131221 – Parshat Shemot

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Shemot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1

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


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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

131109 – Parshat VaYeitzei



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Leah and Rachelrebyosil@gmail.com


Bereishit (Genesis) 28:10 – 31:3

Haftarah – Hosea 12:13 – 14:10



In last week’s Parsha some commentators discussed the concept that both Ya’akov and Eisav were meant to continue and become the third generation of patriarchs. We continue with that theme in this week’s Parsha’s discussion of Ya’akov marrying the two sisters, Rachel and Layah. Rabbis Mendel Kessin and Azri’el Tauber both do an extensive analysis of this interesting chapter in the birth and future of the B’nei Yisra’el.

Rabbi Kessin teaches that in the original plan for mankind, the divine purpose for man was to bring holiness into the world. This is called in Hebrew HitPashtut HaKedushah (the spreading of holiness). However, when the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, was eaten, the Yetzer Hara – Evil Inclination entered into our beings and became part of us. Because of that act, an additional purpose was given to mankind, K’Fiyat Hara (the destruction of Evil). After both the generations of No’ach and Babel failed to fulfill these purposes, Avraham and his children were chosen to bring about these two objectives.

Avraham spread holiness in the world by going out and teaching the ways of HaShem, through his own example. Yitzchak was a solitary man who endeavored to perfect himself and thereby, destroy evil.

Remember that Eisav was a man of the field, and Ya’akov, a dweller of tents. If Eisav had been true to his fate, he would have conquered the physical and material world (Eisav was a man of the field), and accomplish the spreading of holiness by making the mundane holy. Ya’akov, like his father, tried to perfect his entire being, and disallow any evil to exist in his proximity (a dweller of tents).

Rabbi Azri’el Tauber gives us a parable to better understand Eisav. Imagine that a person was born into the home of a powerful Mafioso. The negative influence and pressure on this child would be tremendous. Nevertheless, if he grew up to be a good wholesome person, it would only be because of exerting colossal efforts of self-discipline. Rabbi Tauber says that Eisav was born with enormous impediments to holiness, a strong inclination to materialism, and powerful lusts that needed conquering, consequently – the challenge. Had he channeled and redirected those feelings, Eisav could have become a powerful spiritual force. Instead succumbed to the temptations of the material world and instead of spreading holiness; he spread evil itself. Because of his display of evil, his brother Ya’akov then attempted to take on Eisav’s duties (of HitPashtut HaKedushah) in addition to his own (K’Fiyat Hara).

Now Lavan had two daughters; the name of the older was Layah and the name of the younger was Rachel. Layah’s eyes were tender (Rakot), while Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance” (Bereishit 29:16, 17). RaShI cites a Midrash (Rabba 70:15) that explains that Layah’s eyes were tender (from weeping during prayer) because it was decreed that she marry the now evil Eisav. “People used to say that Rivkah had two sons and Lavan had two daughters, the elder daughter would be married to the elder son, while the younger daughter was destined to marry the younger son.” When Layah heard of Eisav’s downfall, she wept in prayer, because instead of marrying a Tzaddik (a righteous man), she would have to marry a Rasha (an evil man). Layah prayed for an annulment of the decree (and her prayers were answered).

But the manner in which her prayers were answered is most interesting. Ya’akov made an arrangement to marry Rachel after he completed seven years of servitude for his uncle Lavan. Distrusting Lavan, he gave Rachel signals to use under the Chupah (the marriage canopy); so that he would know that the veiled bride was, in fact, Rachel. When Lavan substituted Layah for Rachel, Rachel gave her sister Ya’akov’s signals so that Layah would not be embarrassed. When Ya’akov discovered that he was married to Layah, he protested: “…So he said to Lavan, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?’ Lavan said, ‘Such is not done in our place, to give the younger before the elder. Complete the week of this one (seven days of Sheva Berachot) and we will give you the other one too, for the work that you will perform for me yet another seven years” (Bereishit 29:25-27).

The Lekutei Basar Lekutei brings a ChaZaL (a rabbinical teaching) that explains that when Ya’akov said to Lavan, “Why have you deceived me?” Layah replied; “But didn’t you deceive your father when you said, ‘I am Eisav your firstborn?’ ”

The Lekutei Basar Lekutei found it very strange that Layah would defend Eisav, whom she despised. Rather, her words should be understood this way: if your claim to the birth right is true, then Eisav’s claim for me, as his wife, has also been claimed by you. Do not deceive yourself, your father, or me, by taking only part of his birthright.

