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Seeking Spirituality in Jerusalem Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 August 2023

In Parshat Re’eh, Dvarim 14:22-27 we read about Maaser Sheni, the Second Tithe which is separated in the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the Shmita cycle. What is unique about Maaser Sheni is that it is not given to the Kohen, Levi or the poor. Rather, the person who separates Maaser Sheni is supposed to physically take the produce to Jerusalem and eat it there.

The essence of the mitzvah is in verses 22-23:

You shall tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field, on a yearly basis. You shall eat it before HaShem, your God, in the place that He will choose to rest His name- the tithe of your grain, your wine and your oil. And the firstborn of your cattle and your flocks, so that you will learn to fear HaShem, your God, all the days.

Abravanel asks:

What is the point of the owner’s separation of this tithe from the other produce when he himself will ultimately partake of it?

Abravanel answers:

This mitzvah is of immense value. When you separate the tithe and bring it to Jerusalem to eat it there in order to fulfill the mitzvah, before God, you will learn to fear God.

Alshikh asks:

How can eating, drinking and rejoicing teach people to be God fearing?

Alshikh answers:

Perhaps God commanded them to take a tithe of all of their possessions to Jerusalem to deter them from repudiating the source of their bounty and that they should realize that wealth did not originate with the power of their own hands. It was as if they were giving the king his portion. This portion is “holy to God” and from the table of the Most High.

Nechama Leibowitz points out that you eat from Maaser Sheni “before God.” You are in the presence of God and you should stand in awe of Him.

Something as mundane as eating is taken to a totally different level when it is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. When one goes through the process of tithing their possessions, bringing them up to Jerusalem and eating them there, they find spirituality that would not have been found if they stayed at home.

One one hand, there are a lot of visitors to Jerusalem today who choose to find spirituality by doing tzedaka and chesed projects with those who are less fortunate. This is similar to Maaser Ani (the Tithe for the Poor) which is given on the third and sixth years. On the other hand, we learn from Maaser Sheni that there is also a value in coming to Jerusalem to seek out God and strengthen our own spirituality by studying Torah, walking the streets or enjoying a good meal.

In whose territory did the Shechina rest? Print E-mail
Monday, 22 August 2022

In Parsha Re’eh, the ultimate spot where the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) will be built is hinted to many times such as in Dvarim 12:5: “At the place that HaShem, your God, chooses from all your tribes to set His Presence there, will you seek His Presence and come there.”

Was the Beit HaMikdash in the territory of Binyamin or Yehuda or was it located in neutral territory that belongs to all of Am Yisrael (the entire Jewish nation)?

The Talmud, Yoma 12a teaches:

The Tanna Kamm (first Tanna in the Mishna) maintains that Jerusalem was not apportioned among the tribes. However, Rabbi Yehuda maintains that Jerusalem was apportioned among the tribes.

According to the Tanna Kamma, Jerusalem was designated as the Temple city and all the tribes retained rights therein.

The Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 126:8) explains that initially Jerusalem was apportioned among the tribes as at the time, the site of the Beit HaMikdash was unknown. Once Jerusalem was designated as the Temple city, equal access was granted to all of the tribes. However, the original owners of property in Jerusalem (members of the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin) retained titles to their properties. The rest of Israel only received the right to use these properties when they traveled to Jerusalem.

The Gemara asks: Which parts of the Temple complex were in the portion of Yehuda?

The Temple Mount, the chambers (lishkot) and the courtyards (azarot) were in the portion of Yehuda.

Which parts were in the portion of the tribe of Binyamin?

The antechamber (ulam), the sanctuary (heichal), and the Kodesh HaKodashim were in the portion of Binyamin.

A strip of land projected from the portion of Yehuda and extended into the portion of Binyamin and on it the altar was erected. Binyamin the tzadik (righteous) was pained by it each day. As it says in Moshe’s blessing to the tribe of Binyamin (Dvarim 33:12): “He agonizes over it all day long.” Therefore Binyamin became host to the presence of God. As it says (Dvarim 33:12) “And between his (Binyamin’s) shoulders does He (God) rest.”

Rashi points out that the Holy Ark (upon which the Shechina, the Divine Presence rested) was located in Binyamin’s portion.

Binyamin was the permanent host of the Shechina. Even before the Beit HaMikdash was built, the Shechina always resided in the territory of Binaymin. The Talmud, Zevachim 118b points out that the Shechina rested in different Sanctuaries before the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem: Shilo, Nov & Givon. All were located in the tribe of Binyamin.

May we merit to see the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash in Yerushalayim!

The Kotel is not “The Place” Print E-mail
Monday, 02 August 2021

In Parshat Re’eh we are told not to worship idols and when we worship God it has to be in “The Place” that God selects as we see in Dvarim 12:5-7:

Rather at “HaMakom”, “The Place” that HaShem, your God chooses from all your tribes to set his Presence there, will you seek His Presence and come there. You are to bring there your burnt offerings (olot) and your sacred offerings (zvachim), and your tithes (maasrot) and the elevation of your hands (trumot) and your pledges (nedarim) and your donations (nedivot) and the firstborn (bechorot) of your cattle and your flocks. You are to eat there before HaShem, your God and you will be happy with the sum of your handiwork, you and your households as has blessed you, HaShem, your God.

