111015 – Sukkot 5772



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig






The High Holy Days with all their solemnity and seriousness are over, and we now find ourselves celebrating the most joyous festival in the Jewish calendar, the holiday of Sukkot – Z’man Simchateinu – the festival of our rejoicing. How do we rejoice and express our gratitude to HaShem for the many blessings which He grants us? The Torah mandates the way: “And you shall take unto yourselves the fruit of a goodly tree” (VaYikra, Leviticus 23:40). We express our joy by taking a fruit called an Etrog (citron) in our hands and then together with the Lulav (date palm branch) and myrtle and willow branches, we wave them in all directions as an acknowledgment of HaShem’s sovereignty over the entire world.

The Etrog is indeed a lovely fruit, attractive in appearance and possessing a fragrant aroma. But if we look to our rabbinic literature we are amazed to learn that the Etrog did not always enjoy such an exalted status.

One of the Midrashic rabbis tells us: “The forbidden fruit which Adam and Eve ate in defiance of HaShem’s command was the Etrog” (Midrash Bereishit, Genesis Rabba 15). A careful examination of Scripture yields no reference to the nature of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. And yet some of our rabbis identify the fruit which brought about Adam’s downfall from the Garden of Eden as the beautiful Etrog, on which we spare no expense, which we handle so gently and respectfully and on which we recite blessings every day except Shabbat during this joyous festival.

What an amazing paradox we have here! Because of this fruit, Adam and Eve were cursed with a life of toil, struggle and pain. And yet this is the fruit chosen by the Torah to express our joy on this festival. The Etrog, which was the symbol of our downfall, is to be the means of our rejoicing.

This strange paradox, however, reflects an aspect of the basic personality of the Jew. If you want to know how Jews were able to survive so many calamities and disasters, look to the Etrog. We survived because of our innate ability to wring a blessing out of a curse. It is Jewish to find the blessing in the curse, the good in the evil, and the opportunity in the catastrophe.

Jewish history is rich in examples of making the best out of the worst and of finding the blessing in the curse. The Temple and its sacrificial service were destroyed, so our ancestors developed prayer as the most sublime form of religious expression. In the Middle-Ages the Jew was made an outcast, imprisoned in ghettos, forbidden to own land. And so our ancestors cultivated their minds instead of their land, and produced brilliant works of scholarship and literature.

Over sixty years ago, the British government closed the gates of Palestine to hundreds of thousands of refugee Jews, so we set about creating a State of Israel which today serves more than 7 million free and proud citizens of our faith. Indeed, from the ashes of the Holocaust emerged the miracle of Israel reborn, from the bitter can come something sweet. We Jews are the masters of making lemonade out of lemons.

Misfortunes have their redeeming qualities, and they can be found if we are prepared to look for them. Death brings an appreciation for life. Tragedy can bring relatives closer together and awaken dormant loves and loyalties. Failure can spur one on to success never dreamed of. In the curse itself often lies the seeds of blessing.

It has been noted that Passover reminds us that we are the only people who learned to eat the bitterness – and recite a blessing over it. Sukkot goes one step further. It reminds us that we are the only people that can take an Etrog and rejoice with it. We are a people that have always been able to wrest victory from defeat.

This is the secret of Jewish history, why we are here today. From the Etrog we have learned the secret of survival. We survived because we were able to transform catastrophes into religious observances, defeats into victories, and above all, curses into blessings.

Chag Samei’ach –have a joyous festival.

Reb Yosil

111008 – Yom Kippur 5772

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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Shacharit – Morning Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 16:1-34

BaMidbar (Numbers) 29:7-11

Haftarah ‑ Isaiah 57:14-58:14,

Mincha – Afternoon Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 18:1-30

Haftarah ‑ Book of Jonah and

Micah 7:18-20


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The concept of Teshuvah – repentance – engenders profound puzzlement. We may be in charge of the present and we can hope to affect a positive future, but how can the past be made over? Travel back in time is a stock feature of science fiction stories. But such activity is precluded in the real world. And if our sinful past cannot be changed, then how is Teshuvah possible? In a striking passage, our Talmud grappled with this ques­tion. The Yerushalmi Tractate Makot 2:6 states: “They asked of wisdom: What shall be the fate of the sinner? And wisdom replied: Evil pursues sin­ners,” i.e., there is no remedy for the sinner whatsoever. And they asked the same question of prophecy. And prophecy replied: “The person who sins must die.” And then they asked the question of Torah and Torah replied: “Let the sinner bring a sacrifice and find atonement.” Finally, they asked G-d himself, and He re­plied: “Let the sinner repent and thereby find atonement.”

Wisdom or human rational thought cannot understand how an evil act can be undone: How can a mere expression of regret and a promise to do better, change the reality of what has happened? And prophecy, too, cannot envision a future for the sinner except in death. Even the Torah can offer little more than the formalized sacrifi­cial rites, detailed in the priestly code of VaYikra. It is only HaShem, the Creator of all humanity and the entire universe who can erase sin with all its ramifica­tions, thereby restoring wholeness to the soul and to the world.

This suggests that Teshuvah is not a natural process at all, but rather a miracle, an eruption of Divine light into human-made darkness, a movement of creative re-birth and Heavenly healing. Perhaps this is what the Rabbis mean when they say Teshuvah was created before Creation itself. The possibil­ity of repentance, of return, must stand behind the world, it must precede it and it must constitute its inner secret. Other­wise, this world would not be possible.

When a person has wronged another, repentance does not discharge the obligation of making restitution; on the contrary, the process of Teshuvah is not complete until the unfair profit has been restored and returned, or the bruised feelings assuaged and the friendship restored.

There is a beautiful Midrashic text which compares the process of repentance with the taking of two broken boards, sanding and polishing them to a perfect smooth­ness, and finally joining them together so that they fuse together into a single beam of great strength. This notion suggests that the “returnee” need not always see every aspect of his past as repulsive and objec­tion­able, but rather as part of a process of growth and integration, to unite the fragmented pieces of a scattered life into a newly meaningful unity (see VaYikra Rabba 3:3).

Wherever we are, we can change. This is surely the third and reconciling verse between the two clash­ing axioms of Judaism: that HaShem has no image and that man is made in the image of G-d. The conclusion is inevitable as it is powerful, namely that man, too, has no image. Unlike all else in creation, he has no pre-given essence, no fated or ingrained character. But he is only what he chooses to be; if he so chooses, he can change when necessary.

One half of Teshuvah, as defined by the RaMBaM, is always easy, and the other half painfully difficult. The easy half is to regret the past, what the RaMBaM refers to as regret. The difficult half is to genuinely resolve to act differently in the future, what is known as remorse.

The order is precise. First, the resolution and only then the remorse. For without a determination to change, regretting the past is merely self-pity; not yet a part of Teshuvah.

Various commentators have often been puzzled by the struc­ture of the RaMBaM’s laws of repentance. In the opening four chapters, he outlines the nature and procedures of repentance and continues along these lines in chapter 7. But in between, striking the eye as an apparent digression, are two chapters on free will. It might be suggested that the RaMBaM intended his two chapters on free will to stand as a direct continuation of chapter four. There he considered the specific barriers to Teshuvah. And now, he turns to the general barrier, the belief that, after all, we cannot change. We are what we were destined to be and we cannot be anything else. “This,” says the RaMBaM, “is not merely a belief held by fools of the na­tions,” but also by “most of the senseless folk of Israel.” In his “Guide for the Perplexed,” the RaMBaM does not hesitate to use strong language to deride those who hold false philosophical positions. In particular, he devotes much attention to those who deny free will. The belief takes different forms at different times. In the RaMBaM’s day it came from theology and astrology. Divine providence or the influence of the stars deter­mined the kind of person we were. In our times, it comes from the social and behavioral sciences. All excuses are ways of seeing our­selves helpless in a mesh of forces that are beyond our control. And though we may bitterly regret what has happened in our lives, we try to claim that the responsibility lays elsewhere.

