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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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