131221 – Parshat Shemot

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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Shemot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1

Haftarah: Isaiah 26:6-28:13, 29:22-23


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What’s in a name? “And the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of the first was Shifra and the name of the second was Pu’ah…” (Shemot 1:15).

RaShI says that: “Shifra is YoCheved (the mother of Miryam, Aharon and Moshe), because Sh’miShaferet – she beautified the new born babies. And Pu’ah is Miryam, because Sh’Po’ah – she cries and speaks and coos at the child in the manner of women who try to sooth the crying babe.”

So, when we are introduced to Moshe’s mother and sister we find that they are not referred to by their given names, but, rather, by the names that described them not only as midwives, but as protectors of new born Hebrew babies.

Similarly, though we know baby Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh because: “Moshituh – I drew him from the water,” Our Midrash teaches us that Moshe had many Hebrew names. The Me’am Lo’ez on Shemot 2:10 quotes a number of Midrashic sources and provides us with an amazing teaching: “Our sages have taught that Moshe was called by many names.

  • His father Amram called him Chaver, because of him [Moshe] he was “NitChaber – he was reunited” with his wife (RaShI to chapter 2 verse 1). And this was a worthy name because he also “reunited” Israel with their Father in heaven.
  • “And his mother YoCheved called him YeKuti’el, because, I had “Tikvah – hope” that Hashem would return my womb for birthing.
  • “His sister Miryam called him Yered, because she “YaRda – went down” to the Nile and saw what was to become of him. That name was also worthy because “HeReed – he brought down” the Torah to Israel from the heavens, also because the Manna “came down” in his merit. She also referred to him as Tuvya, because he was Tov – good.
  • “And his brother Aharon called him Avi Zanu’ach, because “Avi Zanach – my father abandoned” my mother and remarried her and Moshe was born. And this name was also a worthy one because he caused Israel to “abandon” their idolatrous ways and also because his prayers caused Hashem to “abandon” His punishment of Israel (after the sin of the golden calf).
  • “His nursemaids called him Avi Socho because he was the “father of the prophets” who are referred to as Sochim – agents.
  • “His grandfather Kahat called him Avigdor because in his merit Pharaoh “Gadar – restricted” his decree to throw the male children into the Nile.
  • “And the Children of Israel called him Shemaya for in Moshe’s days did Hashem “Shema – hear” our cries.
  • “And from all these names, he was called by the name Moshe, which was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh.”

None of the [above mentioned] names are mentioned in the five books of the Torah. And even Hashem referred to him only as Moshe. This is suggestive of Pharaoh’s daughter’s greatness, for she is considered as if she was his mother. And from this we learn that an orphan that is raised in a home that does not embitter him with harsh words is considered as if he was born to that house. “And Hashem said to the daughter of Pharaoh: Even though Moshe was not your son, you treated him as one, so will I treat you accordingly. I will call you Batya – the daughter of G-d.”

The names in both the written and oral Torah aid or deepen our understanding of the people that these names describe. We have just seen how the true characters of Yocheved, Miryam and Moshe are revealed by the choice of names that are given to them. The metamorphosis that took place when Avram became Avraham, or YeKuti’el became Moshe is an important link to our perception of who these people really were.

Likewise, the names that are attributed to Hashem are very significant. At the beginning of next week’s Parsha Va’Eira, (Shemot 6:1-2), Hashem says to Moshe: “…I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov as Kel Shakai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make myself known to them.”

Why the different names of Hashem? Kel Shakai or Elokim denotes the Master of Justice and/or the Master of Nature. Bereishit Bara Elokim Et HaShamayim V’Et HaAretz – In the beginning Elokim [the Master of Nature and Law] created the heavens and earth). Up to this point in Jewish history, Hashem was the Creator and He kept His word precisely. But then Hashem revealed another aspect of Himself. The four letter name of Hashem (which we never pronounce) denotes timeless mercy. In His redemption of Israel from Egypt, whether or not Israel deserved it, Hashem exhibited a side of Himself that even the Patriarchs were unaware of.