Where is “The Place”?

Chizkuni points out that the name of “The Place” was not listed since the Shechina, Divine Presence rested in a few places such as Gilgal, Shilo, Nov, Givon and finally “Beit Olamim”, the eternal home, the Temple Mount.

The Kotel, the Western Wall, which was a retaining wall is not listed there as it is not “The Place.”

Unfortunately, many leaders, most recently, Yair Lapid, Alternate Prime Minister of Israel and Minister of Foreign Affairs have made statements leading the public to believe that the Kotel is our holiest site when in fact our holiest site is the Temple Mount.

Immediately after Tisha B’Av, Lapid said that “Jews have visitation rights at the Temple Mount and that Muslims have freedom to worship at the site. A Jew who wants to pray can do so at the Western Wall, the holiest place for the Jews.”

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a similar statement eight years ago on August 4, 2013 when the Barcelona soccer players visited Israel: “You just visited the holiest site for the Jewish people, the Western Wall.”

If you log on to the website “Tourist Israel” the first words that you will find are: “The Western Wall or the ‘Wailing Wall,’ is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website did get it right and does not try to hide anything. Their site says straight out: “The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the two Jewish Temples were located, is the holiest site in Judaism. Called Haram Al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) by Muslims, the site contains the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered the third holiest site in Islam, the iconic Dome of the Rock and many other small structures.”

The site continues: “After Jerusalem’s reunification in 1967, Israel chose to uphold the existing status quo on the Temple Mount. Out of respect for Muslim sensibilities, it allowed the Islamic Waqf to continue to administer the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Non-Muslims (Israelis and tourists) are allowed to visit the Temple Mount at fixed times but do not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself. They visit other parts of the site and usually walk around the large open spaces. In addition, Jews and other non-Mulsims are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount.”

On the one hand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is saying that the Temple Mount is our holiest site yet on the other hand, out of respect for Muslim sensibilities Jews are not permitted to pray there.

Why are so many people, including our leaders getting it wrong?

In order to deflect the Jews from wanting to pray on the Temple Mount, in 1967 the Kotel was built up into a holy site and tourist attraction. However, for our leaders to say that the Kotel is our holiest site is deception by those who know better but prefer to try to avoid conflict.

Emulating God by Planting Trees in Israel Print E-mail
Monday, 10 August 2020

 Celebrating 16 years in Israel

Parsha Re’eh has many references to settling the Land of Israel including:

When HaShem, your God has brought you to the Land that you are coming to inherit... (Dvarim 11:29)

For you shall pass across the Yarden to come to inherit the Land that HaShem, your God, is giving you; you will inherit it and will dwell in it.  (Dvarim 11:31)

These are the statutes and the laws that you will guard to fulfill in the Land that HaShem, God of your forefathers, has given you, to inherit, all the years that you are alive on the earth. (Dvarim 12:1)

When you cross the Yarden and settle in the Land that HaShem, your God, is apportioning to you, and He has granted you peace from all your enemies around, and you will live secure. (Dvarim 12:10)

We are also taught:

You shall walk after HaShem, your God... (Dvarim 13:5)

Rabbi Yehuda ben Rabbi Simon asks in the midrash, Vayikra Raba 25:3: Is it possible for a human being to “walk after God”?

At the beginning of the creation, God engaged in planting as it says in Breisheet 2:8, “HaShem, God planted a garden eastward (mikedem) in Eden.” Mikedem also means first. Similarly, when you, Israel, enter the Land, engage in planting first, as it is written in Vayikra 19:23, “When you come into the Land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food...” 

There is a story about Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz zt”l, who passed away this week. He always felt that he wasn’t doing enough, even though he wrote many books, including a commentary on the entire Talmud. He gave many lectures and wrote countless articles over the years, yet he still felt that it was not enough.

What Rabbi Steinsaltz really wanted to do was to leave this world a small tree that would grow. In his garden, years ago, he planted two cypress trees. One was stolen and the other one was small, its head was cut off. Rabbi Steinsaltz had mercy on it and took the head and reattached it with duct tape to the stump that was still fresh. Then he just gave it a chance to grow and hoped that the fracture would heal. Today this tree is almost three meters tall!

Out of all the amazing things that Rabbi Steinsaltz did in his lifetime, planting a small tree that would grow into a tall tree (even if it was a little chopped) was extremely important to him and made him feel fulfilled.

May we all have the opportunity of emulate God and plant trees in Israel. 

The truth must not be silenced Print E-mail
Friday, 30 August 2019

In Parshat Re’eh, Dvarim 13:2-4 we are commanded:

If a prophet arises among you or a dreamer of a dream, and he gives you an omen or a miracle, and the omen or the miracle happens-the one he told you about- saying, “Let us go after other gods that you do not know, and let us serve them.” Do not listen to the words of that prophet or the dreamer of the dream, because HaShem, your God is testing you to know whether you love HaShem, your God, wholeheartedly and with your entire beings.

