Do the Clothes Really Make the Man?

 

Written by Upper School Instructional Team Leader of Judaic Studies Rabbi Allan Houben

 

In his famous “to thine own self be true” speech of fatherly advice, William Shakespeare has Polonius tell his son Laertes that  “the apparel oft proclaims the man” William Shakespeare (Hamlet 1:3), a few hundred years later, the old adage we are all familiar with that “Clothes make the man” is attributed to Mark Twain, and we have all heard the advice to: Dress the part… or Dress for success.

 

At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Hashem commands Moshe to have priestly garments, בגדי כהונה, fashioned for Aharon and his sons. The passuk states that these clothing are “לקדשו לכהנו לי” “to sanctify [Aharon], to serve [Hashem] as a Kohen.”

 

This concept is codified in Halakha, “...בזמן שבגדיהם עליהם כהונתן עליהן” “When they are wearing their priestly garb they are enrobed by their Kehuna..."

"אין בגדיהם עליהם אין כהונתם עליהן" “But if they are not wearing the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, their status as Kohanim is lacking.” While practically this only means that if the kohanim are not wearing their בגדי כהונה their avodah/service in the temple is disqualified, and they do maintain their status of Kohen without them, why is such an import placed on the role of the בגדי כהונה, the uniform of the Kohen? Is the Torah sending us a message that the clothes make the man?

 

 

While many commentators focus on the description of the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, as “לכבוד ולתפארת” “for honor & beauty” and understand the role of the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, to be about the grandeur of the position, a way of honoring Hashem, as with many of the aesthetics of the temple in general, I’d like to humbly suggest a deeper message here in the concept of בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments. We often think of clothing as a mode of self expression- what I wear is in some way a reflection of my inner feelings, of my mood, etc. The entire fashion industry is built on the idea that clothing design is a mode of conveying ideas. Wearing clothing, then, is about the message I am sending to those who perceive me. This is certainly the idea behind the lines of Shakespeare and Twain- that what I wear affects how others perceive me and thus I can control how I am perceived by wearing clothing that sends the desired message.

 

Perhaps the Torah here is flipping the script, reversing the equation. The same way that the Sefer Hachinuch suggests “אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות” that our actions have the ability to change us, perhaps the same can be true of clothing- that what I wear can affect who I am. Maybe the same way habituating myself to doing mitzvot can influence my character, my personality, habitually wearing certain types of clothing can indeed affect how I think and act. While this may sound far fetched, it is exactly the findings of Professor Adam D. Galinsky and Hajo Adam 2 psychologists who coined the term Enclothed Cognition to refer to this phenomenon that the clothes you wear can affect how you think and act. Their research showed that based on the symbolic meaning of a specific article of clothing or uniform and the psychological experience of wearing this clothing my cognition and my behavior actually changes.

 

Using this lens, I’d like to suggest that the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, are intended to influence the wearer, the Kohen- as the passuk says: “לקדשו לכהנו לי” “to sanctify him, to serve Hashem as a Kohen.” These clothing are intended to make the wearer take his duties seriously (act w/ כבד ראש). The realm of the temple is one that is governed by clear commandments of ritual practice and this is an essential piece in the life of a Kohen when he is serving. It is, therefore, not a coincidence, that the two parshiyot in the Torah that deal with the inauguration of the Kohanim -צו & this week’s parsha תצוה- share the same root meaning commandment.

 

If the Torah intends for us to see the priestly garments as influencing the Kohen, then certainly by analogy the same is true for all Jews, after all we are called by Hashem a “ממלכת כהנים” “a kingdom of priests.” We too need to internalize the message of the בגדי כהונה, the priestly garments, in our own lives. If the Kohen has clothing designed as a regal reminder of the seriousness of their role and their responsibility in the temple, we should reflect and ask ourselves- how should our dress influence our thoughts and actions? What is our uniform? What is our dress code? How does it serve to remind us of our role and responsibility in the greater world in which we serve Hashem?

 

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Parshat Terumah

Written by 7th Grader, Zachary Amdur

 

This week's torah portion, Terumah, is about building the Mishkan. It discusses the architecture and process of building a dwelling place for Hashem. “Veasu le mikdash veshachante butocham--you shall make a dwelling place for me and I will in them”. Of the many specific items in the Mishkan, a key item was the Menorah. It’s purpose was to bring light to not only the Mishkan but also to the entire world.  

 

How can a Menorah which had seven lights and was placed in a single place offer light to the entire world? The answer to this question is in the building of the Menorah itself. Moshe was asked to build the Menorah, yet when trying to fulfill the task, he found it was too complicated. For this, he went to Hashem asking for guidance in building it to which Hashem responded... “just take all the gold and throw it into a fire”. Moshe did what Hashem asked and behold the Menorah came out.

 

What was so complicated about constructing the Menorah? I have one at home and it does not seem to be the hardest thing to build. What Moses really found difficult was that the Menorah was a physical object that could spread the light of Hashem and to the outside world. Hashem understood Moshe’s hesitations and agreed that indeed, using physical objects to bring awareness of Hashem is impossible for us to do on our own. He therefore told Moshe to cast the gold into the fire and that the Menorah would take form by itself.