Our Parsha alludes to this new side of Hashem when He reveals Himself to Moshe at the burning bush (chapter 3). He explains that He will now fulfill all the promises that He swore to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, and that Moshe will serve as the agent of His benevolence. In verses 13 and 14 we find the following conversation: Moshe said to Hashem, “Behold when I come to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you, ‘and they say, ‘What is His name?’ – what shall I say to them?” Hashem answered Moshe, Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh – I Shall Be As I Shall Be.” And He said, “So shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘I Shall Be’ has sent me to you.”

This cryptic name of G-d has been pondered often by students of the Torah. The interpretation that speaks closest to my heart I found in a book called Orchat Tzaddikim – The Ways Of The Righteous. The (anonymous) author writes in the chapter called The Gate of Truth, that the word Eheyeh – I Shall Be appears in the Five Books of Moshe 21 times, and its Gematriya (numeric value) is also 21. Aleph = 1, Hey = 5, Yod = 10 and Hey = 5. The total numeric value of all the word Eheyeh in the Torah appear 21 times 21 the Gematriya of Eheyeh, equals a total of 441. The Hebrew word Emet (truth) also equals 441 (Aleph = 1, Mem = 40, and Tav = 400).

Hashem said to Moshe that when the Children of Israel ask you what Hashem’s Name is, tell them “Truth” has sent me to you, and they will understand.

Just as scientists have discovered that DNA carries pieces of our personalities and behavior patterns, so too, do our Hebrew names carry a world of unfulfilled potential for us to release.

What’s in a name, everything, personality, character, essence and even hope. Let us all live up to our names and the true traits and potentials that are contained in each of them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

131019 – Parshat VaYera

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Yerushalayim 01

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Bereishit (Genesis) 18:1-22:24

Haftorah – II Kings 40:1-37


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This week we read about some incidents in the life of Avraham and Sarah. The Parsha begins with three messengers (angels, each with a specific task) who visited our patriarch Avraham after his painful circumcision. The three messengers were: Micha’el – who informed Avraham and Sarah that they would have a son; Gavri’el whose task was to destroy the provinces of Sodom and Gomorrah; and Refa’el – whose purpose was to heal Avraham after his circumcision (and to save his nephew Lot). Lot is an interesting character, full of contradictions, very much like us and is never included among all the great Jewish heroes and role models.

We talk about the loving-kindness of Avraham; we name our children after him. Yet, don’t we most resemble Lot? In the great travels of our Patriarch and his family, we find that when Avram came to Canaan from Haran, the Torah says: “And Avram took his wife Sarai, and Lot his brother’s son and all the wealth that he had amassed…­” (Bereishit 12:5). And, when Avram returned to Canaan from Egypt after the famine, the Torah says 13:1: “So Avram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that was his and Lot with him…” ­Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z”l (Zichrona LiVracha – may she be remembered for a blessing), teaches that in this second verse, Lot is mentioned after all the possessions. The wealth and materialism of Egypt had so affected Lot that he was a changed man. For Lot, possessions meant more than people.

When the family returns from Egypt, Lot, the materialistic nephew, chooses to live in Sodom, where the living is high and the morality low. Avraham comes to Canaan for a new life; Lot comes for profit. Avraham wants a better way of life, but Lot wants a better standard of living. Avraham wants a society based upon what would become Torah‘s values; but Sodom fulfills Lot’s purposes.

Last week’s Parsha described a war between four kings and five kings, during which Lot was taken captive and his possessions were confiscated. Avraham was obligated to rescue his kinsman and nephew Lot, which he did. Did Lot learn from his loss and his rescue? No. He went back to Sodom, and the evil people of Sodom once again affected him. As misguided as Lot appears to us, HaShem thought that Lot should be saved. HaShem sent a messenger (an angel) in the guise of a traveler to save Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom. Lot trying to be virtuous offers his daughters to the Sodomites so that they would be distracted and not take away his guests.