Rav Soloveitchik ZTz”L suggests that the RaMBaM is speaking about two different kinds of Teshuvah. In the first four chapters he expounds the “repentance of expiation,” which concerns putting right partic­ular wrongs. In the seventh chapter he deals with “repentance of redemption,” which involves the radical restruc­tur­ing of the personality and so presupposes human free will in its deepest sense.

All significant change in human behavior takes place on a personal level. It belongs not to social forces or trends, but to the here and now of single individuals. This is the challenge that Teshuvah places before us.

To resolve the challenge we can use last Shabbat’s Torah reading to help us grasp our eternal bond with our Creator. Moshe before his death leaves his flock with a message about HaShem’s eternal and just nature: “Pay attention O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 32:1). This verse is usually understood as saying, the message that I am about to give needs two witnesses (in Jewish law every testimony requires two witnesses) and I have chosen two eternal witnesses the heavens and the earth. Moshe’s reminder to the people is that HaShem is perfect and any imperfections that we can see are in us. The Chidush (revelation) is that: “And he said to them, Set your hearts to all the words which I testify among you this day, which you shall command your children to take care to do, all the words of this Torah. It is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life; and through this thing (repentance and adhering to His Torah) you shall prolong your days in the land, when you go over the Jordan to possess it.” (Devarim 32:46, 47).

The witnesses to this testimony, the heavens and the earth will testify that HaShem has chosen the Children of Jacob as His children and He will never forsake them even when they forsake Him.

I believe that the heavens and the earth are used here metaphorically, when HaShem made His first covenant with Avraham he declared: “That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore…” (Bereishit [Genesis] 22:17).

Avraham and Sarah were childless, he was seventy years old and she was sixty and HaShem promised them a multitude of descendants that would inherit this land and follow His ways. Four hundred and seventy years later three million descendants of Avraham stood at the borders of the Land of Israel about to fulfill this prophesy. We, the Children of Jacob (Israel) are like the stars of the heavens and the sands of the earth. Our existence over this entire history of civilization is the proof that His promises are true and we in our own way can return unto HaShem your G-d” (Hosea 14:2).

This Yom Kippur with so much at stake in a world that has gone mad and with G-d’s children confused and disoriented, let us look to the heavens and the earth and see our everlasting bond with the Master of the Universe and return unto Him.

Chatima Tovah – our fate should be sealed with goodness and mercy,

Reb Yosil


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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftorah – Isaiah 61:10-63:9 110924

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Our double Parsha begins with the words: “You are standing today, ALL OF YOU, before HaShem, your G-d…to pass into a covenant with HaShem, your G-d…and to establish you as His people, and He as your G-d…Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this obligation, but also with whoever are not [yet] here with us today.” (Devarim 29:9-14)

The implication is clear, an everlasting covenant is being made not only with that generation of Israelites about to enter the Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), but with all future generations of Jews – a covenant that proclaims that HaShem and Israel will be faithful, committed and conscious of each other.

How appropriate to read this Parsha the week proceeding Rosh HaShanah, which begins next Wednesday day night. Many of us believe that Rosh HaShanah is the holiday acknowledging the anniversary of G-d’s creating the universe; however, this is a common mistake. Rosh HaShanah marks the sixth day of creation – the creation of Man – the day spiritual consciousness came into being. It is fitting therefore, that we utilize this holy-day to elevate our consciousness to the pursuit of goodness, for that is what HaShem expects of us.

One of the major difficulties in changing our patterns of life is that we basically consider ourselves “good people.” We are civilized, charitable, loving and kind people. We don’t see ourselves as evil wagers of war upon G-d and His definitions of good and evil, we are basically generous promoters of our definitions of goodness, so, what is there to change?

We can gain an insight from the Torah’s description of the meeting between our Patriarch Avraham and AviMelech of Gerar. The Torah reading on the first day of Rosh HaShanah (Bereishit [Genesis] 21:1-34) ends with a renewed peace treaty made between AviMelech and Avraham. But in order for there to be a renewal, we must first understand the original peace treaty made between them. Let me set the scene for you from Bereishit (Genesis) 20:1-18, the chapter immediately prior to the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh HaShanah.

Avraham and Sarah were relocating their home after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They had to travel through Gerar, a province of Philistia, which was known for its “law-abiding” adherence to an upstanding code of civil law, under the authority of King AviMelech. Now, AviMelech was known to have an eye for beautiful women, in fact, included in his harem were women who were once married to other men. AviMelech was not so ghastly as to bed a married woman, no, he was a civilized man, and would never consider violating the woman of another man. But, somehow that woman’s husband would conveniently be murdered, leaving the door open now for AviMelech’s seemingly legitimate advances.

Protocol forced Avraham to pay his respects to AviMelech, and to avoid any threat to his life, he introduced Sarah as his sister. AviMelech immediately desired Sarah and had her brought (against her will) to his harem. Before he could do anything with Sarah, AviMelech fell into a deep sleep and had a strange dream. In his dream, G-d came to him and warned him that Avraham was a prophet of great stature, and any abuse to Sarah his wife, would of anger G-d.

AviMelech got up from his sleep and with great indignance called for Avraham and Sarah, demanding to know why Avraham lied to him, almost causing him to commit a horrendous sin with Sarah. Avraham answered AviMelech; “And Avraham said: ‘…for there is no fear (awe) of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife‘ ” (Bereishit 20:11).

Avraham came to a civilized part of the world, known for their law-abiding character, these were good people, and yet he eluded the truth about his relationship with Sarah because he knew that his life was in jeopardy. “There is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife.

Being civilized is a wonderful framework to live by, but what happens when there is a conflict with what I want and being civilized? My desires and not necessarily my morality may win out. It is the “awe” of G-d that holds man back from his own hungry desires. Morals based on civilized behavior can change, as we in this generation have so often seen.

I grew up in the sixties, when the call words of my generation were, “make love not war.” Those words to my parents generation were “prost,” or boorish. For instance, in my youth, abortions were wrong and practically unheard of for upstanding members of the community. If one did submit to an abortion, there was a prevailing sense of shame and one tried to keep the deed secret. Today, abortion is a moral right, and if someone actually verbalizes that it is wrong, she/he is immediately labeled a right-wing fanatic.

Acquiring the fear of G-d, or let us use a more pleasing terminology, becoming G-d conscious, is the main message of Judaism – to Jew or to Gentile. Realizing His presence in the most mundane or secular aspects of our daily lives is what Rosh HaShanah is all about.

Being a civilized individual is wonderful, if that is all that you can reach for. But we the Jewish people have more than just being civilized to offer the world, we offer G-d consciousness – which has responsibilities that go beyond just being kind to your wife and children, or concerned about the ecology. It is our obligation to discover our own place in a created world, that is watched over by none other than the Melech Malchei HaMelachim (the King of kings), HaKodosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One Blessed Be He). This responsibility can only be acquired by adhering to laws and principals that go beyond human sensibilities – His Torah and Mitzvot.

So when we are about to put food in our mouths, we must be G-d conscious. When we ponder our observance of Shabbat or holidays, we must be G-d conscious. When we consider throwing that tissue out the car window, we must be G-d conscious. When choosing a mate, we must be G-d conscious. And when considering the worth of being a member of a Shul (synagogue), or part of a Jewish community, we must also be G-d conscious.

I believe that what stops many from seeking a committed path to HaShem is the fear of becoming an extremist. But as the Torah teaches about its own character: “Dera’cheha Darchei No’am, – its trails are always pleasant, V’Chol N’tivoteha Shalom – and all her pathways lead to peace” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 3:18).