Why do we need to be warned not to follow false prophets? Isn’t it obvious?

If we look at the accounts in Melachim I, Chapter 22 and throughout the Book of Yirmiyahu, we actually find that false prophets were a real problem. They even tried to trick the real prophets.

In Melachim I, we read about Achav, King of Israel. He did not like the true prophets Eliyahu HaNavi and Michayahu ben Yimla as they spoke the truth about Achav’s downfall. Achav actually requested that Michayahu give a good prophecy, even if it meant changing God’s prophecy and lying. Since Michayahu would only tell the truth, Achav preferred to jail him and accept the prophecy of the false prophet Tzidkiyahu ben K’nana who “prophecied” that Achav would win the war. Of course, the prophecies of Eliyahu and Michayahu came true. If Achav had listened to the true prophets and sincerely repented, their prophecies would have been cancelled.

Throughout Yirmiyahu’s life, there were false prophets who tried to show him up including four who were specifically mentioned by name. The first, Chananya ben Azor prophesied to King Tzidkiyahu (not related to the false prophets named Tzidkiyahu) that he would win the war (and just like in the story of King Achav, he didn’t). Two other false prophets were Achav ben Kulya (not related to King Achav) and Tzidkiyahu ben Maasiya. The last false prophet who was mentioned by name was Shmaya HaNachlami.

In a few cases, Yirmiyahu himself wasn’t sure if these “prophets” were true prophets or false prophets. One example is in Yirmiyahu 14:13-14:

Then I (Yirmiyahu) said, “Alas My Lord HaShem/Elokim. Behold, the false prophets say to them, ‘You will not see a sword, and famine will not befall you; for I will present you a true peace in this place.’” But God said to me, “These prophets prophecy falsehood in My Name. I did not send them nor command them nor speak to them. A false vision, divination, emptiness and the deception of their heart are they prophesying to you.

Michayahu was jailed by King Achav for presenting a true prophecy in the Book of Melachim and Yirmiyahu was jailed by King Tzidkiyahu for declaring that Jerusalem would be destroyed. In both cases, the kings thought that if they would silence the prophet then his prophecies would disappear. Unfortunately, Yirmiyahu’s prophecy came true and the King of Babylonia attacked the Land of Israel.

We learn from here that the truth can’t be silenced.

Every Shabbat and holiday, before the Haftara is read, the reader makes two blessing which state “…God has chosen good prophets and was pleased with their words that were uttered with truth…Blessed are you HaShem, who chooses the Torah, Moshe, His servant; Israel, His nation; and the prophets of truth and righteousness.”

May we be as courageous as the true prophets to speak the truth and always stand up for justice.

Are women obligated to rejoice on the holidays? Print E-mail
Friday, 31 August 2018

Sponsored by Sharona and Josh Halickman in honor of the upcoming marriage of Samantha Hollander and Sam Krieger

In Parshat Re’eh (Dvarim 16:14-17) we read:

V’samachta B’chagecha- Rejoice during your festival- you and your son and your daughter, and your male slave and your female slave, and the Levi and the convert and the orphan and the widow who are in your city. Seven days are you to be festive for HaShem, your God, in the place that HaShem chooses, for HaShem, your God will bless you in all your produce and in all your endeavors; and you shall experience pure joy. Three times a year are all your males to be seen in the presence of HaShem, your God, in the place that He chooses- on the festival of the Matzot, the festival of Shavuot and on the festival of Sukkot- and he shall not appear in God’s presence empty handed. Everyone according to the gift appropriate to his means, according to the blessing of HaShem, your God, that He gave you.

Since the wife is not mentioned here, does that mean that she is not supposed to be happy on the holidays?

In the Talmud, Kidushin34b, Abaye said: It is her husband that is duty bound to cause his wife to rejoice. This implies that the wife herself incurs no obligation to rejoice.

How is this derived? Rashi says that instead of reading the words “V’samachta B’chagecha”, “you are to rejoice on your holiday” they should be read “V’seemachta B’chagecha”, “you shall cause others to rejoice on your holiday” which means that the husband must cause the wife to rejoice, but she is not obligated to rejoice herself. How does he make her happy- by giving her food, drink and clothing made of linen.

Tosafot states that Rashi’s interpretation only works when the Beit HaMikdash is not standing.

We learn in the Talmud, Masechet Psachim 109a: The Rabbis taught in a Braita: A person is obligated to gladden his children and members of his household on the festivals, as it is stated “V’samachta B’chagecha.” With what does one gladden them- with wine. Rabbi Yehuda says: Men with what is suitable for them and women with what is suitable for them. Men are happy with wine and women in Babylonia are happy with colored clothing. Women in the Land of Israel are happy with linen clothing. Rabbi Yehuda ben Betira taught: When the Beit HaMikdash stands, happiness is with meat of an offering. But now that the Beit HaMikdash does not stand, rejoicing is in drinking wine.

