130907 – Parshat Hazinu Shabbat Shuva /Rosh HaShanah

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftarah – Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27


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Our 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 Yisra’el (the Land of Israel), but with all future generations of Jews – that Hashem and they will be faithful, committed and conscious of each other.

How appropriate to read this Parsha before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, which begins this coming 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 (B’rayshit [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 B’rayshit 20:1-18, the chapter immediately prior to the 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 jurisdiction 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 take a married woman, no, he was a civilized man, and would never consider bedding the woman of another man.  But, somehow that woman’s husband would conveniently lose his life, leaving the door open for Avimelech’s now 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 asleep 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 Sara 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 sin with Sarah.  Avraham answered AviMelech; “And Avraham said: ‘…there is no fear 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 Sara 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 seen so often.

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 basically 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 Malchay 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 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).

Let us mark the year 5774 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.

I wish you all a K’Tivah V’Chatima Tova, May you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Reb Yosil

130831 – Parshi’ot NeTzavim & VaYeLech



Torah WritingReb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftarah – Isaiah 61:10-63:9



In the second Parsha of the two Parshi’ot read this week, Moshe Rabbeinu passes the mantle of leadership to his faithful disciple Yehoshu’a and Moshe steps aside and allows Yehoshu’a to guide Am Yisra’el. HaShem asks Moshe to summon Yehoshu’a to the entrance of the Ohel Mo’ed so that they might receive instruction together.

HaShem tells them that after Moshe passes away, Am Yisra’el will forsake the Torah and HaShem will conceal His Face from them, and great suffering will ensue.

The Torah therefore commands that Am Yisra’el should: “Kitvu Lachem Et Hashirah HaZot, V’Limdu Et B’nei Yisra’el, Simah B’Fihem, Liman Ti’hiyu Li Hashirah HaZot, L’Ayd BiB’nei Yisra’el – Write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the B’nei Yisra’el, place it in their mouths, so that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B’nei Yisra’el” (Devarim 31:19).

HaShem requires every Jew to write a Sefer Torah (Kitvu Lachem Et Hashirah HaZot) in order to recall the covenant and the responsibility of that covenant with HaShem.

HaShem refers to the Torah as Shirah, literally ‘the song’. Song is perhaps a bad translation. In Hebrew, Shirah can mean song or poem. I believe that poem would be more accurate. This gives us great insight into what the Torah is and how we are to relate to it.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, commonly known as the NeTZIV (1817-1893) presents a beautiful explanation of this thought. He writes that scripture is commonly viewed as prose and therefore taken literally. However, if we relate to the Torah as poetry, then the purpose of the Torah Sh’Ba’al Peh (the oral Torah), becomes clear – to illuminate and clarify the meaning

behind text.

For instance, when we read in the Torah that our matriarch Sara lived for “one hundred years and twenty years and seven years,” its unusual phrasing alludes to a deeper meaning. The Torah is sending us a message that at the age of one hundred, she was as sinless as a twenty year old. At twenty, she had the innocent beauty of a seven year old.

When we look at the Torah as prose, we often get bogged down in the validity and conflicting interpretations of Torah Sh’Ba’al Peh. But when we see it as poetry, Torah Sh’Ba’al Peh adds dimension and a wide spectrum of meaning to each and every word.

The verse that teaches us this is in itself a classic example of the opportunity to see deeper than just the words. The MaLBIM (acronym for Meir Leibush ben Yechi’el Michel, 1809-1879) asks why the Torah says “Liman Ti’hiyu Li L’Ayd BiB’nei Yisra’el (so that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B’nei Yisra’el”). On first reading, one might understand from these words that when the B’nei Yisra’el stray from the Torah, the Torah itself will testify against them. As prose, this seems to be the meaning behind the words. But does HaShem need a witness to govern the universe?

The MaLBIM explains with a parable. A king frees one of his subjects who was imprisoned for theft and appoints him to guard his treasury. Since the king knew that by nature this man was prone to thievery, and it was safe to assume that he might steal again; the king chronicled the appointment in full detail.

The other citizens believed that the king did so to warn the former thief, that if he ever stole in the future, he would be put to death for stealing from the king is an act of treason. But actually, the king’s reason for writing it all down was to remind himself, that if this man was ever caught stealing, the king should be lenient with him, for he should have known better than to appoint him keeper of the treasury.

