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!

Shabat Hol Hamoed Pesach

Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pessah

A Pull to the Past,                                 A Push into the Future!

My laptop computer was old and I wanted to replace it with the latest version!

It made it all the way to three years of age,

Which,  in computer years,  is a fairly average lifespan. 

I decided then to replace it, but not just by another computer, 

replacingitwith a laptop, with of course a MAC version, the latest of the latest, which just came out!

Went to an Apple Store, and ended up waiting over two hours in line for it. 

This, by the way, was weeks after the new model was released. 

But such was the demand and interest for it,  

that people waited patiently outside the store for hours. 

And when I left, the line was no shorter. 

Technology, wears out quick, 


This brings me to the not so insightful observation that our culture and society is fixated constantly on new technologies!

They are in grade 8 and they are already at the point where they can say, 

" When I was a younger, things were different!" 

The truth is the world is changing so quickly, you can be quite a bit younger than my eighth graders and remember a time when technology played a significantly different role in people's lives.

This change is exciting in many ways 

It's driving people to stand in lines for hours outside of Apple stores 

to be a part of it. 

But it also comes with its own set of challenges that affect us deeply, both as Jews but even more broadly as human beings.

And today we can see how one of the things that changed was that:

older people now turn to younger people to teach them. 

So grandparents are asking grandchildren for help. 

While there have been instances of revolutions led by the young before, 

their normal pattern has been for information and wisdom 


teaching to go from older generation to the younger. 

Parents teach their children and teachers their students. 

In that way, when one is looking for guidance and answers one is accustomed to looking historical precedent for wisdom. 

If an individual wants to learn something, they go to sources within a tradition. 


But the world that we live in now is not memory-oriented, it is future oriented.

If there is a problem or an issue, then we will soon develop a solution to it.

Our world is filled with a tension between reverence for the old and eager anticipation for the new

And that tension actually finds an expression of sorts in Passover.

• On the one hand, 

Passover is a time for powerful memory and recollection. 

It is a holiday dedicated to the telling of a story. We were slaves in Egypt and G-D freed us. 

• On the other hand though, 

Passover is not just about the past, it is about the future. 

Redemption is always future oriented. 

Redemption means to look with hope at a better world, a world to come. 

For the ancient Israelites, the Exodus was not just the end of slavery. 

It was the beginning of freedom and a new life. 

Not long after the Exodus, the Israelites were at Sinai and there received the laws that would be the building blocks of all future Jewish communities. 

Passover is a time of looking ahead. 

As we started Passover, we look not just backwards, but forward. 

We count the omer, which began the second night of Passover, as we just did a few days ago. 

We count for seven weeks until we get to Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the giving of the Ten Commandments. 

Passover looks back, but it also looks forward.

And the lesson to be learned from that is that we benefit from such a tension: 

a pull to the past and a push into the future. 

We gain immensely from studying the wisdom of earlier generations. 

That's why the rabbis taught that one of the most important commandments given was

 "Honor your father and mother." 

The study of Torah gives us sensitive, Jewish eyes with which to view the world. 

It teaches us to look out for the "orphan, the widow and stranger," that is, the most vulnerable members of society. That is a lesson to apply today—that no society can be just unless it cares for all of its members. The Torah teaches us that each person was created "B'tzelem Elohim," in the image of God, and therefore we ought to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Ancient Jewish practice, going all the way back to Abraham says that 

our homes should be open to guests, 

that hospitality is one of the greatest blessings. 

And yet they don't fully satisfy us, nor should they. 

The rabbis taught, "Who is rich? 

The one who is content with what one already has." 

After fulfilling our needs, it is good to be content and not always want more things, more fame, more power, or whatever it is. 

But a measure of discontent can be a good thing too. 

It propels us to make changes for the better. 

We can strive for better

 to make ourselves better and make our communities better. 


This Passover season, may we learn from the past to create a better future, that together we can all progress towards the Promised Land.

