Our parashah of this week discusses many topics


Of justice, 


Of jurisprudence,


and of social ethics. 


Today I would like to expand upon a topic that is only mentioned briefly, 


but which holds considerable weight.  


In our parashah it says:


“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, 


fighting against it to capture it, 


do not destroy its trees 


by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit.  


Do not cut them down.  


Are the trees people that you should besiege them?  


However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.” (Deu 20:19-20)


This whole section of the parashah deals with rules for warfare, 


setting limits on what the Israelites could do and not do in battle.  


The Israelite army may not destroy the source of sustenance of the enemy city, 




if they are seeking to conquer it.  


That is the “Pshat”.


the straight forward interpretation of the verses.  


However, our sages took the principle of 


“bal tashchit” … 


“do not destroy,”  


They treat it as a general prohibition against the destruction or wasting of anything potentially useful 


or necessary to sustain life… 


like the fruit trees.


Maimonides stated it this way, 


This law exemplifies a basic principle of Torah and so it is understood broadly. 



In a 13th century explanation and discussion of each of the 613 commandments, an even deeper teaching is provided for the principle of bal tashchit:


“The purpose of this mitzvah is to teach us to love that which is good and worthwhile 


and to hold on tightly to it, 


so that good becomes a part of us and those 


who improve society, 


who love peace and rejoice in the good in people will bring them close to Torah


According to this interpretation, 


acting to safeguard the beauty and abundance of the world is a measure of our appreciation of it. 


We talk about praying with 


• Kavanah (intention) 


and we talk about 


• Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) 


and we talk about 


• loving our neighbor as ourselves.  


Well, bal tashchit asks us to apply 


that same intention, 


that same spirit, 


and that same love to the ecological consequences of our everyday actions.



Have you ever seen how trees are planted? 


Young trees are planted in a designated spot, with supporting straight bars of wood and / or metals connected on both sides of the tree. 

You know what those metal bars  are for? 

They are braces to ensure that the tree will grow straight up. 

When a tree is young, 

its trunk is soft, 

and if it starts swaying and growing just a small extend curved, it will ultimately become a very crooked tree.

In Parshat Shoftim, 

the Torah tells us, 

“For is a man a tree of the field.”

What is the connection between trees and human beings?

One similarity is the gentle nature of the tree in its youth. 

Just as the tree needs all the support it can get, so too a young person is very soft and easily influenced. 

Every tiny defect can have a long-lasting effect as he or she grows older. As the verse tells us,

 “Educate the young according to his way; even when he gets old, he will not swing .”

Another similarity is the structure of the tree. 

The tree is made up of roots, branches and fruits. 

The roots are the foundation of the tree,

Strong roots will make a strong tree. 

The branches form the shape and structure of the tree, 

and the fruits are the benefit we get from the tree. 

Not only do we enjoy the fruit, 

but we can take the seeds and plant another tree.

• Our roots are our emunah

our faith in G‑d. 

• Our branches are the mitzvahs that we do, 

what make us into a good person. 

• Our fruits are the people we influence through our actions. Hopefully they too will become strong, blossoming trees.

Let me end with this.  


As we walk through the month of Elul and our preparation for the High Holy Days, 


remember that Rosh Hashanah is not just the Jewish New Year and not just a time for Teshuvah, 


but it is also considered the birthday of the world.  


Let us prepare for that birthday by reexamining 


our environmental kavanah.  


Let us prepare for that birthday by remembering that 


Tikkun Olam can go beyond repair of things of this world to repair of the world itself.  


And let us prepare for the birthday of creation by loving our neighbors, in tending their gardens and working together,


This is our heritage.  


This is our charge.  


May we prove worthy.



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Farewell sermon

It is certainly not by coincidence 

that our Torah portion this week 

marks the beginning of Moses’ 

rather lengthy farewell sermon 

to people Israel and begins with 

the words:

“Re’eh Anochi notan lifnaychem hayom bracha uklalah”!

“Behold, I have set before all of you [the community of Israel] blessing and the opposite of blessings.”

From far, 

and I should say,

From very far,

I am not comparing myself with Moshe Rabeinu,

Furthermore, you should not worry, I will not hold my lengthiest sermon,

However it is indeed a farewell sermon dedicated to our 2 Junior Rabbi's Yehouda and Manou!

In the name of the Trustees,

In the name of our community 

And in my personal name leading this Synagogue, 

I would like to start and say:

I have set before you only blessings!

Prayer is one thing that makes a difference in everything,

Prayer is changing our lives for the better,

Prayers creates opportunity where doors used to be closed

If you only pray when you are in trouble,                                         You are already in trouble!

We were blessed with 

Yehouda during 3 years joining the services, the prayers,


Manou during the past year,

Helping us, helping me leading our prayers, 

Responding present and giving hands to help the growth of our community, the community of Chesed El!


Four weeks from now, Moshe Rabeinu's sermon will conclude in Parshat Nitzavim with the words 

“Re’eh natati lifanecha hayom et hachayim v’et hatov v’et hamavet v’et hara”, 

“Behold, I have set before each of you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.”

The Torah challenges each of us 

and all of us to choose life by 

choosing obedience to G-d in 

every aspect of our lives. 

The Torah reminds us here that 

as Jews, 

despite the fact that we 

acknowledge the existence of 

holy time and holy space, we do 

not see the service of G-d as 

limited to any one time or one 



Dear Yehouda, Dear Manou, 

Wherever you will go next,

Wherever you will be in future,

Space and time are not relevant,

Continue in the same path,         With the same motivation,          With the same enthusiasm,

We wish you success in all your undertakings 

And you will be always welcome to pay us a visit with your future wife's and children

Amen vechen Yehi Ratzon 

Shabbat Shalom


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


Parashat REEH:

See, REEH, 

" this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d which I enjoin upon you this day,

and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other G-d's, whom you have not experienced."

That’s how it has been translated.  

I like to read it slightly differently:


this day I set before you

blessing and curse.

The blessing is when you listen to My mitzvot

and the curse is

when you don’t connect with My mitzvot

but turn away

and follow other G-ds

with whom you don’t have a personal connection.

In my reading, 

Torah is not telling us that:

if we follow the mitzvot we will receive blessing 


if we fail to follow the mitzvot we will be cursed. 

As in, do the right thing and you will be rewarded, 

do the wrong thing and you will be punished. 

Torah is telling us that:

following the mitzvot is, 


the blessing. 

And that being detached from our Source is, 


the experience of being cursed.


The word mitzvah you All know  

means commandment

You may or may not know that it’s related to the Arameic word 


which means 

to attach or join. 

Mitzvah can be understood to mean not only commandment, but also connection.

I love the idea of the mitzvot as connections. 

- They connect us with G-d. 

- They connect us with our tradition. 

- They connect us with other human beings and with the earth.

- They connect us with ourselves.


613 may be a difficult number to approach. 

Some of the mitzvot outlined in Torah were only possible when the Temple was standing. 

So let's try to set aside our perfectionism. 

Even if we can’t necessarily do all 613 mitzvot, we can still aim to live in a way which connects us.

- The mitzvah of daily prayer is connective, 

- Say thank you to G-d for the food which sustains us,

- Say thank you to G-d for waking up alive in the morning,

- On weekdays, ask G-d for what we need, because asking for our needs to G-d can be transformative even if a literal response is going to come our way. 

- Say the bedtime shema and reconcile ourselves with each day’s actions before we sleep. 

- The mitzvah of making blessings is connective. 

Bless bread, bless wine, bless the rainbow, bless our children, bless a stranger you meet on the street.

The mitzvah of sanctifying time is connective:

- When Shabbat arrives, let go of our workday consciousness. 

- Gather the light of the candles into our heart. 

- Stop rushing and planning and doing, 

and take one day of the week to imitate G-d and to rest, to just be. 

- Celebrate the holidays and festivals: 

- eat apples and honey 

and hear the shofar at Rosh Hashanah just a month away from now. 

- Fast and connect with G-d on Yom Kippur. 

- Rejoice in a sukkah during Sukkot. 


Each of these mitzvot connects us with thousand's year of history, 

with Jews around the world today, 

with G-d, 

and with a deep part of ourself.

We can’t do mitzvot without knowing what they are. 

So in order to gain the benefit of living the mitzvot, 

you need to experience the mitzvah of Torah study. 

• And the more you learn, 

   the more you’re able to do,

   and the more you do, 

   the more connected you are.


• and, the more connected you are, 

• the more blessing you receive.

The curse comes when we turn away from G-d’s path and follow other G-d's whom we have not personally experienced. 

Some of us may not feel that we’ve ever experienced our own G-d, 

We may not feel that we know how to have a direct experience of G-d.

