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Appreciating Israel Print E-mail
Wednesday, 02 August 2023

The Talmud, Brachot 21a asks “From where in the Torah do we derive the obligation to recite Birkat HaMazon, the Grace After Meals?”

The answer is in Parshat Ekev, Dvarim 8:10: 

You shall eat and be satisfied and bless your God for the good Land that He gave you.

Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, who was one of the leading rabbis of religious Zionism taught (Eretz Chemda 1:1:15):

We find in the Torah an obligation to thank God for the Land of Israel in Birkat HaMazon…Thus, we are obligated to be grateful to God for giving us the Land as an inheritance. And one may infer the negative from the positive. Just as we are commanded to be grateful for the Land, we are forbidden to be ungrateful for it and to disregard God’s gift…

There has been a lot of talk recently by Israelis who are not happy with the political situation in Israel saying that they are looking to leave. They claim that they would rather “relocate” to another country.

Just as a person makes a choice to make aliya, go up to the Land of Israel, so too a person has a choice to make yerida, leave the Land of Israel. If that is what they want to do, then that is their choice. However, they are missing the point. Our connection to the Land goes much deeper than the political situation.

Every time that we eat bread, we are reminded of the Land of Israel and how we must appreciate it. Even when we eat a meal without bread, we conclude with the Bracha Me’ein Shalosh, the Three-Faceted Blessing known as Al HaMichya where we mention the “good and spacious Land…”

In addition, we face Jerusalem three times a day and pray for the Jewish people’s return to their homeland as well as prosperity, justice, the building of Jerusalem and peace.

The Land of Israel is a gift that must be appreciated. If someone does not appreciate the Land, then that is their loss.

Now that Israel is 75 years old and people are comfortable here, they are not conscious of the miracle of a Jewish state and they take it for granted. They forget what a sacrifice it was for people to make aliya and build up the Land.

Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli understood first hand how much of a blessing it was to immigrate to the Land of Israel. He was born in 1909 and he studied in underground Yeshivot in communist Russia. In 1933, after his requests for an exit visa from Russia were denied, he illegally crossed into Poland and was about to be sent back to the Russian authorities probably for a death sentence. Rav Avraham Yitzvhak HaKohen Kook and his son, Rav Tzvi Yehuda intervened and he was granted permission to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Yisraeli studied at Mercaz HaRav and then became Rabbi of the religious Zionist moshav Kfar HaRoeh where he helped combine the values of Torah and agriculture and was involved with practically applying the Mitzvot HaTluyot BaAretz, the Agricultural Mitzvot of the Land of Israel with life in Eretz Yisrael.

Today, it is so easy to fly in and out of Israel that many forget about the yearning that people had to come to the Land, the obstacles that they overcame and the drive that they had to build up the Land to make it a better place.

If someone chooses to be ungrateful for the Land, then nobody is forcing them to stay. If they can get permission to get into another country and find work there then that is their choice. But from my experience knowing Israelis living abroad, you can take an Israeli out of Israel but you can’t take Israel out of an Israeli.

A Land where you will eat bread without poverty Print E-mail
Monday, 15 August 2022

In Parshat Ekev (Dvarim 8:7-9), B’nai Yisrael are told:

For HaShem, your God, is bringing you to a good Land; a Land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a Land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a Land of olive oil and date-honey; a Land where you will eat bread without poverty, where you will lack nothing; a Land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper.

Rashbam explains: You will not eat stale bread like poor people. And in addition to the wheat and barley which the Land produces, you will also enjoy vineyards and their products, and pomegranates, as well as honey derived from dates which are sweet.

Sforno points out: It is a Land which is the confluence of numerous good, desirable qualities not found together in other districts of the globe. Each of the five qualities are introduced with the word Eretz (Land):

1) A Land with streams, springs and fountains: not water from polluted rivers or static ponds.
2) A Land of wheat and barley: crops which produce basic foods.
3) A Land of olive oil and date-honey: products fit for the palate of a king.
4) A Land where you will eat bread without poverty: where money can be found cheaply, a Land full of treasures.
5) A Land whose rocks are iron: The stones contain iron, a useful metal, or whose stones are strong as iron, providing excellent building materials.

Sforno continues: Dearth of money is more serious than shortage of the products which can be bought with it, as we know from the Talmud Taanit 19a-b

The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of the phrase “Makat Batzoret” An affliction of food shortage? Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: A period of forty days between one rainfall and the next is “an affliction that leads to food shortage.” In this regard, Rav Naḥman said: When crops do not grow in one place due to lack of rain and must be imported by means of one river to another river, this is considered “Batzoret”, food shortage. If produce must be brought from one province to another province, this is considered a “Ra’av” famine.

The Gemara continues: Rabbi Ḥanina said: If a se’a (volume of 144 eggs) of grain is sold for a sela (silver coin with the weight of 384 barleycorns of silver), but the wheat is plentiful, this is considered a “Batzoret”, food shortage. Although prices have risen, there is still grain for those who can afford it. However, if four se’a of grain is sold for a sela, and the wheat is not plentiful, this is considered a “Ra’av”, famine.

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: They taught this only with regard to a time when money is cheap and everyone has it, and produce is expensive. However, when money is expensive, i.e., unavailable, and produce is cheap, they cry out about it immediately, as this is considered a Ra’av, famine. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: I remember when four se’a of produce were sold for one sela (the normal price) and yet there were many swollen from hunger in Tiberias, as they did not have even one issar (small coin 1/96 of a sela) with which to purchase food.”

Although in Israel today we have plenty of grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and date-honey, for the most part Israel has not been growing wheat or barley. Instead, they have been importing their flour from Eastern Europe. With the war in the Ukraine and global food prices rising, we are now relying on foreign grain and we are at the mercy of others.

