111231 – Parshat VaYigash

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig
Parshat VaYigash
Bereishit (Genesis) 44:18-47:27

Ezekiel 37:15-28

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Due to the fact that my website manager is off for the holidays, I am posting this week’s “Vort” a week early so that it can be programed to be sent out on time next week.

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A final confrontation takes place in our Parsha between Yosef and Yehudah. In last week’s Parsha Yosef demanded that the brothers return to Canaan and bring back their little brother Binyamin as a sign that they were not spies and that their story was true. After he meets his brother from his mother Rachel, he then placed a royal cup in Binyamin’s bag and Yosef accused him of stealing the cup and would remain forever in Egypt as Yosef’s prisoner. “VaYigash Eilav Yehudah – And Yehudah approached Him (Yosef),” and Yehudah and his brothers were prepared to go to war in order to save their brother Binyamin from the hand of this Egyptian tyrant. This event provided Yehudah and his brothers the necessary Tikkun (mechanism of healing) to repair their sin of selling Yosef into slavery 22 years before.

When Yosef saw the remorse and the fortitude that Yehudah showed, he then revealed himself to his brothers and said: “Ani Yosef Achicha, Ha’Od Avi Chai – I am your brother Yosef, is my father still alive (Bereishit 45:3)?” This question posed by Yosef is very odd. In all of the previous meetings between Yosef and his brothers the question of Ya’akov health and welfare came up repeatedly. Why now did Yosef ask this question after knowing in no uncertain terms that his father was still alive?

The commentaries speak at length about possible answers to this question. I would like to pose an answer that I heard from Rabbi Yissachar Frand, one of the heads of the Ner Israel Yeshivah in Baltimore. A number of years ago I was in Baltimore and I heard that Rabbi Frand gave a lesson on the week’s Torah portion. I went to the Agudah synagogue and found myself among a crowd of about 400 people who regularly come to hear his lectures. When it came to the question, “Is my father still alive,” he told the following story that made a huge impression on me.

There was a young boy in the Baltimore community whose father suddenly passed away. The Mitzvah of protecting and showing compassion to a Yatom – an orphan is very high among the Mitzvot in the Torah. Every year when the boy would begin a new grade in school, the Rebbi/teacher would try to show special interest in this unfortunate boy. He would sit the child near his desk and show him special attention. He would take the boy on outings and show great hospitality and graciousness to him and the boy rejected all signs of support. He would disrupt the class and behave in an unsuitable manner and eventually would end up in the back row of the class left to his own devices.

Each year a new Rebbi would go through the same process trying to show love and kindness to the boy but to no avail. The next year Rabbi Frand was the boy’s Rebbi and the same process held true again. No matter how much he tried, no matter how much he gave to the boy, the boy didn’t respond to any of his overtures. He ended up either disrupting the class or just sitting in the back row reading comic books.

As this time of year rolled around the Rabbi was teaching this Parsha’s lesson. Why did Yosef ask: “Ha’Od Avi Chai –is my father still alive?” Suddenly the boy looked up and raised his hand. It was the first time that whole year that the boy participated positively. Rabbi Frand asked the boy what he thought and the boy responded, “Yosef knew that the father of his brothers was still alive, but he asked, is MY father still alive. Yosef was in Egypt, the most decadent culture in the world. Yosef the young man left his father’s home full of Godliness and virtue and became an adult in the land of the occult, sorcery and corruption. Yosef knew that the father of his brothers still loved and cherished them, but did he still care about his lost son?”

At times, we all feel alienated from our father. We wonder if He still cares about us, if He thinks we are even worthy of His love. Over the past two years, with all the complications and all the pain, suffering and physical setbacks that I experienced, at times, doubt as to God’s concern for me drifted into my thoughts. Yes, I was trying to have a good attitude and feel the love of my Father in heaven, but sometimes I wondered if He still concerned Himself on my account.

I don’t believe that the answer is as important as the question. Like the brothers, we too must make our Tikkunim – our repairs. It is through the despair and the turmoil that our true relationship develops. In the mystical tradition there is a concept called Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah – descent for the sake of ascension, at times we must descend in order to rise. After Yosef asked his question he knew the answer, of course my father is alive, he never forsook me, he never gave up on me, and he never felt me unworthy. Those of us who have asked the same question, with the same yearning to be reunited with our Father, know the answer, our father lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110929/30 Rosh HaShanah – 5772