Another episode in this Parsha deals with Avraham passing through the territory of AviMelech, king of Gerar. Once again, Avraham and Sarah find themselves in hostile territory. Avraham was aware of AviMelech’s strange practice. Like Pharaoh in Egypt, AviMelech, king of Gerar, sought beautiful women for himself. But, just as Pharaoh would never consider taking another man’s wife, AviMelech would have the husband murdered and then force his affections on the widow.

HaShem intervened and Sarah was saved from dishonor. But like Pharaoh, AviMelech is repulsed by Avraham’s cowardly behavior when he lied and pretended to be Sarah’s brother. “Therefore AviMelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears; and the men were very afraid: Then AviMelech called Avraham, and said to him, What have you done to us? And in what have I offended you that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done: And AviMelech said to Avraham, What did you see, that you have done this thing: And Avraham said, Because I thought, surely the fear of HaShem is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake” (Bereishit 20:8-12).

AviMelech, a civilized man (according to his standards) wanted to know how Avraham could have done such a thing to him. He was angry, HaShem had rebuked him and he lost honor among his people. Avraham replied: “Because I thought, surely the fear of HaShem is not in this place.” Neither Sodom nor Gerar were places that were conducive to the moral lifestyle that Avraham wanted for his family.

The wrong friends sometimes influence us; we choose neighborhoods, schools and choose our priorities as responses to the wrong signals. At times, we exploit our relationships with others, even though we might have great role models who teach us otherwise. Even if we don’t have someone like Avraham as a role-model, we still have many Torah leaders who are living role models in our time. Do we exemplify their lives, or do we choose the values of those living around us?

HaShem redeemed Lot because HaShem knew that with all his foibles, Lot was redeemable. Despite his mistakes and misdeeds, his pride and selfishness, he was basically a decent fellow. He lived in Sodom, he was becoming part of Sodom, but he wasn’t really happy about it. His redeeming grace was that he knew something was wrong. As warped a community as Sodom was, Avraham always remained an uncle and role-model for Lot.

We don’t have an uncle like Avraham, but we do have something even better – the Torah. It is a reminder to us every day of how we should behave and how we should react to outside influences.

We learn from Avraham pleading with HaShem to save Sodom (18: 20-33) that without a Minyan (a quorum of 10 a minimum group necessary to establish a Torah society), Lot could not survive the moral Galut (exile) of Sodom. But we, who have Shuls (synagogues), communities, and the ability to connect to holiness and to purity, sometimes like Lot, choose the wrong society. The Torah tells us that like Lot we too ARE worthy of redemption. But when we are told to leave Sodom and its ways, do we listen? We can read the message; but do we believe the words? We know the story; but do we react as we should react?

In Yeshiva high School I had a Rebbe asked: “If the Torah contains the laws of the Jewish people, then why are there so many stories?” He answered that often we learn more from the stories because they provide us with an example on how to live a life of Torah.

With G-d’s help, may we muster the strength to improve our lot, just like Lot did.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130914 – Yom Kippur

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Yom Kippur 01rebyosil@gmail.com


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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 “For this day shall be an atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be cleansed before HaShem. It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths (a Sabbath of complete rest) for you, and you should afflict yourselves; an eternal decree” (VaYikra 16:30-31).

One of the anomalies of Yom Kippur is the status it carries as Shabbat Shabbaton (the Sabbath of Sabbaths). Most of us who observe Shabbat know that to observe one must follow certain Halachik (legal) guidelines: We must dress appropriately; we must eat festive meals; we must read special sections from the Torah; etc. It appears somewhat incongruous that on a day that might be described as a super-Shabbat not only do we not eat our usual three festive Shabbat meals, but we are forbidden to eat or drink any food at all. Why?

