Home Seniors Programs Special Needs Mommy and Me Join a Study Group Bat Mitzvah Program for Women of All Ages One on One Learning Giving
Parsha Points About Us Contact Us

Lech Lecha
The impact of music Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 October 2023

In Parshat Lech Lecha, after Avraham separates himself from Lot (Breisheet 13:14-15), God tells him:

Raise your eyes and look from the place where you are, to the north, to the south, to the east and to the west. For all the land that you see I give to you and to your descendents forever...

The words Ki et kol ha’aretz asher ata roeh, lecha etnena u’lezaracha ad olam” were made famous in the song “Lecha eten et Ha’aretz Hazot” sung by Dedi Graucher z”l to the tune by Mona Rosenblum. The song quotes the original words from the Torah in order to show that the land promised to Avraham belongs to his descendants forever.

This song was made famous thirty years ago during the Oslo accords and is still popular in the Religious-Zionist camp.

Other songs that connected to the Land of Israel which can be found in Dedi’s collection include “Hevron Meaz u’Letamid,” Hevron always and forever”, “Lo Nazuz Mipo,” “We will not move from here” and “Hu Yigal Otanu Bikarov”,  “God will redeem us soon.”

Dedi was also known for his acts of chesed (loving kindness). He helped raise money for organizations that help kids with special needs and kids with cancer and he was always happy to sing at hospitals and for different charities.

Dedi passed away last month but his songs remain with us. Dedi’s emphasis on the Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel continues to resonate with Jews throughout the world.

The legacy of great music combined with chesed continues in Israel. During this current war, we have seen Hanan Ben Ari step up to the plate in so many ways, doing concerts for Zaka workers, singing Kabbalat Shabbat songs at hospitals, performing at small impromptu weddings free of charge and even singing at soldiers funerals. He has brought so much joy and light to so many people during this time of darkness.

The popular Israeli singer, Yishai Ribo who recently sold out Madison Square Garden went down to an army base in the south to entertain the soldiers and build up their morale by singing Am Yisrael Chai”, “The Jewish Nation is Alive.” He also encouraged Charedim to volunteer in helping the war effort.

Last week, Noa Kirel who performed on behalf of Israel at the Eurovision helped the Friends of the IDF raise almost $30 million which will go to buy ambulances and mobile operating rooms. She recently sang Hatikva while draped in an Israeli flag at the Brooklyn Nets vs. Maccabi Ra’anana game in Brooklyn, NY.

As we read this week’s parsha, may we be reminded of the Jewish people’s claim to the Land of Israel and the beautiful songs that keep us connected to the land and people of Israel.

Did surrogacy work out well in the Torah? Print E-mail
Monday, 31 October 2022

At 75 years old, when Sarai saw that she was still unable to conceive, she decided to give her handmaid, Hagar, to Avram (Breisheet 16:2-3):

 Sarai said to Avram: “See now, God has restrained me from having children; Come to my handmaid; perhaps (ulai) I will be built up through her”. Avram listened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai, Avram’s wife took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Avram had dwelt ten years in the Land of C’naan and gave her to Avram, her husband to be his wife.

 Sarai was hoping that Hagar would serve as a surrogate mother for her child. The fact that she said ulai, perhaps, shows that she wasn’t sure how it would turn out.

 Radak comments:

 When Sarai realized that her husband was already 85 years old, and she still had not been able to bear a child for him, while she herself had already reached the age of 75, she thought that she had no longer any hope of conceiving herself. She therefore reasoned to herself, that seeing God had promised Avram that he would have children of his own who would inherit the Land of Canaan, God must have referred to his siring children from another woman. She reasoned further that it would be in her own best interest that any children born to her husband should be born by a woman under her control so that she would experience the joy of motherhood at least vicariously.

 Radak adds:

 All children are a building consisting of genetic input by father and mother. Sarai said that any son from this union with her husband would be accepted by her as if he were part of her biological family. She would treat him as her own son.

 Sometimes surrogate motherhood worked in the TaNaCh and sometimes it didn’t.

 In the case of Sarai and Hagar it did not work. Hagar’s son, Yishmael was never considered to be Sarai’s baby. In the end, after her name was changed, Sarah was blessed to have Yitzchak, a baby of her own, fifteen years later.

There are other cases where surrogacy did seem to work such as with Rachel and Leah’s handmaids, Bilha and Zilpa.

 In Breisheet 30:3-6, Rachel gives her handmaid, Bilha to Yaakov and she is confident that Bilha will serve as a surrogate mother:

Rachel said (to Yaakov), “Here is my maid Bilha. Come to her and let her give birth on my lap. Through her I will then also have a son.” So she gave him her handmaid Bilha as a wife, and Ya’akov came to her. Bilha conceived and gave birth to Ya’akov’s son. Rachel said, “God has judged (dan) me and has also heard my prayer. He has finally given me a son.” Therefore she named the child Dan.

In Breisheet 30:7-8 we read:

Rachel’s maid Bilha conceived again and gave birth to a second son by Yaakov. Rachel said, “A fateful contest I waged with my sister; yes, and I have prevailed.” So she named him Naphtali.

In Breisheet 30:9-13 Leah took her handmaid to be a surrogate as well:

When Leah realized that she was no longer having children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. When Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son, Leah said, “What luck!” So she named him Gad. When Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son, Leah declared, “What fortune!” meaning, “Women will deem me fortunate.” So she named him Asher.