 

Similarly, Hashem requires us to transform all our material pursuits, the fun things we do, the good food that we eat, to serve a higher purpose.  Hashem also knows that we cannot do this on our own. All He asks is that we cast it all into the “fire” of our hearts, to let our love for Him in all we do and He will do the rest. This concept can be included in everyone's life. I took all the practice to get to here devoting almost a year to my bar mitzvah, which will lead to me shining my light tomorrow to everyone.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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Parsha Mishpatim

Written by 6th graders Yael Mainzer and Kayla Minsk

 

This week's parsha is Mishpatim. It talks about many laws, but one in particular sparked our interest. In perek  כג  pasuk ב it says:

 

-ב לֹא־תִֽהְיֶ֥ה אַֽחֲרֵֽי־רַבִּ֖י אַֽחֲם לְרָעֹ֑ת וְלֹא־תַֽעֲנֶ֣ה עַל־רִ֗ב לִנְטֹ֛תרֵ֥י רַבִּ֖ים לְהַטֹּֽת:׃.

 

You shall not follow the majority for evil, and you shall not respond
concerning a lawsuit to follow many to justice.

 

 

Rashbam says that if the majority is about to commit a crime, you should say something, even if you know they will not accept you after that. This teaches us not to be a bystander and to do the right thing.

 

Hashem gave us the ability to think and come up with our own ideas. We should not be influenced by other people who are doing the wrong thing. We should not give up our own gift because the majority of people feel another way.

 

This also reminds us to choose our friends carefully. When we choose people who do the right thing, that pushes us to do the right thing.

 

Shabbat shalom!

 

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Parsha Yitro

 

February 2, 2018
17 Shevat 5778


Dear AJA Community,

Last month, before the icy days lead us to cancel, we were scheduled to hold our first ever alumni reunion. Well, the bad weather can’t stop us! We’ve moved the date to February 22 at 6:00 pm at AJA. Please RSVP HERE - it will be wonderful to reconnect with so many of our alumni, old teachers and faculty and even glance through some old yearbooks and photos. Please join us!

We are incredibly proud of our Alumni - from ALL of the schools who are part of our history: YA, YHS, HA, GHA and AJA. It's always a joy to share an Alumni D'var Torah. Below, you will find the D'var Torah for this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, written by Ben Huisman, a YA ‘13 graduate and a current Senior at the University of Maryland.

Shabbat Shalom! 

Rivka Monheit (YHS '92) and Danny Frankel (GHA '79, YA '84)
Alumni Committee Co-chairs

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In this week’s Parsha, the Torah describes the revelation at Har Sinai. This moment is unrivaled, as we, the Jewish people transitioned from a broken enslaved people into the glorious, chosen nation of G-D.             

It is interesting to look at Hashem’s opening words atop the mountain,

אנכי ה' אלהיך,

I am Hashem, your God.

On this very line, the Midrash comments and informs us that the word “אנכי” is an Egyptian word. It’s quite odd for Hashem to start communicating in the Egyptian language. After all, our Rabbis tell us that one of the main reasons the Jewish people deserved to be freed from Egypt was because they never changed their language! It truly makes no sense for Hashem, who rewarded the Jews for maintaining their own language for 210 years by freeing them, to then start a relationship in Egyptian.

I believe that the answer lies in an unbelievable distinction. When a person endures a tough period or event in their life, they have to settle and cope with what happened and find a way to “get to the other side”. The person’s focus is to find a place for what has happened and to go on living a life that is as normal as possible, as fast as possible… This approach has some benefits: Surviving these experiences while incurring minimal harm makes someone very lucky. However, this approach has one inherent danger: the possibility to completely abandon the experience all together.

If a person who has to deal with a tough circumstance comes out on the other side merely as a “survivor” (not to underestimate this in any way), essentially, he has gone through a horror with nothing but a few battle wounds to show for it. Now, it is simply an obstruction to life, a waste of time. However, if one can find a way to integrate the tough experience into his or her life, one can convert the experience from an obstruction into an opportunity. Now he/she does not merely see this as, “I survived,” but instead as “Wow, that was difficult but I’m glad I learned from this and can use it to help guide me.” This is because no experience is meant to be just an experience. Rather, our experiences should serve to be a powerful tool for living.

This point is exactly what Hashem is trying to convey to the Jews at Har Sinai. Hashem begins by speaking in Egyptian because he wants to clarify to Am Yisrael that if they want to have any success in the future they must use this plateau moment and integrate it into their past. Instead of viewing Egypt as a 210 year hump of wasted time that the Jews managed to survive, they must see Egypt as an experience that makes them great.

This message that Hashem empowered us on Har Sinai must be treasured. Without a question, every single one of us will go through difficult experiences. G-D has given all of us the tools to persevere and make it through these challenges. What we need to do, is to decide if we choose to abandon these experiences, or if we choose to learn from these experiences and improve our lives.

Ben Huisman graduated from Yeshiva Atlanta in 2013. Since then, he spent a year in Derech Etz Chaim, a Yeshiva in Israel, and is currently in the final semester of his Senior year at the University of Maryland. He has been a leader in the Jewish community at Maryland through his involvement with several Jewish and pro-Israel programs. Currently, he is enjoying the life of a second-semester Senior, and is interviewing for jobs in the communication and marketing industry.

