130914 – Yom Kippur

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Yom Kippur 01rebyosil@gmail.com


Shacharit – Morning Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 16:1-34

BaMidbar (Numbers) 29:7-11

Haftarah ‑ Isaiah 57:14-58:14,

Mincha – Afternoon Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 18:1-30

Haftarah ‑ Book of Jonah and

Micah 7:18-20


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tzom Kal – Have an easy fast,

Reb Yosil

130907 – Parshat Hazinu Shabbat Shuva /Rosh HaShanah

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us mark the year 5774 as a year when G-d consciousness is an acceptable goal to all of mankind and not an expression of extremism.  Let us come together and question our existence and our role in G-d’s plan.  Let us provide every opportunity for our children and our grandchildren’s generations, to successfully traverse the trails and pathways of life.  And let us all pray for a year of blessings, a year of health and a year of peace for all mankind.

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

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Reb Yosil

130727 – Parshat Ekev



SiddurReb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12-11:25

Haftarah – Isaiah 49:14-51:3



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130720 – Parshat V’Etchanan

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imagesReb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim 3:23 – 7:11


Haftarah – Isaiah 40:1-26


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shine on Am Yisrael, shine on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

Parshi’ot Matot-Masei



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



BaMidbar (Numbers) 30:2‑36:13

Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4



This week, we read two Parshi’ot, Matot and Masei which complete the Book of BaMidbar. Included in these Parshi’ot are the final laws dealing with Jewish life and the conquering and division of Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel). The Book ends with the concluding episode of the daughters of Tezlafchad.

In Parshat Shelach, the first incident of Shabbat transgression was recorded that took place in the first year after the Exodus: “The Children of Israel were in the Wilderness and they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moshe and Aharon, and to the entire assembly. They placed him in custody, for it had not been clarified what was to be done to him. HaShem said to Moshe: ‘The man should be put to death; the entire assembly shall pelt him with stones outside the camp’” (BaMidbar 15:32-35).

The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 96b-97a) informs us that Rebbi Akiva (118-138 C.E. one of the leading Rabbis of the Mishnaic period, martyred by the Romans) held that this wood gatherer was Tzlafchad. He wanted to show the nation that the transgressions of Shabbat were truly punishable by death and therefore martyred himself to prove the point.

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

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

The Sifri (Halachic Midrash to the Books of BaMidbar and Devarim [Deuteronomy]) makes an amazing statement: “The compassion of the Omnipresent is not comparable to the compassion of human beings. A human might have more compassion for males, but He Whose word brought the world into being is different. His compassion is for both male and females – His compassion is for all.”

Therefore, in verses 6 – 11, Hashem clarifies the laws of inheritance regarding a man who dies without a male heir, in favor of daughters and only then to other family members. In chapter 36 of Parshat Mas’ei, the family of Tzlafchad brought up another issue. Since the Land of Israel would be divided into tribal territories and then subdivided by means of a lottery into family portions, if female inheritors marry men from outside of their tribe, the land would eventually go to their children who would be members of their father’s tribe. This would jeopardize the whole concept of family territory remain within tribal land.

Similarly, if a person (male or female) sold land to any other person, during a Yovel (the fiftieth Jubilee year following a cycle of seven Sabbatical years) all sold land reverted back to the original owners. This way the Torah insures that land stays within the tribes and their families.

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

The Book of BaMidbar ends with this final episode. The next Book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy), was actually written by Moshe prior to his death. In ancient times it was referred to as Mishna Torah (the Second Torah or “Deuteronomy” in Greek). In this book, Moshe informs the Children of Israel that in order to successfully live in the Land of Israel, a certain level of righteous behavior is required. But the first four books of the Torah were written by Hashem (Tractate Megillah 31b and the Ga’on from Vilna quoted in Ohel Ya’akov 1:1).

We have discussed many times the concept of the superior quality of spirituality in women. Concepts like: Biglal Nashim Tzidkani’ot Nigalu Avoteinu M’Mitzra’im (because of righteous women our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt) are taught to our children when studying Torah. Our Parsha completes the Torah that came from the Word of G-d with this example of selfless righteousness on the part of our women. These five special women are recorded by name in our Torah for all future generations to derive inspiration from.

Often, women feel that their right to equal status is negated by the Torah and by Judaism. These three episodes are but one of many examples that this is not the case. It is true that women cannot inherit land. The rights of inheritance of land may only go to men because of the biblical injunction of L’Veit Avotam (to their ancestral home). Similarly a child born of a Jewish father of the finest pedigree is not considered Jewish if the mother is not born Jewish or converts properly. There is a trade off that insures equanimity between the sexes. What is important to us is that when Hashem completes His document – the covenant between Himself and the Jewish people, He leaves us with this example of how righteousness must be viewed by both men and women.

As the prophet Micah so aptly put it in the Haftorah just a few weeks ago: “He has told you O’ humans, what is good and what Hashem seeks from you: only to do what is just, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your G-d” (Micah 6:8).



Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130323 – Parshat Tzav / Shabbat HaGadol



MatzReb Yosil Rosenzweig



VaYikra (Leviticus) 6:1-8:36

Haftarah – Malachi 3:4-24



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher V’Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil

130309 – Parshi’ot VaYakhel/Pekudei Shabbat HaChodesh

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig




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

Maftir: Shemot 12:1 – 20

Haftarah: Ezekiel 35:16 – 46:18


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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