When the Beit HaMikdash stood, the man would share the offering with his wife and in that way he would make her happy. Now that there is no Beit HaMikdash, according to the Shulchan Aruch, he must buy her new clothing and jewelry for the holiday (based on what they can afford) at the very least he should buy her a new pair of shoes, hoping that it will make her happy.

Although women do not have an obligation to be happy on the Shalosh Regalim, their husbands have to do what they can to make their wives happy as well as anyone else who he is sharing their table.

This Shabbat and Sunday, we will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul which means that the holidays are right around the corner. We must ask ourselves what we can do to try to help those around us have a happier holiday.

Is a vegetarian diet ideal? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 16 August 2017

When God created the world, He did not permit Adam and Eve to eat meat:

And God said, Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all earth and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree…to you it shall be for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every fowl of the air…I have given every green herb for food. (Breisheet 1:29-30)

In 1:28 God gave the blessing to be fruitful and multiply and “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that crawls upon the earth.”

Humans were told to have dominion over the animals but not to slaughter them or eat them.

After the flood and the immoral behavior that led up to it, the focus was on man refraining from killing other people and respecting human life. Man was no longer on the high moral level that would require him to forego the slaying of animals.

According to Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the “heter” (dispensation) to eat meat is only temporary. When the time is ripe, the latent aspiration for justice for the animal kingdom will come out into the open.

In the desert, the only red meat that was permitted was meat that was part of a sacrifice in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Once they arrived in the Land of Israel they were permitted to eat meat as long as it was slaughtered properly.

Rav Kook points out that the path of following the laws of kosher slaughter will eventually lead us back to abstaining from eating meat.

Nehama Leibowitz deduces that once we fulfill Yishayahu’s prophecy (which is well know from the famous Israeli folk song) of “Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, lo yilmedu od milchama”, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn the arts of war anymore”, once humans stop killing each other, then we can expand man’s compassion to the animal kingdom.

In the mean time, for those who do eat meat, it should be slaughtered and eaten in a respectful manner. There are a lot of disturbing phenomena in the Jewish community concerning meat and the treatment of animals: Some slaughterhouses are Halachically kosher but the animals are not treated properly.  It is unacceptable to have chickens cooped up all day in horrible conditions waiting for Kapparot to be performed on them. Overindulging on meat at “all you can eat” buffets may be kosher, but not in the spirit of the law. A solution must be found for the amount of meat that gets wasted at weddings. Ostentatious siyum parties (which celebrate the completion of a tractate of the Talmud) at restaurants during the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av make a mockery of the idea of refraining from meat and wine as a symbol of mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem.

We have not reached the point where we are on a high enough spiritual level for the entire Jewish community to be required to return to vegetarianism. However, even those who do eat meat must show respect for all creatures.

Aliya is on the rise Print E-mail
Monday, 05 September 2016

In Parshat Re’eh (Dvarim 11:31) we read the famous words “For you shall pass across the Jordan to come to inherit the land that HaShem, your God is giving you, you will inherit it and will dwell in it.”

Rashi quoting Sifrei comments that the miracles of the Jordan river (it miraculously split like the Red Sea so that B’nai Yisrael could pass through) will be a symbol for you that you will enter the land and take possession of it.

Just as God miraculously brought us to the Land of Israel, so too will He take care of us while we are there.

As the new school year begins, we look back on a summer where 6000 olim (new immigrants) arrived in Israel from countries including Russia, France, The USA, Brazil and Belarus.

Many of these olim are children who will now have to adjust to a new language a new culture and a new school system.

Twelve years ago we were in their shoes when Dov, age 4 1/2 started kindergarten in Jerusalem just two days after making aliya.

Dov, now fluent in both Hebrew and English is starting 12th grade at Himmelfarb high school. Last night, the school announced that they accepted many new olim from different countries and they will be opening up special ulpan classes for those students to help them catch up and acclimate.

As long as the new olim are made to feel at home they will keep coming.

Packing up your entire life and moving to a different part of the world is not easy. However, when one is made to feel welcome when they arrive the absorption is made much easier.

May we do what we can to help those who would like to make aliya as well as those who have already arrived in Israel.

How We Can Try To Emulate God Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 August 2015

In Parshat Re’eh, Devarim 13:5 we are told: “You shall walk after HaShem your God, fear Him, keep His commandments, obey His voice, serve Him and cleave to him.”


Rashi comments: Embrace His ways, engage in kindness, bury the dead and visit the sick just as God did.


In the Talmud, Sotah, 14a, Rabbi Chama bar Chanina said: What is the meaning of “You shall walk after HaShem your God”? Is it possible for a human being to follow the Divine Presence? It already says in the Torah (Dvarim 4:24), “For HaShem your God is a consuming fire.” Rather, the mitzvah to follow God means we should follow (emulate) the attributes of the Holy One Blessed is He. Just as He clothes the naked, as it says (Breisheet 3:21) “And HaShem God made for Adam and his wife skin garments and He clothed them”, you too should clothe the naked. The Holy One Blessed is He visited the sick, as it is written (Breisheet 18:1) “HaShem appeared to him (Avraham) in Elonei Mamre” (on the third day after his circumcision) you too should visit the sick. The Holy One Blessed is He, comforted mourners, as it is written (Breisheet 25:11): “And it was after the death of Avraham that God blessed Yitzchak his son” (by reciting the mourner’s blessing), you too shall comfort mourners. The Holy One Blessed is He buried the dead, as it is written (Dvarim 34:6) “He buried him (Moshe) in the valley”, you too shall bury your dead.