While we did not physically stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai, or on the day that a new covenant was entered into prior to the Israelites entering the Land of Israel, our Parsha declares that spiritually we were all there. An everlasting covenant with all future generations was entered into with both a sense of awe and faithfulness. Let us mark the new year of 5772 as a year when G-d consciousness is an acceptable goal to all of mankind and not an expression of extremism. Let us come together and question our existence and our role in G-d’s plan. Let us provide every opportunity for our children and our grandchildren’s generations, to successfully traverse the trails and pathways of life. And let us all pray for a year of blessings, a year of health and a year of peace for all mankind.

On behalf of my entire family, I wish you all a K’Tivah V’Chatima Tovah, may you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tovah,

Reb Yosil

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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10-25:19

Haftorah – Isaiah 54:1-10 110910

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This weeks “Vort” is dedicated to the blessed memory of Harry Furer, Tzvi Nachman ben Mordechai Leib V’Tova A”H. Harry was a very special man whose kindness and integrity was a living example of “Menshlichkeit – true humanity.” May his soul be bound up in the everlasting bond of life.

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“The foundation of the universe endures on three principals: on the Torah; on Prayer; and on Acts of Kindness” (Simon the Just: Pirkei Avot 1:2).

Nature is void of kindness. From the smallest sub-atomic particle to the most intelligent of the animal kingdom, kindness is not part of the equation. Predators do not avoid singling out the cute fawn or injured calf because of innate feeling of kindness, the opposite is true, they prey on the weakest in order to fatten themselves to survive until the next meal.

Only human beings have a concept of kindness and fairness that manifests itself in sharing, hospitality, charity, benevolence, compassion and concern. When a person is lacking in a sense of kindness, they develop a propensity towards cruelty, ungratefulness and thoughtlessness. Therefore, since we expect kindness of God, He similarly expects it of us, our world depends upon it.

Our Parsha this week demonstrates the intensity of this principal in itemizing who can or cannot convert into the Nation of Israel. “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of HaShem; even their tenth generation shall not enter the congregation of HaShem, to eternity” (Devarim 23:4). An Ammonite or Moabite male who converts to Judaism is never allowed to marry a native member of the Jewish nation, nor can their offspring, rather, they can only marry another convert. We know from the story of Ruth (a Moabite) that the prohibition does not apply to female members of Ammon and Mo’av. This is contrasted with the law that any third generation (grandchild of a convert) Egyptian or an Edomite, is allowed to marry a native Jew or Jewess (23:8).

The Torah (Devarim 23:5) specifies the reason for the harsh treatment of the Ammonites and Moabites. First, the Torah states that it is because of the fact “that they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt”. They refused to even sell us the bare necessities of food and drink during our travels the land of Israel when we approached their countries. Their hatred for the Jewish nation went so deep that they even passed up a great business opportunity, just to cause hardship to K’lal Yisra’el. The Torah continues in this very same verse with the second reason for our enmity towards the nation of Mo’av. It is because “he hired Bilaam son of Be’or, of Pethor, Aram Naharaim, against you, to curse you.”

It must be noted that the nation of Israel had a 470 year history with Ammon and Mo’av, they were our cousins, the children of Lot, the nephew of Avraham. Were it not for Uncle Avraham’s rescue, Lot would have been consumed in the destruction of Sodom. If there are any two nations in the world who owe us a debt of gratitude, whose very existence was dependent upon our kindness; they are the nations of Ammon and Mo’av. While hiring Bilaam to curse and destroy us is certainly grounds for such a harsh decree, however, their lack of decency in not performing this act of Chesed (kindness) of offering us food and drink was unconscionable.

Furthermore, why was not performing this act of Chesed cited first implying that it was the primary factor? The Be’er Yosef (commentary by R’ Yosef Karo (1488-1575) on the Arba’ah Turim law codes and the author of the Shulchan Aruch and Kesef Mishnah, a classic commentary on the RaMBaM’s code) writes that the verse is alluding to why their status is considered worse than that of the Egyptians who enslaved and tortured us for so many years. RaShI in his comments about the Egyptians writes: “Even though they threw your male infants into the Nile river, they were hospitable to you in your time of need” (23:8).

Prior to all of the atrocities that the Egyptians committed during our period of slavery, they hosted and fed Ya’akov and his family during the seven years of famine. Our sense of gratitude forces us to acknowledge the kindness that they showed the B’nei Yisra’el (Children of Israel). Therefore it was decreed that they were permitted to enter the Kahal (community of Israel) after three generations.

From this we can now understand Ammon and Mo’av. Had they shown any kindness to the B’nei Yisra’el it could have negated the fact that they had engaged Bilaam to curse and destroy us. Had they offered us food and water, that alone would have eased their restricted status. The verse is telling us that the reason Ammon and Mo’av were eternally barred from joining our community was because by not performing that small kindness, they were therefore inclined to do much worse and hire Bilaam to destroy us. It is for. We can now see the power of even small acts of kindness and how HaShem measures these actions above all others.

When I was the Rabbi of the Sha’ar HaShamayim synagogue in Windsor, Ontario, I taught a Halachic lesson (a Jewish law) daily between the afternoon and evening services. In the weeks prior to a holiday, I would teach the laws that pertained to the upcoming festival. I remember that prior to the festival of Purim, we were studying the obligations to give food gifts to at least 2 people and charity to the poor. One of the men present asked me why we are obligated to perform these two particular Mitzvot on Purim. I answered him that on Purim we were in a situation where total and absolute annihilation without reprieve faced our nation and suddenly a miracle occurred and divine salvation reigned down upon us. Our acknowledgment of this divine act of love is to perform acts of kindness and consideration towards others. This is the minimum we can do to show our thanks to HaShem.

That is why the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot states that “…the universe endures on three principals: on the Torah; on Prayer; and on Acts of Kindness.” HaShem desires our faith that His Torah paves the way to live In His image. Our path requires us to communicate through prayer with HaShem in order to develop and enhance a relationship with Him. Finally, without a solid foundation in loving-kindness to our fellow man, all the obedience and observance cannot circumvent the destructive forces that cause us to descend from being the loftiest of all creation to a status lower than a mosquito (Midrash).

Ammon and Mo’av’s lack of loving-kindness led to a genetic flaw so great that they could never enter into the community of Israel. One Mitzvah, the performing of acts of loving-kindness is the very essence of our humanity and our spirituality, without it, the universe cannot endure.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110827 – Parshat Re’ei



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26 – 16:17

Haftorah: Isaiah 54:11-55:5



Moshe Rabbeinu continues his second address to Am Yisrael on how to successfully exist in Eretz Yisrael. This week’s Parsha begins with the words: “Re’ei Anochi Notein LiFneichem HaYom, Beracha V’Klala. – See (pay attention), I am presenting before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you will hearken to the commandments of HaShem, your G-d, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of HaShem [then terrible things will happen] (Devarim 11:26- 28).

Moshe then goes on to say that when Am Yisra’el will enter the Land of Israel, they should split into two groups, six tribes should stand on top of Mt. Gerizim and the other six tribes on top of Mt. Ebal, in the valley between the two mountains, the Kohanim and the elders of the tribe of Levi would stand together with the Holy Ark. The Levi’im will then read a list of blessings and curses (27:11-69) to which the people will answer Amen. (For those of you who only recently began following this Parsha sheet, I wish to repeat a thought about the concept of reward and punishment. While HaShem definitely intervenes and bestows both rewards and punishments for our actions, much of what we call reward and punishment is but the outcome of our own behavior. For instance, does the smoker who contracts lung cancer get punished with cancer, or does he create his own negative reality? Conversely, is one who keeps himself physically fit (by proper exercise and eating habits), rewarded with good health, or, does he create his own positive reality?) Let’s get back to our Parsha. “Re’ei Anochi Notein LiFneichem HaYom, Beracha V’klala. See (pay attention), I am presenting before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you will hearken to the commandments of HaShem, your G-d…And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of HaShem…”

Let us look at the text from a few different angles. What blessing and what curse can we derive from either following or not following the Mitzvot of HaShem? After all, why should one’s level of observance affect one’s physical reality? My Rebbe, Reb Aharon Leifer ZT”L, the Nadvorner Rebbe of Sefat once told me that he learned a teaching from his great grandfather, Reb Mordcheleh Nadvorner – that the blessing is the DOING of the Mitzvot and the curse is NOT DOING the Mitzvot.

