these words. Often there may be stress in getting ready for Shabbat because of the numerous preparations that are needed, and this might lead to someone getting upset if everything is not going as planned.


Furthermore, on the Shabbat day, when the entire family is around the table eating their meal, unfortunately conversations might lead to one person getting upset with what was said or done. The Torah is therefore especially careful to encourage us to be careful not to get angry, which is represented by the word "fire". We need to make an exerted effort to make it a peaceful and meaningful day, where we grow in our service of Hashem.


Let us all take this lesson to heart and the benefits will be great.


Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi E

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Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Written by our Upper School Girls in the Chagiga cast:


In this week's parshah, Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei, we read about the building of the Mishkan. In previous parshiot, Hashem gave the instructions and guidelines to Bnei Yisrael for building it, but it isn’t until now that they are commanded to physically build it. However, the instructions and prerequisites are just as important as the building. In Vayakhel Pasuk Yud it states:


יוְכָל־חֲכַם־לֵ֖ב בָּכֶ֑ם יָבֹ֣אוּ וְיַֽעֲשׂ֔וּ אֵ֛ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֖ה ה׳


“Every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that Hashem commanded.” Essentially, the Mishkan required the energy, preparation, and work from everyone; without it the final building would be incomplete.


The same, on a smaller scale, applies for Chagiga, too. Just like Hashem gave the instructions for the building of the Mishkan, the Chagiga play could not have taken place without the tireless effort of Rina and Brooke. As Director, Rina wrote the script, choreographed the dances, and created the backbone of the entire play.  


As producer, Brooke took charge in making sure every other aspect was completed. The girls (and a few guys) contributed hours of dedication and effort into building the incredible sets, learning lines, perfecting songs and dances, managing sounds and lights, creating menus, preparing food and putting forth endless hard work. They spent late hours practicing, stressing, and pushing off homework to put together this amazing play for our enjoyment.


So in Chagiga, just like in our parsha, you saw the culmination of everyone's hard work.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Parsha Ki-Tisa


written by: Natalie Newman, 6th Grader who becomes a Bat Mitzvah on 3/18

I am very excited to have the opportunity to give a D'var Torah on my favorite parsha, Ki-Tisa.
The Parasha begins with the Mitzvah of Machatzit Hashekel:

זֶ֣ה | יִתְּנ֗וּ כָּל־הָֽעֹבֵר֙ עַל־הַפְּקֻדִ֔ים מַֽחֲצִ֥ית הַשֶּׁ֖קֶל ..הֶֽעָשִׁ֣יר לֹֽא־יַרְבֶּ֗ה וְהַדַּל֙ לֹ֣א יַמְעִ֔יט מִמַּֽחֲצִ֖ית הַשָּׁ֑קֶל  לָתֵת֙ אֶת־תְּרוּמַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶֽם וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֞ אֶת־כֶּ֣סֶף הַכִּפֻּרִ֗ים מֵאֵת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְנָֽתַתָּ֣ אֹת֔וֹ עַל־עֲבֹדַ֖ת אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וְהָיָה֩ לִבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֤ל לְזִכָּרוֹן֙ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶֽם:

"a half shekel shall be the offering of G-d...The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less. The half-shekel should be designated for the service of the Mishkan - Tent of Meeting; that it may be a memorial to the children of Israel before G-d, to make atonement for your souls."  “זה יתנו” (This they shall give)  - Rashi explains that G-d took a coin of fire from under His throne of glory and showed it to Moshe, saying: "Like this one they shall give."

What was so difficult for Moshe to understand about the half shekel? Did Hashem actually need to show it to him? And how does the “coin of fire” resolve this difficulty?

Moshe could not understand: How could a mere coin be "a ransom for his soul to G-d"? G-d answered him by showing him a "coin of fire." The Rebbe of Kotzk explains this to mean the following: when a person performs even a modest act of charity with the fire of passion and enthusiasm, he is indeed giving a piece of his soul.

It’s not just what we do; it’s how we do it.

The Chasidic master Reb Elimelech further explains that money is fire. Like fire, it can destroy, or illuminate, depending on how it is used. 

Why only a half coin and not a complete coin?

The verse states: “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less.” This teaches us that rich and poor are all equal in G-d’s eyes.

People differ in their smarts, character, talents, and in the quantity of their material resources. Yet all are equal in their bond with G-d. Our commitment to Him resides at the core of our souls. While everyone contributed to the making of the various components of the Mishkan in accordance with their individual capacity, all gave equally of the silver of which its foundation was made.This is the foundation of the relationship between us and Hashem, the "rich man" cannot give more, and the "poor" cannot give less.  

Another reason is To teach us that no person is a complete entity unto him or herself. Only by joining with another can a person become a "whole thing".

This connects with my Hebrew name Chaya which means life! Chasidic teachings indicate that LIFE happens when we make room for others.

Thank You, and Shabbat Shalom.



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Parsha Tetzaveh


Written by: Rebecca Felgin (6th grade) who becomes a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, 3/11/17


This week's Parasha is Tetzaveh. The word “Tetzaveh” means command. The beginning of the Parasha begins with the following commandment that Hashem gave to Moshe:


וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה | אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַֽעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד:


Hashem tells Moshe,“Command the children of Israel that they should bring to you PURE OLIVE OIL, to light the menorah.


Hashem is very specific that it needs to be only “pure olive oil”, only the cleanest purest part of the oil can be used.


What can we learn from the fact that Hashem specifically commands only PURE OLIVE OIL to be used?


1)    In order to get the purest olive oil, the olives go through a crushing process. The first few drops of oil are the most pure. Only this oil is used for the Menorah.


The lighting of the menorah symbolizes lighting up the souls of the people around us. Sometimes we may feel like we are “crushed” - tested with hardships and challenges. Just like the olives have to go through a crushing process in order to get oil that is pure and good, when we as people are “crushed”, and go through a challenge or tough time, if we make a choice to have a good attitude and not wallow in self-pity, we not only turn it into a good situation, we also affect the people around us through our positive attitude.


2) Olive oil does not mix with any other liquid. It separates and rises to the top. The Torah symbolizes the light in a world of darkness. It guides us on how to live a spiritual and meaningful life. The pure olive oil that we use for the Menorah teaches us a very important message: We, as Jews, are unique and we should follow the Torah and Jewish religion and should not assimilate with other religions. Like the oil, we should float to the top.


3) Another lesson from the crushing process is that just like the crushing of the olive brings out the best in it, so to the more we push ourselves to follow the Torah and do what Hashem wants, the more we will succeed.


4) In the Mishkan, the tabernacle, we used the finest olive oil to light the menorah, and we used the cheaper oil to prepare meals. Usually for lighting, regular oils are used and for baking & cooking, we use more expensive and pure oils.


Why in the Mishkan was it the opposite?


The menorah symbolizes spirituality. It represents Torah and Mitzvot, like it says: כי נר מצוה ותורה אור Neir Mitzvah VeTorah Or - A candle is a mitzvah and Torah is light. The meal offerings represents the more material and physical needs of a person. The lesson is that we should use more and the best of what we have for spiritual items more than we do on material things.


A personal lesson I can learn from all this is: When I play piano it’s very challenging but I still overcome it by practicing many times and letting my parents watch me play. But when my parents push me and make me practice I get better and better than I would be if I didn’t  practice.


I see that I can make Judaism a part of my life by: Praying to Hashem, celebrating Shabbat and learning the weekly Parasha. By pushing myself as much as I can I can bring out the best just like the oil.  



Shabbat Shalom!


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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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