But I invite you to consider that you can experience G-d 

You can experience a connection with the Source of all Being 

Whenever you do a mitzvah, whether an ethical one 

(such as cooking for Take and Eat) 

or a ritual one 

(such as lighting Shabbat candles.) 

• You can experience a connection with the Source of all Being 

- when you feel love for your parent, 

your child, 

your spouse, 

your friend. 

• You can experience a connection with the Source of all Being 

- when you walk in the woods, 

- or step outside our sanctuary, and become aware of the birdsong and the glory of the mountains.

When we do these mitzvot, we feel connected to G-d, and that’s our blessing.

When we turn away from this path, and become distracted by the constant chatter of email and twitter and Facebook and obligations; 

When we imagine that our to do list at work is more important than really connecting with our family on Shabbat,

When we value money and privilege more than we value kindness and caring,

Then we are disconnected from G-d.

There’s an old joke which says that heaven and hell are both dinner parties, both featuring people sitting around a table with incredibly long forks. In hell, each person spears their own food with their own fork, and then can’t reach their mouth, and goes hungry. 

And in heaven, each person spears some food and feeds it to someone across the table, and in this way everyone is fed, and there is joy. 

It’s look like in a  cartoon!?! Right???

True, and it doesn’t match our Jewish conception of heaven or hell, but I think it speaks to this week’s Torah portion.

When we ignore the mitzvot, when we think only of ourselves, we go hungry.

When we follow the mitzvot, when we feed one another, we receive the sustenance we need.

Shabbat shalom!



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


Shabbat Shalom!


Dear Friends!


Before starting to talk about this week’s parasha, I would like to say that:


I am thrilled to see so many people at our Shabbat table.


This Shul has been completely renovated and Be Ezrat Hashem, we will accomplish the final touches before R"Ha-Shana with regard to the building itself.


Some other big projects regarding the site are on course which will be disclosed very soon.


We hope to see you more often in our Shul!


Would also like to thank our Dear Friend Daniel for sponsoring this dinner in honour of his birthday!


We wish you long life, 

good health, 

and all the best in all you are undertaking


Many thanks for my Dear Wife and the help she received to prepare this nice menu,


Now about the parashat of this week:




Very very rarely, there is a portion in which rabbis have a sense that they really don’t need to say anything.  

Not that I won’t

but this is one of those portions that is so clearly defined, 

and really preaches its own sermon 

and teaches its own lesson!

“Eikev” as you know is in the name “Yaakov,” 

it means “heel,” 

and the portion starts by saying

on the heel of,

whatever you do, 

such and such will happen.

Moses tells the Jewish people that after they enter the Land of Israel they must:

"Take care lest your forget the Lord, your G-d ... and you build good houses and ... you increase silver and gold ... and everything you have will increase ... and you will forget the Lord, your G-d, who took you out of ... Egypt from a house of slavery..." (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)



Moses made a firm plea to all of the Jewish people never to forget that G-d is the true and only source of everything 

including all of the monetary success they ever have. 

Why was it necessary for Moses to drive this point with such intensity?

The reason is that human beings habitually feel that 

• when things go well, 

it was our doing and not G-d's. 


• if things go poorly, 

then it's G-d's fault and not ours. 

We tend to take personal credit for things that go well in our lives and blame others if they go poorly. 

Think about it.

When something isn't going right in our lives, we usually ask G-d to make things better. 

Whether it's through a prayer 

or a heartfelt request, 

we really do instinctively recognize the true and only source of everything and will ask the One who can instantly make something change. 

And although it might not be exactly what that you asked for or in your time table (because only G-d knows what's truly best for you), G-d usually answers our prayers. 

The fact is, G-d delivers time and time again.

Moses knew this all too well. 

But he also knew human nature just as well

So, he pleaded with the Jewish people that when 

"everything you have will increase," 

don't forget for one second who gave it to you.

Sadly, we forget this over and over again and 

somehow, take personal credit for what we now have. 

If you're going to "blame" G-d when things don't go your way 

and ask Him to make things much better for you, simply saying 

"Thank God"  " B"H "

when things get better,

isn't enough. 

Because unless you live with the reality that it was G-d Who made things better, 

then you will have missed an enormous opportunity to get closer to 

the One who controls all.

It's amazing just how often we quickly forget that it was G-d who we had just been praying to. 

Yes, He wants us to put in 

the effort to show to Him, ourselves, and those around us that we really do want something. 

And we have a Torah obligation to put forth this effort. 

But in the end, it is G-d who delivers and not us 

and He wants us to fight our natural desire to take credit for something that we were actually given.

Don't forget Who the only source of your blessings is. 

Know that the same source of "nature" that surrounds you is the same source of everything else you have. 

Only faith can save a society from decline and fall. 

That was one of Moses’ greatest insights, and it has never ceased to be true.

If you can live with this reality, know that you'll literally be walking with G-d.


Shabbat Shalom


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


It was quite difficult to prepare my speech about the parasha of this week!


In fact, there are so many interesting topics to speak about, that I had a hard time to find which one to choose!






Moses plea to G- D, begging to be allowed to the promised Land. 


There are only in 2 incidents in which this word appears in the Torah:


When Joseph's Brother are accused of spying in Egypt, they recall with shame and guilt that Joseph implored them and they would not listen ( Gen 42:21 ),




Now when Moses implores G-D, and G-D would not listen!


To cement the connection:


Moses says that G-D told him not  to add anything more about this matter, which in Hebrew:


don't is Tosef


The root of the name ofJoseph!


What is the point of the parallel?


When Joseph's brothers do not listen to his plea, he is the innocent one, and they are guilty,


But when Moses pleads, he is the innocent.


And Hashem said to Moses:


Rav lach,


You have much!


This are the same words that Korach says to Moses and Aaron!


There is a great difference when the same words are spoken by different persons,


and different motives!


Korach uses them

perhaps out of envy, 

Perhaps as a device to make his claim on priesthood sound more 



When G-D now uses them, it is more a reminder that Moses has lived 120 years and has done great things, 


He has much,


Perhaps more than any other human who has ever lived!





Digging out all the different commentators and as already mentioned in one of my dvar Torah just 2 weeks ago, I am today convinced that Moshe Rabenu was, since born, not designated to end up in Israel!


Moses life ends, 

as it began, 

at a river.


On the continuing role that water plays in his life, from the Nile to the Jordan,


Let's recall that creation begins with water,


Moses is therefore a reflection in an individual human if the nature of the world.



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420


After the joy of 

Singing last week “Chazak, Chazak,  V’nitchazek,” 


we have now entered the Book of Devarim.

It is immediately distinct from the other books of the Torah. 


Though it is repeating many of the same incidents, 


and laws of previous books, 


the tone and presentation are clearly different.


The name, Deuteronomy, comes from the Greek, 

and is a translation of the phrase, Mishneh Torah

which can mean 

“A copy of this Teaching,” 


a “second Torah.” 


The book contains a series of farewell speeches by Moses. 


He knows that he will die before reaching the Land of Israel, 

and still he seems to feel a sense of urgency in ensuring that the people of Israel understand all of G-d’s commands.


The most common way of dividing the book 

distinguishes five parts: 


1. prologue which reviews the past and a first sermon which stresses Israel’s relationship to G-d (verses 1:1-4:33)


A second, long discourse which presents laws of ritual and civil character and a long catalogue of consequences (4:44-11:25)


A third discourse (11:26-28:69)


A final appeal and farewell by Moses (chapters 29-33)


A brief epilogue describing the leader’s death (chapter 34).


At the end of Deuteronomy in parashat Nitzavim, 

Moses tells us that,


The Torah will serve as our guide throughout the ages,


and in one of the most beautiful passages in the Torah, 


"ki karov elecha adavar meod beficha oulvivavecha laasoto"


the text reminds us that:


Torah is accessible and understandable to all (see 30:14 )


• The commandments are not enigmatic,

• They do not reside in a distant realm,

• They do not require any intermediary,

• They are already made known




• They are within a human's ability to do it!



Moses is also at the forefront of the text throughout this book. 


As the primary speaker, 

we are finally hearing from Moses himself, 

rather than hearing G-d’s words. 



this presents its own set of issues, 

as a number of incidents are told differently from their first mention earlier in the Torah. 


Even the Ten Commandments are different in Deuteronomy than they are in the first iteration in Exodus.

• Why these inconsistencies? 

• A different author? 

• An unreliable narrator? 

• The speaker’s specific agenda? 

• What might the goal of the text be?


The text feels even more personal than other books. 


“We” feel included more than before.


In all 4 precedent books The Torah speaks through the voice of Moses!


Devarim is our book, our own book, why ?


• We already learned that the people who stood at mount Sinai perished in the desert. 

• Those who escaped from Egypt, who stood at Mt. Sinai, who traveled to Kadesh-barnea, 

who complained day and night, and 

who finally decided to go back to Egypt,

that generation died out in the desert (1:34-36). 