When Bilha and Zilpa gave birth, their sons were considered to be Rachel and Leah’s children. Rachel and Leah named the babies who became equal members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

We see from here that even in the days of the Torah, sometimes surrogacy worked and sometimes it didn’t.

One difference between then and now is that in the time of the Torah the surrogate mothers were handmaids and didn’t have a say in the matter while today a woman chooses to serve as a surrogate.

 May all those who are seeking to have a child be blessed!

Our Reward for Settling the Land Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 October 2021

In Parshat Lech Lecha (Breisheet 13:17), Avraham is told:

Rise, walk (hithalech) the land through its length and breadth, for to you I will give it.

This reminds us of Yishayahu 42:5 where we read:

Thus says God the Lord, He that created the heavens, and stretched them out; He that spread forth the earth, and that which comes out of it; He that gives breath to the people upon it and a spirit to those who walk within it (laholchim bah).

The Talmud, Ketubot 111a explains the words “and a spirit to those who walk within it”: Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, “Whoever walks four amot (cubits) in Eretz Yisrael is assured of a portion in the World to Come.”

Maharit (Tshuvot Maharit II, Yoreh Deah 28) suggests that this may even apply to a tourist who has no intention of settling in the Land of Israel. Maharit declares that there is no known mitzvah associated with visiting the Land of Israel, yet one still receives merit. He even suggests that one who was not able to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel when they were alive still receives merit for being buried there.

Receiving merit is a step in the right direction and that is why it is so wonderful to see so many tourists visiting Israel on a regular year. However, with numerous travel restrictions in place due to Covid, many people who would have wanted to travel to Israel don’t have that opportunity.

Unfortunately, during these difficult times, there are those who can only get in to Israel to bury a loved one.

May we merit to have tourists safely come back to walk the Land of Israel and may Jews continue to make aliya and fully observe the mitzvah of Yishuv Ertetz Yisrael, the Settlement of the Land of Israel.

The Importance of Traveling the Land Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

When we first meet Avram and Sarai, at the end of Parshat Noach, they are travelling. They begin their journey along with their family from Ur Kasdim (Ur of Chaldees) in southern Mesopotamia (probably Southern Iraq today) heading towards the Land of C’naan (Israel today). On their way they stop in Haran (south eastern Turkey) where Terach, Avram’s father passes away.

Parshat Lech Lecha (Breisheet 12:1) begins with God speaking to Avram: “Go from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you.”

Avram and Sarai set out along with Lot (Sarai’s brother and Avram’s nephew) and their followers towards the Land of C’naan.

Once in C’naan, they travel to Shchem, to Elon Moreh. God appears to Avram there and promises the land to his descendants.

Avram and Sarai then move to the mountain east of Beit El, pitch their tents between Beit El and Ai, build a mizbeach (altar) and proclaim the name of God. They then journey south, to the Negev.

During the famine, they travel down to Egypt and are sent away when Pharaoh discovers that Avram and Sarai are married.

They return to the spot where they originally pitched their tents, between Beit El and Ai. Lot moves to the lush Jordan plain (Sdom and Amorah) while Avram remains in C’naan.

God reaffirms His promise to Avram that the entire land would belong to him and his descendants.

They finally settle in Elonei Mamre, Chevron and Avram builds a mizbeach.

When Avram is told that Lot and his kinsmen are taken captive in a war, he takes his men and pursues them to Dan (north) to Chovah (to the left of Damascus).

Radak (Breisheet 12:6) explains that Avram was traveling through the land with his herds and flocks yet he was not challenged by anyone as being guilty of encroaching on their property, stealing their grazing land, etc. This was proof that God was with him. Avram was well aware that this was a demonstration of God’s keeping His promise to him that his very presence would be considered a blessing for the people surrounding him.

In the Talmud, Bava Batra 100a, we see that Avraham’s travels were a way for him to acquire the land:

After God promised the Land of Israel to Avraham, He instructed him: Arise, walk through the land, its length and its breadth; for I will give it to you (Breisheet 13:17), in order that Abraham should thereby acquire the land.

It was due to God’s love for Avraham that He told to him to travel the land, so that it would be easy for his descendants to conquer the land in the future. His walking the land was to demonstrate the divine promise and thereby emphasize his descendants’ claim to the land, but he did not formally acquire the land at that time.

The acquisition would only take effect after Avraham’s descendants would go down to Egypt and return and conquer the land with Yehoshua.

By traveling the land, we too show that we care.

We are now living in a difficult time where tourists who love the land can’t enter the country due to corona restrictions and Israelis were not permitted to leave their homes over the holidays, when most of the population traditionally goes touring and hiking.

May we quickly return to the days when we can travel the land and spend time in the places visited by Avraham and Sarah.

Avram and Sarai in Egypt Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 November 2019

Sponsored by Hanna Hollander in memory of Yosef Meltser, loving father, husband and grandfather. May his neshama have an aliya

Shortly after Avram and Sarai arrive in the Land of C’naan, there is a famine so Avram takes Sarai down to Egypt. Avram tells Sarai to act as his sister so that the Egyptians won’t kill him in order to take her. Pharaoh’s officials take Sarai to Pharaoh. God then afflicts Pharaoh and his household with severe plagues. Pharaoh figures out that Sarai is really Avram’s wife and he sends them and all of their possessions out of Egypt.

Professor Rabbi Moshe David Cassuto points out that there are many similarities between the story of Avram and Sarai going down to Egypt during the famine in Parshat Lech Lecha, the account of the twelve tribes going down to Egypt due to a famine at the end of the Book of Breisheet and the description of the Exodus in the Book of Shmot.

