April 20, 2017
Our Torah portion this week is called Sh'mini, which literally translates as "eighth".
Our parasha records the untimely deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest and the nephews of Moshe. G-d took the lives of Nadav and Avihu for being inebriated while offering sacrifices. The midrash recounts the story of Nadav and Avihu believing that being drunk enhanced their religious experience and purposefully becoming shikker before administering the sacrifices. From here we learn that we must always approach G-d "with clean hands and pure hearts".
It is noteworthy that the Torah records Aaron's response to his sons deaths as "vayidom Aharon", and "Aaron was silent."
I write these words as we approach Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It has been said that the troubled world emulated Aaron's silence when it came to the murder of millions of our brothers and sisters.
There is a time for silence. There is also a time for shouting and screaming. In the post-Holocaust world, since the establishment of the State of Israel, we Jews have learned to raise our voices loud. May we Jews continue to raise our voices in combating injustice in our fragile world.
April 14, 2017
This year it seems that the in word for Pesach 5777/2017 is
"kitniyot", which translates as "legumes." The issue of whether one can or cannot eat kitniyot on Pesach is one of the strangest aspects of Jewish law.
In the Talmud we are told that there are only five grains that can become chometz, (forbidden Passover foods) and thus are prohibited on Pesach. The five grains are: wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. Nothing else can become chometz, with the Gemorah clearly telling us that rice and millet and kitniyot can never become chometz. In general, kitniyot are those seeds or beans which look a little like grain and which need to be cooked to be eaten. These, the Talmud clearly tells us, are permitted on Pesach. And yet, having said that, sometime, some place in France at the beginning of the 13th century the custom developed not to eat kitniyot on Pesach. And this custom spread throughout the Ashkenazic communities of Eastern Europe. However, Jews of Sephardic origins continued to eat kitniyot during Peach.
The United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) is the umbrella organization to which our Shul belongs. Through its Committee on Law and Standards, a ruling has been adopted permitting the consumption of kitniyot on Pesach for Jews of Ashkenazic descent, subject to the approval of the rabbi of the synagogue with which one affiliates.
There are many labels one attaches to a rabbi. Of course there are Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, Haredi, Renewal, and Humanistic rabbis. And there are left and right rabbis, and egalitarian rabbis and many other types of rabbis. Now there are pro-kitniyot rabbis and anti-kitniyot rabbis.
Come to Shul this Shabbat, and although we won't be serving kitniyot for kiddush, I will firmly declare myself as either in favour or against kitniyot on Pesach.
Chag Pesach Sameach
March 23, 2017
Our Shabbat this week has the special name of Shabbat HaChodesh. For in addition to our regular Torah portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei, we have a special maftir reading to mark the beginning of the new month of Nissan.
Nissan is the first biblical month and really begins a countdown to the holy days of Passover. The special passage we read contains both the story and various laws of Pesach, connecting us to our ancient past and prodding us to accelerate our Passover preparations.
For many in our community this Pesach of 2017 threatened to start in a "dark" way. It seems that Alectra Utilities (formerly Powerstream), had issued a notice to a number of local residences advising of planned system maintenance and upgrades during the first two weeks of April, 2017. These updates would have resulted in temporary power outages for a large number of members of our kehilla and Jewish community. Indeed darkness threatened to plague our local Pesach Seder!
I am very happy to announce that our own Beit Rayim member and local MPP Gila Martow, publicly expressed the community's concerns with the timing of the proposed outages and explained the impact they would have on those celebrating Passover.
This has resulted in Alectra graciously offering to accommodate the community's needs and has pledged that outages will not occur until after the holidays. They promised that outages will not start any earlier than April 19th. Kudos to Gila for averting this contemporary "passover plague".
As Peach approaches, I remind you that I will be leading our Beit Rayim Communal Seder on the First Night of Pesach. I would love to have you join us.
If you need a place for a seder or you have room for more at your home, please contact Elinor in our office and I will make every effort to accomodate your needs.
March 16, 2017
I often receive calls, especially before shabbat, asking me to pray on someone's behalf. I always answer affirmatively but encourage the individual to come to shul themselves and that G-d will certainly listen to their own prayers before someone else praying on their behalf. It seems that this week's Torah portion disagrees with me.
The Torah portion this week is called Ki Tissa and contains a momentous event in time that I've never really been able to clearly understand. The Jews have worshipped the Golden Calf. G-d tells Moshe that he is going to wipe out the entire Jewish people and start all over again. Moshe prays on behalf of the Jewish people. Moshe says to G-d: "You can't do this! If you wipe them out what will the nations of the world say? They will say you took them out of Egypt, but for what reason? Just to kill them yourself! G-d, don't do it ... you're going to give yourself a bad name!"
And G-d forgives the people:
"Vayomer Hashem solachti kidverocha - I forgive them as you say."
Do you recognize those words? We say them every year on Yom Kippur. According to tradition, this incident took place on Yom Kippur.
Thousands of years later I still don't get it! The Jews have sinned after the miracles of the plagues and the splitting of the sea and the revelation at Sinai ... the Jews go and worship a Golden Calf? G-d wants to destroy them, but Moshe asks: "How will that look?"
And G-d responds: "What a terrible mistake I almost made!"
God is forgiving the Jewish people not for their prayers ... but because of Moshe's prayers!
So it looks like someone praying for us does work!
Is that how prayer works? Come to shul this week and discover the answer for yourself."
March 9, 2017
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. Occurring annually on the Sabbath that precedes Purim, we are commanded to remember Amalek, the ancestor of Haman, whose memory we will blot out during the reading of the Megillah. Amalek and Haman are the archetypes of the villains of the Jewish people; who, in the words of the Megillah:
"desire to kill and obliterate all of the Jews, from young to old."
So this is the Shabbat that rabbis through the years have used to focus on the never ending problem of anti-semitism. As I look back in my files, that has not been a problem on which I usually focus. But this year is different. Come and listen to my words this Shabbat and you will understand why!
The Torah reading this week is T'tzavveh from Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus. "T'tzavveh" means "you shall command", referring to when G-d told Moshe to command B'nai Yisrael to kindle the eternal light and to keep it constantly burning in the Tabernacle providing continuous light. The appearance of this light was designed to remind the people of G-d's omniscience.
Though most of the facets of the ancient sacrificial institution disappeared in 70 CE with the fall of the Second Temple, the mitzvah of erecting the Eternal Light has remained with the Jewish people ever since. Every synagogue boasts the presence of a Ner Tamid over the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark, of one design or another. Though the observance of much of Judaism in the synagogue is time-oriented, the presence of the Eternal Light serves to remind us that the most treasured things transcend time and remain with us always.The presence of G-d, godliness and goodness knows no bounds; it can inspire us whenever we are ready to embrace their powers. Similarly is the presence of love, forgiveness, atonement, repentance, growth, faith and hope in our lives. These pursuits know no limitations. Forever right and present is the moment to improve ourselves, repair our lives and better the world around us. The consistency of the Eternal Light reminded our ancestors of these truths. So may this wondrous light do the same for us. May the most precious things in life be found accessible to us when we need them the most!
Our Beit Rayim community emulates the elements represented by the eternal light.The overwhelming response to the request I sent asking you to help a community member in need is a testament to this fact. As I write these words I hear Steffi's voice asking how will she ever thank so many people for all the mitzvahs they sent her way.thanks necessary, I told Steffi. Many did it because they know you and love you and the rest because they are members of a special community called Beit Rayim, and we know that it is the right thing to do.
May Shabbat Zachor inspire us to remember and not to forget how precious each one of us is and how much each one of us can affect our people and the world for good. May Parshat Tetzaveh inspire us to remember, and not to forget to continue the sacred work of purifying ourselves and the world around us.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach to all!
March 2, 2017
Our Torah portion this morning is called T'rumah and describes the building of the Tabernacle and all the vessels necessary for its use. We are told of the construction of the Ark for the Ten Commandments, of the altar for the sacrifices, of the laver for the washing and of a myriad of holy items. But there is one item listed that seemingly has no purpose. That is the Keruvim. The Torah tells us: "And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, screening the Ark cover with their wings, with their faces one to another toward the Ark cover shall the faces of the cherubim be ... and there I will meet you and I will speak with you from above the Ark cover from between the two cherubim which are upon the Ark of testimony."
In some ways we are being told that the cherubim were the holiest spot in the Temple. This is where G-d communicates with us. But what were these cherubim? We are told that each one had faces (most believe it was the faces of babies), but we're not sure if it was of a human or an angel. We are told their faces turned toward each other and that their wings touched. What does this all mean? We don't really
know! But one of the more insightful interpretations tells us that the cherubim had the
faces of children, to teach us that when it comes to Torah and when it comes to knowledge, we are all children. None of us knows enough ... none of us knows it all.
Reb Simcha Zisl of Kelm, a great teacher of Musar in the 19th century, in pointing this out, goes on to say that this is why Torah scholars are not called chachamim - "wise people" - but Talmidei chachamim -"students of the wise." We all have to learn from others. Incredibly, Reb Simcha Zisl goes on to quote Socrates who once said: "The wise all believe they must know the answers to whatever questions are
posed to them. Yet, from my own wisdom I have learned how ignorant I am." How important it is to learn from the cherubim not to turn our faces from each other! There is much we can learn from each other. Even more important, we are told that the wings of each of the cherubs touched each other. When it comes to action, we all have to stand united despite our differences.
Beit Rayim member Dr. Norman Epstein is a man of action. A former leader in the Canadian Darfur Movement, Norman embodies the highest elements of Tikun Olam, of helping to repair our fragile world. In a recent edition of the Canadian Jewish News, Norman outlines the Jewish imperative to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Please read Norman's article at: www.cjnews.com/perspectives/jewish-duty-speak-out-south-sudan
Norman will be delivering the sermon this shabbat morning.
February 23, 2017
In choosing the names for each of the 54 Torah portions the sages looked for the first important word in each sedra. This week's portion is called Mishpatim.
Mishpatim are laws which are easily understood and are different from chukim, which have no definitive or discernible reason for following them.
The portion of Mishpatim includes many laws which are the basis for the civil law systems adopted by several western countries. It is interesting that the parasha begins with the words "And these are the laws". The rabbis ask why the first word is "and"? The word "and" implies a connection to what came before. Rashi, the great biblical scholar, explains that in last week's portion we witnessed the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. Rashi writes that we must realize that these civil laws, these mishpatim, were also given at Sinai and ordained by G-d.
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat of the Half-Shekel. Thematically, it teaches us that during Temple times, the collection of the half-shekel conveyed a great sense of equality to the Israelites. Concerning this collection...no one could give more; no one could give less. Everyone felt a sense of equal participation in supporting the work of the Temple. Everyone felt a connection and that they belonged! I hope that all of us feel strong and equal connections to Beit Rayim. Though we are unique and treasured as individuals, we are also all welcome and treasured as equals!
February 16, 2017
he Torah portion this week contains that awe-inspiring, historic moment in time when the Jewish people received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai; the 162 words that changed the course of human history, given amidst thunder and lightning and the sound of the shofar. The Torah tells us something rather strange and remarkable: "V'chol ha-am roim et hakolot - and all the people saw the words that Moshe said."
The obvious question is: shouldn't it have said, "And all the people heard the words that Moshe said." What does this mean when we're told that they "saw the words?"
Our commentators provide several answers. But for me, the most meaningful one was given by my teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Goldstein, z"l, who only recently died in Jerusalem. Rabbi Goldstein taught that what impressed the people most, what had the greatest impact in regard to the Ten Commandments, what made these words live on to eternity, was not simply that the people heard these words from Moshe, much more important was the fact that they saw them personified in Moshe. It wasn't simply what he said that had the greatest impact on the Jewish people, it was what he did! The words given at Mt. Sinai would not have been enough for them to become our precious legacy. It was seeing how Moshe put them into action. It was seeing how they made Moshe into "the most humble of all men." It was seeing how they brought out the best in him that inspired and encouraged the Jews to want it and to become their way of life. We lead and teach and learn by example.
V'chol ha-am roim et hakolot - what impressed the people the most about Moshe were not the words he was transmitting, as much as the behavior he was exhibiting. My Friends: let us keep this in mind, and then we can hope to find the fulfillment of our daily prayer, "U'tneinu hayom u'vchol yom l'chein u'lchesed u'lrachmim b'einecha u'veinei chol roeinu - this day and every day may we find favour, compassion and mercy in G-d's eyes and the eyes of all who look upon us."
February 10, 2017
This Shabbat has a special name in our tradition - Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song. Both our Torah portion and our Haftarah portion contain songs.
In our weekly Torah portion of B'shallah, our Israelite ancestors cross the Sea of Reeds (some say the Red Sea) and sing a song to G-d. Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, takes a tambourine and pulls the women aside to sing their own song.
"Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to G-d....." (Exodus 15:20-21)
According to the Talmud, even the angels of G-d started to sing a song, but G-d stopped them. "My children are drowning and you sing songs to me." (Megillah 10b)
The haftarah, the prophetic section we read this week also contains song, the song of Deborah, celebrating her victory against Israel's enemy Sisera.
"On that day Deborah....sang". (Judges 5:1)
Song and music is the theme of this Shabbat.
It is very appropriate that here at Beit Rayim, Sisterhood Shabbat always takes place on Shabbat Shira, for this Shabbat, we applaud the women of Beit Rayim who will follow biblical Miriam and Deborah's example and lead us all in song and prayer.
Let our children, the daughters and sons of Beit Rayim, establish lasting memories of not only men, but also an ....... Eema on the Bima!
February 2, 2017
Our Torah portion this Shabbat is called Bo and focuses on one of the greatest enemies of our people, a man named Pharaoh. Pharaoh sought to enslave and destroy the Jewish people, so G-d brought a series of plagues upon the Egyptians. How many plagues? Ten! But our sages noted a remarkable difference between the first five and the last five.
In each of the last five, we are told "Vayichazek Hashem et lev Paroh - and G-d hardened the heart of Pharaoh and he would not let the people go." These words have puzzled every Biblical commentator. It seems as if Pharaoh was ready to let the Jews leave but G-d stopped him from doing so by hardening his heart. What ever happened to the concept of free will? There are many answers but one of the most significant is given by Maimonides who tells us that G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart and didn't want him to let the Jews go. To let the Jews go would have been simply because he was overwhelmed by the plagues, not because he had changed. And given how wicked Pharaoh was, G-d didn't want him to repent because, says Maimonides, there are some people who are so wicked they don't deserve to ever be forgiven.
The perpetrator of the attack this past Sunday at the Quebec City Mosque is a modern day Pharaoh.
I strongly condemn the attack. All Houses of Worship are sacred institutions. Beit Rayim has always believed in religious tolerance and freedoms, consistent with our cherished Canadian values. As your rabbi, I have participated in many interfaith events advocating that religious beliefs and the ability to worship freely are fundamental rights of all Canadians. Canadians must stand together against all violent acts of terror and we as a Congregation extend our sincere condolences to the victims of this attack and offer our appreciation to the first responders.
January 27, 2017
Our Torah portion this week is called Va-era and includes the first 7 of the 10 makkot, or plagues, of the Pesach story. Early in the parsha, Moshe (Moses) resists G-d's invitation to approach Pharaoh and demand the release of the Hebrews. Twice Moshe reminds G-d that he may not be up to the task because he is a man of "impeded speech", i.e., Moshe stuttered, hence he did not speak smoothly. Moshe is afraid that he will prove incapable of delivering G-d's message in a powerful and inspiring way. He is afraid that because of his physical impairment, all will be lost.
Sadly, Moshe was quick to recognize his weaknesses instead of his strengths. Moshe thought that all depended on his ability to acquit himself as a capable orator. He was mistaken. First, G-d had already written the short but cataclysmic speech that Moshe was to deliver: "Let my people go!". Second, G-d was prepared to send Aaron down to Egypt with his younger brother to communicate the message for him. Third, and most critical, what Moshe did not realize is that G-d found other admirable traits within him that assured G-d that Moshe was the man for the job.
One Midrash relates Moshe's days as a shepherd. Once, he expended much energy and travelled a great distance to return a stray lamb to the flock. When G-d saw how dedicated Moshe was to the well-being of each and every lamb, he concluded that this trait indicated that Moshe would also see to the redemption of each and every Jew. It was precisely at the end of Moshe's lengthy search for the wandering lamb that G-d revealed G-dself to Moshe at the burning bush. Ultimately, Moshe does undertake the journey into the heart of Egypt and proves successful in liberating his beleaguered people. From this we learn that while all of us possess deficiencies and weaknesses, it is our ability to recognize our strengths, our worth and our potential that will enable us to accomplish great things for ourselves and for others!
May the message of Parshat Va-era inspire us to combine a sense of humility with the boldness of attitude to achieve monumental achievements in our world for the benefit of all.
January 20, 2017
Our Torah Sedra this Shabbat is called Sh'mot, which translates as "Names". In our portion we are told of the names of the original Jewish souls that went down to Egypt as well as the name of our first prophet and teacher, Moshe.
What's in a name? Apparently, we Jews think an awful lot! One of the most frequent type of questions I am asked as a rabbi has to do with names. For whom do you name a child? What names are appropriate? How do you spell it? Don't we feel good about ourselves when someone remembers our name and aren't we put off when they've forgotten it?
What's your name? Is it the name given to us at birth? The name we are called up to the Torah with? The name our friends use? Our colleagues? Our family? Official documents?
Our sages teach that one of the primary reasons we were redeemed from slavery in Egypt was because we always remembered our Hebrew names.
In this new secular year of 2017, may we remember our Hebrew names given to us by our parents.
A gut gezunt yahr,
Let it be a good year and a healthy year.
January 13, 2017
This week we read Parshat Va-y'hi, the last Torah portion in the Book of Genesis.
The portion describes how on his deathbed, Jacob calls for all his children to gather around him while he attempts to tell them how they are to live their lives.
"And Jacob called to his children and said: Gather so I can tell you how you will be called in the end of days."(Genesis 49:1)
Jacob wants to reveal for his children, Sefer Toldot Britoh, the names that it was up to the children to give themselves. Jacob attempts to decide for his children their destinies and to determine their ultimate characters. But Jacob fails, and the Holy Presence leaves him, because that is not a name given by a parent, it is created by a child.
My friends, as a parent it is natural to want to do everything for our children, but ultimately our children determine their own fate. May our children realize their potential and be a blessing to their families, to their community and most importantly to themselves.
January 6, 2017
The Torah portion this Shabbat is called Va-yiggash, and is a continuation of the story of Yosef (Joseph) and his brothers. There is one word in Parashat Va-yiggash that had a profound effect on the Jewish people. It takes place after Yosef had challenged his brothers to bring their brother, Binyamin (Benjamin), down to Egypt with them. In the face to face encounter that takes place, it looks as if Yosef is going to do to Binyamin what the brothers had done to Yosef. When suddenly Yehudah (Judah) steps forward and declares: "Take me instead ...," here comes that all-important word ... "ki avdecha orav et ha-naar - for I am orav, responsible for the child." Big word! "Orav" ... responsible, as in "kol Yisroel areivim zeh l'zeh - all Jews are responsible one for the other." It started with Yehudah, and according to the Midrash, it is because of Yehuda teaching us this sense of responsibility, that the Jews ever since took on the name not of Hebrews, and not of Israelites, but of Yehudim (Jews)... from the name Yehuda.
We have to be responsible. We also have to be thankful. Because that is what it means to be a Jew. Judah, comes from Yehuda, a name that has within it the Hebrew word "odeh" meaning "thanks." In the last 2000 years of Jewish History, Jews had so little to be thankful for. Now, here it is 2017, and a New Year beckons ... a New Year with new hopes and new opportunities. A New Year where, yes, they still applaud when the Jews are in pain. But unlike any time in the last 2000 years, we Jews don't have to do what they tell us to do! We Jews no longer have to beg for mercy. We Jews no longer go like sheep to their slaughter. The majority of our congregation has been to Israel. For nearly 2000 years, Jews could not say that! We live in a glorious time in the history of our people. The Jew stands proud and tall in Israel and in Canada as well. We have learned the bitter lesson the psalmist taught us: "Al tivtichu bindivim sh'ein lahem teshua - put not your faith in princes who offer no salvation." Yes, tragically, we Jews have learned that we cannot depend on others for our safety. We can only count on our own people; our own boys and girls of the Israeli Defence Forces who are willing to put their lives on the line for our people. And from here, we owe them our support there because "kol Yisroel araivim zeh l'zeh ... all Israel is responsible one for another."
On this first Shabbat of the New Year, let us echo the words we Jews recite when we usher in our Jewish New Year: "Tichleh shono v'killoloto teichal shana u'birkoto - may the old year end with all its curses ... may the New Year begin with all of its blessings."
December 30, 2016
This Shabbat, something will take place that takes place every year during the festival of Chanukah. Our Torah portion will be the sedra of Miketz.That's what happens every year ... that's how the calendar works out. No other holiday ends up with the same regular Sabbath portion - just Chanukah and Miketz. What do Chanukah and Miketz have in common? They both tell the story of brothers, but how different the stories are! The Chanukah story tells how the five sons of Mattathias, the High Priest, banded together leading a revolt against the mighty Syrian/Greek Empire.The story in our Torah portion of Miketz continues to tell the story of the split that takes place with Joseph and his brothers who sell him into slavery in Egypt.
Our sages, in arranging the calendar in such a way for these two stories to be told together, provide us a powerful lesson: how brothers treat each other affects not only themselves, but can have far reaching effects that no one could ever dream of. The Maccabee brothers' military victory not only brought about the survival of Judaism but without this victory there wouldn't have been Christianity. Indeed, until the sixth century there was a date in the Christian calendar celebrating the Maccabee victory. All this from a 'band of brothers,' brothers who stuck together.
What happens when brothers fight? Look what happened with Joseph and his brothers ... the conflict went way beyond the family. As the Talmud puts it in regard to the coat of many colours that evoked such jealous rage among the brothers: "A thread weighing only two selaim milat ... caused our forefathers to go down to Egypt." It's all because Joseph and his brothers couldn't get along that our people endured hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt!
The juxtaposition of reading the story of Joseph and his brothers during Chanukah when we read the story of Judah and his brothers reminds us of just how important it is for brothers to get along.
Chanukah is here. Chanukah is a time for gift giving. I can't think of a more beautiful gift that one could give their parents - whether their parents are alive or live on through memory - then the gift of children united. I can't think of a greater gift that you can give yourself. If you have a brother or sister, give them a gift for Chanukah. It can just be a phone call (try not to make it collect) to wish them a happy Chanukah, fulfilling the words of the psalmist: "Hinei mah tov u'mah naom shevet achim gam yachad - how good and beautiful it is for siblings to dwell together in unity."
Chag Urim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
December 23, 2016
It’s beginning to look a lot like ...... Chanukah!
This Motzei Shabbat (end of Shabbat) as we Jews usher in our Festival of Chanukah, our Christian friends and neighbours usher in their Festival of Christmas. That
has only happened four times in the last one hundred years! It’s good when it happens because things seem to be easier and work out better when these two holidays come out at the same time. The children in
our schools can be told they have no school during the last week in December because it’s Chanukah. We are singing when Christians are singing. We are giving gifts when they are giving gifts. We
can celebrate when they are celebrating! That is the good side of when the two holidays come out at the same time. The flip side is, that when they come together people tend to mix them up, thinking that they are
both basically the same. The fact is, while Chanukah and Christmas are very different, Chanukah does have a unique meaning to Christians.
Most people are not aware of the fact that the miracle of the Maccabee victory took place at least 165 years before the birth of Jesus. Chanukah was the first
battle for religious freedom. If the Maccabees has not been victorious, not only would there not have been a continuation of Judaism, but there never would
have been the start of Christianity. The early Christian Church considered the Maccabees to be martyrs and the story we know of the Maccabee victory is found in what is called the Book
of the Maccabees, which is not included in the Tanach - the Jewish book of scriptures - but it is in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches which included it in their scriptures! We know the story of the
Maccabees because Christians preserved the books that told the story! The Roman Catholic Church honoured the Maccabee martyrs as saints and the Eastern Orthodox Church has a celebration on August 1st
that was called the Feast of the Holy Maccabees.
I like to refer to the men and women of the Israeli Defense Forces as the Modern Day Maccabees. Last week, two new Modern Day Maccabees were inducted into the Israeli Air Force. Do you recognize their
pictures below? You should, for they have a special Beit Rayim connection. We wish Maya and Gal much success in their national service and in their service to the Jewish people. May G-d watch over them and
keep them safe.
I wish you and your families a Chag Chanukah Sameach. May this Chanukah bring peace to Israel, continued peace in our home of Canada, and especially peace in our homes,
December 16, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Va-yishlah, which means “he sent,” referring to the messengers that Jacob sent to Esau prior to their rendezvous after years of separation.
