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Ki Tavo
Do Converts Recite the Declaration of the Bikurim (First Fruits)? Print E-mail
Sunday, 27 August 2023

Parshat Ki Tavo (Dvarim 26:1-11) opens with the Declaration of the Bikurim:

When you come to the land that the Lord, your God is giving you as territory and you inherit it and settle it, you shall take of the first of all of the fruits of the soil that you bring from your land, that the Lord, your God is giving you and place it in a basket; and go to the place that the Lord, your God, chooses to house His presence there. You are to come to the kohen who will be of service during those days and you will say to him, “I declare today to the Lord, your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”

Would a convert be permitted to recite this declaration?

The Mishna in Bikurim 1:4 states that a convert would bring the Bikurim, but they would not recite “that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”

Kehati clarifies the mishna’s reasoning: He would have to leave those words out since his ancestors were not Israelites.

The mishna continues:

When the convert prays privately he says “the God of the fathers of Israel” (instead of “God of our fathers”). When he is in the synagogue (and leads the service), he says “God of your fathers.”

According to the Rambam, Bikurim 4:3, the Halacha does not follow the mishna above but rather Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion in the Talmud Yerushalmi, Bikurim 1:4:

The convert brings the Bikurim and recites the declaration as is stated regarding Avraham (Breisheet 17:5) “For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Avraham is the father of all nations who come to shelter under the wings of the Divine Presence. Furthermore, it was to Avraham that the divine oath was first sworn that his children would possess the Land.

Ramban, Rashba and Ritva all follow Rambam’s opinion that the convert would recite the Declaration of the Bikurim and says “Our God and the God of our fathers” when reciting Shmoneh Esrei both privately and publicly.

This question can also arise when a convert recites the second paragraph of Birkat HaMazon, the Grace After Meals, “Nodeh Lecha,” “We thank you , the Lord our God, because you have given to our forefathers as a heritage a desirable good and spacious land…”

Would a convert be permitted to say “L’Avotaynu,” “to our forefathers” in Birkat HaMazon?

The Land of Israel was promised to Avraham and his descendents and converts are considered to be the children of Avraham. In fact, when a person converts to Judaism, they are referred to as the child of Avraham Avinu. According to Shu”t  HaRambam 296 there should be no difference between any of the prayers that a born Jew recites and the prayers that a convert recites.

May the Declaration of Bikurim remind us that once a person converts to Judaism they are considered a full fledged Jew and they should not be singled out.

The Significance of the Jewish Star Print E-mail
Monday, 19 September 2022

In Parshat Ki Tavo, Dvarim 27, Moshe told B’nai Yisrael that immediately after entering the Land of Israel, they would reaffirm their commitment to God and to the Torah. They would assemble at the two mountains, Har Grizim and Har Eval for a new acceptance of the Torah. Six tribes would stand on Har Grizim and six tribes on Har Eval and the Kohanim, the Elders and the Leviim would stand with the Aron (Holy Ark) in the valley between the two mountains. The Leviim in the valley would pronounce the blessings and the curses and the tribes on the mountaintops would answer Amen.

Rabbi Uri Sherki of Kehillat Beit Yehuda in Jerusalem contrasts Ma’amad Har Sinai, the Revelation at Sinai with the new commitment at Har Grizim and Har Eval:

Ma’amad Har Sinai took place on top of a high mountain. The voice of God was scary, intimidating. The nation stood at the bottom of the mountain. They were not allowed to go up. The Torah from the Heavens was thrust upon them. People didn’t have the independence to choose. They were forced to accept it in the middle of the wilderness.

The new commitment at Har Grizim and Har Eval was the opposite of Ma’amad Har Siani:

The tribes stood on the mountains. The Luchot (tablets) were not in the sky. Rather, the Torah was on the land. The voice was from the Liviim who were standing on the land. B’nai Yisrael were serving God in the Land of Israel.

Har Sinai can be looked at as a triangle pointing up. The valley between Har Grizim and Har Eval resembles a triangle pointing down. The Torah integrates these two triangles which combined make up a Magen David, a Jewish Star.

Unlike Har Sinai which we can’t identify today, you can take the opportunity to see Har Grzim and Har Eval the next time that you visit the Shomron (Samaria) as well as the amazing people who live in the area who are reminded of the new commitment every day.