To whom is Moses speaking?


 Presumably, he is speaking to the next generation:

• This generation did not stand at Sinai,

• they were not at Kadesh-barnea. 


And indeed,

• We did stand at Horeb. Yes! 

• We were at Kadesh-barnea! 

• Yes, yes, yes! 

• This story is absolutely ours.


I look forward to search more into the world of Deuteronomy with you all this Shabbat. 


Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420



Best Regards

Jean-Pierre FETTMANN

+65 94604420

Mattos/ Massei

I feel the parasha of this week is somehow designed and dedicated to Sir Menasseh Meyer, 

the founder of our Synagogue and more important 

the founder of our school!


Let me elaborate in recalling what we are reading this week!


The Israelites are almost within sight of the promised land. 

They came out victorious against the Midianites. 

No longer are the Israelites in the desert. 

We cannot stop them,

They are moving toward the Jordan, 

to the west of which lies their destination: 

the land ‘flowing with milk and honey’.

The members of the tribes of Reuben and Gad begin to have different thoughts. 

Seeing that the land through which they are travelling is ideal for raising cattle, they decide that they would like to stay there, to the east of the Jordan. 

Moses is angry at the suggestion:

Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, 

“Shall your countrymen go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from going over into the land the Lord has given them?

The tribes accept his objection however,

with a compromise, 

Came back to Moses and said:

“We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. But we are ready to arm ourselves and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place. Meanwhile our women and children will live in fortified cities, for protection from the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance. We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.”

They are telling to Moses that they are willing to join the rest of the Israelites in the battles that lie ahead. 

They are not afraid of battle. 

They are not trying to evade their responsibilities toward their people as a whole. 

They just wish to raise cattle, 

and this land to the east of the Jordan is ideal. 

Moses agrees. If they keep their word, they may settle east of the Jordan.


That is the story on the surface. But as so often in the Torah, there are subtexts as well as texts. 

One in particular was noticed by the sages, 

with their sensitivity to 

nuance and detail. 

Listen carefully to what the Reubenites and Gadites said:

Then they came up to him and said, 

“We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children.”


Moses replies:

“Build cities for your children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised.”

The ordering of the words is crucial. 

The men of Reuben and Gad put property before people: 

they speak of 

• their flocks first, 

• their women and children second. 

Moses reverses the order, putting special emphasis 

on the children

As Rashi notes:

They paid more regard to their property than to their sons and daughters, because they mentioned 

their cattle before the children. 

Moses said to them: 

" Not so. 

First build cities for your children, and only then, folds for your flocks." 

The midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah (22: 9) 

makes an interpretation of the line in Ecclesiastes:

The heart of the wise inclines to the right,


but the heart of the fool to the left. (Ecclesiastes 10:2)

The midrash identifies:

 " right " with Torah and life: 

“He brought the fire of a religion to them from his right hand (Deut. 33:2). 


" Left " refers to worldly goods:


In the books of Proverbs ( 3: 16 )  it is written:

• Long life is in her right hand,
• Wealth and honour are in her left hand.

The men of Reuben and Gad put ‘wealth and honour’ 


faith and posterity. 


Moses hints to them that their priorities are wrong. 


The midrash continues:

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: 

" Seeing that you have shown greater love for your cattle than for human souls, by your life, there will be no blessing in it.”

One of the most consistent patterns of Jewish history is the way communities, through the ages,  put 

children and their education first. 


What is a typical Jewish family?

The most important item in the family budget is the tuition fee that must be paid each term to the teacher of the younger boys’ school. 

The mother, who has charge of household accounts, 

will cut the family food costs to the limit if necessary, in order to pay for her sons schooling. 

Worst comes to the worst, she will pawn her cherished jewels in order to pay for the school term. 

The boy must study, 

the boy must become a good Jew 

For her, the two are synonymous.

In 1849, when Samson Raphael Hirsch became rabbi in Frankfurt, he insisted that the community create a school before building a synagogue. 

It is hard to think of any other religion or civilization that is as child-centred as Judaism, 

on putting their education first. 


When Moses’ scolded the tribes of Reuben and Gad,

This is not a minor detail but a fundamental statement about Jewish priorities. 

Property is secondary, children primary.

This is the will of Sir Menasseh Meyer, 

This is why today we have a beautiful school for our kids,

This was the spirit of the a great person who already understood that:

It is not what we own that gives us a share in eternity, 

but those to whom we give birth and the effort we make to ensure that they carry our belief and way of life into the next generation.


In this week’s parsha we learn of the fervent deeds of one of the members of the tribe of Levy by the name of Pinchas


a grandson of Aaron the Kohen.


How was it that Pinchas merited to have this week’s Torah portion named for him,




to be elevated to the priesthood, 

he and his generations forever? 


The nation of Israel, 


after forty years of wandering and wondering 


were finally allowed to begin conquering the land they had so looked forward to inheriting. 


Pinchas saw the men of his nation being tempted by the women of Midian to sin by serving the idolcalled Baal Peor. 


In one turn he put an end to the whole affair in the name of Heaven. 


The collective sinning ceased. 


The Torah tells us that the anger of G-d was turned away. 


Pinchas needed to be strong!


As we know, 


when a large group of people have fun in destructive behaviour 


and invests their time, 


and money 


towards making it acceptable, 

being the voice of reason 


can literally and figuratively get you thoroughly defeated either physically, verbally, emotionally or economically.


Pinchas acted when it was most needed that he do so. 


The chance to bring everyone back to their senses was in his hands. 


He was keenly aware that if another moment would have transpired with nothing done about the horrible situation at hand, 


all would have been lost. 


Either they would triumph or they would fall into condition of not remembering!


After all the Divine guidance 


and all the years of waiting, 


to see his nation disappear through assimilation into the Midianite culture,


was too much for Pinchas. 


Continuity as a holy nation remained intact all because of the action of one person at the right time. 


" One who acts with eagerness, willingness, readiness, merits to perform (many) mitzvot ”. 


It is not the ideal to wake up at the last second and rush like a fool to grab the only moment left to do a mitzvah,


but rather to take the necessary amount of time, 


proceed carefully, 


and then see it through to fulfilment!


Pinchas was no hothead, who was rewarded for acting in a rash manner without stopping to think. 


His was the kind of passionate honored by the Torah. 


He came, 


he saw, 


he acted but not over a split second of anger,


but with a heart and mind set to achieve the honor of Heaven. 


Only a well sharpened heart and mind worked on with much prior thought and effort can achieve split second results accurately and effectively. 


There is no better tool with which we can sharpen our hearts and minds to be best prepared for the moments in which we need to act with eargerness, willingness and readiness, than 


Torah study. 

Let' s Just do it!


In this week’s parashah, Parashat Balak, the Moabite King Balak, 

afraid of the power of the people of Israel

as we are wandering through the desert passing by his kingdom, thinks of this great scheme.  


He is going to call upon Balaam 

who has this power 

to bless and the power to curse.  

He sends his dignitaries to Balaam saying,  

“Please go and curse this people.  I’m afraid of them, I’m scared of them: they’re too numerous.”  

Sort of like Pharaoh said. 


And Balaam wisely says,  

" Hmmm, no, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”  

Mostly because God told him,  

“Balaam, that’s not a very good idea.”  

But eventually he’s persuaded after a number of visits from Balak’s dignitaries. 


Balaam gets up in the morning, 

he saddles up his donkey, 

and they set out with his servants. 


At a certain point in the journey, the donkey simply refuses to go any further!

Balaam doesn’t understand why the donkey is misbehaving in this way and starts beating the donkey.  

He doesn’t know the donkey actually sees in front of him,

actually I should say her, 

it’s a female donkey

in front of her, 

The donkey sees the angel of death coming to stop Balaam from his appointed task. 


The donkey sits down on the road and refuses to move.  

After Balaam beats her the third time, she starts to talk.  

What does she says:

" Balaam, I have been your trusty donkey all these years.  Have I ever led you astray?  Have I ever misbehaved?”  

And he has to concede, no, she’s been a good donkey.  She says, 

" So why would I lead you astray this time?  Don’t you think there’s something larger going on here?” 


And of course the donkey has saved Balaam’s life and also alerted him to the danger in his appointed task, 

and as we know he eventually does continue on the path.  

He reaches the point where he can overlook the entire encampment of Israel.  

Instead of cursing us, what comes out of his mouth are words of blessing:  

" How wonderful and how lovely are your tents.” 


I want to focus on this episode that happens to Balaam between when he is called and when he acts.  

That’s the donkey, and especially the fact that the donkey speaks.  

This is not the first time in the Torah that an animal speaks.  

What’s the other time? 

The snake in the first chapters of Genesis in the Garden of Eden. 