In this parasha, Jacob undergoes a life-defining transformation. The night before he finally confronts Esau, the Torah informs us that Jacob crossed the Yabok ford and was left alone. There, a man wrestled with
him until daybreak. When neither could prevail, the man wrenched Jacob’s thigh, straining his hip socket. Then, the man asked to be released – for dawn was breaking. Jacob first insisted that the man
Whereupon the man said:
“No longer shall your name be Jacob, but now you will be Yisrael (Israel), for you have striven with beings human and divine and have prevailed.”
Then the man left as the morning broke, leaving Jacob to face his brother at long last.
Why does Jacob earn a new name?
The name Jacob means literally a “heel,” replete with all its physiological and behavioral connotations. One can well argue that before this night, Jacob’s actions suggested great
self-interest. But in preparing to meet his brother, Jacob first insured the well-being of everyone else before himself. Therefore, Jacob’s actions demonstrated a new concern for others and a great sense of
leadership and responsibility. When Jacob hears that he will no longer be known as Jacob but now as Israel, we see that he has finally been recognized for changing and maturing from exhibiting narcissistic
behaviour to becoming a champion of his people. A change in name therefore can reflect a change in character.
When Avraham and Sarah received new letters in their original names, it was because G-d was marking them as the first leaders of the new nation and blessing them by adding G-d's name to theirs. When
Jacob receives not added letters but a totally new name, it suggests a radical transformation in his character, worthy of the new leader who will capably lead his people. Jacob’s new name of Israel is one
that he truly earned for himself and his future generations. Jacob did strive with so many – Esau, Lavan, himself – and prevail. Throughout history we Jewish people have contended with and continue to confront
so many obstacles – yet we have prevailed! Is it a miracle? Is it due to our faith? Our stubbornness?
Our commitment to our dreams and ourselves? Probably all of the above. One thing cannot be denied – we are still here, persisting and surviving! May the miracle, fact and blessing of Jewish life continue for all the
years to come!
December 8, 2016
This weeks Torah portion is called Va-yetzei which translates literally as "he went out". The parasha begins with the story of "Sulam Yaacov" or "Jacob`s Ladder." As Jacob departs from the land of Israel he has a dream, and in the dream he sees angels going up and down a ladder. Our sages ask why the angels are ascending and descending the ladder. If angels come from the heavens, should they not be first descending, and then ascending? Is not the order that the angels travel reversed?
Rashi, the great biblical commentator, responds to this question by explaining that the angels who protect the Jewish people in Israel are not allowed to leave the Holy Land. When Jacob leaves Israel, his angelic protectors return to the heavens and new angels descend from above to protect Jacob.
Several weeks ago, Nethanel Meron came to visit our shul and addressed the congregation from the bima on Shabbat morning. You might recall that Nethanel and Ziv Fox were the first shinshinim to spend the year at Beit Rayim. They both now serve in the IDF. Nethanel was on leave from the army and when he contacted me to say he was coming. I requested that he come in his army uniform to shul. After he asked for permission, his commanding officer informed him that he could go for a visit to Canada, but the uniform (like the angels in our Torah portion) had to stay in Israel.
Kol Hakavod to the brave men and women of the Israeli Defence Forces. May these contemporary angels continue to protect the Jewish people from harm's way .
December 1, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Tol'dot/Generations and describes the upbringing of Yaakov and Esav, (Jacob and Esau) twins, who started off the same but one became a hunter-killer and the other a student scholar.
A great commentator points out that it didn't have to turn out this way. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, living in Germany in the 19th century, in his highly respected commentary on the Torah makes a seemingly sacrilegious observation on the way Yaakov and Esav were raised, saying that the contrast between the two of them "May also have been caused by mistakes in their upbringing." That is an unbelievable comment!
Rabbi Hirsch is basically saying that Yitzchak and Rivka (Isaac and Rebecca) made the mistake as parents because they failed to deal correctly with the differences between their twin sons! They thought both boys could be treated the same. That both would grow up with the same values. They thought that both boys could be educated in identical fashion, forgetting the words from the Book of Proverbs: "Chanoch l'naar al pi darko - Educate a child in his own way and even in old age he will not stray there from."
This Shabbat we welcome our Grade One Students from Beit Rayim's award winning Hebrew School. Each of these precious souls are unique their own way and each has an inherent divine spark within.
It is with this in mind that the Torah tells us: "And G-d said: Naaseh Adam b'tsalmeinu v'kidmuteinu - let us make all humankind in our image, in our likenesses ... in the likeness of G-d."
Novmeber 24, 2016
This week's Torah portion of Hayyei Sarah/Life of Sarah includes the following verse:
"Abraham was old, advanced in years, and G-d had blessed Abraham bakol, with everything."
What does it mean to be blessed bakol-with everything? Is there anyone who can claim that they feel that they "have it all"-that they are really blessed with everything? Are you so blessed that you can say you have been blessed with everything?
While the Torah is silent about what it means, the Talmud (Bava Batra 16b) offers a variety of different interpretations of what it means to be blessed bakol. Some explained that bakol means that Abraham was blessed with a son. Rash notes that the gematria numerical value of bakol is the 52-just like the Hebrew word ben(son)!
Rabbi Yehuda explained bakol the other way around. If Abraham had everything, it must mean that he indeed had a daughter as well because his life would be lacking without a daughter. What was her name? Her name, others suggest, was Bakol!
Still other sages explained that being blessed with everything means that Abraham came to terms with the conflicts and sorrows of his life. They claimed that Abraham was blessed with everything because he was reconciled with his son Ishmael, before death. At the end of our parsha, Isaac and Ishmael appear together at their father's funeral. So maybe Abraham was blessed with all things because his sons got along at the end of their lives!
Did you notice that all these explanations of Abraham's bakol - being blessing with everything - has to do with family! At the end of the day - or the end of our lives - this is the greatest source of blessing and sometimes the greatest source of sorrow and disappointment.
May we be cognizant of the blessings in our lives.
November 17, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Va-yera and begins with Abraham communicating with G-d, "Va-yera elaiv Hashem b'eloni mamreh v'hu yoshev petach ha-ohel k'chom hayom - and G-d appeared before Abraham by the plains of Mamre, as Abraham sat in front of his tent in the heat of the day." According to our tradition, G-d had appeared to Abraham to pay a sick call as he was recuperating from his circumcision. So here is Abraham literally talking to G-d, but then suddenly on the horizon, "Vayisah enaiv vayar v'hinai shelosho anoshim nitzovim elav - he lifted up his eyes and looked and saw - three men were coming toward him." Who were these three men? They were angels. But Abraham didn't know that. To him they were just three men; travelers, homeless, who knows? All he knows is that these are people who are in need of food and water.
Picture the scene; Abraham was in the middle of the most important meeting imaginable for any human being. He was involved in an encounter with G-d, and here are three people in need . . . what is he to do? Abraham here is confronting the ultimate religious question: which takes precedence - do I take care of G-d, or do I take care of humans? Which is more important?
Abraham, the man of religion, the founder of our religion, does not hesitate with his response. "Vayaratz likratom mipetach ha-ohel vayishtachvu artzah - and he ran to meet the three strangers in front of his tent and bowed down to the earth" and tells them: sit down, relax, let me give you something to drink, something to eat. Imagine, Abraham left G-d to serve humans! Our Sages in the Talmud tell us that from this incident we learn an all important principle of Judaism: "Gedolah hachnosat orchim yoter mikabalat p'nai ha-Shechinah - greater is showing hospitality to your fellow mortal than even receiving the Divine Presence."
So let us all learn from Abraham, and let all of us at Beit Rayim continue to greet our brothers and sisters with a cheerful face as well. And, as we smile at each other, G-d will surely smile down on us.
November 10, 2016
On Rosh Hashanah I expressed that "we are living in interesting times".
This past week, we witnessed a major change in the paradigm of election theory and community dynamics. While many south of the border are celebrating the outcome of their election, approximately 49% of Americans are not. While the victors are yet jubilant, there are literally millions of our southern neighbours that are apprehensive, scared, and even angry.
One cannot question or change the outcome of the Election. Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. The question remains how does one respond and act?
As a rabbi I turn to the ancient words of this weeks Torah reading.
This week's Torah portion is Lekh L'kha, the story about our patriarch's and matriarch's journey to nationhood. Avraham was called upon by G-d for a mission, a journey he could not compete alone. The Torah teaches us he brought his wife, his nephew, and the "nefesh"-all the souls (the people) he recruited along the way.
Just as Avraham needed unity, so do our American cousins.
I challenge those who voted Republican to reach out to those on "the other side" and understand how people are feeling.
I challenge those who voted Democratic to reach out to someone "across the aisle" and begin, renew, or continue the dialog of the vision that you dream of.
Ultimately it is important to remember that both sides want the same thing: a strong, compassionate country: "One Nation, Under G-d, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All."
Ken Yehi Ratzon, So may it be G-d's will!
November 3, 2016
We all know that more Jews come to synagogue on the High Holy Days than any other time of the year. Many of the so called "High Holy Day Jews" have told me that they only come 2 or 3 times a year because "they don't really believe in G-d and at times are completely void of faith."
These Jews are in good company at Beit Rayim, for there are times when I too struggle with my faith.
Our Torah portion this Shabbat is called No-ah and includes the famous story of Noah and the flood.
The Torah tells us something about Noah that our rabbis interpret in a rather mind-boggling way. The text of the Torah says that Noah and his sons and his wife, and his son's wives, went into the ark, "mipney mey hamabul." They entered the ark, "on account of," or literally "in the face of," the waters of the flood. The biblical commentator Rashi asks : why does it say "mipney may hamabul" ? And he answers: "because Noah and his family didn't enter the ark until the storm actually came." According to Rashi, Noah didn't fully believe that there would be a flood. G-d said that there would be, and maybe there would be, but somehow he wasn't completely convinced. So he stayed outside the ark and when the first rains came, he didn't move. Only when it really began to pour, only then did he and his family enter the ark.
Our rabbis here are depicting Noah as a man with doubts about G-d. In Rashi's words, "Noah miktanei emunah haya - Noah was a man of little faith," "He-emin vilo he-emin - he believed and didn't believe." He had faith in G-d and didn't have faith in G-d, both at the same time.
I think these words: "Noah believed and he didn't believe" are not meant as a criticism but as a compliment.
Noah was no amen-sayer, but he was also no atheist. Noah did not claim to know all the answers so that didn't stop him from questioning.He thought he heard the call of G-d, but how could he be sure? Noah had faith in G-d, but it was not a blind faith. And you know what? I think G-d liked that! I think G-d admired that.I think G-d likes someone who thinks for themselves.
Is there room for us to question our faith in G-d? If Noah did it, can we do it? Yes we can. And that's not just my opinion, that's the opinion of one of the greatest Jewish thinkers and Talmudists of the 20th century, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who once said: "Everyone is allowed to be unsure about G-d. We all have times when things about G-d are unclear to us."
Get involved in our shul and we can struggle with our faith together. You will be in good company.
October 27, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is Beresheit, which translates as "in the beginning".
Much has been written about the inability of political
candidates to tell the truth in their public statements. Why must those seeking public office find the need to tell half truths or engage in outright lying?
Let's be honest, the first person to lie was the first person in this world! In this week's parasha, Adam, when confronted by G-d, regarding having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, immediately takes it like a man ... he lies and blames it on his wife!
When Adam and Eve sinned, G-d called out: "Where are you?" The first Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that this call was not directed only to the two of them.It is directed to each and every one of us.Where are you ... who are you? "To Thine Own Self Be True." As the psalmist so poignantly tells us:
"Who may dwell in thy tabernacle, who may live on Your holy mountain ... one that walks uprightly, does what is righteous and speaks the truth in their heart."
October 20, 2016
It is customary on the Shabbat of Sukkot to read from the Book of Kohelet ... the Book of Ecclesiastes. This book is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, the wisest of our people, but some of the things he writes seem problematic. One example is in Chapter 7, Verses 16-17 where King Solomon writes, "Do not be overly righteous or excessively wise ... Be not overly wicked nor a fool ..." There's an obvious question here: One can understand King Solomon's admonition that one not be "overly wicked" or "be a fool." It's bad enough to be wicked, one certainly shouldn't be "overly" wicked and act like a fool. But what about the first verse, the one that tells us "do not be overly righteous" or "excessively wise?" Sure, too much of anything is no good, but when it comes to piety, more would certainly seem better than less."excessively wise" - is that really possible? Is that such a terrible thing?
Yes it is! If one is overly wicked, at least there's the possibility that one day you will realize that, and repent and change. But if one is overly righteous, excessively smart, one will think they are always right. There is no chance of ever seeing when you're wrong, when you're overdoing it. There's no chance of ever being prepared to compromise.
Indeed, that's one of the important messages of this holiday of Sukkot. For a week we sit in the temporary booths in which our ancestors traveled on their way to the Promised Land. The details of what a Sukkah must have and cannot have are all based on moderation and compromise:
- On the one hand, it must be a temporary abode; on the other, it has to be used like a permanent home.
- On the one hand, its covering must be thick enough to provide more shade than sunshine inside; on the other hand, it has to be loose enough to allow the stars to be seen through it.
- On the one hand, the covering material must be of plants grown from the earth; on the other hand, the plants must be detached from the earth.
- On one hand, the Sukkah must be at least ten hand breadths high; on the other hand, it cannot be any more than 20 cubits.
- On the one hand, it must accommodate a person; on the other hand, it need hold only his head and the greater part of his body.
- On the one hand, it must be specially built for the festival, at least in part; on the other hand, it may be left standing from year to year.
The importance of compromise is something that each of us must incorporate into our own lives. The Sukkah reminds us of that one week out of the year. We should all have our principles and one of those principles should be to be ready to compromise those principles. For then and only then will we witness the fulfillment of the words of our prayer: "Haporais Sukkot shalom aleinu v'al kola mo Yisroel v'al Yerushalayim" - G-d will spread the Sukkah of peace upon us, upon all G-d's people Israel and upon Jerusalem.
October 13, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Ha'azinu, which our Etz Hayim chumash translates as "give ear."
I am writing these word the day after the High Holy Days. It seems that many of you gave ear to the song about the Zeidi that I shared during my sermon on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. I have had several requests for the lyrics and wanted to share them with you all again.The song is by the Jewish music group, Megama. As you will recall, during my sermon I asked you to listen carefully to the lyrics and to the question that it raises at the end. I make the same request again, for that question is one of the central spiritual questions of our lives.
My Zeidi lived with us in my parents' home.
He used to laugh; he put me on his knee.
He spoke about his life in Poland,
He spoke with a bitter memory.
He spoke about the soldiers who would beat him.
They laughed at him; they tore his long black coat.
And he spoke about a Synagogue that they burned down,
And the crying that was heard beneath the smoke.
But Zeidi made us laugh; Zeidi made us sing,
And Zeidi made a Kiddush Friday night.
And Zeidi, Oh my Zeidi, how I loved him so,
And Zeidi used to teach me wrong from right.
His eyes lit up when he would teach me Torah.
He taught me every line so carefully.
He spoke about our slavery in Egypt,
And how G-d took us out to make us free.
But winter went by; summer came along.
I went to camp to run and play,
And when I came back home, they said, "Zeidi's gone"
And all his books were packed and stored away.
I don't know how or why it came to be.
It happened slowly over many years.
We just stopped being Jewish like my Zeidi was.
And no one cared enough to shed a tear.
But Zeidi made us laugh; Zeidi made us sing,
And Zeidi made a Seder Pesach night.
And Zeidi, Oh my Zeidi, how I loved him so.
And Zeidi used to teach me wrong from right.
Many winters went by, many summers came along,
And now my children sit in front of me.
And who will be the Zeidi of my children?
Who will be their Zeidi, if not me?
Who will be the Zeidis of our children?
Who will be their Zeidis, if not we?
Join us for Shabbat and Yom Tov and we will help transform you into a Zeidi.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach
October 6, 2016
The Torah portion this Shabbat is Vayeilekh and the Shabbat itself has a special name, Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Repentance or Return.
Many years ago I attended the Broadway musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. There is one line that jumps out at me as we approach Yom Kippur. As you will recall, Inspector Javert of the Paris police has spent a lifetime pursuing Jean Valjean, who had gone to prison for breaking into a home to steal a loaf of bread. Valjean had transformed himself, becoming a factory owner and the mayor of the town. But to Javert none of that mattered. In a powerful duet, he sings, “Men like you can never change!”
Can people change? This question is at the heart of the High Holy Days. We Jews spend the holiday season worrying about so many things that are relatively minor. We worry about family and food, tickets and honours, where will we sit at services and how will we dress. Rabbis, myself included, have one major worry. Will I come up with High Holy Day sermons that are enjoyable and inspiring, worthy for the biggest crowd of the year? Cantors have one major worry. What music will I include in this year’s service to uplift the congregation, and will my voice hold out to sing it? All of these questions ignore the one question that is at the heart of the holy days.
Can people change? The theme of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is transformation – human beings who have been walking down one path can switch direction and find another. We can change our ways.
The Hebrew word is teshuva – literally return, we can return to the correct path. The term for the period from the beginning of Rosh Hashana until the end of Yom Kippur is the Ten Days of Teshuva. From a Jewish perspective Javert was wrong; people can change. The tragedy of Les Miserables was that Javert never understood that Valjean had become a new man.
If humans are unchangeable, then we really do not need the High Holy Days. For there is only one question that a Jew who attends High Holy Day services ought to ask – “how am I going to be a different person when this holiday season is over than I am now?” G-d gave us humans the ability to transform ourselves. How we do so is the only truly important question that should concern us during this season.
On behalf of myself , Hazzan Eli Bard, Our Board of Directors, our staff and the countless volunteers who make Beit Rayim so great, I wish you all a Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova. May you have a happy and healthy new year and may you be sealed in the Book of Life.
September 29, 2016
The story is told of a “meshulach” a “charity collector” who comes knocking on a very wealthy person’s door. When the gentleman of the house answers, the meshulach greets him, “Sholom Aleichem, Mr. Goldstein, I’m collecting for the Lotsa Gelt Yeshivah, and I’m wondering if a nice, wealthy Jewish person like yourself wouldn’t want to make a little contribution.”
The homeowner replies: “The name is not Goldstein, it is Chauncy Throttlebottom III and I am not Jewish.”
“Are you sure?” asks the meshulach.
“Sir, I am positive,” replies the homeowner.
“But,” says the meshulach, “It says right here that you’re Jewish, and my records are never wrong.”
“I can assure you that I am certainly not Jewish,” replies the homeowner, getting more impatient. “I am not Jewish, my father is not Jewish, and my grandfather, alav hashalom, wasn’t Jewish either!”
He couldn’t help but say “alav hashalom” because it was in his kishkas. Your parents and grandparents, alav hashalom, are in yours. We have got to pass that along to our children and grandchildren. Some of you were born Jewish, others decided to become Jewish. In this coming year may we all BE Jewish.
There has never been a time in the past 2,000 years when it was easier and happier to be a Jew. We’ve got it ... let’s do it! And let this coming year be a good, sweet, Jewish New Year. May there be
peace in Israel, here at home in Canada, and especially in our homes.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova.
September 22, 2016
The Torah portion this week is called Ki Tavo which translates as “when you come” and is referring to coming into the land of Israel. We all know that one who chooses to move to the State of Israel is referred to as making “Aliyah”. Aliyah literally means to ascend, to rise up. It is the same name as given to those reciting a blessing at the Torah.
Being called to the Torah was considered such a great honor that until recent times the honor would be auctioned off in the synagogue ... with some aliyot like the last one in the Torah, or the first one, or the Maftir on Mincha on Yom Kippur with the Book of Jonah, being sold for thousands of dollars! And yet, there were two aliyot that nobody wanted; two aliyot that if offered to you, you would become insulted and sometimes enraged; two aliyot that you couldn’t give away for all the money in the world! One of them is in this week’s Torah portion and the other in the concluding Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus; both of them being the tochacha. Tochacha is the word for “rebukes or curses.”
In this week’s Torah portion and in the Torah portion of the Book of Leviticus, we have a series of verses describing the rebukes G-d says will come to the Jewish people if they don’t follow G-d’s ways. Nobody wanted the aliyah that covered these verses, because nobody wanted to be associated with these verses. In fact, they are traditionally recited very quickly in an undertone and because no one wants the aliyah, it is usually given to the Torah reader or the rabbi. I have been “honoured” with the aliyah this week.
What is interesting in studying these rebukes and curses is the fact that the ones listed in the Book of Leviticus are written in the plural, and the ones in today’s Torah portion are written in the singular. There are many explanations offered for this, and one of the more thoughtful ones is that the curses in the Book of Leviticus are traditionally read in the springtime right before the holiday of Shavuot when we commemorate the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The Torah was received by the Jews saying: “Naaseh v’nishma – we shall do and we shall
The Jews spoke in the plural, and so the warning for proper behavior was given in the plural as well. The curses in today’s Torah portion are traditionally read right before the High Holy Days. These curses are in the singular because on the High Hoy Days it is not the Jewish people who we are concerned about as much as the Jewish person. We are not judged collectively ... we are judged as individuals. And as individuals we have to be warned to make sure that we are behaving properly.
Consider yourself warned!
P.S. A great way to score some additional points “ upstairs with the Boss” is to volunteer to help your Beit Rayim community. It is a herculean effort to prepare to welcome our growing community. Consider joining the army of angels in helping YOUR shul prepare for Your community. Please call the office today and offer your support.
September 15, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Ki Tetzei which means “when you leave or depart”.
I recently marked the yahrzeit for my mother Tzipora Faigel bat Yaacov and Ahuva, z”l, who departed this world two years ago.
Over the 56 years that I spent on this earth with my mother, she certainly lived up to the one descriptive term that our tradition has for a parent: imi moroti – my mother, my teacher. She taught me so much. My mother was a bright, highly intelligent, street smart, well-read woman. There was nothing shallow or wish-washy about her; she had strongly held opinions.
King Solomon writes: “There’s a time to break down and a time to build up, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time for love and a time for hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” That was my mother ... no median ground, no room for compromise ... if she loved you, she loved you forever. And if she didn’t ... she didn’t forever! She told you how she felt whether you wanted to hear it or not. She said what she meant and meant what she said ... and if you had a problem with that, that was YOUR problem – not hers! And if I told her that what she was saying about someone bordered on lashon hara (gossip and slander), she would respond that it wasn’t lashon hara, it was current events. And if I told her that I didn’t want to hear what she had to say, she would respond, “Don’t worry, you won’t have to put up with me much longer.” That was my mom ….and I miss her so much. And so, in honour of my mother, let me be candid. Rosh Hashanah is coming, and it’s coming quickly. It’s time to cleanup our acts. It’s time to be true to our innermost selves. It’s time to prepare ourselves to be judged.
The time is short, the task is large. As my mother, may she rest in peace, would have succinctly said :
CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED
September 8, 2016
The first verse of this week’s Torah portion called Shoftim is a verse that is generally regarded as specifically directed toward judges and police.
Remember the words? “Shoftim v’shotrim titein lech a b’chol shearecha – Judges and police shall you place at all your gates.
V’shaftu et ha’am mishpat tzedek – And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.”
Question: Why for there to be righteous judgment must the judges be “b’chol shearacha – at all your gates?”
My teacher once explained that perhaps the reason the court was put at the gate of the city was that in order to judge a case, a person must stand at the threshold. A judge must be able to see the case from two points of view – from inside their community and from outside their community. One must not limit one’s judgment to one’s own narrow perspective.
As we prepare for the upcoming Holy Days, we need to strive to make peace with those who are dear to us and yet in some way have hurt us. These are the people who I like to say are taking space up in our mind rent-free. In order to be successful in this task like a judge or a police officer, we have to be standing at the gates being able to see both sides of an argument. Only then can the rest of the verse be fulfilled: “V’shaftu et ha-am mishpat tzedek – and all the people will be judged with righteous judgment.”
Our Day of Judgment beckons. Our tradition teaches: “K’shem sh’damtani l’zchut Hamak-m yadin etchem l’zchut – if you judge by giving the benefit of the doubt, G-d will judge you by giving you the benefit of the doubt.”
So in the weeks ahead let all of us who judge, and all of us do, let all of us check and re-check our motives and our perspectives. Let us look at each community, each member of our family – both from the inside and the outside – before we decide what our verdict is. And let us remember that as we judge, so shall we be judged … and let all of us be judged for a coming year in which “zachreinu l’chaim melech chafetz bachaim – we will be remembered for life” by G-d who desires life. Amen.
September 1, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called R'eih, which translates literally as see. This is a most appropriate name for the portion this week as the time has arrived to open our eyes and take a good look at ourselves. This Shabbat we also mark Rosh Chodesh, the new month. The month of Elul beckons reminding us that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur - the Days of Judgment - are soon upon us.
I know that I have a congregation of Holy People. I know that none of us are guilty of major crimes of murder, of robbery or billion dollar stock swindles. However I also know that so many of us, including your rabbi, are guilty of the snide remark, the cutting corners, the harsh judgments ... all little things that mean a lot.