The dispute over the price of bread in Israel seems to never let up. On the one hand, the government wants to keep the basic bread prices down, making it look like there is no poverty. On the other hand, most Israelis, including the poorer populations prefer to buy other types of bread such as pita and would benefit from government grants rather than discounts on bread that they don’t eat. In addition, in the big scheme of things, it isn’t the bread that is expensive.  The poorer communities need help with gas, electric and other larger bills in order to make ends meet.

For now, the government decided to slightly raise the prices of the controlled bread and later in the year they will raise the prices again. This way, they won’t look too bad before the November elections.

Each government is willing to significantly raise the prices of almost everything while the bread remains sacred, probably due to the verse: “a Land where you will eat bread without poverty.”

Maybe we need to once again grow our grains in house in the Modern State of Israel. This will help provide more jobs in Israel as well as help the state become more self reliant. We also need to help the poorer segments with more than a few shekels savings on a loaf of bread.

Eradicating Illness Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 July 2021

In Parshat Ekev (Dvarim 7:15) we are told:

This shall be the reward when you listen to these laws, and you observe and perform them; HaShem your God will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and multiply you and he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your Land; your grain, your wine and your oil; the offspring of your cattle and the flocks of your sheep and goats; on the Land that He swore to your forefathers to give to you. You will be the most blessed of all of the peoples; there will be no infertile male or infertile female among you or among your animals. HaShem will remove from you every illness; and all the bad maladies of Egypt that you knew- He will not put them upon you, but will inflict them upon your enemies.

According to Sforno, “HaShem will remove from you every illness” indicates any manner of illness including those that are the result of climatic conditions. “Bad maladies” refers to those that are contagious. “That you knew” hints to the illnesses that the Egyptians were smitten with at the Sea of Reeds.

Sforno concludes that even though these diseases will strike your enemies, they will not infect you, as described in Tehilim 91:5-7:

You shall not fear the terror of night; nor the arrow that flies by day; nor the pestilence that walks in gloom; nor the destroyer who lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall victim at your side and a myriad at your right hand, but to you it shall not approach.

On the words “HaShem will remove from you every illness”, Ramban explains that God will take away ordinary ailments which occur in the world. “All the bad maladies of Egypt that you knew” are mentioned to insure the people that God “will inflict them upon your enemies.” Or maybe he is saying that by observing the laws they will be saved by the evil diseases, but if they do not observe them, the diseases will come upon them just as they came upon the Egyptians as it says in the chastisement (Dvarim 28:60) “He will bring back for you all the Egyptian diseases which you dreaded and the will cling to you.”

In Parshat BeShalach, Shmot 15:26 states: “He said to them: ‘If you vigilantly obey the voice of HaShem, your God, and do what is upright in His eyes, listen to his commandments and preserve all His statutes; then every sickness that I brought upon Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am HaShem who heals you.

Rashi brings the midrashic explanation that even if God does bring sickness, it is as if it were not brought because God will cure you. Rashi also brings the plain explanation: “for I am HaShem who heals you” means that God teaches you Torah and Mitzvot so that you will be saved from the diseases. It is like when a doctor tells a person: “Do not eat this particular thing lest it brings you to disease”, this represents following the mitzvot.     

Ramban does not agree with Rashi and explains the verse from Beshalach as follows: This is an admonition by which God warned them not to be among those who rebel against Him as the Egyptians had been. By listening to His voice, they will be saved from all sickness, since the sickness deservedly comes upon all those who rebel against His will, even as it befell the Egyptians when they did not listen to Him. This constitutes a promise that I will remove from you sickness that comes in the natural course of events, even as I healed the waters of Marah.

Where does this leave us today? Do we rely on God for our medical care? Is observing the mitzvot enough to heal us?

We must also do our part. When vaccines and medicines are available to us, we need to take advantage of them. When there are directives of how we need to take care of ourselves we must listen to them even if it is at the expense of praying indoors with a minyan. We lost too many people to Covid to continue our lives as usual and ignore medical advice.     

The following was presented by the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America on December 15, 2020 based on the guidance of Harav Hershel Schachter and and Harav Mordechai Willig with the support of Harav Dovid Cohen:

We are grateful for the progress that has been made in vaccine development for COVID-19.  Halacha obligates us to care for our own health and to protect others from harm and illness. In addition, Halacha directs us to defer to the consensus of medical experts in determining and prescribing appropriate medical responses to both treating and preventing illness. There has long been an almost uniform consensus among leading medical experts that vaccines are an effective and responsible manner of protecting life and advancing health. For over two hundred years vaccinations have been responsible for the dramatic reduction of many terrible diseases and have significantly improved public health in our country and around the world. For this reason, the consensus of our major poskim (halachic decisors) is to encourage us to use vaccinations to protect ourselves and others from disease.

As I was entering a shopping mall today, I asked the guard if they are making sure that people are wearing masks. He said “Yes. It is very important. We must observe the mitzvah of ‘v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem’, ‘you shall greatly beware of your souls.’”   

The Animals Eat First Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 August 2020

In Parshat Ekev, Dvarim 11:13-15, we read verses that are well known as they are recited twice a day in the second paragraph of the Shma:

And it will come to pass that if you continually heed My commandments that I command you today, to love HaShem, your God, and to serve Him, with all your heart and with all your soul- then I will provide rain for your Land in its proper time, the early and late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied.

Ibn Ezra points out that when verse 15 says “you will eat and be satisfied”, it is referring to eating the grain, wine and oil mentioned in verse 14 and not referring to the grass in verse 15.