So, too, does HaShem record here: “So that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B’nei Yisra’el“. The King of kings asks that this poetry be recorded, with all its nuances and all its meanings so that the King will always be aware of our shortcomings and act in a Merciful manner towards us.

Those who study the Torah as prose, view HaShem as a Vengeful G-d. Those who study the Torah as poetry; view HaShem as a Merciful G-d. At the approach of the Yamim Nora’im (the Days of Awe), when we beseech HaShem to be merciful with us, may we have the insight to see the poetry of His Torah.

Shabbat Shalom and may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Reb Yosil

130824 – Parshat Ki Tavo



imagesReb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8

Haftarah – Isaiah 60:1-22



This week’s Parsha is one of those in which Moshe reviews the commandments, forewarnings and events of the previous forty years. At the very end of the Parsha, almost as a by–the–way, he refers to a miracle which seems to have been unannounced and not mentioned previously. In verse 29:4, Moshe says to the people: “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your clothes have not grown old upon you…” Of course, we can simply take this at face value, namely, that there was a miracle that over the previous 40 years the people’s clothes did not wear out and fray. However, two points argue for more analysis.

  1. Most miracles involve an action (such as the manna falling from heaven, the Reed Sea parting, etc.) rather than something that doesn’t happen.
  2. The people Moshe is speaking to were presumably children forty years previously and would no longer fit into the clothes they were wearing then!

To what, then, could Moshe have been referring? At least two other incidents in the Torah seem to resonate with this scene and may allow us to add another dimension to Moshes statement.

The first of these involves Ya’acov (Jacob) and his followers after the rescue of his daughter Dinah from the city of Shechem (Bereishit [Genesis] 34:25). As a result of that rescue, the women and children of the city had been absorbed into Ya’akov’s family (Bereishit 34:29). HaShem then spoke to Jacob and told him to rededicate his people to G-d.

In doing so, Ya’acov says: “To all that were with him… put away the strange gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments,         and let us arise and go up to Bethel…” (Bereishit 35:2-3). We find a strange emphasis on the changing of clothes, a single detail of preparation out of the hundreds of important details involved in moving Ya’akov’s camp.

Not only that, but why change garments before the journey rather than at the end of the journey, prior to the rededication ceremonies? Arguably then, the changing of the garments symbolizes the changing of belief systems and the acceptance of Israelite practice.

In the second incident, the Children of Israel, having just escaped from Egypt, are standing at Mount Sinai, about to receive the Ten Commandments. HaShem said to Moshe: “…go unto the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments…” (Shemot [Exodus] 19:10). Again, emphasis on a small detail, but more understandable if we read it as a “cleaning of the slate,” preparing to receiving a unique set of commandments and a whole new lifestyle.

In both of these incidents, references to people’s clothing are in fact references to their belief systems. Following this line of reasoning, we can now read our original quotation from Moshe as saying, “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness; the beliefs which you adopted at Sinai have not grown old upon you…”

We also have had our own Sinai experiences and traveled through our own wildernesses. And as we go into the Rosh Hashanah season, perhaps an appropriate prayer is for Moshe’s miracle to again be repeated, that we will rid ourselves of our old clothes for the new year, or, that the new clothes we might try on for the first time, shall not grow old upon our backs.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130817 – Parshat Ki Teitzei



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10-25:19

Haftarah – Isaiah 54:1-10


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One of the sins recited in the Vidui – the great confessional that is part of the Yom Kippur liturgy is, “And for the sin which we have committed before You by misjudging.” How do we, who are not judges, transgress this sin? It seems that mention of such a transgression does not apply to us, but only to those who render judgments and pronounce decrees and decisions in the halls of justice.

The answer is that not only do people who wear black robes and sit upon the bench, judge. All of us are judging all of the time. We judge each other, and we sometimes do it spitefully and callously. For these ever-present and unfair judgments, we, therefore, ask forgiveness on Yom Kippur.

In this week’s Sedra (Devarim 25:13-15), we actually find the commandment that speaks to this concern: “You shall not have in your bag diverse weights, large and small. You shall not have in your home diverse measures, large and small…A perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shall you have.”

This Mitzvah refers not only to the actual instruments and scales that were used in business and commerce. Our Jewish tradition also understands that there are measuring devices and standards that exist in the ethical and moral realms and that have to be used honestly and with great sensitivity.