Let each and every one of us remember the lesson from the first word of this morning's Torah portion R'eih/See. Let us approach G-d with open eyes and pure hearts. Let us take to heart G-d's commandments and observe those seemingly light ones that people take for granted. Then we will see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah: "Sason v'simcha yimatzeh baw todah v'kol zimrah - Joy and gladness shall be found in our homes, thanksgiving and the voice of melody."
August 25, 2106
This week’s Torah portion is called Eikev and translates literally as “hearken”. As our parasha begins, Moshe is telling us that if we “hearken to G-d’s commandments”, if we really listen and prepare
ourselves, then G-d will reward us in infinite ways.
I watched a fair dose of the Olympic Games these past two weeks, and was so proud of the many Canadian medal winners in so many diverse sports, from so many diverse ages and backgrounds. I was also proud of the two Israelis who brought home the first medals in eight years. I was reminded of the importance of preparation and how one must prepare differently for different sports. I am convinced that how we prepare ourselves ultimately decides whether we are champions or not.
The Olympic Games are now over and for many it’s too late in our life journey to prepare ourselves to be Olympic champions. However, I do know it’s not too early to start preparing for the upcoming High Holy Days. They are just around the corner. And what kind of year we’re going to have – yes, it’s in G-d’s hands – but it is also in our hands and a lot depends on how we prepare ourselves.
“U’teneinu hayom u’vchol yom l’chein u’lchesed u’lrachmim b’einecha u’veinei chol roeinu – this day and every day may we find grace, compassion and mercy in G-d’s eyes and the
eyes of all who look upon us” ... and in our own eyes as well.
August 18, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Va-ethannan, which translates as "I pleaded" and is the beginning of Moshe's (Moses's) farewell speech to B'nai Yisrael (the Children of Israel).
The parasha also contains the central prayer of Judaism , the Shema. It is in the Shema where we are given the commandment of tefillin, as we are told: "And it shall be as a sign on your hand and for frontlets between your eyes." The tefillin get put onto our head and our arms. What is in those tefillin boxes? It is a parchment that has on it the four verses that tefillin are mentioned in the Torah - with one big difference. The tefillin on the head have the four verses inscribed in four separate parchments. The tefillin on the hand have the four verses on one parchment. From this, our sages taught that there is always going to be divisions when it comes to our head, when it comes to our minds. There is always going to be differences of opinion and different perspectives, but what counts is that there be unity when it comes to the actions of our hands. The Biblical verse regarding the tefillin speak first of the hand, then of the head. Actions speak louder than words.
May we take this lesson to heart and may our actions in the quickly approaching new Jewish year reflect our true inner selves.
June 30, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is Sh'lah L'ka, from Sefer Bemidbar, the Book of Numbers. "Sh'lah L'ka" means "you send". Moshe sent twelve spies - a leader from each of the twelve tribes - as an advance scouting party to investigate the Promised Land before the Israelites' arrival. The spies all reported that a fortified populace inhabited the land and that the land was fruitful... but on every other matter there were major disagreements. Ten spies believed that the Israelites would be unable to conquer the Canaanites. Two, however, believed that despite all odds the nation would prevail because they had faith that G-d would make good on the divine promise given to Abraham and Sarah years before. The two - Joshua and Caleb - merited entry into the Israel as a reward for their faith. The others would not live to see the people possess their new homeland.
This narrative inspires us to see the positive in what may seem at first a negative situation. The parasha also encourages us to create great goals in our lives and to do all we can to realize them!
The end of the portion should seem familiar. The 3rd paragraph of the Shema, lovingly known as "Vayomer", concerns itself with the mitzvah of Tzitzit. This passage, which we recite twice daily in our morning and evening prayers, is the maftir (the last) portion of this parsha. Since so many of us know how to sing this (we do it in unison every Shabbat and Yom Tov Morning), this portion is a great place to begin to actually read from the Torah.
June 23, 2016
Our Torah Portion this week is called B'haalot'kha, which translates literally as "when you kindle" and refers to the lighting of the menorah.
This week's sedra/portion also provides important insight into the character of Moshe (Moses). The Torah only speaks of one attribute of his and it's found in today's Torah portion where we are told: "V'haish Moshe anav meod mikol ha-adam - and Moses was the most humble of all the people who walked the earth."
Although the most repeated verse in the Torah is "And G-d spoke to Moses", Moshe never claimed exclusive ownership of the truth. G-d had taught Moshe everything ... but Moses never gave off the aura of a "know it all."
And you know who else was like that? The greatest commentator on the Torah that Moshe gave us -- a man called Rashi. It is impossible to study the Torah without using Rashi's commentary. Yet, in his commentary, more than 100 times you will find Rashi writing, "I don't know what this means."
Now, Rashi didn't have to write that. He didn't have to write anything ... we would never know! But then we never would have known how great Rashi was. Rashi didn't leave us in the dark. His greatness is reflected not only in what he knew, but also in the fact that he was willing to admit what he didn't know! That is why nearly a millennia later, Rashi is still held in such high regard. We can all learn from Moses and Rashi - religiously, politically, socially - in the world at large and in our homes.
May the examples of Moshe and Rashi encourage all of us to walk humbly before G-d and our fellow human beings.
June 16, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Naso, and it is the second portion in the Book of Bamidbar (the book of Numbers). Although the Book of Numbers is literally translated as "in the wilderness", in English the entire book has been given the name of Numbers.This is because the book begins with the census taken of the children of Israel. However the reality is the reason for the census is not because of numbers, but because of the importance of each individual to be counted and counted upon.
Rashi raises the question of why the need for a census at this time, being that two had already been taken that year. And Rashi answers: "Mitoch chiboson l'fanav moneh otam kol shaah" - because of our people's dearness to G-d, G-d counts us individually - one by one - at all times.
My Friends it is time for us to be counted. I'm sure we all agree that the events of last week's terror in Orlando were both horrific and devastating. Please join me in solidarity with the LGBT community on Sunday July 3rd at 2pm when I will march for the first time in the Toronto Pride Parade. Please call the shul office and tell them to add your name to the growing list of people joining me from our Beit Rayim community.
The word Naso is literally translated as "lift up", and its message is that when one is counted one's head is "lifted up" in stature. May all our heads be lifted up high as we march together in unison with the LGBT community.
June 9, 2016
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach!
Our Torah portion this Shabbat is called Bamidbar, and it tells us about the twelve princes of the Tribe of Israel. Of all of those listed one, named Nachshon ben Aminadav, was unique. He is remembered as the first person to take a step into the Red Sea before the waters were split. He exhibits great faith and a special unit in the Israeli Defence Forces is named after him.
Nachshon ben Aminadav was the only one of the princes listed who did not have G-d's name in his name. Nachshon ben Aminodav reminds us that one's status tells us nothing of one's stature. One's wealth tells us nothing of one's wisdom. One's credit rating tells us nothing of one's character. One's popularity tells us nothing of one's personality. One's name tells us nothing of one's nobility. One's title tells us nothing of one's true identity.
There was something else unique about Nachshon that was different from the other princes of Israel. The other eleven are identified with the title "Nasi -- the prince." Nachshon, alone, of the twelve, is not mentioned by title. And he was the most princely of them all.
Long ago G-d told the prophet Samuel, "Do not judge one by his appearance and by his height." "Ki hadam yireh l'einaiem v'hashem yireh lalevov - for a human looks to the outward appearance but G-d looks to the heart." That is where it really counts!
Let us take this lesson to heart. The name that really counts is not the one given to us but the one we make for ourselves. Let us conduct our lives in keeping with the words of the Psalmist: "N'ki kapaim u'var levav - let us exhibit to one and all not only clean hands but a pure heart as well."
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach!
June 2, 2016
n choosing the names for each of the 54 Torah portions, the sages looked for the first important word in each sedra. This week's
portion is called Bechukotay, which translates as "My Laws".
We all know that there are 613 commandments found in the Torah. These commandments are divided into Chukim (from the name of our portion, and are laws which have no definitive or discernible reason for following them) and Mishpatim (laws which are easily understood).
Next week we will be celebrating the Holy Days of Shavuot. Another name for Shavuot is Zman Matan Toratenu (The Time of the Giving of the Torah). To commemorate this, it is customary to study all night. This study is traditionally referred to as Tikkun Leil Shavuot.
While it's not likely that you will be staying up all night -- you can barely stay awake for my sermons :) -- Beit Rayim is proud to present a pre-Tikkun Leil Shavuot next Saturday night (June 11th) beginning at 8 p.m. I will be joined in study by our Shinshiniot Maya and Gal and our topic will be:
SINCE SO MANY OF THESE CAN ONLY BE DONE WHILE LIVING IN ISRAEL,
ARE ISRAELI'S BETTER JEWS THAN THOSE OF US HERE IN THE DIASPORA?
May 19, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Emor, which literally translates as "speak". This is the Shabbat when we first encounter the laws of mourning. The brief, terse commandments in this Torah portion are the foundation stones of what eventually becomes this vast, complex network of laws that help us get through grief.
They are intended to teach us two truths.
One, that we must grieve, and we should not ignore our loss and pretend that nothing hurtful has happened. We cannot go on with our lives while denying our pain.
Secondly, to teach us is that not only must we grieve and not avoid it, but that we must also get through our grief, and get to the other side.
May these wise guidelines that are found in our tradition help us and heal us, whenever pain and loss strike us down, as they will do at some time in the life of each person on this earth.
May 12, 2016
Our Torah portions this week is Kedoshim which literally translates as “holy things” or “holy people”. This week, our thoughts and prayers are focused on the people of Fort McMurray, Alberta who attempt to rebuild their lives after the
fire that destroyed their homes. In reading of the rescue missions to help these unfortunate people I am struck by the kedoshim , the holy souls, participating in this important humanitarian cause.
I am so proud of the State of Israel!
By week’s end, Israeli disaster relief organization IsraAid will join the international effort to help. “It is”, said Shachar Zahavi, IsraAid’s founding director and CEO, “a symbol of Israeli appreciation for longstanding Canadian support of the Jewish State”. This marks the first time IsraAid will be providing on-the-ground support in Canada. The organization has in the past responded to major disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in the United States,
earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and floods in the UK.
Israel truly understands the meaning behind the famous verse (Lev.19:18) in today’s Torah portion:
V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha,- And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Rashi, in his commentary, quotes Rabbi Akiva from the Midrash saying, Zeh klal gadol baTorah,
“This is the greatest principle of the Torah” It’s the foundation, the summary of the whole Torah: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
That is why Israel is always among the first responders to any great tragedy anywhere in the world - even to countries not very friendly to her.
May the people of Fort McMurray succeed in rebuilding their lives.
May 5, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Acharei Mot, which literally translates as "after the death". It is referring to the time after the death of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest and the nephews of Moshe. G-d took the lives of Nadav and Avihu for being drunk while offering sacrifices. From here we learn that we must always approach
G-d "with clean hands and pure hearts".
It is noteworthy that the Torah records Aaron's response as "vayidom Aharon", and "Aaron was silent."
I write these words on Yom Hashoah , Holocaust Remembrance Day. It has been said that our brothers and sisters who lost their lives during the Shoah emulated Aaron's silence.
There is a time for silence. There is also a time for shouting and screaming. In the post-Holocaust world, since the establishment of the State of Israel, we have learned to raise our
voices loud. May we Jews continue to raise our voices in combating injustice in our fragile world.
April 28, 2016
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach:
Please take note of a few ritual hightlights as we conclude our
Pesach Holy Days:
1. Friday and Saturday are both Yom Tov days in our Jewish Calendar and will be marked by Yom Tov services beginning at 9:00 a.m.
in our regular sanctuary.
2. On Friday night, one should light a separate Yizkor candle for each of the loved ones we are remembering. The Yizkor candle should be lit prior to Shabbat/Yom tov candles and from an existing flame.
3. Yizkor will take place during Shabbat/Yom tov morning services on Saturday morning (sometime after 10:30 a.m.).
4. Pesach ends after 9:10 p.m. on Saturday, April 30th. Please allow 30 minutes for me to repurchase the chometz I sold on your behalf.
5. As a closing Pesach gift to you, please enjoy the following Youtube video message from Ziv Fox and Netanel Meron, our shinshinim from last year. You won't want to miss it!
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Enjoy the matzah!
April 21, 2016
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach.
This Shabbat, our first day of Pesach 2016, we depart from our regular Torah cycle and instead read about the original Passover. As you know the number four is very prominent in the Haggadah. We have four cups of wine, four children, and of course the four questions. I offer the Four Contemporary Passover Questions below as my Pesach gift to you to enhance the discussion at your seder . As we relish the memories of our Pesach Seder from our youth, may we be
successful in creating wonderful Pesach memories for our children and grandchildren. And may this Pesach bring peace to our homeland Israel, peace here at home in Canada, and especially peace in our homes.
FOUR MORE QUESTIONS FOR YOUR SEDER
1. 3000 years ago we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. Today we are slaves to our smartphones in Canada. Do you think a smartphone should be treated like bread and everyone at the Seder should hide it for one night? Wouldn’t that be nice? Honestly, isn’t face-to-face better than Facebook?
2. Our history is one of being refugees. We were refugees trying to enter the Promise Land in ancient times, we were refugees trying to enter Israel in modern times. Do you identify with the millions of
Syrian refugees today?
3. The Jews were very much a part of Egyptian society and then one day it all changed. Is that
happening in Europe? Could that happen here in Canada? Could support for Israel be changing with the new Trudeau government?
4. We speak of the “four children” at the Seder. But now it is said there is a “fifth” one: the one who does not come to a Seder! Will your grandchildren have a Seder? Are you sure? What can you do to make sure?
April 14, 2016
This Shabbat promises to be a great Shabbat because of its name... Shabbat HaGadol, which literally means "the great Shabbat".
While we continue our weekly reading of Metzorah from our first scroll, our second Torah marks the special designation of Shabbat HaGadol.
Shabbat HaGadol is the special Sabbath before the great holy days of Pesach, and Pesach is great because every one of us is included!
Regardless of whether you are wise, ignorant, rebellious, simple, rich or poor... Jews and all people are welcome at the Seder table! There is a place for everyone, and everyone is equally welcome. The Talmud insists that even the poorest of the poor must be treated and fed equal to everyone else. We live in a world where many are not welcome and treated well by others. Pesach presents us with an excellent example of how humanity can treat each other with due honour and respect!
On this Shabbat HaGadol...
Let us appreciate the greatness of the gift of life that we possess.
Let us appreciate the greatness of our Jewish heritage and do all we can at the Seder and throughout the year to perpetuate that greatness into the future.
Let us appreciate the greatness of the blessings we have by being mindful to share our blessings, resources, friendship and love with others.
Let us appreciate the greatness of the world by demonstrating large measures of understanding, compassion, harmony and peace as much as possible.
At this spring season of greatness, let us make our Sedarim great, Pesach great, and relish the knowledge that greatness lies within us all! May each and every one of us do all that we can to make life great for ourselves and for others!
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Pesach Sameach to all!
April 7, 2016
This Shabbat morning we read from three separate Torah Scrolls. One is for the weekly portion of Tazria; one for Rosh Chodesh, marking the new month of Nissan; and one for the special designation of HaChodesh or The Month, as Nissan is the first of the biblical months in our Jewish calendar.
Tazria and the portion following it, called Metzorah, have been every rabbi's nightmare down through the centuries. What can one say about Torah portions that deal primarily with the laws of leprosy as they affected the ancient Jewish community? Fortunately, in recent times perhaps starting with the commentary of the great German scholar, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, there has come an understanding that these laws really did not speak of leprosy itself. Too many of the details just don't pertain to leprosy as we know it. The details don't always match, as many of leprosy's normal symptoms are not mentioned. The Torah speaks of this ailment affecting the walls of one's home and one's clothing. We know that this is certainly not the case with leprosy.
And if we are speaking of leprosy as a contagious disease, how come the Kohain was called upon to be in contact with the leper for healing? Our sages long ago tried to read something else into this word "metzorah" - the word we have for "leprosy", by referring to it instead as "motzi rah" - one who spreads gossip. What the sages and certainly Rabbi Hirsch are telling us is that what we are talking about here is not a physical ailment, but a moral failing.
With Pesach quickly approaching, and so many of us are so careful as to what goes into our mouths, let us also concentrate on what comes out of our mouths.
March 31, 2016
This Shabbat we read from two Torah scrolls. The first contains the weekly portion of Shemini, which translates as "eighth". Perhaps the portion would be better pronounced in English as "eight" or even more appropriately as "ate" as it contains within many of the laws pertaining to Kashrut.
Out second Torah is read to commemorate the special designation of this Shabbat as Shabbat Parah, the Sabbath of the Cow, on which we read the biblical commandment regarding the Red Heifer. The mitzvah of the Red Heifer is one that defies understanding. A Red Heifer is slaughtered, some of its blood is sprinkled toward the Tabernacle, the cow is burned and its ashes used for purification. Not King Solomon and not Google were able to rationally understand this law.
There is so much we don't know. As Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Yiddish Nobel writer, once pointed out, "With all our knowledge we still don't know why a magnet doesn't work on cottage cheese." We don't know that, and so much more. Only G-d knows ... and we must put our faith in G-d, keeping in mind the Biblical words: "Ha-nistaros l'Hashem Elokeinu - that which is hidden is for G-d, but that which is revealed is for us and our children forever and ever."
March 24, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is the second parasha in the book of Leviticus and is called Tsav which means "command".
I write these words after the horrific terrorist attack targeting Israelis in Turkey and the large scale attack at an airport and train station in the Belgium capital of Brussels. All of this happened while the "intifada of knives" continues in our beloved holy land, the State of Israel.
Now that Purim is over our thoughts turn to Pesach and inviting guests, and making all of the necessary preparations. At our Pesach Seder we quote a verse from the Torah which says: "Vayarehu otunu hamitzrim." The literal translation: "And the Egyptians were bad to us. They mistreated us." Other translations are: "The Egyptians considered us bad." Or, "They suspected us of evil." But a most relevant translation is, "The Egyptians made us bad." We began to stoop to their level.
There is always a danger and tendency during war to lash back at one's enemies ... enemies who blow up school buses and Pesach Seders and Yeshivot and who attack Israeli tourists in Turkey. There is always a tendency to strike back measure for measure. But we don't do that. That's the challenge for us as Jews; never to be like them. The Torah tells us - the Torah commands us: "Do not emulate the abominable practices of the Egyptians."
We take pride in our ethical standards ... but standards mean little if they are not lived by. Let us all as Jews learn to act as Jews are taught to act, even in the most challenging circumstances. All it takes is three things - things the prophet Micah told us about: "To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with G-d."
March 17, 2016
This Shabbat we read from two scrolls. The first is for the weekly portion of Vayikra, and the second is for Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance.
On Shabbat Zachor we remember the Amalek, the ancestors of Haman.
On Purim we remember cursed Haman and blessed Mordecai. Sometimes we forget the blessed Mordecai part. To be a full committed and proud Jew requires both... not simply fighting our enemies but, more importantly, loving and keeping our traditions and heritage.
If there is a people who should be cynical and vengeful it is our people. And yet, despite centuries of persecution and anti-Semitism, it is our people whose entire outlook on life is expressed in a simple Hebrew word that we use on Purim as we drink. It is this word and the attitude that goes with it that must become part of the core of our existence.
Baruch Mordechai... we Jews have so much to be proud of.
I pray that the words of the Meggilah ring true for our lives:
Orah v'simcha sason vikor - lives permeated by light and gladness, joy and happiness
March 10, 2016
Our Torah portion this Shabbat is Pekudei. It is the last of 5 parshiot that deal with the donations for, and building of, the Tabernacle - the holy and sacred space in the desert. Pekudei in particular deals with an accounting by Moshe of the donations and materials that were used for the building of the Mishkan - the Tabernacle that was to be the forerunner of the Temple in Jerusalem. In gathering the materials for the Tabernacle, the Torah tells us:
"Vayovehu ha-anishim al hanashim" ("and the men came", "al" the women.")
Now, normally this word, "al" means "on." It can't mean that here, so there are differences of opinion on how to translate the word "al"...
some say, "And the men AND the women came."
Others read it: "The men accompanied the women."
Still others say it means that "the men came ALONG with the women."
Nachmanides and others tell us that the verse is suggesting that it was the women who came first and generously gave their jewellery to have the gold and silver used to build the sacred items in the Tabernacle. They came first and gave in abundance.
This is one of those rare places where our classical biblical commentators praise women as leading the men in performing positive holy acts. It is a midrash worth noting.
March 3, 2016
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat of the Half-Shekel. Thematically, it parallels the regular weekly Torah portion of Vayakel in that the special Maftir reading of Exodus 30:11-16 teaches us that during Temple times, the collection of the half-shekel conveyed a great sense of equality to our Jewish ancestors. Concerning this collection...no one could give more; no one could give less. Everyone felt a sense of equal participation in supporting the work of the Temple. Everyone felt a connection and that they belonged!
I hope that all of us have strong and equal connections to the Beit Rayim community and to Jewish life in general. Though we are unique and treasured as individuals, at Beit Rayim we are also all welcome and treasured as equals!
February 25, 2016
This week's Torah portion of Ki Tissa begins with a census of our ancient Israelite ancestors. When instructing Moses to administer the census G-d uses the following words:
"when you lift up the heads of the children of Israel".
The rabbis deduce that G-d is teaching us that when a person is counted - when a person is noticed - it lifts up their spirits.
If you think about it, we too have our spirits lifted when someone recognizes us, when they know our name.
As a rabbi, I experience this again and again when I approach someone in shul that I don't recognize and greet them with a warm "Shabbat Shalom". I urge you to ty it next time you are in shul. Go up to someone you don't know and say "Shabbat Shalom". You will be lifting their spirits, and will be doing G-d's work.
May Beit Rayim Synagogue and School partner with G-d in creating a community where we lift up the heads of the children of Israel.
February 18, 2016
This week's Torah portion is called Tetzaveh and begins with the laws of the ner tamid, the eternal light. The ancient tabernacle and every modern synagogue, Beit Rayim included, contains a lamp that always burns and is never allowed to go out.
At Beit Rayim the light above the Ark in our shabbat morning sanctuary represents the ner tamid, and is only lit during services. Our ner tamid, which always stays lit, is above the
Ark in the multi-purpose room. In the ancient tabernacle the kohanim/priests were responsible to assure that the flames never went out. In our modern synagogues our maintenance staff checks the eternal light. It is very upsetting for modern Jews when the light goes out.
The symbol of a light that burns forever is fundamental to Judaism. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary wrote a very popular song called Don't Let the Lights Go Out. Many years ago there was a synagogue in a community that I lived in that was going through a severe financial crisis. They had an emergency "Don't Let the Lights Go Out" campaign. The children sang the Yarrow song and the rabbi spoke about keeping the lights burning in the synagogue, and the shul was saved.
The light that always burns is one of our deepest symbols of Jewish survival and of G-d's presence.
May the lights keep burning bright in our shul, our school, our community and especially in our homes.
Febraury 11, 2016
This week's Torah portion describes the building of the Tabernacle - the forerunner of the Temple in Jerusalem. G-d tells the Jewish people: "V'asu li mikdash v'shochanti b'tochem - And you shall make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst you."
The first article made for the sanctuary is that of the Holy Ark, which was to house the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. The Torah describes in minute detail
Rabbi Zioncehow the Ark was to be built. In the Bible we are told that the Ark that was made for the Tabernacle had to be covered with gold inside and out.
The rabbis in the Talmud asked: "we can understand why there had to be gold on the outside of the ark; that's where everyone would see it and be impressed by its grandeur. But why the need for gold on the inside where it would remain unseen? "
And the rabbis respond that from this we learn that the ideal for a person is to be tocho k'baro - inwardly what they appear to be outwardly.
The lesson is clear: every time we come to shul and we direct our prayers toward the Ark, the Ark is there to remind us that coming to shul and praying to G-d is not enough if it is not matched by what is going on inside of YOU!
Let us take this lesson to heart and do our utmost to be the best we can be.
February 4, 2016
In choosing the names for each of the 54 Torah portions the sages looked for the first important word in each sedra. This weeks portion is called Mishpatim. Mishpatim are laws which are easily understood and are different from chum which have no definitive or
discernible reason for following them.
The portion of Mishpatim includes many laws which are the basis for the civil law systems adopted by several western countries. It is interesting that the parsha begins with the words "And these are the laws". The rabbis ask why the first word is "and" ? The word "and" implies a connection to what came before. Rashi, the great biblical scholar, explains that in last week's portion we witnessed the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. Rashi says that we must realize that these civil laws, these Mishpatim, were also given at Sinai and ordained by G-d.
January 28, 2016
Our Torah portion this week is called Yitro and is named after the father-in-law of Moshe. Although not Jewish himself, Yitro was a great friend of the Jewish People and was instrumental in helping shape Moshe as the leader of our ancient Israelite ancestors.