The Confession of the Tithes Print E-mail
Monday, 23 August 2021

Biblically, Maasrot (tithes) are taken from crops according to a three year cycle. Every year, Maaser Rishon, the first tithe is given to the Levi.  During the first and second years, Maaser Sheni, the second tithe is taken. Since it has kedusha, sanctity, it must be eaten in Jerusalem. During the third year, instead of Maaser Sheni, Maaser Ani, the tithe of the poor is taken.

 This cycle is repeated every three years, aside from the Shmita (seventh) year and Yovel (50th) year when Maasrot are not required as the entire Land of Israel is considered ownerless.

By the day before Pesach of the year after each three year cycle, the owner must make sure that all of the Maasrot were delivered to the proper destination. On the last day of Pesach of the 4th and 7th years, the Vidui Massrot, Confession of the Tithes is recited. It is preferable to recite it at the Beit HaMikdash, but it can be recited anywhere.

The Vidui Maasrot is found in Parshat Ki Tavo, Dvarim 26:12-15:

When you have finished tithing every tithe of your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give to the Levi, the convert, the orphan and the widow and they shall eat in your cities and be satisfied. Then you shall say before HaShem, your God:

I have removed the holy things from the house and I have also given it to the Levi, to the convert, to the orphan and to the widow, according to whatever commandment You commanded me; I have not transgressed any of your commandments and I have not forgotten. I have not eaten of it in my intense mourning, I did not consume it in a state of contamination and I did not give of it for the needs of the dead; I have listened to the voice of HaShem, my God; I have acted according to everything You commanded me. Gaze down from Your holy abode, from the heavens and bless Your people Israel, and the ground that You gave us, as You swore to our forefathers, a Land flowing with milk and honey.

Why is it called a confession (Vidui) if no sins are mentioned?

Sforno points out that because of our and our parents’ sins, the privilege of performing the Temple service was removed from the firstborn who would otherwise have been recipients of all of the various tithes.

 If B’nai Yisrael had not worshipped the Golden Calf, the Divine service would have remained the privilege of the firstborn and every Jewish home would have been like a sacred temple. Due to the nation’s downfall, it was necessary to remove the Maasrot from the home and give them to the Kohanim and Leviim.

Today, the mitzvot of taking Trumot and Maasrot are Derabanan, Rabbinic, not Biblical mitzvot.

Beit HaOtzar of the Machon HaTorah VeHaaretz is a fund that helps increase awareness of the Halachot involved in separating Trumot and Maasrot, while providing practical ways of giving the Maasrot to the appropriate destination. Beit HaOtzar facilitates giving Maaser Rishon to a Levi throughout the years preceding Shmita, Maaser Ani to the poor in the appropriate years and redeeming Maaser Sheni when necessary. In this way, they hope to reinstate the observance of these mitzvot.

How fortunate we are to have the Modern State of Israel where the Mitzvot HaTluyot Ba’Aretz, mitzvot that are only observed in the Land of Israel are being revived. The Shmita year will be starting with Rosh HaShana where we will be exempt from Trumot and Maasrot yet we will have many other practical laws of Shmita to observe.

May we merit to see the Mitzvot HaTluyot BaAretz become Biblical mitzvoth once again speedily in our days.

This is the Land of Milk and Honey Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 September 2020

Sponsored by Esther Dukovny in honor of the yahrzeit of her father, Sigmund Segall Halevi z"l,

ז"ל  יחיאל הלוי

The Land of Israel is referred to as the Land of milk and honey twenty times in the TaNaCh, two of which are in Parshat Ki Tavo:

The first time it is mentioned in our parsha is near the end of Parshat HaBikurim (Dvarim 26:9), when the farmer brings their first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and recites the story of the exodus from Egypt culminating in the entrance of B’nai Yisrael into the Land of Israel: “He brought us to this place, and He gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey.”

The second time is at the conclusion of Vidui Maasrot- The Confession of the Tithes which is recited (preferably in the Beit HaMikdash) on the last day of Pesach of the fourth and seven years (of the Shmita cycle) which declares that the maasrot (tithes) were given to the Levi, the convert, the orphan and the widow and that the mitzvoth were observed properly. The last verse of the vidui states (Dvarim 26:15) “Gaze down from Your sacred residence, from the heavens and bless Your people Israel, and the soil that you gave us, as You swore to our forefathers, a Land flowing with milk and honey.”

We see in both instances that the promise of the the Land and the gift of the Land are intertwined with the concept of the land flowing with milk and honey.

