Can the Friends We Choose Elevate Us Spiritually?

Written by Deborah Scheinberg on . Posted in Torah

Each year at this time, as the holiday of Purim approaches, I begin to refer to my friend Esther as “Queen Esther” I have been very blessed to have found friends who have taught me about generosity, charity, and chesed (kindness). Sometimes I think that by the grace of G-d, they found me! These women have pointed me toward a path of living a noble and enriching life through the mitzvot they perform and the glee with which they do so. While I am a total work-in-progress, these women encourage my growth and my choices.

I came across excerpts from an essay called “Friends for Life” on the website (March 2008) written by Rabbi Dan Roth. He writes about what the Mishnah says regarding the purpose of having a friend: “The purpose of making a friend is to have someone to learn from and grow spiritually, someone who will encourage you to keep the mitzvot properly and point out areas that need improvement should you fail.” Rabbi Roth says that we should look for friends who are at a level above ourselves. “A friend should be someone who will inspire us to grow and whose traits we wish to emulate,” he says. The Mishnah teaches us that we must “buy a friend in order to keep a friend for life.”

Don’t Let Purim Be a Day of Waste

Written by Rabbi Jonathan Gross on . Posted in Torah

“What a waste.” That was how Haman convinced Achashverosh to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:8). Haman appealed to Achashveirosh’s sense of efficiency. What a waste to have a nation like the Jews that serves no beneficial purpose. The kingdom would be better off if we got rid of them.

Waste is a theme throughout the Megillah. The first chapter is about the lavish party that Achashverosh threw for his subjects. When he searched for a queen, thousands of women were rounded up and marinated in oil and spices for a year, all for a single night with the king. After their audition, they were sequestered and cared for in a harem for the rest of their lives, presumably at the tax payer’s expense, for the off-chance that one day the king might call for them again.

Mishpatim: The Freedom Imperative

Written by Rabbi Yitzhak Grossman on . Posted in Torah

In Parashas Mishpatim, the Torah declares that if a Hebrew servant declines to leave his life of servitude at the end of his term, “his master shall bore his ear through with an awl” (Shemos 21:5-6). Rashi explains that the ear is singled out for the performance of this ritual to underscore that the servant has forgotten what he has heard at Mt. Sinai–– one who sells himself as a servant (and then voluntarily extends his servitude) has forgotten Hashem’s asseveration that Jews are free, and servants to no one but Him: “For unto Me the children of Israel are servants; they are My servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am Hashem your G-d” (Vayikra 25:55).

Hashem’s declaration that Jews are “‘My servants–– and not servants to servants” has various applications throughout the halachah of employment.

Measure for Measure

Written by Rabbi Yonatan Zakem on . Posted in Torah

After the miraculous exodus from Egypt, Moshe is reunited with his family, who has been brought by his father-in-law Yitro. Moshe greets his father-in-law with honor, proceeds to relate everything that has befallen the people of Israel, and enumerates all the kindnesses that Hashem has performed for them. Rejoicing over the news of the rescue and salvation of the Jews, Yitro exclaims: “Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods, for in the very matter in which [the Egyptians] had conspired against them…” (Exodus 18:11). As Rashi explains, Yitro had experienced every manner of idolatry and therefore could definitively declare that Hashem is greater than all other gods. After seeing the manner in which the Egyptians were punished, Yitro recognized that our G-d is greater than all others.

Principles from the Parsha: “Yitro Heard”

Written by Joshua Z. Rokach on . Posted in Torah

The first chapter in this portion tells of Yitro, the high priest of Midian and Moshe’s father-in-law, joining the Children of Israel in the Wilderness and converting to Judaism. The first verse states, “Now Yitro . . . heard all that G-d had done for Israel His people [and even that He] had brought Israel out of Egypt.” Rashi and Ezor Eliyahu ask what, besides the Exodus from Egypt, Yitro had heard about. Rashi questions the lack of detail in the phrase “all that G-d had done.” Ezor Eliyahu wonders what Yitro would need to hear about, besides for the fact that G-d took the Jews out of Egypt. Whatever else happened pales by comparison with the great miracle of redemption.

Principles from Parsha: Bo

Written by Joshua Z. Rokach on . Posted in Torah

“Come to Pharaoh.”