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Parshat Beshalach

Written by 8th graders Ella Goldstein, Margalit Lytton and Daliya Wallenstein

 

This week’s parsha is parshat Beshalach. In this parsha, many importants events occur such as, the splitting of the sea, the continuation of the exodus of Egypt, Maan, and more. The parsha starts with Bnei Yisrael camped by the Red Sea, when Pharaoh comes with his army. Moshe cries out to Hashem for help, and Hashem tells him to stretch out his arm and split the sea. In perek יד pasuk כא it says:

 

וַיֵּט משֶׁה אֶת־יָדוֹ עַל־הַיָּם וַיּוֹלֶךְ ה' | אֶת־הַ֠יָּם בְּרוּחַ קָדִים עַזָּה כָּל־הַלַּיְלָה

וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּם לֶחָֽרָבָה וַיִּבָּֽקְעוּ הַמָּֽיִם

“And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea, and Hashem led the sea with the strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land and the waters split.”  

 

Right after the splitting of the sea, Bnei Yisrael had just witnessed the greatest miracle and had complete gratitude and faith in Hashem. But just after just three days of traveling in the desert, Bnei Yisrael had lost faith. They wanted to go back to Egypt, where they claimed they lived a much better life.

 

To renew Bnei Yisrael’s trust, Hashem provided them with Manna (bread). But only on the condition that they may only take one day’s portion (except for on Shabbat). In Perek ט”ו pasuk ט”ו it says:

 

זֶ֤ה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' לִקְטוּ מִמֶּנּוּ אִ֖ישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ עמֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּלֶת מִסְפַּר נַפְשׁ֣תֵיכֶם אִישׁ לַֽאֲשֶׁר בְּאָֽהֳלוֹ תִּקָּֽחוּ:

 

“This is the thing that Hashem has commanded, Gather of it each one according to his eating capacity, an omer for each person, according to the number of persons, each one for those in his tent you shall take.”

 

This forced them to have faith that Hashem would be there to provide them with food every day. From this we can learn that we should have faith in Hashem and trust He will help us.

 

There is a midrash that before the splitting of the sea, everyone was davening and crying out to Hashem for help. Hashem told Bnei Yisrael to walk forward, even though there was a sea in front of them. All the tribes were hesitant and didn’t want to go in. However, the midrash tells us that Nachshon Ben Aminadav jumped in, the sea split and Bnei Yisrael was saved. This reminds us that we can’t rely on Hashem to do everything for us, but that we should take action and Hashem will meet us halfway.

 

Even though we don’t witness miracles as obvious as the splitting of the sea today, we have to remember that Hashem is still creating miracles today. It might be harder to notice them but it is important to have faith in Hashem and realize the small miracles in our daily lives. Although we know Hashem is looking out for us and guiding us, we need to recognize that for Hashem to help us, we have to help ourselves first and meet Hashem halfway.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

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Parshat Va’eira

Written by 8th Graders, Shamai Frenkel and Ella Goldstein

 

This week, the 8th Grade went to the King Center to the “Celebrating Difference” event to learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy and how it affected others. The participants were a very diverse group of students from different backgrounds and schools. There were a few guest speakers, such as Hank Thomas (an original Freedom Rider), Dr. Bernice King (MLK’s youngest daughter), and Isaac Newton Farris Jr. (MLK’s nephew). They spoke about how diversity is a good thing and how we need to celebrate that. They told us how we can make a difference in our communities. They told stories of the past and what it was like to be an African American at that time in history. They taught us about non-violence and how to make a difference.

 

One of the speakers, Hank Thomas, talked about how when there was a lot of racism and hate, the Jews were their biggest allies. He reminded us that 2000 years ago, we were in a similar situation in Egypt. He told us how much respect he had for the Jews, remembering their 2000+ year past, and making sure the oppression never happens again, even to other people. He encouraged people to go out and defend other people who need help defending themselves.

 

In this week's Parsha,  Parshat Va’eira, Moshe and Aaron repeatedly asked Pharoah to “let their people go”. Each time he said no, another plague is brought. Just like how African Americans didn’t stop protesting and standing up for what they believed in. Hank Thomas told us that he got arrested 22 times, sometimes just for sitting on a bus. We had an amazing and powerful experience that will stay with us for a long time.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

            

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Parshat Va-Yigash

 

Aware of the incidents that led to the sale of his son, Jacob seeing the official escort sent by the Egyptian king, the eternal hope of a parent was rekindled. For the first time in twenty-two years Jacob was no longer a mourner; he would see his son! Jacob was now happy, and the Divine spirit returned to him (Rambam Genesis 45:27).  A rekindled Jacob immediately sets out for Egypt.

 

En route, Jacob demonstrates his appreciation and gratitude by offering sacrifices to Hashem. To be sure, it does not come as a surprise that a patriarch would mark a debt of gratitude by offering a sacrifice to Hashem. However, it is Hashem’s response that is curious. Astonishingly, Hashem responds, "I am the Lord – Lord of your father, do not fear in descending to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there" (Genesis 46:3).

 

Jacob was presumably not expecting a response from Hashem, but certainly did not expect Hashem to say “don’t be afraid.” The Torah articulates no explanation as to why Jacob should be fearful. In fact, it is Hashem’s “reassurance” that is the source of Jacob’s realization that there was cause for concern.  Why does Hashem tell Jacob not to fear when Jacob did not appear frightened?