The verse says: “you should afflict yourselves,” which is understood as not eating or drinking. The RaMBaM (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon [Maimonides], 1135-1204, Egypt) the great codifier and philosopher maintains that the root of the word Shabbat means to cease; we are obligated to cease or rest from eating and drinking. In fact, the RaMBaM brings the law (Laws of Yom Kippur 1:4-5): “There is a further positive commandment on Yom Kippur. It is to rest from eating and drinking. It is [also] forbidden to bathe, to apply lotion to the body, to wear [leather] shoes, or to cohabitate. It is a positive commandment to rest from all these just as it is to rest from eating.” The RaMBaM saw the cessation from eating and drinking as a form of rest. HaShem frees the Jews from certain physical activities on that one day allowing us, to strive for something much higher.

The Pirke de Rebbe Eliezer chapter 46 (a Midrash composed by the school of Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, circa 100 C.E.) elaborates even further: Sama’el (Satan, the Angel of Death, the Evil Inclination, the Accuser or Prosecutor) saw that sin was not found among [Israel] on Yom Kippur. He said to HaShem: ‘You have a unique nation, which is like the ministering angels in heaven. Just as the angels have bare feet, so the Jews have bare feet (by not wearing shoes) on Yom Kippur. Just as angels neither eat nor drink, so the Jews neither eat nor drink on Yom Kippur…’ ”

On Yom Kippur, we give the impression of being angels. We not only refrain from the five prohibitions cited by the RaMBaM, we also dress in white, the color of the angels – the color of purity. This status is fascinating for us to explore in order to understand it better.

Three days after Avraham our Patriarch was circumcised, he sat at the entrance of his tent looking for a way to do his special Mitzvah – hospitality to strangers. HaShem came to him and was Mivaker Choleh (visited the infirm); during that visit, Avraham saw three figures approaching from the desert. HaShem appeared to him in the pains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! He perceived that three men were approaching him, so he ran toward them from the tent entrance and bowed to the ground” (Bereishit [Genesis] 18:1-2).

RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 ‑ 1105) on the words “three men were approaching” cites an amazing Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 50:2) that claims the three were angels: “One to bring tidings (of the birth of Yitzchak) to Sarah; one to destroy Sodom; and one to heal Avraham. For one angel does not perform two missions.”

Angels are similar to robots; they serve only one purpose or function. Though HaShem has hosts of angels, each is programed for a specific function: Raphael is the healer; Gavriel is the forceful one; Satan is the Accuser, etc.

If Israel is likened to angels on Yom Kippur, then maybe the above mentioned Pirke de Rebbe Eliezer is telling us that our function on Yom Kippur is to focus our lives to our one and only function: to spread holiness in the world through the fulfillment of HaShem’s Torah.

We have to some extent lost track of our true objective. We think that we were created in order to heal the sick, or to fight for the rights of the downtrodden, to compose beautiful music, or to produce great movies, or just to make a living. But that is not so. Our true purpose is to spread HaShem’s holiness in the world; perhaps we can accomplish this by being doctors, musicians, social workers, poets, housewives or rabbis. However, at times we get sidetracked and we focus on how much “I” get out of my efforts rather than how we can fulfill His directives. Yom Kippur is the one day of the year when we attempt to get back on track, look at our faults and rectify them through Teshuvah (repentance or better – a return to His priorities).

And so, one day a year, we are likened to angels who do not need food or drink, or bathing, or applying lotions to our bodies, or wear the hides of animals on our feet, or even cohabit with our spouses. All of these needs distract us from His directives.

Angels do not need to satisfy any physical, emotional or spiritual needs; they are pure energy whose sole purpose is to serve their Creator, though their service is robot-like. since angels do not have the ability to make choices. Human beings on the other hand have souls that are spiritual but are imprisoned in a physical shell, always needing to be fed, clothed, pleasured and nurtured. Yet this imprisonment is also the glory of humanity. Unlike the angels, we can rise above our limitations and serve our Creator by blending both our physical and our spiritual natures. For this reason the Torah was given to human beings rather than to the angels.

