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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Parashat Veyeitzei: United We Stand

written by: Kim (Slovin) Linsider (YA '93)

Parashat Veyeitzei begins with the powerful account of Jacob’s journey from Beer-Sheva to Haran and from individuality to nationhood.

There is a beautiful Midrash that coincides with the opening verses of this Parasha which sets the foundation for one of the fundamental building blocks in the creation of a strong and thriving nation. To set the scene, Jacob has just left Beer-Sheva to travel to the city of Haran to stay with Lavan and his family. On the first night of his journey, Jacob prepares to stop and rest for the evening. In chapter 28, verse 11, it is written,
“…he (Jacob) took from the stones of the place which he arranged around his head, and lay down in the place”. Shortly after, in verse 18, we read that “Jacob arose early in the morning and took the stone that he placed around his head and set it up as a pillar”.

On a syntactic level, this begs the question. What happened in the interim? How did the “stones” (plural) in the evening become one “stone” by morning?

The Midrash explains that prior to retiring for the evening, Jacob placed twelve stones under his head as a support. These stones can be interpreted to symbolize the twelve tribes that will be descended from Jacob. The Midrash continues and explains that during the night, the twelve stones argued, each vying for the privilege of being THE stone on which Jacob would rest his head. By morning, these twelve stones had merged to form one stone – each unique, yet all united as one structure.

How can we expand on this concept? Our world, our nation, our community, our school. We are comprised of a beautiful and diverse group of people. We each have a unique perspective, a unique skill set, and yes, we even have certain biases. By virtue of being born into this world, we were all given the gift of being able to affect those around us. I truly believe that it is our duty to recognize, capitalize and act on our individual strengths, while at the same time appreciate that there are other ways of viewing the world. Similar to the symbolism suggested in this Parasha where many stones joined to form one, we must also find a way to work together so we too can coalesce into one unit that supports the very foundations that help build our strong school, our strong communities, our strong nation and our strong world.

Not only does it take a village, but it takes a smart village with members who can not only recognize and build on their own strengths but who can appreciate the unique and different contributions of those who surround them. Twelve stones joining together to become one cornerstone should serve as our model for what it takes to build a viable nation.

Shabbat Shalom!


Kim (Slovin) Linsider graduated from the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta (AJA Lower School) in 1988 and Yeshiva High School of Atlanta (AJA Upper School) in 1993. She and her husband Jed live in Atlanta and have 3 children  currently attending  AJA – Nate (Class of ’18), Eitan (Class of ’20) and Eliana (Class of ’25). Kim is a Speech Language Pathologist who specializes in Corporate Speech and Accent Training. 


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Parshat Toldot - Dog Day Afternoon

Written by Benyamin Cohen - (YA '93)

It was fourteen years ago this week that I adopted my first puppy. I had grown up deathly afraid of dogs (I’m not sure why), but as I got older I knew it was an irrational fear. So I slowly started hanging around dogs more and even dog-sat for a friend. I was finally ready to make the leap.

I went to the Atlanta Humane Society and picked out a four-month-old Chow-Retriever mix with a sweet disposition. I took him home and didn’t quite know what to do with him. For the first hour, we just sat there staring at each other, both new to this situation.

As puppies go, he was remarkably well-adjusted. He had no interest in chewing on the furniture and was, for the most part, already house trained. He instantly took to just hanging out on the couch with me and watching TV.

However, he was a little skittish in those early days. When he got scared – like when he heard loud thunder – he would go running into his crate. It was a safe zone for him and he knew nothing bad would happen to him in there. Eventually, he started voluntarily spending time in his crate just to chill out.

Believe it or not, the puppy’s behavior reminded me of something from this week’s Torah portion.

Among other things, this week's Torah portion of Toldot discusses the way in which Jacob and Esau grew up. There was the bookish Jacob (for some reason, I always pictured him playing chess) and there was the athletic Esau, out for a hunt.