Shabat Hagadol

Shabbat HaGadol, 

loosely translated in English as the “Great Sabbath,” 

falls on the Shabbat preceding Passover, 

which is where we find ourselves this evening. 

According to Jewish law, it is on Shabbat HaGadol that we observe the beginning of the process of the Israelites redemption from Egypt. 

We are instructed to study the laws of Passover and there is even a tradition of reading portions of the haggadah as a rehearsal for the upcoming seder. 

The reasoning for this, is to familiarize ourselves with the content of the haggadah, 

so that we show up to the seder prepared with our questions and our answers. 

Like most ritual and religious experience, the more preparation we do the more meaning we may find. 

It is with this in mind that I want to share with you this evening some thoughts on the content in our haggadah that we will read at our Passover seder next Monday evening.

I began thinking about the story we encounter in the haggadah after I met with a man who told me he was an atheist. 

“Even though I don’t believe in G-D, I care about Jewish tradition,” 

he told me.

And then he shared that Passover is his Favourite holiday. 

In fact, it seemed to me his passion for the Passover seder was almost equal to his passion for atheism. 

So I asked him, 

" How do you relate to all the talk of G-D in the Passover Haggadah? "

" And he said to me, 

“Oh we just don’t make a big deal about those parts.”

Themes of slavery and freedom are more tangible and more easily applied to all the social injustices we face today. 

Yet, if we skip over the G-D parts we risk not fulfilling our main obligation of the Passover seder, which is to tell the story of the Exodus. 

A story, where it is hard to ignore G-D! 

A story, where it is impossible to ignore G-D!

The biblical commandment of how to observe Passover calls on us to,

" tell your child on that day, saying, ‘Because of that which G-d did for me when I went out from Egypt.” (Exodus 13:8) 

According to this text G-D is the main protagonist,

G-D is the mover,

G-D is the shaker, 

If we were to look through our haggadah we may find that their is actually too much G-D to ignore.

The text says, 

“ Hashem Brought Us Out of Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm and with great awe and with signs and wonders.” 

G-D is behind the 10 plagues according to the haggadah, 

“These are the 10 plagues that the holy one of blessing brought upon the Egyptians of Egypt.” 

G-D is the star of one of the famous Passover songs, Dayeinu

• " If he had brought us out of Egypt and not brought judgment upon them…Dayeinu (it would have been enough…” 

• If G-D had given us Shabbat (dayeinu). It would have been enough

 • if G-D had given us the Torah…dayeinu.

It is up to us to bring about redemption to those who are not yet free. 


Our Rabbinic ancestors suggested

 that G-D is only as powerful as our willingness to acknowledge G-D.

In a commentary on this topic they wrote,

“ G-D saves us, 

but acknowledgment of G-D provides redemption.” 

The Kotzker Rebbe teaches, 

“Where is G-D?

 Wherever we let G-D in.” 

May we enter Pessah this year with our hearts and minds open to the retelling of our people’s journey from a narrow place to an expanded place filled with possibility.


Let me share with you a story that I hope will throw a little light on the extraordinary story of Pessah as a festival,




What it teaches us about,


Jewish identity and Jewish history.


Some years ago, I was watching a documentary on Discovery Channel.


It was about the great Temples built by Ramses the 2nd,


The Pharaoh of Egypt,


That many people think that he was the Pharaoh of 




of the Pessah story,


And it showed the extraordinary Temples he built, 


And they are still there today!


For a while, I was carried along by the enthusiasm of the document!


All of a sudden, I stopped and said to myself:


Hang on! 


Who built those Temples?


Your ancestors,

My ancestors,

Our ancestors!


These were the slaves who built those Temples for Ramses the 2nd!