What’s interesting is that there are some similarities and there are some differences here between the donkey and the snake.  

Both of them tell a human being what the human being should do.  

In both situations it’s a cross-gender relationship: 

female donkey telling a male, Balaam, what he should do, 


the snake, which is male in the Torah, telling a woman, Eve, what she should do. 


Except the advice that the two animals give is completely different.  Because the donkey is telling Balaam to do the right thing:

“Balaam, this isn’t a good idea, you know it’s not a good idea, so why don’t you, instead of cursing Israel, maybe you should bless them, that’s what G-D wants you to do.” 


The snake gives terrible advice.  He says,  

“Ehhh, Eve, I know you’ve been told not to eat the fruit, but it’s not gonna to hurt you.  It’s delicious!  Don’t you wanna eat it?”  

And she says,  

“Oh yeah, that’s a pretty good idea. Okay, I’ll eat it.” 


Two animals both giving advice, one good advice, one bad advice.  

So what’s the Torah trying to tell us if we compare these two animals speaking to human beings?  

Well, it’s not just “don’t always listen to animals when they speak to you.”

But the Torah recognizes that there are many different voices of advice that we might listen to, 

many different opinions that we might listen to.  

And perhaps this is a warning that no one is a hundred percent right or a hundred percent wrong all of the time. 


Who are the voices of advice that we listen to?  

For some of us it’s our spouses, 

family members, 

could be our therapists, 

could be our parents even, 

could be our favorite columnist or commentator commenting on events of the day.  

And even though we have our favorite source of advice, nobody is a hundred percent right all the time. 


But it’s therefore also nobody is a hundred percent wrong all the time, 

and that goes for one’s enemy 


for one’s political opponent. 

Even one’s political opponent has some good ideas. 


So my hope on this Shabbat is that we’re able to discern.  

We’re able to discern the difference between good advice and bad advice, 

between voices that we should listen to and voices that perhaps are guiding us on the wrong path.  

And that on this Shabbat and on other days to follow, we learn to follow the right advice, 


that we’re able to listen when it’s given. 


It took me 2 years to recover from the death of my father, of blessed memory. 


To this day, almost over 30 years later, I am not sure why. 


He did not die suddenly,


In his last years he had to undergo many operations, 


each of which took his strength a little more.


The rabbis were critical of one who mourns too much too long.


They said that G-D  himself says of such a person, 


“Are you more compassionate than I am?”  


Maimonides rules, 


“A person should not become excessively broken-hearted because of a person’s death, 

as it says,

" Do not weep for the dead nor bemoan him" 

(Jer. 22:10). 

This means, 

" Do not weep excessively."


For death is the way of the world, and one who grieves excessively at the way of the world is a fool.” 


With rare exceptions, the outer limit of grief in Jewish law is a year, not more.


Yet, knowing these things, did not help. 


We are not always masters of our emotions. 

Nor does comforting others prepare you for your own experience of loss. 


Jewish law regulates outward conduct not inward feeling, 


and when it speaks of feelings, like the commands to love and not to hate, 


halakhah generally translates this into behavioural terms, assuming, in the language of the Sefer ha-Hinnukh, that 


" the heart follows the deed."


I felt an existential black hole, an emptiness at the core of being. 


The mood eventually passed but while it lasted I made some of the worst mistakes of my life.


I mention these things because they are the connecting thread of parshat Chukat. 


The most striking episode is the moment when the people complain about the lack of water. 


Moses does something wrong, and though G-D sends water from a rock, 


he also sentences Moses to an almost unbearable punishment: 


“Because you did not have sufficient faith in Me to sanctify Me before the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land I have given you.”


The commentators debate exactly what he did wrong. 


• Was it that he lost his temper with the people?


• That he hit the rock instead of speaking to it? 


• That he made it seem as if it was not G-D but he and Aaron who were responsible for the water 


(“Shall we bring water out of this rock for you?”)?


What is more puzzling still is why he lost control at that moment. He had faced the same problem before, but he had never lost his temper before. 


G-D  then told Moses to take his staff and hit the rock, and water flowed from it. 


So when in our parsha G-D tells Moses, 


" Take the staff … and speak to the rock,” 


it was surely a forgivable mistake to assume that G-d meant him also to hit it. 


That is what he had said last time. 


Moses was following precedent. 


And if G-D did not mean him to hit the rock, why did he command him to take his staff?


What is even harder to understand is the order of events. 


G-D had already told Moses exactly what to do


• Gather the people. 

• Speak to the rock, 

• and water will flow. 


This was before Moses made his ill-tempered speech, beginning,


" Listen, now you rebels."


It is understandable if you lose your patience when you are faced with a problem that seems insoluble. This had happened to Moses earlier when the people complained about the lack of meat. 


But it makes no sense at all to do so when G-d has already told you, 


“Speak to the rock … 

• It will pour forth its water, 

• and you will bring water out of the rock for them, 

• and so you will give the community and their livestock water to drink.” Moses had received the solution. 


Why then was he so agitated about the problem?


Only after I lost my father did I understand the passage. 


What had happened immediately before? 


The first verse of the chapter states: 


“The people stopped at Kadesh. There, Miriam died and was buried.” 


Only then does it state that the people had no water. 


An old tradition explains that the people had previously been blessed by a miraculous source of water in the merit of Miriam. 


When she died, the water ceased.


However it seems to me that the deeper connection lies not between the death of Miriam and the lack of water but between her death and Moses’ loss of emotional balance.


Miriam was his elder sister. She had watched over his fate when, as a baby, he had been placed in a basket and floated down the Nile. 


He owed his sense of identity to her. 


Without Miriam, he could never have become the human face of G-d to the Israelites, 


• law-giver, 

• liberator 

• and prophet. 


Losing her, 


he not only lost his sister. 


He lost the human foundation of his life.


Bereaved, you lose control of your emotions. You find yourself angry when the situation calls for calm. 


You hit when you should speak, 


and you speak when you should be silent. 


Even when G-D has told you what to do, you are only half-listening. You hear the words but they do not fully enter your mind. 


Maimonides asks the question, how was it that Jacob, a prophet, did not know that his son Joseph was still alive. 


He answers, because he was in a state of grief, and the Shekhinah does not enter us when we are in a state of grief.


Moses at the rock was not so much a prophet as a man who had just lost his sister. 


He was inconsolable and not in control. He was the greatest of the prophets. But he was also human, rarely more so than here.


Our parsha is about mortality


That is the point. 


G-d is eternal, 


we are ephemeral. 


We are dust and to dust we return, but G-d is life forever.


Chukat is about death, 

loss and bereavement. 


Miriam dies. 


Aaron and Moses are told they will not live to enter the Promised Land. 


Aaron dies, and the people mourn for him for thirty days. 


What the parsha is telling us is that for each of us there is a Jordan we will not cross, a promised land we will not enter. “


Even the greatest are mortal.

Life after death and the resurrection of the dead are fundamental, 

non-negotiable principles of Jewish faith, 

We must be focused on finding G-D in this life, 

on this planet, notwithstanding our mortality. 

“The dead do not praise G-D” says the Psalm. 

G-d is to be found in life itself with all its hazards and dangers, and grief. 

G-d provides the cure before the disease. 

Miriam dies. 

Moses and Aaron are overwhelmed with grief.

 Moses, for a moment, loses control, and he and Aaron are reminded that they too are mortal and will die before entering the land. 

Yet this is, as Maimonides said, “the way of the world”. 

We are flesh and blood. 

We grow old. 

We lose those we love. 

Yet life goes on, and what we began, others will continue.

For love is as strong as death,

and the good we do never dies.


“Y’varekh’kha  Hashem v’yishmerekha

(May Hashem bless you and keep you)

Ya’er Hashem panav eleikha vichunekka

(May Hashem make His face shine on you and show you his favour)

Yissa Hashem panav eleikha v’yasem l’kha shalom

(May Hashem lift up his face toward you and give you peace)”

( Numbers 6: 24-26 )

May God bless you and keep you

May God deal kindly and graciously with you

May G-d bestow favour upon you, and grant you peace.

Those three verses are known as the "priestly blessing."

We are actually blessed as,

during the past 2 years we have a Cohen with us and we can enjoy his blessing!!!


After this blessing, in this week's Torah portion, we read, 

" This shall they link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them." 

When we recite this blessing,

We link G-d's name with our community,

We create and strengthen the bonds between ourselves 

and the part of G- d's essence 

which is described by each of our many different names for G-d. 

"And I will bless them," 

Torah says:

the "I," of course, 

being G- d. 

Actually, the culminating point of the 


Yissa Hashem panav eleikha v’yasem l’kha SHALOM!