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

One of the great themes of Rosh HaShanah embedded in the reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah is the story of the Akeidah – the binding of Isaac. Though this chronicle (Bereishit – Genesis 22), is ripe with magnificent spiritual and practical concepts, my favorite is the tension between Avraham and G-d, when Avraham is asked to sacrifice his beloved son Yitzchak. In the opening verse HaShem challenges Avraham and calls out to him: “Avraham , Avraham, and he [Avraham] said, Heneini – behold, here I am.”
After Avraham proves his faithfulness and just before he slashes into the throat of his beloved son, verse 11 states: “And the angel of the L-rd called to him from heaven, and said, Avraham, Avraham; and he said, Heneini – behold, here am I.”
For over 30 years I was a congregational Rabbi with various orthodox synagogues in small communities in the United States and Canada, but the make-up of these Jewish communities were primarily non-orthodox. Every year at this season – during these Yamim NoRa’im – Days of Awe – which encompass both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I asked myself the following question: Why do so many thousands, even millions, of North American Jews attend religious services filling the normally empty pews on these High Holy Days? What motivates them to flock to the synagogue on these days in such large numbers? Is it old–fashioned Jewish guilt, or just plain nostalgia? Is it the residual power of custom and tradition? Is it the rabbi’s brilliant sermons, or the cantor’s inspiring chanting of the liturgy which bring them out in such great numbers? Is it the spiritual reminder of repentance (in Hebrew it actually means return) which somehow still strikes a responsive chord in Jews during these few days each year? Or is it something else entirely?
While I am really not sure as to what the answer might be, I have an uneasy feeling that none of the classical reasons just mentioned are operative any more for most North American Jews. Old–fashioned Jewish guilt and nostalgia have long ceased to be a motivating factor in their lives. Moreover, it is rather difficult to ascribe the reason to the power of custom and tradition when these elements appear to be powerless motivators for most of the remainder of the year. And even if some of the celebrants/congregants/repentants actually do listen to the rabbi’s sermons and enjoy the musical renditions of the cantor, these forms of entertainment are not the catalysts that bring so many people to the synagogue for long hours of prayer services.
Perhaps, then, it is the religious message of the need for Teshuvah – Repentance, the main theme of these High Holy Days that still speaks to the hearts of contemporary Jews? Perhaps there is an admission, a reckoning with reality, that we need these few days for some personal and collective introspection which we never seem to have time for during the rat race of our daily living.
Yet, while it is tempting to think that there might be something to this theory – and I am sure many of my colleagues would like to believe this – I don’t think that the theory holds much water or weight. It is just too difficult to imagine that contemporary Jews, who appear to be disinterested in or disinclined to the religious message or the way of life of Judaism for most of the year, are suddenly genuinely interested in HaShem, prayer and repentance, which are the focal activities of these long days in the synagogue. So, there must be another explanation. While I admit and recognize that in fact, there may be no logical or rational hypothesis for this different pattern of behavior, at least not one that can be empirically proven or supported, I nevertheless would like to offer the following theory.
When I moved with my family to Sefat, Israel (1979) I worked for an organization called Gesher (bridge) that brought Israeli youth from a grade 11 class of an Israel secular High School and a religious High School together for a 4 day seminar on Jewish identity. Usually the first two days were fierce, each group attempting to outdo the other and prove that the modern State of Israel is dependent on their ideals and their values. After a few days, the two groups began to realize that they had more in common with each other than what separated them. After first negating the other group’s lifestyles and priorities, they saw that they were one people expressing themselves differently.
On the last night, after the rooms were emptied and all the luggage were placed on their awaiting buses, I concluded the seminar with one last values-clarification exercise. I handed out paper and pencils to all these young people and asked them to draw a picture of a “Yehudi Amiti – an authentic Jew.” 99% of the all the sketches came back as ultra-orthodox Jews. They had fought each other over their legitimate place in the State of Israel and very few drew pictures of themselves.
More than any other days in the Jewish calendar, Jews the world over come out to the synagogue to proclaim symbolically and physically: Heneinu – we are still here! Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as a result, have turned into massive demonstrations of Jewish Solidarity, a major homecoming event, a chance for Jews to emerge from their loneliness and their individuality to announce: We are still Jews! We want to identify with the Jewish People, and even the Jewish religious “Way of Life.”
These days, have then become the most massive demonstrations of Jewish identification – of linkage to a common past, present and future – the greatest solidarity rallies that the Jewish people in modern times have been able to muster.
This is a phenomenon that we should never deride. This homecoming theory, I feel, helps us to understand why so many Jews come to the synagogue for occasions such as this: to see and be seen; to observe that others are still proclaiming that they too, are part of the tribe. They wish to be seen by their rabbis and their fellow Jews, who are still part of the extended family, known as “the congregation,” or part of the larger extended family known as “the Jewish people.”
It’s a mistake that those of us who are committed to the Jewish covenant make when we ridicule the “three times a year Jew.” That Jew actually represents about a third of the Jewish population in any given community.
Here’s and exercise for you. Find out how many synagogues and temples are in your community and the seating capacity that each can handle. Now check with the local federation or Jewish center and find out approximately how many Jews there are in your community. You will be surprised that only about one-third of the Jewish community could possibly fit into all the available spaces. Where are the rest? Their connection with the Jewish people has been all but severed, they still may enjoy Kishka and Kreplach, but that’s about it.
When you see the overflowing congregations during these “Days of Awe,” remember their silent but powerful “Heneini – here I am,” connecting themselves to you – those who are literate and who are knowledgeable. They are silently linking their destiny with yours and stand by your side, even if for only three days a year.
May the year 5772 become a year when we will appreciate each other and through unity cause peace to rain down on the Jewish people, Israel and the whole planet.
Shana Tovah,
Reb Yosil