 

Recall the Brit Bein HaBetarim, the "covenant between the parts," where Hashem promises Abraham that his children will be slaves, but will ultimately be redeemed from slavery and accrue great wealth. The slavery and redemption had to occur in its providentially appropriate time, which is why Hashem also forbade Isaac to enter the land of Egypt.  “Go not down into Egypt; rather dwell in the land which I will tell you of” (Genesis 26:2).  

 

Although Jacob was thrilled to reunite with his son, the Hizkuni alludes to an underlying fear that plagued Jacob. Jacob was indeed scared, he was fearful regarding the future of the Jewish people. Jacob considered that traveling to Egypt, without the consent of Hashem, might cause the years of slavery foretold to Abraham and Isaac to ensue prematurely and negate the covenant. Consequently, Hashem comforts Jacob by telling him fear not, the promise of redemption remains intact and you will be a father of a great nation.  

 

When faced with decisions, whether they appear straightforward or life altering, we ought to consider the myriad of consequences that flow from our actions.  We routinely look at the immediate ramifications of our decisions, often neglecting the future implications of our actions. With each little short-term decision, we must reflect on how it will affect our long-term aspirations. The magic of a good strategy is that it takes little additional work in the short term, but you actually arrive somewhere in the long term.

 

Jacob considered the ramifications of his actions.  He not only measured the implications to those around him, but also concerned himself with the future generation.  It is with this perspective that Hashem reassures Jacob, and future generations.  Provided that we are not shortsighted, and take concern for those around us, Hashem informs us that there is no cause for worry.

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Parashat Miketz

 

Written by 6th grader Kayla Feingold, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

When it comes to being Jewish, Yosef lived differently throughout his life.

 

When he was young, he lived with his Jewish family, did Jewish things, and overall was about as Jewish as he could possibly have been.

 

Even when his brothers sold him into slavery and he arrived on his own in Egypt, he remained very Jewish, and stuck to his Jewish values, even though he was the only Jew in Egypt.

 

For example, when Mrs. Potiphar tried to seduce him, he stuck to his Jewish ethical beliefs, and ran away. When he was in jail, he told the baker and winemaker, that God is the interpreter of dreams, and not he.

 

However, as he grew older, and went from being a slave to the second in command of the entire nation, he shed his Jewishness, and became Egyptian. Let’s see how.

 

Remember Pharaoh’s dream? Yosef predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, so Pharaoh put him in charge of preparing for the hard times, by saving food during the seven years of plenty. In fact, there was so much food saved, that they had extra food to share with their neighbors. It was during the famine, that Yosef’s brothers traveled to Egypt in search of food for their families.

 

When they arrived, they assumed that they were asking a random Egyptian for food, when in fact, it was their brother, who they didn’t recognize.  

 

I think you would agree that you have to be pretty Egyptian to not be recognized by your brothers, right? Let’s look at how he appeared. He had an Egyptian name: Zapenat Paneach. He had an Egyptian wife, Osnat (what a great name, right). All his his friends were Egyptian. He even seemed to have a special cup he used for Egyptian Sorcery, which was forbidden as a Jew. So he looked like an Egyptian, talked like an Egyptian, and probably even walked like an Egyptian. That’s pretty Egyptian to me, and there doesn’t seem to be much Jew left at all.

 

But in truth, it’s not that simple. For even this Egyptian, who acted so very not Jewish, gave his children Jewish names.

 

Why would someone who was so Egyptian in every way, give his children a Jewish name? It seems to me that he still wanted to be a little Jewish even though he loved his Egyptian life. That he realized the decision to be Jewish or Egyptian was not really black or white, Jewish or Egyptian. Rather, it’s about being somewhere on a spectrum. It’s Jewish and Egyptian. It’s about bringing out your Jewishness as part of who you are.

 

That’s how I see myself, too. I go to a Jewish school, I’m having a Bat Mitzvah, and belong to a great synagogue (by the way, that means to me that the people are great, not the building). Deep down, I know I’m Jewish, and embrace my Judaism, but it’s not all of who I am. I’m a gymnast, I’m a good friend, I’m a good student. And I’m Jewish. These are all important parts of who I am, but none of these are all of who I am. And that feels about right to me.

 

There are so many different kinds of Jewish in this world, and even in this room. I hope everyone can find the kind that is right for them.

 

 

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

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Parshat Vayeshev

Written by 10th graders Hannah Solon and Eitan Linsider, presented at the Evening of the Arts

 

In this week’s parsha, Parshat Vayeshev, we read the story of Yosef and the multi-colored coat he received from his father, Yaakov. Yaakov gave him this coat to show his immense love for his favorite son. In Perek Lamed Zayin, Pasuk Gimmel, it says,

וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אָהַ֤ב אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִכָּל־בָּנָ֔יו כִּֽי־בֶן־זְקֻנִ֥ים ה֖וּא ל֑וֹ וְעָ֥שָׂה ל֖וֹ כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים:

 

And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age and he made him a fine woolen coat.

Rashi explains that “fine woolen coat” means that the coat was indeed very colorful, while other commentators add that it was striped, but it was unanimously agreed upon that coat was exceedingly beautiful. Yaakov felt like the best way to express his love to Yosef was by giving him this coat, instead of giving him something else, possibly like the most upscale tent in all of Canaan.