In 1961, thirteen years after the founding of the Modern State of Israel, Milk and Honey, the first musical to be set in Israel debuted on Broadway. Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly), who passed away last year, was the songwriter and Dan Appell wrote the book. It was real estate mogul Gerard Oestriecher’s dream to produce a musical set in Israel. Herman and Appell were sent to Israel to get an idea of what the young State was like and were welcomed with open arms by the Israeli government. Many of their ideas for the plot and lyrics were formed while flying on the airplane as well as during their trip.

Molly Picon who was well known in the world of Yiddish theater starred in the show which was nominated for five Tony Awards.

One of the most famous songs, later released as a single by Eddie Fisher https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEujRoTXAZk really gives you a feel for what it was like in the early days of the State of Israel:

Milk and Honey

This is the land of Milk and Honey
This is the land of sun and song and
This is the world of good and plenty
Humble and proud and young and strong and
This is the place where the hopes of the homeless
and the dreams of the lost combine
This is the land that heaven blessed and
This lovely land is mine

What if the earth is dry and barren
What if the morning sun is mean to us for
This is a state of mind we live in
We want it green and so it's green to us for
When you have wonderful plans for tomorrow
Somehow even today looks fine so
What if it's rock and dust and sand,
For this lovely land is mine
This lovely land is mine.

While the song is generally positive, they wanted to include a shot of reality as well. In the original Broadway recording https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wMdVKakoAY, there was a stanza in the middle of the song which gave a bit of an edge to the musical including “The honey is kind of bitter and the milk is a little sour, Do you know the pebble is the State’s official flower?”

The end of the song addresses the negative issues and emphasizes the importance of our having a homeland even if it is not perfect. There was a vision that the land would be greener and less rocky which eventually came true.

In retrospect, it is pretty amazing that there was a Broadway musical about Israel so soon after the State was born and how far we have come since then.


Living each day to its fullest Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 September 2019

In Memory of Gail Blumengarten z”l, who truly lived life to the fullest. May her memory be a blessing.


This past week, I heard of the passing of Dr. Tsippi Kauffman z”l. Dr. Kauffman was a Senior Lecturer in Jewish Thought at Bar Ilan University. Although I did not know her personally, we had many mutual friends. An article written by Dr. Kauffman a few years ago about Parshat Ki Tavo for Likrat Shabbat, a publication from Herzog College was quoted by Rabbi Meir Shakedi at her funeral. The article was called HaYom, BaYom HaZeh Mamash, Today, Exactly today.

In the article, Dr. Kauffman reminds us of the importance of appreciating each day. Most people stay focused on the past or on the future and don’t concentrate on the present.

Dr. Kauffman points out that the word “HaYom”, “today” is mentioned over 150 times in the Torah, half of which are in the Book of Dvarim. In Parshat Ki Tavo, Dvarim 26:16-19 the word is repeated over and over:

This very day, HaShem, your God, commands you to perform these statutes and these laws; you shall observe and perform them wholeheartedly and with your whole being. HaShem, you have distinguished today to be a God for you and to go in His ways and to guard His statutes and His commandments and His laws, and to obey Him. And HaShem has distinguished you today to be for Him a treasured people as He said to you, and to guard His commandments. And to place you superior to all the nations whom He made, for praise and for renown and for glory, and so that you may be a people sanctified to HaShem, your God, as He said.

Dr. Kaufman explains that they were not only commanded on “that day” but as they prepared to make the transformation from the wilderness to the Land of Israel, Moshe wanted them to step back and understand the significance of that moment.

It is not a coincidence that HaYom is mentioned over 150 times. We must seize the opportunity to appreciate and live each day to its fullest.

Do we need to pray in Hebrew? Print E-mail
Friday, 31 August 2018

In Honor of Josh, Dov and Moshe Halickman’s 14th Aliya Anniversary!

As the High Holidays approach, one may ask if it is better to pray in Hebrew or in a language that we understand.

The Talmud, Sotah 32a states which prayers must be in Hebrew and which ones can be said in any language.

These may be said in any language: Parshat Sotah, Vidui Maaser (Confession of the tithes), Shma, Tefilla (Shmoneh Esrei), Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals), Shvuat HaEidut (Oath of Testimony), Shvuat HaPikadon (Oath of Deposit).

These must be said in Hebrew: The Bikurim Recitation (recited when bringing of the first fruits to the Kohen), Chalitza Declarations (the statement that a woman makes if she does not wish to marry her brother in law), The Blessings and the Curses, Birkat Kohanim (The Priestly Blessing), Birkat Kohen Gadol (The Blessing of the High Priest), Parshat HaMelech (The blessing of the king during Hakhel, the assembly ceremony), Parshat Egla Arufa (Passage of the Decapitated Calf) and the address of the Kohen anointed for war when he speaks to the people.

