120519 – Parshi’ot B’Har/B’Chukotai



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



VaYikra (Leviticus) 25:1-27:34

Haftarah – Jeremiah 16:19-17:14



This past Monday night and Tuesday I observed the Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of my father Yaakov ben Yosef A”H. He was a very special man whose attitude during the Holocaust not only saved his life, but through him, the lives of so many others. His strength and his love was an inspiration to all who knew him. Only now, am I beginning to feel the loss of his presence. T’Hei Nishmato Baruch.


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


The second of our two Parshi’ot, Parshat B’Chukotai is one of the most frightening Parshi’ot in the Torah. No sugar coated future is portrayed for the “Chosen People” who choose not to follow HaShem’s rigorous commandments. The Parsha, however, does begin with a clear message of what will happen if we do follow the Torah. Peace, prosperity, security and honor are the blessings that will come with the proper obedience to His law. However, these blessings comprise only the first 12 verses. The next 29 verses, known as the Tochacha (the admonition) contain a terrifyingly graphic description of the curses: war, poverty, uncertainty, exile and disgrace.

Let us look a little closer at the concepts of reward and punishment. First let me say that I have difficulty with this terminology. I do not see a reciprocating force, whether positive or negative, as being a manifestation of reward or punishment. Rather, I believe that mankind creates a positive or negative reality through its own actions.

For instance, if one contracts an illness as a direct result of smoking, is it a punishment, or has he created his own negative reality? Likewise, if the nation of Israel transgresses HaShem’s commandments, the forthcoming negative reality is actually a product of its own negative behavior.

As a father, I try to explain to my children that they are the ones who choose if their actions warrant positive or negative support. This, of course, is true on a personal level. But on a national level, a similar linkage between behavior and support occurs.

Negative reality for a nation may take the form of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, or earthquakes. It might also manifest itself in the form of social disasters such as assimilation, intermarriage or even sexually transmitted diseases (Chas V’Shalom – it should never happen). Or, it might even take the form of political disasters such as exile, anti-Semitism, or even a holocaust.

Our Parsha presents a number of possible realities for the Jewish people when they take upon themselves a lifestyle outside of that dictated by the Torah. “But the land must first be rid of them so that it may make up for the Sabbaths, and that they make good the debt of their guilt for having spurned My precepts and My decrees. Thus, even while they are in the lands of their enemies, I will not reject or obliterate them, for I am HaShem their G-d. I will remember them because of the covenant I made with their ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, so that I may be their G-d” (VaYikra 26:43-45).

The deep rooted commitment to Shabbat is central to the life of a Jew. Those of us living in the diaspora are obligated to make the seventh day distinctive. But those living in the land of Israel have the added obligation of Shmitah (the seventh year which is a sabbatical year). The number seven is symbolic of HaShem’s mastery over His creation. Our observance of Shabbat and Shmitah is our way of displaying to Him – His Oneness and His authority in our lives.

But seven also has negative connotations. Verses 18, 21, 24 and 28 of chapter 26 allude to a sevenfold disturbance to our reality:

  1. If despite this you will not heed Me, then I shall admonish you further, seven ways for your transgressions” (VaYikra 26:18).
  2.  “And if you will behave casually with Me and refuse to heed Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you – seven ways, like your sins” (VaYikra 26:21).
  3. Then I too will behave towards you with casualness; and I shall surely strike you seven ways for your transgressions” (VaYikra 26:24).
  4. I will behave towards you with a fury of casualness; I will surely chastise you seven ways for your transgressions” (VaYikra 26:28).

Why does HaShem keep repeating the seven degrees of admonishment? To what seven sins does the Torah keep referring? RaShI (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France: 1040 – 1105) explains, based on the verse: “And if you will consider My decrees revolting, and if you reject My precepts by not performing all My commandments thereby you annul My covenant” (VaYikra 26:15). He states that: To annul My covenant – “He [the transgressor] is Kofer B’Ikar (he denies the essential precept [the belief in G-d]). See, that [to get to that level of heresy] there are seven transgressions [that make up this process]; the first brings on the second, and so forth, until the seventh. And they are:

1. He does not study [the Torah];

2. He [therefore] does not follow the commandments;

3. He [therefore] abhors those who do follow the commandments;

4. He [therefore] hates the teachers [of Torah who proclaim adherence];

5. He [therefore] prevents others [from following the Torah];

6. He [therefore] renounces the commandments;

7. He [therefore] renounces the essential [he denies the belief in G-d].

In other words, in order to completely reject HaShem’s covenant, one must first go through stages of resistance. Without the study of Torah, it is impossible to correctly follow the commandments, and then we even begin to reject those who do; the teachers of Torah are despised for proclaiming His word as being obligatory. This leads us to preventing others from following the Torah. To further rationalize this process we then renounce the commandments of HaShem as being superstitious or outdated. Finally, there is but one avenue left, to deny the belief in G-d Himself.

The Tochacha therefore, is not a warning of punishments as much as it is a warning that a dire negative reality will be created by our seven-fold misdirection, just as smoking, improper diet, and a lack of exercise creates a negative reality on our bodies.

Yet, despite the terrifying realities that our destructive behavior will cause, some of us always survive. The Tochacha also says: “I will remember them because of the covenant I made with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, so that I may be their G-d” (VaYikra 26:45).

Philosophers and great thinkers have recognized that the Jewish people are an eternal nation that lives outside the laws of nature. The popular novelist and agnostic Mark Twain wrote: “All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of His immortality?” (“Concerning the Jews.” Harpers, 1899).

Leo Nikolaievitch Tolstoy one of the fathers of the Russian revolution wrote: “The Jew is the emblem of eternity. He whom neither slaughter nor torture over thousands of years could destroy, he whom neither fire, nor sword, nor inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth, he who was the first to produce the oracles of G-d, he who has been the guardians of prophesy, and who transmitted it to the rest of the world – such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is as everlasting as eternity itself” (“The Jewish World,” London, 1908).

Rabbi Ya’akov Emden (Romania, 1697-1776) wrote a comment in his wonderful Siddur (prayer book) Beit Ya’akov: “Many have tried to destroy us, but have failed. While all the great ancient civilizations have disappeared and been forgotten, the nation of Israel who [still] cling to G-d is alive today! What will the wise historian answer when he examines this phenomenon without prejudice? Was this all purely by chance? When I contemplated these great wonders they took on greater significance than all the miracles and wonders that HaShem performed for our ancestors – in Egypt in the desert and when they entered Israel. And the longer this exile extends, the miracle of Jewish existence becomes more obvious – that G-d’s mastery and supervision over nature and history will be made known.”

We have the power to create a reality of blessing, and actually during our history there were some islands of peace, prosperity, security and honor. But often we chose to ignore His ways and His Torah, therefore war, poverty, uncertainty, exile and disgrace were the realities we created and that He foretold. That is why the curses of our Parsha are referred to as the Tochacha – the admonition, for we have been admonished or cautioned not to follow the path that leads to seven different forms of heresy, which creates a reciprocal reality for our nation.

But do not despair. Our Haftarah gives us a consolation for our national ailments: “Blessed is the man who trusts in HaShem and HaShem will be his security. He will be like a tree that is planted near water, that will spread its roots along side brooks and will not feel when heat comes, whose foliage will be ever fresh, who will not worry in years of drought and will never stop producing fruit…Heal me HaShem, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved – for You are my praise” (Jeremiah 17:7-8, 14).

There is a Gemara (tractate of Talmud) in Megillah 27a which deals with varying levels of holiness. The Gemara discusses whether or not one may sell a Torah if the funds will be utilized for personal use. “Come and hear: Reb Yochanan said in the name of Rebbi Meir: One may only sell a Torah scroll in order [to have funds] to continue studying or to marry…for learning Torah and marriage lead to the continued performance of Mitzvot.”

There is a basic principle of life that is quoted in Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of Our Ancestors), “Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah, V’Aveira Goreret Aveira – the performance of one Mitzvah leads to the performance of other Mitzvot, and the performance of one Aveira (transgression) leads to the performance of other Aveirot (transgressions).” Just as Rashi pointed out – without the study of Torah there is often a systematic digression into spiritual infidelity, so too, by studying the Torah there is a systematic progression of conformity to HaShem’s will.