The Torah states, in Genesis 25:27, that Jacob was a man of his tent, opting to stay in his comfort zone and not go out into the world. For a moment there, it reminded me of my dog’s behavior in those early days. Complacent to just remain in his crate, even when there were other things he could be doing. As we all know, Jacob eventually left his tent, his comfort zone, and went on to become the father of the Jewish people.

In our daily lives, the path of least resistance will always lead us to stay in our own comfort zones. Sure, that can mean being somewhat of a homebody (a group of which I am a charter member). But it can also be taken more metaphorically: choosing to lead an easy existence instead of opting to enter the harsh realities of the real world. Going down the simple paths, the ones that don't challenge us much, is not necessarily the most productive way to go through life.

Like Jacob in this week’s Torah portion, we have to leave the nest, spread our wings, and grow. We don't want to be the same people today as we will be 25 years from now. Jewish philosophy teaches us not be religiously stagnant, comparing our spiritual journey to climbing a ladder. The sages teach us that if we are not moving forward, then we are not moving at all.

After a short while, my puppy began venturing more and more out of his little area, slowly realizing that there is a whole world out there waiting for him. If only we could all learn that so quickly.


Benyamin Cohen graduated the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta (AJA Lower School) in 1988 and Yeshiva High School of Atlanta (AJA Upper School) in 1993. While in high school, he was the editor of the student newspaper. That experience led him to create Torah from Dixie (a newsletter and book about the weekly Bible portion), Jewsweek (one of the first online Jewish magazines) and to write “My Jesus Year,” a book about his experience visiting 52 churches. He is now a journalist and resides in Morgantown, West Virginia with his wife Elizabeth and two dogs.


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Parashat Toldot

Parashat Toldot

This was written by Shilo Creizman in the first grade with assistance from Morah Yifat Asulin.

Rivka knew that Yaakov, not Eisav, should receive the blessings from Yitzchak. To help make this happen, Rivka told Yaakov to pretend that he was Eisav by wearing hairy goat skins when he went to his father. Since Yitzchak was blind, he would think that Yaakov was Eisav based on how he felt. However, the way Eisav and Yaakov felt was not the only noticeable difference between them! They also spoke very differently. Yaakov said Hashem’s name often and spoke nicely and gently all the time, while Eisav never spoke in this manner.


Question: These blessings were extremely important! Why didn’t Rivka tell Yaakov to speak rudely like Eisav in addition to dressing up like him - this way Yitzchak would not get suspicious whether he was really Eisav or not?! In fact, when Yaakov went to Yitzchak, it was the way that Yaakov spoke which made Yitzchak unsure of whom he was talking to.

"הקול קול יעקב והידיים ידי עשו"

(the voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Eisav)


Answer: Even if you dress like Eisav, you can NEVER speak disrespectfully like Eisav, even one time. One must act with Derech Eretz (the way of the land) even if it would mean losing these very important blessings! Think about it… what lesson(s) can you learn from this?


Shilo’s Lesson Learned: "I learned that you should always use nice, beautiful and kind words, and speak with Kavod to every person".   


Shabbat Shalom,

Shilo Creizman, First Grade





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Parsha - Chayei Sarah

Written by Danny Frankel, AJA Board President (YA '79)


In this week’s parsha, Chayei  Sarah, we find the following verse: “Avraham was old, well advanced in years and G-d had blessed Avraham with “Bakol” (everything)."

Upon an initial reading, this verse does not appear especially noteworthy as we know that Avraham was a wealthy, successful man with an abundance of material possessions. However, we know that Avraham, in many ways, had a difficult life. We are all very familiar with the tests that Avraham endured; at the end of last week’s parsha, we read about the binding of Isaac and at the beginning of this week’s parsha, Sarah dies and Avraham negotiates a deal so he can bury his wife.

So what does it mean that Avraham was blessed with everything?  Our commentators are also fascinated by this question and offer various explanations. 