110917 – Parshat Ki Tavo

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8

Haftorah – Isaiah 60:1-22


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There’s a saying, “clothes make the man.” It is true that when we look at an individual we often “size them up” based on what they are wearing. That first impression however, does not always accurately reflect the truth of the individual.

Typical of the Book of Devarim, this week’s Parsha is again one of those in which Moshe “sums up” important commandments, forewarnings of not observing the Mitzvot, and many events of the previous forty years. At the very end of the Parsha, almost as a by–the–way, he refers to a miracle which appears to have not mentioned previously. In verse 29:4, Moshe says to the people, “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your clothes have not grown old upon you…”

Of course, we can simply take this at face value, namely, that there was a miracle, and over the past forty years the people’s clothes did not wear out. However, two points argue for more analysis.

First, most miracles involve an action (such as the Manna falling from heaven, or the Reed Sea parting, etc.) rather than something that doesn’t happen. Second, Moshe is speaking to survivors of the “forty years,” to adults who were children or yet unborn at the time of the Exodus and should no longer fit into the clothes they were wore originally! To what, then, could Moshe have been referring?

At least two other incidents in the Torah seem to echo this scene and may allow us to add another dimension to Moshe’ statement. The first involves Ya’akov (Jacob) and his followers after the rescue of his daughter Dinah from the city of Shechem (Bereishit [Genesis] 34:25). As a result of that rescue, the women and children of Shechem had been absorbed into Ya’akov’s family (Bereishit 34:29). HaShem then spoke to Jacob and told him to rededicate his people to G-d.

In doing so, Ya’akov said: “…put away the strange gods that are among you, purify yourselves, change your garments, and let us arise and go up to Bethel…” (Bereishit 35:2-3). Here Ya’akov places an emphasis on the changing of clothes, a single detail of out of the hundreds of necessary minutiae involved in moving Ya’akov’s camp. Not only that, but why change garments before a journey rather than prior to the rededication ceremonies at the end of the journey? Arguably then, the changing of the garments symbolizes the changing of a faith system and the acceptance of Israelite practice.

In the second incident, the Children of Israel, having just escaped from Egypt, are standing at Mount Sinai, about to receive the Ten Commandments. HaShem said to Moshe: “…go unto the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments…” (Shemot [Exodus] 19:10).

Again, emphasis on a small detail, but more understandable if we read this as a “cleaning the slate,” by pledging to obey HaShem’s new commandments in preparation to becoming “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemot 19:6).

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

In our own time, we also have had our own Sinai experiences and traveled through our own wildernesses. As we approach the Rosh HaShanah season, perhaps an appropriate plea is for Moshe’s miracle to again be repeated for us so that we will wear our old clothes for yet another year, or, that the new clothes we might be putting on for the very first time, not grow old upon our backs.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110813 – Parshat Va’etChanan

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Devarim 3:23 – 7:11


Haftorah – Isaiah 40:1-26


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Two of the most profound pronouncements in the Torah can be found in our Parsha this week. They are: the declaration of our faith – The Shema (6:4-10); and the Ten Utterances or also known as the Ten Commandments (5:6-19). These two declarations have held the Children of Israel together for more than three millennia.

The Shema in its simplicity teaches us of the love relationship between HaShem and His people Israel. The Ten Utterances categorize all of the Torah’s 613 Mitzvot (commandments) into ten principles of our faith. “Shema Yisra’el, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad    Hear O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is the One and Only.”

The first time that the Shema was uttered was recorded in the MiDrash on Parshat VaYichi. In the “Vortify” of that week (published on Dec. 28, 1997) this MiDrash was rephrased: “…Prior to Ya’akov’s death, he wished to inform his sons of the time of the final redemption. He gathered his children around his bed and suddenly his memory failed and Ya’akov was despondent. He thought that it was his sons’ unworthiness that caused HaShem to take away the memory of the redemption. The 12 sons of Ya’akov knew what their father was thinking and tried to reassure him that they fully believed in HaShem.