(May Hashem lift up his face toward you and give you PEACE)”

“PEACE is the thread of grace issuing from Him,"

IIsaac ABRABANEL writes, 

“That is why G-d is called PEACE, because it is He who binds the world together 


orders all things according to their particular character and posture. 

For when things are in their proper order, peace will reign” 

( This we can fin in Abrabanel, Commentary to Avot 2:12. )

When we put our whole selves, in all four worlds,

body, heart, mind, and spirit

into service of the One, that's when we can bless others. 

That's when we can link G-d's own Name with our names. 

That's how we open that connection for extraterrestrial abundance: 

not merely through saying the words of the priestly blessing, 

but through committing our whole selves to serving others, 

and in so doing, 

serving G-d.

Shavuot II

What the Israelites heard at Sinai has become known as 

the “Ten Commandments.”  

But this description raises obvious problems. 

• First, 

neither the Torah nor Jewish tradition calls them 

the Ten Commandments. 

The Torah calls them:

Aseret hadevarim (Ex. 34:28), 

and we traditionally say:

Aseret hadibrot, 


" the ten utterances.” 

Like a statement! A declaration!


• Second, 

there was much debate, especially between 

Maimonides and Halakkhot Gedolot as understood by Nahmanides, 

as to whether the first verse, 

“I am the Lord your G-d …,” 

is a command or a preface to the commands. 


• Third, 

there are not ten commandments in Judaism but 613. 

Why, then, these but not those?


It begins with a preamble stating who is initiating the covenant. 

That is why the revelation opened with the words, 

“I am the Lord your G-D.” 

Then comes an historical review stating the background and context of the covenant, in this case, 

“who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the slave-house.”


come the stipulations, 

first in general outline, 

then in specific detail. 

That is precisely the relationship between the “ten utterances” 

and the detailed commands set out in later chapters and books of the Torah. 

The former are the general outline, the final are the details. 


So the “ten utterances” are not commandments as such 

but an articulation of basic principles. 

What makes them special is,

that they are simple and easy to memorise. 

That is because in Judaism, 

law is not intended for judges alone. 

The covenant at Sinai was made by G-D with an entire people


the need for a brief statement of basic principles that everyone could remember and recite.

Usually they are pictured as 

two sets of five, 

the first dealing with relationships between us and G-d (including honouring our parents since they, like G-D, brought us into being), 

the second with the relations between us and our fellow humans. However, 

it also makes sense to see them as three groups of three.

1. The first three:

• No other G-ds besides Me, 

• No graven images, 


• No talking of G-d’s name in vain, 

are about G-d, 

the author and authority of the laws. 

* The first states that: 

Divine sovereignty  

( No other G-ds besides Me). 

* The second tells us: 

that G-d is a living force, 

not an abstract power 

(No graven images). 

* The third states:

that sovereignty means respect, reverence 

( Do not take My name in vain).


2. The second three: 

the Sabbath, 

honouring parents, 

and the prohibition of murder 

are all about the principle of 

the createdness of life. 

• Shabbat is the day dedicated to seeing G-d as creator, and the universe as His creation. 

• Honouring parents acknowledges our human createdness. 

• “ You shall not murder” 

murder is not just a crime against man but a sin against G-d in whose image we are created. 

So the fourth, fifth and sixth

tell us to remember where we came from if we seek to know how to live.


3. The third three 

against adultery, 


and bearing false witness 

establish the basic institutions on which society depends. 

Marriage is sacred because it is the human bond closest in estimation to the covenant between us and G-d. 

The prohibition against theft establishes the integrity of property, 

The prohibition of false testimony is the precondition of justice. 


Finally comes the stand-alone prohibition against 

envying your neighbour’s house, wife, slave, maid, ox, donkey, or anything else belonging to him or her. 


The greatest challenge of any society is how to contain the universal  phenomenon of envy: 

the desire to have what belongs to someone else. 

Envy can lead to breaking many of the other commands: 

it can move people to:



false testimony,

and even murder. 

- It led Cain to murder Abel, 

- made Abraham and Isaac fear for their life because they were married to beautiful women, 


- led Joseph’s brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery. 

It was envy of their neighbours that led the Israelites often to imitate their religious practices and worship their G-ds.


We are here because G-d wanted us to be. 

We have what G-d wanted us to have. 

Why then should we seek what others have? 

If what matters most in our lives is how we appear in the eyes of G-d, 

why should we seek anything else just because someone else has it? 

It is when we stop defining ourselves in relation to G-d,

and start defining ourselves in relation to other people,

that competition and envy enter our minds, and they lead only to unhappiness.


Thirty-three centuries after they were first given, the Ten Commandments remain the simplest, shortest guide to the creation of a good society.

Shavuot Night

This night, something different happens. Rather than going to sleep, we stay up all night—and learn Torah.

The obvious question is, why? 

What is so special about this night that so many people do NOT sleep 

Instead stay up 

and are learning instead?

To understand this practice, we’re going to take a step back in time to the very first Shavuot, 

the day G‑d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai.

It was a Lazy Reception!!!

The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is one of the most fundamental and famous moment in our history. 

This story is about the preparation the Jewish people took the night before the giving of the Torah.

The Midrash records a fascinating story.

The night before the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people did what anybody does before an important event:

They all went early for a good night 


The next morning,

when it came time for the Torah to be given, 

the place was empty. 

The entire Jewish people had slept in.

 The Midrash even recounts that Moses had to wake them up 

And  G‑d to  lament, 

“Why have I come and no one is here to receive me?”

This story remains a shameful part of our history

and therefore it is at the heart of the custom of staying up late, 


In order to rectify our forefathers’ mistake, we stay up late every Shavuot night to show that our enthusiasm isn’t lacking at all.

Kabbalah, Halachah, Customs, 

The custom of staying up late has developed in stages over the years. 

Let’s start at the Zohar, the earliest source for the custom. 

This old Kabbalistic work, 

written in the years after the destruction of the Second Temple, 

recounts that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar,

stayed up learning Torah on Shavuot night.

The Zohar does not mention anything about the Jews sleeping in, instead writing that this practice was a preparation for and in honor of 

the “bride’s” (meaning the Jews) upcoming marriage to the “groom” (meaning G‑d, or the Torah). 

However, the Zohar does mention that their learning was to help “fix” the bride.


Another source is:

Rabbi Joseph Caro, 

the author of the Code of Jewish Law,

The shulchan aruch,

He invited Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, 

the composer of the Friday night prayer Lecha Dodi, to his house to learn that Shavuot night. 

R. Alkabetz relates that, as they started to learn Mishnayot, 

R. Caro began to speak, his voice turned powerful and loud!

Those present instantly understood that this was not R. Caro speaking. 

The voice praised them, 

telling them that their learning had pierced the Heavens and reached G‑d Himself. 

As their words ascended, 

the voice continued, 

the angels became silent, 

some standing still,

all stopping to listen to the sound of their learning. 

This story quickly spread like wildfire throughout the Jewish world.


Another source,

We continue to the town of Safed, in Israel, 

to the famous Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, 

commonly known as the Arizal,

The Arizal, never wrote any of his teachings,

most of them were instead recorded by his most prominent student, 

Rabbi Chaim Vital. 

Rabbi Vital records that the custom of staying up late is a truly important one,

 and writes that it had already become widespread throughout Jewry. 

He then makes a promise: 

those who stay up Shavuot night,

refraining from even a second of sleep

and spend the night learning 

will be protected from any harm that year.

Our final step takes us to the Magen Avraham, 

a prominent halachik authority who lived from 1635 to 1682. 

He quotes the Zohar about staying up late and then, for the first time in history, was to rectify our forefathers’ mistake of sleeping in the first Shavuot.

Though there are many Kabbalistk reasons for this custom, the reason of the Magen Avraham is the most widely known and cited. 

Nowadays, this practice of staying up is kept in virtually all communities.

Maybe I sold you the idea,

and This Shavuot, you’re going to stay up and learn Torah. 

We already started!

booklet known as the Tikun Leil Shavuot includes the beginning and end of every section of 

the Tanach 

the Mishnah, 

and a list of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah

Through learning the beginning and end of the basic sections of the Torah, it is as if we learned the entire thing.

An Unusual Preparation

Let’s take a moment to talk about the story we quoted earlier in the Midrash about the Jews sleeping in on the first Shavuot.

Imagine for a moment that you were there. Some 3,000 years ago, you’re there in the desert the night before G‑d Himself gives us the Torah. You’re probably a little uncertain what to do the night before such an event. So you ask around, and your friends tell you that they’re going to get a good night’s sleep. Seems reasonable, right? The thing is, how much sleep do you actually think you’ll get? When we go to sleep early before a big event, we usually don’t get that good night’s sleep we’re craving. We toss, we turn, we get up, we go back to sleep. Maybe we cram in an hour or two of shut-eye. We’re too pent up—too excited, too nervous—to really get any sleep in.