One of the most common failings in contemporary life is the tendency to apply favorable sets of standards for ourselves, and unfavorable ones for others. To justify our conduct and to crown our achievements, we use scales that are always balanced in OUR favor.

For others, we often use a “small scale.” We belittle and denigrate the standing and accomplishments of our friends and neighbors. By minimizing the worth of others, we hope to achieve greater credit for ourselves. Jewish tradition is aware of and refers to this propensity as gaining honor at the expense of shaming others, and it is considered a major violation of Jewish ethical law (Maimoni­des, Laws of Repentance, 4:4).

Numerous are the examples of this kind of distortion and abuse. There is a famous essay that underscores this all too common human failure: “Isn’t it funny…when the other fellow takes a long time to do something, he is slow; but when I take a long time to do some­thing, I am thorough. When the other fellow doesn’t do it, he is lazy; but when I don’t do it, I am too busy. When the other fellow does something on his own, he is aggressive and overstepping his author­ity; when I go ahead and do something without being told, that’s initiative. When the other fellow states his opinions strongly, he is opinion­ated; but when I state my opinions strongly, I am being firm and principled. When the other fellow gets a promotion, he sure had the lucky break; but when I get a promotion, it is due to hard work and efficiency that I owe and can attribute my success. Funny, isn’t it – or is it!”

This practice of employing two standards – one for ourselves and a second for others – is a major cause of friction, jealousy and hostility that clearly impacts on our interpersonal relation­ships in harmful ways. So the Torah insists, “You shall not have in your house diverse weights and measures.” One must weigh and measure and judge honestly. Our aid to others is not only in the form of monetary gifts, but in the expansiveness of character that we can demonstrate in our consideration of others. It is reflected in the language that we use. Others are often not any more mediocre than we are; neither are they always much better. If we were willing to be benevolent regarding our own faults and failures, then let us also be equally kind about the mistakes and deficiencies commit­ted by others.

When we make the statement on Yom Kippur – Al Chet Sh’Chatanu LeFanecha – for the sin that we have committed before You by misjudging – let us be cognicent of how often we judge others incorrectly, and therefore, how careful we should be before we jump to conclusions. One need not place a hand on the scale in order to violate this Mitzvah against false weights and measures. It speaks to the standards exercised by our hearts and our minds in the consideration of others.

May HaShem give us the wherewithal and the inspiration to Dahn L’Kav Z’chut – to judge everyone favorably; to find the good and not only the bad; to look for the positive and see blessing and credit in all whom we meet.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130803 – Parshat Re’ay



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deut.) 11:26-16:17

Haftarah – Isaiah 61:10-63:9



Because we suffered continuous religious persecutions since the destruction of our second Temple (in 70 C.E.), the Jews have become tolerant of other religions. However, this was not always the case. In ancient times, the world was very tolerant of others’ religions; people thought that gods were territorial, when one left the boundaries of ones’ own gods’ influence; he entered the confines of new gods. Being tolerant of other religions was a necessary survival technique. One never knew when the gods of another territory would come in handy. What was always important was not to upset the local gods.

Along came the Jewish people who antagonized the world by preaching that not only was their

G-d invisible and all-powerful, but their G-d was the only legitimate G-d. The ancient Jews were not very popular among the nations because they rejected any and all tolerance for the worship of wood, stone and natural phenomenon.

This obsession with the pursuit of religious truth finds its source in this week’s Parsha: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshiped their gods; on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; you shall burn their sacred trees in fire; you shall cut down their carved images; and you shall obliterate their sacred names from that place” (Devarim 12 2-3).

In ancient times, when one nation conquered another nation, it would try not to destroy the vanquished nation’s religious sites and objects. The conquering nation often used these edifices (which were usually beautifully constructed and very ornate), for their own purposes. The fact that the nation of Israel had to destroy the Temples, the idols and the religious symbols of the former inhabitants, was a revolutionary concept.

Our Parsha explains that HaShem declared that the seven nations occupying Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel) had no right to worship as they pleased. Eretz Yisra’el had to be emancipated from any religious pollutants. Whether conquered or driven out, the non-Jewish resident aliens or wayfarers had no right to worship their gods or practice their religious beliefs while on this holy ground. To make sure that these religious places and symbols did not infiltrate the conquering society, they had to be – “destroyed,” “broken apart,” “smashed,” “burnt,” “cut down,” and “obliterated.” Any and all traces of these artifacts had to be eradicated lest they influence the Jewish population.

