The Uncertainty Principle

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

We have all experienced misery, but few people try to understand it.

This week, we learn that the punishment for an accidental murder (i.e., manslaughter) is that the perpetrator is to be exiled to what the Torah calls a city of refuge (ir miklat). What if the accidental murderer (let’s call him Fred) attempts to leave? Let’s say Fred wants to visit his new granddaughter, or go to his nephew’s bar mitzvah.

Being Careful With Our Words

Written by Rabbi Moshe Shields on . Posted in Torah

We are often taught to be careful with what we say. It might be hurtful to others (ona’at dvarim), it might make us look foolish (chilul Hashem), or it might not exactly be true (sheker), so think twice before talking. On top of the social reasons to be careful with what we say, the Torah tells us about shvuah, or an oath, and says that if a person swears that they did or did not do something or swears that they will do or will not do something, the Torah says that we must keep our word or we will have violated one of the mitzvot. So, when we see this week’s parsha (Torah portion) has yet another commandment called “Don’t break your word on a vow” (“Lo yachel dvaro”), it sounds like we have yet another mitzvah telling us the same thing. Be careful with what you say. Why does the Torah repeat itself?

Rabbeinu Bachye on Bamidbar 30:3 on the passuk איש כי ידור נדר לה׳ (when a person makes a vow to Hashem), makes an important distinction between nedarim, or vows, and shavuot. He says that we have the ability to create our realities through our nedarim. I can say that this chocolate bar is so off limits to me that it becomes the equivalent of not kosher for me. I can even say that an object meant for a mitzvah is off limits to me and I may not and cannot perform that mitzvah. If I don’t follow the new reality I have created with my words, I have violated the mitzvah of לא יחל דברו, don’t make your word mundane. This is because our words have the power to create and become a new reality.

Words can make our reality. It can have an upside and help us with a diet (imagine chocolate being not kosher just for you) or make a commitment to do something real, but it has also potential for serious negativity. We can make our items forbidden for anyone else to enjoy merely by making a neder and living a more self-centered life or distance ourselves from a mitzvah through making access to them forbidden by words that we use. We can say that I will never pick up a Tehillim (book of Psalms) again using the language of neder and the Tehillim book will become as unkosher as chocolate.

Each day we hopefully try to make ourselves into better people and we need to realize that the power is often in our mouths to commit to saying or not saying things that will help us become the best Jewish person we can be, since our commitments and the follow-through create much of our reality.

By Rabbi Moshe Shields 


Rabbi Moshe Shields is Middle School principal at Berman and lives with his wife Rachael and five children in the wonderful Olney community.

Lessons From the Spies

Written by Rabbi Hyim Shafner on . Posted in Torah

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, the Jewish people have completed the short trek from Mount Sinai to the Land of Israel. G-d tells them to send the heads of each tribe to scope out the land. After 40 days, the spies return. Ten of the spies bring back a bad report, and though two spies assure the people that with G-d’s help they will be able to go into the Promised Land, the Jewish people, in their cowardice, follow the 10. As a result, they are doomed to spend 40 years in the desert until a new generation of Jews, born in the desert, comes to Israel.

Gambling on the Game of Life

Written by Editor on . Posted in Torah

If we require someone to attend driving school before he is allowed to drive, and flying school before he is allowed to fly, why don’t we require every human being to attend a “school of life”?

All You Need Is Love

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

Believe it or not, there is no specific mitzvah (commandment) to love your parents. You don’t have to love your spouse either — although it’s a good idea — nor are you commanded to love your children. In fact, there is no specific requirement that you even like them very much.

Matzah: Food or Slavery?

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.”

We raise the matzah to announce that we are going to relive the experience of the Jews in Egypt. Try to imagine: What was it like being a slave in Egypt?

Really Needy People

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Miriam dies, and immediately the well that had supplied the Jewish people with water for 40 years ceased to flow. It is from here that we learn that the Jewish people had this well on Miriam’s merit — millions of people depended on her for 40 years.

A Blessing That Brings Us Together

Written by Rabbi Dr. Avidan Milevsky on . Posted in Torah

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, the Torah further describes the travels of the Jewish people in the desert toward Israel and the specific form taken by each tribe along this journey. Midway through the portion, the Torah inserts six seemingly unrelated verses. The disjointed section discusses the commandant of the priestly blessings, Birkat Kohanim. The Torah describes G-d’s commandment to Moshe to speak to Aaron and his children and instruct them in blessing the Jewish people. This was a blessing said in the Temple, and is recreated during our contemporary prayer service on a daily basis in Israel and in exile during the holidays.

What the Talmud Tells Us About Caring for Our Parents

Written by Frank Solomon on . Posted in Torah

The Sages have a lot to say about the difference between dignifying our parents and revering them.

On April 21 at Congregation Har Tzeon Agudath-Achim in Silver Spring, Maryland, Howard Gleckman delivered a lecture on the Jewish view regarding caring for one’s parents, based on Jewish textual sources. Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, is the author of “Caring for Our Parents: Inspiring Stories of Families Seeking New Solutions to America’s Most Urgent Health Care Crisis.”

The Shiva House of a Fallen Soldier on Yom Hazikaron

Written by Rabbi Dr. Avidan Milevsky on . Posted in Torah

In one of the most quoted verses in the Torah, we are commanded in this week’s portion to love our contemporaries as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). In fact, the great Rabbi Akiva notes that this dictum is the greatest instruction of the Torah.

The Ten Plagues and the Seder

Written by Uncle Dovie on . Posted in Torah

What were the makos, the 10 plagues? Were they what Albert Camus describes in his book, “The Plague,” the bubonic type that swept through his French town killing the populace? No, of course not. The plague that slew the first born was selective. It didn’t kill the other brothers and sisters, only the firstborn. It wasn’t contagious, and it happened all at the same time, at the stroke of midnight.