How is God being emulated in Israel today?


Just as God clothed the naked, we all have the responsibility to make sure that everyone has clothing that they are comfortable with. The way that this is accomplished is through second hand clothing stores where the clothing is all donated and the prices are very reasonable. Shoppers who may not have a lot of money can choose what they like, pay a small fee and feel dignified during the entire process as opposed to having to look for handouts. Some other bonuses that come along with these stores: people who have too much clothing can feel good about themselves by giving away clothing that they no longer need, the proceeds of the stores go to charity and the stores are trendy enough that those who can afford to shop elsewhere will shop there as well. One example is HaBoydem, a store in Talpiot, Jerusalem that helps those who suffer from mental illness return to the workforce.


Just as God visited the sick, we must make sure that those who are sick know that we care about them. Last year, when the war ended, we delivered packages to the soldiers who were still in the hospital. One soldier that we visited was Jordan Low, a lone soldier from Baltimore, MD who fought in the army with Golani. Jordan suffered injuries from smoke inhalation after two rockets struck the building in Northern Gaza that he was in. When we went to see him in the intensive care unit, he said that he wanted to return to the army as soon as possible. Now, a year later it was announced in the Yediot Acharonot newspaper that Jordan Low has fully recovered and will be returning to Golani (even though he technically could have been discharged early from the army).


Unfortunately, sometimes funerals have to take place for those who have no family to mourn for them. This especially happens to Holocaust survivors who have no living family members. As soon as somebody hears that a Holocaust survivor with no family is being buried, they post the information on social media and total strangers show up to pay their last respects to someone that they didn’t even know.


These are just some examples of the wonderful ways that Israelis try to emulate God.


Each of us needs to make a conscious effort to not only fear God, observe the mitzvot and pray, but to focus as well on engaging in acts of loving kindness.

Are We Living in Messianic Times? Print E-mail
Friday, 22 August 2014

This week’s Haftarah from Yishayahu 54-55 is a lyrical prophecy of what will happen in Messianic times. The words of the prophecy especially ring true today.


Yishayahu 54:15-17 states: “Behold! They may well gather together, but not by Me: whoever aggressively opposes you will fall for your sake. Behold! I have created the smith who blows on charcoal flame and withdraws a tool for his labor and I have created the destroyer to ruin. Any weapon sharpened against you will not succeed and any tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn; this is the heritage of the servant of God and their righteousness is from Me, the words of HaShem.”


According to Olam HaTanach’s commentary, since God created the smith who creates weapons, He is also responsible for making sure that none of these weapons succeed in destroying Israel. As well, any language that is negative concerning Israel will not be recognized in court.


How familiar does this sound?


In Israel, day in and day out we see our enemies preparing all sorts of weapons to try to destroy Israel. After a missile has been launched from Gaza we even get a report on the news about if it was a “homemade” rocket or if it was a fancier model purchased from abroad.


It is clear that God continues to protect Israel as many of the missiles end up landing in Gaza itself, in open areas in Israel or are intercepted by the Iron Dome.


We have also seen our enemies from all over the world speak out against Israel, taking the side of Hamas. Slowly but surely, many are starting to see the real story, especially now that most of the international journalists have left Gaza and can now speak the truth.


Reading this Haftarah and seeing what is going on in the world today makes us feel like slowly but surely the prophecies are coming true and we are moving in the direction towards the coming of the Mashiach. However, the redemption is a very slow process. Although we may be on the way, we have not yet arrived.


Untiy Will Protect Us Print E-mail
Friday, 02 August 2013

In Parshat Re’eh, Devarim 12:10 we read: “When you cross the Jordan and settle in the Land that God is apportioning to you, and He has granted you peace from all your enemies around and you shall live secure.”


According to Glilei Zahav, if we, the Jewish people can get along with one another from within our own camp instead of forming separate camps that are looking to attack one another, then we will have nothing to fear from all of the enemies around us.


It has been taught by Chazal: If the Jewish people could all get along and form one solid group, no other nation would be able to try to control them.


Unfortunately, we are at a point where the Jewish people in Israel are very much divided.


Every day we read another story about Jews in Israel who are not getting along.


We are not reading about the Jews who do get along.


For the past two weeks, Israel has had the privilege of hosting the 19th Maccabiah games. Nine thousand Jews from around the world came together to represent their countries and show their commitment to Israel.


Meeting the athletes and their families, one only sees love for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.


Although they were competing against each other, the players made an effort to make friends with players from all of the different countries and learn about their similarities and differences.


Standing for Hatikva together with so many different Jews from around the world who love Israel so much showed me that there is hope for unity.