Ramban’s interpretation is that it refers to everything: “And you shall eat and be satisfied” with the corn, wine and oil and also the sheep and cattle will be satisfied with the grass in the field.  

Ramban also quotes the midrash, Sifre: “And you shall eat and be satisfied”- When your cattle eats and is satisfied it works the ground with strength as it says in Mishlei 14:4: “Many crops come by the strength of the ox.”

In the Talmud, Brachot 40a, Rav Yehuda taught in the name of Rav:

It is forbidden for a person to eat before he gives food to his animal as it says (Dvarim 11:15) “I will provide grass in your field for your cattle” and only then does the verse state “and you will eat and be satisfied.” 

Rav Sheshet teaches that if a person said the blessing over the bread but did not yet take a bite and in the meanwhile he says “Knead for the oxen”, he can eat the bread without repeating the blessing, as instructing someone to feed the animals is considered a necessary preparation for the meal and is not considered an interruption.

This Gemara shows how important it is to feed the animals first as there are very rare circumstances where you can make the blessing and then take a break in between.

Pele Yoetz 36:1 explains that one should only raise chickens if they are able to care for them properly. The owner must give them their food at the proper time, before he eats, so that they don’t get into a situation of tzaar baalei chayim (animal cruelty).

The Magen Avraham 168:17 codifies the law as a Biblical mitzvah and says that it is forbidden to eat before your animals have eaten, but states that you may drink before your animals as we see in the case of Rivka (Breisheet 24:14) who gives Avraham’s servant water to drink first and then proceeds to water his camels.

Most other poskim (Halachic authorities) view this mitzvah as Rabbinic.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kinyan, Hilchot Avadim 8 teaches:

The earlier Chachamim would give their servant portions from all of the dishes that they would eat, and they would feed their animals and their servants before they themselves would sit down to eat. As it says in Tehillim 123:2: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon HaShem, our God, until he will be gracious to us.”

According to the Rambam, it is a midat chasidut (proper behavior) to feed your animals before you eat.

We see from here the importance of treating animals properly, not just because it will help them be more productive in the long run, but because it is the right thing to do.

The miracle of slow fashion Print E-mail
Monday, 26 August 2019

In Parhsat Ekev, B’nai Yisrael are reminded of how God took care of them for forty years in the wilderness. In Devarim 8:4 we read “Your garment did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.” We see a similar statement in Parshat Ki Tavo, Dvarim 29:4, “I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your garment has not worn out on you and your shoes have not worn out on your feet.”

How do we explain the concept that B’nai Yisrael did not need new clothing or shoes for forty years?

According to Rashi, the Clouds of Glory rubbed the grime off of their clothing and pressed them like pressed garments. Mizrachi adds that they did not require laundering and were never outgrown.

Rashi explains that their children’s clothing grew with them just like a snail’s shell grows with it. Gur Aryeh adds that the clothing was presented to them by the angels at Mt. Sinai.

Ibn Ezra brings two totally different ideas:

1.    They took enough clothing out of Egypt that it lasted them for forty years.

2.    The manna did not cause them to perspire so their clothing did not get ruined by sweat.

Ramban’s view is that the clothing lasting them for 40 years had to be a miracle just like the miracle of the manna falling from the sky. He refutes Ibn Ezra’s second opinion and explains that if you were to cover a rafter with a new cloth it would wear out after 40 years, even if there was no perspiration.

We see from here that the idea of clothing having a long lifespan is nothing short of a miracle.

What can we do today, in the age of fast fashion, to keep our clothing in good shape for as long as possible?

The best place to start is to buy good quality clothing that will hold up in the laundry after many washes as we don’t have the Clouds of Glory to help us out anymore.

Classic styles that won’t look out of place after a few seasons are better bets than trends that come and go.

When visiting Jerusalem’s Museum of North African Jewry, I was amazed by a dress that they had on display. The dress was worn for every fancy occasion beginning with the wedding. There was room for the dress to expand so that it could be worn to the brit mila as well as other happy occasions that would come up over the years. It was a beautiful well made dress that would last for years. Since this was a tradition before the modern camera, there was no pressure to be wearing a different dress in the photos from each simcha. The idea of having one “special occasion dress” makes a lot of sense. If it is a good quality dress and it is still in good condition, why not continue to wear it.

Just as God provided for B’nai Yisrael in the wilderness and made sure that their clothing lasted, so too, we should make an effort to take care of our clothing and prolong the life of each garment in order to make sure that we are taking care of our environment in the best possible way and not purposely wasting resources and textiles.

Don’t shame anyone- even a tree Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 August 2018

In Parshat Ekev (Dvarim 8:8), we are told that the Land of Israel is a land of the seven species: “A land of wheat and barley, and grapes and figs and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and (date) honey.”

When Adam and Chava ate from the Eitz HaDa’at (Tree of Knowldege) did they eat from one of these seven species and if so, why is the one that they ate not made clear?

The incident is found in Breisheet 3:6-7: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was tempting to the eyes and that the tree was appealing as a means of obtaining wisdom. She took of its fruit and she ate, and she also gave it to her husband and he ate. The eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked. They sewed together fig leaves, and made for themselves loincloths.”

Why does the Torah tell us that fig leaves they used to make clothing?

At first glance it would seem that fig leaves were used since they are very large so they make a good choice for a cover up.

According to Rashi, the Torah specifies fig leaves since that is the tree from which they ate.

Rashi quotes the Talmud, Sanhedrin 70b: “with that which they sinned they set themselves aright.”

Why is the name of the tree not specifically revealed?

Rashi explains that this is because God does not want to grieve any being. He did not want the tree not be shamed by people saying, “This is the one through which the world was stricken.”