They said in unison; ‘Shema Yisra’el – Hear us [our father] Israel, HaShem Elokeinu – HaShem is our G-d, HaShem Echad – and HaShem is One.’

When Ya’akov heard his sons’ response to his doubts, he knew that his lapse of memory had nothing to do with their worthiness, but, rather, it was HaShem who did not want this information to be revealed. With this realization Ya’akov replied; Baruch Sheim Kavod Malchuto L’Olam Va’ed – Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom, forever and ever.’ These well known phrases became the mainstay of Jewish prayer for ever and ever.”

Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) incorporated their first declaration of faith into the declaration made twice daily by Am Yisra’el (the Nation of Israel). (By the way, when the Torah records the words of the Shema, the last letter of the first word, the letter “A’yin” in ShemA (hear), is enlarged. Also, the last letter of the last word, the letter “Dalet” in EchaD (One), is also enlarged. Bring these two letters (A’yin and Dalet) together and they form the word “Eyd” – witness – we are the true YHV”H witnesses.)

This declaration as well as the Ten Utterances that precede it are testimonies to the Torah by the Nation of Israel. We do not accept the document only because Moshe was a trustworthy leader ofIsrael. We accept the Torah because we, a small nation of former slaves, witnessed and testify daily, that HaShem is the One and only G-d.

Our role in the world as a “light onto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) is dependant upon a high level of spiritual, social and ethical behavior that will act as a beacon of enlightenment to all nations. That level of behavior can only come about as a result of an eye witness account of the interaction between the Nation of Israel and HaShem. No other nation or religion can make this claim, no other nation or religion has experienced the events or the encounter thatIsrael has. This is the uniqueness of the Shema and the Ten Utterances. They represent Eydut (witnessing) of the personal encounter with HaShem.

But there is another very important element to this encounter, the element of forgiveness. After the first 2 tablets with the Ten Utterances were given, Moshe dropped and shattered the tablets when he observed that the Israelites were worshiping the Golden Calf. On the first day of the sixth month (Elul), Moshe again ascended Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights and engraved the second tablets (mentioned on this week’s Parsha) returning them to the Nation of Israel on the tenth of the seventh month (Tishri), or Yom Kippur – the day of atonement.

During the time that Moshe spent on Mt.Sinai, HaShem revealed to him His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (Shemot [Exodus] 34:5-6). These Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are recalled as a formula to be used whenever a time of crises arises and HaShem’s Mercy is required. Truthfully, the Sin of the Golden Calf was so deplorable that we should not have survived as HaShem’s Treasured Nation (Shemot 19:5) but His mercy is abundant and He is slow to anger.

During the post-Tisha B’Av period, from now until the High Holidays we look at our spiritual side and begin a process of self-examination. This self-analysis goes through a number of stages. The second stage is during the month of Elul, refining our selves as individuals and as a nation. The third state is during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva (the Ten Days of Repentance) between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we attempt to offer our changed personalities as a personal testimony to HaShem’s forgiveness. And finally, the Joy that we experience having received forgiveness from HaShem, manifests itself in the festival of Sukkot (tabernacles), referred to as Z’man Simchateinu (the time of our rejoicing).

Today only Am Yisra’el can say, “ShemA Yisra’el, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem EchaD (Hear O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is the One and Only).” But we all pray for the day when as the prophet Zachariah foretold (Zach. 14:9): “HaShem will be King over the entire world – on that day HaShem will be One and His Name will be One.”

Let us live up to our destiny and rectify the world with our personal deeds of righteousness. Let these deeds testify to the uniqueness of HaShem’s desire for mankind to live in peace and harmony with all nations and all peoples. And let us show by example and as witnesses that this is all possible the same way that we were shown the kindness of the One and living G-d.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil


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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Torah Reading: Shemot (Exodus) 33:12 – 34:26

Maftir: BaMidbar (Numbers) 28:19 – 25

Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:1 – 14


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It is customary to read Shir HaShirim – the Song of Songs on the Shabbat between the first and last festival days of Passover. We do so because after contemplating the Exodus of the first days and the crossing of the Red Sea on the last days, we finally recognize G-d’s profound majesty. Shir HaShirim written by King Solomon is an erotic work that depicts a love relationship between a man and a woman. Our oral tradition instructs us that this love relationship actually reflects the relationship between G-d and the Children of Israel. His love for us manifested itself in the Exodus and our love for Him manifests itself in gratitude.

This week’s special festival “Vort” emphasizes this great love that He displayed when He redeemed us and fulfilled the promises made to our ancestors.