 

Yaakov understood that sometimes it is the smallest things that can make the biggest impact in life. Yosef was able to find the beauty in the coat that his father had given him.

Tonight we are all here for Evening of the Arts. Numerous students have worked tirelessly on the artwork, music, and various other performances being showcased tonight. All of these things have a certain beauty to them.

 

In life, finding the beauty in any and every situation is what makes life worth living. Sometimes, beauty is apparent, and sometimes it takes a little digging to find, but beauty is in everything and even the smallest and cheapest things can sometimes make the biggest impact.

 

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Parsha Vayishlach

Written by 7th grader Jordan Steinberg who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat


This week’s parsha, Vayishlach, features our forefather Jacob, who is traveling back to the land of Canaan finally after many years of trials and tribulations. On his way, he encounters his estranged brother, Esav, from whom he stole his birthright years before. During Jacob’s travels before he meets Esav, he is alone at night camping out and he encounters a man. As it says in the text (Chap. 32, verse 25):


 וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.


Who was Jacob wrestling with? Some say it was the angel of his estranged brother, Esav. Some say that he was wrestling with himself—the Jacob who stole the birthright and ran away from his older brother and the mature Jacob, who will confront his older brother, hopefully in a peaceful reunion, but fearing that it may not be. Jacob emerges from this wrestling match triumphant, with a new name, Yisrael, meaning “May G-d prevail.” Jacob ends up maturely facing his brother with much trepidation, and they reunite without a fight.

 


As a Bar Mitzvah, I realize that this is a milestone in my growth as a person and a Jew. I realize I will have some struggles as I progress and advance in my life. This is natural, and expected. I will try to maturely work through these struggles myself, influenced by the knowledge and guidance of my supportive family, teachers, and friends. Sometimes I may limp away from these struggles, like Jacob did from wrestling with the angel, but that’s part of growing up. I will remember to draw from the strength of Jacob, as I navigate my path through growing up.  

 

Shabbat shalom!

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It's My Turn

November 16, 2017

27 Cheshvan 5778

 

Dear AJA Community,

It's my turn.

I’ve watched and participated in the many simchas for AJA students. I’ve been there for the morning Torah readings during davening with the proud parents looking on. I’ve witnessed the shpilkes they all feel on Shabbat morning before their child steps up to read Torah and lead the service. And now, it’s my turn.

This Shabbat, my little girl will become a Bat Mitzvah. I am excited for her, as she takes the next step on her Jewish Journey. However, Florence and I are also filled with some bittersweet feelings...one of our babies is becoming an adult in the eyes of Jewish Law. It’s a day we have thought about since her birth, and at her naming at our shul in Riverdale, NY. It’s a day that is an important milestone in her life as a Jew.

I am grateful for the Jewish Day school education Aviva has received at incredible institutions, especially AJA. My daughter has gained knowledge, commitment, a strong Jewish identity and a responsibility toward the community and Israel. We couldn't be prouder. I am thrilled to mark this moment of achievement and to take time to stop and smell the roses.

This Shabbat is not simply a marker of a year’s worth of study and practice but 12 years of an educational and spiritual journey. In 1st Grade, she received her Siddur. In 2nd Grade, she received her Chumash. In 5th Grade she began learning Mishna and this year, she learned how to read Torah. Her Jewish education has not only been about “the books”. It’s about the middot, the empathy, the chesed, the learning to know right from wrong and the nurturing of a loving, caring, inclusive community - that has been a huge piece of her journey. It truly does take a village (and, p.s., your child is also on this journey and is receiving these same gifts!).

[Taking “Proud Parent” hat off, and putting on “Rabbi” Kippah]

A Midrash from this week’s parsha comments on the nature of the family connections in the lives of the patriarchs.

“The crown of the elderly are their grandchildren, and the glory of sons is their fathers.” [Prov 17:6] Fathers are a crown to their children, and children are a crown to their fathers. Fathers are a crown to their children, as is said, “and the glory of sons is their fathers”; and children are a crown to their fathers, as is written, “The crown of the elderly are their grandchildren.”

The idea conveyed here is the other side of a deeply-rooted and widely-quoted Rabbinic concept of zekhut avot, namely that we merit and are shaped in part by our ancestors. This midrash has me thinking a lot about the reverse - What will I impart to my children and beyond? What is ultimately my role as a father? How do I parent and live day to day, while keeping my focus on what is really important and the big picture? Although she will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, Aviva will still continue on this journey for years to come (and so will I!). This is just the beginning of what we hope and dream will be a meaningful and fulfilling journey for her and we recommit to do our role as parents and community members.

But, enough about my perspective. You read that every Thursday! I wanted to have the Bat Mitzvah share HER perspective with you. So...Aviva, what’s on your mind?

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Aviva Leubitz:

A week ago it all became real. I’m honestly not nervous yet, but I’m sure I will be on Friday morning! I’ve been studying my Parasha with my Dad, in preparation for me to read on Shabbat. Since I’m reading in the afternoon, my portion is Parshat Vayeitzei. The Shabbat portion is also relevant to me, because it’s about journeys, and I’ve been on a lot of journeys. Since I was born, I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and now Atlanta. My life has been a journey!