As Jews, we are forced both by the Torah and by society to live by a higher standard. However, this passage in the beginning of our Parsha teaches that a lifestyle fill with Mitzvot will manifest into a blessed life, while a lifestyle void of Mitzvot will appear to be cursed. Forget about reward or punishment. Our lives are made empty or full by the lifestyles we lead. Our blessing and our curse is inherent in how we live, it is not a result of living.

We have two other issues here. First, we must understand exactly what it is that we have to “see”. Then, a subtle message is being given to us that is lost in the translation of the Hebrew.  In the verse:  “Re’ei Anochi Notein LiFneichem HaYom – See, that I am presenting before you today” the word “Re’ei – See” – is a singular verb, while the word “LiFneichem – before you” – is in plural tense. This presents a grammatical shift from singular to plural, which always requires an explanation.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT”L (1895-1986 – Rosh Yeshiva of Metivta Tiferet Yerushalayim in New York City; the leading Halachic decisor of his time and a foremost leader of Jewry), answers both issues by teaching us that if we observe those people who truly follow the Torah and its Mitzvot and we should compare them with those who don’t (Rabbi Feinstein is not speaking about people who are merely religious, he speaks of people who are G-d conscious). Then we will see that for those who follow the Torah life is a blessing, because they are conscious of the many blessings that HaShem gives them which bring joy to their lives. However, for those who are not devoted to the Torah, life itself becomes a curse, no matter how much HaShem gives them they are not satisfied and always want more. They want to believe that only their own efforts and talents have earned them everything that they have and they are envious of others who have more.

Therefore, the Torah tells us, Re’ei – You can SEE for yourselves – that the biggest blessing is the very fact that you harken to HaShem’s Torah and His Mitzvot. By doing so, you (singular) are able to find a blessing in everything that you (singular) have and in everything that you do. If, however, you (singular) do not hearken to the commandments of HaShem your G-d, then everything that you have will be compared to the possessions of others (plural) and become a curse to you, because you will never be satisfied and will always want more.

There is a story told of the famous Chassidic Master, the Rebi Elimelech. A Chassid once came to him and asked: “I have just read in Maimonides that just as we are to praise HaShem for the good that He bestows upon us, so too must we bless Him for the bad that He bestows upon us.” The Chassid said to the Rebbi EliMelech, “I can understand praising HaShem for the good that He bestows upon us. But how is it possible, or even desirous, to praise Him for the bad that happens to us?”

The Rebbe said to his Chassid: “I can answer your question, but my answer will not satisfy you. However, in a certain city is a Jew by the name of Reb Moshe. Ask him the question and you will understand his answer.”

The Chassid packed a bag and began his journey. When he arrived in the city he went to the local synagogue and there he met the Rosh HaKohen – the head of the community. The Chassid told him that the Rebbi EliMelech sent him to seek out a Reb Moshe to answer a certain question. The community head told the Chassid that there were many Reb Moshe’s in this community, if he could hear the question, he might be able to direct him to the right individual.

The Chassid then revealed his question. The community head understood that only Reb Moshe the Banker could answer this question, and sent the Chassid in his direction. When the Chassid asked Reb Moshe the Banker his question, the man looked perplexed and couldn’t come up with an answer. The Chassid returned to the community head and was given the address of a Reb Moshe the lumber dealer, also a man of learning, refinement and very wealthy. When the Chassid asked this Reb Moshe his question, the man looked bewildered and also couldn’t come up with an answer. The Chassid returned a number of times to the head of the community and each time was given the address of another Reb Moshe: Reb Moshe the cattle dealer; Reb Moshe the real estate real estate agent; even Reb Moshe the teacher in the local Cheder. None of these men could answer the Chassid’s question.

Finally, the community head said that there was just one more Reb Moshe, but that he lived at the edge of the forest. He was Reb Moshe the wood chopper, a poor and ignorant man who made a living by collecting fallen branches and twigs from the forest and selling them as kindling to the local households. Both the community head and the Chassid agreed that this could not possibly be the man that the Rebi EliMelech meant, but since he had come this far, he would go ahead and approach the wood chopper. The Chassid came to the edge of the forest and saw a dilapidated rickety old shack. As he climbed the stairs, they wobbled beneath him. When he knocked on the door, it broke off the hinges and fell to the floor. The Chassid was about to turn around and leave, when an old man in shabby clothing came to the doorway. The old man asked him if he could be of help and the Chassid said that he didn’t think so, but that he had been sent by the Rebbi EliMelech to ask the following question: “I can understand praising HaShem for the good that He bestows upon us. But how is it possible, or even desirous, to praise Him for the bad?”

Reb Moshe, the wood chopper, looked perplexed and said to the Chassid, “I can’t understand why a Rebbe as holy as the Rebbe Elimelech would send you to me, since nothing bad has ever happened to me.”

The Chassid then understood why only this man could answer his question, for this man’s attitude towards life was that his glass was always half full, and he thanked HaShem every day for all that He bestowed upon him. The others, with all their wealth, never had enough and could never comprehend why HaShem didn’t provide them with what they felt they needed in order to live a proper lifestyle.

It is very easy to view the world as a victim. We often don’t see what in terms of the physical possessions we often only focus on what we think is lacking in our lives. The blessings and curses of HaShem originate in our eyes. If we see ourselves as victims, then no matter what we have will be a curse upon us. However, if we perceive ourselves as “Children of G-d,” then we will always “see” the blessings and be thankful for all that He has provided for us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110820 – Parshat Eikev



Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12-11:25

Haftorah – Isaiah 49:14-51:3



I write this week’s “Vort” while sitting Shivah for my mother Helen Rosenzweig – Chayah bat Reb Shmu’el HaKohen – who was taken from this world just a few days ago. A heroine of the Holocaust, a devoted wife, mother, grandmother and great- grandmother, she was a true Eishet Chayil (woman of valor). She was a great influence on so many and excelled in the Mitzvot of serving your fellow man with graciousness and showing hospitality to anyone and everyone that came in contact with her. This week’s “Vort” is dedicated to her life and her memory. Tehi Nishmata Baruch – may her soul be blessed.



What is the real miracle of our yearning to return to the Land of Israel? Most historians, in writing about the Middle East, deal primarily with the military victories, the wonders of the War of Independence in 1948-49, when the Arab nations outnumbered us 40 to 1. Or the lightning speed of the miraculous Six–day War in 1967, culminating with the extraordinary liberation of holy city of Jerusalem. For me, the central miracle of the return of our people to Israel is that after 1,800 years of exile, the Jews, with their dream still intact, had never forgotten.

How do you keep a memory alive for almost 60 generations? Could it be that the Torah and our over abundant libraries of holy writings could have served this purpose? Or could it have been having a rich culture filled with Sabbaths and holidays did the task? Can we even theorize that the Hebrew language gave us the ability to survive? No, we all know that these components were not enough for all Jews in all ages.

I don’t know if our historic memory is stronger than that of other nations, but if you repeat something every day, at crucial moments during the day, for 1,800 years, it’s bound to enter your psyche. I refer to the prayer said after every meal served with bread, whose source can be found in this week’s portion: “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the L-rd your G-d for the good land He has given you” (Devarim 8:10).

Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) is only one part of a very special institution in Jewish life: how we eat. We all must eat, but unlike the cultural motto, “You are what you eat,” from a Jewish perspective, it isn’t what you eat – but how you eat, when you eat, where you eat and why you eat.

What makes a person holy? Is it the number of days fasted or hours spent praying? No! Our tradition teaches us that what reveals one’s holiness is their conduct during a meal. The Chasidic sages interpret the teaching, “There is no Kiddush (blessing of sanctification) except where there is a meal,” to mean, “there is no Kiddusha (holiness) except where there is a meal.”

Everyone eats – criminals, animals, “cannibals” but a Jew must be aware of more than just gravy and calorie counting. A Jew must be aware that there are the dietary laws, intended to teach us compassion and lead us gently toward compassion for all life forms. They often stop us from grabbing hamburgers and hot dogs at baseball games and wolfing them down before the curve ball reaches the catcher’s mitt.

If bread is served, we wash our hands ritually, expressing the idea that to be worthy of eating G-d’s food, we should be spiritually cleansed. Should three people feast where words of Torah are not discussed, it is considered as if they’ve just been dining on a dead offering (Ethics of Our Ancestors 3:3), because the source to what becomes our food is HaShem. Therefore, the idea of “just grabbing a sandwich” is a minor dilemma for the spiritually aware.

However, it’s the three major blessings of the Grace after Meals that tell the story of who we are as a people. As long as we live by these words and make them as real as the food we swallow, we are worthy of inheriting and living on this land.

The first blessing (composed by Moshe), begins, “Blessed are You…who nourishes the entire world (‘HaZan Et HaKol’)“ focuses us to recognize that G-d is the source of our sustenance, not a credit card or a lucky reservation. In the animal world, nourishment is the center of reality, but for Jews, we need to understand that “we don’t live by [or for] bread alone” (Devarim 8:3).

The second blessing (composed by Joshua) deals with the land of Israel: “We thank You, HaShem, our G-d, because You have given our ancestors a desirable, good and spacious land…” Which land? Not Egypt, not Babylon, not Russia, not Poland, not Spain, not Germany, not even America. This blessing teaches us that when the food one eats is grown in a land that is not our own; then we will always be subject to the whims of the rulers of those lands. Only food grown in our own land, in our own soil, really belongs to us and gives us true joy.

One of the leaders of the Shomer HaTza’ir movement, Ya’akov Chazzan, tells how he received his most important lesson in Zionism and the fundamentals of beginning an agricultural movement in Palestine, from a Polish peasant while he was still in Poland. As the peasant work the soil, from time to time he would bend down and cup his ear to the ground. Asked to explain, the farmer informed Ya’akov that he was listening to the song of the land. Young Chazzan then cupped his ear and could not hear a thing, with a sly wink the farmer added, “Yankele, that’s not surprising, the only ones who can hear this land’s symphony, are those who own this land.”

We said this blessing in Alexandria, in Venice, in Casablanca, in Warsaw, for a land we had never seen but which we knew was the only land where we’d be able to hear the Ya’akov Chazzan Symphony.

The third blessing (composed by King David) deals with the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Why? The rocky soil of Jerusalem is not known for its wheat fields, yet, it too is crucial to hearing our symphony. Even in your own homeland, feeling as earthy as any Polish farmer with his ear to the ground, if your eyes don’t seek out the glory of Jerusalem, the living symbol of the Eternal One, then your destiny might be annihilated, as described in Devarim 8:19 – 20. The third blessing teaches us to go well beyond earthly symphonies. Indeed, we have little choice because the Torah makes it clear that tilling this soil also depends on our spiritual perfection. The blessing of rebuilding Jerusalem instructs us not to limit ourselves to reaping one kind of crop while forgetting about the ultimate crop.

These three blessings are biblically ordained. Over the course of millions of meals, we could have gotten fat and lazy, but the Grace after Meals was a constant reminder that the day would come when we would again eat our own bread, from our own fields, baked in our own ovens. As Jews, we do not simply eat to sustain ourselves, but to become more connected to the roots of our humanity and our ultimate purpose – to sanctify our earthly endeavors and to walk in HaShem’s ways.

“To G-d belongs the earth and everything in it” (Psalms 24;1). And as His partners in the ongoing experience of creation, we are duty bound to sanctify the soil, to use it not abuse it, and to use it for a higher purpose. If we could but see the soul in the soil, then we could also come to hear its sounds and enjoy its symphony.

My mother Aleha HaShalom, was a Koch Lefel – she was a kitchen utensil – she made the kitchen work for her. The food you ate at my mother’s table, the delicacies that were served at Shiva houses or at Hadassah bazaars (she wasn’t even a member) were made for the purpose of partaking in G-d’s gifts of life. Our Shabbat and festival tables were surrounded by family and guests. Her Passover Seder table presented the flavor of a European Jewish culture that was slowly fading from memory and at the same time incorporated the miracles of that recent Passover when she, almost her entire family and her new husband walked out of the gates of their own Egypt and celebrated their liberation as a G-dly act.

When my son Benji was born my mother catered his Brit in Sefat. His Sandek and one of the most honored of the guests was my Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Leifer ZTz”L who originated from the city of Baniah in Romania, which was very close to my mother’s hometown of Visu. The night before the Brit, in addition to all the other delicacies, she and my father A”H also handmade 300 gefilte fish – and when the Rebbe tasted it, he said it tasted like his mother’s fish, Ta’am Gan Eden – the taste of the Garden of Eden. Rebbe Leifer wasn’t speaking of the taste – he was speaking of the love and the soul that went into the fish. He wasn’t talking about recipes, he spoke of formulas for elevating the food from being mearly tastey, to feeding the souls of all who sanctified to being sanctified by this food.

My mother was 95 years old when she passed away. That means that she was 31 years old when she was liberated from the horrors of Nazism. She represented an era of Judaism that is only remembered by very few remaining survivors. An era of great European Torah personalities, spiritual role models and scholarly works that would have been forgotten by an entire generation if it wasn’t for this handful of Jews transplanted all over the world and their refusal to give up the wonders of their culture.

Helen Rosenzweig was not a great scholar, nor a brilliant teacher, but with considerable grace she taught Judaism to hundreds of Jews at her Shabbat table. She came from a long line of Mitzvah-spreaders who used the table to bring Holiness to the world.  Her grandfather, Yehuda Leib Berger A”H, used the third meal of Shabbat to feed the poor people of Sighet. They ate his holy food, then sang the holy songs around that table that even inspired gypsies who gathered outside the window. When he left this world, the community asked his family to bury this Mitzvah man using the wood from their table for his coffin.

My mother’s table is no longer with us, and she hadn’t cooked a meal in years because of her condition, but I believe that every crumb of her nut-cake, every flake of her apple strudel, every morsel of her Chremzlach, or Pitcha, or Rogoh Krumpli, or the myriad of dishes that she made all screamed: “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the L-rd your G-d.”

Bagels and lox never saved one Jew from assimilation and no Jew ever made Aliyah to Israel because they liked falafel. But tens of thousands of totally assimilated Jews of all ages and from all over the world, may have once been invited to a Shabbat or festival meal and found that it kindled sparks in their souls that suddenly began to burn. With great pride our family, our children and some of our grandchildren have cherished memories of holy meals that drew attention to our heritage, encouraged our love for the land of Israel and for the people of Israel, and linked us to an uninterrupted chain that spanned 110 generations.

My mother was a Yiddisheh Mama in every sense of the word and she is already missed by hundreds and thousands of Jews who once sat at her table, or the table of her children or grandchildren and tasted soul food from above.

Tehi Nishmata Baruch – may her soul be blessed.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110813 – Parshat Va’etChanan

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim 3:23 – 7:11


Haftorah – Isaiah 40:1-26


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Two of the most profound pronouncements in the Torah can be found in our Parsha this week. They are: the declaration of our faith – The Shema (6:4-10); and the Ten Utterances or also known as the Ten Commandments (5:6-19). These two declarations have held the Children of Israel together for more than three millennia.