Below are a few similarities which especially stand out:

In Breisheet 12:10: There was a famine in the land. Avram went down to Egypt to live there temporarily, for the famine was severe in the land.”

In Breisheet 43:1: “The famine was severe in the land.”

In Breisheet 47:4: “They (Yosef’s brothers) said to Pharaoh: ‘We have come to live in the land temporarily, since there is no pasture for your servant’s flocks, because the famine is severe in the land of C’naan...”

When Avram left Egypt (Breisheet 13:1-2) “Avram went up from Egypt, he, his wife and all he had, together with Lot in the south. Avram was very wealthy in livestock, silver and gold.”

When B’nai Yisrael left Egypt, they received silver and gold as well.

B’nai Yisrael also went through the Negev.

In addition, we can’t ignore the fact that there were plagues in each story which pushed Pharaoh to let them leave.

B’nai Yisrael’s enslavement in Egypt was not a coincidence. It was already part of God’s plan in the days of Avraham.

Cassuto explains that the fact that Avram and Sarai were saved and that B’nai Yisrael were eventually redeemed from Egypt teaches us that God is ready to protect us from danger. This gives hope to future generations when they will be in similar situations.

It is important to note that while Cassuto made aliya in 1939 and many of his family members were saved from dangerous situations, his son, Nathan, a rabbi in Florence went into hiding until he was betrayed and killed in the Nazi death camps in 1943. Three of Nathan’s children were saved by family and were able to make aliya. Nathan’s wife survived the concentration camps but was killed in Israel in the Hadassah medical convoy massacre in 1948.

Although Cassuto did not have an easy life, he continued writing and his works made a tremendous contribution to Biblical scholarship. Cassuto had faith that God’s plans would fall into place and he hoped that God would continue to rescue us from our enemies just as He rescued our ancestors from Egypt. 

Rachel: A role model for fertility challenged women Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 October 2018

This week we will be commemorating Rachel, our foremother’s yahrzeit. Out of all of the forefathers and foremothers, Rachel’s yahrzeit is the only one officially commemorated by the Jewish community.

On Rachel’s yahrzeit, men and women from all over Israel come to Kever Rachel, Rachel’s Tomb to pray. Many women who are fertility challenged specifically come to Kever Rachel to pray for a child.

Why Rachel?

Each of our foremothers had a difficult time conceiving but Rachel’s story specifically stands out.

When Leah was able to conceive, she gave birth to child after child while Rachel remained childless. This was a very difficult time for Rachel and she did not hide her emotions.

In Breisheet 30:1 we read: “Rachel saw that she was not bearing children to Yaakov. Rachel became jealous of her sister, and she said to Yaakov, “Give me children; if not I am considered dead.”

Rachel was jealous, she felt worthless, she was open with her husband and told him exactly how she felt.

Yaakov’s answer which does not seem sympathetic is found in sentence 2, “Yaakov became very angry with Rachel and he said, ‘Am I in God’s place? It is He who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb.’”

Rachel did not accept this unsympathetic answer. Rather than get into an argument, she took action.

Where did Rachel gain inspiration from? She remembered that Sarah, Yaakov’s grandmother also had trouble getting pregnant as we read in Parshat Lech Lecha, Breisheet 16:1: “Avram’s wife Sarai had not borne him children. She had an Egyptian handmaid whose name was Hagar. Sarai said to Avram: “See now, God has restrained me from having children; pray, come to my handmaid perhaps I will be built up through her (oolai ibaneh mimenah)…”

Rachel told Yaakov in Breisheet 30:3, “Here is my handmaid, Bilha, consummate a marriage with her. Let her give birth upon my knees, and I too will have a son through her (v’ibaneh gam anochi mimenah).”

Even though it didn’t work out well with Hagar (Yishmael did not end up being Sarah’s surrogate son as she was hoping), since Sarah was so selfless, in the end she gave birth to Yitzchak, a child of her own. According to Rashi, Rachel was willing to do whatever was necessary to try to have a child including taking a chance of engaging a surrogate mother hoping that if it didn’t work out well, God may still reward her with a child.

In Rachel’s case, Bilha served as a surrogate mother and Rachel was blessed with Bilha’s children being considered as her own. In Sentence 6, “Rachel said, ‘God has judged me. He also heard my voice and has given me a son.’ She therefore named him Don (judge).” When Bilha gave birth to a second son, in sentence 8, Rachel named him Naftali which according to Rashi means “my prayer was accepted.”

Rachel is happy with her two “surrogate” children yet she still does not give up on trying for a child of her own. When she saw that Reuven had “doodaim” a type of flower often translated as mandrakes or jasmine, thought to have fertility powers, she was willing to trade a night with her husband.

After Leah had a few more children, Rachel finally got pregnant as it says in Breisheet 30:22-24, “God remembered Rachel and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and gave birth to a son. She said, ‘God has removed my shame.’ She named him Yosef, saying, ‘May God add (yosef) to me another son.’”

Rachel’s faith was evident. Although we didn’t hear her prayer, we see that God listened. She was open about feeling shame in being unable to conceive. Instead of being satisfied with the fact that she finally gave birth, she didn’t waste any time and prayed for another child. Rashi points out that prophetically Rachel knew that Yaakov would have twelve tribes and she wanted to make sure that the last tribe would also come from her.