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What gestures can transform a slave into a free man? The Or HaChaim (Rabbi Chaim Oter, Morocco, Istanbul, 1696-1743) proposes that a slave can attain freedom in one of three ways. He must either; purchase his freedom, revolt against the master, or, the master must set the slave free. But these conditions were not the case during the original Pesach (Passover) in Egypt. There was no purchase of freedom, nor was there any slave revolt, and as we all know, Pharaoh did not graciously allow the Israelites to leave as freemen. So what does this festival of freedom really represent?

Pesach is observed by re-enacting an event that emphasizes both redemption and deliverance which at the Seder are symbolized by eating Matzah (unleavened bread). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh (Frankfurt-on-Main, 1808 – 1888) in an essay from his famous work HOREB brings together a number of enlightening concepts about Pesach and Matzah that are usually taken for granted and rarely thought about.

Matzah represents a very unusual relationship that helped forge a commitment between a specific people (Israel) and their G-d. The Seder (with varying degrees of sincerity that we put into it) is almost universally accepted and observed as Judaism’s most cherished and loved ceremony. The re-enactment of that night of the tenth plague, can transform a Jew’s relationship with his or her G-d. But in order to take a healthy step toward spiritual liberation, we must also appreciate our role AND HaShem’s role in the actual exodus.

Let us use Rabbi Hirsh’s own words to explore these ideas.

“The main teaching of the festival of Passover, which we observe in memory of the Exodus from Egypt, is that we should remember that it was G-d who delivered us from Egypt by His own might and without human aid. You are to “remember” that the L-rd led you forth from there with a mighty arm.

Do not deceive yourself that a new spirit took hold of your fathers after their centuries of slavery that they rose up against their oppressors of their own free will, fought battles and wrested freedom from their tyrants by their own victory. Consider this carefully: it was only through the Word of G-d alone that Israel’s prison burst open and they who had been sunk in slavery and had been bereft of all physical and moral strength, went forth free, revived by the wonders and miracles of G-d. It was the Word of G-d that gave them freedom and raised them up to become G-d’s nation, a particular creation which would survive all changes of time. Testify to this, O sons of Israel, for yourself and for others, on the day of deliverance, by eating no leaven but only unleavened bread.

That bread of affliction, which the barbaric masters would give their slaves to eat, this bread of affliction and slavery, should now serve the Jews as a symbol of the time of deliverance.

At that solemn moment of their redemption and deliverance they were supposed to know and to proclaim that they alone had done nothing on behalf of their liberation, because they regard themselves as servants [of HaShem] even now. They still eat the bread of affliction and poverty, the bread of slavery, until the Word of G-d will come and create anew the freedom which has been wrested from them. And when the time of redemption comes, Israel does not go forth slowly like victorious heroes and freedom fighters, rather, they go forth in haste; their oppressors drive them out for fear of G-d’s mighty hand, so that they do not even have time to prepare their bread, but must carry away the dough in its unleavened state and continue to eat the bread of affliction.

All these commandments, then, are testimony for the Children of Israel for all times to know that the redemption from Egypt was brought about by G-d alone and not by human or natural forces, for truly the nation of Israel did not attain their freedom by their own struggle; indeed, their exodus depended so little on their strength and foresight that they could not even prepare themselves with bread, that staple food, for the journey but had to continue eating the bread of affliction . . .”

So Matzah symbolizes that we were passive in the story of the exodus and that HaShem was the active One. Understanding this relationship with HaShem is to come to grips with life in all situations and at all times. HaShem is the Ribono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe). He guides, He acts, and He causes us to choose whether we will or will not submit to His will.

We are the descendants of those Israelites who chose to place the blood of the Pascal lamb on the door posts and the lintel of their homes, and sat during a night of absolute terror eating their meagre Matzah and bitter herbs while the Angel of Death brought destruction to every Egyptian household. Those Israelites, who refused to do this small act, were never liberated with their brethren.

Has anything changed? Are we not still slaves to our jobs, our egos, our positions, our fears, or will we allow HaShem to liberate us through His redemptive and liberating power? Ultimately, we must all come to the realization that life is not in our control and that only He is in control. When we appreciate this, we can come to the realization that at certain times passivity IS the active role.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samei’ach, enjoy the remainder of your Pesach festival.

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Parshat Acharei Mot/Shabbat HaGadol/Pesach



Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig


Parshat Acharei Mot

VaYikra (Leviticus 16:1-18:30

Shabbat HaGadol

Haftorah Malachi 3:4 – 24





Shabbat HaGadol is the Shabbat before Pesach (Passover). Traditionally, this was one of the few times of the year that a Rabbi gave a lengthy sermon. The sermon was usually about preparations for Pesach, and this special Shabbat commemorates a preparation for the original Pesach in Egypt. Shabbat HaGadol (The Great Sabbath) commemorates the 10th day of Nissan, when the Hebrew slaves took the lambs that they were going to offer for Pesach and tied them up outside their homes, to keep until they offered it on the 14th (Ex. 12:3-6). According to tradition, this was a dangerous thing to do, because Egyptians worshipped sheep and goats, but miraculously, instead of slaughtering the Hebrews, the Egyptians instead fought with each other over whether the Hebrews should be sent away already.