Bikurim and The Blessings and the Curses are found in Parshat Ki Tavo. Most of the other prayers which must be recited in Hebrew are also found in the Book of Devarim, either in the past few Parshiot, Shoftim and Ki Tetze or in Parshat Vayelech which we will be reading in two weeks.

The Talmud explains why the Bikurim passage must be recited in Hebrew:

The Torah states regarding Bikurim (Dvarim 26:5): “You shall speak up and say before HaShem, your God” and it states later (Dvarim 27:14) regarding the blessings and the curses recited at Mt. Grizim and Mt. Eval, “The Leviim shall speak up and say” since both verses use similar wording, it is considered a gzeirah shavah and we derive from there that just as the blessings and the curses must be recited in Hebrew, so too, the Bikurim must be recited in Hebrew.

If we go back to what does not have to be recited in Hebrew, we find many of our daily prayers including Shma, Shmoneh Esrei and Birkat HaMazon.

The Shma, “Hear O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is One” begins with the word “Hear.” The rabbis taught that the word “Hear” teaches that we can say the Shma in any language as we must hear, understand what we are saying (in this case we are affirming that there is one God).

In the Shmoneh Esrei, we request Divine mercy. It is important for us to know what we are saying.

The Birkat HaMazon is derived from one sentence in the Torah “And you will eat and be satisfied and bless HaShem, your God.” Rashi points out that the Torah does not record a specific text so there is no problem reciting it in a language other than Hebrew.

What we learn from here is that aside from certain prayers, many of which are only observed at very specific times, most of our regular prayers do not have to be recited in Hebrew if the person who is praying will not understand what they are saying. Prayer is a conversation with God. We must understand our side of the conversation.

The ideal would be to make an effort to learn enough Hebrew in order to understand the prayers in the original or the use a Hebrew/English Siddur where one can glance at the English before reciting the Hebrew. Israelis have the advantage of already being familiar with the language even if the prayers are written in a more poetic form.

As the High Holidays approach, this is a good time to take out your Machzors (High Holiday prayer books) and start to review the prayers so that you will already be familiar with them before you get to the synagogue. This will maximize your kavana (intent) and your prayer experience in general.

The Biblical origins of the Golan Heights Print E-mail
Friday, 08 September 2017

At the end of Parshat Ki Tavo, Dvarim 29:6-7, Moshe reminds B’nai Yisrael how Sichon, King of Cheshbon and Og, King of Bashan came to wage war on them and how B’nai Yisrael smote them, took their land and gave it to the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half the tribe of Menashe.

The original battle is depicted in Bamidbar 21:33-35:

They (B’nei Yisrael) turned and ascended by way of Bashan; Og, King of Bashan, went out against them, he and his entire people, to do battle at Edrei. God told Moshe: “Do not fear him (Og, King of Bashan) for into your hand have I given him, his entire people, and his land; you shall do to him as you did to Sichon, King of the Amorite, who dwells in Cheshbon.” They smote him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left of him, and they took possession of his land.

Why did God specifically tell Moshe not to fear Og?

In Dvarim 3:11 we learn: “For only Og king of Bashan was left of the remaining Refaim (giants), behold his bed was an iron bed in Rabbat  of the descendents of Amon- nine cubits was its length and four cubits its width, by the cubit of that man.”

Targum Yonatan says that Og was the only giant who survived the flood in the days of Noach.

What does Og’s bed have to do with anything?

According to Ramban, the fact that Og’s bed was made out of iron (not wood) shows how large and heavy he was, not someone that you would want to go up against in battle.

The Talmud, Brachot 54b tells the story of Og being so strong that he uplifted a mountain and tried to kill B’nai Yisrael by throwing this “giant stone” at them. Og did not succeed and in the end Moshe killed him. But you can see from these examples why Moshe was more worried here than in the other battles.

Where exactly is Bashan?

The Bashan is the northern part of Trans-Jordan (where the Golan Heights are today) including part of Syria, bounded by the Jordan, the Lebanese mountains, including Mount Hermon and Gilad.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor to visit the Golan. It was really amazing to see the Torah and our history come alive. We were able to stand at the border or Syria and drive past the border of Lebanon. We were able to see where these stories unfolded. We were also able to see just how close everything is.

May we have peace within Israel’s borders and beyond.

Choosing the Blessing of the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Friday, 23 September 2016

In Memory of Sylvia Levin

In Parshat Ki Tavo, before his death, Moshe presents B’nai Yisrael with both a blessing and an admonition.