Some argue that the wording coincides with Avraham setting the wheels in motion to arrange for his son to be married. Through this marriage, he would have grandchildren and his legacy would be assured. Others posit that Avraham literally had a daughter whose name was “Bakol.” Another opinion is that after Sarah’s death, Yishmael comes to offer comfort and family harmony is restored.

Rabbi Sacks offers a profound interpretation of this verse. Throughout the prior torah readings, G-d has promised Avraham a land and a multitude of offspring; and yet we see as the parsha begins that Avraham has no land and he has no progeny. However, in the course of this week’s parsha, Avraham purchases a small plot of land and he has set the path for Isaac to get married. While it may not have been equal to what he had envisioned when G-d made those grandiose promises, he could finally begin to see that his destiny would be fulfilled.

Rabbi Sacks then adds: Lao-Tzu, the Chinese sage, said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. To that Judaism adds, “It is not for you to complete the work but neither are you free to desist from it” (Avot 2:16).

The story of Avraham is one of faith. His life was characterized by an unwavering belief and faith in G-d. This attribute enabled him to overcome life’s challenges and difficulties while remaining gracious and righteous.  When you have this type of faith, you are confident that G-d’s hands are in all aspects of your life – the good as well as the difficult. Avraham was “blessed in everything” because he had faith and was able to see G-d in everything that he experienced.

The message of faith, belief and optimism is incredibly fitting to share on this day when we mark the yahrtzeit of my father, Avraham Ephraim, who inspired a family and community living and personifying these qualities.





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Parshat Vayeira: Stepping Outside of our Tents

written by Alumni, Rebecca Stein (AJA ‘10)

Parshat Vayeira begins with God appearing to Abraham. To set some context, Abraham is recovering from his recent circumcision, which had occurred three days earlier according to Rabbi Chama ben Chanina. In an abrupt narrative turn, Abraham sees three men passing by his tent. He greets the men and welcomes them into his tent, where he and his wife Sarah prepare them a meal, letting them rest and wash their feet. We later learn that the guests are in fact angels disguised as men, as they predict that Sarah will give birth despite her old age, and they save Lot and his daughters from the destruction of Sodom.

I’ve learned about this episode a number of times throughout my Jewish day school years, and my teachers have always attached the story to its obvious messages: the values of hospitality, kindness to strangers...all essential lessons for kids to learn.

Rereading the story recently, I was struck by Abraham’s actions in a way that I hadn’t been before. In particular, it became clear to me that rather than hosting the passersby in a reactive manner, Abraham actively seeks them out, revealing his deep desire to offer a place of refuge for anyone in need.

This all becomes clear with a close read of the story.

The first verse of Vayeira reads: “Now the Lord appeared to him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot” (Bereshit 18:1). According to Rashi, Abraham is purposely seated at the entrance of his tent “to see whether there were any passersby whom he would bring into his house.” In choosing this positioning, Abraham expresses his intention to seek strangers to take in.

The story continues as Abraham greets the men: “And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground” (18:2). Despite his condition (being on day three of his circumcision recovery), when Abraham sees the strangers, he runs toward them and prostrates himself. He expresses such an eagerness to greet these strangers that the reader might forget that Abraham is in a painful situation of his own.

Casting his pain aside, Abraham brings the strangers in with the utmost grace. Rashi comments on verse 18:2, noting that it mentions twice that Abraham saw. To explain this redundancy, Rashi says, “The first is to be understood according to its apparent meaning [i.e., and he saw], and the second means ‘understanding.’ He observed that they were standing in one place, and he understood that they did not wish to burden him. And although they knew that he would come out toward them, they stood in their place out of respect for him, to show him that they did not wish to trouble him, and he went out first and ran toward them.” Thus, Abraham runs toward the strangers, anticipating their desire to not be a burden and initiating the encounter by treating the strangers with dignity.

In just these first few verses of this week’s parsha, we discover an element of Abraham’s character that goes far beyond his hospitality and kindness. At a time when Abraham could have understandably been sitting in his tent recovering from what would have been a major procedure for someone his age, he places himself at the entrance of his tent, committed to taking in anyone seeking relief from the heat. Despite his own condition, he makes it his responsibility to provide for others what they are unable to provide for themselves, and to do so with profound respect and sensitivity.