Layah became the mother of six son’s/tribes and a daughter Deena; and through her maidservant Zilpah, she was accredited with another two sons/tribes. Rachel, on the other hand, became the mother of only sons/two tribes; and through her maidservant Bilhah, with another two sons/tribes. Layah’s prayers were answered; she married a Tzaddik and become a significant partner in the birth of the nation of Israel.

Our Parsha began with Ya’akov leaving Eretz Yisra’el to find a wife. It ends after he becomes the father of a nation and returns home with two wives. Rachel and Layah also became the foundation of this future nation blending their strengths into the spiritual DNA of the B’nei Yisra’el in order to fulfill their true destiny.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130914 – Yom Kippur

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


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


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 “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

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

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

121229 – Parshat VaYiChi


Menorah 02


Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Bereishit (Genesis) 47:28-50:26

Haftorah I Kings 2:1-12



This week we read the final chapters of the Book of Bereishit. In the synagogue, prior to the reciting of the last few words of the Pasha, the congregation rises and when the reading is completed, they call out in unison, Chazak, Chazak, V’NitChazek – Strengthened, strengthened, may we be strengthened.


The running debate throughout much of Jewish history has been the heated battle about who is the authentic Jew – Sadducees or Pharisees; Kabbalists or Rationalists; Chasidim or Mitnagdim; Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.

Some see this as a threat to Jewish unity, while others claim that it is a necessary lubricant and built–in guarantee assuring that no one group in particular becomes dominant.  No one group should risk the malady of success and its symptoms of laziness, self–righteousness and triumphalism and self-destruct. Some contend that pluralism or the presence of different expressions in Jewish life is necessary to maintain the vitality of the Jewish experience.

Watching how these struggles align themselves on the battlefield of Jewish history is a fascinating exercise, because so much of the tension and the excitement in modern Jewish life is the discovery of parallels between NOW and THEN. We might be able to take some comfort in seeing that that the fissure in the Jewish community today it is nothing new, and that history is but repeating itself.

In watching the battle from the sidelines, I often come away with the feeling that due to assimilation, apathy and indifference, the Yeshiva and Chassidic worlds, where so much of the outside world is held suspect, are surprisingly predicted to still be Jewish by the year 2,050 and all others will disappear.

The fact is that whatever little enters into this world from the outside, is either a modern convenience or a course of study that will yield a good living. The philosophy of Torah and Madah (literally, Torah and Science – the religious philosophy of the “Rav” – Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University, a philosophy that embraces areas of worldly knowledge), does not sit well with much of the Yeshiva world. Latin, Greek philosophy and English literature, for example, are not subjects that the typical Yeshiva trained individual tries or cares to master.

Yet we find in the Gemara (Tractate Shabbat 75a), the statement: “Anyone who is able to study astronomy and does not do so is chided by the prophet who says about him, `the world of the Lord they do not explore, and the creation of His hands they do not see.‘”

Every Friday night, Jewish parents bless their children with the time–honored blessing, “May HaShem make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” This is the blessing given to a daughter. But to our sons, we say, “May HaShem make you like Ephraim and Menasheh” (48:20). Of course, we know that Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are the four matriarchs, the founders of our people. But why are Menasheh and Ephraim, the two sons of Yosef, cited in this blessing and therefore seen as the paradigms of Jewish manhood?

One interpretation is that Menashe and Ephraim were the first of the family of Ya’acov to have been born and brought up outside of Eretz Yisra’el and outside the home of Ya’acov, second–generation Diasporians; yet they remained true to the traditions of their faith, despite their exposure to animals gods, the cult of the dead, and the other enticing and inviting elements of Egyptian decadence.