But the Jewish People did. They slept like babies—so well, in fact, that they slept in the next day. The fact that the night before G‑d was going to give them His infinite Torah, they were able to sleep so well, seems to imply that they were genuinely not excited or even overly enthusiastic about the event.

There’s a problem with that, however.

It just isn’t true.

The Jewish people were excited for the giving of the Torah. They were so excited that 49 days beforehand—almost two months—they began counting the days to the giving of the Torah. And they weren’t just counting the days. Kabbalah explains that, during each one of those days, the Jews worked on a different personal characteristic, refining it, elevating it, painstakingly working on it until they’d managed to make it pure. They did this for 49 days, with the goal in mind that in 49 days they would have completely refined their entire personality. They were so enthusiastic about accepting the Torah that they were willing to completely reinvent themselves in preparation for it.

And they did.

And yet, on the night before the giving of the Torah, 49 days later, the night before the event they’d been waiting for for so long, they went to sleep. And slept perfectly, without a sound. And slept in.

Something isn’t adding up.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that we’re misunderstanding this story. The Jews didn’t go to sleep out of apathy; they went to sleep out of enthusiasm. To explain this, let’s take a moment to talk about sleep.

Since the dawn of time, countless philosophies have dealt with a question: what happens when we sleep? Kabbalah has its own explanation. When we are awake, our soul stays inside our body, animating our thoughts, actions and emotions. When we sleep, however, the soul leaves the body, leaving behind a mere remnant—just enough to keep us alive. The rest ascends to Heaven and learns Torah with the angels and other souls there. Then, right before we wake up, it returns. Now, though this happens to everybody, how much the soul learns in Heaven—and how much is remembered – is dependent on how much we studied during the day.

Now let’s come back to the Jewish people in the desert. For 49 days, the Jewish people had worked upon themselves, refined themselves, elevated themselves. At that moment, the night before the Torah was to be given, they were holier than they’d ever been. And they were unsatisfied. They were unsatisfied because they felt it wasn’t enough. No matter how much they worked on themselves, they were limited people, trapped by the physical confines of the body. How could they, as coarse, corporeal beings, ever be ready to accept the Torah—the height of spirituality? They needed one more preparation—something that would really express their readiness to accept the Torah.

For one night, just one, they wanted to experience something truly spiritual.

And so they went to sleep. They lay down, left their bodies behind, and let their souls ascend to Heaven to learn Torah. They experienced a truly spiritual revelation—the experience of sleep, as witnessed by the genuinely righteous. This preparation, the complete divergence of the physical and the cleaving to the spiritual, this was their final preparation for the Torah.

Yet now we must understand a different issue. If this was what was going on in their mind, what was the problem? Why was it considered a sin? Why, over 3,000 years later, are we still trying to rectify what they did?

Their mistake, the Rebbe continues, was that, by going to sleep, the Jews demonstrated that they had completely misunderstood the point of the Torah. The Torah wasn’t given to us so that we can become spiritual beings, devoid of all vestiges of physicality. If that was the goal, G‑d would have been better off giving it to the lofty angels. Instead, the purpose of the Torah is for us to use it to elevate and refine this physical world. Judaism isn’t found in the songs of angels or in the piety of ascetics. Judaism is in the struggles of our desires—in getting up early to pray, in giving charity at work, in staying up late to learn a verse or two. Judaism is working with our physical nature and, little by little, civilizing it, refining it, and, ultimately, elevating it.

By going to sleep—by opting to choose the spiritual over the physical—the Jews demonstrated that they had missed the entire point.

We therefore stay up. We stay up to fix their mistake. Most importantly, we stay up to show G‑d that we haven’t missed the point. We get it. We could opt to go to sleep, to cleave to the spiritual and ignore our physical body. But instead, we spend the night learning, working with our body, inspiring it, purifying it. We stay up so that every part of us, both the physical and the spiritual, is prepared for the Torah.




EL is the name of G-D

CHESED means: 

loving, kindness

On Shavuot, we read the book of RUTH, and the key theme throughout the book is about :

CHESED, loving, kindness



































Hakadosh baruch hu she- hu amiti Hu
















My Son Ariel is preparing for his Bar Mitzwah, for his big day, in about 1 , 1 1/2 year from now, and he is counting down the days until his Shabbat will arrive.

I know students who have counted down the days to their Bar Mitzvah for three years and more. 

As a teenager, I used to build and fly model rockets!

Looking back, it is hard to know which was more fun, 

seeing the rocket arch up into the clear blue sky or 

watching it drift slowly back down to earth on a parachute!

Each launch, 

whether a model rocket 

or a Space Shuttle, 

begins with a countdown. 

Just like a Bar Mitzvah boy counts down the days!

Many people don’t realize that lots of things are happening before the countdown reaches the end. 

The seconds that lead up to a launch are not wasted seconds. 

Every minute and every second has an important role to play!

We are used to thinking of counting as a way to get from one place to another. 

We count miles on a trip, 

we count minutes to the end of a boring lecture. 

We count our change after we make a purchase. 

In some countries, at the beginning of every decade, we count the population. 

What we want to know is what we have at the end of our counting. 

In this week’s Parsha, there is also a lot of counting, 

but the issue is not the totals we have at the end, 

but the manner in which we count. 

The Torah indicates that to count the people, 

each person would bring a half shekel coin to his tribal leader. 

When the coins were counted, one would also know how many people made a contribution. 

Rich people could not bring more money to the count, 

and poor people could not bring less. 

In this count, everyone was equal.

But even more than being equal, 

every Jew counted in the desert was also made to feel individually important. 

They were not just heads that were counted, 

they were people, human beings, 

and each one was unique in their count and in their contribution to the community.

The Torah wants us to know that, 

like every second in a countdown to a launch, 

each person is important in his or her place.

Soon we will observe the festival of Shavuot. 

It is the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. 

It marks the conclusion of the liberation of our people from Egyptian slavery. 

On Pesach we celebrate our freedom from the slave pits of Egypt. 

At the end of Pesach, we remember the miracle that occurred at the Red Sea. 

Finally, on Shavuot, we recognize that true freedom means living by the Law. 

And our Law, the Torah, is given to us by G-d. 


But we did not go from slavery to freedom under the law in just a few days. 


There are seven weeks that separate the two festivals. 

- One cannot be free until one has the law. 

- One cannot observe the law if one is not free. 

Judaism has us count the days, 

all forty nine of them, 

one at a time, 

as we wait with excitement for the next holiday.

Counting the Omer, 

the days between Pesach and Shavuot, 

is not just another countdown. 

Each day is identified not only by what day it is since Pesach, 

but by what week it is as well. 

The rules of counting the Omer state that if, for any reason, you forget to count one day, 

the entire count is forfeited

Each day is important in the count, and we cannot leave any one day out. 

Each day has its unique gift to give us as we make the passage from freedom to law.


There are some important lessons that we can learn from the counting of people and the counting of days. 

First of all, 

we have to remember not to see those around us as just part of a crowd. 

Each person is an individual, with parents who love him, 

who has hopes and dreams that are very similar to our hopes and dreams. 


I read a story recently about three Israeli Rabbis who were sent to a meat packing plant in Argentina to supervise the Kashrut of the plant. 

One day, a terrible accident occurred and all three were trapped inside the large walk-in freezer. 

It was near closing time, and soon everyone in the plant would be going home. They would never survive the night in the freezer. 

Outside, the foreman of the plant was going through the plant to make sure everyone had gone home. 

Convinced the plant was empty; 

he locked the door and headed for the gate. 

The security guard at the gate was very upset. 

“Are you sure everyone is out of the plant?” he asked. 

The foreman shrugged and went back for a second look. 

All was empty. 

Again the security guard confronted the foreman, 

“Please look again”. 

So the foreman went and looked again. 

No one was there. 

For a third time the security guard stood his ground. 

" You have to check to make sure you have not locked anyone inside the plant."

For a third time the foreman went back and three times he found nothing. 

Finally, the foreman said to the security guard, 

“If you think there is someone in the plant, than come with me and see for yourself.” 

The two of them walked through the plant. 

The security guard looked in all the corners and under all the heavy machinery. 

Finally he came to the freezer where the foreman had never looked. 

Opening the door, they found the rabbis barely clinging to life.

After the ambulance had taken them away, the foreman asked the security guard how he knew that someone was still in the plant. 

The security guard said, 

“These three rabbis never failed to say hello to me every morning when they came to work, and they would day good-night to me every day when they left. 

If I was not at my post, they would wait for my return or send me their words of greeting. When they did not stop to see me this evening, I just knew something was wrong.”

This is the power of not taking people for granted. 

The three rabbis were just being kind, and their kindness to a security guard saved their lives. 