On the heels of the election, it’s hard to ignore the relevance of this story to the current state of the world. Regardless of one’s political views, this is undoubtedly a time of much uncertainty for many groups, from those facing danger in other countries and seeking refuge here, to the many people living in America who are fearful for their own safety and well being. And for those who are not facing imminent threats, it might be easy to become complacent and to retreat into your comfortable and unthreatened worlds, especially as the election fades further into the past.  

But rather than hiding out in our tents and withdrawing into our own troubles as they arise, now is a time for us to learn from Abraham. Regardless of our personal situations, we must recognize that there are others facing great fear and danger and that we may be in the position to identify their needs and to protect them. We must step outside of our tents, as difficult as it may be for us, and make it our responsibility to reflect on the urgent needs of others and to offer a hand to those who are threatened by these turbulent times. And as Abraham did, we should do our best to anticipate the sensitivity and discomfort that might come along with being helped, with the ultimate goal of serving our fellow men and women as thoughtfully and respectfully as possible.



Rebecca Stein is a graduate of AJA Lower School (2006) and Upper School (2010). She holds a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) from the University of Pennsylvania and is now working at a business and technology think tank in New York City. 


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Parashat Vayera:  The Mitzvah of Hospitality

written by Odeya Lerer - 2nd grade (class of 2027)

This week's Parasha is Parashat Vayera.  The Parasha starts with story of Avraham sitting in the entrance of his tent waiting for guests.

Hashem sees how much Avraham wants to do a good deed, an important מצווה (mitzvah). Hashem then sends three angels to be the guests in Avraham’s tent. The three angels weren’t in white as we usually picture angels, but were dressed up as real people that had been walking for a long time.

Avraham calls them to come over to rest by the tent and have something to drink and to eat. Avraham welcomes them with water to wash from the way and some delicious food. Avraham asks Sarah, his wife to bake cake and bread and he himself prepares meat for the three men who seem to be regular guests. The Torah doesn’t tell us about feelings. The Torah doesn’t share with us how Avraham felt when he was doing this מצווה of הכנסת אורחים (mitzvah of hospitality). We learn about how Avraham was excited and happy with being able to do this מצווה by seeing the many actions he does - he greets them, gives water, sends the servant, shares the excitement with his wife and chooses the best part of the meat for them.  

While talking about the Parasha, I thought of an important question.

Avraham was 99 years old and just had his own ברית מילה (circumcision). How could it be that Avraham had the strength to welcome guests?

Rashi tells us that each מלאך (angel) had a specific mission. The first angel's mission was to heal and ease the pain from Avraham, so that Avraham will be able to do the mitzvah of הכנסת אורחים (hospitality).

This special story of Avraham and the מצווה of הכנסת אורחים teaches us two things, first, how to welcome guests and how to treat our guests. The second thing is the importance of this מצווה that Hashem brings upon us different opportunities to fulfil this special מצווה. Teaching us that each of our guests should be treated as the most important one.  



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The Original "Pledge"

November 11, 2016
10 Cheshvan 5777

In the fall of 1992, I arrived in New York City as a freshman at NYU, excited for all that the school had to offer.  My first experience in secular education (other than a summer stint in public school to learn how to type) was full of amazing experiences both academic and social.  Of the latter, my introduction into the Greek system was one of the most impactful.  While I didn’t join a fraternity during my first semester due to soccer (& academic) responsibilities, in the spring semester a few of my friends and I decided to take the plunge and pledge of the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi).  Over the next few months, my mind and body were tested by the upper classmen “brothers” through many tests which were intended to test my faith and assure them that I was “brother” material. 