Part of the blessing is that B’nai Yisrael will prosper in the Land of Israel (Devarim 28:7-8) “God will set your enemies who rise against you smitten before you; by one road they will approach you but by seven roads they will flee from you. God will order upon you the blessing in your storehouses and in all your commerce; and He will bless you in the land that HaShem your God is giving you.”

The flip side of this blessing is the admonition: (Devarim 28:63-65) “It will happen that as God rejoiced over you to benefit you and to multiply you, so will God bring joy to others over you to remove you and to destroy you; and you will be uprooted from the land that you are coming to inherit. God will disperse you among the peoples from the end of the earth to the end of the earth; and you shall serve there other gods which neither you nor your ancestors knew, wood and stone. And among the other nations you will not be tranquil and there will be no rest for the sole of your foot; and God will give you there a fearful heart and pining eyes and disillusioned spirit.”

Haamek Davar explains that the blessing of the Land of Israel will be that there will be so much prosperity in the land that merchants and vendors will not have to travel abroad to make their fortunes.

As far as the admonition, we see that when B’nai Yisrael didn’t observe the commandments, they were sent to exile. Rashi and Onkelos don’t believe that the verse should be taken literally to mean that they worshipped other gods. Rather, they will be forced to pay taxes to the priests of other religions.

Throughout Jewish history, Jews were never fully at home in any other land, whether it be the Crusades, the Blood Libels, The Black Death, the Spanish Inquisition, The Holocaust and the list goes on and on.

Today, we still have to deal with anti-Semitism all over the world as well as the BDS movement which is becoming stronger especially on college campuses.

In Israel, we see the blessing of prosperity being reinstated with many businesses thriving throughout the country. Israel has been very successful in exporting produce and goods throughout the world and Israel is considered the Start Up Nation with people from all over the world looking to invest in Israeli technology.

Although Israelis have to pay taxes (which nobody is ever happy about), their tax money is going to help fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel and build up and support the modern State of Israel.

We are lucky to be living at a time where we can choose the blessing of the Land of Israel.

May you be the head and not the tail! Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 September 2015

On Rosh HaShana, there is a custom to eat the head of a sheep or the head of a fish after reciting the following blessing: May it be Your will, HaShem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that we be as the head and not the tail.

The blessing comes from Parshat Ki Tavo, Devarim 28:13: “God will place you at the head, not at the tail; and you will be solely on top, you will not be on the bottom; when you heed the commandments of HaShem your God, that I am commanding you today to guard and to perform.”

According to Ramban, God will make you the head of all peoples and not the tail of any one of the nations. He will henceforth make you the head and at no time will you ever be the tail.

The Apter Rav, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1748-1825) of Zmigrod, Poland, author of Ohev Yisrael asks why the blessing needs to be stated positively and negatively. Why doesn’t it just say “at the head”, why does “not at the tail” also need to be included?

Doesn’t Rabbi Yanai teach us in Pirkei Avot 4:15 that we should be the tail: “Be a tail unto lions and be not a head unto foxes”?

Rabbi Heschel answers: “at the head”- you should be the “head” of the “head”, “not at the tail”- you should not be the “head” of the “tail”. You should be the head of the lions, not the head of the foxes.

As we prepare for Rosh HaShana, we should continue to strive to be the best that we can be and not settle for mediocrity.

For those of you who are not comfortable eating the head of a sheep or the head of a fish you can follow Rabbi Jonny Gordon and eat the heads of gummy fish!

All Israelis are Olim Chadasim (New Immigrants) Print E-mail
Friday, 12 September 2014

In Parshat Ki Tavo we learn that a person is required to bring their Bikurim (first fruits) to the Kohen in the Beit HaMikdash and say the following words (Devarim 26:3): “I ascertain today to HaShem your God that I have arrived in the Land that God swore to our forefathers to give us.”


There is no differentiation made here between one who was born in the Land of Israel and one who immigrated to the Land.


We can learn from here that all Israelis must look at themselves as olim (immigrants) no matter how long they have been in Israel.


Some of the students who attend the classes that I teach are from families who have been in Israel for ten generations, others arrived around the time of the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and the rest have arrived any time between the 1950s and this past year.


No matter how long a person has been in Israel, they have to remember where they came from. We were all new at some point. We must keep in mind that just like once upon a time we were new immigrants who needed help getting adjusted now we must help those who have just arrived.


Once a person who has made aliya has finally integrated it is very easy to not want to look back and see who may now need their help.