At the end of the day, it was the Israelis who went home with the most medals and nobody complained.


We can  all learn a lesson from the Maccabiah participants and try to make more of an effort to strengthen what unites us rather than what divides us.


Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone! Print E-mail
Thursday, 16 August 2012

In Parshat Re’eh (Devarim 12:29) we read the following words: “When God will have eliminated the nations whom you are coming there to inherit, from before you; and you will inherit them and dwell in their Land.”


Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazar of Modzitch tells a story based on this pasuk:


Rabbi Eliezer ben Shamua and Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar were going to Chutz LaAretz (leaving Israel) in order to study Torah. When they got to Tyre, they started thinking about the Land of Israel and they began to cry. They ripped their clothing, read the words from our pasuk “and you will inherit them and dwell in their Land” and they decided to turn around and go back to Israel. Their rationale was the teaching of the Sifri that settling the Land of Israel is equal to all of the mitzvoth (commandments) in the Torah.


In Masechet Pesachim 50b Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: A person should always engage in the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot even though it is not Lishma (for its own sake) because from learning Torah and performing a mitzvah not for its own sake he will eventually come to learn Torah or perform a mitzvah for its own sake.


Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yochanan realized that it would be better to stay in the Land of Israel since by performing the Mitzva of settling the Land they would eventually feel the holiness of the Land and all of its good attributes.


Different people live in Israel for different reasons and whether they realize it or not, they are all performing the Mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel.


Some people are like Avraham, who left his homeland to make aliya. Others are like Yitzchak who were born in Israel and lived in Israel their entire lives with no interest in leaving. The third group is like Yaakov who was born in Israel but because of the circumstances he had to leave, yet he always yearned to come back.


People that make aliya by choice usually appreciate that they are here (unless they had no idea what they were getting themselves into!). Others, who are born in Israel may take living here for granted and they may only appreciate the Land once they go to Chutz LaAretz.


As the the lyrics in the song by Cinderalla say: “Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone” 

The Land of Israel, a Gift Given Through Suffering Print E-mail
Monday, 29 August 2011

Dedicated in Memory of Matt Fenster z”l


The Midrash Sifrei on the Book of Devarim states that it is a Mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel and to dwell there as it says in Devarim 12:29 (Parshat Re’eh) “and you shall drive them away and live in their Land”.


The full pasuk states: “When Hashem your God will cut down the nations (yachrit… et hagoyim) whom you are coming to inherit from before you (lareshet otam mipanecha) and you shall drive them away and live in their Land”.


Rav Saadia Gaon points out that when it says “their land” it is referring to the place that the enemies are living in. The Land of Israel is our Land that was promised to Avraham and once we conquer the Land it is eternally ours.


Rosh asks why it says that God will drive away our enemies followed by the words that Israel will drive them away.


We know that God is the one who will drive out our enemies but He wants to give the people credit as they will be physically fighting for the Land as well.


The Gemara in Brachot 5a quotes a Braita which states: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, gave three good gifts to Israel and He gave all of them only through suffering. They are: Torah, the Land of Israel and Olam Haba (the World to come).


Are we still acquiring the Land of Israel through suffering even today?


B.Z Meyer, in the book To Dwell in the Palace-Perspectives on Eretz Yisrael says that although Israel is no longer the wasteland that it had been in the past such as in the days of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, there is suffering that one would probably not have in many of the countries where the immigrants come from such as bureaucratic headaches and employment crises.


This past week, the suffering has escalated above the regular trials and tribulations of living in Israel with rockets being shot into Israel from Gaza, even during a so called cease fire. With God’s help and the Israeli army’s “Kippat Habarzel” (Iron Dome) many of the rockets have been intercepted and the damage has been kept to a minimum.


May we go back to the suffering of overpriced backpacks and cottage cheese and may the only kippot that we have to know about be knitted verses velvet.



The Privilege To Eat Kosher Meat Print E-mail
Friday, 06 August 2010

In Parsha Re’eh, Devarim 12:20-21, B’nai Yisrael are given permission to eat unconsecrated meat-animals that are slaughtered for their meat even if they are not being brought as Korbanot (offerings): “When God will enlarge your border, as He has promised you, and you shall say, ‘I would eat meat,’ for you have a desire to eat meat, to your heart’s entire desire may you eat meat. If the place that God will choose to place His name will be far from you, you may kill from your herd and from your flock, which God has given you, in the way I have commanded you and you shall eat in your cities according to your heart’s entire desire.”


Rashi points out that when B’nai Yisrael were in the desert, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was with them all of the time so they were able to bring Shlamim offerings every day if they wanted to. Now some people will live too far from the Mishkan and eventually too far from the Bet HaMikdash (Temple).


Ramban adds that once B’nai Yisrael are spread out throughout the Land of Israel then they can all eat meat, as long as it is slaughtered correctly, without any connection to a Korban.


Rashi continues that although we don’t see the laws of Shechita (ritual slaughter) in the Torah, we learn in Masechet Chulin 28a that the fact that the Torah says “commanded you” refers to the oral laws of Shechita which were passed down to Moshe on Mt. Sinai.