We have seen so many reasons why women who are fertility challenged can relate to Rachel. A woman who is not afraid to show her feelings, to take the initiative, to pray, to arrange for a surrogate mother to use fertility treatments and to never give up hope.

Today, we are living in a very different world. We have many innovations that couples who are fertility challenged can now take advantage of. Yet some things are still the same. The pain that a woman may be feeling, the need for a good sympathetic and listening ear, a space where she can be comfortable sharing her feelings, the desire to pray but not knowing what to say or where to start are all as important today as they were in the days of our foremothers.

At Keren Gefen’s Chavruta Fertility Workshop in Jerusalem, women can find a community of participants who can gain inspiration from the experiences of our foremothers by studying the Biblical texts, commentaries and Midrash as well as discover prayer from a new point of view through the exposure to techinot (special prayers that have been recited by women on different occasions throughout the generations) and tap in to their creative side by writing their own prayers and role playing through the method of Bibliodrama.

For more information please call 058-656-3532, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  www.kerengefen.org

Where did all of the women go? Print E-mail
Thursday, 26 October 2017

This week, Israel is gearing up for the yahrzeit of Rachel Imenu which will take place on Tuesday. Jews from all over Israel and beyond will come to Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) on the outskirts of Jerusalem right near Bethlehem to pray. Women specifically will make the trip in order to pray for a shidduch (match), a child or whatever their hearts desire.

Flyers, brochures and supplements in newspapers have been circulating all over Israel promoting Mosdos Kever Rachel, the organization that takes care of Rachel’s Tomb. The cover of one of the brochures says “This year *everyone* is getting close to mother.” There is only one problem- the cover page of this brochure only has pictures of men. If everyone is getting closer to Rachel, our foremother, then why are there only men in the pictures? Inside of that same brochure, any pictures that contain women, including a bride, have the women’s faces blurred out.

How can this be?

Rachel was the woman who patiently stood by while Yaakov was tricked into marrying her sister Leah first. Rachel was the woman who saw that she could not rely on Yaakov’s prayers so she took the initiative and prayed for a child. Rachel was the woman who died while giving birth to Binyamin, the youngest of the tribes.

Rachel represents all of the women who need God’s assistance, women who open up their hearts to God hoping to have their prayers answered. How can their faces be left out and replaced by faces of men?

Tradition tells us that the reason that Yaakov was tricked with the wrong bride was because he was unable to see her face. In order to make sure that this does not happen again, at the wedding we do a bedekin where the groom makes sure that he has the right bride by looking at her face and only then lowers the veil. The bedekin ensures that Rachel will be the last sacrifice of a woman whose face could not be seen leading to detrimental circumstances. The last place that women’s faces should be missing is on a brochure which speaks about the importance of Kever Rachel.

Another element that is absent from these brochures is a picture of what Kever Rachel looks like today. The brochures show pastoral pictures of what the Tomb looked like before a fortress was built around it to keep it secure. Today, Israeli soldiers, both men and women stand guard at the entrance to the fortress as well as inside to make sure that all of the visitors are safe as the building is very close to Bethlehem and has been firebombed many times. Last year on Rachel Imenu’s yahrzeit, there were so many visitors that part of the building nearly collapsed. It is crucial that we show our support and appreciation for the soldiers who put their lives on the line so that we can pray safely at Rachel’s Tomb.

This week, I will personally be delivering gift baskets to the soldiers protecting Kever Rachel. I will proudly have my picture taken with these young heroes.  Please be in touch if you would like me to deliver a basket on your behalf. http://toratreva.org/Joomla/index.php

Walking in the footsteps of Avraham Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 November 2016

In Parshat Lech Lecha we read about Avraham’s choice to follow God to the Land of Israel.

This is not the only place in the Tanach where Avraham’s journey is mentioned. At the end of Yehoshua’s life (Yehoshua 24:2-4), in his last speech to B’nai Yisrael, Yehoshua says: “Thus said Hashem, the God of Israel: ‘Your forefathers- Terach, the father of Avraham and the father of Nachor- always dwelt beyond the Euphrates River and they served gods of others. But I took your forefather Avraham from beyond the river and led him throughout the Land of Cnaan; I increased his offspring and gave him Yitzchak. To Yitzchak I gave Yaakov and Esav. To Esav I gave Mt. Seir to inherit and Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.’”

This account is familiar as we recite it each year in the Magid section of the Passover Hagada “Mitchila ovdei avoda zara hayu avoteinu”, “In the beginning our forefathers were idol worshippers.”

Maharal explains that the three generations are mentioned here to show that in each generation the idol worshippers were rejected. Avraham was chosen over Nachor, Yitzchak was chosen over Yishmael and Yaakov was chosen over Esav. All of Yaakov’s offspring were holy and therefore all twelve tribes were chosen.

Our forefathers left the spiritual enslavement of idol worship for the intellectual freedom of a faith based religion. Avraham was the first to free himself from idol worship.

According to the Kabala, Avraham passed away on Erev Pesach. Seven generations later, Yehoshua brings Avraham’s descendents back to the land of Avraham.

At the end of Yehoshua’s speech the nation declares their loyalty to the God of their forefathers and continues in Avraham’s path.

At the Passover seder we also declare our loyalty to the God of Avraham- the God who took us out of Egypt.

Abravanel explains that when God brought Avraham to the Land of Israel, He revealed himself over and over again to Avraham in prophetic visions. This shows the holiness of the Land of Israel.