So the RaMBaM, RaShI and Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and all of our teachers and mentors stress the point that on Yom Kippur we attempt to fool Satan into thinking that we are angels, not centered on the physical but on our divine purpose. “Sama’el …said to HaShem: ‘You have a unique nation, similar to the angels in heaven. Just as the angels have bare feet, so the Jews are bare foot on Yom Kippur. Just as angels neither eat nor drink, so the Jews neither eat nor drink on Yom Kippur…’ ”

Do not see our abstinence from the five pleasures as affliction; rather we view it as a respite from our limitations as humans. Our true objective is to serve HaShem with joy, awe and love, and to attend Him with our entire body, heart and soul. That is spirit of the day; and when achieved, it deludes the angel Sama’el into perceiving that we too are angels.

Tzom Kal – Have an easy fast,

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

130601 – Parshat Shelach



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



BaMidbar (Numbers) 13:1-14:41

Haftarah – Joshua 2:1-24



On Passover we read a passage from the Haggadah (the Passover guide) that brings up an interesting problem. “Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: I am like a man of seventy, yet I was never able to convince my colleagues that one must recall the Egyptian exodus at night, until Ben Zoma explained it…” (Mishnah Berachot 1:15).

The Mishnah is referring to an obligation to recite Kriyat Shema (the reading of Shema – our declaration of faith) every morning and evening. The Shema is comprised of two statements:

  1. Hear Oh Israel, HaShem is our L-rd, HaShem is One” (Devarim [Deuteronomy]) 6:4);
  2. “Blessed is the esteemed Name, His glorious kingdom is forever” (Talmud Pesachim 56a).
  3. As well as three additional paragraphs:
    • Devarim 6:5-9
    • Devarim 11:13-21
    • BaMidbar 15:37-41.

The first paragraph deals with the inter-relationship of love between HaShem and Israel. The second paragraph deals with the consequences of that love: When we follow His commandments we create a positive reality, and when we transgress His commandments we create a negative reality. While the final paragraph deals primarily with the Mitzvah of Tzitzit (fringes that are to be placed on the corners of all four-cornered garments), it is recited because it recalls the Exodus from Egypt.

The original commandment required the use a thread of Techelet (blue) so that we would be reminded of the sea, which would remind us of the sky, which in turn would remind us of HaShem’s Throne of Glory, which would then remove us from the temptation of sin (Tractate Menachot 43b). When the Techelet was no longer available for use, the Rabbis enacted a rabbinical decree that preserved the Mitzvah of Tzitzit without Techelet.

Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah’s problem was that though the paragraph did recall the Exodus, the mention of Tzitzit seemed problematic. Since the Torah states (BaMidbar 15:39), “…that you may see it (the blue thread) and remember all the commandments of HaShem, and perform them...” and viewing the dark blue thread at night is difficult, so he thought that this last of the three paragraphs would be unnecessary.

Eventually the problem was solved and as we know from our daily prayers, we DO recite all three paragraphs both morning and evening. But what of the effect of viewing the Tzitzit? How does looking at the Tzitzit change our behavior? The Talmud gives us the above mentioned sequence of reminders (sea = sky = Throne of Glory). In other words, the wearing of the Tzitzit has an effect upon our souls that help remove us from temptation.

There is a Midrash (Shemot Rabbah) that teaches us that because of three inherent behaviors, Israel was worthy of deliverance from Egypt; we used Hebrew names, we spoke our holy tongue, and we wore distinctively Jewish clothes. In other words, in order for our culture to be transmitted, we need a sense of self (Hebrew names), a unique method of communication (language), and a unique sense of attire (clothes). I suggest that the role of Tzitzit and Yarmulkes (Kipot) provides us with a sense of Jewish fashion. Not only do the clothes protect us, but they also help mold our character.