Our parsha also contains the Ten Commandments. Known as the "Aseret Hadibrot " in Hebrew, these commandments serve as a foundation for all the commandments in the Torah. Our madras (Torah legends) teach all of Israel, both future and past generations were present at Mount Sinai to serve as witnesses to the giving of the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments serve as a foundation for creating a just, ethical and moral society. We Jews know all too well what happens when society is bereft of these values. The exhibit currently on display throughout the JCC highlight the achievements of the March of the Living and the impact it has had in creating new witnesses to the horrors of the Shoah. The MOL has had a tremendous impact on thousands of Jewish youth worldwide in creating passionate future leaders of our people.
This exhibit is co sponsored by Beit Rayim, SRC and March of the Living and will be officially dedicated in a short ceremony on Thursday, February 11 @ 6:45pm in the Atrium of the SRC. Please consider joining me and your community there.
I extend a warm heymishe Beit Rayim welcome to the families of Grades 1, 2 and 3. to our service this Shabbat.
January 21, 2016
It is very appropriate that here at Beit Rayim , Sisterhood Shabbat
Rabbi Zioncealways takes place on Shabbat Shira , when we read the Torah portion of Beshalach. For in this portion, Miriam the Prophetess, the sister of Moses and Aaron, leads the women in song and prayer:
"Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to G-d....."(Exodus 15:20-21)
This Shabbat we applaud the women of Beit Rayim who will follow biblical Miriam's example and lead us all in song and prayer. Let our children, the daughters and sons of Beit Rayim establish lasting memories of not only men, but also an....... Eema on the Bima!
January 14, 2016
It is appropriate and poignant that we celebrate a Bat Mitzvah on this Shabbat when we read the third Torah portion in the Book of Exodus. For in this week's Torah sedra of Bo, we find that Moses (Moshe) supported women's prayer.
Our parsha begins with Moshe in a heated negotiation with Pharoh. The latter has agreed with Moses' demand to allow the Israelites to pray in the desert. Pharoh asks: "who will be going?" and Moshe responds "our young and our old, our sons and our daughters." Moshe seems to be implying that the women too, needed to come and daven with the men. Pharoh decrees that only the males will be given permission to depart and pray to G-d. Moshe insists on the females being included and the negotiations break down.
One may deduce that Moses was the first egalitarian Jew. Perhaps he would have been comfortable praying with us at Beit Rayim!
January 7, 2016
Our Torah portion this week of Vaera, reminds us that while help can emanate from many sources, the best way to accomplish anything is to realize what we can do for ourselves!
Early in the parasha, Moshe resists G-d's invitation to approach
Pharaoh and demand the release of the Hebrews. Twice Moshe
reminds G-d that he may not be up to the task because he is a man of "impeded speech", i.e., Moshe stuttered, hence he did not speak smoothly. Moshe is afraid that he will prove incapable of delivering G-d's message in a powerful and inspiring way. He is afraid that because of his physical impairment, all will be lost before the liberation will even get a chance to succeed.
Sadly, Moshe was quick to recognize his weaknesses instead of his strengths. Moshe thought that all depended on his ability to acquit himself as a capable orator. He was mistaken. Ultimately, Moshe does undertake the journey into the heart of Egypt and proves successful in liberating his beleaguered people. From this we learn that while all of us possess deficiencies and weaknesses, it is our ability to recognize our strengths, our worth and our potential that will enable us to accomplish great things for ourselves and for others!
May the message of Vaera inspire us to combine a sense of humility with the boldness of attitude to achieve monumental achievements in our world for the benefit of all.
December 24, 2015
This week in our Torah portion of Vayechi, which translates as "and he lived", we find Jacob on his deathbed calling various family members to his side. It is here that we read of his special blessing for his grandsons, Manashe and Ephraim.
To this day there is a minhag (a custom) on Erev Shabbat of holding our hands over our children's heads and blessing them. Our prayer to our daughters is that they should grow to be like our Matriarchs. But our prayer to our sons is that they should grow up to be like Ephraim and Menashe...that they should grow up to be like the grandsons of our Patriarch Jacob.
Now, don't worry if you are not exactly like them, because Jacob blesses all of his progeny. But, as parents we have dreams of the kind of person, the kind of soul, the kind of Jew that our children should grow into. Ephraim and Menashe were the first biblical brothers, the first siblings, to get along with each other. Isn't that what we wish for our own children?
May the words of our famous song that we sing each Shabbat at Beit Rayim hold true for our families "Hiney Mah Tov U'Mah Naim - Behold what is good and what is beautiful, when siblings get along together."
December 17, 2015
Our Torah portion this week is called Vayigash and contains the climax of the Joseph story.
The Chanukah festival is now over, but its message is still poignant for us, the Jewish people, and for all peoples living in this fragile world. As many of you know, Chanukah was never considered a major festival but the message of Chanukah has taken on great meaning in our day and age, for its message deals with a major world problem today ... the problem of religious liberty. Chanukah represents the first victory in human history for religious freedom; the right to believe and practice as one wishes.
There used to be a time in our East European days when the arrival of Christmas sent fear through the Jewish community ... the fear of pogroms. We've come a long way from that. This past week the Vatican came out with a new edict proclaiming that it is improper to seek conversion amongst the Jews. Yasher Koach to Pope Francis for instituting this new change. Judaism, for its sake, must let go of our historical bitterness and stop demanding public expressions of Christian remorse at every turn. We must learn to see the great religion to which we gave birth as a partner and an ally, one deserving of our appreciation and respect."
Yes, the enemies of Judaism and Christianity are no longer each other. We both share common enemies - atheism, materialism, warfare, poverty, bigotry and ignorance. And the goals and messianic dreams of Judaism and Christianity are shared in common as well - justice, brotherhood, love and peace.
Let us not attempt to secularize our religions, or to blur our religious differences. Let us learn to respect each other's religion. Then there will truly be "peace on earth and goodwill toward all men" ... and women as well!
December 10, 2015
This week as we read the weekly Torah portion of Miketz, we also have Chanukah on our minds.
One of the strangest questions asked in the Talmud has to do with Chanukah. The Talmud asks: "Ma Chanukah? What is Chanukah?" What do you mean, "What is Chanukah?" Everyone knows what Chanukah is! The Talmud doesn't ask: What is Purim or what is any other festival? And our
problem with the question is compounded by the fact that in regards to Purim, our other rabbinic festival, there is an entire tractate of the Talmud dedicated to explaining it.
When it comes to Chanukah the whole holiday is explained in one paragraph. And to make matters even worse, the whole Maccabean victory isn't even mentioned in the answer. What is going on here? Come to shul this Shabbat and stay awake during my sermon when I will devote my talk to "What is Chanukah?".
December 3, 2015
Our Torah portion this morning is called Vayeshev, which translates as "He Dwelled". The portion begins with Jacob having returned to Israel and his intention to finally live in peace and serenity. However Jacob is immediately confronted
wRabbi Zionceith the story of Joseph and the brothers. Despite Jacob's loss of his favourite child, he goes on, he continues.
In some ways, what happens to Jacob is the story of Chanukah and the Jewish people. After the Chanukah victory over the Greek Syrian Empire, we Jews seemed to have been wiped off the world stage when the Romans came and destroyed the Temple and exiled our people. But throughout those dark years in exile, we kept lighting the lights. We kept our faith in the darkest of times. As the great Jewish thinker of our day, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, put it: "The point of the holiday of Chanukah is not the miracle and it's not the war ... it is our ability to continue. It was about 2300 years ago and still we continue ... that's what we commemorate about Chanukah: we still exist."
Yes, a miracle is not G-d's intervention in our lives, a miracle is when a person suddenly rises above himself or herself and learns how to care and how to commit oneself, and how to believe strongly in a cause. It is what's called "the miracle of the human spirit." For us, it's the miracle of Jewish survival.
So on this Chanukah let's keep lighting the lights, and let's keep hoping the hope that in our time G-d will continue to help us "deliver the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous." Let us be thankful to G-d for "Aal nisecha sh'bechol imanu - for all your miracles which are daily with us."
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Chanukah Sameach
November 26, 2015
Our Torah portion this week is called Vayishlach, which translates as "and he sent". The Torah is referring to Jacob as he sends gifts to his brother Esau before their reconciliation.
This Shabbat morning our Beit Rayim community will welcome three special guests that have been "sent" to our congregation. Hen Mazzig, Naif Habib and Ron Lahav are visiting
Rabbi ZionceCanada as part of WordSwap. This will be the third consecutive year that our shul will be hosting members of WordSwap and past presentations have been received with overwhelming acclaim. WordSwap, which is hosted by StandWithUs, trains Israelis from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds - including Bedouins, Druze and Muslims - to engage North American students in conversations beyond the conflict. WordSwap introduces students (and adults) to an often unknown side of Israel. In an apolitical and safe space, they have the opportunity to discuss Israel beyond propaganda and rhetoric.
Past visits have had astounding results on campuses. The members of the WordSwap team are accessible and friendly. They engage students in conversations - in Arabic, Hebrew, and English.
Please join me in welcoming WordSwap & Meryle Kates, the Executive Director of StandWithUs Canada, as we listen to their fascinating stories .
November 19, 2015
Our Torah portion this week is called Vayetze, meaning "And He Left". The Torah reveals how Jacob our forefather fled the land of Israel when confronted with impending danger from his brother Esau. Jacob our Torah teaches represents Good Rabbi Zionce and Esau represents Evil.
In light of the tragic events in Paris last Shabbat, the rampant rise in anti-semitism throughout Europe and the continued terrorism in Israel, I am reminded of one important fact. We should be thankful!
We should be thankful to be living at a time when, for the first time in 2,000 years, we Jews do not have to flee from those who seek to destroy us.
We now have a state of Israel ... we now are the people of Israel.
We have so much to be thankful for ...
thankful that we are the people who do everything to keep innocent civilians alive.
They are the people who do everything to kill innocent civilians.
We are the people who cherish life. They are the people who glorify death.
We are the Bnai Yisroel - the children of Israel. Our enemies are the ones of whom our tradition teaches: "Yitamu chatoim min ha-olam - may the evildoers be eradicated from the earth."
Of us, we proclaim: "Am Yisroel chai - the people of Israel live!" ... forever and ever.
November 12, 2015
Our Torah reading this Shabbat is called Toldot, meaning generations, and tells of the birth of twin children Yaacov and Esav, adversaries from birth. Even before birth they were battling in their mother's womb. Esau was one of the first of a long line of people throughout history who were described as being a "soneh Yisroel - a hater of the
From the perspective of our sages Esav represented the archetype of our people's worst enemies. Our people have a long list of enemies; from Pharaoh to Haman to Hadrian to Torquemada to Hitler. (Yemach Shmam, maytheir names be obliterated! ) But these enemies we knew were our enemies. Everyone knew exactly where they stood. They did what they said they were going to do: attempt to destroy the Jewish people. Esav was different; Esav presented himself as a friend. Esav tried to pass as a good guy. Esav presented himself as being well meaning ... and people fell for it. People like his own father! The Biblical commentator, Rashi, relates the Midrash, which tells us that Esau and his kin would rob and extort the people while pretending to be honorable.
Let us be aware of who the true friends of the Jewish people are , and let us be cognizant of our true enemies, and let us follow the path we've always followed ... the path of Yaakov and we will see fulfilled the words: "Shoshanot Yaacov tzahalah v'someicha - the rose of Yaacov will be cheerful and glad."
November 5, 2015
The Torah portion this week is called Chaye Sarah. Although the name is the life of Sarah, the sedra actually begins with the death of Sarah. The rabbis teach that although Sarah dies at the beginning of the reading, at the end we emphasize her life and her many good deeds while she lived.
In this week's reading we also learn of the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca. Their marriage is a difficult one unlike Abraham and Sarah. Our sages in the Talmud tell us that when Abraham and Sarah got married a coin was minted in their honor. On one side was put a young man and young woman and on the other side an older man and older woman. This was meant to express the hope that the beauty, dreams and aspirations of this bride and groom in their youth would be fulfilled during all the days of their lives.
May the same hold true for us and all of our loved ones.
October 23, 2015
There are few events in history that have shaped the Jewish people as much as in this week's Torah portion of Lech Lecha. The ramifications of Abraham heeding G-d's instructions to settle in Israel in biblical times continue to be felt on a daily basis and ever since Israel has been, and continues to be, central to our Jewish psyche.
This week we also mark the lowest point in modern Israel's short history. It was on the 12th of Cheshvan 5756, that Yitchak Rabin z"l, the fifth Prime Minister of the State of Israel was assassinated by a fellow Jew. This date comes out this Sunday, October 25th, 2015
As we pray this Shabbat let us also increase our prayers for "sheket" for "quiet" in the Jewish Homeland. Let us be cognizant of the miraculous times we live in. How our ancestors, our grandparents, and great grandparents, longed for the dream of being able to visit Israel, an Israel ruled by Jews. And we live in a time where with one click of a computer mouse we can buy a ticket and be in our city of Jerusalem on the same day.
May the soul of Yitzchak Rabin rise high into the heavens and may his memory continue to be a blessing to the Jewish People.
Please join me in honouring our Seniors:
Ted & Miriam Benyovits
Jack & Beatrice Bishansky
Saul & Jenny Blayways
David & Cynthia Blumenthal
Marvin & Frieda Cohen
Jeffrey & Loraine Erdman
Harvey & Evelyn Gardner
Leon & Joyce Harris
Phil & Evelyn Josephs
Brian Lechem & Anne Goldstan
Wallace & Barbara Marks
Ivan & Miriam Muller
Betty Ruth Reisch
Ivan & Margaret Samuels
Manfred & Barbara Segall
Victor & Miriam Shermer
Sydney & Roslyn Ticker
Leon & Sylvia Wein
Sol & Raye Zeifman
October 16, 2015
Our Torah portion this week is called Noach and concludes with an account of the death of Abraham's father on his journey to ancient Israel. As you know, Abraham continued and successfully completed his father's journey and ever since we, Abraham's descendants, have had a special connection to Israel and the Holy City of Jerusalem.
My Friends, Israel is under siege. Terrorism has struck our beloved homeland . Knife stabbings and other terrorist incidents throughout the county and particularly in Jerusalem are occurring on a daily basis. Now is the time for Jewish unity and increased prayer gatherings. Now is the time to increase your shul attendance in support of our sisters and brothers living in the holy land.
As the Psalmist so aptly writes:
אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill].
October 9, 2015
We have just completed another successful Holy Day season and begin anew our yearly Torah cycle "in the beginning" with the first portion of Bereshit.
There is a Talmudic statement that we are :
"Shutafim im HaKadosh Baruch Hu, b'Maasei Bereshit"
"Partners with G-d in the divine process of creation"
G-d began creation and it is up to us, created in the image of G-d to continue that process. We at Beit Rayim are trying the best we can to fulfill that mission. With your help we can continue
G-d's work and live up to the task. New classes and programs are beginning. This is a great time to get involved in your shul.
P.S. May our Torah portion of Bereshit, In the Big Inning, be a sign from the Heavens. Go Jays Go!
October 2, 2015
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach:
Those regular attendees at synagogue services know that the proper greeting at this time of year is Moadim L'Simcha which translates literally as "special times of happiness". Upon hearing this one traditionally responds
"Chagim u'Zmanim l'Sasson " which means "holy days and times of joy".
I was thinking of this on the day after Yom Kippur when I stopped to visit my cousin Rabbi Yechezkel Zionce at his seasonal store where he operates the southern branch of Zionce Brother's Esrogim. My cousin wasn't there and I waited patiently to ask the young man in charge if he was expected back soon. Most all of the customers in the store were men with black hats and in long black coats. I soon realized that I must have seemed out of place. As the young man totaled their bill and gave his customers change, he said to each of them; "Ah gut yahr ... a gezunter yahr." Everyone present also would greet the person who was now leaving by exclaiming "ah gut yahr ....a gezuter yahr." When the opportunity arose to speak and inquire of my cousin, the young man looked at me in my knitted yarmulke, button-down shirt and gray suit and said, "I am not sure when he will return and by the way ...Hev ah heppy New Year."
To all of you, on behalf of all of us here at Beit Rayim... "a gut yahr ... a gezunter yahr and hev a heppy New Year!"
September 25, 2015
We have just completed a successful High Holy Day season at Beit Rayim.
We prayed together, we laughed together and some of us cried together. Many of us made promises to G-d ,and to ourselves, pledging increased involvement in our shul, in our future and in our Judaism in general.
Now is the time to make good on those pledges. Now is the time to get involved.
This is an exciting time at Beit Rayim. Feel the energy and witness the joy of being Jewish. Join us this Shabbat and for Yom Tov Sukkot on Monday and Tuesday mornings.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach
September 18, 2015
The other day I called a friend to wish him a mazal tov on the engagement of his son. He wasn't home and his voicemail said: "If you would like to leave a message, press one." So I did. I pressed one, and I left a message. And I thought I was finished. But then the machine said to me: "If you would like to hear the message you have recorded, press 2. I don't know why-just out of curiosity I guess - I pressed 2 and I listened to the message that I had just recorded.
And do you know what? It sounded terrible. I realized that I sounded curt. I had simply told him that I was trying to reach him, and nothing else. I didn't tell him that the reason I was calling was to give him a Mazal tov. I didn't mention where he could reach me if he wanted to call back. I didn't wish him a happy New Year. I just recorded a brief message, and that was it. And when I listened to the message that I had recorded, I must tell you that I was embarrassed. That's not the way a person should speak to a friend.
But then my friend's voicemail came on again. And this time, it said: "If you are satisfied with the message that you have recorded press 2. If you would like to erase this message and send another one in its place, press 3."
So I pressed 3 and I sent a new message. And this time, I didn't just say: "Sorry that I missed you." I said: "Mazal tov and much naches on your son's engagement" I told how he could reach me and I sent regards to his wife, and family wishing them all a Shana Tova.
It was very nice of my friend's voicemail to make it possible for me to correct my message and do it over again. It really was. And I realized: Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had a "do-over" device like that?
My Friends: Now is the time when we have the opportunity to do over the hurtful messages that we sent. For it is the premise of Yom Kippur that, if a telephone voicemail can give you a 2nd chance to redo your message, then perhaps G-d will give us a 2nd chance to correct our mistakes. And if we do so, we will have begun what I hope will be a good New Year - a year of love and understanding, a year of peace and blessing!
Gmar Chatima Tova
September 11, 2015
The story is told of a "meshulach" a "charity collector" who comes knocking on a very wealthy person's door. When the gentleman of the house answers, the meshulach greets him, "Sholom Aleichem, Mr. Goldstein, I'm collecting for the Lotsa Gelt Yeshivah, and I'm wondering if a nice, wealthy Jewish person like yourself wouldn't want to make a little contribution."
The homeowner replies, "The name is not Goldstein, it is Chauncy Throttlebottom III and I am not Jewish."
"Are you sure?" asks the meshulach.
"Sir, I am positive" replies the homeowner.
"But" says the meshulach, "It says right here that you're Jewish, and my records are never wrong."
"I can assure you that I am certainly not Jewish," replies the homeowner, getting more impatient. "I am not Jewish, my father is not Jewish, and my grandfather, alav hashalom, wasn't Jewish either!"
He couldn't help but say "alav hashalom" because it was in his kishkas. Your parents and grandparents , aleihem hashalom, are in yours. We have got to pass that along to our children and grandchildren. Some of you were born Jewish, others decided to become Jewish. In this coming year may we all BE Jewish. As someone put it: "It can be a burden but it is overwhelmingly a gift. Yes, people die for it but much more importantly everyone else - even if they don't know it - would kill to have it."
There has never been a time in the past 2,000 years when it was easier and happier to be a Jew. We've got it ... let's do it! And let this coming year be a good, sweet, Jewish New Year. May there be peace in Israel, here at home in Canada, and especially in our homes.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,
September 4, 2015
This week's Torah portion is called Ki Tavo, which translates as "when you come". I have been away from Beit Rayim these last three weeks and am now coming home to daven and I have an important message for you :
Rosh Hashana is right around the corner. Now is the time to act, to do, to give. Now is the time to change! You don't have to change everything about yourself that's impossible to do! But one little change for the better can make all the difference in the world ... in this world, and the next.
Remember the words in the Ethics of our Ancestors: "V'chol maasecha b'sefer nichtavim - all deeds are being inscribed in the Book."
May all our deeds large or small be good ones. And then we will witness the fulfillment of our prayer: "B'sefer chaim brocho v'shalomu'farnasa tovah nizacheir v'nikatev - In the Book of Life, blessing, peace and good sustenance we will be remembered and inscribed.
August 28, 2015
Some times the Torah speaks to us in a personal way. This Shabbat we read Ki Tetze (when you go out or leave) and next week we read Ki Tavo (when you come or return) . This Shabbat will mark my third in succession that I am not at my home or at Beit Rayim. Next week I am back with my Beit Rayim community. This week I am Ki Tetze.
Next week I am Ki Tavo.
In this week's Torah portion we find a law that most of us rarely, if ever, observe but one which brings with it little effort and great reward. It is the mitzvoh of Shiluach Hakan. The Torah tells us that if you find a bird's nest in a tree or on the ground and there are young birds in this nest, and the mother bird is sitting in the tree . . . says the Torah, "Do not take the mother bird and the eggs. First the mother bird must leave and then you may take the eggs or the small birds."
A number of years ago when I was serving a congregation in the southern United States I spoke of this mitzvah of Shiluch Hakan, and received a letter from a prominent congregant at the time who objected to this Torah given mitzvah and wrote that it sounded to him like a "holocaust of the birds". He threatened to withdraw a large donation he had pledged to the shul unless I responded in a shabbat sermon and agree with him from the bima.
Respond from the bima I did, agree with him I did not.
I spoke at the time that he reminded me of how once newspapers reported that Farely Mowat, a famous Canadian author, labeled the yearly seal hunt in Newfoundland a "holocaust." It seemed as if he was equating the killing of seals with the killing of Jews. Mowat defended himself by saying, "I do not make a distinction between the massive
destruction of any kind of animal - whether it is human or non-human".
That's the world we live in ... a world which has forgotten that it is humans - and not animals - it is humans and only humans who were created in the 'tzelem Elokim - the image of G-d.' And there is a world of difference between animals and human beings. It is natural for some animals to kill their young, but a human being is not allowed to. It
is natural for animals to destroy, but a human being is not allowed to. It is natural for animals to do whatever comes naturally to them, but human beings are not allowed to use that excuse. A person may be violent by nature but he is required to curb and control their tendency to be violent. A human being has a soul and therefore he is required to rise above one's natural animal instincts. This is what makes people different than animals.
I once got an email from Amazon.com informing me that a new book had just been published entitled, "How to Raise a Jewish Dog;" as if that's the greatest problem confronting the Jewish people! These days a much greater problem is how to raise a Jewish child; how to raise a Jewish child in a world which is going to the dogs!
My Friends, as we prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and the creation of the world, let us remember that what we are really celebrating is "the crown of creation" ... the birth of the first human. And each of us has what that first human had - a spark of the Divine within us.
August 13, 2015
Shabbat Shalom From Christian Island,
Yes you read it correctly. I have just begun my summer holiday and arranged to use a colleague's cottage to enjoy with some family and friends. The cottage is on a small island on Georgian Bay and is named (this is not a joke)
Christian Island. I remember a couple of years back when I called my mother, Faye z"l and she asked where I was and I told her I was on Christian Island . She was concerned that I would have trouble finding kosher food on a Christian island!
This week's Torah portion of Re'eh contains many of the laws of kashrut. The commitment to keep kosher, and to maintain a kosher home, is one that expresses and enforces solidarity with the Jewish people across time and around the world. Throughout the ages, we Jews have hallowed our lives and nurtured a sense of community through observance of the kosher laws. By forcing us to make specifically Jewish choices about how and what and when we eat, kashrut reminds us of our larger Jewish commitments and privileges every time we sit down to dine. And by maintaining a level of kashrut, we assure that Jews the world over can eat comfortably in our own home. Kashrut is a non-verbal reminder that Jewish values are practiced here.
The Torah contains G-d's call to become a nation of priests. Just as the priests used the laws of purity and impurity to extend the service of G-d to every aspect of their lives, we can do the same. By observing kashrut, we make every snack, every meal an occasion to serve G-d through one of our most basic and elemental acts.The laws of kashrut remind us of who we are and of what we may yet become. Observing the dietary laws is a response to G-d's will and a way of integrating a wise and ancient wisdom in our lives. In the words of this week's parashah: "thus it will go well with you and with your descendants after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Eternal your G-d."
There will be lots of kosher food on Christian Island this shabbat!
July 31, 2015
Those of you who are regular shabbat attendees know that I often introduce the Torah reading with the words:
" This week we have a great portion...."