The Shema in its simplicity teaches us of the love relationship between HaShem and His people Israel. The Ten Utterances categorize all of the Torah’s 613 Mitzvot (commandments) into ten principles of our faith. “Shema Yisra’el, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad    Hear O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is the One and Only.”

The first time that the Shema was uttered was recorded in the MiDrash on Parshat VaYichi. In the “Vortify” of that week (published on Dec. 28, 1997) this MiDrash was rephrased: “…Prior to Ya’akov’s death, he wished to inform his sons of the time of the final redemption. He gathered his children around his bed and suddenly his memory failed and Ya’akov was despondent. He thought that it was his sons’ unworthiness that caused HaShem to take away the memory of the redemption. The 12 sons of Ya’akov knew what their father was thinking and tried to reassure him that they fully believed in HaShem.

They said in unison; ‘Shema Yisra’el – Hear us [our father] Israel, HaShem Elokeinu – HaShem is our G-d, HaShem Echad – and HaShem is One.’

When Ya’akov heard his sons’ response to his doubts, he knew that his lapse of memory had nothing to do with their worthiness, but, rather, it was HaShem who did not want this information to be revealed. With this realization Ya’akov replied; Baruch Sheim Kavod Malchuto L’Olam Va’ed – Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom, forever and ever.’ These well known phrases became the mainstay of Jewish prayer for ever and ever.”

Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) incorporated their first declaration of faith into the declaration made twice daily by Am Yisra’el (the Nation of Israel). (By the way, when the Torah records the words of the Shema, the last letter of the first word, the letter “A’yin” in ShemA (hear), is enlarged. Also, the last letter of the last word, the letter “Dalet” in EchaD (One), is also enlarged. Bring these two letters (A’yin and Dalet) together and they form the word “Eyd” – witness – we are the true YHV”H witnesses.)

This declaration as well as the Ten Utterances that precede it are testimonies to the Torah by the Nation of Israel. We do not accept the document only because Moshe was a trustworthy leader ofIsrael. We accept the Torah because we, a small nation of former slaves, witnessed and testify daily, that HaShem is the One and only G-d.

Our role in the world as a “light onto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) is dependant upon a high level of spiritual, social and ethical behavior that will act as a beacon of enlightenment to all nations. That level of behavior can only come about as a result of an eye witness account of the interaction between the Nation of Israel and HaShem. No other nation or religion can make this claim, no other nation or religion has experienced the events or the encounter thatIsrael has. This is the uniqueness of the Shema and the Ten Utterances. They represent Eydut (witnessing) of the personal encounter with HaShem.

But there is another very important element to this encounter, the element of forgiveness. After the first 2 tablets with the Ten Utterances were given, Moshe dropped and shattered the tablets when he observed that the Israelites were worshiping the Golden Calf. On the first day of the sixth month (Elul), Moshe again ascended Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights and engraved the second tablets (mentioned on this week’s Parsha) returning them to the Nation of Israel on the tenth of the seventh month (Tishri), or Yom Kippur – the day of atonement.

During the time that Moshe spent on Mt.Sinai, HaShem revealed to him His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (Shemot [Exodus] 34:5-6). These Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are recalled as a formula to be used whenever a time of crises arises and HaShem’s Mercy is required. Truthfully, the Sin of the Golden Calf was so deplorable that we should not have survived as HaShem’s Treasured Nation (Shemot 19:5) but His mercy is abundant and He is slow to anger.

During the post-Tisha B’Av period, from now until the High Holidays we look at our spiritual side and begin a process of self-examination. This self-analysis goes through a number of stages. The second stage is during the month of Elul, refining our selves as individuals and as a nation. The third state is during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva (the Ten Days of Repentance) between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we attempt to offer our changed personalities as a personal testimony to HaShem’s forgiveness. And finally, the Joy that we experience having received forgiveness from HaShem, manifests itself in the festival of Sukkot (tabernacles), referred to as Z’man Simchateinu (the time of our rejoicing).

Today only Am Yisra’el can say, “ShemA Yisra’el, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem EchaD (Hear O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is the One and Only).” But we all pray for the day when as the prophet Zachariah foretold (Zach. 14:9): “HaShem will be King over the entire world – on that day HaShem will be One and His Name will be One.”

Let us live up to our destiny and rectify the world with our personal deeds of righteousness. Let these deeds testify to the uniqueness of HaShem’s desire for mankind to live in peace and harmony with all nations and all peoples. And let us show by example and as witnesses that this is all possible the same way that we were shown the kindness of the One and living G-d.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110730 – Parshat Ma’asei

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



BaMidbar (Numbers) 33:1 – 36:13

Haftorah Jeremiah 2:4 – 28, 3:4


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This week, Parshat Ma’asei completes the Book of BaMidbar. Included in this Parsha are the final laws dealing with Jewish life and the division of Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel). For all intents and purposes, the Book of BaMidbar is the end of the Torah’s journey from Egypt. The first four books of the Torah were written by HaShem (Tractate Megillah 31b).  The last part of the Book of BaMidbar and our Parsha ends with the episode of the daughters of Tezlafchad.

The next Book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy), was actually written by Moshe prior to his death. In ancient times it was referred to as Mishnah Torah (the Second Torah or “Deuteronomy” in Greek). In this book, Moshe informs the Children of Israel that in order to successfully live in the Land of Israel, a certain level of righteous behavior is required.

Events with Tezlafchad and his daughters are mentioned three times. In Parshat Shelach, an incident of transgressing Shabbat was recorded that took place in the first year after the Exodus: “The Children of Israel were in the Wilderness and they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moshe and Aharon, and to the entire assembly. They placed him in custody, for it had not been clarified what was to be done to him. HaShem said to Moshe: ‘The man should be put to death; the entire assembly shall pelt him with stones outside the camp’ ” (BaMidbar 15:32-35). The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 96b-97a) informs us that Rebbi Akiva (118-138 C.E. one of the leading Rabbis of the Mishnaic period, martyred by the Romans) held that this wood gatherer was Tezlafchad. He wanted to show the nation that the transgressions of Shabbat were truly punishable by death and therefore martyred himself to prove the point.

In Parshat Pinchas, the daughters of Tezlafchad – “…stood before Moshe, before Elazar the Priest, and before the leaders and the entire assembly at the entrance of the Ohel Mo’ed (Tent of the Meeting), saying: ‘Our father died in the Wilderness, but he was not among the gathering that rebelled against HaShem in the assembly of Korach, but he died of his own sin and he had no son. Why should the name of our father be omitted from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession [in the Land of Israel] among our father’s brothers.’ And Moshe brought their claim before HaShem.” (BaMidbar 27:2-5)

The Land of Israel was divided into tribal territories and then subdivided by means of a lottery into family portions that must remain within tribal ownership for all time. Inheritance laws usually do not permit a woman to inherit land. Since the land was subdivided – L’Veit Avotam (to the houses of the fathers) – all land must remain within the tribe based on the tribal affiliation of the men. The daughters of Tezlafchad claimed that since their father did not die in Korach’s rebellion, but in the sanctification of HaShem’s Name, their “father’s house” should not suffer exclusion from the lottery.

Therefore, HaShem clarifies the laws of inheritance regarding a man who dies without a male heir; in favor of daughters but only then if they are married to men of their tribe.

In chapter 36 of our Parsha, the family of Tezlafchad brought up another issue. Since the Land of Israel would be divided into tribal territories and then subdivided by means of a lottery into family portions, if female inheritors marry men from outside of their tribe, the land that would eventually go to their children who would be members of another tribe. This would jeopardize the whole concept of family territory remaining within tribal land.