And I suddenly wondered:


What would it be like if we could get back in time,


And actually meet Ramses the 2nd and I imagined myself saying:


" Oh Almighty Ramses, I am a visitor from 3.300 years in the future

and I have for you some good news and I have for you some bad news! "



And curious he might say:


" OK, what is the good news? "


" Oh Almighty Ramses, there is a Civilisation living now, that will be still alive and strong 330 centuries from now! "


" and what is the bad news? "


" it is not going to be You ! "


Then my answer:


" Ramses, you see those slaves in the distance, building your Temples,


Those people you call Hebrews,


They are going to be alive and everything they believe is still going to be strong 330 centuries from now! "


It would sound like a big drama!!!


Ramses the 2nd was 

The greatest leader of the longest lived Empire of the ancient world!


And the Jews, the minority's,

Who lost their dignity !!!


So, how was it that this tiny people were able to survive,


And such an Empire disappeared from the pages of history?


Well of course there is an answer!


Ancient Egypt and Ancient Israel were 2 Civilizations that asked the deepest questions that any of us could ask:


" How in this short spine of years that we call a life, can we achieve immortality? "


The Egyptians gave an answer:


To achieve immortality by building monuments of stones that outlive time,


And in a sense they were right,


The buildings are still there!




The Civilisation and the values for what they lived disappeared Long ago!



Ancient Israel said NO!


To become immortel, you do not need to built monument of stones,


The only thing to do is to engrave the values on your heart of your children and they on their's


and so on across the centuries of time.


Jews built living minds!


How did they do it?


In the process handing their story on to the next generation.


That is what we do on Pessah,



We give the next generation the gift of the Jewish story


and that turned to be longer lasting than the biggest Empire,

The greatest monuments!


Suppose this seder night we too are a part from this miracle,


The endless story of the Jewish people seeking freedom in the promise land,










This week we begin the third book of our Torah,

the book of Vayikra, 

the book of Leviticus.  

And unfortunately, many people consider this the boring book of the Torah.  

Or one of the boring books of the Torah,

But, surprisingly

or maybe not surprisingly, 

I don’t agree with that assessment.  

And I think that if you look at the first two chapters of this week’s Torah portion, we can actually get something quite important.  

In fact, traditionally, many years ago, I still remember, when I was a young child, 

and we were taught Torah for the very first time, 

Vayikra was the very first book that we started with. 

We did not start with Bereshit, , Genesis, 

We started with Vayikra, 

Then Bamidbar, Numbers, and Devarim, Deuteronomy, 

and only then, went back and did BereshitGenesis and Shemot, Exodus.

So I just want everyone to just, for one second, put yourself in a mindset of having not really learned much about Judaism yet, 

and you open your Torah commentaries 

or you open the Torah to this week’s parashah and

the first two chapters of Vayikra are the first things that you ever learn.  

What are you going to take away from those two chapters?  

What are you going to think are the most important lessons that you could know about Judaism?

So the first two chapters of Vayikra, and actually the first chapters of our entire parashah, 


deal all with sacrifices.  

It is a list, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph, of the different sacrifices that the ancient Israelites brought to the temple to atone for different things, just as offerings for thanks to God throughout the year, 

So what do we learn from that? 

If it’s a list of sacrifices for the first two chapters, what do we take away from it?  

I think there are two important lessons that we learn from this.


The first important lesson is that ritual services connect us to the divine.  

Ritual is our entry point to a relationship with God. 

Sacrifices in this week’s parashah are expressed all, every single one of them, as some type of call to G-D. 

A thank you, 

a request, 

every single one represents 

“now we are having a conversation with the Divine.”  

And in fact, the word for sacrifice in Hebrew, korban

actually comes from the Hebrew root, karov, which means “to come close to.”  

And so we are using these sacrifices as a method of bringing us closer establishing a connection with G-D.

Now we today do not practice sacrifices, as modern Jews.  But we instead substitute the ritual of prayer. 

And so if we think about 

sacrifice as a metaphor and prayer as our ritual, 

we learn that

organized prayer brings us closer to G-D.  