While the spring of 1993 was my “pledging”, Parshat Lech Lecha was Avraham (Abraham) Avinu’s “pledging”.  Hashem (G-d) puts Avraham through a series of ten tests which according to the Rambam (Avos 5:3), include:

1.       Hashem’s instruction to leave his homeland to be a stranger in the land of Canaan.

2.       A famine Avraham encounters Immediately upon his arrival in Canaan

3.       The capture of Sarah (Avraham’s wife) by the Mitzrim (Egyptians).

4.       Avraham’s battle of the four and five kings.

5.       Sarah’s barrenness.

6.       Avraham’s bris (self-circumcision) at an advanced age.

7.       Sarah’s capture by the king of Gerar

8.       Hashem’s instruction to Avraham to send Hagar away after having a child with her.

9.       The estrangement of Avraham’s son, Ishmael

10.   Hashem’s instruction to Avraham to sacrifice his son Yitzchak on an altar (the akaydah).

Not all of these tests are found in the Torah (bible) and in fact different commentators consider different tests to be counted amongst the ten (such as Avraham being thrown into the fiery furnace).  Regardless of which are the specific ten tests, one test is clearly mentioned in the Torah and that is the test of the akaydah, where Avraham is instructed by Hashem to take his beloved son, Yitzchak, to a remote mountain top and sacrifice him. 

Like many of the tests designed by my soon-to-be fraternity brothers in 1993, the test of the akaydah seemed to be without any true purpose other than to test Avraham’s will and faith, yet the test of the akaydah was different than the first nine tests.  While in the previous tests, Avraham was challenged through physical and emotional trials and tribulations, none of these tests were in direct conflict with what he had been taught by Hashem and that he had heretofore taught onto others.  On the contrary, the akaydah was a diametrically opposed message compared to all that Hashem had previously taught Avraham.  Recall that Hashem had promised Avraham a son (named Yitchak) who would carry on his lineage (hard to do if sacrificed).  Yet still despite all of that, Avraham was prepared to carry through with Hashem’s instructions.

The Ramban notes that the goal of Hashem’s “hazing” was to allow Avraham to realize his own potential. In fact all ‘tests’ found throughout the Torah, we are taught, are actually for the benefit of the ‘pledge.’ Other commentaries suggest that the tests publicize one’s piety and closeness to Hashem.  Ramban suggests the concluding words of the akaydah not as “now I know that you fear Hashem” (Bereshit 22:12), but rather as “now I have made it known that you fear Hashem.” Ramban homiletically changes the word yadati (I know) to hoda’ati (announced).

It is no coincidence as well that the akaydah was the tenth test as the #10, the Maharal points out, represents both kedusha (holiness) and completion. As to kedusha, there are 10 commandments, Yom Kippur is on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei, and the list goes on.  As to completion (wholeness rather than holiness), 10 is the first number which sees all the unit digits (0, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.) used, 10 men comprise a minyan, and the world was created with 10 sayings (Avos 5:1) Given all of this, the tenth in a series of ten is special, unique and final.

Speaking of final, finally, it is not a coincidence that the Hebrew words for miracle “nes” is similar to the Hebrew word for test “nisayon”.  A miracle occurs when Hashem breaks out of His modus operendi of natural law and demonstrates His omnipotence. A test is when Hashem asks us to do the same.

May this, and all Shabbatot be one of peace and tranquility, quality time away from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives for us to focus on our families, our friends and that which Hashem has provided us.  Shabbat Shalom.

Josh Hartman graduated the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta (AJA Lower School) in 1986 and Yeshiva High School of Atlanta (AJA Upper School) in 1991.  He holds a BA in History and a BS in Chemistry from New York University and a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University.  Josh is the Executive Director at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, an affiliate of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.  He lives with his wife, Robyn, and their three children Bailey (15), Addison (15) and Carly (11) in Englewood, NJ.