But all this destruction had a price. The very next verse reads: “You shall not do this to HaShem, your G-d” (12:4).

RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105) teaches us three different lessons:

  1. Offerings to HaShem can only be presented from the Mishkan (Tabernacle), or later, from the place that HaShem designates (the Temple on Mt. Mori’ah in Jerusalem).
  2. It is forbidden to obliterate the name of HaShem. For this reason we do not write His name (G-d) unrestrictedly so that (if the page is thrown away, discarded or desecrated) His name will not be erased.
    • RaShI brings a Sifri (a Halachic [legal] Midrash [interpretation] of the Books of BaMidbar [Numbers] and Devarim) that warns: “Rabbi Ishmael said: Would one even think that the Israelites would destroy their own religious places and artifacts? Rather, do not do anything that would CAUSE your religious places TO BE DESTROYED.”

Rabbi Ishmael asks if one could imagine Israel doing such a terrible thing. But in the history of our nation and in the very days of Rabbi Ishmael, such things did happen. Our Temple was desecrated by Hellenist Jews bringing in Greek idols and offering non-kosher animals as sacrifices (during the Chanukah period of our history). Rabbi Ishmael knew very well that terrible acts of desecration were committed by the Sadducees during the Roman period. Even recently, in modern Israel, acts of desecration are perpetrated by Jews against Jews and their religious institutions. Rabbi Ishmael, who was martyred by the Romans and whose miserable death was cheered on by Jews who were Roman sympathizers, knew full well what Jews were capable of. How could he say, “Would one even think that the Israelites would destroy their own religious places and artifacts?”

I found an interesting answer to this question from Rabbi Ya’acov Haber formerly of Melbourne, Australia, who mentions that the first Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) is: “…if the performance of a Mitzvah will embarrass you (for example, praying Mincha [afternoon prayers] on a public highway, or saying grace at a board meeting, perhaps sporting a Kipa [skull-cap] at your place of work), you should still do it.

However, the Mishnah Berurah [an updated version of the code – written by the Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisra’el Meir HaKohen Kagen, 1838-1933] quotes the Beit Yosef [Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, 1488-1575] as saying that, ‘…one should not go out of their way to antagonize people even in the performance of a Mitzvah (for example, deliberately praying Mincha on a public highway when it is unnecessary), since that will give one’s personality the characteristic of Chutzpa (insolence) [in the words of the Beit Yosef] YiK’neh B’Nafsho Midat HaAzut (one’s soul will acquire the characteristic of insolence), which will then be used for less than noble purposes’ ” Reachings – Talks on Torah, page 172).

What Rabbi Haber means is if one performs Mitzvot either in an antagonizing manner or specifically to antagonize, then that behavior will continue in non-Mitzvot situations which will be destructive.

When I lived in Israel, I served in the Israeli Army reserves. During my short basic training (I was 35 years old, married with 3 children and established in business) I served with other immigrants from similar backgrounds and ages. Clearly one-third of our group was religious and many were from the “ultra-orthodox” camp.

I began noticing that the more physically challenging and strenuous our training got, the more our sophisticated and personally disciplined group began to act in a boorish manner. Our characters began to change, we began using rough and profane language, and sometimes we behaved in a manner that would have been unacceptable in polite society. I realized that in civilian life, we suppress certain feelings, desires and forces, but in the army those very forces are encouraged and relied upon. The increase in physical activity and extreme conditions had a powerfully negative effect on us. As civilized human beings and religious Jews, we were forced to keep ourselves in check, otherwise we were capable of Chutzpa (unbecoming behavior).

This is what Moshe was saying to us. Am Yisra’el (the nation of Israel) will spend considerable time conquering the land and making it suitable for Jewish existence. In the process, we might become crass and boorish, which would make us insensitive to one another.