We learn from the fig that if we are not supposed to shame a tree, then we certainly are not supposed to shame a person.

Of course, as the saying goes: two Jews, three opinions. Not everyone agrees that they ate from the fig tree. In the Talmud, Brachot 40a, Rabbi Meir says that it was a grapevine, for there is nothing that brings as much wailing upon man as wine does. Rabbi Yehuda says that it was a wheat stalk.

Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda may have brought up these other opinions to take some of the heat off of the fig.

In any case, whichever fruit it was, it was not removed from the list of the seven species of Israel which are praised and respected throughout the TaNaCh.

Israel’s precious resources Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 August 2017

In Parshat Ekev, Dvarim 8:7-9 we read:

For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, grapes and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of oil, olives and honey; a land wherein you shall eat bread without scarcity, you shall not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you will mine copper.

When touring Israel, you can’t miss the fulfillment of this prophecy when seeing the beautiful brooks and springs and the seven species that you pass as you walk down the street. Each time you eat from the fruits of the land you are reminded of what a great miracle it is to have our homeland back.

Have we found precious stones in Israel? Has that part of the prophecy come true?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe told the mayor of Haifa that there are precious gems in the Haifa area. However, they are concealed in the depths of the earth and we will need to find them.

According to the Israeli business daily “Globes”, Australian Professor William Griffin, a renowned expert on the earth’s crust came to Israel last year and discovered that Israel has enough precious stones and diamonds to warrant commercial mining. He examined the activities of Shefa Yamim, the only company dealing with the exploration of diamonds and precious stones in Israel and discovered moissanite, rubies sapphires and diamonds. The company’s explorations have mainly been in the Carmel area, Emek Zevulun, The Jezreel Valley and Ramot Menashe. Last year they found a 1.7 karat, 8.26 mm ruby.

The Ramban explains a passage from the Targum Yerushalmi that states that the land will have great stones, costly stones, hewn stones with which to build houses, walls and towers, unlike the land of Egypt and many lands where people dwell in houses of clay which are not as sturdy.

When walking through Jerusalem and seeing the original Jerusalem stone homes one can understand what the Targum Yerushalmi is describing.

We are lucky to be living at a time where we can see the fulfillment of God’s prophecies of what the Land of Israel has to offer. Now we have to work on the last prophecy which is eradicating poverty to make sure that nobody in the land ever goes hungry.

Remember where you came from Print E-mail
Friday, 26 August 2016

In Parshat Ekev, we are told to remember the exodus from Egypt, the forty years in the desert, the manna and all of the other miracles that God performed for B’nai Yisrael before they arrived in the Land of Israel.

Once B’nai Yisrael would arrive in Israel (Devarim 8:7-8) “a land of streams of water, fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills, a land of wheat barley, vines, fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey…” it would be very easy to forget where they came from and therefore B’nai Yisrael are reminded to continue to bless God and not forget Him.

The same is true today, we must continue to acknowledge where we came from.

Today, I had the honor to meet Ori Sasson, the Israeli judoka who just won the bronze medal in the +100 kg category in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Ori did not forget where he came from. He went back to the Armon HaNatziv community in Jerusalem where he grew up to thank them for their support.

Just as there are blessings to thank God for the food that we eat and the Land of Israel, according to Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, we should recite the blessing from the Talmud, Brachot 58b that is said when one sees beautiful creatures and trees when we meet an athlete such as Ori Sasson: “Shekacha lo b’olamo”, “Who has such in His universe”.

According to Rabbi Melamed, by saying this blessing, we are acknowledging that these super athletes are also God’s creations and should be appreciated, as we say each morning “Mah rabu ma’asecha HaShem”, “How great are your works, God, you make them all with wisdom, the world is full of your possessions.”

May Israel see more athletes bring home medals in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo!

The Connection between Birkat HaMazon and the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Friday, 07 August 2015

Sponsored by Sharona, Josh, Dov, Moshe and Yehuda Halickman

in memory of Deborah bat Mordechai v’Esther z”l on her first yahrzeit 22Av,

wife of Michael Jankelowitz, mother of Roy and Danit


In the Talmud, Brachot 21a Rav Yehuda states: From where in the Torah do we derive the obligation to recite Birkat HaMazon (Grace after meals)? From the verse (Parshat Ekev, Dvarim 8:10): Veachalta vesavata uveirachta et Hashem Elokecha al haaretz hatova asher natan lach”, “You shall eat and be satisfied and bless your God for the good land that He gave you.”


We are Biblically commanded to recite three brachot after eating bread:

A bracha for provision of nourishment (Birkat HaZan)

A bracha for the inheritance of the Land of Israel (Birkat HaAretz)

A bracha for the building of Jerusalem (Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim)


In Brachot 48b, the Rabbis teach in a Braita that from that one verse in Devarim 8:10 we derive the different brachot within Birkat HaMazon:


From the words: “Veachalta vesavata uveirachta” (You shall eat and be satisfied and bless) we derive Birkat HaZan, from “et Hashem elokecha(your God) we derive the mitzva to make a Zimmun, fromal haaretz” (for the Land) we derive Birkat HaAretz, from the word “hatova” (the good) we derive Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim as it says in Devarim 3:25: “the good mountain” (which is Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount), from “asher natan lach” (that He gave you) we derive Birkat HaTov V’HaMeitiv.


The Talmud discusses the origins of these brachot:

Rav Nachman said:


Moshe composed Birkat HaZan at the time that the manna fell from heaven.


Yehoshua composed Birkat HaAretz when they entered the Land of Israel.


King David and King Shlomo composed Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim.