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Parashat - Lech Lecha

written by Evyatar Asulin, AJA 7th Grader, who will become a Bar Mitzvah on November 12

November 12, 2016

11 Cheshvan 5777


In this week’s Parsha, Avraham is leaving his homeland and beginning a journey to an unknown land. This is one of the 10 tests Avraham was put through by Hashem. When you stop to think about it, it’s not really clear why this is considered one of the tests. After all, if Hashem personally asked you to move to Israel, would you not do it in a heartbeat? Well, I think I can answer this question from my personal experience.


In kind of the same way, just a little over a year ago, I left my home land and began my journey to another country. The only difference between me and Avraham, is that Avraham did not have to leave his favorite soccer team behind…


But seriously, how is sending Avraham to a new and exciting country, with the help of the Hashem be considered a challenge? Wouldn’t you like to be the chosen one and to follow Hashem to the promised land?


Let’s imagine for a brief moment, that you got an email from Hashem, inviting you to be one of the very first human beings to settle on Mars. It might go something like this:


“Dear Evyatar,

I have been watching you very closely and I’m excited to let you know that you have got what it takes! In the new place I am taking, you there will be no Kosher food (‘cause you’ll be the first cook!), no friends, no family, no soccer team (you do get to be the best individual soccer player in the country though…). Oh, and no internet (now you know your mom is gonna love it!)”


As exciting as it may sound  (it means no school, right?) I might rather stick with my friends and favorite soccer team.


I was actually told by my parents that I had to go with them to the US. Since I have such nice parents (as many of you know…) they asked me what I thought and said that I was not forced to go. I can tell you that it was the first time in my life that I really felt I was leaving something behind, a part of me that was not quite “moveable”. Now Avraham’s case is different and much more complicated. Imagine yourself going to a place with no Kosher food, not even a Starbucks! A place where you have to begin your life from scratch. This is where Avraham was going! But there is more, and Avraham’s job was not really clear until later on in the Parsha. Avraham is first introduced as a person that Hashem spoke with, with no particular reason for choosing him and that is strange. With Noach, for instance, the Torah states that he was exclusively righteous and that his job was to build the Ark, but what was Avraham’s job? Well, if we read through the Parsha, we can see that when Avraham actually fulfills Hashem’s command, he is taking along with him את הנפש אשר עשו בחרן. Onkelus translates that to “The souls that they have connected to Torah in Charan”.  Wasn’t the Torah given by Moshe Rabenu much later? What Torah was Avraham connecting people to? There are many answers out there for this question, but one resonated with me the most.  Avraham was a true Shaliach, messenger from Hashem, wherever he went. His inner essence was to take the good from everything and simply share it. That was his unique quality and that is what Hashem expected from him.


Avraham was able to identify the good in each person and situation and pass it on. But more so, not just telling somebody about it, but connecting the person to that awesomeness he had just learned about.


In this way Avraham found out about the awesomeness of Hashem, and connected people to it. That is exactly what Torah is about, and what Israel is about. I have been here for over a year now. I feel that I have been able to connect people around to the amazing things I had back home in Israel. I hope to do the same when I get back home and share some of the great stuff I learned here in Atlanta.


Shabbat Shalom!


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Parsha Noach - Margalit Lytton

written by: Margalit Lytton - AJA 7th grader 


There is a famous Rashi in this week’s parsha. The Torah says that Noach was an איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו  Noach was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generation.

What does this mean? What does it mean to say he was righteous in his generation? Rashi gives two explanations of what it means to be righteous specifically in his generation. He says it can be interpreted as שבח or גנאי, as praise of Noach or as criticism of him. According to Rashi it could be criticism because he was only considered a tzadik compared to the bad people of his generation. But compared to Avraham, Noach would not be considered such a great person. If you interpret in his generation as criticism, then the Torah is trying to tell us that he was only good compared to the people in his generation.

Rashi’s other interpretation is that the Torah is praising Noach by saying in his generation. According to this interpretation, if Noach was good in a bad generation then he would be even better if people around him were good.

I’d like to suggest that Noach was considered righteous in his generation because he resisted the peer pressure from the people around him. What was so good about him was that he did not do what everybody else did, but instead did what’s right. That is a really hard thing to do, to have all this negative peer pressure and still be good.