With the founding of the State of Israel, the Jewish people once again have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Avraham and return to the holiest place on earth.

Reaching for the Stars Print E-mail
Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Dedicated in honor of Libi Warmund becoming a Bat-Mitzvah

October 24, 2015


In Parshat Lech Lecha (Breisheet 13:14-17) we read: “God said to Avraham after Lot separated from him: ‘Raise your eyes and look about from the place where you are, to the north, to the south to the east and to the west. For all the land that you see I give to you and to your descendents forever. I will make your descendents as the dust of the earth so that if a man can count the dust of the earth, then your descendents too will be countable. Rise, walk the land through its length and breadth, for to you I will give it.’”


A few chapters later in Breisheet 15:5-6 we read:  “He (God) took him (Avraham) outside and said: ‘Habet’, ‘Gaze’ toward the Heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them!’ And He said to him ‘so shall your offspring be!’ And he trusted in God, and this He accounted to him for righteousness.”


After Akedat Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac), God promised Avraham (Breisheet 22:17-18): “I will greatly bless you and make your descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore. Your descendents will inherit the gate of their enemies. Through your children will be blessed all of the nations of the world because you heeded My voice.”


In Breisheet Raba 44:12 we find the midrash where God took Avraham out of the terrestrial void and lifted him above the stars. The word “Habet”, “Gaze” signifies looking from above to below (meaning: looking down at the stars).


God showed Avraham that he is above and beyond the astrological influences. God controls the constellations and Avraham as a Navi (prophet) has the ability to pray and change his own destiny. Just because the astrologers read in the stars that Avraham would not have a child did not mean that it was an ultimate destiny.


In Megilat Ester 6:13-14 we read: “Haman told Zeresh, his wife, and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and Zeresh, his wife, told him: ‘If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him, but you will surely fall (naphol tipol) before him.’”


In the Talmud, Megillah 16a, Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai explains why there is a double expression of falling (naphol tipol). They told Haman: “the nation of Israel is compared to dust and is compared to the stars. When they descend, they descend to the dust but when they rise, they rise to the stars.”


According to Maharsha, when they descend, they descend to the dust that anyone can trample on. However, when they rise, they rise to the stars where they can not be harmed.


Throughout Jewish history there were many cases where the Jews were trampled on like the dust of the earth. With the formation of the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces, the Jewish people can now reach for the stars and serve as an “ohr lagoyim”, a light upon the nations. Israel has the obligation to protect those who have come from all over the world to make Israel their home fulfilling God’s promise to Avraham that the Land of Israel is the eternal inheritance of the Jewish people.


May Israel shine like the stars in the sky! 


Praying for Rain Print E-mail
Friday, 31 October 2014

Last night (the Seventh of Cheshvan) in Israel we began to include the prayer for rain “VeTen tal Umatar Livracha”, “and grant rain and dew for a blessing” in the Birkhat haShanim blessing of the Shmoneh Esrei.

Those outside of the Land of Israel only begin to recite the prayer for rain sixty days after the fall season begins (December 5).

Why is there a difference?

Originally, the sixty day rule was for the Jews who lived in Bavel (Babylonia) which at the time was considered the Golah (diaspora) where rain was only needed sixty days after the fall season began. In the Middle Ages, the date for the Golah was extended to Europe and North Africa even though the time of year where rain is needed varies by the country. The exception was Provence and maybe a few other places which followed the custom of the Land of Israel.

The Rosh (Rabeinu Asher ben Yechiel 1259-1327, Germany, Spain) taught in his commentary on the Talmud, Taanit 12b: I am surprised that we follow the Babylonian practice in this regard.  While our Talmud is Babylonian, the matter (of praying for rain) depends upon the Land of Israel.  Why should we not follow their custom?  Even if Babylonia has abundant water and does not need rain, other countries need rain in Cheshvan so why delay the prayer until the 60th day of the season?  Why should we not follow the ruling of the Mishnah?  In Provence I have seen that they pray for rain beginning with Cheshvan and I heartily approve!

The Tur, Rabeinu Asher’s son did not accept his opinion and those in the Golah continued to follow the sixty day rule.

Dr. Moshe Sokolow in his article “VeTen Tal U-Matar, What is So Holy about the 4th (or 5th or 6th) of December?  Some Insights into the Interplay between the Calendar and the Liturgy”, points out that in 1637, in the Portuguese colony of Recife, in Brazil, one of the first religious problems was reckoning the proper time to say VeTen Tal U-Matar Lvracha.  On the one hand they were all accustomed to following the Babylonian custom, which had won out, time and again, over all attempts -- such as that of R. Asher -- to modify it in accordance with local conditions.  On the other hand was the overwhelming illogic of praying for rain during Brazil’s summer, and forgoing the prayer precisely when rain was needed, just because the tradition was founded in another era and a different hemisphere! Congregation Zur Yisrael raised this question in a letter to Rabbi Chaim Shabbetai of Salonica, whose answer set the precedent by which most of the Jews of South America and Australia abide to this very day.  Basing himself upon the opinions of Rambam and taking the responsum of Rabeinu Asher into consideration, Rabbi Shabbetai ruled that since during the months of Nisan through Tishrei prayers for rain may be recited only in Shome’a Tefillah as individuals and since one should not have to pray for rain at a time in which it would be harmful for him, the Jews of Brazil should:

Never say Viten Tal U-Matar  in Birkhat haShanim;

Never even say Mashiv haRu’ah U’Morid haGeshem (He makes the wind blow and He makes the rain fall)

During their winter they were entitled to say ViTen Tal U-Matar in Shome’a Tefillah if the need arose.