These laws of Shechita have been passed down in an unbroken chain from Mt. Sinai until today. The laws are defined in the Talmud, Masechet Chulin and in the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 1-28.


Slaughtering the animal becomes a more elevated procedure as the Shochet (Ritual Slaughterer) recites the following blessing before slaughtering the animal: “Blessed are you…Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us concerning Shechita.”


Nehama Leibowitz points out that “Rav Kook regarded all of the Biblical dietary laws- ritual slaughter, covering the blood etc. as designed to arouse man to the injustice committed against the animal kingdom, even to the extent of making him ashamed of his actions.”


In the words of Rav Kook: “The Divine instructions regulating the consumption of meat lead gradually to the desired spiritual goal. Only limited species of animals are permitted, those suited to man’s dietary requirements. Man must cover the blood, hide your shame! These actions will bear fruit and ultimately educate mankind…The very nature of the principles of ritual slaughter with their specific rules and regulations designed to reduce pain, create the atmosphere that you are not dealing with a helpless unprotected object …but with a living being.”


We see from here that although B’nai Yisrael are permitted to slaughter animals and eat meat, it must be done in an ethical and moral way.

The Bamot and the Destruction of Idol Worship Print E-mail
Friday, 14 August 2009

In Parshat Re’eh, right before B’nai Yisrael were about to enter the Land of Israel they were told (Devarim 12:8-10) “You shall not do everything that we do here today- every man what is proper in his eyes- for you will not yet have come to the resting place (hamenucha- Rashi: Shilo) or to the heritage (hanachala- Rashi: the Beit HaMikdash) that HaShem your God gives you. You shall cross the Jordan and settle in the Land that HaShem, your God, causes you to inherit and He will give you rest from all your enemies, all around and you will dwell securely”.


Rashi quoting Sifre and Tractate Zevachim 117b points out that when B’nai Yisrael would first arrive in the Land of Israel, for the first 14 years of conquest and appointment, until the Tabernacle was set up in Shilo, B’nai Yisrael were required to bring sin (chatot) and guilt offerings (ashamot) in Gilgal (a national alter was set up there). Optional promissory (nedarim) and contributory (nedavot) sacrifices were permitted to be brought either on a national alter (Gilgal) or on personal Bamah- alter.


Once the Mishkan was set up in Shilo (resting place), all sacrifices were to be exclusively brought there (private Bamot were no longer allowed). After the destruction of Shilo (the Tabernacle stood in Shilo for 369 years) the Tabernacle was transferred to Nov and then to Givon (that period lasted 57 years). During that time the minor bamot were again permitted. When the Beit HaMikdash (heritage) was built in Jerusalem, the Bamot became forbidden.


It was difficult for B’nai Yisrael to get used to not being able to bring sacrifices wherever they chose and unfortunately throughout the TaNaCh we see that it led to idol worship since B’nai Yisrael were exposed to the C’naanim bringing sacrifices to their gods wherever they wanted to. That is exactly why God warned B’nai Yisrael (Devarim 12:2-3): “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations you are driving away worshipped their gods: on the high mountains and on the hills and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their alters; you shall smash their pillars; and their sacred trees shall you burn in the fire; their carved images shall you cut down; and you shall obliterate their names from that place”.


Archeologists have found many idols that looked like they were deliberately smashed. However, B’nai Yisrael did not go far enough in trying to uproot all forms of idol worship from the Land of Israel and in the end many including King Solomon’s wives actually got sucked up in idol worship themselves.

All Israelis are “Settlers” Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 August 2008

In Parshat Re’eh, we read over and over again about the mitzvah of “Yishuv Eretz Yisrael”, the commandment to live in the Land of Israel:


Devarim 11:31: “For you shall pass across the Jordan to come to inherit the Land that HaShem your God is giving you; you will inherit it and you will dwell in it (viyshavtem bah)”.


Devarim 12:10: “When you cross the Jordan and settle in the Land (viyshavtem bah) that HaShem your God is apportioning to you and He has granted you peace from all of your enemies around and you will live secure (viyshavtem betach)”.


Devarim 12:29: “When HaShem your God will have eliminated the nations whom you are coming there to inherit from before you; and you inherit them and dwell in their Land (viyashavtem biartzam)”.


In Sifri Re’eh we read the story about Rabbi Eliezer ben Shamua and Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar who left Israel to study Torah. When they got to Tyre, they remembered the Land of Israel and began to cry. They tore their clothing and read the above quotes about settling the Land of Israel. They went back to Israel and proclaimed that the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is equal to all of the other mitzvoth put together.


We learn in the Gemara in Pesachim 50b: “Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rav: A person should always engage in the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvoth even though it is not for its own sake (lo lishma) because from learning Torah and performing a mitzvah not for its own sake, he will eventually come to learn Torah or perform a mitzvah for its own sake (ba lishma)”.


Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazar Mimodzitz explains that a person should live in the Land of Israel even if it is not “lishma” (for its own sake) since the more time that he spends in the Land of Israel and feels the holiness it will eventually become “lishma” for its own sake.