 

I’ve been thinking about the new obligations as a Bat Mitzvah. I am going to continue lighting Shabbat candles every week and also keeping my eye on Hachnasat Orchim (inviting guests). Why did I choose those? Once you become a Bat Mitzvah, I feel that you need to start lighting candles weekly. When we moved here last year, starting on my new journey at AJA, I was SO nervous. People here were so nice and inviting to me and now, I want to do that for others.

 

I know you’re expecting to read my D’var Torah here. My parents and I hope you’ll join us at Young Israel of Toco Hills this Shabbat - and you can hear it in person!

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Thanks to my daughter for sharing her words with all of us.

We have another Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat. Please read Adam Berkowitz’s D’var Torah HERE, and join me in wishing Adam and his family Mazel Tov, as he becomes a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat in Israel.

 

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

 

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Parsha Toldot

Written by 7th grader Adam Berkowitz who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

Yitzchak and Rivka were married for twenty long years without having children. Finally, Rivkah got pregnant with twins, but she was puzzled at the start of Toldot. She learned there were two children in her womb who would be the fathers of two nations, and the younger one would eventually rule the older one. The midrash is quoted in Rashi (25;22), and said that when Rivkah was pregnant, whenever she would go past the Yeshiva, Yaakov would kick, and whenever she went past a place of idol worship, Eisav would kick.  

 

It is a basic concept that to be able to be punished or rewarded by HaShem, one must have free will. If your entire life has been pre-destined to the extent that you control none of your actions or thoughts, then you are not to be held responsible for the actions that you do. The question is, if Eisav was already kicking out to Avodah Zarah (idolatry) before he was born, where was his free will? The answer is, as Ramchal points out in Derech Hashem, that free will does not mean that there is a completely equal pull to do good, as there is to do bad. Rather, as long as it is not one hundred percent inevitable to pick one option, there is still free will.

 

This struggle is shown in my favorite movie series, Star Wars, which has a central theme that each of us has a dark side and a light side and we must fight the urge to go to the dark side.

 

Eisav is like Darth Vader, whom Master Yoda immediately could tell had a huge dark side - just like Eisav was inclined to be evil, even from birth. Despite this inherent urge to do evil, we see Darth Vader has the freewill to choose the light side at the end of Return of the Jedi, when he gives his own life to save Luke Skywalker from the Emperor. Eisav had a strong urge to do Avodah Zarah even in the womb, but when he grew older he had the tools to fight that urge. For instance, we see Eisav willingly choose to sell his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. He cared more about his immediate comfort and rejected the ways of his father and grandfather.  

 

Yaakov is like Luke Skywalker, who inherently was a Jedi that had the urge to do good but was still capable of following his inner urges to give into the dark side like when he attacks Darth Vader in anger. Yaakov also is not perfect - he also acts on his yetzer hara (evil) when he lies to Yitzchak to get the blessing of the firstborn and pretend to be Eisav.  

 

In our daily lives, we can choose to do a good deed or we can choose to ignore the opportunity to perform mitzvot. For example, you can choose to stop and hold the door for the person behind you, or rush to your next activity and let the door slam without thought to those coming after you.  

 

The important takeaway for me as I become a Bar Mitzvah, is to follow the words of Hashem, immortalized by Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back:  “Do or do not, there is no try.”  

 

Shabbat Shalom!

 

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Parsha Lech Lecha

Written by Eva Beresin, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat.

 

In this week’s Parsha Lech Lecha, G-d gave Abraham a difficult task. Abraham was told to pack up his stuff, gather his family, and leave his country to travel to an unknown land, trusting that G-d would lead him down the right path. How would you handle leaving everything that you have ever known and moving to a new country, especially when you have no idea why you are leaving, or if you are going in the right direction? After all, Waze didn’t exist back then.

 

Today, I would guess that most people would find that challenging, but Abraham did not seem to have a problem with it. The Torah does not tell us whether Abraham debated leaving or not, but it seems like as soon as G-d finished talking, Abraham was already preparing for his big journey ahead. He either really trusted G-d, or he was already bored of Haran and eager to get out! Thousands of years later, we know that Abraham made the right choice, but Abraham could not read the future, so he did not know that when he left.  He just had to believe that it was actually G-d steering him in the right direction, and also that it was not silly to go through all of this trouble.

 

I think the reason that Abraham had such an easy time deciding what to do was because Abraham focused on the positives instead of the negatives of the situation. Instead of saying, "Is this really G-d talking to me?" or "I don’t have time to pack up my stuff and say goodbye to everyone on such short notice!". Instead, he decided to be brave, believe in himself, and follow whatever path his life might take. No matter the time, being an optimist is always the best way to go.

 

While I admire Abraham’s quick departure, I think that he had to have given the matter some thought. Most people today would probably hesitate before making a huge decision like the one he did. I definitely think I would. Sometimes, it’s better to think things through before you do them. For example, I sometimes am rude to my brother. Later on, I wish that I had actually taken a second and thought about what I was doing before I did it. Especially today, it is extremely important to think before acting because of the latest technology. Phones and emails make it much easier for for people to bully or tease others without thinking, because all of the hurtful stuff online never really goes away, despite what most people think. Every person, young and old should take a second to think before they click send, or open their mouth to say something.  