Note for a moment how Ya’acov actually blesses his grandsons. He places his left hand on the head of the older, Menashe, and his right hand on Ephraim, giving the younger son precedence in the blessing. Yosef, for a moment, thinks his blind and ailing father has made a mistake, but Ya’acov actually knows what he is doing and he tells Yosef that the younger boy will, in the end, be greater (48:19). The Midrash explains and resolves this issue with the comment: that when the people of Egypt approach Yosef to buy wheat, there was a translator, and that man was Menashe, a sophisticated linguist, a cosmopolitan PHD we might say, from the Nile University. And Ephraim? Well, he is the unnamed figure who brings Yosef the news that his father is ill. He is the one who, from the time that Ya’acov first arrived in Egypt, devotes himself exclusively to the study of Torah with his grandfather, and sits at his feet and cleaves to the message of his elder. Thus, from the positioning of the hands, we understand exactly why Ya’acov chooses to rearrange the blessings. Ephraim comes first, because without Torah, without a grounding in religious life and ethical teachings, everything else turns into the tools of cruelty. But Ya’acov also blesses Menashe because he values his work and his achievements in the court of Pharaoh.

So, my friends, we parents on Friday night pray to HaShem that our sons should be the synthesis of both Ephraim and Menashe – growing to be people capable of combining Torah learning with worldly wisdom. In this manner, they become full and integrated individuals who are able to appreciate the world and what it has to offer, all the while diverting that knowledge and wisdom through the lens of Torah teaching. Indeed, it is Torah which gets top billing, for it has the capacity to take the best of the material world and sanctify it, ennoble it and transform it; but only if we take Torah and spread its message and its relevance to the academies of science, and politics, to the humanities and the arts. Only then will we have fulfilled the vision which Ya’acov dreamed.

I say this with all due respect to other approaches which might take exception to my feelings on this matter. Nonetheless, I feel that this is a bona fide definition and representation of what it is that we should strive for to be authentic Jews. Perhaps one can embellish and amplify this point by looking back for a moment to the Menorah, the centerpiece of our recently celebrated Chanukah festival. In one of the Torah’s several descriptions of the Menorah lighting procedure, we are told that: “when the flames are kindled, they should light up the central staff of the Menorah, and thus shall all seven lights be illuminated” (Numbers 8:2). This verse gives primacy to the center light; it is the essential Menorah, flanked by the other six lights, three on each side.

Evidently, the six side lights were oriented in such a way as to cast a reflection onto the center. And most of the classical commentaries accept this approach. Rabbi Ovadiya Seforno of 15th century Italy expands this explanation by likening the three lights of the right to those who concern themselves with “eternal matters,” and the three lights of the left to those who are involved with “temporal matters.” Seforno teaches that both of these groups have an overriding and compelling responsibility to turn inward toward the center staff, so that the illumination of the Menorah can be complete. We urgently need this message of the Menorah today, when we see so pronounced and obvious the divisions that exist between the various factions of Jews and the rancor that we hear and read of in the public press.

The center of Torah Judaism has been obscured within the shadows of infighting, to the extent that the entire Menorah may be cast into darkness. Not for this did the Maccabees struggle in the past, and not for this have our ancestors struggle in their efforts to perpetuate Jewish life and provide for its future. And not for this have we come so far in our efforts to build a thriving Jewish community in Israel and in the Diaspora.

So, when looking for inspiration, for enlightenment, one should be able to feel and appreciate the warmth of this approach to Judaism. By no means should the primacy of Torah be diminished, but the realization that Torah can interface and intersect all levels of life. In this way, we bring meaning to our existence and honor our spiritual mission.

Chazak, Chazak, V’NitChazek – Strengthened, strengthened, may we be strengthened.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

121222 – Parshat VaYiGash

Uniting Heaven & Earth* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Reb Yosil Rosenzweig


Parshat VaYigash

Bereishit (Genesis) 44:18-47:27

Haftarah Ezekiel 37:15-28


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I recall once sitting at an organizational meeting where a debate ensued concern­ing an evaluation of recent efforts of the organization. The point under consideration was a definition of “success,” and whether or not the organization had been “success­ful” in its efforts with regard to that program. Only once in the entire Torah is there actually any refer­ence a “successful” person. And that was with regard to Yosef, who we are told was an “Ish Matzli’ach – a successful man” (Gen. 39:1-2).

This gives rise, of course, to the same question, “what is success?” In our age and in our culture, success is usually (and mistakenly), associated with great material achieve­ments, with power, money, glamour and popularity. That is the modern definition of success – the criteria used for the “rich and famous” of our society. And yet, the Torah presents us with an alternative and what I believe to be a more profound defini­tion of success. The Jewish definition of a success story can be found by examining Yosef’s own life story.