The 2nd Lesson we learn: 

if we look a little bit further into the second chapter of Vayikra, 

we read a verse that says:

when you bring a grain offering to G-D, you should not include any leaven or any honey (Lev. 2:11).  

No leaven and no honey.  

Why do we think that those are the two things that are restricted?  

What could leaven and honey represent? 

Honey is sweetness, 

and Leaven means bread the stuff you use to make bread rise, 

a kind of filler.


When I think about those two, sweetness and filler, 

I think of something to make it more attractive!

When we bring a sacrifice, 

it should not be embellished.  When we come close to G-D we should not come with our embellishments, our decorations!

We should come only as our pure selves.  

And I mean that not in a clean or unclean kind of way, 

but I mean as our true selves.

And especially as we think about the holiday of Pesach, 

when we know that during the holiday of Passover we clean our homes of leaven, 

we get rid of all the extra , 

all of the stuff that seems heavy and puffy 

and we try to return to a sense of who are we, 

what is our most important value, 

and on Passover 

we remind ourselves that our most important value is freedom 

and we thank G-D for that gift of freedom.

two lessons.  

On the one hand, 

organised prayer brings us closer to G-D, 

and on the other hand, 

when we do come close to G-D, 

we should come as our true selves.  

So what do these mean to us today?  

Every week we experience the tragedy of a senseless killing of children, adults anywhere ,any places in the world!

And we think about hearing those  news, how do we react to that?  

There are some of us who have the great gift of being able to react to that tragedy with spontaneous prayer and spontaneous connection to G-D, 

to give us the comfort the strength 


to give us the opportunity to try and make sense of this awful, awful event.

But then are some of us who may not be able to connect immediately, 

And for us, we need the organised ritual.  

We need to be here tonight and sing prayers with each other 

to be with each other,

to experience the connection that is going to help us get through those tragedies.


And so I would like to end with the lessons of Vayikra.  

May we all be together experience  G-D together, 

and find

our true selves.


An Easier Way to Achieve Redemption

This week a friend gave me a beautiful present:  

a children’s book by Mordecai Gerstein called, 

“The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.”

This book tells the story of Philippe Petit and his daring, death defying walk between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974.

Many of you are probably familiar with this story. 

• Some of you might have read about it afterwards.

• Others may have seen the Oscar winning film based upon this walk.

Here is a brief recap of the story. 

Philippe Petit was a street performer in Paris and an expert tightrope walker. 

Soon after the Twin Towers were built he snuck into the towers as a construction worker and in the middle of the night carried up a 500 pound cable. 

He shot an arrow between the towers with a rope attached to it. 

Using that rope he strung the cable which was only 5/8 of an inch thick in between the two buildings.

He walked onto the cable just as New Yorkers were coming to work that morning and spent nearly an hour on the cable where he walked, jumped, and danced before he walked off the cable and was arrested by police officers.

After reading this book, I became fascinated by the story. 

I wanted to understand how Philippe Petit felt to be alone up on the wire?

I wanted to understand how Philippe Petit felt up there spiritually?

I believe that after reading such a story, most of us would wonder why one would do this?????

Philippe Petit has said that when he was on the wire, 

as the helicopters buzzed above him, 

and the police shouted at him on their bullhorns, and the crowds gathered below him, 

he simply lay down on the wire. And when he did so he said, 

“I felt totally free. No one could touch me. I was with the birds.”


That moment of freedom is what we search for our entire lives. 

We live our lives seeking a sensation that we can call freedom or redemption.

Philippe Petit found his freedom up on a wire in the middle of the sky. 

But that is an approach to achieving redemption that is definitely not recommended for most people.


Our Torah portion of this week is about REDEMPTION

However, it shows us an easier way to achieve redemption.

At its core Sefer Shemot, which we will finish this Shabbat is about how to achieve redemption. 

In English we call this book,Exodus, 

but the great Ramban calls this book, Sefer Geula, or the Book of Redemption.