Our Parsha gives us a clear and lucid picture of what can happen when facing choices of lifestyle and behavior. We can create either positive or negative realities for ourselves. By becoming distracted from Torah values we do not get punished as much as produce an incompatible reality in our relationship with HaShem. But by becoming involved in the regimen of HaShem’s sacred words, we become nurtured from the very fountain of His sustenance. Not only that, but regarding the blemishes that we cause to our spirits, “He will heal and He will save – for He is our praise.”

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120512 – Parshat Emor – Lag B’Omer



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



VaYikra (Leviticus) 21:1 – 24:23

Haftorah – Ezekiel 44:15-31



This past Thursday, May 10th, we celebrated Lag B’Omer, a minor holiday that is full of joy, charm and mystery. Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, about two thirds through a period of counting 49 days from the 2nd night of Pesach (Passover) through the eve of the Shavu’ot festival (Pentecost).

In this week’s Parsha we find the commandment of both the Omer offering (Vayikra 23:9-14) and the Omer counting: “You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day [Pesach], from the day that you bring the Omer of the waving offering – they shall be seven complete weeks…” (VaYikra 23:15). Therefore we count each day and each week until the seven weeks are completed which leads immediately into the festival of Shavu’ot.

There is another aspect that is essential to the process of our counting. The Zohar Chadash (Kabalistic Midrash and part of the Zohar) teaches: “When the B’nei Yisra’el were in Egypt, they became defiled by all manner of impurity until they sank to the 49th level of spiritual impurity. The Holy One Blessed Be He, delivered them out of slavery and invested them with 49 degrees of purity.” Thus, on each of the 49 days between Pesach and Shavu’ot, the Children of Israel shed and ascended a level until they stood before Mt Sinai spiritually cleansed of the impurities of their Egyptian existence.

So too, we count and we simulate this experience into our own lives, striving to elevate ourselves each day of each week, for 49 days in order to become worthy of accepting the Torah from a position of increased purity. In many Siddurim (prayer books) within the prayers of the Omer counting, we find mention of 7 Kabbalistic Sefirot (qualities or powers), that in turn have 7 related elements, and that together (7 X 7) equal the 49 levels of purification. Every evening at the counting, we mention a particular part of these 49 elements and we strive to acknowledge and perfect that aspect within our personalities.

Another feature of the Omer period is also a 33 day mourning period associated with these 49 days. The Talmud relates a perplexing story: “Rebbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students [throughout Eretz Yisrael], and they all passed away [in a plague] because they did not show each other respect…they all passed away [during 33 days] between Pesach and Shavu’ot, and the world was barren until Rebbi Akiva approached [a new set of 5 students] and taught them Torah…” (Gemara Yevamot 62b).

A 33 day mourning period was rabbinically imposed forbidding certain forms of rejoicing, shaving, getting haircuts, listening to music and by association – getting married. But which 33 days are considered the days of mourning? Some Jews (mostly Sephardim [Jews from Spanish and Middle-Eastern descent]) hold that the first 33 days of the Omer is the mourning period. Other’s mostly Ashkenazim (Jews from German and European descent) hold from the new month of Iyar until the 3rd day of Sivan (3 days before Shavu’ot). I personally accept the theory of the MaHaRYL (acronym for Moreinu HaRav Yehoshua Leib [our teacher, the Rabbi Joshua Leib Diskin], Brisk, Lithuania and Jerusalem – 1818-1898) who claims: …”none died during the holiest 17 of the 50 days– the 7 Sabbaths, the 6 days of Pesach (minus one Sabbath), Isru Chag [the day after Pesach], and the 3 days of Rosh Chodesh [the new moons]! Therefore, only 33 days were set for mourning.”

One mystery that we still have is in the Talmud’s statement: “they all passed away because they did not show each other respect.” We must acknowledge that Rebbi Akiva’s 12,000 pairs of students were not just university students who were simply searching for themselves in his Yeshiva. Rebbi Akiva’s students were Tana’im (rabbis of the Mishnaic period) men of great stature and integrity and we must assume that they were not subject to whims of impropriety. These were men of great culture and refinement. So what does it mean when the Talmud says that “they did not show each other respect?