In the post Holocaust era, Am Yisra’el also had to lift itself up out of the ashes. A state had to be founded, and wars unfortunately had to be fought. The battles for independence were conducted in the Sinai desert, the Galilee and on the West Bank. But there were other battles that Am Yisra’el also fought spiritual battles in America and in the Soviet Union, on campuses in Berkeley and Jerusalem, in the suburbs of our great cities and in the outposts of Siberia and in the disengagement of Gaza. Our leadership spoke about tolerance and acted with intolerance, decried injustice and meted out inequity. We expounded community and acted as segregationists. And today Eretz Yisra’el has become our battleground for self-righteous and self-centeredness.

It is one thing to understand a problem and another to rectify it. That is the real Tikkun Olam (world rectification) that very few of us are attempting. We must demand dialogue among our Rabbis and lay leaders. When we use these hidden and subdued forces within us they take a toll on how we think and how we behave. Our very souls have become inundated with self-righteous insolence and we aren’t even aware of it.

Moshe is warning us to be very careful with the use of necessary force. While it was imperative to destroy the idols and the holy places of the Canaanite nations, he cautioned us that those forces could also be used against each other and against HaShem. Even today, as we battle for our homeland and for the very souls of our brethren, we must use extreme caution. Otherwise, the results can be tragic.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130727 – Parshat Ekev



SiddurReb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12-11:25

Haftarah – Isaiah 49:14-51:3



We have been selected against our will to be players in the game of life. Right from the very beginning, the “conspiracy” began. The first humans, created in the idyllic Garden of Eden, were expelled because they exercised their powers of free choice improperly. Life after the Garden entailed making choices for right or for wrong.

In the ten generations from Adam to No’ach (Noah), mankind generally chose improperly and a new world was formed. After that time, all of mankind was required to live by a set of seven laws, the “Seven No’achide Mitzvot [Commandments]” that became and still is the basis for all human behaviour: 1. Belief in G-d, 2. Do not murder, 3. Do not steal, 4. Do not commit adultery, 5. Do not blaspheme, 6. Setup a court system, 7. You must kill mammals before eating them.

In the ten generations from No’ach to Avraham (Abraham) again, the world chose improperly. The former single world-wide nation became splintered into seventy different nations and languages and dispersed around the planet. Avraham and his future offspring were “chosen” to be the examples of how to choose correctly.

After receiving the Ten Utterances (Commandments), the Torah (with its 613 Mitzvot) and after spending 40 years in the desert absorbing the Torah and its many regulations and lessons, the Children of Israel thought themselves ready. But prior to Moshe’s death, just as Am Yisra’el (the Nation of Israel) was about to enter Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel), he gave four discourses of admonition to his flock, so that they might learn from mankind’s history and from their own, how to LIVE successfully in Eretz Yisra’el. And it is here, in his second discourse that Moshe makes known the essence of the Torah.

In chapter 10 verses 12 – 13, Moshe rephrases the nature of the Torah into just a few words: “And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you? Only this: to revere HaShem your G-d, to go in His ways, and to love Him and to serve HaShem your G-d with all your heart and soul. To guard the commandments of HaShem and His statutes, which I enjoin upon you today, for your own good.”

Two very important teachings are learnt from these verses. RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105) cites the famous ChaZaL (Rabbinical teaching) from the Talmud (Berachot 33) based on these verses: “All is in the hands of Heaven – except the reverence of Heaven.”

Mankind can only serve HaShem properly if it has reverence for Him. No matter what situation one faces one must first have a sense of reverence for HaShem in order to be able to choose correctly. Without it, one may be swayed either by the temptation of the action or by the fear of punishment (which isn’t really free choice). Only a highly developed sense of reverence allows one to exercise true free will.

The second lesson, reciting 100 blessings per day, was incorporated into the Seven Mitzvot of the Rabbis (while the Rabbi’s enacted thousands of ordinances within the framework of Jewish Halachah [law], only seven had the same standing as G-d given commandments. They are:

  1. Lighting candles prior to Shabbat and holidays,
  2. Lighting candles each night of Chanukah,
  3. Reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim,
  4. Giving gifts of food and charity on Purim,
  5. The use of an ERUV [to carry on Shabbat, or to cook on a festival in preparation for Shabbat],
  6. Reciting Hallel on Holidays and New Moons,
  7. Reciting 100 blessings per day.

The Talmud (Tractate Menachot 43) records: “…every person (Jew) is obligated to recite 100 blessings per day, because it says [in the Torah] ‘And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you?’ “RaShI comments: “when the Torah wrote “Mah” (what – does HaShem…) read instead Me’ah (100).”