In Israel we started praying for rain during the Maariv service and it has been raining on and off all of last night and today.

As we watched the rain pour down on our way home from school today, my son Yehuda declared: “It is now official, the winter season has officially begun.”


Avraham and Sarah Weren’t the Only Ones Who Took a Long Walk Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 October 2013

Parshat Lecha Lecha begins with the famous words (Breisheet 12:1) “God said to Avram, ‘Lech Lecha- Go for yourself- from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you.’”


Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (1550-1619) who was best known for his work the Kli Yakar wrote the following idea in his series Olelot Ephraim :


Lech Lecha, go for yourself. Whoever makes aliya- goes up to the Land of Israel- goes up to his being and up to his roots. The Jewish soul can only fully be restored to its original perfection in the Land of Israel, the Land that the eyes of God are watching from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.


Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that there are people who say to themselves that they love the Land of Israel and that they want to make aliya. However, they only want to come to Israel in the most comfortable way possible, without pressure or grief.


According to Rabbi Nachman, those people don’t really want to make aliya. If someone really wants to make aliya, they will do whatever it takes, even walk if they have to and arrive exhausted from their travels. God said to Avram “Lech Lecha”, from the word “lalechet”, “to go”, “to walk”. God told Avram to walk by foot wandering from place to place.


Even in our time we have seen people who wanted to make aliya so badly that they literally walked.


In 1973, the Israeli Ministry of Absorption and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Ashkenasic chief rabbi checked out the Beta Israel Ethiopians who were yearning to return to Israel for thousands of years and decided that they were not Jewish and that there was no reason to bring them to Israel. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef z”l, the Sephardic chief rabbi disagreed and said that they were a descendent tribe of Israel. He said that it is a mitzvah to give them a proper Jewish education and bring them to Israel. Thanks to the ruling of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Law of Return was applied to the Beta Israel community.


Beginning in 1977, after Menachem Begin became the Prime Minister, thousands of Beta Israel traveled by foot from Ethiopia to the border of Sudan and waited in temporary camps to be flown to Israel. This journey by foot took between two weeks and a month. From 1977-1984, they were led to Israel by sea and by plane. About 8000 people made this dangerous trip. Sadly, about 4000 died before reaching Israel. During Operation Moses (November 1984 until January 1985), 30 flights brought about 200 Beta Israel at a time to Israel. In 1991, Operation Solomon brought 14,400 Beta Israel to Israel within 34 hours. On August 27, 2013 the last mass aliya flight with hundreds of immigrants from Ethiopia arrived in Israel.


What we learn from the Beta Israel community is that if someone wants to be in Israel badly enough, they will follow the path of Avraham and Sarah and find a way to get here.


You Are So Beautiful To Me! Print E-mail
Monday, 22 October 2012

In Parshat Lech Lecha, Breisheet 12:10, due to a famine in the Land, Avram and Sarai go down to Egypt.


In sentences 11-13, as they were about to enter Egypt, Avram said to Sarai: “Behold, I now realize that you are a woman of beautiful appearance. It will happen when the Egyptians see you that they will say: ‘This is his wife.’ They will want to kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, so that it will go well with me for your sake, and my life will be spared because of you.”


Rashi asks the question: How is it that after being married to Sarai for some time Avram first realizes her beauty now?


The Aggadic explanation is: Until now he had not been aware of her beauty due to the modesty of both of them. But now, he became aware of her due to an event. Midrash Tanchuma relates that they came to a river where he saw her reflection and realized how beautiful she was.


Rashi brings another explanation: It is usual due to the hardship of travel a person becomes unattractive but Sarai remained with her beauty.


Rashi’s simple explanation is: I have known for a long time that you are beautiful. But, now we will be coming amongst repulsive people who are not accustomed to seeing a beautiful woman.


We all know that when we are travelling, we do not look our best. Travelling back then was very different from travelling today so people probably looked a lot worse than we do after getting off a 12 hour flight or and eight hour ride on a Greyhound bus. Despite the fact that they were on a long journey coupled with the fact that Sarai was already advanced in age, it is nice to hear that Avram felt that she was attractive.


Living in the Land of Israel where they were not in danger, Avram may not have focused on Sarai’s beauty but now that he knew that she would be scrutinized by Pharaoh and the Egyptians he paid closer attention in order to make a plan that would ultimately save his life.


Two lessons learned from this episode:

  1. Don’t wait until you are in danger before you tell your spouse how attractive they are.
  2. You will score extra points if you complement their good looks on a long, tiring trip!

Rain of Blessing Print E-mail
Friday, 11 November 2011
Marc Twain once observed “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one can do anything about it.”


The Jewish Religion is not in agreement with the above quote. In Masechet Taanit we learn that all that befalls human beings, including natural phenomena, has a source in heaven. God generates events based upon man’s actions.


On Shmini Atzeret we began to say “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGashem”, “He makes the wind blow and the rain descend” in the Shemoneh Esrei. This statement shows God’s power and control over the rain. It is only said after Sukkot has been completed as we don’t want to take a chance of having rain fall when we are trying to observe the mitzvah of eating in the Sukkah.


In Israel, we rarely have any rain until after Sukkot and we don’t have to worry about the rain ruining the Sukkot holiday.


