111217 – Parshat VaYeishev / Chanukah



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Bereishit (Genesis) 37:1-40:23

Haftorah ‑ Amos 2:6‑3:8



Some Laws and Customs of Chanukah

Chanukah begins the evening on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 and continues through the day of December 28, 2022. Below I have listed the basic laws for lighting the Chanukah Menorah/Chanuki’ah. If you have any questions you should consult with your own Rabbi.

1. On the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit.

2. Oil or candles may be used as the source of the flame to light the Menorah (pure olive oil and cotton wicks are preferable).

3. Each evening they are to be placed in the Menorah from the left side to the right and are to be lit from the right side to the left.

4. Each member of the family (all generations and all genders), should be encouraged to purchase, prepare and light their own Menorahs.

5. On the first night of Chanukah, three ‘Berachot’ (blessings) are said before the lights are kindled (one cannot fulfill the Commandment of lighting the Menorah by listening to a recording or electronic transmission of the Berachot). The ideal time for lighting is just after sunset.

  • First Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvotav V’Tzivanu L’haDlik Ner Shel Chanukah – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah lamps.
  • Second Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, Sh’Asah Nisim La’Avotaynu, BaYamim HaHeim BaZeman HaZeh – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has done miracles for our ancestors in bygone days, at this time.
  • Third Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, SheheChe’yanu, VeKiyemanu VeGigi’anu LaZeman HaZeh – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has given us life, and has sustained us, and has brought us to this time.

The lights are then kindled.

6. On all other nights of Chanukah, only the first two Berachot are recited.

7. Afterwards, the two songs HaNerot HaLalu Anu MaDlikin – We Kindle these candles, and Ma’oz Tzur – O Mighty Stronghold, are recited.

8. It is customary to light one extra light in addition to the required number of lights for the given night. The extra light is called the ‘Shamash – the assistant or helper.’ The ‘Shamash’ should be used for kindling the Chanukah lights, and one may derive benefit from its light. It is customarily to be placed on the Menorah, but not in line with the other lights; either above or below or in front or behind. A deviation in height should be used which makes it obvious that the ‘Shamash’ is not one of the regular lights.

9. The Chanukah lights themselves may not be used for any purpose other than the contemplation of their beauty and meaning while they burn in fulfillment of the Mitzvah.


Then Ya’akov (Jacob) rent his garments and placed sackcloth upon his loins, he mourned his son [Yosef] for many days” (Bereishit 37:34). Our tradition teaches us that the greatest pain a person can experience occurs when one buries their own child. Other forms of death are expected – we hope to outlive our parents. While we all know intellectually that a parent who loses a child rarely can separate themselves from their bereavement, even so, I still have trouble reconciling that Ya’akov Avinu, Ya’akov our ancestor, a giant of a man who “struggled with G-d and with man and prevailed,” this patriarch who’s mystical characteristic is “beauty,” I have difficulty comprehending that he could not get past the “loss of his favorite son,” there has to be more to the story.

Even though RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 ‑ 1105) explains that in the above verse, the phrase “Yamim Rabim – for many days” means that Ya’akov mourned for over twenty years, corresponding to the years that he was separated from his own father. Still, it leaves me with a difficulty – why couldn’t Ya’akov’s life experience and faith console him to the fact that HaShem’s will is rarely clear but always correct?

The RaMBaN (an acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman [Nachmanides], Gerona, 1194 ‑ 1270) adds another dimension to this question. He relates the loss of Ya’akov’s son as a personal condemnation. The RaMBaN writes: “Until this time no child ever died in the Patriarchal household, for the offspring of the righteous were blessed. Because of this, Ya’akov mourned for his son for such a long period and refused to be comforted, for he considered Yosef’s death a personal punishment.”

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 84:21) asks why Yehudah (Judah) was consoled over the death of his son (Bereishit 38:7) while Ya’akov refused to be comforted over the apparent death of Yosef (37:35). The Beit HaLevi (Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, Brisk, Lithuania, 1820 – 1892) gives us the answer.