Each person we meet, 

no matter who they are, 

how much money they have, 

no matter where they come from 

or how old they are, 

everyone has something to teach us and we need to pay attention. 

Every act of kindness we perform for someone else, can send waves of life throughout all of creation, and may even come back to us in ways we never dreamed.


And it is not just people, but days as well. 

Each day in our life is important.

Parshat Bamidbar is teaching us today to take our counting seriously.


There is more to a calendar than a list of days, 

behind the numbers are hopes and fears 

and the time to accomplish great and wonderful things. 

Bamidbar is about counting, counting coins, 

counting people, 

counting days until the arrival at the Promised Land. 

We too learn to count on our friends, to make out time 

count and be someone in the community who can be counted on.


May G-d teach us to number our days so we may attain a heart of wisdom as we say ... 


Behar Behoukotai

For the last several years, months weeks, we have been living through trying times as Jews!

Life is unusually hard these days. 

There are many things keeping us down. Even the weather this past weeks has been unusually depressing with a lot of rain.

What can we do to break freefrom our collective depression? 

Where do we find meaning in all of this uncertainty? 

How can we embrace and acknowledge the many gifts that surround us each day? 

How do we endeavor to live in world of optimism rather than despair?

I believe that 



and gratitude 

are keys that will unlock the doors of our captivity!

Our parasha teaches us clearly this week, 

"If you obey my laws I shall give you rains in their time. . .

and you will eat your fill of bread, 

and you will live in security in your land, 

and I shall grant peace in the land, 

and you will lie down with no one making you afraid. . . 

I will be ever-present in your midst, and I will be your G-d, and you shall be my people." (Lev. 26:3-6, 12). 

What a profound message of hope especially during these difficult days. 

Our history is full of prolonged periods of darkness. 

Yet through it all, the 

Jewish people have remained loyal, committed in their faith,

not only to G-d, 

but to one another!

Yet faith alone is not enough to draw us out of our depression. 

Hope is not found merely in the words we say. 

Action, too, lifts us up from our despair. 

We find hope in the simple, sacred acts we perform. 

Each time I see parents embracing their children, bestowing their blessing upon them, I find hope.

Each Shabbat I see congregants sitting sitting in the dining room , (sitting in the Shul ) sharing with one another the triumphs and tribulations of the previous week, gaining strength from one another, I find hope. 

Our liturgy declares, 

"May it be your will, Eternal One our G-d. . .that we discipline ourselves in Torah and devote ourselves to Mitzvot." 

Focusing on the good during troubled times, requires tremendous discipline. 

By devoting ourselves to sacred, selfless acts of loving kindness, by maintaining our humanity and our decency, we find rays of hope in our darkened world.

Our Shabbat morning ritual is filled with psalms of praise to G-d.  

By keeping G-D on our lips, we open ourselves to miracles. 

Words of gratitude, I believe, help relieve despair. 

Life is by no means perfect, 

and we may find much desperation. 

All the more reason, 


to find opportunities to celebrate the good in our lives, 

to discover things for which we should be grateful, for if we are not grateful for what we have, and how can we truly live and work in this world! 



Each morning and each evening, the people of the shul’s daily minyan gather for prayer. 

It isn’t exciting. 

The melodies aren’t particularly uplifting. 

Sometimes there is a word of learning, but no sermon.

And at the end of the service, most of the minyan rises to recite Kaddish,

in memory of a loved one recently departed 


recalled at this Yahrtzeit. 

It isn’t exciting. 


in its own way, 

It is profoundly moving and deeply spiritual.

Spirituality today means

emotional experiences of ecstasy and wonder,

peak moments

revealing the Presence of G-D in stirring song, powerful words, and the uplift of a responsive community. 

These are true and significant experiences. 


But there are other kinds of spirituality


The spiritual genius of the minyan is located in a deep experience of the steady, regular unchanging rhythms of life. 

This is a spirituality of constancy and continuity. 

It is unexciting and unremarkable!




supportive context where 

the mourner, 

the bereaved and the broken are lovingly mentored back into life.


Euphoric spirituality is like 

romantic love, 

filling the soul with a burst of light and heat, 

but soon disapear, 

fading away. 

The minyan’s spirituality indicates quiet fidelity and devotion. 


The most powerful expression of the minyan’s spirituality, and the center of its rite, is the recitation of Kaddish

The Kaddish is not about death. 

It contains no mention of death. 

It provides a context in which death can be met and overcome. 

Kaddish is a reaffirmation of faith in G-D, the creator and redeemer. 

For the one shaken by death, the Kaddish provides a way back to 



and life. 


In his moving book, 

Living a Year of Kaddish,

Ari Goldman describes the power of Kaddish as an expression of continuity: 

He writes:

“To me, the hardest thing about dying must be the not knowing the end of the story. 

My mother and father left this world while their grandchildren were small. Maybe kaddish in itself is a kind of afterlife. 

The one thing my parents know with reasonable certainty was that we, their sons, would be saying Kaddish for them. 

They would be gone someday, but their Kaddish would live on. 

I like to think of it as more than a prayer. 

I think of Kaddish as a portal for the dead to connect to life.”


This unique spirituality is born in this week’s Torah portion.


" G-D said to Moses: Speak unto the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them:

" Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a dead person among his people, except to the relative who is closest to him, to his Mother and to his Father, to his Son and to his Daughter, and to the Brother...." (Lev 21:1-2) 


The portion opens with this severe restriction on the service of the priests. It concludes with a detailed description of the priests’ responsibilities at each of the yearly festivals and holiday.


Confronting death brings tumultuous emotions,

rage and bitterness. 


Just as the Kaddish does not mention death, priests did not attend funerals.

For the priest represents the pathway from death back to life, 

he holds open the door from darkness back to light, 

from despair back to hope.

Shabbat Shalom 

Achare Mot/ Kedoshim

How do we prepare for anything of importance in our life? 

First we must prepare ourselves physically and mentally. 

Physically, we put on our gear. 

Mentally, we need a specific mindset.

It is clear that one type of preparation without the other, does not work. 

We actually need both mental and physical preparation for success in anything important in our life.

Our heart should be aligned with our mind. 

It is like the Jewish concept of KAVANAH:

KAVANAH is the Hebrew word for having the intention, 

or inner connection to what we are doing. 

To do this, we need focus and preparation, 

And training is part of the preparation, and 

it is equivalent to the Hebrew word KEVAH.

The partner of KAVANAH is KEVAH, 


KAVANAH ( intention)


KEVAH ( routine ) the fixed and external parts,

Most things that we do with 

kevah, the external preparations, 

and kavanah, the internal intention,

will have a good outcome. 

How can we have one without the other?

In this week's parasha, 

Acharei Mot, 

we read about the rules for Aaron, the High Priest, when he entered the Holy of Holies to get rid of his sins and the sins of the Israelites.

There are many details in the way Aaron physically prepares to enter this holy place. These preparations are external; they are the kevah. 

• Aaron had to put on linen clothing, 

• The fire had to be built in a specific way. 

• He had to sacrifice the bull for atonement of his sins and to sprinkle the bull’s blood on the altar facing the direction toward G-D, sprinkling 7 times. 

All these details were G-d’s directions and they had to be followed specifically or else Aaron would die like his children had. 

Aaron’s sons died for lighting an unauthorized ‘strange fire’ !

G-d also had specific instructions on how to atone for the sins of the Israelites. 

Aaron had to place a lot for the two goats. 

One of the goats was to be for G-d, and the other for Azazel. 

G-d's goat later got sacrificed, 

while the goat marked for Azazel was taken to the wilderness and set free,

This goat carried all the Israelites’ sins.

• What is the internal aspect, 

the kavanah, 

of all these detailed preparations? 

• Why did Aaron have to put on linen clothing, why not leather? 

• What about the goat for Azazel? 

Don’t you think that it is wrong for a goat to carry sins that he didn’t even do? 

We live in a world of personalresponsibility. 

• Aren’t we accountable for our own wrongdoings? 

• So, what is the meaning of all this? 

• Where is the internal meaning, the kavanah in all of these rituals?

The Kavanah comes from our inner-self. 

We are accountable for our own sins. 

G-d probably chose a goat because the goat doesn’t know any better and it doesn’t affect him either, 

he is just going by his instincts. 

The goat was an object for the Israelites to look deeper into themselves and repent.

This parasha is telling us that as long as we really do repent for our sins, then we might be forgiven. 

If you are not repenting from our inner-self, then it is like wasted time and wasted words. 

So as for Azazel’s goat, 

G-d’s intention was to let us know that we can be free of our sins if we repent and really mean it.

The special rituals and sacrifices in this parasha were the external kevah.

The genuine repentant feelings of the High Priest, and of the people of Israel, were the internal kavanah. 

Both kevah and kavanah need each other to co-exist in a balance.