Birkat HaTov V’HaMetiv (Who is good and confers good) is looked at by Rebbi as a Rabbinic bracha which is a continuation of Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim while the Tanna Kamma includes it as a fourth Biblical bracha. Those who consider the bracha to be Rabbinic say that it was formally added by the Sages of Yavneh on account of God’s goodness towards the bodies of the slain Jews of Betar.


In the Tur, Orach Chayim, the question is asked why we don’t start Birkat HaMazon in a more spiritual way with a prayer for Jerusalem and only afterwards thank God for the physical food? The answer that is given is that we follow the order of history so Moshe’s bracha is first, Yehoshua’s is second etc.


Rav Yissachar Yaakovson explains that there are also psychological reasons for why Birkat HaMazon is set up in this order. First, the person who ate is thankful for the food that they enjoyed. They then remember that food grows everywhere including in our homeland, the Land of Israel. Finally, they show appreciation for religious, spiritual and national values such a Jerusalem, Zion and the Beit HaMikdash.


Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim was originally a prayer that God continue to preserve tranquility in the Land. Following the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the exile, the bracha focused on the return to the Land, the Beit HaMikdash and the Davidic dynasty.


Every time that we thank God for our food, we must also praise God for the Land of Israel. Why is the Land of Israel such an integral part of Birkat Hamazon?


1. Just like God doesn't want us to take the food for granted, He also doesn't want us to take the Land of Israel for granted. Israel should constantly be appreciated.


2. Israel is the place where the most mitzvot can be observed in the best possible way.


3. Israel has great produce that we should appreciate. Israel is a land of milk and honey and the land of the seven species wheat, barley, grapes, fig, pomegranate, olive-oil and date-honey.


4. Through the blessing of Israel, the whole world becomes blessed.


We see from here the importance of taking our time to recite Birkat HaMazon with kavana (intent) focusing on our appreciation for the food that we eat, the Land of Israel and the prayer that Jerusalem should be rebuilt speedily in our days.


May the words that we recite at the end of  Birkat HaMazon from Tehilim 29:11 be fulfilled: “Hashem Oz LeAmo Yiten, Hashem Yivarech et Amo Bashalom”, “God will give strength to His people, God will bless His people with peace.”

Bringing Joy and Gladness to the Wounded Soldiers Print E-mail
Friday, 15 August 2014
The Haftarah for Parshat Ekev is the second of the seven comforting Haftarot which are read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana.
The Haftarah comes from Yishayahu chapters 49-51. The last sentence of the Haftarah (51:3) states: “For God shall comfort Zion, He shall comfort all her ruins, He shall make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like a garden of God; joy and gladness shall be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music.”
During this difficult time in Israel, the State of Israel needs comfort. There are many ways that this can be accomplished.
One way is by helping rebuild the homes that were destroyed by thousands of rocket attacks thereby comforting “all her ruins”.
Another way is to help those farmers whose fields and crops have been affected during the war. This will help “make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like a garden of God.
A great way to bring “joy and gladness” to Israel is by coming to visit and show “thanksgiving” by thanking the soldiers who are still recovering in the hospitals.
This past week, Torat Reva Yerushalayim delivered 47 gift packages to the wounded soldiers who are still recovering inIsrael’s hospitals.
On Monday, Rabbi Barry Gelman from Houston, Texas visited Soroka hospital in Be’er Seva, distributed gift packages to the soldiers and sang songs with Naftali Abramson bringing “joy and gladness” and the “sound of music” to the injured soldiers.
On Tuesday, Rabbi Gelman and I went to visit the soldiers at Hadassah Ein Karem.
On Thursday, I traveled with Esti Ochana from Keshet the Center for Educational Tourism in Israel to visit Jordan Low at Beilinson hospital. Jordan is a lone soldier from Baltimore who is still suffering from smoke inhalation after helping fifteen soldiers from his unit escape a burning building in GazaJordan’s father and brother flew in from the United States and are at his side sixteen hours a day.
Our last stop was the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer where many soldiers are still in rehab. The soldiers and their families were happy to meet us, they loved the packages and were in good spirits despite their injuries.
Thanks to all those who contributed the packages!
For those who would like to attend a solidarity mission please follow the following link:

Rabbi Barry Gelman loading the gift packages into his car.

Rabbi Gelman with Naftali Abramson singing with a soldier and his family at Saroka.

Photo: Visiting a wounded soldier at Hadassah Ein Karem
With Rabbi Gelman at Hadasah Ein Karem

The contents of the Gift Bag

Photo: Delivering a gift package to a wounded solider at Sheba hospital.
Delivering the Gift Bag to a Soldier at Tel HaShomer Hospital.
The Obligation to Go Out to Work Print E-mail
Friday, 26 July 2013
In Parshat Ekev, Devarim 11:13-22 we read the words that are very familiar to us from the second paragraph of the Shma prayer (Vehaya im Shamoah…).


The paragraph begins with the words: “It will be that if you listen to My commandments that I command you today, to love HaShem your God and to serve Him with all of your heart and with all your soul, then I shall provide rain for your Land in its proper time, the early and late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.”


In Masechet Brachot 35b, the question is asked why the Torah needs to state the words “and you will gather in your grain.”


Rabbi Yishmael explains that since it says in the book of Yehoshua 1:8, “This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth”, some may think that one should only study Torah and not go out to work. Therefore, the Torah had to state: “you shall gather in your grain” to mean that an individual has an obligation to find a means of earning a livelihood in addition to their time set aside for Torah study. He should not devote himself so completely to Torah study that he must rely on Divine intervention to support him miraculously. Rather he should study Torah as much as possible but set aside a portion of his time to be able to support himself and his family.