Well my friends this week we really do have a great portion. For contained within Parashat Vaetchanan are both the Ten Commandments and the Shema
This week also has a special name attached to it which comes from the first words of the Haftarah. It is called Shabbat Nechamu, the Shabbat of Comfort. There are only a few shabbatot in our calendar that are named after the Haftarah section, read from the prophets at the conclusion of the Torah reading. Shabbat Shuva, Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbat Chazon are others in this unique category. It is with this consciousness that I intuitively turn to think about this Shabbat, almost instinctively blinded to all the important issues that are brought up in our Torah portion. For some reason I run directly to the prophet Isaiah and to his words, "נחמו נחמו עמי" "Be comforted , be comforted my people"( Isaiah 40:1)
The Shabbat after Tisha B'Av and the three sad weeks in our Jewish calendar are here to teach us to see beyond the negative and to focus on the positive, to overcome the challenges of life while celebrating life's gifts.
May we be appreciative of all the positive and good in our lives and may there be peace in Israel, here at home in our beloved Canada and especially in our homes.
Rabbi Chezi Zionce
P.S. - This Shabbat we remember the yahrzeits of Guy Hason (ben Yaakov v' Liora) and Yaniv Sheinbrum (ben Sergio v' Mirta), heroes of the Second Lebanon War and part of our extended Beit Rayim family.
July 23, 2015
The Hebrew date this Shabbat is the 9th of Av. We all know that the 9th of Av, or Tisha b'Av, is the saddest day in our Jewish calendar for it marks the destruction of our Beit Hamikdash, our Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
What happens when Tisha B'Av and Shabbat coincide?
It is an established fact that Shabbat trumps almost every other commandment, custom and practice in Jewish life and law. Allowing circumcision on Shabbat is the exception and not the rule. Whether confronting the fast days or feast days, Shabbat takes precedence. It rules, by rabbinic decree, over shofar and lulav as well as over the mournful commemorations of personal and national grief, loss and tragedy. It seems fair to say that Shabbat is the linchpin of all Jewish observances and of Judaism itself.
The supremacy of Shabbat over Tisha B'Av is a prime example of the priorities of Jewish values. We Jews built magnificent Temples and were a powerful nation in both First and Second Temple times. But none of this was permanent. It was always subject to destruction and decadence. However, we Jews believed, in the main, that G-d would not allow our sovereignty or Temples to be taken away from us and we treated them as permanent fixtures to which we were entitled in perpetuity.
Tisha B'Av has come to represent the transient and temporary in Jewish life and history. However, the Shabbat, which has almost single-handedly enabled us as a people to survive all of the vicissitudes and tragedies of exile, remains permanent and dominant in our thoughts and lives. It is no wonder that Shabbat supersedes Tisha B'Av in observance and commemoration. We all know that the permanent will always dominate the temporary.
My Friends, we all pray for security and permanence in dwelling, both in our personal familial life and for our beloved State of Israel in this our third attempt to do so in our ancient homeland. Permanence is achieved by associating with permanence. And it is the Shabbat above all else that can give to us a sense of permanence and serenity. This Shabbat, which would otherwise be a day of mourning and fasting, we should recall and internalize this concept of the permanent Shabbat and of its supremacy over all else.
July 16, 2015
This past week's Iran Nuclear Deal has exacerbated the tension between Israel and her long time enemy. Many are renewing the call for Israel to take care of Iran's nuclear threat amidst her continued calls for Israel's destruction. I have read several commentaries by Diaspora Jewish leaders urging Israel to pre-emptively attack Iran's nuclear facilities before it is too late.
This week's Torah portions of Matot-Masei contains an important lesson for we Jews living in the Diaspora and is found within the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad.
Tzelafchad was a man who had no sons, only five daughters, which meant that his family would have no inheritance in the land of Israel. So the daughters cried out to Moses:
"Wherefore should the name of our father be done away from among his family? Because he had no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brothers of our father."
Moshe did not know how to answer them and so he turned to G-d, who told him that the daughters should inherit as well. Ever since, the daughters of Tzelafchad have been the paradigm for women's rights, demanding the same rights as men have. But there is a bit more to this story than meets the eye.
The incident of the death of Tzelafchad took place two years after the Jews left Egypt. The daughters at that time did not demand any of his money or any of his possessions. It was only 38 years later when the Jews were about to enter the Promised Land that the daughters demanded their rights to a piece of the land of Israel. These women were not simply interested in their rights, but in their duties. They cared not simply for a piece of the land, but for a piece of the action! They didn't care to make a buck, they wanted to make a difference! They understood that if they did not possess some of the land of Israel they would never be able to have a say in the destiny of Israel. They knew that if they didn't live and own a piece of the soil of Israel that their voice would have been muted. Many of the Jews living around the world have forgotten this message! We don't fight Israel's wars, we don't own a piece of the land ... but we, from here, know what they should be doing there?
The daughters of Tzelafchad understood what we who live outside of Israel need to understand. We can be a partner with Israel in the destiny of the Jewish people ... but when it comes to Israel's military actions, we are not an equal partner. We have to be a silent partner.
May G-d protect the State of Israel from any and all harm and, as the words of the kaddish prayer conclude so succinctly:
"May G-d who makes peace in the heavens above make peace for us and for all Israel."
July 9, 2015
This Shabbat, as we read Parashat Pinchas, we find ourselves in the midst of 21 sad days in the Hebrew calendar. It began with last Sunday's fast of the 17th of Tammuz and continues for three weeks through the fast of Tisha B'Av. These 21 days are marked as days of sadness in the Jewish calendar because of the many tragedies that took place during these days over the course of time, but most especially because of the destruction of the Temples in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. in Jerusalem.
I confess that some years it is difficult for me to connect with the tragedies that befell ancient Israel. This year, however, I only have to think of the tragic loss of the 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 Israeli citizens who were killed at this time last year while defending our Holy Land.
This year we will remember the Temples and also honour the memories of the Israeli casualties of last summer's Gaza War at our Tisha B'Av service, which will take place on Saturday July 25th at 9:30 p.m. I will be accompanied by the beautiful voice of Jaclyn Cepler-Klimitz. Please make every effort to join us.
July 2, 2015
Our Torah portion this week is called Balak. Balak was the king of Moab during the time that the Israelites were trekking through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The narrative tells us that Balak felt threatened by the presence of Israel marching through his domain. Consequently, he summoned the prophet Bilaam to curse them so that they would neither undermine his rule nor steal his crops or water.
The Torah tells us that when Bilaam approached Israel to curse them, he was moved by the peaceful and beautiful nature of the people, living harmoniously as a united community. Therefore, instead of cursing them he blessed them with the renown words of "Ma Tovu...How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling - places O Israel!" (24:5). These words comprise the opening prayer of our weekday and Shabbat morning services. How surprising that the first words we utter as a community in the morning were not only written by an outsider but by one whose intention was to harm us?! Instead, we celebrate the fact that others noticed how innocent and peaceful our ancestors were; neither ominous nor destructive. Sometimes, we see the best of ourselves through the eyes and from the perspective of others!
As Shabbat Balak approaches, I hope we'll learn valuable lessons from this parasha. May we try not to be our own worst enemies in life. May we not need others to identify and appreciate the beauty and goodness that each one of us possesses. Finally, may we turn curses into blessings, evil into good, swords into ploughshares and friction into peace for the benefit of ourselves and others.
June 26, 2015
The Torah portion this Shabbat is called Chukat, and contains the strange incident of Moses and the rock. The setting is the fortieth year of the wandering of the Israelites in the desert and immediately following the death of Miriam. Tradition tells us of a marvelous well that, as a tribute to Miriam`s piety, sprang up wherever the Israelites camped. When Miriam died there was an urgent need for water. The Israelites complained and quarreled with Moses. G-d told Moses to assemble the masses, then to take his staff and order water to come forth from a rock. Instead of following G-d`s command, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff.
The classic biblical commentator Maimonides suggests that Moses lost patience with the complaining Israelites and was not able to control his anger. It was in this moment of exasperation that Moses struck the rock.
In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics Of Our Ancestors we are told "Who is a hero? One who conquers their negative inclinations".
Let us take these words to heart, finding the patience and wisdom to overcome adversity and to focus our energies on identifying positive solutions.
June 19, 2015
Our Torah parasha this week is called Korach. "Korach" is one of the six parshiyot out of the 54 in the Torah titled after a person. Korach, a Levite from the same tribe that claimed Moshe, Aharon and Miriam challenged his cousins for the leadership of the Jewish People.
The Mishnah in Pirke Avot 5:19 teaches:
"A controversy for Heaven's sake will have lasting value.
A controversy not for heaven's sake will however not endure."
What is the definition of a "controversy for Heaven's sake"?
The debates between Hillel and Shammai.
What is the definition of a "controversy not for Heaven's sake?
The rebellion of Korach and his associates."
Tradition relates that Hillel and Shammai, two esteemed wise men disagreed on a wide spectrum of Jewish legal points. Nevertheless, each of them raised great schools of scholars who lived Jewish lives of integrity. Though they interpreted halach a differently, each teacher along with their followers were praised for respecting each other's opinions. That is one reason why the considerations and rulings of both Hillel and Shammai have been presser ved for us within the Oral Tradition. Even though we predominantly follow the path of Hillel, the teachings of Shammai are sound and offer significant insights and may again be followed one day. The discrepancies of Hillel and Shammai were ultimately trifling compared to the fact that both of them were true seekers of paths that led to the glory of G-d. Therefore, they have both survived and continue to inspire us today.
Our sages contend that Korach's motivation was to attain personal glory and power by wrestling the leadership away from Moses after embarrassing him in public.
This week the Torah invites us to consider why and how we disagree with others. If our ambitions are driven by personal gain at the expense of others, then we can expect our labours to end in disgrace and doom much like befell Korach and his gang. Therefore, this Shabbat and always, may the work of our hands lead to enhancing the nature of the Jewish people and the world in the spirit of pluralism and harmony. May each of us, individually and collectively, be inspired to contribute to this blessed enterprise so that like Hillel and Shammai, our efforts and contributions will endure and take us down the road to peace for the benefit of all!
June 12, 2015
The popular story is told of the tourist in Israel who attended a recital and concert at the Moscovitz Auditorium. He was quite impressed with the architecture and the acoustics. The tourist inquired of the tour guide, "Is this magnificent auditorium named after Chaim Moscovitz, the famous Talmudic scholar?"
"No," replied the guide. "It is named after Sam Moscovitz, the writer."
"Never heard of him. What did he write?"
"A cheque", replied the guide.
Writing cheques is one way of supporting the important institutions and organizations in our diverse Jewish community. Kol Hakavod to those generous philanthropists whose contributions enable the success of our efforts. Another tangible way of exhibiting support to the Jewish People is through volunteerism. Countless individuals sit on our board and committees donating their time to all of our Beit Rayim endeavors.
In this week's Torah Portion of Shelach Lecha we are reminded of the spies sent by Moses to
reconnoiter the Land of Israel. Of the twelve spies listed in the parasha , eleven come from important "chashuv" families. Several of the spies have holy names containing "shem hashem" a derivative of G-d. However one spy , it appears, does not possess any distinct familial importance nor an important name.
Caleb has its origins in the Hebrew word for dog. The Torah refers to him as a Kenezite , a tribe who had joined with the Jewish people in a covenant with Abraham. Caleb ,who together with Joshua, provides confidence and resolve in our ancient ancestral brethren, achieves a position of prominence through his actions.
The individuals who donate their time and efforts on behalf of our shul are the modern day "Calebs" of our Beit Rayim Community. May they continue in their holy work going from strength to strength and inspire others to emulate their actions.
June 5, 2015
In this week's Torah portion of Behaalotcha, our biblical ancestors are doing something very Jewish. They are complaining about the food.
It seems that Jews complaining about food is almost cultural. You know the story of the elderly Jewish woman complaining to a friend about a restaurant where she ate: "It was doubly horrible," she says. "The food was terrible... and they served such small portions!" So Jews complaining about food comes as no surprise. What is surprising was the basis of their complaint, when they cried out: "Zacharnu et ha-dagah - we remember the fish we used to eat free in Egypt - now we have nothing but this manna to look to." Now you tell me, do you really think the Egyptians served the Jewish people fish during our years of slavery? Is that how you picture the Egyptians treating our ancestors - by serving them gefilte fish? The description that we have of what the Jews ate in Egypt was matzoh, the lechem oni - the poor people's bread. What fish?
It seems that our ancestors in those days fell victim to a syndrome that many of us have to this very day. It's called the syndrome of "the good old days." There seems to be a tendency amongst many people to always picture the past as having been much better than it really was. Whatever is wrong today, they think in their minds, was much better in "the good old days".
My Friends, perhaps we should take a cue from the famous song from the Broadway show "La Cage aux Folles" - "The best of times are now." These are the best of times - yesterday's gone and tomorrow may never be. All we have is today, now.
So let us enjoy and cherish the old and the new. Let us be grateful for all the good that we have in our lives. Rather than complain, let us echo and proclaim the words of our daily prayer: Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu u'mah yaffa yerusheitenu - "happy are we, how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage."
May 28, 2015
Our Torah portion this week is called Naso and lists the names of the princes of the twelve tribes of Israel as they offered gifts at the dedication of the Tabernacle. If you look at the names of the princes of the Twelve Tribes you will notice something very strange about them: 11 of the 12 have religious names; that is, they have the name of G-d within them. They have names like Elitsur
which means "G-d is my rock" or Nitanel which means "G-d has given" or Elishama which means "G-d has heard." One even has a quadruple form of the name of G-d within his name. One is called Shlumiel ben Tsurishaday. Shalom is a name of G-d. El is a name of G-d. Tsur is a name of G-d. And Sha-day is a name of G-d. So this man's name is really a four-fold praise of G-d.
What is significant is that 11 out of the 12 princes, the 11 who had pious names, all turned out to be not such pious people. Among the 12 there was only one who was really noble, really brave, and really devoted to G-d. Do you know what his name was? It was the prince of the tribe of Judah whose name was Nachshon ben Aminadav.
The 11 who had G-d's name on exhibit as part of their names turned out to be not such a great credit to G-d, and the one who had the worst name of all, the one who for some reason that I cannot comprehend was named for a snake, turned out to be the bravest and the most loyal servant of G-d of them all. When the Israelites stood at the edge of the Red Sea, all the other princes suddenly became very polite. Each one said to the other: "After you." But Nachshon had the courage to jump into the sea before it split and he was the one who saved the Jewish people.
Perhaps what the Torah is telling us is that there ought to be a truth in advertising law, not only for
products but also for people.
Let us take this lesson to heart. The name that really counts is not the one given to us but the one we make for ourselves. Let us conduct our lives in keeping with the words of the Psalmist: "N'ki kapaim u'var levav - let us exhibit to one and all not only clean hands but a pure heart as well."
May 21, 2015
This is a special weekend in our Jewish Calendar. The same moment that Shabbat ends on Saturday evening, we will usher in the our new holy days - the Yom Tov of Shavuot. Shavuot is also named Zman Matan Toreteinu, the time of the giving of the Torah.
Shavuot is marked not only by eating cheese blintzes and reciting Yizkor (Monday morning) but more importantly by increased Torah study. Many have a custom of staying up all night and studying in anticipation of receiving the Torah. In past years we have offered late study sessions and a few devoted students have joined us as we studied around midnight.
This year we will offer a different model with three learning opportunities.
On this Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings I will offer three classes beginning immediately after mincha services at 8pm. Our Shavuot themed topic is: Megillat Ruth and the Ten Commandments.
Please attempt to join us and bring more Torah into your lives.
The blessing below is written by the poet Danny Siegel and is inspired by a passage in the Talmud in Berachot page 17a. I share it with you on the eve of Shavuot with the hope and prayer that it holds true for you and your loved ones.
May your eyes sparkle with the light of Torah,
And your ears hear the music of its words.
May the space between each letter of the scrolls
Bring warmth and comfort to your soul.
May the syllables draw holiness from your heart,
And may this holiness be gentle and soothing to the world.
May your study be passionate,
And meanings bear more meanings
Until Life itself arrays itself to you
As a dazzling wedding feast.
And may your conversation,
Even of the commonplace,
Be a blessing to all who listen to your words
And see the Torah glowing on your face.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach
May 14, 2015
The second of this week's double Torah portion of Behar/Bechukotai begins with the words: Im bichukotay teyleychu -literally- if you will walk in My commandments....And then it lists the blessings that you will receive if you do.
What does that mean: "to WALK in my commandments"?
Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach, zichrono livracha, pointed out that there are some mitzvot that are addressed to the mind, such as studying Torah, there are some mitzvot that are addressed to the hand, such as giving tzedaka, and there are some mitzvot that are addressed to the heart, such as praying with kavanah (intent). And there are some mitzvot that are addressed to the feet. It is not enough to talk the talk; sometimes you must also walk the walk. To go to a house of shivah or to a seudat mitzvah or to a person who needs comforting or to a place where we are needed, these are the mitzvot that are addressed to the feet. To fulfill them we have to be willing to get up and out of our easy chairs and go to the place where we are needed.
And so I ask you and I remind myself to take to heart the commentary on the opening words of today's Torah reading: "If you walk in My commandments these are the blessings you will receive". Let us remember these words and let us strive to live by them. Let us do mitzvot, not only with our minds, and not only with our hearts and not only with our hands, and not only with our pens. Let us do mitzvot with our feet as well, and may G-d bless our Beit Rayim community with the deeds that we do.
May 7, 2015
This week's portion of Emor contains the laws of mourning for the Kohanim, the biblical religious leaders. It provides that a Kohen is required to come in contact with the dead bodies of his closest
relatives, even though by doing so he will become "tamey", ritually defiled, and will not be able to officiate as a Kohen until he performs the acts of purification. The sedra makes two points. One, that a Kohen must avoid contact with any other dead body. And two, that a Kohen must have
contact if the dead person is one of his seven close relatives: a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, or a wife.
On this passage, the Talmud recounts a fascinating story. In the Tractate of Zevachim, (page l00, Side A) they tell that once there was a Kohen whose wife died on the eve of Pesach. This Kohen decided not to tend to his wife's burial in order to be able to maintain his important public responsibilities.
Was this piety to be praised? Was this a sense of responsibility to the community, and a placing of its needs above his own, for which this Kohen should have been admired?
Not according to the Talmud. The Talmud says that his fellow Kohanim forced him, against his will, to visit his dead spouse and thereby become tamey, unpure.
There are times when all of us want to deny the reality of death. One of the ways of avoiding its reality is to be too busy to deal with it.
On this Shabbat when we first encounter the laws of mourning, let us learn two important lessons. One, that that we must grieve, and, secondly, that we must also get through our grief and get to the other side.
May these wise guidelines that are found in our tradition help us and heal us, whenever pain and loss strike us down, as they will do at some time in the life of each of us. May they teach us these two lessons that we all need to learn... take the time to grieve, however painful, but then re-engage in our lives instead of dwelling for too long in our sorrow.
May the memories of all our loved ones be a blessing.
April 30, 2015
Our Torah portions this week are Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Acharei Mot literally translates as "after the death", and Kedoshim as "holy things" or "holy people".
This week after the tragic events in Nepal I can't help but think of those attempting to survive and rebuild their lives "after the death" of so many of their familial members. In reading of the rescue missions to help this poor nation I am struck by the kedoshim - the holy people - participating in this important humanitarian cause.
I am so proud of the State of Israel, who dispatched three airplanes with 290 rescuers and medical staff to help the beleaguered nation.
Israel truly understands the meaning behind the famous verse (Lev. 19:18) in today's Torah
portion: V'ahavta l'reyacha kamocha, "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Rashi, in his commentary, quotes Rabbi Akiva from the Midrash saying, Zeh klal gadol baTorah, "This is the greatest principle of the Torah." It's the foundation, the summary of the whole Torah: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." That is why Israel is always among the first responders to any great tragedy anywhere in the world... even to countries not very friendly to her.
May the people of Nepal succeed in rebuilding their lives and their country.
April 23, 2015
Our Torah portions this week are called Tazria-Metzorah and deal primarily with a skin ailment called tzaraat. Our sages traditionally explain this affliction by associating it with the sin of gossip or slander - saying that the word metzora was a contraction of the term, motzi ra, "one who gives a bad name."
I am writing these words on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. We all know that it is common place for celebrities of all kinds to "give a bad name" when referring to Israel.
Why do so many find the need to defame our beloved Jewish homeland?
Sure not every Israeli soldier acts like a saint, and not every Israeli policy is an act of genius. There is certainly room for criticism but that should not blind anyone to the fact that despite all the
provocations and incitements, despite our enemies deploying the most despicable means, using
their children as human shields and their wives as suicide bombers, despite acts of barbarism and
terrorism ... despite all this there is no country on earth more desirous of peace, more willing to
compromise for peace than the people of Israel.
The author of Israel's National Anthem, Hatikvah, the Hope, Naphtali Herz Imber, once said, "Kings, Earls, Cardinals will all pass away ... but I and Hatikvah will remain forever."
He was right! The hope remains forever ..."
L'hiyot am chofshi b'artzeinu b'eretz tziyon v'Yerushalayim
" - to be a free people in our land, in the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Chag Haatzmaut Sameach and Shabbat Shalom
April 16, 2015
Our Torah portion this week is called Shemini . Our sedra describes the untimely death of Aaron's two sons Nadav and Avihu. Tradition holds that they lost their lives after intentionally becoming inebriated while officiating as religious leaders offering sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people. Our sages take special note of Aaron's response in recording :
"vayidom Aharon, and Aaron was silent".
Silence is one way in dealing with loss.
As I write these words on Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah on Holocaust Remebrance Day, I am reminded that for far too long we have emulated Aaron's silence when combating injustices and atrocities that have befallen our people. Enough is enough. How thankfull we are that we live in a time and place where we no longer are required to be silent
in the face of an inhumane world.
April 9, 2015
I hope the matzah is treating you well!
We all know that the Hebrew word Pesach (or Passover) has its origins in the biblical account of the angel of death "passing over" the homes of the Jewish/Israelite households and sparing our first born sons. There is an obscure rabbinic commentary suggesting another meaning to the name of our holy days.
Peh in Hebrew means mouth and Siach means dialogue.
The combination of these two words is Pesach. At our Seder(s) we all use our mouths not only to eat all of the delicacies on our table but also to engage in dialogue.
On Passover more Jews observe kashrut than any time of the year. So many of us meticulously
check everything we eat to determine if it is kosher. As Passover comes to an end, may we continue to keep in mind not only what food and drink goes in to our mouths, but also the words that come out of our mouths.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom
April 2, 2015
Did you know that the most widely celebrated Jewish Holy Days are Passover? More Jews gather at a Pesach Seder than in Shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is important to make sure that our Seder experience is relevant to the different types of Jews at our table. As the Haggadah explains, Jews of every kind gather for a religious ceremony to traditionally commemorate our Exodus from Egypt. However we all know that, truth be told, most of us gather to get together with other Jews and share familial traditions we remember from our Seder as a child. Today in the multicultural environment in which we all live it is imperative to inject life into our Seders, and to provide our guests and especially our children, with inspiration and passion for the love of Judaism we all share.
Years ago when I hosted my first Seder I examined the Haggadot that were available and found none that suited my needs. I wanted a Hagaddah that was traditional but egalitarian, timeless but relevant,
reverent but with a sense of humor. I wanted those gathered at my table to grapple with timeless questions of freedom, of our purpose on Earth, and of our very existence as Jews. Needless to say I couldn't find any one Hagaddah that met all my needs. The only solution was to borrow the best of others and compile my own. Most years I add and adapt my Hagaddah a little to reflect upon contemporary issues.
A Seder is about memory. It is about remembering the Exodus from Egypt, and at the same time
creating new Seder memories for us and for our children. I hope that your Seder will be a magical
evening of learning and laughter, an evening filled with fond memories of the past, and one you
Chag Pesach Sameach
March 26, 2015
The week before Pesach seems both short and endless in its demands, holding a sense of too many things to do and not enough time for all of them. It seems that the same could be said about this Shabbat .
What to focus on?
The Torah portion, Tsav, and the preparation of Aaron and his sons to serve in the Mishkan (tabernacle) remind us of our own Pesach preparations.
The special haftorah that we read from the prophet Malachi, ends with Eliyahoo (Elijah the prophet) bringing peace between children and their parents.
The special designation of the Shabbat before Pesach as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Sabbath.
May this Pesach bring us a renewed sense of holiness as we celebrate with our families and our communities around the Seder table. And may there be peace in our homeland Israel, here at home in Canada, and especially in our homes.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher V'Sameach
March 19, 2015
This week we mark Shabbat Hachodesh the special Shabbat in which we usher in the new month of Nissan. In the special maftir reading from the second Torah, we read of the establishment of the Jewish lunar calendar. Our people's calendar is of such significance that the commandment regarding it was the first commandment given to the collective Jewish people:
Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim
This month shall be for you the beginning of months
Every month representatives of the great court in Jerusalem had to go out and ascertain when the moon was beginning its new cycle, so that a new month could be proclaimed. The calendar was necessary not only for establishing the correct dates for the Jewish holidays, but also for establishing when newly grown produce had to be portioned off for tithing and other temple offerings.