This book from beginning to end is the blueprint for how to achieve redemption. 

The book starts with the children of Israel being enslaved in Egypt and ends with the following scene, which is a scene of total redemption (Exodus 40:34, 38): 

Vayechas he-anan et ohel moed uchevod Hashem maleh et hamishkan, 

and the Cloud covered the tent of the meeting and the Glory of G-D filled the Tabernacle….

ki anan Hashem al hamishkan yomam ve esh tehiyeh lailah bo le-ene chol beit yisrael bechol maase hem, 

for the Cloud of Hashem was above the Tabernacle by day, and fire on it at night, in front of the eyes of all of Israel in all their journeys.” 

Just like Sinai, this moment was redemption for all of Israel; they all witnessed the Cloud and the Glory of G-D


So how did the benei yisrael achieve this redemption?

In answer to this question there are two points that I want to emphasize as keys to the redemption of the benei yisrael and which are also keys to our own redemption.

Point number one:

At the end of our portion we are told that Hashem told Moshe to erect the Mishkan on the first day of the month of Nissan,

beyom hachodesh harishon, be-echad lachodesh takim et mishkan ohel moed.

There is a dispute amongst the rabbis as to how exactly to interpret this command. 

But the common interpretation is as follows (see Ramban 40:2):

The first day of Nissan, the day Moshe was told to put up the Mishkan, is also known as 

the 8th day of the miluim, the inauguration of the Temple. 

This means that when Moshe built the Mishkan on the 8th day of the inauguration or the first day of Nissan, he was basically putting up a grand opening sign saying, “The Mishkan is now open for business.”

Prior to this, for one week, beginning on the 23rd of Adar, Moshe was inaugurating the Mishkan. 

For that entire seven day period Moshe was building the Mishkan and taking it down by himself every single day. 

According to one opinion in the Midrash he built it and took it down twice a day. But according to Rabbi Chaninah Hagadol who is also quoted in the Midrash, Moshe built it and took it down three times a day, meaning Moshe built and took down the Mishkan 21 times during the week of miluim

Just think about building your sukkah and how hard that is, and imagine something much, much more difficult to build, and now imagine doing that 3x a time a day for seven days straight. 

This is what Moshe had to do before the Mishkan could be open for business.

What was the purpose of this? Why the need for him to do this over and over again?

The goal of Moshe was not just to build the Mishkan; it was to build the mishkan in such a way that the Glory of G-D would dwell within it. Moshe wanted to achieve a great spiritual connection with Hashem.

By building the Mishkan three times a day, Moshe was teaching us a spiritual lesson which is axiomatic to Judaism; 

the path to great moments of redemption can only come through

repetitive efforts


consistent hard work. 

Spiritual success requires an enormous commitment and effort.


Think about our high wire act person, Philippe Petit. 

He didn’t show up and walk across the Towers and feel free. 

- He meticulously planned his daring deed for six years.-

- He studied every aspect of the Towers.

- He built a model of the Towers.

- He rented helicopters to observe the space.

- He spoke with physicists.

- He planned and rehearsed 

for the moment with the recognition that his life depended on success.

This is the same approach we should take to spirituality. 

What is required for spiritual success is constant, 

daily commitment and preparation, 

just like the commitment that Moshe had in building the Mishkan.

This is what Moshe required from himself and this is what he was trying to teach benei yisrael. 

And this is what we should require of ourselves. 

That is the first path to redemption that I wanted to speak about today.


But there is a second path to redemption that is also seen from Parshat Pekudei. 

Lets go back to the story of Philippe Petit. 

Although Philippe Petit achieved his moment of freedom and although his story seems harmless and fun, there is still one strange element,

There are no videos of his walk between the towers.

Just still pictures.

What happened was a person carried the video cameras onto the roof of the building but then he was too tired to video the walk.

Can you imagine if this had been done today? His walk would have easily been videoed and it would have been on youtube instantly. And then it would have gone viral in minutes.