Moshe agrees with the assessment of the members of the tribe of Menasha. He responds: “…Correctly does the tribe of the children of Joseph speak. This is the word that HaShem has commanded regarding the daughters of Tezlafchad saying: Let them be wives to whomever is good in their eyes, but only to the family of their father shall they become wives. An inheritance of the Children of Israel shall not make rounds from tribe to tribe; rather the Children of Israel shall cleave every man to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. Every daughter who inherits the inheritance of the tribes of the Children of Israel shall become the wife of someone from the family of her father’s tribe, so that everyone from the Children of Israel will inherit the inheritance of his fathers. An inheritance shall not make the rounds from a tribe to another tribe, for the tribes of the Children of Israel shall cleave, every man to his own inheritance. As HaShem commanded Moshe, so did the daughters of Tezlafchad do. Malah, Tirtzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah, the daughters of Tezlafchad, became wives to the sons of their uncles. [To cousins] from the families of the children of Menasha, son of Yosef, did they become wives, and their inheritance remained with the tribe of the family of their father.

The episodes of the daughters of Tezlafchad are very unusual. Moshe teaches a commandment of God, whereby women cannot inherit their fathers land and when Moshe is challenged, he asks HaShem for guidance and HaShem acquiesces to the requests of the women (with conditions). How strange! Didn’t HaShem know the petition before it was given? Couldn’t the original law reflect the leniency towards women who marry within the tribe? Why is this game of giving God’s law, challenging it, and then amending the law necessary? I would like to look at two other Mitzvot that may help solve this quandary.

In VaYikra (Numbers) 9: 1-14 we find the Mitzvah of Pesach Sheni – the second Passover. In the year after the exodus, HaShem commanded the Israelites to observe Pesach once again (it would not be observed again until they entered the Land of Israel). In order to eat the Pascal Lamb (a holy offering), one must be in a state of Taharah – purity from death. Anyone who had contact with a dead body and who did not undergo the purification of the Red Heifer could not eat the Pascal Lamb and therefore could not fulfill the Mitzvah of Pesach. A number of Israelites, who had recently buried their dead, petitioned Moshe that it was not right that those who performed the greatest Mitzvah of Kevirat HaMet – burying the dead, would lose the opportunity to perform the Mitzvah of Pesach. Moshe asked for HaShem’s guidance and HaShem acquiesced to the request and established Pesach Sheni – the second Passover. If one was unable to perform this Mitzvah because he/she was involved in the burial of the dead, then one month after the real Pesach, a second Pesach could be observed.

However, two chapters later in VaYikra 24:11-16 we have the episode of the blasphemer. A man born of an Egyptian father and an Israelite mother pitched his tent next to his mother, in the area designated for the tribe of Dan. When told that he must move to the gentile area of the camp (though his mother was Jewish, his father was Egyptian and therefore without tribal rights), he blasphemed against HaShem, a capital offence.

We see from the first two cases that when a law appeared to be too harsh, the people (a minority) came before Moshe, voiced their concerns and HaShem changed the law. But with the blasphemer, he took the law into his own hands and when he didn’t get his way, he committed the most grievous of all transgressions, blasphemy.

At the end of the fourth book, a book that is practically the end of HaShem’s “word,” a group of five women (who most modern people consider to have been legally inferior), who are named in the text, are given unparalleled license to keep property within the family and and within the tribe by HaShem.

While today we cannot change Torah law because we consider it unfair, we learn that HaShem feels our pain; He awaits our calling out to Him. The difference between the daughters of Tezlafchad, the petitioners of being left out of the Pesach ritual and the blasphemer is, they asked, he didn’t.

Today, in our bitter exile, our courts only have limited power to affect change. Without a Temple and a Sanhedrin, our rabbinical courts are very restricted in what they can and cannot do. As Jews living in exile, we too cannot always live up to His standards. In the Amidah prayer – the eighteen benedictions recited three times a day, we ask HaShem to restore the judges and courts of old: “Restore our judges as in former times, and our counselors as at the beginning; remove from us sorrow and sighing; reign over us, You alone, in loving-kindness and tender mercy, and find for us in judgment. Blessed are You HaShem, the King who loves righteousness and judgment.

Al-Mighty God, feel our pain, understand the struggles that plague us, see how much we wish to be close to You and though we may be conflicted and even unworthy, please show us Your loving-kindness.

In these three weeks when we mourn the loss of our Temple, our King, our Sanhedrin, and our painful separation from our land (even if we live there) it would be beneficial for us all to look inside ourselves and change what we can, and ask for His guidance for what we cannot.

Chazak, Chazak, V’NitChazek – Strong, Strong, let us be strong.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110702 – Parshat Chukat/Rosh Chodesh

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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



BaMidbar (Numbers) 19:1‑22:1


BaMidbar (Numbers) 28:9-15

Haftorah – Isaiah 66:1-24


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This week’s Parsha deals in part with the Mitzvah of the Para Adumah (Red Cow/heifer). Any contact with human death causes a Tumah (impurity) that must be removed so that the Jew may continue to function in society (especially during Temple times when contact and even entrance to the Temple were restricted to only those in a state of purity). The Tumah of death is so profound that it is referred to by our Rabbis as an Av HaTumah (a first generation of impurity), while other forms of Tumah are called Toldot (second generation impurities).

Thus, if people became contaminated from contact with a corpse they would be were commanded to be separated from the community for a seven day period. On the third, they would be sprinkled with the ashes of the Para Adumah, immerse themselves in a Mikvah (a body of flowing water). Again on the seventh day they would be sprinkled with the ashes of the Para Adumah and again immerse themselves in the Mikvah and emerge completely purified (BaMidbar 19:11-13 & 18-20).

Another aspect is that this is a Chok – a Mitzvah that is paradoxical in nature. For instance, the person who is sprinkled with the ashes of the Red Cow becomes Tahor (purified), while the Kohen (priest) that does the sprinkling becomes Tamei (BaMidbar 19:10).

Judaism uniquely, sanctifies life and considers death defilement. The Israelites left Egypt (whose religion glorified death – the Egyptian holy book was “The Book of the Dead”), and were obligated to separate themselves from those rituals and practices.

We have a very detailed belief in life after death, yet nowhere in the Torah is such a belief defined. In fact, the Torah is replete with messages such as: “I call heaven and earth today to bear witness against you: I have placed life and death before you, a blessing [for those who follow the Torah] and a curse [for those who don’t]; choose life, so that you and your descendants may live.” Devarim [Deuteronomy] 30:15

Let us look a bit closer at some of the rituals and Mitzvot surrounding the rejection of death.

As in the case of the Para Adumah, the condition of Nidah (a Tumah on the woman during and after menstruation), creates a state of impurity that needs water to wash away it away. In this case, the dead egg is flushed from a woman’s body and she therefore requires immersion in a Mikvah to ritually purify her from the Tumah of the loss of a potential life. Since Nidah doesn’t actually deal with death but the lost potential of life, only immersion in a Mikvah is required.

Upon awakening, every Jew is required to perform Netilat Yada’yim – the washing of hands in order to remove the Tumah of sleep (which is a mini-death of sorts). Our tradition teaches us that while asleep, some of our life functions close down and we enter into a near death-like state. In this case neither Para Adumah, nor, Mikvah are required, washing each hand with flowing water removes the Tumah.

Judaism has very strict dietary laws including special procedures for the slaying of animals for food. In fact, according to our tradition, before the flood in the time of No’ach (Noah), animals were forbidden to be slaughtered for the sole purpose of consumption, because it required the killing of a living being. After the flood, killing for the purpose of food was permitted, however one of the seven Noachide commandments given to all of mankind was Ever Min HaChai (literally, “the limb of a living animal”) – before an mammal may be eaten it must be first be slaughtered. After receiving the Torah, we were instructed to slaughter all mammals in a painless way and then remove the blood (the life force) before eating.