In other words, instead of reading: “And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you?”  

One should read, “And now Israel, 100 does HaShem your G-d demand of you?”

The Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter, 1847-1905, the second Gerer Rebbe and leader of Polish Jewry) commented on this Rabbinical Commandment: “Since everything that happens to mankind, stems from a blessing from HaShem, the more one is reverent [of HaShem] and fortified [by the performance of His Mitzvot], the more one can connect to His blessings” (The Crowns of the Torah, by A.I. Greenberg, page 72).

By making at least 100 blessings per day, we become aware of the many blessings that HaShem showers upon us. The more we are aware of how many blessings we receive, the more appreciative we become of all the good that comes our way.

A decade ago, my parents, Jacob and Helen Rosenzweig celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. Gathered around the Shabbat table we ate, we sang, and we related stories of the many blessings that HaShem has provided us. My father (who also just turned 93 years of age) told the story of how he approached a wealthy man in our community and asked him to sponsor an upcoming Kiddush (a post prayer light reception during which we bless HaShem and sanctify the Shabbat or Holiday). The man pointed at others eating herring and asked my father why he didn’t ask any of those people to sponsor the Kiddush.

My father told him that HaShem created two types of Jews. To one group He gave check books, so they could write as many checks as they desired and none would ever bounce. To the other group, He provided as much herring as they desired. My father told this wealthy man that if he was unhappy with the check book, he could trade it in for some herring. Put in this light, the man happily agreed to provide for as many Kiddushim as were needed.

Also a decade back my wife Kathy (A”H) had a very difficult time before and after receiving Chemotherapy during this post Shabbat Nachamu week. In a car ride home, she said to me that she was so happy that it was she who was ill and not me or any of our children. It reminded us of the story of the grandfather of the present Belzer Rebbe, who was born with a “clubbed foot”. The child’s parents made an arrangement with the parents of a young girl that their children would be wed after the girl reached Bat Mitzvah. Never having met each other, they accepted their Mazal (fate) with the assurance that their parents were looking out for their best interests.

On the day of the wedding, as guests were beginning to arrive, the bride looked out her window and was shown her groom walking down the road. When she saw that he had a deformity, she refused to marry the young man. Her parents and the parents of the groom pleaded with her to no avail. The synagogue was filling quickly and still she refused to marry this cripple. When all seemed lost, the young man asked to speak to his BASHERT (fated one). He entered the room, and a few minutes later he left informing everyone that the musicians should begin playing the processional. The future Rebbe and his Rebbetzin lived for sixty years together.

At the Shiva (seven days of mourning) after her funeral, the Rebbe was asked by one of his Chassidim (disciples) what was said in the room sixty years before. Never having spoken of the incident, the Rebbe surprised everyone when he began to explain that he had told his bride that before either of them were born, a heavenly decree proclaimed that they would be married. It also proclaimed that SHE would be born with a clubbed foot. He made an arrangement in heaven that he would suffer the clubbed foot instead of her. He told her that she didn’t have to marry him, but, she would have to take her foot. When confronted with his sacrifice, she realized that what seemed like a curse was actually a blessing.

All of these stories illustrate how reverence for HaShem allows one to appreciate the many blessings that HaShem bestows. The wealthy man who felt perturbed by the fact that he was always being asked to provide for others, did so with joy when confronted with the reality of his blessings. Similarly, my wife surprised me with her statement of her joy in accepting her illness rather than HER illness afflicting one of her loved ones.

In order to see HaShem’s many blessings we must bless Him so that we can literally, “count our Blessings.” Every time we pray, or make a blessing before or after we eat food, or see a rainbow, or witness a beautiful landscape, we become conscious of the great gifts that He bestows upon us.

HaShem doesn’t need our blessings, we do. Those, whose attitude toward life is negative, are unaware of the many blessings that surround them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130720 – Parshat V’Etchanan

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imagesReb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim 3:23 – 7:11


Haftarah – Isaiah 40:1-26


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This Saturday night and Sunday, the 14th of Av is the second Yahrtzeit of my dear mother Helen Rosenzweig – Chayah bat R’ Shmu’el HaKohen. If my parents would still be alive, this Shabbat would have been their 67th wedding anniversary. This week’s “Vort” is dedicated to their memory. Tehi Nishmateihem Tzerura B’Tzror HaChaim– May their souls be bound up in the Bond of Life.