Most answers that I have heard over the years have not satisfied me. A few years back I participated in a study session in Cleveland, Ohio during Pesach and heard a Rabbi Margereten deliver a talk on the subject. He said in the name of Rav Aharon Kotler ZT”L (dean of the famous Lakewood, New Jersey Yeshiva [1892-1962]) that the 12,000 pairs of students actually loved each very much but at times allowed that love to become too familiar. If they were agitated or excited, they would take out their frustrations on their study partner, similar to what we do to our spouses and children. They disrespected each other in the name of love, which made their Torah worthless.

At that time in our history, the Roman occupation of Israel had all but destroyed our Jewish heritage. Rebbi Akiva, through clandestine means and great sacrifice continued to teach Torah with a death penalty looming overhead. Yet, because of their lack of respect (what ever that means), their Torah was considered unworthy of transmission to future generations and they died of a plague that was Divinely rooted (If you consider this incomprehensible, review the Parshi’ot of TAZRIYA-METZORAH which discusses a disease similar to leprosy that was caused by Lashon HaRa – gossip).

After the death of the 24 thousand students, Rebbi Akiva chose 5 new students: R’ Meir; R’ Yehuda bar Ilai; R’ Shimon bar Yochai (who died on Lag B’Omer and who is buried in Meron the site of the great Lag B’Omer celebration in Israel); R’ Yosi ben Chalafta; and R’ Elazar ben Shamu’a. Practically all of the oral Torah that has been transmitted to us today, which includes Mishnah, Zohar, Midrash, Sifrei, Sifra, etc. are the products of these five students of Rebbi Akiva. Can you imagine how much more Torah knowledge we would have if the 12,000 pairs of students had lived?

I find it strange that during the time of the writing of the Talmud, when massive information and Jewish trivia were being transmitted for future generations, the question of which 33 days of mourning (among the 49 days) is left a mystery. Halachically, problems could arise when there is a conflict between Jews of differing Minhagim (customs). Let us say that I held that the latter 33 days were the days of mourning and I was marrying off a child during the first few days of the Omer. Among my guests to the wedding are Jews who held that the first 33 days are the days of mourning. Are they allowed to attend the wedding?

I heard from one Rabbi (I can’t remember his name) that while a Jew is not allowed make a wedding during the mourning period, yet they would be required to attend the wedding of another’s out of respect, clearly, as a Tikkun (repair) of the shortcomings of Rebbi Akiva’s students.

We obviously learn that while required to observe the Torah and its Halacha, more importantly we must always demonstrate respect for one another in order to make our Torah and our Halacha worthy of continuing for generations to come.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120505 – Parshi’ot Acharei Mot-Kiddoshim



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



VaYikra (Leviticus) 16:1 – 20:27

Haftarah – Amos 9:7-15



One of the difficulties that many Jewish people face today is their estrangement from Jewish culture. After Churban Europa – the European Holocaust – three million dazed Jewish refugees returned to society. Broken lives had to be rebuilt, and, sometimes with urgency, lifestyle decisions were made often at the expense of our Jewish culture. Many felt that they had to put aside traditions, language, rituals, even belief, in order to acquire the success and security that the modern world could offer.

This past century has seen Jews move from poverty to affluence and from backward villages to an open society. Yet, recent studies agree that today, the Jewish world is in crisis. The alienation of our people from Jewish values and commitments is obvious to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform alike.

All but the largest Jewish communities are withering. Synagogues everywhere are looking for ways to attract the disenfranchised, Jewish community centers are trying to appeal to the unaffiliated and if it weren’t for legalized gambling, many of our service organizations couldn’t finance their on-going projects.

But this does not have to remain the trend. Our Torah portion this week provides the solution to the spiritual trauma that we are witnessing. HaShem says to Israel: “Kiddoshim Ti’hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani – you shall be holy for I am Holy (VaYikra 19:2).” Some Jews, having lost the ability to communicate in the Hebrew language, perceive Kedusha (holiness) as being god-like. A more accurate translation would be distinctive. If we consider the land of Israel holy, it is because among the nations of the world the State of Israel stands out. If the Jewish people want to be holy, rather than believing that we are better, we must make ourselves unique in the world community.