Ya’akov knew prophetically that one of the Patriarchs would give birth to 12 sons who would establish 12 tribes that would become HaShem’s nation. Ya’akov grieved not only over the loss of his son, but because he thought that after the death of Yosef, the twelve tribes were no longer intact and the very foundation of the Jewish nation was in question.

“…And he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep” Bereishit 28:11. The Midrash elaborates: “Ya’akov took twelve stones (and made a pillow of them and saw that angels were ascending and descending a ladder, he knew that HaShem had decreed that He would establish a nation of twelve tribes. Ya’akov said: ‘neither Avraham nor Yitzchak bore them. But if these twelve stones shall become one, I will know that I will be the one to establish the twelve tribes” (Bereishit Rabbah 68:11). And then the verse says: “And Ya’akov rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon its top” (28:18).

Ya’akov devoted his life to building the House of Israel. For this, he labored in the house of Lavan and suffered at the hands of Eisav. So when Ya’akov believed that one of the twelve tribes had been destroyed, he felt that his life’s work had been shattered. Therefore, he mourned Yosef for twenty-two years lamenting, “…I will descend mournfully to my son, to She’ol” (37:35).

The Yalkut Shimoni 143 (the best known and most comprehensive Midrashic anthology, attributed to Rabbi Shimon HaDarshan, Frankfurt, Germany, 13th century) describes it beautifully: “Ya’akov lamented: ‘The covenant of the tribes has been broken! How I struggled to establish twelve tribes, corresponding to the twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve hours of the day, twelve hours of the night, twelve months of the year, and twelve jewels of the Ephod (the breast plate worn by the High Priest)!”

For twenty-two years, Ya’akov suffered the frustration of his lost hopes and dreams. This must have been a tremendous ordeal, perhaps as great as the ordeal of the Akeidah (the trial of Avraham, to sacrifice his son Yitzchak). Ya’akov did not merely mourn the loss of his favorite son who died a premature and unnatural death. Nor was he depressed that the body of his son was never recovered. Ya’akov, a prophet of Israel, knew that the many struggles in his life were necessary to forge a “chosen” nation who would eventually bring enlightenment to the world. That objective was now crushed. This realization caused a mighty depression that consumed Ya’akov’s very essence.

RaShI teaches us that prophets lose their ability to receive prophesy when depression sets in. During the 22 years that Ya’akov mourned, he received no instruction, no communication, nor any divine consolation. He was unaware of why the channels were severed and imagined that it was possibly due to disrespecting his parents by not contacting them for those 20 years in the house of Lavan. The death of a patriarchal son had never happened before and he blamed himself.

We know that Yosef was not dead, and that he was paving the way for the 12 tribes to become a nation. He was fulfilling the covenant made between HaShem and his grandfather Avraham (15:13-16). Yosef’s separation from his father for 22 years was atonement for Ya’akov’s separation from his parents. The road to recovery is quite often set in motion by the very events that cause us so much pain. Ya’akov thought he understood HaShem’s direction, but he didn’t. He viewed this disappearance of Yosef not as a bump in the road but as the failure to realize his destiny. Ya’akov was in the dark.

If one was to kindle any of the Chanukah lights during the daytime, the resultant light would be practically insignificant. Our Chanukah lights are never used as torches, in fact, their only use is to be stared at; they are but small flames that in darkness shed a profound light. Ya’akov’s loss of his son Yosef left him in the darkness. Though he had the means to see, his sorrow did not allow him to see the light. Chanukah is a festival that forever reminds us that the light of HaShem’s beneficence constantly surrounds us, if we but open our eyes. May He Who has done miracles for our ancestors in bygone days; also show us His miraculous Presence at this time also.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil


111210 – Parshat VaYishlach



Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig


Parshat VaYishlach

Bereishit (Genesis) 32:4 – 36:43

Haftorah – Obadiah 1:1-21



This “Vort” is dedicated to the memory of Mickey Bodner A”H. He raised his family to be pillars of their individual communities, Yirei Shamayim and Ba’alei Tzedakah.