Throughout Yosef’s life, he faced a series of critical tests and challenges. They represent the types of crises and problems experienced by all of us during our lifetimes. First, at the tender age of seventeen, he was persecuted by his own brothers, torn away from his family and thrown into an alien environment. The love and care of a doting father is now replaced by the harsh demands of a slave owner. It is obviously a period of gloom and doom in his young life. And two possibili­ties exist at such a moment. One can be overcome with self–pity, despair and hopelessness. Or, one can determine to make the best of a difficult situation and face the future with hope and faith and determination.

Yosef opted for the second alternative. In his hour of misfortune and trouble and travail, he was imbued with faith in HaShem, and because “HaShem was with Yosef (39:2),” he never lost hope. He applied himself to his work; he found a blessing in the curse: he was able to see the silver lining in the clouds, and he did the best he could do under difficult circumstances. He was thus an “Ish Matzli’ach” in that circumstance. He rose to the occasion.

The next crisis provided Yosef with a serious moral test. He had to face the powerful attraction of the mistress of the house, namely the wife of Potiphar and fight against temptation and evil. And as the Midrash and other sources indicate, it was not an easy matter. After all, Yosef was a young man, very attractive, with all of the urges of a person of his age. We all know how many people have capitulated to lusts and sexual urges, and have succumbed to impulse. But again, Yosef succeed­ed, for at the height of this crisis and this challenge, he felt that he was not alone. He was able to see and recognize and be conscious of his moral responsibilities, of his presence before the Almighty and of his father’s teach­ings and reputation. In a forceful tone he replied: “How can I do this great evil and sin against HaShem?” (Gen. 39:9)

The third crisis of Yosef’s life came when he faced the powerful Pharaoh, and brilliantly interpreted his dream. From the bottom of a dark pit, he has now risen to the heights of fame, success and new fortune. He was about to become the Viceroy of Egypt. All admired his wisdom and his ingenuity, especially at that time of crisis for that country. It was so easy and so tempting to become vain and arrogant at his newfound success and influence, to treat success in a mood of self-congratulation. But Yosef, in characteristic humility, answers “It is not in me, only HaShem will give an answer to Pha­raoh” (Gen. 41:16). Once again Yosef has succeeded. He has not permit­ted his meteoric rise and popularity and influence to corrupt or compro­mise his life and his princi­ples. He doesn’t put on the mantle of arrogance; he doesn’t strut about proud as a peacock, drunk with his own success.

And the final crisis of his life is recorded in this week’s Sedra. How will Yosef deal with his brothers after so many years of estrange­ment? When Yosef reveals his identity to his brothers, he immediately reassures them of his fraternal feelings by declaring, “For it was to preserve life that HaShem sent me ahead of you…to give you a remnant on the earth…to save your lives in a great deliverance” – (Gen. 45:5-7). It is important to notice how often Yosef refers to HaShem at this tense moment of rapprochement, when he reintroduces himself to his brothers and seeks to affect a mending of ways.

These are the types of crises that we actually all face in life, each representing a different category. All of us at one time or another certainly fight despair, we battle our conscience, we seek to retain humility in the face of success, and we attempt to repair estrangements with those nearest and dearest to us. If throughout these various fluctuations of life we remember that man is not alone, but that man can be responsible for his actions, can at least guide his destiny, and in spite of all of our achievements, our lives are still in the hands of HaShem, then we too can succeed like Yosef.

Success is a matter of measure and humility, of not taking one’s self too seriously, in believing that one has to be in total control, otherwise we lose it all. Success is not just making it, but knowing how to take it. Success means that one tries to do the best with what one has been given, never abandon­ing one’s principles; remaining close to one’s ideals, and capable of resisting the allure of overly vain and selfish pursuits. And success means that one can be good to one’s self; that one can work to realize one’s potential, but that one never forgets the final act and ingredient in the process of “making it,” and that is  HaShem’s good graces. Success also means that one sees achievement in the ordinary accomplishments. Success means that one need not move mountains; but success can be manifest in the ordinary everyday happenings, in raising a good family, in being a good provider, friend and citizen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

Previous Older Entries