There is a wonderful story that I read in a National Jewish Outreach Program workbook that illustrates my point. A flock of eagles was flying high over the land. They were able to see the dense forests, the villages, the rivers and lakes; all of the beauties of the world lay beneath them. As they were flying gently, suddenly one of the eagles felt a sharp pull in his wing as if something had snapped. He began to descend towards earth so that he could examine himself and discover what had happened.

When he landed, he found himself in the middle of a chicken coop. He wasn’t distressed because he knew that he simply had to find out what was wrong and return to the sky. But as he examined himself, he realized that his wing had snapped and that it would take time to recuperate. The eagle began to look around and the more he saw, the more he disliked his surroundings.

These are chickens,” he said to himself, “just look at what disgusting birds they are. They call themselves birds and yet they can’t fly. They just flap their wings and hop up and down. And when they need food they actually peck the ground, digging their food out of the dirt.” And so the eagle isolated himself in a corner of the chicken coop, knowing that his recuperation period would be short and eventually he would rejoin his proud fellow eagles.

But time passed and the eagle became lonely. Gradually he ventured out of his corner and began to communicate with the chickens in the coop. Slowly, he began to imitate their ways.

A year passed, and again the original flock of eagles was flying over that same area of the land, looking down at the beautiful panorama. Suddenly one of the eagles in the flock noticed one of his fellow eagles down below. He descended and ascertained that in fact, it was his fellow eagle from the year before, he flew down and landed next to him.

At first, the eagle didn’t even respond. Indeed, the first eagle was flapping his wings, jumping up and down, hopping and pecking the ground for his food. And the second eagle said to the first, “Come, you don’t belong here. You’re an eagle, not a chicken. You don’t belong here in the midst of all these strange birds. Come fly away with me.”

The first eagle said, “No, don’t be silly. This is where I belong.”

The second eagle said, “No, you don’t belong here. Don’t you understand? You’re not a chicken – you’re an eagle. You don’t have to flap your wings and hop. You can fly and soar to the highest places. You don’t have to peck the dirt for your food. Don’t you understand?” said the second eagle to the first, “You’re an eagle.”

Slowly the second eagle persuaded the first eagle that the habits that he had taken on were not his true nature. Eventually the two eagles flew off together, high into the sky where they could see the land, the forests, the lakes and the rivers – all that God had created: the eagle had resumed his destiny.

In order to attract the disenfranchised and the unaffiliated, we must reconnect to the culture that produced the great Jewish personalities of yesteryear. Our effort to become “normal” has deprived us of the uniqueness of our holiness. Ask a Christian who the chosen people are and he will tell you right away, “the Jews.” Ask a Jew what it means to be the chosen people and he/she will rationalize how we’re not so different.  Our eagerness to transform ourselves from ghetto Jews to worldly Jews has taken its toll. Our invisibility has backfired, leaving us to the fate of so many other one-time great civilizations. However, we are a holy people who, like God, endure.

The Torah teaches us Kiddoshim Ti’hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani – since HaShem is distinctive, so, too, must we be distinctive. HaShem’s distinctive feature (as we explained just a few weeks ago at the Passover Seder) is that He personally cares for His people Israel. We cried out for liberation and He heard our prayers and delivered us from bondage. He is a God of action, not promises.

Synagogues and community organizations in your area are offering adult education classes that can teach you how to reconnect. Take advantage of the opportunity. Keep up with your children’s Jewish education. If they aren’t getting a Jewish education, provide one. Ask a Rabbi what it means to be holy, if he can’t answer you properly, find one that can.

Finally, make the Sabbath a day holy, every single week. Don’t make it a Jewish Sunday, keep it distinctive. Dress appropriately, eat distinctively, pray uniquely, and bless your children in words and in touch. Delight in the distinctive quality of your holy Jewish family and the brightness of our Jewish light will once again illuminate our national character.

Remember, we’re eagles.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120331 – Parshat Tzav – Shabbat HaGadol



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



VaYikra (Leviticus) 6:1-8:36

Haftorah – 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 Seder 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 Haftorah (reading from the prophets) where again great faith and trust in HaShem is emphasized. The Haftorah 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 (Remember the Torah of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all of Israel, with statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord; And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse – Malachi 3:22 – 24).