V’yiZku LiRot Banim U’Vinei Banim Oskim BaTorah U’vMitzvot Al Yira’el Shalom – And he was worthy of seeing children and grandchildren involved in Torah and Mitzvot, let peace reign over Israel.

Tehei Nishmato Tzerurah B’Tzror HaChaim – May his soul be bound up in the everlasting bond of life.


Our Parsha includes one of the most monumental events in Jewish history, the renaming of Ya’akov to Yira’el. This event occurs while he is returning home after 34 years away from his parents (14 years in the academy of Shem and Ever; 14 years working Rachel and Layah, and 6 years working for Lavan and accumulating great wealth).

Before he is reunited with his parents, he hears that his brother Eisav is advancing with an army of 400 warriors.  He readies himself through prayer and peace offerings, and if that should fail, Ya’akov prepares himself for battle. He divides his entourage in anticipation of the encounter. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, he crosses the River Yabok and encounters a very powerful force. “And Ya’akov was left alone and a MAN struggled with him until the break of dawn” (Bereishit 32:25).

RaShI sites a Gemara (Tractate Chullin 91a) that explains that Ya’akov suddenly remembered that he left a “Patch Katan” (a small jug) on the other bank of the river. It was while searching for the jugs that he encountered the Sar Shel Eisav (the guardian angel of Eisav). What compelled Ya’akov to endanger himself for just a few small jugs?

RaShI goes on to say that the possessions of a Tzaddik (a righteous man) are important to him, for [he knows that] they come through the Grace of HaShem. However, there is another explanation that is very interesting.

The Midrash tells us that thirty four years earlier, when Ya’akov was leaving Eretz Yisra’el to find a wife, Eisav made his son Alifaz (one of his more compassionate offspring, and who was raised on the knee of his uncle Yitzchak) swear to pursue and kill Ya’akov. Ya’akov camped one night and heard strange noises and discovered Elifaz. Elifaz declared to his uncle that he was ordered by his father to kill him. Ya’akov asked Elifaz what was the last lesson that they studied together, and he replied the tradition of Ani Nechshav K’met (a poor person is considered like a dead man). Understanding his uncles point, Alifaz took all of Ya’akov’s possessions and thereby fulfilled his oath to his father.

That night Ya’akov had a dream about angels descending and ascending a ladder stretched to the heavens (last week’s Parsha). One of the angels gave Ya’akov a miraculous Pach Katan (a small jug). This jug contained pure olive oil that when empty, suddenly became full again. Ya’akov used his jug to obtain the funds necessary to finance his trip to Lavan. That was the miraculous jug that Ya’akov left on the banks of the river and returned to retrieve. We’ll get back to the jug later.

As mentioned before, the Angel that fought Ya’akov was the guardian angel of Eisav. In fact, he has many names, Sama’el, Satan, the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), and Sitra Achra (the other side), just to name a few. They struggled, and the angel realized that he could not overpower Ya’akov. So he struck him on the thigh, wounding him (for this reason Jews don’t eat the hind quarter of cattle [see verse 33]). Then, when the sun began to rise, the angel had to leave, but not before Ya’akov had forced a blessing from Sama’el. Verse 29 reads; “No longer will it be said that your name is Ya’akov, but Yisra’el, for you have striven with the Divine and with man, and you have overcome (Ki Saritah Im Elokim V’Im Anashim VaTuchal).

Ya’akov (heal) represents the passive Jew. There are times that passivity is the proper approach. But, there are times when the Jewish people must be aggressive, and this is what Yisra’el represents (G-d wrestler). After this name change Ya’akov was not limited to passive responses. He had overcome the most powerful force one could encounter, and a metamorphosis took place in him, he became another being, he became Yisra’el.