Both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds relate an issue that came up in the second century, when most of our people's greatest scholars had been exiled to the academies in Babylonia. A debate erupted over who should be setting the calendar for the Jewish people ... the scholars in Babylon, or the people who had been left behind in Israel? The decision? Don't listen to the experts in Babylon! Instead, listen to the people who are living in Israel. The calendar is based on the climate of Israel, and the laws relating to the calendar are implemented in Israel. The Babylonians may be smarter, but the people who are living in Israel know better.
The last few days many people have asked me if I am "happy" with the results of the Israeli Election this past Tuesday. I am elated! I am especially elated that we have a Jewish country with free and transparent elections. As a Jew living in "contemporary Babylonia", I support the decisions made by the citizens of the state of Israel, those that live there and send their children to the Israeli Defense Forces . May G-d bless the new government of the State of Israel.
Am Yisrael Chai,
and Shabbat Shalom
March 12, 2015
This special Shabbat is traditionally referred to as Shabbat Parah on which we read the commandment regarding the Red Heifer. We read this portion on this Shabbat because Pesach is soon upon us and our biblical ancestors were being reminded that they must purify themselves so that they will be able to eat the Pascal sacrifice.
The law as to how one purifies oneself after coming in contact with the dead is one that defies understanding. A Red Heifer is slaughtered, some of its blood is sprinkled toward the Tabernacle, the cow is burned and its ashes are used for purification. Neither King Solomon nor Google has provided a rational explanation regarding this law.
But some commentators raise an interesting question. If you look in the Torah you don't find this law being stated before the laws of Passover, where it seems it should be. One contemporary commentator points out that if you look in the Torah, after the sin of the spies, the Jews have now travelled nearly 39 years without any communication from G-d. G-d is off the radar screen. And the Jews are depressed and feel lost. Along comes this law to remind the Jews: there are a lot of things in life you're not going to understand. There's lots of things in life that you will be called on to do that don't seem to make any sense. You are not going to hear from G-d on a daily basis! But that's life!
And you keep on going because of one thing, and one thing alone: you have faith.
There is so much we don't know. As Isaac Batsheva Singer, the Yiddish Nobel writer, once pointed out, "With all our knowledge we still don't know why a magnet doesn't work on cottage cheese." We don't know that, and so much more. Only G-d knows 2 and we must put our faith in G-d, keeping in mind the Biblical words: "Ha-nistarot l'Hashem Elokeinu - that which is hidden is for G-d, but that which is revealed is for us and our children forever.
March 5, 2015
This week's Torah portion of Ki Tisa begins with a census of the Jewish People in the desert, after the exodus from Egypt. The parasha begins with words "when you lift up the heads". It seems like a strange way to begin instructions for a census.
On closer examination our rabbis deduced that the words are most appropriate. When we are counted, when we are noticed, when our names are mentioned we indeed are "lifted up".
May we all be worthy of our names. The names given to us by our parents, the names ascribed to us by others and the names we create for ourselves.
February 26, 2015
Remember and Do Not Forget!
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. Occurring annually on the Sabbath that precedes Purim, the name is connected to the Maftir reading from the 2nd Sefer Torah that comes from Deuteronomy 25:17-19. " Remember whatAmalek did to you when you left Egypt, how undeterred by fear of G-d, they attacked you from the rear, targeting the most helpless of the nation...Therefore, you shall destroy the memory of Amalek (from generation to generation) - do not forget!"
The renowned Biblical scholar Nehama Leibowitz addresses the unprecedented command to wipe out the essence and memory of an entire nation. She explains that in the Torah, those who "do not fear G-d" commit the most heinous of crimes - they attack the weakest and most defenseless elements of society.. In the Jewish tradition, Amalek has come to symbolize and become synonymous with the existence of evil and evil people throughout history. On Purim when we remember how Haman and his henchmen designed to annihilate the Jews living in ancient Persia, we equate his demonic ways to those of Amalek. Tragically, the Jewish people have had to contend with determined adversaries throughout history. Until evil is obliterated from the face of the earth, we will forever be enjoined to remember to fight wickedness in all the forms in which it appears - "remember and do not forget!"
May Shabbat Zachor inspire us to remember and not to forget how precious each one of us is and how much each one of us can affect our people and the world for good. May our weekly reading of Parshat Tetzaveh inspire us to remember and not to forget to continue the sacred work of purifying ourselves and the world around us.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach!
February 19, 2015
This week's Torah Portion of Terumah begins with the words " take me gifts". The text actually uses the word take when one would expect the word give to be more appropriate. This implies that when one gives, one also receives.
In commenting on this strange wording in the Torah, our sages make note of the word used for gifts. The hebrew word teruma comes from the infinitive l'harim, meaning to "raise up". The connection between gifts and raising up is obvious. When one gives, as the first verse of our parasha tells us, "of a willing heart" then one is overcome with joy and a sense of fulfilment. In essence one's whole being is raised up.
In the midrash we are told of the difference between a fool and a wise person. When giving to charity the former thinks only about giving, while the latter knows that even in giving one is receiving.
May our shul and community of Beit Rayim continue to flourish, giving and receiving gifts with a willing heart.
February 12, 2015
This week's Torah portion of Mishpatim, begins with the hebrew letter "vav" which is translated as "and". This "and" connects last week's sedra with this week's sedra. Parshat Yitro and Parshat Mishpatim are the very core of the Torah. Last week we read about the revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. In ten simple and eloquent statements we find the essence of our way of life: belief in G-d, eschewing idolatry, using our words with integrity, observing the Sabbath, honouring our parents, and living an ethical life with respect for all of G-d's creatures. What could be more beautiful or simple than this? Who doesn't believe in the Ten Commandments?
In the Ten Commandments we have a vision of what the world could be, and what it should be.
Parshat Mishpatim is more complicated. This parshah is referred to as Sefer Ha'brit, the Book of the Covenant. It presents us with a collection of laws touching on every aspect of life. This is one stop shopping for the minutiae of daily life. Unlike Parshat Yitro these laws are casuistic; that is, they are not presented unequivocally but in the form of case studies. "If such and such takes place then you shall do the following..." Unlike the Ten Commandments which are presented quite directly, "Thou shall," and "Thou shall not," these laws are messy. They acknowledge the complexities of life.
It is interesting to note that most of the countries in the Western world borrow many of their civil and criminal laws from Parashat Mishpatim. May we continue to be a light unto the nations.
February 5, 2015
Winter arrived this week . On Monday we all awoke to our biggest snowfall of the year ( so far!). It seemed inappropriate to have to deal with snow on the same day that we would gather at Beit Rayim to celebrate Tu B'shvat , the 15th day of the month of Shevat.
Tu B'shvat is never mentioned in the Torah or for that manner anywhere in the Bible. It is only mentioned in the Mishnah as being the yearly date for reckoning the age of trees. A significant number of mitzvot we Jews performed in Israel depended on the agricultural cycle. For example a Jew was obligated to tithe 10% of their produce from that year. What did "that year" mean? It meant from one Tu B'shvat to the next.
With the destruction of the Temple and our exile from Israel, the meaning of Tu B'Shvat lost most of its relevance but it took on renewed meaning with the re-establishment of the State of Israel and the return to the land . This became a natural day to commit ourselves to the planting of trees in Israel.
We Jews have responded to the call to plant trees in Israel and to literally make the "desert bloom".
May Israel continue to bloom and my our Beit Rayim community continue to grow from strength to strength .
January 29, 2015
Our Torah portion this Shabbat is called Beshalach and within it are contained these most poignant words for our Sisterhood Shabbat.
"Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them:
Sing to G-d, for G-d has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver G-d has hurled into the sea." (Exodus 15 20-21)
The passage about Miriam's song after the splitting of the Red Sea does not generally receive much attention from traditional commentators. Nevertheless, these verses provide important evidence of the independent action of women in biblical times.
In addition this text is the first in which Miriam is accorded the name of Prophetess. This is not something that is given lightly. This title was previously used with regard to Abraham, "since he is a prophet" (Gen. 20:7), and here is applied to a woman for the first time.
Further , although it might seem that Miriam was merely repeating the words of her brother, Moses, this is not the case. There is a significant difference between her words and his. Moses began his song in the singular, "I will sing to G-d," whereas Miriam addressed all the women around her and included them in the religious experience by saying, "Sing [all of you, in the plural] to G-d,"
Perhaps the Bible is thereby alluding to various types of leadership: that of Moses, who devoted a large part of his life to isolated communion with G-d, and that of Miriam, who was with the masses, working on their behalf. Miriam is the first feminine figure who is active in public life. In this respect Miriam undoubtedly resembled her brother Aaron, who due to his role as priest and by virtue of his special character is perceived in Jewish tradition as a person deeply involved with others, caring for their peace and well-being. Maybe the text of the Torah refers to Miriam as Aaron's sister (and not Moses) precisely in order to emphasize that she followed the example of her brother Aaron in his mode of involved leadership.
May the women of Beit Rayim continue to emulate Miriam the Prophetess and lead us in prayer and song for generations to come.
January 22, 2015
Our Torah portion this week is called Bo and is a continuation of the story of the "Makot" or the "plagues" that G-d brought upon Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let our Jewish ancestors out of slavery. Our sages notice that after the sixth plague, the Torah no longer says: "And Pharaoh hardened his heart." Instead it says, "Vayichazek Hashem et leiv Paroh - And G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart." It is impossible to describe the many questions and answers this phrase gave rise to over the centuries. The difficulty is obvious: if G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart, then how could Pharaoh be punished for what he did? He had no choice. Perhaps he wanted to let the Jews go, but G-d hardened his heart. Good question! And, unfortunately, for the most part, the question is better than the answers that are given.
For me, one of the best answers for this theological predicament is found in the Midrash where Rab Yochanan asked the question and his colleague, Reish Lakish, replied: "Let the mouths of the heretics be stopped up... when G-d warns a person once, twice and even a third time, and he still does not repent, then does G-d close his heart against repentance." One rabbi read these words in a rather novel, unique and important way. According to this rabbi's understanding of Reish Lakish, G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart not so that he would be able to punish him; no, G-d hardened his heart because that was the punishment! Five times Pharaoh had the opportunity to repent and he didn't do it. And it was not that there were to be another five plagues to punish him; there was to be another five plagues where Pharaoh would have no choice. That was his punishment. In Jewish law, five swings and you're out! G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart not as a means to an end, but that was the end! Pharaoh's decision to enslave the Jewish people was his free choice. His punishment was to have his free choice revoked. This was a punishment measure for measure. Pharaoh considered himself a god who could do whatever he wanted. Many commentators say that when the Torah tells us that people are created "in the image of G-d," that means G-d gave people the "G-d-like" attribute of free will. Pharaoh was punished by having this G-d-like attribute taken from him. Jewish tradition is based on the concept of b'chirat chofshi - free choice. No greater punishment can be given a person than to have that free choice taken from them.
Pharaoh lost his right to choose. Jewish people living in this wonderful country of Canada -we have it! Let us learn to choose wisely, and then the prayer we recited last week when we ushered in a new month will be fulfilled; we'll be blessed with a chaim sh'yimalu mishalot libeinu l'tovah - a life in which all the desires of our heart will be fulfilled for good." And to that end, let us all say Amen.
January 15, 2015
Our Torah portion this week, the second in the book of Exodus , is called Vaera. Vaera literally means "and He appeared". The He refers to G-d.
In light of last weeks tragedies in France, we hope and pray that "G-d will appear", and that He will remedy the ongoing terrorism that has befallen the European continent.
Hashem oz liamo yitain , Hashem yiverach et amo b'shalom,
May G-d give strength to G-d's people and may G-d bless all G-d's people with peace
January 8, 2015
As we begin the second of our five books of Torah, we are introduced to the central figure of our chumash:
"A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son."
What a strange introduction to the birth of Moses. Why does the text of the Torah not indicate the names of Moses's parents who we know to be Amram and Yocheved?
Here we learn that Moses comes from simple stock. The Torah teaches us that Moses is the product of a "man" and a "woman". Moses does not come from royalty, he is not the product of a special birth.
Indeed the Torah teaches us that we all have the potential to be a Moses.
May we live up to our potential.
December 18, 2014
This week, Jews around the world ushered in the festival of Chanukah. Our Shabbat Torah portion this week, which is read from the first Torah, is the sedra of Miketz. It is very interesting (and important) to note that, year after year, this same Torah portion occurs at the same time as Chanukah. No other holiday ends up with the same regular Shabbat portion year after year -- the pairing of Chanukah and Miketz is very unique.
What do Chanukah and Miketz have in common? They both tell the story of brothers, of siblings. But how different the stories are!
The Chanukah story tells how the five sons of Mattathias, the High Priest, banded together to lead a revolt against the mighty Syrian/Greek Empire. The story in this Shabbat's Torah portion, on the other hand, continues to tell the story of the split that takes place with Joseph and his brothers who sell him into slavery in Egypt.
Our sages, in arranging the calendar in such a way for these two stories to be told together, provide us a powerful lesson: how siblings treat each other affects not only themselves, but can also have far reaching effects that no one could ever dream of.
As we usher in the holy days of Chanukah, I am reminded once again of the importance of family and the words of the special prayer we add to our liturgy. "Al HaNissim ".
May the miracles of Chanukah be repeated in our days, and may the lights of the Chanukiah serve as a beacon bringing families in strife back together in harmony.
Chag Chanukah Sameach and Shabbat Shalom
December 11, 2014
This week's Torah portion of Vayeshev continues with the theme of sibbling rivalry. What began with Cain and Abel, and continued with Issac and Yishamael and Jacob and Esau, has now blown into full-fledged hatred between Joseph and his brothers.
I have often wondered what the Torah is trying to teach us. Surely the Torah does not want us to emulate the familial relationships of our Patriarchs. Perhaps the text is trying to warn us and show us what can happen when family members do not respect one another and do not get along.
As we usher in the Holy Days of Chanukah, I am reminded of the importance of family and the words of the special prayer we add to our liturgy "Al HaNissim", which refers to the miracles associated with Chanukah.
May the miracles of Chanukah be repeated in our days, and may the lights of the Chanukiah serve as a beacon, bringing families in strife back together in harmony.
December 4, 2014
We live in miraculous times.
This week's Torah portion of Vayishlach witnesses our patriarch Jacob's return to the holy land of Israel.
For two thousand years our people have longed to be able to return, like Jacob, to our homeland, the land of Israel. For two thousand years our people have been stateless and persecuted as a homeless nation.
Our children are born in a time where it is inconceivable to fathom a world without Israel. With a simple click of a mouse one can purchase a ticket and be in Israel the next day! We live in a time where Birthright affords every young Jew the opportunity to go to Israel .
We live in miraculous times.
Noah, this week's "bar mitzvah boy" is living the Jewish dream . This week he celebrates on our bima. And next week in the holy city of Jerusalem.
Yes we live in miraculous times,
November 27, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Vayetze which translates as " He went out". Our sedra begins with Jacob fleeing his brother's wrath and "going out " from Israel to seek refuge with his uncle Lavan.
Biblical names often provide a clue as to a person's real character. What does the name 'Lavan' mean? It means 'white.' Lavan presented himself as a real friend, as a real good guy, as pure as white. But in looking back on the way he acted, and on who he really was, it is fitting that when you look at his name in reverse you have the Hebrew word 'naval' meaning 'despicable.'
My friends there is an important lesson here for all Jews and especially for our brothers and sisters in Israel. In dealing with the world around us let us not make the mistake of finding out too late who is with us, and who is against us.
May G-d bless Canada , a true red and "WHITE" friend of Israel.
November 20, 2014
Our Torah portion this week is called Toldot, which translates as generations. Our sedra discusses the first three generations of Jewish people.
This past week after the tragedy at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem, I can't help but think of the generations of the Goldberg, Kopinsky, Levine and Twersky families affected by this latest act of terror inflicted upon our people. I can't help but think of the four widows , their children ,and their twenty four grandchildren who mourn the loss of their loved ones murdered while reciting the amida on Tuesday morning.
This latest terrorist tragedy also affects me in a personal way. Besides the obvious connection of the victims being rabbis, I studied at Yeshiva University and had a Twersky in my class. In addition, one of the severely injured is Howie Chaim Rothman ,who graduated from CHAT two years after me. His sister was in my class. Howie is currently in a drug induced coma after losing an eye and has significant brain damage. May Howie and all those injured have a complete and speedy refuah shlaimah.
I urge us all to express our complete solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel. Our heartfelt prayers go the families of the four rabbis who were brutally slain. May the souls of the dearly departed be bound in the bonds of eternal life. May their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
November 13, 2014
Our Torah reading this week is called Chaye Sarah, which literally translates as the "Life of Sarah." The Torah portion begins with Sarah's death and Avraham's purchase of a cemetery plot. Sarah's death presents yet another challenge in a litany of events that confront Avraham.
Like our ancestors, like all humanity, each of us carries our fears, hopes, dreams, challenges, disappointments and successes. As we journey forth contending with our lives, let us be inspired by the examples that present themselves to us in our weekly Torah portions. Abraham & Sarah and the others who define our early lineage rose above their fears to do all they could to realize their dreams. They proved to become blessings to themselves as well as to others. They were successful in creating a proud early Jewish history and have bequeathed an honorable and stirring legacy to us all. Let us too try our best to rise above our fears and boldly pursue our loftiest dreams with righteousness and resolve. May we not let our fears hold dominion over us; instead may we acknowledge them yet soldier on as we follow our hopes to great places. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!" Bolstered by the help of G-d, determination and strength, may we try to face our fears, rise above them with the hope of achieving great accomplishments for ourselves and others.
November 6, 2014
Our Torah portion of Vayera begins with G-d visiting Abraham who is recuperating from his Brit Milah (bris). During this holy visit, Abraham spots three men in the distance who unbeknownst to him are actually three angels. To Abraham these were just three men traveling in the dessert who were in need of some hospitality, some food and water.
Our sages explain that Abraham was now faced with the ultimate religious dilemma. He is involved in an encounter with G-d, and here are three people in need. Which takes precedence? Does he take care of G-d or human beings?
The Torah records how Abraham doesn't hesitate and leaves G-d to rush to serve the three mortals. From here we learn the important Talmudic principle that:
"Greater is showing hospitality to your fellow being than even receiving the Divine Presence."
At Beit Rayim, we recognize this important precept and we post Greeters at the door and in the lobby to help our visitors feel welcome. You can help in this endeavor by greeting newcomers in Shul. I encourage you to do so even if you have to leave an encounter with the Divine. Like Abraham, you'll be doing an important mitzvah.
October 30, 2014
There are few events in history that have shaped the Jewish people as much as in this week's Torah portion of Lech Lecha. The ramifications of Abraham heeding G-d's instructions to settle in Israel in biblical times continue to be felt on a daily basis . For two thousand years, ever since our exile by the Romans, Israel has been and continues to be central to our Jewish psyche.
This week we also mark one of the lowest point in modern Israel's short history. It was on November 4th, 1995, the 12th of Cheshvan 5756, that Yitzhak Rabin z"l, the fifth Prime Minister of the State of Israel was assassinated by a fellow Jew.
As we pray this Shabbat let us also increase our prayers for "sheket" for "quiet" in the Jewish Homeland. Let us be cognizant of the miraculous times we live in . How our ancestors , our grandparents, and great grandparents , longed for the dream of being able to visit Israel , an Israel ruled by Jews. And we live in a time where with one click of a computer mouse we can buy a ticket and be in our city of Jerusalem on the same day.
May the soul of Yitzchak Rabin rise high into the heavens and may his memory continue to be a blessing to the Jewish People.
October 22, 2104
At the end of our Torah portion this week of Noach, we are introduced to Avram and his family before his name is changed to Avraham in next week's parasha. We told of how Avram's father Terach gathers his family and sets out on a trip to Canaan , the biblical name for Israel. The Torah relates how Terach dies in Haran, on the way to Canaan and Avram continues his father's journey.
It is conceivable that if Terach had not begun the journey to Israel , his son would not have completed it and become the first Jewish person. From here we learn to be appreciative of the generation that comes before us. It is in this vein that our shul honours our most senior members of our congregation. How appreciative we are that they continued our 'Jewish Journey" and enabled us to continue what they began.
Please join me in honouring our Spectacular Seniors!
Ted and Miriam Benyovits Jack and Beatrice Bishansky Saul and Jenny Blayways
David and Cynthia Blumenthal Marvin and Frieda Cohen Jack Cooper
Mannie Davidson Jeffrey and Loraine Erdman Bess Fishman
Harvey and Evelyn Gardner Frances Hoffman Phil and Evelyn Josephs
Lea Kinrys Wallace and Barbara Marks Nellie Miller
Ivan and Miriam Muller Betty Ruth Reisch Rose Romberg
Manfred and Barbara Segall Victor and Miriam Sherman Myrtle Stone
Sydney and Roslyn Ticker Sylvia and Leon Wein Sol and Raye Zeifman
October 15, 2014
For Canadian Jews there were two holidays this week ... on Monday there was Thanksgiving Day and now it is Shemini Atzeret, and the two have something in common: very few Jewish people observe them! They are both the Rodney Dangerfields of holidays; they get no respect! Of all the Jewish holidays, very few Jews can tell you what Shemini Atzeret is all about! And of all the Federal holidays, Thanksgiving was never adopted as our own amongst us Jews.
Our tradition couples Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah together in one day and only here in the diaspora are they separated as individual holy days. Our "holy day cycle" will culminate on Thursday evening with our Torah Roll and ice cream sundae Simchat Torah Bash beginning at 6:30pm. Please make every effort to attend with your families.
Wishing you and your families a Chag Sameach and a happy holy day.
October 8, 2014
During my years in the rabbinate I have observed that it is easy to be a good Jew on the Holy Days, particularly Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is
during these days when synagogues are full, our noblest Jewish sensibilities are aroused, and we seek to be united with our families and community. We offer sincere resolutions for better living; we renew our commitments to our congregation and the State of Israel, and we express our support for the myriad of worthy Jewish causes that appeal to our 'best Jewish selves" at the onset of the New Year.
Now we enter October , and the "high life" of our days just past has receded into fond recollection. Gone are the pageantry of Rosh Hashanah , and
the solemnity and release of Yom Kippur.
My friends, last week duiring Yom Kippur we resolved to be better Jews, to be better human beings. Beit Rayim affords us the opportunity to make good on our recent resolutions. The services and programs we offer enable us to envelop ourselves in our heritage and reinvigorate our minds and souls. I urge you to take advantage of these opportunities. As the great sage Hillel said so
poignantly: If not now when?
Please join your Beit Rayim community at my home in the Sukka
this Sunday, October 12th from 2:00pm - 5:00pm.
שמח סוכות חג
Chag Sukkot Sameach
October 1, 2014
I was thrilled to see so many of you in services during Rosh Hashanah and look forward to seeing you on Yom Kippur.
The Torah says, "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, so that you may live!"
As we gather on Shabbat Yom Kippur, the holiest time on our Jewish calendar, let us remember that we are making important choices for the year to come.
We can choose to continue unwanted behaviors, or attempt to initiate the changes that will lead us to more positive and productive lives.
We can choose to overlook the needs of others, or to become more conscious of our surroundings and intensify our compassion and generosity towards others.
We can choose to give in to despair over our troubled world, or dare to hope that we can contribute to enabling goodness to prevail over evil.
We can choose to let Israel and world Jewry fend for themselves, or become advocates and supporters for their well-being.
We can choose to let past mistakes and failures define us, or to re-invent ourselves.
This year let us seize the opportunity to overcome the past, embrace the present and build for a promising future.
Let us realize that the choices we make will define the people we become and the world we are creating.
May we be blessed with the strength and the will to realize that by choosing to live meaningful lives, we are heading towards realizing a year of sweetness and peace for ourselves, the Jewish people, our Beit Rayim community and all humanity!
Gmar Chatima Tova,
September 24, 2014
The Torah Portion this shabbat is called Haazinu and is commonly translated as listen. Our Etz Chaim chumash more correctly translates Haazinu as "give ear " directly connecting with the root word ozen or ear.
During these Holy Days your ears will be subjected to listening to many long sermons and sermonettes. It is in this vain that I offer your precious oznayim, or ears, a bit of respite in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Gemar Chatima Tova,
September 18, 2014
This Shabbat we have two Torah portions , Nitzavim and Vayelech, coupled together in order to complete the yearly cycle of readings by the end of the Holy Day period.