In addition, there had to be a separation between meat and milk (deriving from the commandment – “…do not cook a kid in the milk of its mother” Shemot [Exodus] 23:19, 34:26, and Devarim 14:21). This Mitzvah is the essence of Jewish morality. Just as it would be cruel to slaughter a kid (a mammal and thereby taking its life) and then cooking it in the life-giving milk of its own mother, so too, we must separate any meat derived from the death of an animal from life-giving milk.

It is imperative to note that the Mitzvah of Para Adumah is classified as a Chok (a non-rational commandment). The Torah classifies Mitzvot as Chukim (Mitzvot that are not based on the rational) and MiShpatim (rational commandments). These Chukim are by definition impossible to comprehend and must be accepted with the same fervor as rational Mitzvot.

The commentary of the Artscroll Chumash (5 Books of Moses) says: “The underlying message…as well as the many other mysteries of the Torah, is that the Supreme Intelligence has granted man a huge treasury of spiritual and intellectual gifts, but none is more precious than the knowledge that G-d is infinite, both in essence and in wisdom, while man is as limited in his ability to comprehend as he is in his physical existence. As Reb Yochanan ben Zakai (a leading sage at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple [c. 70] and youngest of the disciples of Hillel), told his students regarding our failure to understand the laws of the Red Cow, ‘It is not the corpse that causes the contamination or the ashes that of the Cow that cause purity. These laws are decrees of G-d, and man must not question them’ [Midrash]. In other words, an essential component of wisdom is the knowledge that man’s failure to understand truth does not make it untrue.” Artscroll Pentateuch, page 838

Today, without a Temple, we do not have the ability to become completely Tahor. We are all in a state of Tumah. This Mitzvah not only reminds us that HaShem is infinite and incomprehensible, but, it also reminds us that as a nation in exile, we cannot become completely pure. We are surrounded by the contamination of Tumah that cannot be removed without the Para Adumah. On July 19th we will begin a period of 3 weeks of mourning for our Temple. Beginning with the 17th of Tamuz and ending on the 9th of Av (August 9th) when we bring to mind the loss of both our holy Temples in Jerusalem and all that has happened to our nation as a result.

May next year be a year of celebration, with the heralding of our Mashi’ach (anointed king), the rebuilding of our Temple, the ingathering of our exiles, the discovery of a Para Adumah and the removal of all Tumah from our bodies and our souls.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110507 – Parshat Emor



Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



VaYikra (Leviticus) 21:1 – 24:23

Haftarah – Ezekiel 44:15-31



Perhaps you recall the experience from your childhood. You get all dressed up for a holiday or a family Simcha – a wedding, for instance, or a special birthday party. As you wait for the rest of the family to get ready, your mother or father warns, “Don’t go outside; you’ll get your clothes dirty.”

The fear of dirt runs deep within us, and dirt need not be physical. There are dirty jokes and dirty tricks; people can have foul mouths and filthy minds. We speak even of sin as moral pollution – picture Lady Macbeth frantically scrubbing herself free of the “damned [cursed] spot” that has come from her many crimes.

Spiritually, too, the Torah speaks of purity and pollution. What mud puddles are to brand new clothes, and murder to moral virtue, ritual impurity is to spiritual sanctity. The problem is that the realm of the spiritual is a lot harder to imagine. But it is real nonetheless. Just from its exposure to the air, silverware collects tarnish, and if you leave it long enough, you will forget that there is anything shiny underneath. So, too, the part of us that is spiritual requires periodic shining from the tarnish of daily life.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the oxygen that tarnishes silver. Indeed, without oxygen, life itself would end. So, too, there is nothing evil about the morass of unspiritual details that consume the bulk of every waking day. Office work, house cleaning, cooking, shopping, eating and relaxing in front of the television set are all part of what it is to be human. These also are elements in G-d’s world, a slice of G-d’s plan for us who were put here, to work and watch over His earthly enterprise.

But at times we yearn to escape the mundane. Every once in a while, from deep within, we feel the need to be touched by the Divine, to be transformed by a burst of beauty, to be moved by the presence of love, to suspend our list of “things to do” and put on hold the harsh pace that drives us relentlessly, even as we pursue the good and happy things that we enjoy.

Those moments when we see beyond the hassle of the day by day, and stare instead into a shining moment of eternity, the Torah calls this sacred. Sacred moments then are times when we are relieved from having to worry about what there is to do, or whether something works. That explains why Shabbat is sacred: it is a day for doing nothing related to our weekday schedule. Similarly, one of our prayers describes Chanukah lights as sacred, because “we may not put them to any other use.” If you read by them, for instance, they are not sacred anymore.

Even the sacred music of our prayers is not performed the way concert music is. The music of our worship should be music for our souls, music that speaks to the deepest part of our being, getting beyond our normally critical selves. In the moments of the sacred, we thus strip ourselves free from worldly pursuits, so that we do not allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by those pursuits.

To a great extent, the entire book of Leviticus is a grand metaphor for the need to nurture our spiritual selves. So our Parsha this week speaks of the Kohen Gadol – the high priest, who is told not to go out of the sanctuary where he is ministering. Our commentators explain that we worry lest the priest be polluted. Not that the priest may remain forever indoors, of course. In fact, the Ibn Ezra says he is required to leave in order to perform Mitzvot, even though, like a child in new clothes, he may well meet up with impurities there.

In fact, this is implied in a verse from last week’s Parsha of Kedoshim, where it details the Yom Kippur atonement ritual. While the Kohen Gadol ministered in the Holy of Holies on that one special, sacred day, and had the sole distinction of entry into that inner sanctum, the Torah also enjoins him, and in the case of the Biblical narrative, it refers to himself saying “that he may not come at all times into the holy place” (Lev. 16:2). Some see this as an important injunction and reminder that the Kohen Gadol leads not only in the pristine purity and ivory tower environment of the Temple, but his true leadership is in the street, in the marketplace among the common folk, and amid the challenges of ordinary, mundane life.

In that regard we are all high priests, commanded to leave the sanctuaries of our lives in order to spend our time in the busy world where impurities abound. Physical filth galore inundates our urban areas, and moral obscenities abound in society. But there is spiritual sludge as well, the film that gathers on our souls if we never retreat from the world of work and worry, and enter instead into the sanctuaries of the spirit that we call our sacred places. There are sacred times, too, our portion calls them: Shabbat and Mo’adim (sacred times), for instance.

Comes Shabbat, and we are bidden to remember the high priest within each of us. It is our time to unwind from the struggle of daily life; to find our way to a synagogue and then to a quiet spot and to lose one’s in one’s own secret place of serenity. Turn off your inner ticking clock that reminds you always of what is not yet done. Look deeply into the eyes of someone you love. Take a deep breath and marvel at the fact that you are still alive.

How do we honor time in our lives? Do we take advantage of Shabbat and our holidays to explore the many facets of our spiritual lives? Holidays provide a “time out” to reflect on values that give meaning and purpose to our “ordinary time.” Without “sacred time,” our lives lack distinctions. I suspect that the feelings expressed in the phrases “our lives are out of control” and “I just can’t get off this treadmill” come about because we ignore opportunities to give meaning and holiness to our lives, to our possessions and to our time.

Like the priest called out of the Sanctuary to do the Mitzvot, we, too, are summoned to be active in the world. But on occasion we have the right, even the need, to retreat far away from pedestrian pursuits and revive our soul with the freshness of the sacred. The mundane certainly matters, but at times a helping of holiness, a dash of the Divine, provides the necessary corrective and restorative quality to a life that otherwise could and would be overrun by ordinary activity. Life demands a mixture of the mundane with the sublime. Together they represent the recipe for life and meaningful living.

As a final thought, when the Torah beseeches us to: “become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” Shemot (Exodus) 19:6, we might consider taking this suggestion literally.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

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