When a farmer has a basket of Bikurim, first fruits from the seven species of the Land of Israel, the inclination is to eat them (after all it was the farmer who grew them) and not give them to the Kohen. However, we are taught that they are grown with God’s help and therefore we must humble ourselves and show appreciation for what God has done for us.


The Land of Israel is also a gift that is constantly given by God to the Jewish people as we can see from the miracles performed in Israel on a daily basis. Just because someone has been in the Land for a longer amount of time doesn’t mean that they have more ownership of the Land.


Some people are afraid to make aliya because they feel that they will never fit in and become a “real Israeli”. What is a real Israeli? Everyone who lives in Israel is a “real Israeli” and everyone was new at one point.


In Devarim 26:9-10 we are reminded that God brought us to the Land of Israel and we have to give back to the Land: “And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey. And now, see! I have brought the first of the fruits of the soil that You have given me Hashem.”


We must show appreciation for the privilege of being able to live in the Land and one way of doing that is by giving back to the community.


In sentence 11 we are told: “You shall rejoice with all the good that HaShem your God gave you and your household; you, the Levi and the convert in your midst.”


We are commanded to be happy together as a community with people of all different backgrounds.


A question that has been asked a lot lately is why aren’t more people making aliya? One answer is that some people don’t want to leave their comfortable homes knowing that they will never be fully accepted as Israelis. If every Israeli looked at him/herself as a new oleh and was more welcoming to the newer immigrants, then more people may be inclined to make aliya.

May God Protect the Israeli Soldiers Print E-mail
Friday, 07 September 2012

In Parshat Ki Tavo we read about the blessing and the admonition. Before the admonition is the blessing that will be bestowed upon us if we fulfill the commandments.


In Devarim 28:7 we read part of the blessing: “Yiten Hashem et Oyvecha HaKamim Alecha Nigafim Lifanecha…”, “God shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be struck down before you…”


This pasuk was adapted into the Mishaberach L’Chayalei Tzahal , The prayer for the members of Israel’s Defense Force that we recite on days that the Torah is read.


Chayalei Tzahal, the Israeli soldiers are truly a blessing that we must not take for granted. Every day, our soldiers put their lives on the line to make sure that we are safe.


Living in Israel, we see soldiers carrying guns wherever we go- on the buses and trains, in the street, in shul and in the supermarket. The soldiers are both men and women, native Israelis and new immigrants, some are observant, some are traditional and others call themselves secular. They all have a common goal to protect the Land of Israel.


Even after eight years, I am still caught off guard every time that I see a soldier and I think of how blessed we are to have the Israeli Defense Force.


Of course, the true blessing will be when we will no longer have enemies surrounding us looking to attack us from all sides.





Our True Home is in Israel Print E-mail
Friday, 16 September 2011




In Parshat Ki Tavo, Devarim 28:6 the blessing states: “Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out”.


Nechama Leibowitz asks if the order should be reversed. In Tehillim 121:8 it says: “The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore.” Usually people leave their home and then come back.


Rabbi Amselm Astruc in Midreshei HaTorah explains:

Moshe was blessing the people with regard to their entry into the Promised Land, assuring them of the guidance of Divine Providence, and that they would be blessed in their coming into the Land. They would also be blessed in their going out- even when they sinned and forfeited the Land for their sin, they would not be forsaken by providence but he chastised as a father his son, for their own good. God would save them from destruction even in exile and not break His covenant with them. This was the idea also embodied in the words (Vayikra 26:44) “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them…”


As tourists, visitors and students from around the world enter the Land of Israel during the Hebrew month of Elul, we bless them with a successful trip (Blessed shall you be when you come in). When they return home to their families we will wish them success (Blessed shall you be when you go out) and we hope and pray to see them back again soon in our true home, Yerushalayim.




The Importance of Knowing Where We Came From Print E-mail
Thursday, 26 August 2010

Dedicated in Honor of the Midreshet Devora Class of 2010-2011


In Parshat Ki Tavo (Devarim 26:5-8) we find the words that are recited by the person bringing Bikkurim, the first of all of the fruits of the seven species of Israel. These psukim may be familiar to you, as we recite these same words each year on Pesach: “…Arami oved avi…”, “…The Aramite destroyed my forefather…”.


“The Aramite (Lavan, Yaakov’s father-in-law) destroyed my forefather (Yaakov), then he descended to Egypt and sojourned there with a tiny community; and there he became a great people, powerful and numerous. The Egyptians treated us badly and oppressed us and they imposed hard labor upon us. We prayed to the God of our forefathers and God accepted our prayer and perceived our oppression and our labor and the pressure upon us. And God took us out of Egypt with a powerful hand and with an extended arm and with great display and with signs and with wonders”.