In Yalkut M’Am Loez, The Midrash anthology, we learn that this philosophy follows the teaching from our Rabbis in Pirkei Avot 2:2: “Any Torah that is not accompanied by a livelihood will become void.” If one has no way to support himself, he will eventually have to resort to means which will completely remove him from the study of Torah in order to sustain himself.


Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai points out in the same Gemara that if we are busy throughout the year with agricultural work such as plowing, sowing, harvesting, threshing and winnowing then we will never have time to study Torah. He therefore concludes that if B’nai Yisrael do the will of God, then their work will be done by others as it says in Yishayahu 61:5 “Strangers will arise and shepherd your flocks.” At that point, B’nai Yisrael can fully focus on Torah study. However, at a time that B’nail Yisrael do not fulfill the will of God, they will have to do their own work and not only that, they will have to work for others as it says in Devarim 28:48 “and you will serve your enemies.”


We see from here that it is necessary to learn a trade which we can balance with Torah study and try to fulfill as many mitzvot as possible so that we can eventually reach the ideal and be blessed with others “shepherding our flocks” so that we will have more time to devote to Torah study.



Keeping the Dream Alive! Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Celebrating 8 years since my Aliya to Israel

In Parshat Ekev (Devarim 9:23) we read about the importance of inheriting the Land of Israel: “And when God sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, “Go up and inherit the Land that I have given you.” But you defied God and did not trust Him and did not heed him.


Although B’nai Yisrael may have initially been afraid to inherit the Land and were later punished because of it, there are many people in our time who did everything in their power in order to make Aliya.


As a child, I spent many rallies with Rabbi Haskel Lookstein and Rabbi Avi Weiss chanting “Free Sharansky Now!” until he was finally released in 1986. Sharansky’s crime was that he wanted to make Aliya, immigrate to Israel. On Sunday, December 6, 1987, I went with Rabbi Lookstein, the entire Ramaz School and 250,000 other people to Washington to demonstrate in solidarity with Soviet Jewry. It is said that because of this “Freedom Sunday”, Gorbachev opened the Soviet borders allowing a million Jews to immigrate to Israel.


While studying in Israel in 1991, my then boyfriend, now husband, Josh and I were at a restaurant with two friends when we caught a glimpse of Natan Sharansky having dinner with his wife Avital. We were shocked to see these celebrities and heroes and although we would have loved to go over to them, we did not want to disturb them.


Eight years ago on August 11, 2004, I made aliya on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. My friend, Mia Tepper who was with us in the restaurant the night that we saw Natan Sharansky was also on the flight. As we got off of the plane, Natan Sharansky was there to greet us. I felt like I had come full circle after all of the years of rallies that I had gone to fighting for his release, here he was welcoming me to Israel!


In 2009, I opened a new Midrasha in Jerusalem called Midreshet Devora where women 18-26 from all over the world could come and study Torah. This past May, my students went to a conference where they had the opportunity to meet Natan Sharansky as well! The students who met him from Florida, NY, Santo Domingo, Sao Paulo and Manchester all dream of making Aliya one day. Now that is what I call really coming full circle!

Photo: Anatoly Sharansky celebrates his freedom with Binyamin Netanyahu, then Israeli 
ambassador to the united nations, and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein after his release.

Anatoly Sharansky celebrates his freedom with Binyamin Netanyahu, then Israeli 
ambassador to the united nations, and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein after his release.

Photo of me with Natan Sharansky and my friends Mia and Noa.

Photo: Photo by Perry Bindelglass for the Jewish Agency for Israel 
Natan Sharansky with my students Rut, Elana and Rachel this past May in Jerusalem.



With God on Our Side We Have Nothing to Fear Print E-mail
Friday, 19 August 2011

In Memory of Joelle Lewandowski z”l


In Parshat Ekev, when B’ani Yisrael were about to enter the Land of Israel they were told (Devarim 9:3): Listen, Israel! You are crossing the Yarden to come inherit nations greater and more powerful than you; cities great and fortified to the sky. A great and powerful people, descendents of the Anakim (commonly translated as giants, translated as heroes by Rav Saadya Gaon) about whom you know and heard “who can stand up to the descendents of Anak”? You know that HaShem, your God is the one crossing before you, a consuming fire, He will destroy them and he will subdue them before you; you will expel them quickly, as God promised for you.


Ramban points out that the enemies who were already in the Land were frightened of Israel. With a trembling heart, low spirit and feebleness of hands they went out against them in battle. Although the Anakim had might and height, their hearts were more humbled than those of the rest of the people and they did not go out into battle at all but were rather hiding in the mountains and in the fortified cities. Yehoshua later destroyed the Anakim in their cities- proof that they didn’t go out to battle.


We see from here that our enemies were cowards and with God on our side, we were able to destroy them.


Unfortunately, yesterday, our enemies attacked innocent civilians in a number of terror attacks. We hope and pray to see the prophecy at the end of our Parsha speedily in our day (Devarim 11:23-25): God will expel all these nations before you, and you will inherit nations greater and more powerful than you. Every place that the soul of your foot steps on will be yours, from the wilderness of Lebanon, from the river- the Euphrates River- up to the ultimate sea, will be your boundary. No man will stand up to you; fear of you and awe of you will God place upon the surface of the entire Land that you are stepping into as He promised you.

Israel is God’s Gift to the Entire Jewish People Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 July 2010

In Parshat Ekev, Devarim 9:5-6 we read the following words: “Not because of your righteousness and the uprightness of your heart are you coming to inherit their land. Rather, because of the wickedness of these nations is God expelling them before you, and in order to fulfill the matter that God swore to your forefathers- to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov. Know that not because of your righteousness is God giving you this good land to inherit, for you are a stubborn people.”