Last night, the seventh of Cheshvan IN ISRAEL was the date that we began to say “Viten Tal U’Matar Livrach”, “and give dew and rain for a blessing.” Rather than just mentioning God’s powers, we are actually asking for it to rain. The reason for the delay (why we only mention the power of rain but don’t actually request rain immediately after Sukkot) is brought up in the Gemara in Taanit. The Halacha took into account that everyone came to Jerusalem for the holiday of Sukkot and it is only fair to wait until everyone is back home before asking for rain so that the pilgrims don’t get wet while traveling back home.


Last night, we began to request rain and like clockwork, there were heavy thunderstorms throughout the night in Jerusalem. These were true rains of blessing as they fell in the proper time (between Sukkot and Pesach) and they fell at night when most people were home sleeping so we didn’t even have the inconvenience of getting wet!


May we see many more rainfalls of blessing in the Land of Israel from now until Pesach!


We All Make Mistakes Print E-mail
Friday, 15 October 2010

In Parshat Lech Lecha, we read the story of how Sarah who was unable to conceive gave her handmaid, Hagar, to Avraham to serve as a kind of surrogate mother.


In Breisheet 16:2-3 we read: Sarai said to Avram: “Behold now, God has restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be builded up through her”. Avram listened to Sarai. And Sarai Avram’s wife took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Avram had dwelt ten years in the Land of C’naan and gave her to Avram her husband to be his wife.


Once Hagar became pregnant she began to act as if she was better than Sarah.


We see this in Breisheet 16:4: And when Hagar saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.


We then read about how Sarah treated Hagar badly, causing her to flee in Breisheet 16:5: And when Sarai dealt harshly with her (vateaneha Sarai), she fled from her face.


What were the inuyim (afflictions)? In Breisheet Raba 45:6 we see that there is a difference of opinion as to what these inuyim were. According to Rab Aba Bar Cahana, “vateaneha” means that Sara did not allow Hagar to have marital relations with Avraham (the same way that on Yom Kippur one of the “inuyim” is that marital relations are forbidden). According to Rabbi Barchaya, Sara hit Hagar in the face with a shoe (another one of the “inuyim” on Yom Kippur is that we are not allowed to wear leather shoes).


How can it be that Sarah, our mother, would be so mean to Hagar?


You could say that Hagar was at fault since she started acting like she was better than Sarah when she was able to conceive and Sarah was not. However, the way that Sarah went about punishing her was over the top.


Nechama Leibowitz points out that Sarah may have bitten off more than she could chew when she gave Hagar to Avraham and may have gotten in over her head. Sarah could handle swallowing her pride as she gave Hagar to Avraham as a “surrogate mother”. However, once Hagar started looking down at her, Sarah reached her boiling point.


One lesson that we learn is that Sarah is a role model for us in many ways, yet nobody is perfect, all humans have flaws.


Avraham also had flaws which we see clearly in the Torah such as when he left the Land of Israel during the famine instead of trusting that God would provide for him as well as when he told Sarah to say that she is his sister instead of his wife.


When we see that the Torah is able to show the strengths and weaknesses of the Avot (forefathers) and Imahot (foremothers) they serve as even better role models as we are all human, we all make mistakes and we all have the power to do Tshuva (repent).

What Was Avram Afraid Of? Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 October 2009

In Parsha Lech Lecha, Breisheet 15:1 God appears to Avram in a vision and tells him: “Fear not Avram, I am your shield, your reward is very great.”


What was Avram afraid of?


In Breisheet Raba 44:5, three fears are suggested.


Rabbi Levi’s first reason: Avram was worried that perhaps he killed a righteous person in one of the wars that he fought.


Rabbi Levi’s second reason: Avram was afraid that the descendents of those who were killed would come after him.


The Rabbis taught that Avram was worried that he used up all of his reward in this world and that he would have no reward in the world to come.


The Midrash explains how God calmed Avram’s fears-


In response to Rabbi Levi’s first point, God answered Avram: “Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong. I intended to kill all of those people and none of those people were righteous.


In response to Rabbi Levi’s second point, God answered: “Not only am I protecting you, I am literally your shield, no weapns will be able to hurt you”.


In response to the Rabbis’ point God said: “Your reward is very great- both in this world and in the next world”.


Nechama Leibowitz points out that the first point is based on ethical motives, Avram was worried that he violated human relationships. The second point is based on political considerations and the dangers of war. The third point projects a religious motivation, the relationship between a person and God.


Today, in the State of Israel, there is still a concern for ethics, politics and religion. The Israeli army is one of the most ethical armies in the world. However, the Jewish people still have Avram’s concerns of were we ethical enough, will the enemies still be attacking innocent civilians even in times of peace, as well as what is our relationship with God every day of our lives including during times of war.


May the State of Israel be fully protected by God the way that Avraham was and may God continue to be our shield as we say in our prayers three times a day “Baruch Atah HaShem Magen Avraham”, “Blessed are you, God, the shield of Avraham".

Why Does the Torah Point Out that the C’naani Was in the Land? Print E-mail
Sunday, 23 November 2008
In Breisheet 12:6 we read: “Avram passed into the Land as far as the site of Shechem, until Alom Moreh and the Cnaani was then in the Land (az ba’aretz)”.

The words “the C’naani was then in the land” come to teach us a few things:

According to Radak it was miraculous that Avram, a stranger, was passing through the Land with a lot of cattle and there were many shepherds in the land yet nobody bothered him at all.