 

Even though I have never been asked by G-d to journey away from my home, my parents have taught me to think before I act, on both big things and small.  I am sure that G-d will not ask me to leave Atlanta and move away, but I know there are plenty of big decisions that I will have to make in my life.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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Parsha Noach

Written by 6th grader Mollie Glazer, who will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

For the past two years, my Mom and I have been learning Seder Moed, which contains the mishnayot talking about the holidays and festivals. Together, we learned masechtot Shabbat, Sukkah, Rosh Hashanah, and Yoma. These are the holidays in תשרי around my birthday. I was born on the first day of Sukkot, so learning about them was meaningful to me.

 

I noticed an interesting connection between the holiday of Sukkot and Parshat Noach, which I am leyning this Shabbat - the theme of water. I noticed that water in these two places is used in very different ways. In Noach there is a huge flood and the water is used for destructive purposes. It is used to destroy life. However, on Sukkot, as I learned in masechet Sukkah, we pray for water, because water is used to bring life to humans, plants and animals.

 

In the fourth chapter of masechet Sukkah, we learn about a special ritual that was done in the beit hamikdash called nisuch hamayim. It was done all 7 days of Sukkot, where the kohanim would pour water onto the mizbeach and it was done with a lot of celebration. In fact, there was another ceremony done on Sukkot called the simchat beit hashoevah, where they would dance all night in celebration of drawing water from the Shiloach stream each morning for the nisuch hamayim ritual. And the Mishnah teaches us that whoever hasn’t seen the simchat beit hashoevah has never seen joy. These rituals were all done so that God would bless the Jewish people with a year of good rain.

 

How interesting is it that last week, on Sukkot, we were singing and dancing for water, that the water should come in its proper time and be a blessing for us. Yet in Parashah Noach, it is a destructive force that kills living creatures. And this got me thinking, what other things can be both destructive and productive, depending on how they are used? I know we can’t control how water is used, but two things came to mind that we can control. The first is our hands. We can either use our hands for productive purposes, like doing mitzvot, building a sukkot, or giving tzedakah, or we can use our hands to hurt people. Another thing is our speech. Our language can be used for good, like praising Hashem, or lifting people up, or it could be used to hurt people’s feelings or for lashon harah. This lesson teaches us that we need to be very careful in how we use the things that we can control. Especially our speech and our hands. I think this lesson is always relevant.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

 

Mollie Glazer

 

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The Mitzvot of Sukkot

Written by: 4th graders Ari Monheit and Molly Engler

 

ברוכים הבאים

Welcome to our Sukkah, we are so happy that everyone can be here today.

 

Sukkot has many different mitzvot, we want to talk about two of them.

The first one is to shake the Lulav. The Lulav isn't just the Lulav, it has 4 parts. The Lulav, the Etrog, the Hadasim and the Aravot.  The taste and smell of each one represents a different person, some who learn more Torah, some who do lots of good deeds, some who do both and some who don't do very many of either.

 

But here is the important part- On Sukkot we combine all four species together. This is like Am Yisrael, we are best when ALL of us are together as עם אחד. Just like we have everybody together right now! Because in any situation the best ingredient is the people.

 

Another Mitzvah is:

"וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֖ בְּחַגֶּ֑ךָ … וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ׃"

 

Hashem gave us a mitzvah to be happy on the chag. Today, we are certainly fulfilling that mitzvah because we are so happy you are here to join us to celebrate sukkot

 

 

חג שמח

 

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Yom Kippur

Written by Debbie Bornstein, Lower and Middle School Judaic Studies Instructional Team Leader

 

"More than Yom Kippur expresses our faith in G-d, it is the expression of G-d's faith in us"

-Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

 

Rabbi Sacks is expressing to us something fundamental about how to view our relationship with G-d at this time of the year, but we can take that thought and explore how it can apply to each and every one of us every day. G-d's faith in us is not limited to how we interact with Him. He expects us and has faith in us to do the right thing between each other.

 

Across our school, we are working with our students to understand what that means to them. It means that not only do we have a meaningful and spirited Tefillah each morning, but we work with the same enthusiasm on developing lasting bonds in the class. We are encouraging students to reflect on their relationships -- examining if there are repairs that need to be made. G-d cannot forgive us if we hurt someone else, but we have to ask forgiveness from that person directly.

 

Often the most difficult of relationships to repair are those with whom we are the closest. As parents and children, we often do not even realize that stress placed on our bonds, and we must take time, particularly at this time of the year to examine where we can improve and build on our love, our dedication, and our communication. We all have the responsibility to mirror G-d's faith in us with faith in each other and our entire community.

 

May each of us be inscribed for life and health in 5778.

 

גמר חתימה טובה

 

Debbie

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Shana Tova!

Written by AJA 12th grader Nicole Dori and 11th grader Shani Kadosh

 

Before we end off our year, we want to leave you with a few words of inspiration to guide you through these next few days. So as you are all well aware of, hopefully, tonight is a very special night. It’s not just any night, it’s a very special holiday. And it’s not just any holiday, but rather the holiday that begins all holidays--Rosh Hashana. But what exactly is so special about this holiday. We understand it’s the start of the new year, but so what? Why do we care?