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

What gestures can transform a slave into a free man? The Or HaChaim (Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, Morocco, Istanbul, 1696-1743) proposes that according to earthly standards, a slave can attain freedom in one of three ways. He must either:

  1. Purchase his freedom;
  2. Revolt against the master, or;
  3. 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 reenacting 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 God. 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 reenactment of that night of the tenth plague, can transform a Jew’s relationship with HaShem. 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 remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, is that we should recall that it was HaShem Who delivered us from Egypt by His own might and without human aid. You are to “remember that the Lord led you forth from there with a mighty arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15).

Do not deceive yourself that a new spirit took hold of your ancestors 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 HaShem 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 HaShem. It was the Word of HaShem that gave them freedom and raised them up to become HaShem’s nation, a particular creation which would survive all changes of time. Testify to this, O Children 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, should now serve the Jews as a symbol of the time of deliverance.

At that solemn moment of their redemption and deliverance they were required to know and to proclaim that they alone had done nothing on behalf of their liberation, and they regard themselves as servants [of HaShem] even now. They continue to eat the bread of affliction and poverty, the bread of slavery, until the Word of HaShem will come and create anew the freedom which has been wrested from them. And when the time of redemption comes, Israel will not go forth slowly like victorious heroes and freedom fighters, rather, they will go forth in haste; their oppressors will drive them out they fear will have fear of HaShem’s great and mighty hand, and Israel will not even have time to prepare their bread, but will 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 HaShem 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 their 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 compels us to choose whether or not we will submit or not submit to His will.

We are all the descendants of those Israelites who chose to place the blood of the Pascal lamb on the doorposts and the lintel of their homes, and sat during a night of absolute terror eating their meager Matzah and bitter herbs while the Angel of Death brought destruction to every Egyptian household. Those Israelites, who refused to do this small act (of placing the blood of the Pascal lamb on their doorposts), 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 understanding that at certain times passivity IS the active role. Remember the Torah of Moses My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all of Israel, with statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord; And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse (Malachi 3:22 – 24).

Shabbat Shalom and have a truly festive Pesach.

Reb Yosil

P/S/ If you would like Reb Yosil to sell your Chametz prior to Passover, please go to: https://vortifyyourself.wordpress.com/publications/sell-your-chametz/