When I supervised a Jewish afternoon school, we distributed Tzitzit for boys to wear. One boy in particular, wore his Tzitzit every day and put a tremendous amount of love into performing this Mitzvah. One day, his mother came to school with his Tzitzit saying that her son would no longer be in need of these “things”. When I attempted to explain how her son loved to perform this Mitzvah, she firmly exclaimed “we don’t do these things”. Needless to say, her son’s behavior and attitude changed dramatically after this incident.

The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisra’el Meir HaKohen Kagen of Radin, Poland, 1838-1933) explains in his classic work, “Chafetz Chaim Al HaTorah,” that when the Torah states: “…that you may see it (the blue thread) and remember all the commandments of HaShem, and perform them…” one must be well versed in the commandments so that they can have the proscribed effect. How can one remember commandments that were never learned?

I suggest that remembering the commandments and remembering the Exodus from Egypt, as well as the effect that Tzitzit have on our souls, is the reason that the paragraph was included in the Shema sequence of prayers. Not only are we to actualize our unique relationship with HaShem and the consequences of that relationship, we are also obligated to remember that only by doing the commandments and making them part of our lives can we be part of our own Exodus from Egypt. For the Haggadah also reminds us, “…in every generation, every person is required to view themselves as if they [personally] made the Exodus from Egypt.”

The Torah provides us with the ability to transcend faith alone and to change our personality not only for the betterment of mankind and also for our own.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130323 – Parshat Tzav / Shabbat HaGadol



MatzReb Yosil Rosenzweig



VaYikra (Leviticus) 6:1-8:36

Haftarah – Malachi 3:4-24



The Shabbat before Pesach (Passover) is called Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat) because it was the day when the Jews were to take the sheep (which were Egyptian deities) to be used for the Pascal offering four days later (this meant that the first Pesach was on a Wednesday). After nine plagues, the Egyptians were powerless to react to the slaughter of one of their gods. The Israelites, of course, didn’t know this, and therefore displayed tremendous faith prior to the Exodus.

We remember this event with a special Haftarah (reading from the prophets) where again great faith and trust in HaShem is emphasized. The Haftarah concludes with the call to remember the teachings of Moshe and informs us that HaShem will send Elijah the Prophet to herald the great and awesome day when the Children of Israel will again experience redemption.


Matzah is accustomed to hearing what we have to say to it. After all, the entire service of the Passover Haggadah is recited with the Matzah uncovered, serving as the passive, inanimate listener to our tale of bondage and freedom, cruelty and Redemption, chaos and purpose. The Matzah hears us. How meaningful it would be if we could “hear the Matzah?” I think that the conversation would go something like this:

“This is Seder number 3,343 for me. I began in Egypt, travelled through the Sinai desert, and took root in Israel. I was at the Temple in Jerusalem, the palace of David, the herdsman’s hut on the Golan and the merchant’s home in ancient Yaffo. I was present in the hanging gardens of Babylon, the Acropolis of Athens, and the Forum of Rome. I have been in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the Alps of Switzerland, the plains of Catalonia, the vineyards of Provence and Bordeaux and the splendor of Byzantium. I have seen Warsaw, Vilna, Kiev, Cracow, Moscow, Berlin, Kobe, Shanghai, Cochin and Bombay.

“I have been at Seder tables spread with white linen, laden with the finest china and most ornate silver servings. I have also been in hidden dark cellars in Seville and Barcelona, expelled from London and Oxford, and unaccountably and unjustly accused of blood libels. I was also in Auschwitz and Bergen–Belsen, under siege in modern Jerusalem and Sefat, in labor camps in Siberia and I have hid in Damascus and Teheran. I have been around and I have learned a thing or two.