We’d like to bring up a few ideas we learned throughout these past days. As we began yesterday and finished this morning, the upper school girls talked about the meaning of the actual words “Rosh Hashana.” We have two separate words: “Rosh” meaning “head” or “beginning” and “shana” coming from the shoresh of “sheeneh” or “meshaneh” meaning change. So this holiday marks the beginning of change, of our transformation into or back into the people we want to be.

 

This concept of change and transformation is widely known as the concept of Teshuva. A specific symbol throughout the holiday which is used as representation of this is through the blowing of the shofar. Now, the shofar wasn’t randomly chosen as the image of Teshuva; it has great significance that some of us might ignore or simply don’t know about.

 

At the most basic level, we have the actual sound of it. Normally when the shofar is blown, you might jump or are caught by surprise because of how loud and sudden it is. That is the exact goal of the shofar. It’s noise is like an alarm clock for us, to wake us up and draw attention to the fact that it is time for Teshuva, it is time to return back to Hashem. The noise of the shofar is there to wake us up and notify us of the special time ahead of us.

 

Then we get into the physical shofar, how it looks, where it came from… We know that the shofar is a ram’s horn, but why do we choose the horn and why of a ram? An interesting idea we learned was that the ram’s horn is the only internal bone that actually penetrates the skin, meaning it is the only bone of the ram that begins inside and ends outside.

 

How can we relate this to ourselves? Over the course of Rosh Hashana, we are repenting for our past, devoting ourselves to a better future, but most importantly, we are choosing what kind of people we want to be moving forward. In this phase, we are trying to embody the moments when we wholeheartedly followed in the ways of Hashem, living lives full of morality and integrity.

 

In reference back to the horn, just like the shofar is the only bone that is taken from the inside to the outside, so too should we take what’s inside of us, our neshamot, and bring it out. We try to emulate our neshamot, take that purity inside of us and express it on the outside in our day-to-day lives.

 

We’d like to bring this all together with one final idea. When blowing the shofar, a small puff of air goes in and out comes a huge sound that can be heard from many meters away. All it takes is for a small breath to create such a large sound.

 

Just like this small breath can cause great things, so can our Teshuva, no matter how small. So even if you’re going into this holiday feeling down or scared, remember that a single breath, a puff of air, can fill a whole room with greatness, so just imagine what power a single word can have.



Shana Tova!

 

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Parshat Ki Tavo

Written by 8th grader Ari Gabay who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat

 

This week, we read about Bikkurim, the first fruit offerings Jewish farmers in the Holy Land were commanded to bring to G‑d as thanks for the land and its produce. On a basic level, Bikkurim reminds us never to be ungrateful for the things we are blessed with in life.

Knowing that our friends and cousins are still fighting to keep Israel safe,  somehow takes away the appetite for celebration, even if we personally may have reason to rejoice. One Jew's satisfaction is not complete when he knows that his brother has not yet been taken care of.

So, if you have a job, think of someone who doesn't. If you have a lot of friends, think of someone who might need friends. If you know someone who suffered devastation after  Hurricane Harvey hit, help them out. If you know where the poor live, go there and help them get back on their feet. I am helping other people by raising money for leukemia and I am helping the food bank feed more people. This is what this Parasha means to me.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

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Parshat Ki Teitzei

Written by 8th grader Max Schorvitz, who will become a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat.

Seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot are in Parashat Ki Teitzei. These include the laws of the inheritance, rights of the firstborn, the wayward and rebellious son, the burial of the dead, returning a lost object, sending away the mother bird before taking her young, the duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one’s home, and the various forms of forbidden plants and animal hybrids.

This Parasha also includes laws governing the military camp; the prohibition against turning in an escaped slave, the obligation to pay a worker on time, allowing anyone working for you to eat on the job, the proper treatment of a debtor, and the prohibition against charging interest on a loan; the laws of divorce.

These are the mitzvot that we, as Jews, are to live by each day.  They teach us morality, compassion, justice and humility. These mitzvot are not there just as laws we are obligated to follow but as a guide to help us live our lives in a righteous manner.  We need to understand these mitzvot and figure out how to apply them to our own lives.  

For example, a person is obligated to “send away the mother bird before taking her young.”  This means that although we may take what we need to sustain ourselves, we cannot take without the consideration to others.  We need to ensure we do not inflict any unnecessary pain.  

Another example is, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.”  This explains how it would be cruel to expect the same thing from two very different creatures.   

As I become a Bar Mitzvah, I will take these mitzvot to heart.  I will remember them and try to apply them to my everyday life.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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Parashat Shoftim

Written by AJA teacher: Moishik Hoch

This week's parasha opens with the following passuk:

 

שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך...ושפטו את העם משפט צדק

 

"You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities... they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.”

 

The commentators ask: What is a judge? What is an officer? And what are the gates at which they should sit? The judge is our thoughts, our ability to think about and analyze our actions before we act. The officers are our hearts that add the emotional component. Both are intellect (the judges) and our emotions (the officers) should be components of our actions.

The gates are our bodies. Our physical bodies, the mouth, eyes, hands etc. are what make our thoughts, both intellectual and emotional into reality.

 

As educators and parents we need to take all of this into account. It is not enough to nurture a child's intellect, we must nurture their hearts as well, often placing that above the intellect. We educate the whole child, creating a safe and secure environment while nurturing the intellectual as well. Every child is a precious neshama (soul) and it is our goal to give them the tools to soar.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Moishik Hoch

 



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