For this reason his children became known as the Bnei Yisra’el (the Children of Yisra’el), and the land they inherited became known as Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Yisra’el). For they are aggressive in nature, they must continually wrestle with HaShem and with man in order to exist.

Let’s return to the Jug. Ya’akov passed this jug on to his son Levi. Eventually it was inherited by Aaron who was anointed with its oil and then anointed the Altar of the Tabernacle with it, and first filled the Menorah with its wondrous oil. It was passed on from High Priest to High Priest until finally after the Maccabees defeated the Greeks/Hellenists and entered the Holy Temple to resume the Holy service they couldn’t find oil to light the seven branched Menorah until someone found a Pach Katan (a small jug) of oil that miraculously stayed lit for eight days.

My friends, Chanukah is almost upon us (the 1st candle is lit the evening of Tuesday, December 20th). And one of the blessings that we say when we light our Menorahs is: Sh’Asah Nisim La’Avotaynu Ba Yamim HaHeim U’baZeman HaZeh (that You have performed miracles for our ancestors in those days and in this time). This blessing might have been said by the Maccabees when they witnessed the miracle of the Jug. And we, who have lived to see the birth pangs of our own redemption, can say the same blessing with total conviction.

But, sometimes we act like Ya’akov when we should be acting like Yisra’el. We must actively see the miracles that are occurring all around us and in every generation, from Auschwitz to the establishment of the State of Yisra’el, from the Six Day War to the return of over a million Soviet Jews to Eretz Yisra’el, from the battles against assimilation to the reawakening of our people all around the globe. True, these battles and these victories have taken their toll. In many ways, like Ya’akov we were also wounded, but we have prevailed.

This Chanukah let us light our Menorahs with the fervor of Jews who not only can make light, but who can see the light. Let us pour forth that never ending Pach Katan that is in each and every one of us. And, let us aggressively allow our light to shine, heralding the miracles that have fashioned us into Children of HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil




Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Bereishit (Genesis) 1:1- 6:8

Haftarah Isaiah 42:5 – 43:10



I am to be admitted to Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto for surgery this Friday for the amputation of my right foot. At this point I’m not sure if I will have the ability to continue writing the weekly “Vorts” on a regular basis or not. I have struggled with my ailment for a very long time and with HaShem’s help I look forward to a full recovery (with a slight handicap doing the Kezatzka at weddings). Your prayers for Shmu’el Yosef ben Chayah would be greatly appreciated. RYR


On Shabbat Jews all over the world will begin our new cycle of scriptural readings. Each year on the last day of the festival, also known as Simchat Torah (literally, “rejoicing of the Torah”) we complete the weekly readings of the Five Books of Moses with Devarim (Deuteronomy) 33:1-34:12. Torah is the Hebrew reference for scripture that means “the instruction.” With Devarim completed, the Torah reading on this first Shabbat of the new calendar year and new cycle begins with Bereishit 1:1-6:8, the biblical account of creation and the first ten generations of mankind.

Of course it does make sense to begin a new year with a brand new page, and starting from “in the beginning” is a novel idea. The real meaning behind the custom of ending and immediately beginning anew is the idea that Torah has no conclusion.

The study of Torah is deep and built upon layers and layers of hidden meanings, nuances, and glimpses into spiritual and human nature. A true student of scripture cannot claim to be all knowing or to have completed the study on the bible, for that knowledge can only uncover more information. And so the cycle continues, over and over in a continuous chain of study, ever widening, and all encompassing.

In contrast, our modern “goal motivated” society, views life as a series of stages from which we graduate and advance on to the next stage. Pre-school through graduate studies is the intellectual road to success. Our career oriented educational system often discards general information or knowledge attained during earlier education for more crucial and up to date advances in order to progress in our selected fields.

Torah, on the other hand, encompasses many different sides of the educational process. The Torah contains stories, commandments, lessons and G-d’s very special message to mankind. Torah utilizes the general knowledge that one has already acquired and enriches it with a spiritual focus that has inspired mankind from our first reading of scripture.