The special Haftarah reading for this Shabbat is Malachi 3:4-24. This messianic prophecy regarding the end of days and the return of the prophet Elijah is read at this time because it is believed that Elijah will return at Pesach. This is why we include a cup for him in our Seder rituals.


One of the great moments that are the “hit” of every Passover Seder that I have ever attended is the singing of Dayenu. However done, whether each verse is sung by an individual with all joining in the chorus, or, everyone singing together is always a joy to participate in and/or observe this wonderful connection to our history and culture.

Of course the meaning of the song is very profound. Each of the fifteen stanzas relates to another level of obligation that we as a nation recognize as our indebtedness to the Holy One Blessed be He. If all He did was take us out of Egypt and He would have stopped there, then we as a nation would have been forever bound in service to His will and expectations.

At least that’s what I thought. Then, with gradual maturity and learning, pieces of the puzzle of Jewish consciousness began to fall into place and I discovered an insight to the Torah and the Seder as a whole that was very profound and I would like to share that with you before Passover.

The Haggadah explains that while we must remember the Exodus from Egypt, there will one day be a great and final redemption launched by the Mashi’ach (taught in the Haggadah by Reb Elazar ben Azaria, Ben Zoma and the Chachamim).  In our generation we believe and yearn for this Messianic period and the prophetic signs are all around us; the ingathering of the exiles to Israel, the revitalization of the once desolate land of Israel, the hostility of the nations towards Israel – the land and the people. But yearning for the Messiah has been a full-time job for the past 2,000 years. The following story at the end of Tractate Megillah provides us with the key.

Rabbi Akiva was walking with Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Yehoshu’a on Mount Scopus when they saw a fox scurrying out from between the ruins of the Temple.  Mindful of the prophesy: “On desolate Mount Zion, foxes will roam” (Lamentations 5:18), the sages began to cry and mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple. Rabbi Akiva however, laughed.

When the Rabbis asked how he could laugh at such a sight, Rabbi Akiva reminded them that the entire prophesy had two parts, the first half of the prophesy dealt with destruction, the second, with redemption. If the part dealing with the destruction came true exactly as foretold, then the rest must also be true and our redemption is at hand.  The Rabbis replied, “Akiva you have comforted us; Akiva you have comforted us.” (Makkot 24b)

The Haggadah declares that the G-d of Israel is trustworthy and that He should be blessed for having kept his promises to our ancestors.  As proof, it sets the scene at the Brit Bayn HaBetarim – the Covenant between G-d and Avraham and his future descendants.

“And He said to Avraham: `You should know for certain that your descendants shall be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and treated harshly for four hundred years; but I will also judge the nation that they serve, and afterwards they shall come out with great wealth’…And in the fourth generation, they (the Israelites) shall return here…” Bereishit (Genesis) 15:13 – 16.

This of course is an allusion to both the Egyptian exile and the events that led up to the Exodus from Egypt.

The Haggadah then declares that in all generations there are tyrants who will attempt to destroy Israel, and that the same promise for salvation from Egypt would apply to any and all future situations.  An example of this promise is given by the events that led Ya’acov and his family on their descent to Egypt.

The Haggadah quotes a passage from Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:5 which tells us of the treachery of Lavan “the destroyer” who plotted not only against Ya’acov (his son-in-law), but also against his own daughters and grandchildren. Eventually, Ya’acov and his family would journey to Egypt, there to become a great, mighty and prolific nation.

Interestingly, this quotation comes from a section of the Torah that describes events to take place after the eventual conquering of the land of Israel and the building of the Temple.  We are informed that when the Temple is finally completed, each Israelite farmer should bring his first fruits in a basket to the Temple and give it to a Kohen – priest, while at the same time, quoting that very passage about Lavan.  I believe that in the context of Passover and in regards to the life of the Israelites in the land of Israel, this quotation is a reflection of our Jewish destiny.

The Covenant made between G-d and Avraham had two distinct parts to it.  The first part promised an eventful exile to Egypt and of a spectacular exodus. The second part foretold of their return to Eretz Yisra’el at another period in history, “And in the fourth generation they (the Bnei Yisrael) shall return here” (Bereishit 15:16).

The celebration of the original Passover was in commemoration of a promise made to Avraham.  In truth, the prophesy was only partially fulfilled. Entry into the land of Israel, conquering the land and the building of the Temple would not occur for another 460 years.  Yet, the evidence that these events would occur was realized 400 years before, during the Exodus from Egypt.  The separation of the prophesy from its reality would be a matter of time, not fact.