Rashi points out that the statement emphasizes the fact that the Land was destined to belong to the descendents of Shem (Semites) and was given to Shem (Noach’s son) after the flood. However, the C’naanim slowly conquered the Land from Shem. Therefore, in sentence 7 it says “God said to Avram: To your descendents will I give this land”. This refers to the fact that in the future God will return the land to Avram’s children who are descendents of Shem.

Radak’s opinion is that although God promised the Land to Avram, he would not have the opportunity to take it over immediately. Avram, who did not yet have any children could not possibly take over the whole Land on his own. He would only be able to inherit the Land once the Jewish people would become a great nation. For now, he can travel the land as freely as he likes with all of his cattle and with all of possessions and people will only be gracious to him. He can travel in peace and nobody will bother him. Once Avram’s descendents would return to the Land as a nation, then God would slowly chase the enemies away. As it says in Shmot 23:30: “Little by little shall I drive them away from you, until you become fruitful and make the land your heritage.”

Avraham built a mizbeach (alter) to thank God for giving this wonderful good Land of milk and honey to his descendents.
Avram and Sarai, the First Jews and the First Olim Chadashim (New Immigrants) Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 October 2007

Parshat Lech Lecha begins with the words: “God said to Avram: ‘Lech Lecha…’Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

If the Torah does not waste any words, then why does the pasuk give so much detail: his land, his relatives and his father’s house. According to Ramban, God understood that it is difficult to leave the place that you are living in, your friends, your birthplace and your family. Therefore the pasuk emphasizes that Avram should leave everyone behind for the sake of doing God’s will.

Rabbi Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtza comments that the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is the most important mitzvah since it was the first mitzvah commanded to a Jewish person.

Rashi expalains that God used the words “Lech Lecha” go for yourself to mean go for your own good, go for your enjoyment. Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop adds that the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is different from all of the other mitzvoth since we are supposed to fully enjoy and appreciate the Land of Israel, not just the spiritual aspect, but also the material aspect. The Torah states that Israel is better than any other land. We especially see this in the beauty of the country, the produce, Dead Sea mud and salt etc.

When Avram made aliya, he knew that he would be rising spiritually, but he didn’t even know for sure which land he would be going to.

Throughout the history of the State of Israel, olim have left friends and family behind and immigrated to Israel from all over the world. What all of these olim have in common is that they sacrificed a lot in order to settle the Land of Israel.

God never said that aliya would be easy. God said that aliya would be in our best interests.


The Conversions of Avraham and Sarah Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Avraham and Sarah, the first Jewish people were the first converts to Judaism.

An integral part in the conversion process is the Brit Milah (circumcision) for men and the changing of the name for both men and women. Both of these acts bring the convert into the covenant in the same way that a new baby is brought in.

As the first Jews, Avraham and Sarah merited the honor of having their names changed by God.

Avraham's name was changed from Avram (father of one nation) to Avraham (father of many nations). The letter "hey" (from God's name) was added to complete Avraham's name.

Sarah's name is changed from Sarai (my ruler) to Sarah (ruler of everyone). The letter "yud" is removed from her name and is replaced by the letter "hey".

Converts today have the opportunity to choose their own Jewish names. In formal legal documents their "spiritual parents" are referred to as Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imenu.

Aside from their own conversions, Avraham and Sarah helped others to convert as well.

In Parshat Lech Lecha, Breisheet 12:5 we read: "Avram took his wife Sarai, Lot his brother's son, all of their possessions that they had acquired and the souls that they made (asher asu) in Charan. They set out to go to the land of C'naan. They came to the land of C'naan."

Rashi comments on the words "aher asu b'Charan"- the souls that they made in Charan: "The souls that Avraham and Sarah brought under the protective wings of the Shechinah (Divine Presence). According to Breisheet Raba 39:14, Avraham would convert the men and Sarah would convert the women. Scripture considers them as if they had "made" them."

In my many experiences working with converts, the sincerity of those who completed the entire process never ceased to amaze me. These sincere converts are the Avraham's and Sarah's of our generation and should be looked up to and respected.

Who Was Malki Tzedek? Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2005

In Parshat Lech Lecha, Breisheet 14:18, Avraham encounters Malki Tzedek (King of Justice), Melech Shalem (King of Shalem), Kohen L'El Elyon (a priest of the the Highest God). Malki Tzedek gave Avraham bread and wine and blessed Avraham. Avraham in turn blessed him back and gave him maaser (charity).

Who is Malki Tzedek? Where is Shalem? Why is Avraham accepting food and blessings from him and why is Avraham giving him charity?

According to Eben Ezra, Malki Tzedek is the king of the place of justice meaning Jerusalem. Jerusalem is known as the City of Justice in the book of Yishayahu.

Ramban points out that in the days of Yehoshua, the King of Jerusalem was known as Adoni Tzedek (Master of Justice).

Radak adds that Jerusalem is known as the city of Justice and peace and it will not tolerate "chamas", theft and immoral acts.

In the book of Tehillim (Psalms 76:3) the city of Jerusalem is referred to as Shalem , "In Shalem is set His Tabernacle".

We can conclude that Malki Tzedek was probably not his real name. The Midrash (Targum Yonatan) tells us that Malki Tzedek was actually Shem. Shem was Noach's son (Avraham's long lost ancestor). He was a kohen who only served the Highest God (Hashem) and did not worship idols. It was therefore fitting for Avraham to accept food, wine and blessings from him.

Today we must strive to abide by the highest standards and maintain justice and peace in the city of Jerusalem and throughout the world.