For instance, the modern world of science has difficulty with creation and the biblical account of the universe’s origin. According to the Jewish calculation, the universe is only 5772 years old. How can a modern person therefore, conceive of a universe that appears to be billions of years old and at the same time have faith in the Bible?

If we could visualize Adam at the moment of his creation, most of us would see him as a mature adult, walking upright, with no need to go through the stages of infancy, childhood and adolescence. We visualize the trees in the garden as mature fruit bearing trees, not just saplings. Can’t this picture of physical perfection continue below the earth as well as above? Couldn’t the perfect G-d create a universe that contains fossil fuels and organic traces that appear to have taken millions of years to evolve? Or, can we understand the difference between the biblical and scientific age of the universe as time being calculated differently (see Dr. Gerald Schroeder: The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom, (1997)? In Hebrew, each distinct name of G-d has its own special significance. The first time G-d is mentioned in the Torah, the name “Elohim” is used – “In the beginning ‘Elohim’ created the heavens and the earth” (Bereishit 1:1).

Elohim denotes law, judgment, regulation. In the beginning Elohim – the G-d of Law – created…”  When G-d created the world He did so by establishing a unique world formatted to follow certain laws i.e., gravity, thermodynamics, entropy, etc. With this understanding the student of Torah and the scientist can easily reconcile their differences when both appreciate the perspective that each brings to the table. To the student of the Bible, the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg is irrelevant, of course the chicken came first. Interestingly, the Gematriya (numeric value) of Elohim (87) is equal to HaTeva – the nature.

Our Jewish heritage teaches that Torah has both a written and an oral level of transmission that cannot be separated. Questions such as; why did it take so long for Noah to build the Ark (120 years); or, how old was Isaac when Abraham, his father, almost sacrificed him (37 years old); or, where did the hundreds of thousands of Israelites get water during their forty year sojourn in the desert (from the well of Miriam), all have transmitted answers.  The harmony between our oral and our written traditions not only answer these and countless other questions, but add spice and depth to the already fascinating view of our world from HaShem’s perspective.

Let us take up the issue of HaShem’s commandments. How does one enforce “an eye for an eye,” (Shemot [Exodus] 21:24)? Remember, a commandment is not a suggestion, it must be followed without question and completed accurately. How to “honor one’s parents” or, how to compensate a victim (“an eye for an eye“) must be understood before attempting to perform the action. Jewish tradition instructs us that a literal “eye for an eye” is unenforceable. Rarely will one person’s eye be completely blinded by a negligent workman. In most cases a person will become 20%, 50% or 70% blind in the damaged eye. How could any court enforce the equal measure of “an eye for an eye” in this situation? The only possible answer is financial compensation – the value of that particular eye upon the livelihood of that particular individual. From the perspective of religious and spiritual jurisprudence, the answer to these questions is basic to the proper fulfillment of HaShem’s command.

And so on Simchat Torah we begin the cycle of learning again. We are forever searching for the insight, for the explanation of the word, or the episode or just the nuance. Each year on the festival of Simchat Torah, when we rejoice with the Torah, we complete one more circuit of study and immediately begin another.

On Simchat Torah we rejoice at the privilege of and the delight in gaining new insights and new revelations. On Shabbat Bereishit we actualize that joy by blending old knowledge with new perspectives.

Chag Samei’ach and Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

111015 – Sukkot 5772



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chag Samei’ach –have a joyous festival.

Reb Yosil

111008 – Yom Kippur 5772

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


Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Shacharit – Morning Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 16:1-34

BaMidbar (Numbers) 29:7-11

Haftarah ‑ Isaiah 57:14-58:14,

Mincha – Afternoon Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 18:1-30

Haftarah ‑ Book of Jonah and

Micah 7:18-20


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reb Yosil


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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftorah – Isaiah 61:10-63:9 110924

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tovah,

Reb Yosil

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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10-25:19

Haftorah – Isaiah 54:1-10 110910

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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