Blessed is He who keeps His promises to Israel” (Passover Haggadah).  Even though only a part of the total prophesy had taken place, the Israelites knew that G-d is always true to His word.  Everything foretold to Avraham would also occur in the future.

This knowledge allows us to now understand a hidden aspect of the famous Passover poem Dayenuit would have been enough for us.  While recalling the many favors that G-d granted us in the process of His redemption, we end each verse with the word Dayenu – it would have been enough for us. Meaning, by doing us this particular favor it would have been enough for us as a nation – to be indebted forever to Him.

However, if we now view this poem in terms of prophetic redemption, we could read it as follows:

If He had brought us out of Egypt, but had not executed judgment upon them, Dayenu – it would have been enough for us, to know that all the rest will come about.

If He had given us their wealth, but had not divided the sea for us, Dayenu – it would have been enough for us, to know that all the rest will come about.

If He brought us before Mount Sinai, but not given us the Torah, Dayenu – it would have been enough for us, to know that all the rest will come about.

(This continues until finally…)

If He brought us into the land of Israel, and not built the Temple for us,

Dayenu – it would have been enough for us, to know that all the rest will come about.

But He did do all these things for us.

He brought us out of Egypt;

He punished the Egyptians;

He smote their gods;

He slew their firstborn;

He gave us their wealth;

He split the Sea for us;

He led us through it on dry land;

He drowned our foes in it;

He sustained us in the desert for forty years;

He fed us with Manna;

He gave us the Sabbath;

He brought us to Mount Sinai;

He gave us the Torah;

He brought us to Israel;

He built the Temple for us.

It is for this reason that the Israelite bringing his first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem is required to quote from a strange passage that reflects a history that began in Mesopotamia, moves to the Land of Canaan and is then directed to Egypt and the Exodus.

“The Aramean (Lavan) attempted to destroy my father.  Then he [Ya’acov] descended to Egypt and sojourned there, with few people; and there he became a nation – great, mighty and numerous” (Devarim 26:5).

Each step in that process is part of a grand plan.  Some will never fathom what they are witnessing.  Others, will get a glimpse of a tiny piece of the plan and there will be those, who seeing only glimmers of magnificence, will know with all surety that the remainder of the prophesy will undoubtedly take place.

The Jewish slave in Egypt didn’t know when the rest of G-d’s prophesies would occur.  But when he experienced the Exodus, or crossed the Red Sea, or witnessed any of the many other wonders included in Avraham’s prophesy, then that former slave knew that all the rest would likewise take place.  He was witness to a piece of prophesy that substantiated the whole.  A glance at truth revealed truth.

So it is with our generation, who has seen so much, from the fires of Auschwitz to the return to Zion, from the cry of the Soviet refuseniks to the fall of communism.  We have not yet witnessed every aspect of the “End of Days”, but enough miracles have occurred in our lifetimes for us to surely say, Dayenu – it is enough for us to know that all the rest will come about.

Rabbi Akiva was walking with Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Yehoshu’a on Mount Scopus when they saw a fox scurrying out from between the ruins of the Temple.  Mindful of the prophesy: “On desolate Mount Zion, foxes will roam” (Lamentations 5:18), the sages began to cry and mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple. Rabbi Akiva however, laughed.

This Passover as we collectively sing Dayenu – lets us count the many blessings that we have received from above knowing full well that the laughter is about to begin.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

110402 – Parshat Tazria/Shabbat HaChodesh

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Shabbat HaChodesh

VaYikra (Leviticus) 12:1 – 13:59

Shemot (Exodus) 12:1-20

Haftorah – Ezekiel 45:16-46:18


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This Shabbat is the fourth of the four Special Shabbatot prior to Pesach – Passover. The Shabbat before the new month of Nisan is called Shabbat HaChodesh (the Shabbat [of the Mitzvah] of the New Month), therefore again this Shabbat, we remove two Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) from the Ark. From the first we read seven Aliyot from Parshat Tazria and the final Aliyah (Maftir), we read from the second scroll, from the book of Shemot (Exodus) 12:1-20. The reading of this particular Maftir and Haftorah were instituted for this time of the year so that Jews would remember that with the approach of Nisan – the first of the months, preparations for the Passover pilgrimage to the Temple had to be made.

Shabbat HaChodesh was instituted by our sages to remind Jews throughout the ages that the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people was the Mitzvah:

HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem Rosh Chodashim

this month shall be for you the first of the months

Shemot 12:2

The new month could only be declared by the Sanhedrin – the Supreme Rabbinical court after hearing the testimony of two witnesses. By virtue of this commandment and this process, HaShem gave Jews mastery over time; the calendar and all of its cycles could only exist when the Sages of Israel “declared” the new moon. Not only does this signify “time control,” but it also signifies the potential for renewal. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, so too does Israel go through stages of light and darkness with the constant knowledge that there IS light at the end of the tunnel.