“I have observed the passing of civilizations and empires. I have witnessed profound changes in the world order and in its beliefs. Every empire was convinced that it was invincible and immortal. Every philosophy advanced itself as the sole panacea for the world’s ills. Aristotle and Augustine, Aquinas and Locke, Marx and Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Russell, all postulated and proposed. Monarchy and feudalism, fascism and communism, imperialism and nationalism, all arose to structure and improve life and society. Reason and renaissance, humanism and secularism, religious oppression and hedonism, all have had their day.

“I, as a lowly Matzah, couldn’t comment too loudly about these goings on. But, I have seen them all pass, and yet, the struggle for personal freedom, for meaning and commitment, for peace and understanding, for home and family, is yet to be won. That explains why I’m delighted to be able to have this little chat with you. I’m always thrilled to have someone who will listen to me.

“For a while, people, even my people, thought that I wouldn’t be around much longer. But that was not true. I am now in Beachwood and Thornhill, Scarsdale and Beverly Hills, Brooklyn and Windsor, Bogota and Sydney, Paris and even Leningrad. I am back in Jerusalem and Sefat, Tiberias and Hebron.

“In fact, I am present wherever people care and hope, are loyal to themselves and their heritage, treasure old values and close family, and have proscribed the violence of hatred and chosen the path of tradition and faith. In short, for anyone who will listen to me, I am there.”

So when you pass the Matzah, be very quiet while eating it. More than its crunch, I have a hunch that it has much to say to us. It is our story. It is our glory.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher V’Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil

130309 – Parshi’ot VaYakhel/Pekudei Shabbat HaChodesh

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig




Torah Reading: Shemot (Exodus) 35:1 – 40:38

Maftir: Shemot 12:1 – 20

Haftarah: Ezekiel 35:16 – 46:18


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Our sages established four special Shabbat Torah readings to commemorate special events of the pre-Passover season prior to the expected great Roman exile as a Zecher LeChurban – a remembrance of the Temple destruction. The four Parshi’ot are:

  1. Parshat Shekalim: Feb. 9, 2013 (dealing with the half-Shekel tax – Exodus 30:11-16), this portion is read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar or Adar II in a leap year.
  2. Parshat Zachor: Feb. 23, 2013 (both remembering and not forgetting the evil nation of Amalek), the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. The portion of Amalek (Deut. 25:17-19) is read, since Haman was a descendant of Agog, King of Amalek.
  3. Parshat Para: March 2, 2013, Numbers 19:1-22 is read on the Shabbat following Purim (purifying anyone’s contaminated body via the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer so that one may enter the Temple area to sacrifice and eat the Pascal lamb offering).
  4. Parshat HaChodesh: March 9, 2013, finally, on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan, (recalling the first national Mitzvah of our special lunar/solar calendar), we read the special Maftir from Exodus 12:1-20. These verses contain the commandment to make Nissan the head of all months. This was the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people while still in Egypt.

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Central to the Torah’s teaching about the building of the Mishkan is the word “Lev – heart.” Those skilled in building and designing are said to be “Chacham Lev – wise hearted.” Furthermore, the text continues to note “Nisa’o Libo” (Exodus 35:21), meaning that “their hearts stir them up” to do the work; literally, their hearts carried them along in these sacred tasks. And finally, there is a third category – those who are referred to as “willing hearted,” who contribute voluntarily of their means for the precious material that was necessary for building HaShem’s sanctuary.

The Torah distinguishes between the “wise hearted” and the “willing hearted” as follows: HaShem grants wise heartedness, but willing heartedness is self–motivated. The wise–hearted artisans, both men and women, are said to have their special skill instilled in them by HaShem. But they, must motivate themselves to use their skills on behalf of the Almighty. The existence of these two types of people – those who are wise–hearted and those whose hearts stirred them up into action – are referred to in the text of the Parsha: “And Moses called…. every wise–hearted person, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even everyone whose heart stirred him or her up to the work to do it” (Exodus 36:2). Without allowing their hearts to stir them up to do the work, the artisans’ God–given skills would be of no avail to the communal purpose.