G-d does not care about the offerings from the sacrifices unless the Israelites fear G-d and truly repent for their sins. 

So, G-d wanted a repentance that came from the Israelites hearts, a repentance done with Kavanah.

The Israelites are defrauding G-d, 

but if they turn to G-d, 

then G-d will turn to them: 

“Shuvu Ely veashuva Aleichem.” 

We all prepare for things of importance in our lives. 

Some of us only do the external kevah at times without showing intention. 

Some of us might only have the passion, the kavanah, for things without taking the time for external preparation and all of the details. 

Freedom is important because we have and we want free will. 

This free will gives us the choice of how to prepare, and it gives us options to put our passion into things.

In this parashah, Aaron receives instructions for Yom Kippur. 

G-d tells Aaron that the sacrifices for his sins, and the sins of Israel, will be replaced by a Day of Atonement.  

We need limitations, and we also need to repent when we break them.

The limitations are like the kevah, they are at many times external people or rules telling us how to behave. 

Our free will to choose how we will live, and our ability to think or feel guilty for our wrong-doings is like our Kavanah. 

So in a way, freedom and repentance need each other to co-exist, just like Keva and Kavanah.

As Jewish people, we have learned to prepare both internally and externally, 

in other words:

to feel the Kavanah

and to do the Kevah, 

for what we do in our life.  

I hope we all understood that Aaron’s preparation in today’s Parasha needed to be accompanied by the true feeling of repentance that comes from Kavanah.


TAZRIA, The price for a free speech!


There was a fourteen year old schoolgirl by the name of Hannah Smith.


She was Bright and outgoing, she enjoyed an active social life and seemed to have an exciting future ahead of her.


On the morning of 2 August 2013 Hannah was found hanged in her bedroom. She had committed suicide.


Seeking to understand what had happened, her family soon discovered that she had been the target of anonymous abusive posts on a social network website. 


Hannah was a victim of the latest variant of the oldest story in human history: the use of words as weapons by those seeking to inflict pain. 


The new version is called cyber-bullying.


The Jewish phrase for this kind of behaviour is lashon hara, 


evil speech, 


speech about people that is negative,


It means, quite simply, speaking badly about people, 


the sages regarded it as one of the worst of all sins. 


They said, astonishingly, that it is as bad as the three cardinal sins:


idolatry, murder and incest


The 3 combined. 


More significantly in the context of Hannah Smith they said 

it kills three people, 


the one who says it, 

the one he says it about, 

and the one who listens in.


The connection with this week’s parsha is straightforward. 

Tazria, is about a condition called:




sometimes translated as Leprosy!


The commentators asked themselves:


what is this condition ?




why it should be given such prominence in the torah?


They concluded that it was precisely because it was a punishment for 


lashon hara, derogatory speech.


We can find many evidences in the Torah recording punishment with leprosis, it would be too Long now to enumerate all those evidences!


Why is the Torah so severe about lashon hara,?


branding it, as one of the worst of sins? 


Partly this has deep roots in the Jewish understanding of G-d

and the human condition. 


Judaism is less a religion of holy people and holy places than 

it is a religion of holy words.


G-d created the universe by words: 


“And G-d said, Let there be … and there was.” 

G-d reveals himself in words. 


He spoke to the patriarchs and the prophets and at Mount Sinai to the whole nation. 


Our very humanity has to do with our ability to use language. 


Language is life. 


Words are creative but also destructive. 


One sign of how seriously Judaism takes this is the prayer we say at the beginning and at the end of every Amidah, at least three times a day: 


“Open my lips so that my mouth may declare Your praise,” 


“My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech."


Despite everything, 

lashon hara remained a problem throughout Jewish history and still does today. 


Every leader is subject to it. 


Anyone from CEO to parent to Friend who seeks to be a leader has to confront the issue of lashon hara. 


Some people are envious. 


They gossip. 


They build themselves up by putting other people down. 


Evil speech generates negative energies. 


Cyber-bullying is the latest manifestation of lashon hara


In general the Internet is the most effective distributor of hate-speech ever invented, 


it bypasses the face-to-face , 


encounter that can sometimes 

induce shame, 




The story of Hannah Smith and the other teenage suicides is a tragic reminder of how right the sages were to reject the idea that 


" words can never harm me,” 


and insist to the contrary that 


evil speech kills. 


Free speech is not speech that costs nothing. 


It is speech that respects the freedom and dignity of others. 


Forget this and free speech becomes very expensive indeed.


All of which helps us to understand the biblical idea of tsara’at


People engage in lashon hara because they think they can get away with it.


“It wasn’t me. I never said it. I didn’t mean it. I was misunderstood.” 



To put it at its simplest: as we behave to others so G-d behaves to us. 


Do not expect G-d to be kind to those who are unkind to their fellow humans.



It is written in our Parasha of this week called SHEMINI:




To distinguish between


the holy and the secular!


The problem in the world today is 


that the Jews know how to make kiddush, as we just did before starting to eat, 




They do not know how to make havdalah !


That means, they do not know how to distinguish between the holy and the secular!




One of the most moving rituals of the Jewish week, 

at the arrival of the eighth day, 

is the 

havdalah (“ the separation”) ceremony, 

we bid a sorrowful farewell to the warm comfort of the brief Shabbat with wine, spice and fire. 

the feelings we experience as we go through this act of 


dividing the Sabbath from the rest of the week,

require the wine 

the sweet-smelling fragrances to refresh 


re-invigorate our spirits 

when we sense the leave-taking of the Sabbath Queen.

As we recite the blessing over the fire,

recalling the teaching of our Sages 


fire was created by Adam on that first, primordial Saturday night!

we customarily look at our fingernails. 

Why our fingernails?

The most rational explanation is 

that we can see, in the reflection of the light, 

on one side of our fingers and not on the other, 

The actual power of light to provide enhanced vision.  

The early commentator Rabbi Menahem Meiri (citing the Gaonim) suggests that

when Adam was first created, his entire body was covered with the same strong substance of the fingernails as a protective coat. 

Subsequently, when the forbidden fruit of knowledge of good and evil was eaten, 

this protective coat was removed

with only the finger-nails serving as a reminder of his earlier more protected and invincible state.  

This week's portion of Shemini opens, 

“And it was on the eighth day...."

It looks like everything happened on the eighth day?!

What is the significance of the eighth day, which gives this parasha portion its name?

The “eighth day” is indeed filled with significance. 

Let us return to the initial seven days of creation, when G-d created the heavens and the earth, and all of their hosts. 

On the sixth day He created the human being and placed him,

Adam together with his wife Eve

in the Garden of Eden. 

The first couple sinned by plucking the fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil from off the tree and eating it, 

Dividing good and evil from their Divine source,  

Good and evil became whatever the human being believed is good for him/her, and / or evil for him/her. 

That is why our mystical literature refers to Adam’s sin as his having                

" kitzetz banetiyot "

" removing the seed from its source. "

And so Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.

Then came the first Sabbath Day, 

When each individual can find refuge and comfort under the wings of the Divine Presence, 

the day when G-D especially extends His ‘arms’ to embrace the penitent. 

Indeed the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah) teaches us that Adam recited the Psalm for the Sabbath Day for the first time, 

genuinely uplifted by the understanding that there is a road back to Eden 

and that it was paved with stones of repentance and repair.

And then came the first Saturday night, 

the beginning of the first eighth day. 

In Bereishit Rabbah 11,2 it is written: 

“ This was the first time that darkness began to descend upon the world…. 

And G-D prepared two flint stones for Adam,

Adam rubbed them together and there emerged fire.” 

Therefore, the first ‘eighth’ day is parallel to the very first day: 

on the first day G-d created light for the world, 

and on the eighth day Adam created light and warmth for the world.

But it goes much deeper than that. 

• On the seven days of creation, G-d created a world for the human being to live in.

• On the eighth day Adam discovered,

through fire,

how he could repair and improve that world, 

• re-create that world as a true picture of the Divine. 

Fire is the human response to G-d’s light.  

But fire is a double-edged sword:

- it can strengthen and purify, 


- it can also petrify.

          •  •  •  •  •

- it can bring light and warmth, 


- it can bring cannon fire and nuclear destruction. 

The blessing over fire, 

which attributes fire to its ultimate Divine source, 

must remind us that we must serve G-d in accordance with His Divine laws, 

that we dare not remove our creativity from its Divine direction. 

To do so, would be a repetition of Adam’s original sin.

G-d sent down His Divine light and fire as a sign that He accepted our Sanctuary, 

Human hands created fire

but human hands must use that fire to recreate and not to destroy. 

And therefore we look at our fingers as we make the blessing over fire every Saturday night, 

the beginning of our weekly “eighth day.” 

We are telling ourselves that everything,

the entire future of our lives and our world

lies in our own hands!