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The Book of Devarim was originally called Mishna Torah – the second Torah (hence Deuteronomy – in Greek). It was Moshe Rabbeinu’s review of the laws that the Bnei Yisrael would need to keep close to their hearts in order to successfully live in Eretz Yisra’el.

If you think about it, that is a phenomenal statement. It is not logical that the behavior of a people should affect their ability to live on a particular parcel of land. What has moral or spiritual behavior to do with the ability of a nation and a land to coexist? Yet Moshe Rabbeinu writes an entire fifth book of the Torah just to get this point across.

Historically, whenever we have forsaken our Torah lifestyle for a more modern approach to life, our political and social assurance faltered and eventually led to exile. This happened prior to the conquests of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, in whose exile we find ourselves today.

Our Parsha this week brings home this point. The relationship between Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael and Hashem supersedes logic and rationale. Moshe tells Am Yisra’el in every generation: “When you shall have children and grandchildren and will have lived long upon the land, you will become corrupt, worship graven images and do evil in the eyes of HaShem and provoke Him.

Today I will call to witness against you the heavens and the earth (signs of eternity) that you will quickly perish from off the land… which you possess, and your days will not be prolonged but will be destroyed. And HaShem will scatter you among the nations and you will become few in number” (Devarim 4:25-27).

Moshe’s admonition continues: “…since the day that Hashem created man on Earth, and from one end of the heavens to the other, has anything as great been done or heard of? Did ever a nation hear the voice of HaShem as you have speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Or has any god taken a nation from the midst of another nation, by way of trials, signs and wonders, with a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm and with awesome greatness, as HaShem your G-d did for you in Egypt? For unto you it was shown, so that you may know that HaShem, He is G-d, there is none other, but Him alone” (Ibid 4:32-35).

To me, the challenge made in the above verses is remarkable. The concept of a nation witnessing together, the direct intervention of Hashem’s obvious power, is unique to Judaism. In the Far East, major philosophies and religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism have come to light since Matan Torah. In the west, Christianity and Islam have both attempted to invalidate Judaism and have taken the world by storm. And what do they all have in common? They are all based on a single individual’s (or small group of individuals) account of some miraculous event.

Our tradition is not based on Moshe’s testimony. Our ancestors actually witnessed the mighty Hand of G-d. For those of you who are familiar with the Pesach Haggadah, you might consider that the reason that Moshe’s name is never mentioned in the entire recounting of the Exodus is because he was just one of millions of witnesses to the power and glory of HaShem. We commemorate Tisha B’Av, because we experienced the exile and our fall from glory. When we celebrate Pesach we keep our own collective memories alive.

Every day on the calendar conjures up national memories that we experienced, whether it is the Shabbat, Pesach, Shavu’ot or Sukkot. Whether Purim or Chanukah, the five fast days or even Tu B’Av, we are reminded that our faith is based on national experiences and not upon individual accounts.

Our Parsha connects the Aseret HaDibrot – the Ten Utterances (commonly mistranslated as the Ten Commandments) with Shema Yisra’el – Israel’s twice daily declaration of faith. These two recollections will never allow our nation to forget all that Hashem has done for us. We are the remnant of witnesses who have refused to give up our memories for the fantasies of other religions.

Moshe, before he dies, attempts to remind us that yes, we are a Chosen People and yes, our task is to bear the flame that must inspire humanity. Our Parsha confronts us with the enigmas of Torah and faith. Not everything is logical, not everything makes scientific sense. But if the truth be told, our brightness is dependent on Eretz Yisra’el. And when we do not shine, the land rejects us. This doesn’t make sense, it’s not true for other nations, yet, the heavens and earth have born witness to this phenomenon.

Am Yisra’el is likened to the stars of the heavens and we are also likened to the grains of sand upon the earth. We, the Jewish people, are the witnesses to history. We have seen it all. And we retain the collective memories of the millions of Jews who came before us. Each one of us is a star that contains so much power but appears to be just a flicker of light.

Our Haftarah concludes with the words of Isaiah: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see, Who created these? He that brings forth their numbers and calls each by name. Through His might and His strength, not even one shall fall.

Shine on Am Yisrael, shine on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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