Now on the one hand there is nothing wrong with that. But on the other hand, there is something immodest and anti-spiritual about our entire youtube society today. 

It has become a youtube culture with individuals constantly promoting themselves by performing weird acts and posting it to youtube.

The youtube culture is a culture that promotes the individual. 

And while it is possible for an individual to achieve redemption, 

this week’s parshah tells us that there is a better path to redemption. 

Parshat pekudei teaches us that the path to redemption of the individual comes not through a glorification of the individual but through the individual’s communal participation.

The word pekudei can mean to count. 

   as in,

eleh pekudei hamishkan, 

these are the countings of the mishkan. 

The Torah ends the Book of Redemption with a meticulous counting of all the gold, silver, and materials used in the mishkan.

This is a seemingly tedious way to end a book of redemption. Wouldn’t we expect a more exciting, Hollywood-like ending? 

But instead we are seeing a counting of all the silver and gold that was spent. 

So the answer is that is what the word pekudei can also mean to redeem.

At the beginning of Exodus, Hashem tells Moshe go tell the Jewish people (3:16), “pakod pakadati etchem, I will redeem you.” Here the word pekod means to redeem.

And Moshe understood the meaning of these words. He understood that pakod means a redemption that comes through 

a communal counting of the people.

This is the message of Parshat Shekalim. It states in Parshat Shekalim that everyone must give a half shekel coin in order to be counted, “bifkod otam.” But we can also read it as saying that everyone must give a half shekel in order to be redeemed.

In other words the redemption of the individual comes not through the glorification of the individual 

but through the participation in the communal building of a meaningful entity.

So when G-D told Moshe say to the children of Israel, “pakod pakadati etchem— I will redeem you.” 

He is saying tell them that I will redeem you when you commit to something much larger than each of you.

That is a fundamental message of redemption—the path to 

an individual’s redemption is through a community.

Right after he was arrested for performing his high-wire act, Petit was asked: 

“Why did you do it?” And he answered, “There is no why.”

He is right. 

We should not ask why the soul seeks redemption. 


we should ask how we can achieve it.

And we can achieve it. 

All it takes is a constant commitment to the hard work of spirituality and a dedication to the recognition that our individual redemption will come through a communal redemption. 

And if we understand those two ideas then the path to redemption is very much achievable.




This Shabbat is called:



Meaning to remember!


In the Maftir for this special Shabbat Zachor we read,


"Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt." (Deut. 25:17)


There is a danger in not remembering Amalek, 

In not confronting the reality of anti-Semitism, 


But, there is a danger, in being too sensitive to the presence of antiSemitism, 


this too poses danger to the very health of the Jewish people and to its future.


Professor Alfred Sabin, the inventor of the live polio vaccine, 


who later became the president of the Weitzman Institute in Israel, 


in an interview, provided us with a dramatic metaphor for this danger. 


He said:


"Judaism came to me through my left eye. When I was a child in Poland, nonJewish children threw stones at me and I became blind in my right eye."


Well, too many Jews are conditioned to look at the world only 

through one eye, 

the eye of anti-Semitism.


They see Jewish history as one long account of suffering and persecution. 


They are constantly on the lookout for every manifestation of Jewish hatred, 


As a consequence, 


such Jews have lost their perspective on Jewish life, 


and no longer see the totality of the Jewish experience.


They have no idea of the richnessand fulfillment that Judaism has to offer, 


for they are blind to the positive aspects of the Jewish experience.


There is an interesting MIDRASH which speaks to this issue.


It points out that there is another commandment which also begins with the word ZAKHOR,


"ZAKHOR ET YOM HASHABBAT L'KADSHO - "remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy."


The MIDRASH makes the following observation:


"One cannot compare the two commandments. 



'' remember the Sabbath Day " 

is a cup of sweet wine. 


" Remember what Amalek did to you" is a cup of vinegar.