What we learn from here is that every Israeli whether they realize it or not is actually a “settler”, observing the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel.    

Why is there Poverty in the World? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 07 August 2007

In Parshat Re’eh we find two seemingly contradictory psukim:

Devarim 15:4 “End poverty so that there will be no one destitute among you when God will surely bless you in the Land that God is giving you to inherit”.

Devarim 15:11 “The destitute will not cease to exist within the Land, therefore I am commanding you saying, ‘Open your hand generously to your brother, to your poor and to your destitute in your Land’”.

According to Ramban, poverty will only cease to exist if the mitzvoth are observed. Since there will be generations where some people will not be observing the mitzvoth, there will be some poor people and therefore God must emphasize the importance of giving those people Tzedakah.

Rabbi Yehuda ben Moyal who lived in Morocco in the 19th century and died in

Jerusalem wrote a book called Shevet Yehuda which dealt with the issue of poverty. Rabbi Ben Moyal noted that the wealthy are not wealthy beacuse they are better (have better values etc.) than the poor people. As we know very well, there are horrible wealthy people and wonderful poor people and visa versa. Even a Tzadik (righteous person) can be poor if that is the "mazal" that God determined when he was born.

According to Rabbi ben Moyal, the impoverished are not poor because they did not observe the mitzvot. A wealthy person who thinks that the poor person should just deal with the lot that God gave him and therefore will not give him any Tzedakah (charity) is not following the laws of tzedakah and is actually causing that person to become even poorer than God intended, even destitute.

Rabbi ben Moyal adds that a wealthy person is meant to give Tzedakah. If he doesn't, it is as if he is stealing from the poor. When he does give, he shouldn't act like he is so terrific, since it is his obligation. When he gives tzedakah he should do it with a full heart and say I am giving because it is my obligation. If everyone gave what they should then there would be no poverty- that is to say that the poor people would not become rich, but they would be able to get by.

God wants us to work it out amongst ourselves.

As Rosh Chodesh Elul approaches lets keep in mind the words from the High Holiday Prayer Service: “U’teshuva (repentance) u’tefillah (prayer) u’tzedakah (charity) ma’avirin et roa Ha’gzerah (can transform the bad decree)”.

 Let’s do what we can to eliminate poverty in Israel and throughout the world!

Never Give Up! Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 August 2006

Parshat Re'eh, Devarim 12:10-12 states: "When you cross the Jordan and settle in the land that God gave is apportioning to you, and has granted you peace from all of your enemies around, and you will live secure. Let it be that the place where God chooses to place his presence therein (The Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem) there shall you bring your sacrifices.You are to rejoice in the presence of your God, you and your sons and your daughters.""

Thursday evening in Jerusalem we were able to fulfill part of this prophecy. With the cease fire earlier this week, a sense of peace and security in the land began to emerge.

On Thursday evening two hundred people, Israelis and tourists, men, women and children of all ages gathered in Jerusalem to sing and dance at a concert in solidarity with the residents of Northern Israel.

The band members of Simply Tsfat actually live in Tsfat as well as our opening act "Banjo Billy" and an artist who sold works from his gallery which had no customers over the past month. As we all know, Safed and many of the other Northern communities have been devastated by rocket fire and have in essence been "Closed for Business" for the past month with no income from tourists who would normally be all over this part of Israel during the summer.

The band brought an upbeat tempo and told stories of how they kept their spirits high even in the face of much danger. Some of the songs Simply Tsfat sang this evening were a real testament to this. Songs such as "Don't be Sad", "Never Give Up" and "Be Happy" echoed through the hall and we all danced and sang together as one people, one nation.

Torat Reva Yerushalayim would like to thank the generous sponsors who made this special uplifting evening possible!

Let's hope and pray that we will be granted true peace from all of our enemies and that we will live securely in our land.

Allusions to Jerusalem in the Torah Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2005

Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Torah (the chumash), it is only alluded to. Many allusions to Jerusalem can be found in Parshat Re'eh, including Dvarim 12:5-6: "To the place that God shall choose from all of your tribes to put His name, there shall you seek Him at His dwelling and there shall you come: and there shall you bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices."

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan points out three reasons that the Rambam, Maimonides gives for why Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Torah.

  1. If the nations of the world knew where God's holy place would be, they may have taken it over immediately.
  2. Those who were ruling Jerusalem at the time may have made it a spiritual center for idol worship.
  3. There may have been fighting within B'nai Yisrael. The tribes may have fought over why one tribe was chosen over another to have Jerusalem within it's borders.

God waited until there was a king in place who would hopefully be able to avert these problems.

Today, we are facing many of the same challenges. We are struggling for the right to hold on to Jerusalem. Jews are not free to pray on the Temple Mount and we are fighting amongst ourselves over who has monopoly over the Kotel (Western Wall).

We need political and religious leaders today that will stand up for Jerusalem as the undivided capitol of Israel, a place where all Jews are free to pray whenever, wherever and however they choose.