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Over the next two weeks our Parshi’ot discuss the affliction of Tzara’at, mistakenly translated as leprosy. Tzara’at is actually a physical ailment that manifests on the skin of an individual, caused by a spiritual flaw, the speaking of Lashon HaRa – gossip and slander. Just like gossip spreads out into the community and is extremely difficult to stop or control, so too, the Metzora – the afflicted individual must be isolated and purified.

Many years ago, in a collection of essays on Jewish thought and Halacha – Jewish law that was produced by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, there was a discussion by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim, on the Halachic rules of communal discourse. He based most of his comments on articles by the late Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook ([1891 – 1982] leader of the Religious Zionism movement, dean  of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva and the son of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kookw). Both Rabbis Aviner and Kook were closely identified with the “set­tlement movement.” The following is an abstract of his argu­ments.

Many of us understand and accept the severity of speaking Lashon HaRa when it relates to other individuals. We know that the restrictions apply not only when we falsely malign another, but even when what we say is true. Actually, Lashon HaRa must be true; it is Richilut – slander that is made up of lies. Nevertheless, we too often permit ourselves to speak ill of entire groups and communities, for that matter. However, the prohibition of the latter is even more severe than the former (see Chafetz Chaim, Hilchot Lashon HaRa 10:12). In fact, it is because of the sin of Lashon HaRa against the Land of Israel that the generation of the spies died in the Sinai desert over a forty year period (BaMidbar [Numbers] chapter 14). In verse 34, HaShem declares that the Children of Israel shall wander 40 years in the wilderness, a year for each day the spies were in the Land of Canaan.

Indeed, we find that the NeTZIV, (Acronym for R’ Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin ([1817-1893] – author of Ha’amek Davar, commentary on the Torah, dean of the famous Yeshiva of Volozhin in Russia), pointed out that at the end of the Second Temple, many considered those who did not share their opinions and religious convictions, despite their observance of Mitzvot, to be heretics. This, he maintained, was the Sinat Chinam – the wanton hatred, that brought about the destruction of the Temple.

Rav Kook explained that improper stereotyping of groups and their members is the product of the belief that the truth lies only in oneself and with one’s own position and that others are evil and wrong. This is improper, in his mind, because “there is no righteous person on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) and there is no party or group that has the monopoly on truth, righteousness and certainty. In fact, Rav Kook’s father, the late Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ([1865-1935] first chief rabbi of what was then Palestine, and was perhaps the most misunderstood figure of his time), wrote “It is a bad sign for any party that believes that it alone possesses the source of all wisdom and all justice, and that which is posited by anyone else is merely futility and folly” (Letters 1:17).

His son, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook encourages dialogue, maintaining that disagreement does not destroy peace. At a time of great tension between the Revisionists and their opponents, he pleaded with them not to cause a Chillul HaShem – a desecration of G-d’s name, through an uncivilized and a disrespectful battle. He reminded us that, “…you shall not desecrate My Holy Name” (VaYikra 22:32). Learn to look at one another, with eyes of compassionate brothers who are together in great distress, and who are willing to join for the sake of one holy purpose: the benefit of the whole, its honor and its protection” (LeShever Bat Ami, Ma’amarei HaRa’ayah, pg. 365).

I say all of this in regards to the mounting tensions amongst various Jewish political groups around the world. Tensions have mounted due to the recent terrorist attacks and dissention is intensifying. The lessons of this week’s Parsha are especially poignant in terms of the parameters that it sets for communal discourse and debate.

There is no need to demonize or vilify those with whom we disagree. To do so is to undercut and to devalue and ultimately degrade and defeat the very purpose for which we all work in earnest. As long as we keep in mind the debilitating power of Lashon HaRa, we may lose the ultimate purpose for which this modern miracle was created and established. That is to serve as not only as a place of refuge for beleaguered Jews, but also as a nurturing community of true fellowship, based on the highest principles of Jewish law and tradition.

Israel is capable of being not only a regional superpower, but a spiritual homeland that combines the best elements and most noble ideals for all mankind and as an example of a just society. Our challenge, then, is to become part of the dialogue and not the discord, to find a way to look and listen even to that which we do not accept. Israel is more than just a country of Jews, but it must also be a place that embodies the highest ideals of our tradition perpetuating our role as a light unto the nations. On this Shabbat HaChodesh, let us remember that just as the moon waxes and wanes, so too does Israel go through stages of light and darkness with the constant knowledge that there IS light at the end of the tunnel.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

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