This MIDRASH indicates the twofold nature of Jewish life. 


Jews have a bitter responsibility to remain sensitive to the forces of evil, to remember the Holocausts of history. 


However, this is the vinegar of our lives.


But for a Jew to maintain that the totality of being a Jew is to be found in how we react to anti-Semitism!


We must never forget that Jews find it worthwhile to survive in hostile world 


because Jews retain the memory of the Sabbath.


Through observing the Sabbath the Jew is reminded of the commandments, and of the ideals of the Torah.


By observing the Sabbath he is reminded of 


the creation and the Creator, 


of the holiness of life, 



of the richness of Jewish family living.


On the Sabbath, 

attendance at the synagogue brought the Jew into meaningful contact with fellow Jews, enabling him or her to feel a part of the Jewish community, past, present and future.


And the study of Torah, 


both on the Sabbath and in the course of the week, 


enable the Jew to better understand the role of the Jew, in God's world. 


The Jew not only tasted the vinegar of Jewish history, 

he drank the sweet wine of Judaism.


As Jews, as parents, and grandparents, we have the difficult task of presenting a balanced view of Judaism to our children,


enabling them to look at Judaism through both eyes. 


We must teach them 


ZAKHOR - "remember the AMALEKS of history. 


ZAKHOR, remember that it can happen here. 


And that it is their responsibility, not only to remember, but to do all in their power to prevent it from ever happening again to any people.


But at the same time we must teach them, 


by example, 


that to be a Jew is a real privilege. 


To be a Jew is to be a member of an eternal people that is vital and creative. 




to be a Jew is to have an heritage that is ancient and meaningful. 



Tomorrow night is Purim,


We will read of the anti-Semite Haman and his attempt to destroy all the Jews of Persia, 


but we also celebrate the victory we had and Haman's death.


Would like to inform you that on Sunday morning we will proceed with Shacharith at 8:00 am and reading of the meguila of Esther,


At 11:00 am at our school in Sembawang the Candy world party, all the kids will be in costumes, and Hamentashen is in the menu


Please come and bring your children, grandchildren, the all Family!


Let us see the fun in Judaism,

 It is our requirement to do so!



SHABBAT ZAKHOR has an important message for us. 


As Jews we must never forget the AMALEK of anti-Semitism which threatens to destroy us. 


We must fight against evil. But we must also remember 

the Sabbath of Jewish experience, the holiness of Jewish life, 

its fulfillment and inspiration, 


so that we will be nourished by the sweet wine of our heritage, which will refresh us and sustain us on the road of life.


TERUMAH, this week's parasha explains in the deepest details how to build the sanctuary.


“The House We Build Together”.

It’s not so much WHAT we build, 

but HOW we build which tells of our character.  

“V’asu Li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham.”  

“Make for me a sanctuary,” 

God says, 

“so that I may dwell among them.”  How do we build?

WHAT we build will be beautiful and environmentally-responsible.  

But HOW we build will be transformative.  

This is the wisdom of our parashah.  

God instructs us:  “Make for me a sanctuary,

” God says,

" so that I may dwell among you.”  

The emphasis is not on the noun, 

but on the verb.  

Not on the thing, 

but the action.  

You see, 

SOME people WILL be attracted to a beautiful building.  


EVERYONE is attracted to a community that BUILDS TOGETHER.  

That is where the sanctity lies.  

Not in the tent pegs, 


in the COMING TOGETHER over the tent pegs:  

Not what we build, but how we build.


" Ner Hashem nishmat adam chofesh kol chadrei baten "

the lamp of the Eternal is the soul of man, searching all its inner chambers’ (Proverbs 20:27).


To be clear, Judaism has always been and must always be a religion of DEEDS, 

A sacred collection of actions intended to draw us closer to one another and to our G-D. 


 HOW WE build THIS SACRED SPACE together be in the spirit of our parasha, 

so that God’s Presence will indeed be among us.