120211 – Parshat Yitro

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig
Shemot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23
Haftarah Isaiah 6:1 – 7, 9:5
Many of our commentators ask why this Parsha begins with “VayiShma Yitro”(and Yitro heard Shemot 18:1). Where else should the Parsha have begun?
The question has various dimensions. First, the Talmud in Zevachim 116a and Avodah Zara 24b informs us that Yitro heard about four things:
1. About the Exodus from Egypt.
2. That they crossing the Reed Sea.
3. The war with Amalek.
4. Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah).
Yitro reacted by joining his son-in-law Moshe, converting to the precepts of Torah and dedicating his life to making others aware of HaShem’s Greatness. However, how is it possible for Yitro to have heard in the beginning of our Parsha that the B’nei Yisra’el received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, when the Torah is only given at the end of our Parsha (Shemot 20:1-13).
This introduces the concept of Ayn Mukdam U’Mi’uchar BaTorah (there is NO chronological order to the Torah). To many of you this may sound strange, for the Torah begins with Creation and ends with the B’nei Yisra’el entering Eretz Yisra’el. But when we study the Torah carefully, we find that sometimes a chronological leap ahead or backward takes place.
The Parsha (chapter 18 verses 13-23) tells us that the day after Yitro’s arrival Moshe went out to judge from morning to evening. Moshe’s father-in-law saw that Moshe was bogged down by the strain of having to answer the many questions that the B’nei Yisra’el posed after receiving the Torah. Moshe was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Yitro suggested that Moshe appoint judges of thousands, judges of hundreds, judges of fifties and judges of tens, and that he setup a judicial system that would include higher courts for those problems that the lower courts could not solve. Only those questions which had gone through the system would come before Moshe Rabbeinu, allowing him the time for his administrative, pedagogic and personal duties. Our problem with chapter 18 is that the Torah wasn’t given until chapter 20. Why does Yitro’s solution for Moshe, appear before the problem?
The purpose of Torah is to teach our nation lessons, in fact, the word Torah doesn’t mean “law” rather, it means “the instruction.” Sometimes those lessons can best be taught by reversing chronology. What was the purpose of informing us that Yitro heard things, even before the things that he heard, had happened?
Rav Yehuda Zev Segal, the Rosh Yeshivah in Manchester, England points out that Yitro heard and he acted upon the very same information that other’s heard but did not act upon. He teaches – that one must seize the moment. Each of the four events that Yitro “heard’ had a miraculous nature to it.
1. The B’nei Yisra’el’s exodus was led by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
2. The B’nei Yisra’el crossed the Reed Sea through open waters on dry land.
3. The war with Amalek was victorious while Moshe raised his hands on an adjacent hill top.
4. And Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah) occurred with the magnificent power and glory of HaShem Himself.
This information was known to all the nations in the area (Shemot 15:15). In fact, Amalek heard of the exodus and the crossing of the Reed Sea and came from Edom, across five countries, just to wage war against the B’nei Yisra’el. Others should have come forward like Yitro and converted or at least acknowledged HaShem’s great deeds, but only Yitro acted upon the information. He realized that if a revelation occurs and one becomes inspired, one must channel these moments of inspiration into action or they fade and are forgotten.
VayiShma Yitro – and Yitro heard, and acted upon what he heard. Therefore this chapter precedes the Giving of the Torah, to emphasize what we must all do in order to channel our moments of inspiration into action.
It is unfortunate that many inspired individuals who have experienced some kind of heart felt encounter, accept it for the moment and then continue with their lives without taking on some form of action. This is especially true with the Kabbalistic cult movements in Judaism. The study of sacred texts does not always lead to behavior modification or improvement. Commonly, these groups will meet for special prayer sessions as their expression of revelation. Parshat Yitro is introduced in the manner we are discussing so that we can refine ourselves to be more observant (observant in the sense that we observe the “hand of God” in our daily lives not just while reciting prayers).
As this Parsha brings an end to the stories of the Torah leading to the “Ten Commandments,” many of the upcoming Parshi’ot in Shemot, VaYikra (Leviticus) and half of BaMidbar (Numbers) will be spent on the diverse laws of the Torah. Judaism is a religion of action, not only one of beliefs. May we channel our inspirational moments into deeds and do many acts of goodness.
Shabbat Shalom,
Reb Yosil

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

111224 – Parshat MiKeitz – Shabbat Chanukah



Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig




Bereishit (Genesis) 41:1-44:17

BaMidbar (Numbers) 7:30-41

Haftorah – Zechariah 2:14-4:7



This Shabbat also being the fourth day of Chanukah, we read from 2 Torah scrolls. From the first, we read the entire Parsha of MiKeitz in six Aliyot. From the second (for Chanukah) we read about the offerings of the princes at the dedication of the desert Tabernacle is read.  In addition, a special Haftarah is read.


In the realm of human interpersonal relationships, we favor direct encounters. No one enjoys receiving information second–hand; rather, we prefer to communicate directly with the various parties involved in our lives. Similarly, we appreciate receiving information concerning important aspects of our human existence directly from the source. It’s for this reason that many people harbor a profound ambivalence toward translators and interpreters. “The translator is a traitor,” so the old proverb has it. Reading poetry, for instance, in translation is attempting to embrace a loved one through a glass wall. Can you translate music? Can you translate a Yiddish joke properly into English, without losing so much of its meaning and humor? Because of its idiomatic nature, Yiddish humor does not lend itself well to English translation.

And we Jews share this ambivalence towards translations. We revere the Aramaic Bible translation; the Targum Unkelus (Second century C.E., the most authoritative, predominantly literal Aramaic translation of the Torah, based on the teachings of the great Tana’im Rabbi Yehoshu’a and Rabbi Eliezer, and ascribed to the proselyte Unkelus), a sacred writ, yet the rabbis had little sympathy for the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. Tractate Soferim (1:7) states: “The day the Torah was translated into Greek was as tragic for the Jews as the day that the Golden Calf was made.” According to Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai: “He who translates a Biblical verse literally is a liar, while he who adds thereto is a blasphemer and a libeler” (Tractate Kiddushin 49a).