Chidushei HaRim explains that Moshe wanted to emphasize in these two psukim that the gift of the Land of Israel was not given to B’nai Yisrael because of the good deeds of a specific generation. Rather, it is an eternal gift to the Jewish people, for all generations. Moshe wanted to strengthen the generations that did not have a lot of good deeds to help them understand that even if they haven’t performed a tremendous amount of mitzvot, they still have the power to merit inheriting the Land of Israel.


If all of the Jews in the world waited until they were perfect in their mitzvah observance before making Aliyah (moving to the Land of Israel) then there would be no Jewish people living in Israel at all as only God is perfect.


In fact, you can only observe the majority of the mitzvoth once you move to Israel!


When B’nai Yisrael entered Israel with Joshua they were not perfect as Moshe reminds them. They were a stubborn people that defied God. They worshipped the golden calf and “forgot” that God took them out of Egypt with an outstretched arm.


When the State of Israel was founded, it was mostly the Jews who were not brought up observing the Torah and Mitzvot who built up the Land. The pioneers knew that Israel is the home for all Jews.


I read a disturbing article today by a woman who lives in the United States who said that she will never make Aliyah because she doesn’t like the way that Israel’s politicians are running the country. The author doesn’t seem to understand that Israel is for everyone and she shouldn’t let the politicians ruin it for her. If she moves to Israel, maybe in her own small way she will be able to make an impact and improve society here.


Although B’nai Yisrael were not perfect, they were able to inherit the Land of Israel. We too are entitled to the Land and we should proudly exercise our right to enjoy God’s gift to us.

Come and Possess the Land! Print E-mail
Sunday, 09 August 2009

Come and Possess the Land!


In Parshat Ekev 8:1 we read: “The entire commandment (mitzvah) that I command you today you shall observe to perform so that you may live and increase and come to possess the Land that God swore to your forefathers”.


According to the Ramban in Vayikra 18:25: The essence of all of the Mitzvot is that they be performed in the Land of Israel.


Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook points out that according to the Chafetz Chayim the Mitzvot performed outside of Israel have only 1/20 of the value of those performed in the Land of Israel.


Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman in their book “Lights On Orot”- The Teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak HaCohen Kook explain that the Land of Israel is the only place on earth where the Torah can be observed in all of its fullness (Kuzari 2:14). The mitzvoth which we perform outside of Israel are only reminders until we can return to Israel to observe them properly (Sifre Ekev 11:18). Outside the Land of Israel the mitzvoth have an educational value but the Torah repeatedly tells us that the Land of Israel is the place for their performance.


This week marks five years since I packed up my life and made aliya with my husband Josh and our sons Dov and Moshe. We felt that we wanted to take our mitzvah observance a step further and have the opportunity to observe the mitzvoth that we were already performing in a more meaningful way in the Land of Israel as well as take on mitzvoth that can only be observed by those who are living in the Land of Israel- Mitavot HaTluyot BaAretz.


Living in Israel for five years, I have found that some mitzvoth are easier to observe here. Let’s take Kashrut for example. Kosher food is everywhere in Yerusahalayim. However, you still have to watch out for fake kashrut certificates as well as make sure that the mitzvoth of Terumot, Maasrot and Shmitah are being observed- mitzvoth that are only observed in the Land of Israel.


Observing Shabbat is also easier in Jerusalem with many synagogues to choose from and many places of business are closed on both Friday and Shabbat. I remember the days in New York when I had to work until half an hour before Shabbat and then rush home in order to get Shabbat ready on time. However, what we could still use in Israel is a Sunday that is not a regular work/ school day.


Although it may not always be easy to live in Israel, it is an honor to have the opportunity to come and possess the Land that God swore to our forefathers.

Eliminating Poverty Print E-mail
Monday, 18 August 2008

In Parshat Ekev we read about the beauty of the Land of Israel (Devarim 8:7) “For Hashem your God brings you into a good Land, a Land of streams of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills. A Land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey. A Land where you will not eat bread in poverty, you will lack nothing there; a Land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you will mine copper.”


The description sounds very idyllic. The question is how many Israelis are benefiting from the produce that the Land has to offer? According to Israel’s National Insurance Institute, every third child in Israel lives below the poverty line. Many families who suffer from hunger eat smaller portions, skip meals and in extreme cases don't eat for a whole day. Diets may be high in carbohydrates lacking meat, dairy products, vegetables and fruit. Many of these children have rarely eaten from the seven species aside from wheat (bread has always been affordable until recent price hikes with prices rising over 15 %). This week the cost of eggs has risen as well.


What can we do to help these families? At our local national religious school we have food drives every Rosh Chodesh where students are asked to bring rice, pasta, oil etc and around the holidays they are asked to bring in wine and special treats as well. These packages go to members of the community who would otherwise not be able to afford many of these products. Each child in the school (even those who can’t afford to bring a lot) brings something and feels the importance of doing this mitzvah to eliminate hunger. There is also an opportunity to help pay for hot lunches of children who would otherwise not be able to afford them so that every child in the school can have a hot lunch each day.


Israel must live up to the Biblical standards of “a Land where you will not eat bread in poverty, you will lack nothing there.”

Torah Study for Women Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Torah Study for Women

In Parshat Ekev we find the commandment for a man to teach Torah to his sons. The words are recited twice a day as part of the Shma prayer (Devarim 11:19): “velimadetem otam et bneichem”,“and you are to teach them to your sons”. The Gemara in Kiddushin 29b declares “et bneichem”, “to your sons” “velo et bnoteichem” “but not to your daughters”. We derive from here that women are exempt from Torah study.