These skilled persons and stirred up hearts who do the building, the weaving, and fashioning, are thus paralleled to the willing–hearted, who provide the material for the communal work. They, too, it is said, are carried along by the hearts: “And they came everyone whose heart stirred him or her up, and everyone whose heart made him or her willing, and brought the Lord’s offering for the work of the tent of meeting….nose rings, and earrings, and signet rings, all jewels made of gold” (Exodus 35:21-22). Without their willing hearts, all of their lovely possessions would be of no avail to the community. It was this quality of willingness, of wanting to share with the community from their material well–being that distinguished them from the others.

These descriptions therefore stress each individual’s heartfelt action as a precondition and prerequisite to this successful construction of the desert sanctuary, in which HaShem’s presence could more readily be felt. By contrast, in last week’s episode of the Sin of the Golden Calf, when jewelry is also brought to serve as the raw material for the idol, the givers are not depicted as individuals, but rather as a mass of people who approach Aaron and who are told to “break off your gold rings, which are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters” (Exodus 32:2). A mere half sentence is devoted to the people’s action. They are told what to do and they do it, they obey, not as if they were bringing a free–will offering, but compliantly, prompted by their own mob psychology. In breaking their covenant with HaShem, they also break themselves apart, as individuals.

But in this week’s Parshi’ot, the Torah describes the people in a different light and focus, rebuilding their individual and collective identity by focusing on them as individuals who join with a sacred communal effort, freely giving their wisdom and their means to glorify HaShem.

It is hard not to find in this story a lesson of how a Jewish community should really function. There are many among us, those who are “wise hearted” in one way or another, but who see this wisdom as hard–earned rather than as being a God given endowment. Similarly, there are those among us who have earned the means to give to others, but who see no communal claim on their wealth. They, too, have earned it of their own strength and brilliance, so they think, by dint of their own hard work, which in their minds is divorced from any Divine factor.

This week’s Torah portion comes to teach us the true nature and quality of the giver, dramatizing a willingness to give of ourselves, of our talents and our means, for purposes beyond ourselves. It is not enough to encourage our children to excel in learning. Our pride in Jewish intellectual and artistic achievements is misplaced and misused if we do not insist that our intellectuals and our artists perform HaShem’s work in the community. And our pride in Jewish material well-being is likewise misplaced if we do not tax ourselves, so that those with special skills can be given the means with which to serve and teach in our communities. What we have, what we’ve been blessed with in terms of material goods and the matter of the mind, is ours to use not only for individual pursuits, but also for the greater good of society. The heart and the mind are to be guided by a willingness to share our gifts with others, so that society may benefit from our pooled resources and shared efforts.

Many are the ways in which our hearts and our minds can think and exist in tandem for common cause. I read about a student at Yeshiva University, who was recently given an outstanding award by a national organization that recognizes talent on campuses. Among the many activities this young man was involved in are the University blood drive, the Committee for Racial Tolerance on Campus, various intramural sports, captain of various sports teams, former president of the Junior class, and the list goes on. The Dean indicated that never, in his recollection, could he remember a student who had so many talents in so many areas, and gave of his heart and his mind to so many important causes. He is not only “wise hearted” but also “willing hearted.” Generosity needs both components – the feelings of the heart as well as the inspiration and the vision of the mind – to be realized in its proper form.

Our Parsha teaches us what it is that distinguishes humankind and sets us apart above all other creations, and enables us to be co–creators with HaShem. Brains and brawn is not only necessary to do the hard work that is a prerequisite of success. It is also about the ability to infuse these efforts with heart and feeling, to lend the human side to one’s efforts. More praiseworthy than the domineering employer who makes millions, is the humane, benevolent boss who, while carefully watching the bottom line, has never lost sight of the human side of work and industry.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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