At first glance, our Torah reading of today tends to reinforce our mistrust for translators. For the interpreter here (who, according to the Midrash, was none other than Joseph’s own son Menasheh), was in collusion with Joseph, helping to perpetrate a rather cruel ruse upon the brothers, making them believe that a tyrannical and capricious despot was about to deprive them of their liberty.

Yet, a deeper appreciation of the dynamics of our Biblical narrative suggests a far more benign role for the translator. For it is precisely this moment of regret and remorse which serves as the turning point in this dramatic story: “They said to one another, `Alas, we are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us. That is why this distress has come upon us‘” (Genesis 42:21).

This moment of deep, inner scrutiny, of turning to themselves and honestly reckoning with their emotions and with their culpability, is facilitated precisely by the brothers’ belief that they are, in fact, alone with their thoughts. They feel themselves able to be candid with each other: the Viceroy of Egypt, they feel and believe, is a stranger, a foreigner, who does not know their language, and does not share the same tongue. So they feel free to disclose their innermost feelings to each other. The interpreter stood between them, serving overtly as a barrier to communication with the Viceroy, but covertly as the catalyst for the ultimate dialogue and rapprochement which would take place.

It is not only the brothers who reveal their regrets and their essential capacity for healing and love. Joseph, too, at that moment “turned away from them and wept.” Two more times we find Joseph weeps; once when he sees his brother Benjamin. The other time is at their climactic resolution, when Judah offers to substitute his own life for that of Benjamin, effectively reversing his initial role in the original betrayal of Joseph. Judah, at that point, would then expose himself in complete vulnerability, eliciting a corresponding self–exposure on the part of Joseph, and enabling the brothers at that moment to reunite. And at that moment of reconciliation, Joseph says to them: “You can see for yourselves…that I am speaking to you directly” (Genesis 45:12).

The goal, then, of all human relationships is direct, unmediated communication, a clear opening up of the heart and soul, unimpeded and unfettered conversation and dialogue. The truth is that such moments of redemptive clarity are rare indeed. In the Messianic era, we are told that we will all be granted “a pure language…to serve Him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). But until that time, it seems that we will need translators and interpreters, to help disclose our inner selves to others, indeed to help us explain the various and conflicting parts of ourselves to ourselves. And yet, until such time as we are able to directly relate and communicate with each other, we will suffer, I believe, from a house which is divided not only in deed but in word, sentiment and in symbolism.

If there is a way to sum up the essence of the battle between the Nation of Israel and the Syrian-Greeks at the time of the Chanukah story is by describing this very issue. The Greeks battle with the Jews was not a physical battle to eradicate our people. Their vision was not that of Haman in an earlier era or of Rome in a later era. The Greeks were not interested in killing Jews. Their goal was not to destroy the Temple, but to de-sanctify it. They wanted to take Jewish culture and adulterate it. Their vision was to Hellenize Jews and Judaism and to blur the differences between Greek and Jewish culture. It was not a battle for the lives of Jews, it was a battle for their souls – a cultural war and it worked. Many of the battles of the Maccabees were battles between brothers, a civil war. We were polarized; we couldn’t speak to each other and couldn’t see the light.

The tragedy of our current condition and the current events all over the globe only illustrates this point: namely, the absence of an effective means through which the various factions within Judaism are able to communicate with each other. We have an immediate need for healing which can only happen if we are able to find a common language. If only we could express and share the substantive issues of division and separation, matters of difference and debate.

So, like Joseph and his brother we now weep. We weep for the wrong things that are said and for the right things which have been left unsaid; for the misunderstandings which persist and for the revelations which remain concealed in the chambers of our hearts, our minds and our thoughts. We thus pray for that day to come, a day of directness, clarity and truth, when the translator will no longer stand between us, and when we will at last be able to speak face to face, without impediment, without partition, without any divisions, and when a strength of purpose in our desire to mend our hearts and heal our souls will rule over the silence and the separation.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil

PS: I posted a very interesting real-life Chanukah miracle story on my blog: God Works Mida K’Neged Mida – Measure For Measure, A Chanukah Story.


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