Are women really exempt from Torah study? This seems to contradict a statement in last week’s parsha (Devarim 5:1) “Moshe called all of the Jewish people and said to them: Hear Israel the statutes and the laws that I am relating in your presence today, for you are to study them (ulimadetem otam) and be careful to fulfill them”. All of Israel is told that in order to be able to observe the mitzvoth they must study the Torah.

Sefer Hasidim (Rabbi Judah HeHasid- 12th c) states: “One is obligated to teach daughters the mitzvoth, the legal rulings of the Halacha. If a woman is not taught the laws of Shabbat, then how can she observe Shabbat?”

The Chafetz Chayim (1838-1933) urged Torah study for girls “lest they stray from the path of God and violate the principles of the Torah.”

If women don’t study Torah, how can they transmit it to the next generation?

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson, stressed the importance of Torah study for women based on the fact that the women are usually the ones helping their children with their homework and if the women are not learned then they can’t help pass the Torah down to their children and grandchildren.

According to Rabbi Lichtenstein (Rosh Yeshiva-Har Etzion), “Women’s learning should be intensified. In this way the woman deepens her own commitment, her sense of responsibility. When something is well learned, it creates personal commitment. There are things that can be known in a general way, but they are not felt existentially, and therefore they do not penetrate one’s consciousness. For example, one should learn the mitzvot that are dependent upon the land of Israel”.

Even though in theory women are exempt from Torah study, in practice women must study all of the laws that apply to them (Rema- Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 246:6), women must be knowledgeable in order to transmit Judaism to the next generation and women must feel ownership and commitment to the Torah which is acquired through intensive study.

Jerusalem boasts a large number of Torah study opportunities for women. However, there are still many women who don’t have the opportunity to attend these programs. Torat Reva Yerushalayim brings Torah study to populations such as mothers with young children and senior citizens in order to insure that the prophecy of Yishayahu “ki mitzion tetze Torah” will be fulfilled in our day.

Israel's Unique Qualities Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 August 2006

When B'nai Yisrael were about to enter the land of Israel, Moshe explained to them that the Land of Israel would be different from Egypt (Devarim, Parshat Ekev 11:10-11) "The land which you are arriving to inherit is not like the land of Egypt, from which you departed, where you planted your seed and watered it on foot like a vegetable garden. Rather, the land where you are crossing to inherit is a land of mountains and plains- by the rains of the skies will you drink water."

Rashi explains that there are good points and bad points to both lands when he comments on the words "vehishkita viraglecha", "watered it on foot".

In the land of Egypt, you had to bring the water from the Nile on foot in order to irrigate it. You had to lose sleep, to toil. The lowlands could be irrigated but the highlands could not and you had to bring the water up from the low areas to the high ones.

In the land of Israel, "By the rains of the skies will you drink water." You can sleep in your bed while God irrigates lowland and highland, opened and closed areas alike.

In a way, Egypt sounds better since the water is already in the Nile. You only have to depend on God once a year to make the Nile overflow to moisten the soil in order to plant seeds. On a daily basis, man is in control. He doesn't have to wait for God to make it rain.

On the other hand, Israel sounds better since you won't have to carry the water over your shoulders and irrigate the land on foot. You can sleep well without having to worry about doing the heavy physical labor and your plants will be taken care of.

Although B'nai Yisrael will not have to do the physical labor of carrying the water, they will have to do spiritual labor by observing the mitzvoth. God is watching our actions.

In the next sentence, Devarim 11:12 we read: "The land of Israel is a land that God looks after, the eyes of God are always upon it, from the year's beginning to the year's end".

During these difficult times I have seen numerous acts of kindness. Residents of central Israel are hosting complete strangers from Northern Israel for an indefinite period of time. Food and other essentials are being donated to families who have left their homes and soldiers that are in the field. Toys R Us is even running a toy drive to collect toys to distribute in bomb shelters.

Let's hope and pray that through these acts of kindness we will overcome our obstacles. Israel is truly different in so many ways from any other land. May God continue to watch over and protect the land of Israel.

The Land of Israel and Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals) Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2005

Rabbi Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezrich taught that it is more important to have kavana, intense concentration, during birkat hamazon, grace after meals, than during tefilla, prayer (aside from the Shma). His reasoning is that birkat hamazon is deoraita, a mitzvah from the Torah while prayer (aside from the shma) is derabanan, a mitzvah instituted by the Rabbis.

The Gemara in Brachot 21a asks "From where in the Torah do we derive the obligation to recite Birkat HaMazon?" The answer is from the pasuk in Parshat Ekev, Dvarim 8:10: Veachalta vesavata uveirachta et Hashem elokecha al haaretz hatova asher natan lach, You shall eat and be satisfied and bless your God for the good land that He gave you.

Every time that we thank God for our food, we must also praise God for the land of Israel. Why is the land of Israel such an integral part of Birkat Hamazon?

1. Just like God doesn't want us to take the food for granted, He also doesn't want us to take the land of Israel for granted. Israel should constantly be appreciated.

2. Israel is the place where the most mitzvoth can be observed in the best possible way.

3. Israel has great produce that we should appreciate. Israel is a land of milk and honey and
the land of the seven species wheat, barley, grapes, fig, pomegranate, olive-oil and date-honey. It still excites me to walk in Jerusalem and see trees with the seven species.

4. Through the blessing of Israel, the whole world becomes blessed.

The next time you finish a meal, instead of rushing through, try to put more kavana into birkat hamazon. I hope and pray that the words with which we end birkat hamazon will speedily be fulfilled.

Hashem Oz LeAmo Yiten, Hashem Yivarech et Amo Bashalom, God will give strength to his people, God will bless his people with peace.