An example of Noach resisting peer pressure is when he is building the ark. Rashi says that God made it take a long time to build the ark, 120 years, in order to make the people around Noach ask him about what he was doing. He would then explain that Hashem is making a flood to kill them because they are so bad. Then the people would have a chance to do teshuvah – to repent. But maybe it wasn’t just for the sake of the other people, to make them do teshuva, but also for Noach himself, as a test to see if Noach could withstand the peer pressure.

Can you imagine the situation – all his neighbors coming to laugh at the ridiculous sight of Noach building an ark for some supposed future storm that nobody else believed in? And for so many years? It must have been very hard to withstand the pressure not to believe what God had told him. But he did it. He just kept building despite their skepticism.

Another place in this week’s parsha that we see the theme of peer pressure is in an entirely different story, the story of Migdal Bavel, The Tower of Babel. When the people were building Migdal Bavel the Torah describes them as safah echad udevarim achadim, one language and the same words.

Later it says that Hashem didn’t like Migdal Bavel. It doesn’t say exactly why other than the fact that they were all one and the same. I think that what God didn’t like was that everyone was being pressured to be the same and to do the same thing when actually each person is a separate person with different talents and ideas. So Hashem separated the people because they were all being pressured to do the same thing and He didn’t like that. He created us each special and He wants us not to get rid of this specialness by pretending we are all the same.

Hashem likes people who can stand up to peer pressure and not do what everyone else is doing. This is one reason Hashem saved Noach. Because Noach could withstand peer pressure and not do the same thing as everyone else. So, to return to Noach, how exactly did Noach withstand the pressure from his peers? What did he do that he could withstand peer pressure?

When the Torah is describing Noach it says את האלהים התהלך נח Noach walked with God. Maybe the reason Noach could withstand peer pressure was because he walked with God. He was very strong in himself and in his own idea of right and wrong because God was with him all the time. He knew what to do and what was right. God helped him know and so he did not listen to the people around him.

Peer pressure is a big issue for teenagers. Becoming a Bat mitzvah means taking responsibility for one’s relationship with God, and observing the halacha which literally means the way. Observing the halacha helps you withstand peer pressure because you walk in the way of God. Becoming a bat mitzvah will help me withstand peer pressure and strive to be a righteous person like Noach was.




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Parsha Noach - Elena Weissman (AJA '09)

Parshat Noach is a story of destruction, and one of redemption. We first read that Hashem brings about the flood to destroy the entire world because “the imagination of man’s heart is evil” (Breishit  6:5). Later on, after the flood, Hashem vows never to destroy the earth again for the exact same reason: “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Breishit 8:21).

Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar asks: How can the same quality generate such polar reactions as wrath and compassion? What are the different lenses through which these qualities can be observed with such drastically different responses? 

In 6:5, the pasuk says that God “sees” the evil of mankind, and goes on to say that the evil goes on “Kol Hayom,” “throughout the day.” The reference to daytime is a common one in Judaism: it denotes a time in which the goodness and trueness of the world are clearly visible, when the metaphorical sun is shining. Evil ideations in this context are seen as intentional; mankind was seen as choosing negativity over clear goodness. 

The context of the 8:21 reference is quite different. God does not “see” the evil, but instead draws this conclusion after He “smells the sweet savour” of a sacrifice.” Judaism assigns special significance to the sense of smell, often as a bridge between the earthly and the divine – in Breishit, God created Adam by “breathing into his nostrils the soul of life;” we nourish our souls at Havdalah by smelling a fragrant spice; and Temple sacrifices are commonly described as generating a “reich nichoach” (a pleasant scent). 