After these verses that we are so familiar with, the person bringing the Bikkurim recites two more sentences (26:9-10):


“And He brought us to this place (Rashi: The Bet HaMikdash) and He gave us this Land (the entire Land of Israel), a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, see! I have brought the first of the fruits of the soil that you, God have given me”.


Why does the person bringing the Bikkurim have to go through an entire history lesson? Why can’t he just say something like “Here are my first fruits which I was blessed to grow in the Land of Israel?”


It is important for us to recognize what we have been through and how far we have come. In Modern Israel today, we can’t celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day without celebrating Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Memorial Day) and Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers). Without knowing the history of how we were promised the Land, how we lost the land, how we were persecuted and how we finally fought and won the land back with God’s help, there is nothing to celebrate.


The law of Bikkurim is only observed in Israel- we see this clearly in the first two psukim in the parsha: “When it happens that you come to the Land that HaShem your God is giving you as territory and you inherit it and settle it. You are to take of the first of the fruits of the soil.” Agriculture has much more meaning in the Land of Israel, we are tied to the land. If you have orchards anywhere else in the world you may be happy and rejoice when your first fruits grow, but it isn’t a mitzvah to give them away and recite the history of the Jewish people!


Mitzvot HaTluyot BaAretz are mitzvoth that can only be performed in Israel. These mitzvoth prove that the best place to observe the Torah, the place where the most mitzvoth can be performed until this day (even though we don’t have the Beit Hamikdash and therefore can’t perform all of the mitzvoth) is in the Land of Israel.


This week, we look forward to welcoming the Midreshet Devora class of 2010-2011. Our students will learn the history of the Land of Israel in classes such as “The Biblical Importance of the Land of Israel”, “Religious Zionism”, “TaNaCh Tiyulim” and “The Jerusalem Experience.” The students will grow to understand the history of the Jewish people in The Land of Israel from Biblical days until the present. Through their studies, the young women will come to see why the Land of Israel must not be taken for granted.

Entering the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 September 2009

Parshat Ki Tavo begins with the words "Vehaya ki tavo el HaAretz...", "It will be when you enter the Land that God gives you as an inheritance and you possess it and dwell in it".


This week we felt this pasuk come alive as the Midreshet Devora students entered the Land of Israel (many for the first time) on Tuesday and Wednesday to spend the year inheriting the Land, possessing the Land and most importantly dwelling in the Land. We are so glad that they will be spending the year with us!


On Wednesday we walked 5 minutes from the student apartment to the promenade overlook of the Old City where we discussed the Akeidat Yitzhak and Har HaMoria, the Temple Mount.

We then walked along Derech Hevron towards the Old City and stopped at a location which offered a stunning view of Migdal David and the Old City walls. We continued up to the Zion Gate where we discussed the many battles that took place at this location during the War of Independence.


Entering the Jewish Quarter, we made our way to the Kotel overlook and talked about the Beit HaMikdash and the Temple Mount in our day. We sang the famous Naomi Shemer song Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold along with other songs and gave each student a Book of Tehillim.


We then made our way down to the Kotel Plaza and the Kotel itself where the young women davenned Mincha and said Tehillim.


After this very emotional moment we capped off the day back in Baka at the Waffle Bar restaurant! A good time was had by all!


Don’t Worry, Be Happy Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2008


In Parshat Ki Tavo, Devarim 26:11 we are commanded “And you shall rejoice with all of the good that God has given you…”

How can there be a mitzvah to be happy? Shouldn’t we just naturally feel happy when something good happens?

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin points out that even when we should be happy many times we are thinking about what we still lack.

It says in Kohelet Raba 1:34 “He who has one hundred wants two hundred”.

This reminds me of most children’s toys that are on the market today. At first the child is excited to open their new toy and can’t wait to play with it. However, along with the toy is a brochure with pictures of many other toys under the heading “Collect them all!” Instead of enjoying their new toy, the child is already thinking about which toys he doesn’t (yet) have. On the other hand, there are children who have never even seen a new toy in its original package. When given a “previously owned” toy they are so happy to have something different to play with that they are fully content and extremely appreciative.

It says in Pirkei Avot 4:1 “Ben Zoma said…Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot”.

The pasuk (Devarim 26:11) ends with the words “And you shall rejoice with all of the good that God has given you, you and your house, you and the Levi and the stranger that is among you”.