Nitzavim begins with the words "You are standing here today". It is poignant that the text uses the words "nitzavim" and not "omdeem" to denote "standing". The former implies more permanence and is reflective of the importance of realizing before Whom We Stand. The word the Torah uses for "you" in "you are standing here today is atem" . It is spelled in hebrew with an Aleph , a Tav and a Mem. These are the same letters that are used to spell "emet" which we all know means truth.
In a few days we will be gathered as a community , standing before G-d, praying for a year of blessings for our loved ones and ourselves. May we seize the opportunity to stand securely before G-d and truthful to ourselves.
May the New Year of 5775 bring you abundant brachot and may these blessings be realized and appreciated in a way that increase our joy and happiness.
May there be peace in Israel , here at home in Canada, and especially in our homes .
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tova,
September 11, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Ki Tavo which translates as "when you come" and is referring to coming into the land of Israel. We all know that one who chooses to move to the State of Israel is referred to as making "Aliyah". Aliyah literally means to ascend, to rise up. It is the same name as given to those reciting a blessing at the Torah.
Being called to the Torah was considered such a great honor that until recent times the honor would be auctioned off in the synagogue ... with some aliyot like the last one in the Torah, or the first one, or the Maftir on Mincha on Yom Kippur with the Book of Jonah, being sold for thousands of dollars!
And yet, there were two aliyot that nobody wanted; two aliyot that if offered to you, you would become insulted and sometimes enraged; two aliyot that you couldn't give away for all the money in the world! One of them is in this week's Torah portion and the other in the concluding Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus; both of them being the tochacha. Tochacha is the word for "rebukes or curses." In today's Torah portion and in the Torah portion of the Book of Leviticus, we have a series of verses describing the rebukes G-d says will come to the Jewish people if they don't follow G-d's ways. Nobody wanted the aliyah that covered these verses, because nobody wanted to be associated with these verses. In fact, they are traditionally recited very quickly in an undertone and because no one wants the aliyah, it is usually given to the Torah reader or the rabbi.
What is interesting in studying these rebukes and curses is the fact that the ones listed in the Book of Leviticus are written in the plural, and the ones in today's Torah portion are written in the singular. There are many explanations offered for this, and one of the more thoughtful ones is that the curses in the Book of Leviticus are traditionally read in the springtime right before the holiday of Shavuot when we commemorate the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The Torah was received by the Jews saying: "Naaseh v'nishma - we shall do and we shall listen." The Jews spoke in the plural, and so the warning for proper behavior was given in the plural as well.
The curses in today's Torah portion are traditionally read right before the High Holy Days. These curses are in the singular because on the High Hoy Days it is not the Jewish people who we are concerned about as much as the Jewish person. We are not judged collectively ... we are judged as individuals. And as individuals we have to be warned to make sure that we are behaving properly.
Consider yourself warned!
August 28, 2014
The Torah Portion this week is Shoftim which translates as Judges. With the High Holy Days less than 4 weeks away it is very poignant that our Sedra focuses on the concept of judges and judging.
As our machzor (High Holy Day Prayer Book) states :
"Hinei baw yom hadin - behold the Day of Judgment comes".
Soon, we are to be judged by G-d. How do we want to be judged? According to Jewish tradition, G-d rewards and punishes, "midah k'neged midah - measure for measure." G-d judges that way as well. To those who are narrow minded in their perspective and quick and harsh in their judgment, that's the way G-d judges them. And for those who, in judging, give others the benefit of the doubt ... that's what God gives them as well. In the words of the Talmud: "K'shem sh'dantani l'zchut - Hamakom yadin etchem lizchut - If you judge by giving the benefit of the doubt, G-d will judge you by giving you the benefit of the doubt!"
And so in the weeks ahead, let all of us who judge - and, if we are truthful, we all know that we do judge others - hesitate a hundred times before we say anything cruel about anyone. Let us check and re-check our motives and our perspectives before we judge others. And let us judge everyone on the scale of merit, because as we judge, so shall we be judged. It is this which will allow us to stand confidently before G-d during the High Holy Days and say with a full and clear heart: "Avinu malkainu chanainu va'anainu ... aseh imanu tzedakah v'chesed v'hashiaynu - Our Parent, our Ruler, be gracious with us and answer us ... treat us with charity and kindness and save us."
On a personal note, thank you to my Beit Rayim family for all the support following the death of my mother. May we celebrate at many happy occasions together.
August 14, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Ekev and it contains the second discourse of Moses to the Jewish People as we are about to enter Israel. Israel is all of our minds as the Jewish State defends herself from terrorists in Operation Protective Edge. I urge you to take note of the dates below and participate if you can in the many public events taking place in our community in support of our Jewish Homeland. Don't let Israel stand alone.
May G-d give strength to G-d's people Israel , may G-d bless Israel with peace.
August 7, 2014
Those of you who are regular shabbat attendees know that I often introduce the Torah reading with the words: "This week we have a great portion...."
Well my friends this week we really do have a great portion. For contained within Parashat Vaetchanan are both the Ten Commandments and the Shema Yisrael.
This week also has a special name attached to it which comes from the first words of the Haftarah. It is called Shabbat Nechamu, the Shabbat of Comfort. There are only a few shabbatot in our calendar that are named after the Haftarah section, read from the prophets at the conclusion of the Torah reading. Shabbat Shuva, Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbat Chazon are others in this unique category. It is with this consciousness that I intuitively turn to think about this Shabbat, almost instinctively blinded to all the important issues that are brought up in our Torah portion. For some reason I run directly to the prophet Isaiah and to his words,
"Nachamu, nachamu ami / Be comforted , be comforted my people" ( Isaiah 40:1)
As I write these words (Thursday morning) things have been quiet in Israel for the past two days. Rockets have ceased to fall and sirens have stopped. Our Israeli brothers and sisters have buried our dead soldiers and attempt to resume to a sense of normalcy in their lives.
How poignant the words of the prophet:
"Nachamu, nachamu ami / Be comforted , be comforted my people" ( Isaiah 40:1)
This Shabbat is here to teach us to see beyond the blow, to see the light that is born in the midst of darkness and destruction. To discover life and mobility held by paralysis.
This Shabbat, and for days to come, may we be comforters for each other. May we find the strength to hold on to this vision and mission. May we be able to hold the challenges of life while celebrating life's gifts.
And may there be peace in Israel, here at home , and especially in our homes.
August 1, 2014
This Shabbat we will begin the last of the Five Books of Moses as we chant from Parashat Devarim.
We are now in the throes of the 9 Days-the most intense mourning period of the Jewish calendar. It will culminate with the fast of Tisha B'Av this Monday night and Tuesday-the only full fast day of the year besides Yom Kippur. Our tradition teaches that the most infamous tragedies to befall the Jewish people either occurred on Tisha B'Av - the 9th day of the month of Av - or were a result of something that occurred on Tisha B'Av. Here's a partial list:
The decree to wander 40 years in the desert.
The destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE.
The defeat of the Bar Kochba rebellion against the Romans in 135 CE.
The establishment of a Roman City-Aelia Capitolina-on the ruins of Jerusalem in 136 CE.
The declaration of the 1st Crusade in 1095.
The signing of the Order of the Inquisition in 1492.
The Chemilnicki massacres in 1648.
WWI in 1914 with unparalleled Jewish suffering.
The establishment of the Warsaw ghetto in 1941 and the deportations to the death camps in 1942.
All these and more occurred on Tisha B'Av!
The cry of the generations of suffering is, "Where was G-d?" The answer, of course, is found in the Torah-not coincidently in this parsha we read on this Shabbat before Tisha B'Av. Moses, before he dies, reviews with the people their history. He describes their sins and why it was decreed that they travel 40 years in the harsh desert. And then he tells them (Dev. 1:31): "And in the desert, as you have seen, that G-d carried you as a person carries their child, in every place that you went."
Please join me in shul this Shabbat as we pray that G-d carries the brave young men and women of the Israeli Defense Forces and protects our brothers and sisters in the State of Israel.
May G-d grant comfort to the families of our fallen soldiers and a complete and speedy recovery to all who are wounded.
May G-d, who brings peace to the heavens above, bring peace to Israel, to the Palestinians and to all humankind.
July 25, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Mas'ei, which translates as "travels" or "journeys". Our portion describes the various places our people travelled on their journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in Israel.
"The Israelites set out from Rameses and encamped at Sukkot. They set out from Sukkot and encamped at Etam........."
It is noteworthy that after leaving Egypt we stopped first at Sukkot to learn how to make provisions for our travels and then to Etam. Our sages teach that Etam has the same Hebrew letters as Emet which we all know means truth. And so let me share with you a sobering truth about the situation in Israel and here at home.
Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, I have been inundated with people sending me articles and opinions about Israel. Most all of the articles focus on how the world has been reacting to the war and the on-going criticism of everything Israel does. Many of the emails express views about how Israel must "go all the way" and "finish off the terrorists".
Israel needs our support. Israel needs our letters to the media. Israel needs our financial contributions. The one thing Israel does not need is our advice! Do we in Thornhill and Richmond Hill, in North York and in the GTA know what behind the scenes deals the Israelis have made with the Egyptians? Do we know exactly what's going on behind the scenes with Sec. of State Kerry and the leaders of Israel? Do we know the threats, the promises, the agreements? Are we such great military analysts? Better yet, if your children were serving in the Israeli army are you sure you would still be calling for more attacks and to go deeper into Gaza?
And now the sobering truth: if you live outside of Israel, you can be a partner with Israel in the destiny of the Jewish people ... but when it comes to Israel's military actions, we are not an equal partner. We have to be a silent partner. So, whenever you have a free moment, do the right thing for Israel ... recite a silent prayer for the soldiers of Israel. "May G-d who makes peace in the heavens above make peace for us and for all Israel."
July 18, 2014
As we read the Torah portion this week of Mattot , we also mark a special three week period in our Jewish calendar which began this past Tuesday with the commemoration of the Seventeenth of Tammuz. These three weeks are traditionally known as the "shlosh d'Puranuta," or "the three weeks of rebuke."
During the end of the First Temple period, the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz. Ultimately, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed three weeks later on Tisha b'Av, the first time during the Babylonian period, the second during the Roman period.
The Three Weeks were internalized by our ancient sages to teach us that through our own misdeeds, the Holy Temple was destroyed and the Jewish People exiled. Transgressions such as bloodshed, idolatry and licentiousness led to our people's downfall at the end of the First Temple period. Baseless hatred among Jews led to our downfall at the end of the Second.
Thus, this season on the Jewish calendar calls on Jews everywhere to reflect on our behaviour and to mend our ways. And may the merits of these changes, our maasim tovim, our good deeds , bestow blessings upon our brothers and sisters living in the State of Israel.
May G-d protect the men and women of the Israeli Defence Forces and as our prayer so aptly records: "crown their efforts with triumph . Bless the land with peace , and its inhabitants with lasting joy. And let us all say: Amen".
July 11, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Pinchas. It is named after the son of Aaron, who becomes the High Priest after his father's death. We read of Pinchas witnessing an immoral act being committed flagrantly in the midst of the camp of Israel. Pinchas becomes so incensed that he takes a spear and kills the sinners. Strangely, Pinchas is rewarded from G-d with a "brit shalom/covenant of peace."
Do you not find it strange that Pinchas would be rewarded with G-d's "covenant of peace" after he takes the law into his own hands and administers the death penalty?
The rabbis teach us that G-d had to bless Pinchas with the covenant of peace so that he would be protected from himself. For when a person performs an act of violence, whatever the reason, the act of violence inevitably has an effect upon one's soul. There is the fear that one may become used to it and become casual about it, and there is the danger that one's conscience may make one mad with guilt.
It is with this thought in mind that I find the situation in Israel so disturbing. Israel has fought wars before and has always emerged victorious. And I have no doubt that, ultimately, will be the result this time as well. But we pay a price for that. We can say that Hamas and the Palestinians are getting what they deserve and, in my humble opinion, they deserve worse! But all this fighting and killing brings out the worst in us, and we pay a terrible price for this. There is always the danger that we will stoop to their level as allegedly happened with the murder of the Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem.
May peace come soon, and may we pray: Hashem oz l'amo yitein. Hashem yivarech et amo Yisrael b'shalom. May G-d give strength to G-d's people Israel, and may that strength be forever spiritual as well as physical.
Am Yisrael Chai!
July 4, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Balak, named after the Moabite king who attempted to inflict terror upon the Jewish people. Balak instructs the sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Israelites, but Bilaam ultimately blesses us with the famous words of Mah Tovu, "How goodly are thy tents people of Jacob, thy dwelling places oh Israel".
Some things never change. Thousands of years later our enemies continue to attempt to curse us.
This has been a difficult week for the Jewish people with the discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers who were so brutally murdered. Our prayers were not answered as we desired. But we will not break. We will not be defeated. We will stay strong.
Those who murder our children, who kidnap them and shoot them and dump their bodies and then run and hide like cowards. Of this I'm certain. They will be found. They will never know a moment's peace.
And we will continue to be a blessing. We will go on. We will persevere and endure like we always have. We will build and we will grow, we will love and we will laugh.
Especially at this time, we express our commitment to the State of Israel and all her people. We reaffirm that unspeakable acts like these will not deter our resolve for the safety and security of Israel or our hope for a lasting peace between Israel and her neighbours.
We will never forget you Naftali , Gilad , and Eyal. May your memories be a blessing.
June 27, 2014
In this week's Torah portion called Chukat, we read of the death of both Miriam and Aharon the siblings of Moshe (Moses). My father, alav hashalom, was also named Moshe and this week his youngest sibling died. I offer these words of Torah in memory of my uncle Sidney Max Zionce, Mayer Zissel ben Yechezkel v'Chaya Sarah.
The Talmud teaches us in Moed Katan 28a, that there were seven righteous people that died "al pi Hashem / by the mouth of G-d". This is considered to be the highest form of death, the easiest death. It is a death in which the image that is offered is that G-d, so-to-speak, inhales into G-d's-self the last breath of the person, as they exhale. The same page in the Talmud tells us that both Miriam and Aaron are included in this list. However, upon close examination of the text we notice a poignant difference in the description of their deaths with the Torah only stating that Aaron died "by the mouth of G-d".
Rashi, quoting the Babylonian Talmud teaches us that Miriam too was among the seven that died 'al pi Hashem' / by the mouth of G-d and the reason this isn't expressed explicitly in the verse (Bamidbar/Numbers 20:1), is that it isn't respectful to say that G-d kissed a woman.
I firmly believe that in our egalitarian kehilla of Beit Rayim , G-d kisses both the men and the women.
May our kidnapped Israeli children be returned speedily to their families .
June 20, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Korach , named after the quintessential rebel in Judaism. Korach is jealous of the leadership role of his cousin Moses and publicly challenges him . Korach and his cohorts organize a revolt against Moses and ultimately lose their lives.
My friends , having worked in synagogues for almost four decades , it is my observation that far too often differences in opinions or approaches lead to factions quarrelling against each other. I believe that the goal whenever there is a dispute within a synagogue is NOT TO WIN. The goal is never to win because every time one side wins, the other side loses. The goal is to see every dispute not as a win-lose, not as a zero sum game, in which if one side wins, the other side must lose. The goal is to find some formula where the talents, commitments, values and dignity of both sides can somehow be preserved.
May our House of Friends, our Beit Rayim , go from strength to strength .
And may "our boys" our three Israeli teenagers , return safely to their homes.
June 13, 2014
In this week's Torah Portion (called Shlach Lecha, which literally translates as "send out"), Moses sends 12 spies to scout out the Land of Israel. As you recall, 10 of the spies came back with a negative report saying the land was uninhabitable and the people were the size of giants.
Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb , returned with positive reports and said it was a " land flowing with milk and honey". Our sages ask why specifically "milk and honey" are used to describe our holy land.
Milk is very easy to get from a cow (so I'm told), yet we all know that when left out it spoils very quickly.
Honey is very difficult to harvest from the bees and one needs to be a skilled beekeeper to safely remove the honey without getting stung. However , honey, even when left will not spoil but will last a long long time.
Such is our experience in life. It is the things that we work hard for that sometimes last a lifetime.
June 6, 2014
The Torah portion this week is Behaalotcha which translates as "when you light" .
Although the Torah is referring to the lighting of the biblical Menorah, as we enter Shabbat I cannot help but think of the lighting of the Shabbat candles.
Ahad Haam, the famous Zionist and Jewish leader wrote:
"More than the Jews have kept Shabbat , Shabbat has kept the Jews. "
May the radiance of the Shabbat candles bring warmth and holiness to our homes"
May 30, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Naso and contains the well known priestly blessings.
"May G-d bless you and guard you.
May G-show you favor and be gracious to you.
May G-d show you kindness and grant you peace."
It is traditional for parents to place their hands on their children's heads each Shabbat and recite these biblical words . I urge you to give it a try. And in turn may our lives be blessed and our homes and families be enveloped with love and shalom.
May 23, 2014
This week we begin reading the fourth of the Five Books of Moses , the book of Numbers called Bamidbar in Hebrew. Bamidbar means "in the desert" for it is in the desert in the second year after the Exodus from Egypt that the setting occurs. Bamidbar is filled with both happy and sad moments. From the quest for freedom in Israel to the continual complaining and bitterness of the generation of newly freed slaves.
This has been a difficult week for our Beit Rayim community. The death of a young man in our congregation has affected so many. I often turn to parables and stories from our tradition to help us in difficult times.
The following is a traditional Jewish story whose author is unknown:
Once there were two men who ate exactly the same food, but the first had two bowls, while the second had only one. The man with two bowls divided his food into bitter and sweet, and put only the bitter in one bowl and only the sweet in the other. When he would eat, he would make a great show of his pleasure and delight over the sweetness of the contents of the one bowl; and over the latter's, he would grimace and groan and complain. The man with only one bowl naturally mixed the bitter and the sweet together.
As time passed, the first man grew thinner and thinner, and gradually wasted away. The second man, who ate the same food, grew healthier and stronger daily.
At last the first saw his death approaching. In desperation he asked the second to tell him the secret of his vitality and vigor. The second replied, "You, having two bowls, divided the bitter from the sweet. Believing that taste is of paramount importance, you did not allow the food you took to sustain you with its own nourishment. But I had only one bowl, so I was forced to mix the bitter with the sweet, having not been seduced by the matter of taste. For whatever I have been given to eat I have taken simply as food, and it has yielded its nourishment to me,. regardless of how it has tasted. We are not bidden to be grateful only for the sweetness in life, but for all moments."
The first man stumbled from his death-bed and with great effort picked up one of his bowls. He smashed it to the ground. Into the one bowl that remained he placed food that his friend gave him, both the bitter and the sweet, and ate. He became whole again.
Later, on the single bowl, he inscribed the phrase, Gam zeh ya'avor: This, too, shall pass, as a reminder that even great sorrows must one day rest in the cradle of gratitude for all of life.
May 16, 2014
This week's Torah portion is called "bechukotai" and contains one of the most troubling passages in all of the Torah. It's a special section called the tokehecha which contains blessings and curses. The tokhecha makes up the core of this week's parshah. It is a list made up of do's and don'ts and is followed by a list of promises 'if we obey G-d's commandments' and a longer list of threats if 'we don't.'
While there can be no denying that the tokhecha is as much a part of the Torah as the Ten Commandments or "Love your neighbor as yourself," our tradition has always been troubled by these passages. They simply don't seem to work, and our sages knew it. On the one hand, they believed in G-d's justice; on the other hand, the sages couldn't quite figure out how G-d's justice works in the world. The Sages tried to solve this problem by positing the idea of an afterlife - that our ultimate reward will come, if not in this world, then in the world to come.
The problem of reward and punishment, however, is not so easily solved as we read the Tokhecha in this morning's Torah portion. There can be no question that the rewards and punishments enumerated in the Torah will take place not in some after life, but in the here and now. So what are we to make of them? The curses or threats in our parshah are blood curdling and horrific. We read of pestilence, starvation and suffering. More than that, the Torah suggests that we are responsible for the misfortunes which befall us.
And, of course, this is an idea that should trouble anyone who is at all sensitive to others and who opens his eyes to the ways of the world. Who hasn't asked himself or herself, "why do bad things happen to good people?" Who hasn't wrestled with the problem of human suffering? Every discussion of Jewish theology I have ever conducted comes around to this question. There is an entire library of books, beginning with Job, that have wrestled with this subject.
So who hasn't questioned G-d's motives (not to mention G-d's existence) upon hearing of another misfortune, or tragedy, or natural disaster in the world?
We wonder: "How could G-d remain silent during the Holocaust? or "Why does G-d continue to remain silent in the face of genocide in places like Darfur?"
We respond to these questions with silence - there are no answers - or at least there are no answers which satisfy us.
And the real question often is not about G-d's silence, but about our silence and our actions. When it comes to curses, humans have inflicted immense suffering upon one another. We are quick to blame G-d, but this is insincere when we do so little ourselves to overcome suffering. Why haven't we asked ourselves why we aren't doing more, why we aren't speaking out against injustice, why we aren't rising up to help those in pain and anguish? Before we blame G-d, we ought to ask ourselves what we are doing to alleviate suffering and pain in the world.
I'm not a theologian - I'm just a simple rabbi. And I know all too well both from my training and my life experience that there are no simple answers to these questions. There are no equations or formulas that can help us make sense of good and evil in the world. And in the end the theological question is not as important as our human response to it - in the end, it is what we do that matters.
We all know that life is filled with blessings and curses and we all want to believe that we can make sense of these blessings and curses. We can chose to live a life of meaning despite what life throws at us. It's not the blessings and curses that matter - they are theater, they are drama. It is what we do and how we choose to live in the presence of G-d!! That, my friends, is the real blessing.
May 9, 2014
The Torah portion this week is Behar. The literal translation of Behar is "on the mountain" and the mountain being referred to is Mt. Sinai where the Torah and the Mitzvot (commandments) were given to the Jewish People. The portion emphasizes that, in addition to the 10 Commandments, all 613 Mitzvot were given at Mt Sinai.
For Jews of my generation born in Toronto, there is a special connection to Mt. Sinai that has specific relevance on this Mother's Day Weekend. Most of my contemporaries from Toronto were born at Mt Sinai Hospital. The holiness associated with the name Mt. Sinai is hence doubly important. Whenever I walk in Mt Sinai Hospital, and for whatever reason, I am consciously cognizant that it is here that not only my mother was born, but that I and my three children also received life!
I am thankful for the secular holiday we call Mother's Day. It gives me the opportunity one more time to tell my mother how much I love and appreciate her.
May we all thank G-d for giving us the best Mother that we will ever have.
May 1, 2014
The Torah portion this week is called Emor which translates as "speak". Although I speak often and about a myriad of topics, this week there is nothing more important to talk about than the 66th birthday of the State of Israel!
One of the hardest things about supporting Israel is not overly idealizing this little country. As committed Jews we carry certain images of Israel with us. We see the imposing figure of Herzl leaning on the railing of a ship and looking out at the port of Jaffa, pioneers draining the swamps and planting trees, Israel as the tiny David defeating the mighty Arab Goliath, and the vision of young men and women serving in the first Jewish army in two thousand years.
These images are so seductive and romantic that it's hard not to get caught up in them and forget to take a hard look at the realities of life in Israel: growing poverty, religious and social conflict between Jews, pollution, a shortage of water and, of course, the dark clouds of war and terrorism that are not likely to go away any time too soon. From a distance it's easy for us to see Israel as our homeland and to forget how diverse this land really is, made up not only of Jews from all over the world but Muslim and Christian Arabs, as well as Bedouins and Druze. Living in the Diaspora, we often reduce the land to a series of sound bites and photographic images; we invoke G-d's promise to Abraham and our ancient history, and we leave it at that. These bits of information are good for propaganda, but not necessarily helpful in creating a real sense of what Israel is all about.
Even as tourists, it's hard to shake these romantic images: as we walk on Masada, or stand by the Kotel, or look out at the gold dome and ancient walls of the old city, its hard not to hear the melody of Yerushalaim shel Zahav playing in the background.
Of course, these are good images - they warm our hearts and make us feel proud. But the reality of Israel is far more complex and sometimes even troubling. Israel has some problems, but it has also solved so many others. And yet it is the full reality of Israel that I love. Just as we love our children despite their faults and frailties, I love Israel because she is ours - and that, for me, is enough. The very fact that Israel exists is enough reason for me to feel proud and to stand tall.
Mazal Tov to Israel , may she go from strength to strength. And to that let us all say : Amen
April 25, 2014
At our recent Passover Seder we recited the words "in every generation one arises who seeks to destroy our people". This Sunday night and Monday , the 27th of Nisan in our Jewish calendar marks Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It is appropriate to light a yartzeit candle after 8pm on Sunday evening in remembrance of the Six Million who perished in the Shoah. Although no set prayers are designated for this solemn day, you may wish to recite the prayer included below following the candle lighting.
In Israel, the day is called Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah. Hagvurah is best translated as "the courageous," for on this day we also remember the courageous heroes of our people.
May the precious souls of those who were murdered in the Shoah rise high in the heavens.
From Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, published by the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue. (Supplementary reading, page 387, by Rabbi Jules Harlow)
G-d, Master, Creator who set the round course of the world, birth, death and disease -
Creator, who caused veins, brains and bones to grow, who fashioned us air that we might breath and sing
Remember that we are incomplete and inconsolable, our vision clouded by ashes.
Remember the chimneys, the ingenious habitations of death where part of Israel's body drifted as smoke through the air. Remember the mutilated music of their lives.
We lament in fields of loneliness for six million of our number torn away. Remember them.
There are some who have no memorial. They are perished as though they had never been. Forget them not.
Remember the landscape of screams engraved at entrance gates to death. Remember the unborn dreams.
Remember the terror of children, whose tears were burned. Remember the agony of parents, whose blessings were consumed.
Remember the prayers of the dying, the same and suffering of the innocent.
Remember. We have not forgotten You though all this has befallen us.
Remember the forsaken millions in a silent world, their loneliness was matched only by Yours.
Who is like You, G-d, among the silent, remaining silent through the suffering of Your children?
Are You not Hashem, that we may hope in You? Renew the light of Your creation, which has been dimmed.
Renew in Your creatures Your image, which has been desecrated. Restore the covenant, which Your people have maintained.
Remember the hopes of the slain by sending redemption to Your shattered world.
In spite of everything which strangles hope, help us to continue the sustaining song of their lives.
April 18, 2014
The story is told about the strange people who once a year remove all of the bread from their homes. They also change their dishes and pots and pans and bring up from the basement different plates and bowels that are only used once a year. Then they go to the grocery store and by different foods ( that are more expensive than the rest of the year!) that they eat for eight days.
We are different! Vive la difference! Let us raise our children to be knowledgeable of it and proud of it, as the Haggada puts it: "V'haya ki yishalacha bincha machar - when your child asks you on the morrow, 'What's this Judaism all about?'. . . let us be able to respond as Jewish parents have responded through the ages . . . with pride in our past and great hope for our future, with the hopes for nachas . . . genuine Yiddisha nachas, as we proclaim: "Ashreinu, mah tov chelkeinu u'ma yafa yerushaseinu . . . happy are we, how goodly is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our Jewish heritage."
April 11, 2014
It's beginning to feel an awful lot like Pesach! The snow has disappeared, the temperature has risen, and Pesach is in the air.
Several people over the years have shared with me their nervousness at celebrating Pesach and arriving at the Seder with trepidation at meeting estranged familial members.
Others have told me of family fights erupting at the seder and matzah and maror flying across the table.
Yes sometimes temperatures rise when brothers and sisters, when sons and daughters, when dozens of cousins all gather for the festive meal.
It is to those whose families perhaps aren't as loving as they should be that I would like to offer a different meaning of the word pesach.
We all know the origins of the word coming from the Torah when the angel of death passed over the Jewish houses. Well the kabbalists - the mystics - offer a different explanation. They explain the word as peh, meaning mouth, and siach, meaning conversation.
May we always be able to speak with our mouths and converse with a true heart. Even with those we don't necessarily agree with.
And may there be a Pesach in which we can all know the blessings of peace and security both here at home and in Israel, and especially in our homes.
April 4, 2014
Only 8 shopping days left until Pesach!
This week's Torah portion is called Metzora and continues the laws surrounding "tzaraat", which is a strange skin disease. The rabbis teach that "tzaraat" served as a punishment for "lashon harah" (for slander and evil talk).
What you ask does all this have to do with Pesach?
On Passover more Jews observe kashrut than any time of the year. So many of us meticulously check everything we eat to determine if it is kosher. This Passover may we be concerned not only with what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of our mouths as well.
March 27, 2014
The Torah Portion this week is called Tazria, and is the first of two parshiot that deal primarily with skin ailments. The Torah highlights the importance of hygiene and the removal of contamination from our midst. This shabbat is also referred to as "Shabbat HaChodesh" or "The Sabbath of the Month", as we prepare to usher in the first biblical month, the month of Nissan, the month of Passover.
Similar to the Torah portion, it is at this time that we too remove things from our midst. As Pesach approaches it is traditional to not only clean our houses but also to legally and symbolically remove all chametz/leaven from our midst. Traditionally one sells all of their chametz/leaven to their rabbi who will in turn sell it to a non-Jew on erev Pesach. I encourage you to participate in this pre-Passover custom.
March 14, 2014
On Purim, as we come to shul dressed in all different types of costumes and disguises, we are reminded that although we are different on the outside, we are all united in our common quest for the Divine and the Holy.
Similarly, Israel is composed of many different types of people, both Jews and non Jews, who are all united in their support of the democratic Jewish State. Come to shul this week and hear from three special guests: a Jew , a Muslim and a Druze. All three serve in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). All three are great supporters and advocates for the State of Israel. All three have special messages you won't want to miss.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach
March 7, 2014
The name for this week's Torah , and third book of the Torah, is Vayikra, which translates "He called". The He refers to G-d whose name is found throughout the Torah.
Purim is coming. It's interesting that the name of G-d does not appear even once in the Megillah. Does that mean that G-d is absent from Purim or from every aspect of our existence?
Purim reminds us that in the midst of the randomness of the world, there are still some things that we can do - some things that G-d needsus to do - some things that increase the presence of G-d in the world. G-d may not be visible in our lives but we can be G-dly in our lives.
Let us continue to live in a G-d-like manner and then the words that we read in the Megillah (next Saturday night @ 7pm and Sunday @ 10am) will come true for us and hopefully for all humankind: "Layehudimhayata orah v'simcha - and for the Jews there was light and joy."
February 28, 2014
This week's Torah portion of Pekudei is appropriately read on this special sabbath called Shabbat Shekalim . A pakid ( root of Pekudei ) is a clerk and clerks were essential in counting and administering the Shekalim that were collected in biblical times.
May our Shul Clerks administer our holy donations, enabling our Beit Rayim to go as the words that we will recite this Shabbat as we complete the book of Exodus:
from strength to strength
חזק חזק ונתחזק
February 21, 2014
The first word and the name of our Torah portion this week provides insight into our special congregation. The word Vayakhel is translated in various english books of Torah as "he convoked" or "he gathered" or "he brought together".
Vayakhel really means that Moses gathered the people together as a community . Is that not what best describes Beit Rayim? We are a community . We congratulate each other in happy times and support each other in sad times. We celebrate together and we mourn together . We pray together , we study together , and we search for the Divine together .
May our Kehilla ( same root as the word vayakhel) , our sacred community, continue to go from strength to strength.
February 14, 2014
This week's Torah portion of Ki Tissa begins with a census of our ancient Israelite ancestors. When instructing Moses to administer the census G-d uses the following words: "when you lift up the heads of the children of Israel".
The rabbis deduce that G-d is teaching us that when a person is counted - when a person is noticed - it lifts up their spirits.
If you think about it, we too have our spirits lifted when someone recognizes us, when they know our name. As a rabbi, I experience this again and again when I approach someone in shul that I don't recognize and greet them warmly.
I urge you to try it the next time you are in shul. Go up to someone you don't know and say Shabbat Shalom. You will be lifting their spirits and doing G-d's work.
February 7, 2014
The Haftarah reading attached to this week's Torah portion of Tetzaveh is taken from the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel writes almost three thousand years ago from Babylonia after our ancestors were exiled there when the first Holy Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem. Through visions and metaphors, Ezekiel portrays a time when the Jewish people will return to Israel.
I returned from Israel this week after representing our synagogue in a Federation sponsored trip to engage young Israeli's who will soon join our congregation for a year of service to the Jewish people (see last week's message).
Anyone privileged to visit Israel in recent months can attest to the continued vitality and splendour of the county. Israel continues to prosper in so many areas,which seems a remarkable feat considering how the media only portrays the tensions that have marred the landscape.
As I read Ezekiel's prophetic words I am reminded how we refuse even for an instant to take the miraculous trans-formation in Jewish history for granted. As Israel embarks on another new endeavour for peace, our visits reject the misguided notion that our Israeli brothers and sisters need weather the harsh moments of our history alone. We as Jews are with them and support their endeavors to make a secure and lasting peace. During challenging times, we must stand together and, as has been the case for more than three millennia, and as attested to in this week's Haftarah,the gathering point of our people has always been Israel.
January 31, 2014
I am writing to you from the Holy City of Jerusalem . I arrived in Israel on Monday with Jody Klapman, a vice president of our synagogue. We came as part of a delegation from Toronto synagogues , day schools and Jewish institutions to interview and select young Israelis who will spend the next school year as part of our congregation.
We all know that Israeli youth, upon completion of High School, serve the Jewish people with compulsory time in the army. Many young Israelis choose to add an additional year to this time in voluntary service. Those opting to add a year of voluntary service are referred to as a "shinshin" the plural of which are "shinshinim". In the past decade the shinshinim program has been expanded to allow a shinshin to spend their year of volunteerism in Jewish communities throughout the world under the auspices of the local Jewish Federations.
I am happy to announce that after extensive interviews Jody and I chose two "shinshinim" who will arrive in Toronto in August and have active roles in our weekly Shabbat services and lead innovative and creative programs for our youth and community of all ages .
Ziv ( female) and Netanel (male) will have prominent roles at Beit Rayim and I am confident that they will succeed in injecting an added positive zionist spirit in our special kehilla.
This is an exciting time at Beit Rayim as we establish an even deeper connection with our brothers and sisters in the State of Israel.
I will be thinking of Beit Rayim this Shabbat as I pray at the Kotel HaMaravi , the Western Wall.
The program brings pre-army Israelis to Toronto to provide a living bridge between Israel and Toronto.
OUR NEW SHINSHINIM WITH
RABBI ZIONCE, NETANEL, ZIV AND JODY KLAPMAN
January 24, 2014
The rabbis ask why this week's Torah portion of Mishpatim begins with the Hebrew letter vav meaning "and". They conclude that the parasha begins with the word "and" in order to connect it's importance to last week's portion of Yitro which contain the Ten Commandments.
Parshat Yitro and Parshat Mishpatim are the very core of the Torah. Last week we read about the revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. In ten simple and eloquent statements we find the essence of our way of life: belief in G-d, using our words with integrity, observing the Sabbath, honoring our parents, and living an ethical life with respect for all of G-d's creatures. What could be more beautiful or simple than this? Who doesn't believe in the Ten Commandments? In the Ten Commandments we have a vision of what the world could be and what it should be.
Parshat Mishpatim is more complicated. This parshah is referred to as Sefer Ha'brit, the Book of the Covenant. It presents us with a collection of laws touching on every aspect of life. This is one stop shopping for the minutia of daily life. Unlike the Ten Commandments which are presented quite directly, "Thou shall," and "Thou shall not," these laws are messy. They acknowledge the complexities of life.
Parshat Yitro and Mishpatim present the two sides of life: vision and reality. Whether we like it or not we live with both: a greater moral vision of life as well a realistic attempt to wrestle with life's messiness and complexities.
January 17, 2014
I am writing these words on a special day in the Jewish calendar. Today , is Tu B'Shvat - the 15th day in the month of Shvat ... what our tradition considers the "New Year for trees." Trees played an important role for the ancient Jewish people. And trees still play an important role in modern Jewish history as well.
Twenty-five million people who have read "The Diary of Anne Frank" know what I mean. In her diary, Anne Frank describes how she would look out from the attic - the only window that was not blocked out to prevent anyone from seeing movement in the apartment where the family lived - and there was a tree, a chestnut tree in front of it. Anne writes in her diary: "Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs. From my favorite spot on the floor, I look at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver ... while this lasts I cannot be unhappy." It was that tree that gave Anne Frank hope to carry on.
I was saddened to read the article below taken from the Jerusalem Post dated December 13, 2013.
A sapling that came from the tree that stood outside the hiding place of Anne Frank in Amsterdam was cut down and stolen in Frankfurt, German police said.
The cutting was planted in 2008 outside Frankfurt's Anne Frank School, named after the world-famous Jewish teenage diarist who was born in the German city in 1929 and murdered during the Holocaust in 1945 after her family was caught hiding in the Nazi-occupied Dutch capital, where they had moved to escape persecution in Germany.
Unidentified parties cut down the eight-foot tree that grew from the cutting sometime between last week and Monday, according to a report Tuesday by the Dutch public broadcaster NOS. Police have no information or leads on the identity of the thieves or their motives, the report said.
"It was, obviously, more than just a tree for us," a spokesperson for Frankfurt's Anne Frank School told NOS.
Please join me this Shabbat as we read Parashat Yitro with the ten commandments. And may the thieves who who cut down the precious tree in Frankfurt , Germany hear the commandment "thou shall not steal" and return the tree quickly to the Ann Frank School.
January 10, 2014
It is very appropriate that here at Beit Rayim , Sisterhood Shabbat always takes place on Shabbat Shira , when we read the Torah portion of Beshalach . For in this portion, Miriam the Prophetess , the sister of Moses and Aaron, leads the women in song and prayer:
"Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to G-d....." (Exodus 15:20-21)
I encourage you all to come to shul this Shabbat when the women of our shul will follow biblical Miriam's example and lead us all in song and prayer. I especially urge you to bring your daughters and your sons and establish lasting memories for them of not only men, but also an ....... Eema on the Bima!
January 3, 2014
This Sedra this week is called "Bo". All of the Torah portions we read at this time of the year are filled with miracles: Moses at the burning bush that didn't burn; the turning of his staff into a snake; his hand becoming leprous and then normal; the 10 plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea.
Franz Rosensweig, the great German Jewish philosopher, wrote:
"Miracles only take place in the present, never in the past. "
This is so, not because miracles are not miracles, but because the past is the past. Once a miracle has taken place, it is easy to explain it away, to say it was a coincidence, to give it a natural explanation. After the fact, a miracle is no miracle, because we quickly lose the sense of wonder and revert back to our blasé ways. A miracle points the way to G-d, but only to those who are willing and able to look at it, to really look at it, and to appreciate the wonder that it contains.
My Friends, it is my belief that the miraculous is constantly with us if we only open our eyes to see it. That's what G-d wants from us-to see how much G-d does for us every day, to acknowledge it and to show gratitude and appreciation. And so let us thank G-d with the words we say in the Modim prayer in the Amida: "We thank you...for Your miracles that are with us every day, and for Your wonders and goodness at all times-evenings, mornings and afternoons. You who are all good, do not ever stop your mercy or kindness."
December 27, 2013
I am on holiday this week spending time with family and will return to shul for the first Shabbat in the new secular year.
This week's Torah portion of Vaera includes the beginning of the Ten Plagues that befell Egypt . Here at home as the blackout occurred I couldn't help but think of the connection to the biblical plagues in our parasha.
In some ways the loss of electricity helped to enhance our experience with family and friends at a time when many of us are on holidays. We were forced to stay home and, in the absence of electronics, we were encouraged to spend time actually talking and interacting with others.
It is hard to know how to properly greet you as we approach the new year of 2014. To wish you a Shana Tova sounds a bit too Jewish! So let me fall back on the age-old Yiddish wish: "Ah gut yahr un ah gezunt yahr" - Let it be a good year and a healthy year.
December 20, 2013
This week we begin the second book of the Torah the book of Shemot . It is noteworthy that the Hebrew name is Shemot meaning names while the English name (taken from the Greek translation) is Exodus. The Hebrew name comes from the first significant word in the parasha while the Greek name comes from the central theme of the book.
Perhaps there is another connection . Our sages teach that because of four things the Jews were redeemed from Egypt . First and foremost we were saved because we retained our Hebrew names . We didn't go by the name that our Egyptian taskmasters called us but rather we kept the name given to us by our parents.
The power of our Hebrew names is not to be taken for granted.
If you are on holidays at this time of year then enjoy . And if you are travelling then travel safely.
December 13, 2013
This week we read Parshat Vayechi , the last Torah portion in the Book of Genesis .
The portion describes how on his deathbed, Jacob calls for all his children to gather around him while he attempts to tell them how they are to live their lives
" And Jacob called to his children and said: Gather so I can tell you how you will be called in the end of days." (Genesis 49:1)
Jacob wanted to reveal for his children , Sefer Toldot Britoh , the names that it was up to the children to give themselves. Jacob attempt to decide for his children their destinies and to determine their ultimate characters. But Jacob failed, and the Holy Presence left him, because that is not a name given by a parent , it is created by a child.
My Friends, as a parent it is natural to want to do everything for our children, but ultimately our children determine their own fate. May our children realize their potential and be a blessing to their families , their community and most importantly to themselves.
December 6, 2013
This week's Torah reading of Vayigash contains the climax of the story of Joseph and his brothers .
Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob, the son of Rachel, who was Jacob's favorite wife, is caught by the police with stolen property in his luggage. He is found with the diviner's cup that belongs to the prime minister of Egypt. And the prime minister says to the brothers:
You can go home. He stays here.
And at that moment, Judah comes forward
And says to the prime minister:
Excuse me---but you can't do that.
"Ki avdicha ARAV et hanaar"-because I promised my father that I would be responsible for this child! I promised that I would guarantee his safety.
And therefore, you can take me if you want to, but I can not let you take this child.
That is the turning point in the whole story. When Judah says that, Joseph is so moved by this statement, that he clears the room, and reveals who he is. He is so moved by that statement of Judah's that he gives up the game, and makes up with his brothers. It is Judah's willingness to trade his life that brings about peace between the brothers and causes Joseph to give up his ruse.
The Sages take this word 'arav'-which means 'to be responsible' and they broaden its meaning. They establish the principle---based on this verse----that Kol Yisrael areyvim ze lazeh---that all Jews are responsible to and for each other.
My friends we live in a diverse Jewish community composed of Jews of all types . We have Reform Jews, and Orthodox Jews, and Conservative Jews , and Reconstructionist Jews, and Secular Jews, and Humanist Jews and the list goes on and on.
This important concept of Jews being responsible for other Jews helps us to understand that while many of share different beliefs , ultimately we all share the same fate.
November 29, 2103
I was shopping for Hannukah candles this week and found that I could spend anywhere from 99 cents to over 20 dollars. I needed four boxes and without hesitation I chose the less expensive candles. These were the type of candles I had wanted anyways. The same type I remember lighting as a child in my parents home. I was thankful that candles are so easily available and inexpensive. Apparently they were not always so.
We all know that this week we light our Hannukiah (Hannukah Menorah) before we light our Shabbat candles. The rabbis ask the question: "What if you could only afford to purchase enough candles for either Shabbat or Hannukah? Which do you purchase ?" Both are rabbinic commandments, both have equal status. But if you can only do one, which do you do? Jewish law says: You kindle the Sabbath lights. Why? While both commemorate great events and both have great religious significance, the Shabbat candles serve a purpose that the Hannukah candles do not. The Shabbat candles illuminate the house on Friday evening as they last longer than the Hannukah candles. The element of "Shalom Bayit" - of "family tranquility" comes into play. If we have to eat in darkness, conflicts within the family can break out. And Jewish law has us do everything possible to avoid that, even if it means not lighting the Chanukah menorah.
May the radiance of candles , holy ritual candles, bring radiance to our lives and peace in our families.
Chag Hannukah Sameach and Shabbat Shalom.
November 22, 2013
This week's Torah portion of Vayeshev continues with the theme of sibling rivalry .What began with Cain and Abel, and continued with Issac and Yishamael and Jacob and Esau has now blown into full fledged hatred between Joseph and his brothers.
I have often wondered what the Torah is trying to teach us . Surely the Torah does not want us to emulate the familial relationships of our Patriarchs. Perhaps the text is trying to warn us and show us what will happen when brothers do not get along.
As we usher in the holy days of Chanukah I am reminded of the importance of family and the words of the special prayer we add to our liturgy. "Al HaNissim " .
May the miracles of Chanukah be repeated in our days and may the lights of the chanukiah serve as a beacon bringing families in strife back together in harmony.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach
November 15, 2013
In our Torah portion this week of Vayishlach, we are told the story of our patriarch, Jacob, preparing himself to encounter Esau. That night he finds himself all alone and is confronted and wrestles with some sort of divine being. When dawn breaks Jacob emerges victorious but limping because his hip has been broken or dislocated.
The Rashbam, Rabbi Samuel ben Meir who lived in the 12th Century, asks in his commentary on the Torah why was Jacob wounded in the thigh and not in another part of his body? He answers, so that Jacob would understand that he can no longer run away from his problems. The time has come to stand up to his brother!
My friends this past weeked we marked 75 years since the infamous Kristalnacht occurred . I find it most poignant that Jacob's name is changed in our Torah portion to Israel. For today , Baruch Hashem, we live in a miraculous time when we Jewish people have Jewish boys and girls serving in a Jewish army in a Jewish country.
Am Yisrael Chai ,
The Nation of Israel Lives
November 8, 2013
There are three Hebrew words in this week's Torah portion of Vayetze... four when translated into English ... that have become a part of Jewish folklore, that have become a popular idiom that knowledgeable Jews have referred to down through the ages. And you're going to be surprised when I tell you what the words are. In English they are: "Rachel, you're younger daughter." In Hebrew: "Rochail bitcha hakitanah." I know it sounds crazy, but in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, on the streets of Israel today, there is an on-going reference to these three words. And to understand what they signify you have to know the context in which they were uttered.
Our forefather, Jacob, fleeing from the murderous designs of his brother, Esau, has fled to the house of his uncle, Lavan. It is there that Jacob sees the love of his life - the young Rachel. Jacob knows who he is dealing with in regard to Lavan. Lavan is crafty, deceitful and totally untrustworthy. And so, when Jacob tells Lavan that he would like to marry his daughter, Jacob is very careful in making it very clear exactly who he wants when he says, I want "Rochail bitcha haketanah" - "Rachel, you're youngest daughter." To which Rashi immediately asks, "Why didn't he just simply say 'I'm willing to work for Rachel?' And Rashi responds, "Because Jacob knew that Lavan was a fraud. And had he said 'I will work for Rachel,' Lavan could have claimed that he thought he had in mind some other Rachel. And so, Jacob added, "bitcha - your daughter, not someone else's.' And perhaps Lavan would attempt to change the names of his children and give his other daughter - Leah - Rachel's name. Jacob specified, "haketanah - the youngest daughter, not the older one." And from this time on these words "Rochail bitcha haketanah" have become a Jewish idiom; showing that one should be precise in what they say and make sure that nothing they say can be misunderstood.
Let us learn to be honest with ourselves and honest with others as well. And let us strive to make sure our words are in keeping with the words of our prayer: "Yiheu l'ratzon imray fi v'hegyon libi l'fonecha Hashem tzuri v'goali - May the words of my mouth and the meditation in my heart be acceptable before you, G-d, my Rock and my Redeemer."
November 1, 2013
This week's Torah portion is called Toldot which means Generations. Our portion begins by highlighting the names of the patriarch's of the Jewish people.
What's in a name? Apparently Jews and Jewish tradition think an awful lot. One of the most frequent type of questions I am asked as a Rabbi has to do with names: for whom do you name a child? What names are appropriate? How do you spell it? Don't we feel good about ourselves when someone remembers our name, and aren't we put off when they have forgotten it?
In 1994 I had the privilege of participating in the March of the Living for the first time. I served as a religious leader for the two week trip that brought some 6,000 teenagers to Poland and Israel: To Poland to see the death camps and the remains of Jewish communities, and to Israel to celebrate the modern miracle of the Jewish State.
One afternoon, we visited Krakow, a beautiful city whose building and streets are perhaps the only ones to survive the destruction wrought by the Nazis, its Jews were killed or exiled, its building and cemetery remain.
We saw the famous Rema's Shul which dates back to the 16th century and subsequently went to the Liberal synagogue where, in addition to everything else, we davened Mincha. As we were davening, I noticed a group of tourists pass through the synagogue, observing the architecture, examining the artifacts, but looking at us as well. Our group of 120 North Americans absorbed in prayer was on display.
One of the chaperones on our trip, an elderly Holocaust survivor who spoke Yiddish and Polish engaged the group leader in discussion and found out that one of the families - a father, a mother, an 11-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter from Romania was Jewish.
After Mincha this other chaperone introduce the family to us and explained that the children had never been given Jewish names. We determined with the parents what their Jewish names should be: Chayyim for the boy and Yehudit for the girl. The entire group of 120 Torontonians crowded around us in a circle. I stood with the parents and children in the middle and proceeded to recite the Mi Shabveirach, giving this 11 year old and this 8 year old the Jewish names of their grandparents who had been killed in the war. I cannot describe the looks on their faces. The mother and father cried. The boy and the girl? Their faces beamed! Wide smiles and twinkling eyes.
There, where some 50 years ago Judaism was stripped from the Jews of Krakow; there, in a place where we had come to observe death, to run our fingers through the ashes of destroyed communities. It was there that we witnessed Thchiyat Hametim - the resurrection of Jewish souls, the restoration of Jewish identities, the gift of Jewish life. This is the power of a Jewish name!