After the flood, when the divine order of the world was in flux, the smell is what heralded the new promised life and soul for mankind. Whereas the antediluvian “seeing” of evil provides a face-value cause for wrath, the more spiritual sensing of the true nature of perceived evil is ultimately what saved mankind. The verse here goes on to say that mankind’s heart is evil “from his youth,” not just during the day as it says in the earlier verse. This reference to the innate nature of humanity’s evil is not Judaism’s version of original sin, but rather an opportunity to think about the lenses we use to make judgements about others. Whereas in 6:5 mankind’s evil ideations were defiant in the face of the whole, good truth, in 8:21 Hashem swaps the lens for a more forgiving context: it’s just how they’ve been acclimated. 

The same qualities which spark judgment of others and of ourselves can also lead us to compassion if we look at them through a different lens. Is this person in front of us choosing something we perceive as evil, or are they constrained by unjust institutions, mental illness, or some form of oppression? We’re told here to see the truth in the latter. 

The flood’s sidekick plotline in Parshat Noach is the Tower of Babel. The Babel story starts out with this context: “And the whole earth was of one language and one speech.” Rather than a show of unity, this is the Torah’s pretext for Hashem’s destruction of the people of Babel. R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (the Netziv) says that the builders envisioned the Tower of Babel as the center of a society which spanned the entire planet, which Hashem knew would decidedly lead to totalitarianism, and whose uniformity would spawn anonymity. In a religion in which words carry the weight of the world and in which speech is generative, a single language is a metaphor for a singular way of thinking and perceiving.

The lesson of God’s war with Babel is that an attack on diversity is an attack on the Jewish tenet that all people -- in their diverse, broken, and whole forms -- are created in God’s image. The story’s juxtaposition (Hi Rabbi Travis!) with humanity’s post-flood redemption demonstrates our imperative to not only replace judgment with mercy, but to acknowledge and value the vastly different narratives driving others’ behavior. While it’s true that we are communal, relational beings, we are also individuals who think and act for ourselves. The challenge is in creating a community that celebrates and fosters both the communal and the individual, rather than pegging them against each other. 

By using lenses of forgiveness and compassion with one another, we can see others in their best light, and uphold the promise that the earth never be destroyed again. I’m thankful to AJA for equipping and empowering me to see the wholeness of those around me, and to join and build communities with the same goal.

Elena Weissmann is a graduate of AJA Lower School (2005) and Upper School (2009). She holds a BA/MPP from the University of Virginia and currently works as a legal advocate in New York City



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Bereishit: Lessons Learned

Written by Josh Asherian, 7th Grader

My Bar Mitzvah parsha is Bereishit. This parsha mainly talks about the creation of the world and mankind. There are two important life lessons that we learn from this parsha that I would like to share with you today.

The first lesson is to take responsibility for your actions. Hashem tells Adam and Chava that they can eat from the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden except for the tree of good and knowledge. The serpent convinces Chava to eat and Chava then convinces Adam to eat. When Hashem asks Adam “Did you eat from the tree that I told you not to eat from?” Adam blames Chava and says “The woman that You gave me made me eat.” When Hashem asks Chava “What have you done?” Chava says “The serpent made me do it.” In the beginning of creation, Adam blames Chava and Chava blames the serpent. They are unable to take responsibility for eating the forbidden fruit. From here we learn that we should not blame the environment or our parents or anything else but be accountable for our actions.

The second lesson is the idea of education. Adam and Chava are thrown out of the Garden of Eden and Hashem puts keruvim and a revolving flaming sword at the entrance to keep them out. Keruvim here are angels of destruction but later on we learn that there are also keruvim on the Aron Kodesh which is placed in the Holy Mishkan, Tabernacle. The keruvim on the Aron have the face of a young child and are representative of the Holy Shchinah, Divine Presence. So are keruvim angels of destruction or are they Godly angels with faces of children?

They are both. From here we learn that if a child is properly raised, inspired, and educated in the ways of Torah and mitzvot, then that child will be a keruv, an angelic figure. But if a child is not raised to do good and just runs wild, then that child will be a destructive angel. I’d like to take this opportunity here to thank my parents and my teachers for teaching and inspiring me to always do good and to follow in the ways of the Torah so that I can be a positive figure in society.

Shabbat Shalom.





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