Sometimes when a person becomes very wealthy, their newfound wealth can take a negative toll on them. However, when they know that their wealth is a gift from God and they use their money for Tzedakah and good deeds (helping the Levi and the stranger etc), then they truly have something to be happy about!

So don’t worry, be happy--- after all it is a mitzvah!

Happiness is the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 September 2007

Parshat Ki Tavo begins with the words “Vehayah Ki Tavo el Haaretz…”, “When it happens that you come to the Land that HaShem, your God is giving you as territory, and you shall inherit it and settle it”.

According to Or HaChayim, the word “vehayah” symbolizes simcha, happiness. This teaches us that ultimate happiness is attained when we are settling the Land of Israel.

The first words of the Shir HaMaalot (Psalm 126) which is recited before Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) on Shabbat and holidays reflect this idea. The psalm declares: “When God will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers. Then our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with glad song.”

While I was away the past few weeks I experienced the joy that the State of Israel brings to those in Israel and abroad. Many people that I encountered recalled with fondness their last trip to Israel whether it was one month ago or twenty years ago. Others had a glisten in their eye as they explained that they are planning to visit Israel in the near future.

May we all merit to take steps in Eretz Yisrael.

Observing the Mitzvot With a Full Heart Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 September 2006


Devarim 26:16 states: "Hayom hazeh Hashem Elokecha mitzavcha la'asot et hachukim ha'eleh v'et hamishpatim v'shamarta v'asita otam bechol levavcha u'vchol nafshecha", "This very day, Hashem your God commands you to perform these statutes and these laws; you shall observe and perform them wholeheartedly and with your whole being".

On the words "Hayom Hazeh", Rashi quoting the midrash in Tanchuma comments, "Each day let the mitzvoth appear novel to you, as if, on that very day, you had been commanded to perform them".

It is not an easy task and takes a conscious effort to put kavana, intent, into every mitzvah that we perform.

Take the example of prayer. When you are saying the same prayers three times a day, prayer can become rote and the meaning can be lost. According to Rabbi Yochanan, the phrase in the pasuk "bechol levavcha", "with all of your heart" warns us that when we are praying before God, we should not have two hearts, one focused on God and one focused on other matters. Rather, we should perform the mitzvoth wholeheartedly- with a full heart, body and soul.

We must find ways to make prayer more meaningful and inspirational each time that we pray. One way to do this is by inserting our own private prayers into the Amidah/ Shmoneh Esrei. According to the Shulchan Aruch 119:1 we have the right to add to any of the middle brachot of the Shmoneh Esrei as long as the addition pertains to the Bracha. For example: During Rifaenu, we can add the names of those who need tobe healed. During Birkat HaShanim we can pray for a livelihood. During Shomea Tefillah, we can make whatever other requests that we may have.

As the High Holidays approach, let's make a conscious effort to make the daily observance of mitzvot more meaningful and new, as if we received them for the first time each and every day.

Is Israel Really a Land Flowing With Milk and Honey? Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2005

In Parshat Ki Tavo (Dvarim 26:9) we see the concept of the Land of Israel as "eretz zavat chalav u'devash", "a land flowing with milk and honey."

We have already seen this concept in a few other places in the Torah.

The first place was at the burning bush when God told Moshe that he would free the Jewish people from slavery and bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey, the land of the Knaanim.(Shmot 3:8)

In reference to the celebration of Pesach (Shmot 13:5) we also see that once B'nei Yisrael reach the land of the Knaanim.the land that God had promised, the land of milk and honey, then the Passover holiday must be observed.

Even the meraglim, spies, who brought back a horrible account of what was happening in the land of Israel prefaced their negative comments (Bamidbar 13:27) with the fact that the land is flowing with milk and honey and is fruitful. However, unfortunately then they continued on to complain about the land.

Joshua and Kalev, the only two meraglim that brought a good report tried to counter what the other spies had said: (Bamidbar 14:8) If God delights in us then he will bring us up to the land and give it to us- a land flowing with milk and honey.

According to Sforno, the land flowing with milk and honey should be taken literally, An abundant amount of milk is produced with ease and there is plenty of honey and delicacies fit for a king.

Anyone who has ever been to Israel raves about the dairy products and the selection of candies and delicacies that are available here. Israel is still producing plenty of milk and honey. Even the meraglim attested to this.

Each of us should take the opportunity sit back and enjoy the produce of the Land of Israel. Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of the current State of Israel, we should look for all of the positives that the land has to offer us.