As of last week’s parsha (Torah portion), G-d had already stricken Egypt with seven plagues. Now, Pharaoh follows the same routine. He promises to heed G-d’s word when undergoing the punishment; but when his suffering ends, he reverts to his stubborn refusal to listen. Here, G-d prepares to strike a further blow: swarms of locusts to blight the land of Egypt and devour the vegetation the previous plague, hail, didn’t destroy.

Now this week’s parsha begins with G-d’s command. “Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I could inflict these, my signs, in their midst.” (Shemot 10:1).

This verse lends itself to further analysis. Why does G-d tell Moshe to “come” to Pharaoh, בא, instead of “go” to Pharaoh, לך?

Torah Minute: Parshas Terumah

Written by Rabbi Menachem Winter on . Posted in Torah

Parshas Terumah relates the commandment and undertaking to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Through Moshe, G-d communicates the materials that are to be used as well as precise instructions for the construction. Upon its completion, the Mishkan would be a dwelling place for G-d’s presence. The nation would experience the intimacy of G-d residing in their midst and would be spiritually elevated by this sublime connection.

The most sacred of the vessels, and the focal point of the Mishkan, was the Aron (Ark of the Covenant). The Aron was to be housed in the Holy of Holies, and would contain the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Aron’s cover was to be made of pure gold and feature two cherubim, one on each end of the cover. The verse instructs that the wings of the cherubim “shall spread upward,” and that their faces should be “toward one another.”

Lessons from Yitro: Priorities

Written by Stephan and Meera Miller on . Posted in Torah

There are so many lessons to take from this week’s parsha (Torah portion), it’s overwhelming. Some say this is possibly the most important parsha in the Torah; I find this claim interesting, since this week’s parsha is named after a very important yet not a very well-known character in the Torah. Yitro was Moshe’s father-in-law, and a Midianite priest. He had seven daughters, one of whom became Moshe’s wife Tzipporah. He gave Moshe some great leadership advice. According to a midrash on Tractate Sotah 11a, Yitro was also one of Pharaoh’s advisors during the time they were trying to figure out what to do with the Jews. One of the advisors suggested the “final solution,” the second said nothing, and Yitro advised them to live in peace with them. We all know which advisor Pharaoh listened to, and that is when Yitro fled to Midian.

Shabbat Shira and Hakarat HaTov

Written by Lisi Levisohn on . Posted in Torah

Last Shabbat was Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song. We read the Torah story of the Jewish people crossing the Red Sea when they were escaping from slavery. They must have been so scared to see Pharoh and his army chasing them! But a miracle happened, and the water split so that the Jewish people could walk through, to freedom. They were so happy and free, so they sang.

There is a special custom to feed the birds before Shabbat Shira, but why? One reason is that we want to thank them for teaching us how beautiful it is to sing. When we hear birds singing, we feel grateful for life and for creation. Doesn’t singing make you feel happy, grateful and free?

Kol HaBirah and the Book of Shemot: A New Sefer for a New Newspaper

Written by Alan Fisher on . Posted in Torah

As the Book of Shemot opens, Yosef and his brothers have all died, a new Pharaoh has emerged in Egypt and enslaved Bnei Yisrael, and the Jews have gone through tremendous population growth. The subject of Shemot, Vayeira, Bo and Beshalach is the process of freeing this large group from Pharaoh’s control. While we read these opening chapters, the editorial board of Kol HaBirah is giving birth to a new newspaper for the Greater Washington area’s Jewish community.

According to Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, King David was the first to use the term HaBirah, to describe the Beit HaMikdash. Prior to the time-period of the Purim story, there is no other mention of “birah” in Tanach. To a Jew in the time of Esther, “Kol HaBirah” would mean a lot more than the voice of Washington, DC, the capital–– it would mean the voice of Hashem, from the central focal point of Judaism. Referring to the capital city of Shushan as “HaBirah” in the Megillah is a sarcastic condemnation of the failure of the people of that generation to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Mishkan.  

Crossing the Frontier: Analyzing the timeless symbolism of the Splitting of the Sea

Written by Yitzchak Szyf on . Posted in Torah

Introduction: Reliving the Parsha

The Stropkover Rebbe, on a recent visit to Kemp Mill, Maryland, stressed the importance of reliving the events of the Torah portions that we read each week. In particular, he pointed out that the concepts in the Torah portions of Bo through Ki Tisa, a series which we begin this Shabbos, all echo the holidays in order. Bo discusses leaving Egypt and thereby evokes first days of Pesach; Beshalach has the Splitting of the Sea and represents the last days of Pesach; and so on through the weeks until Parshat Ki Tisa, whose shekalim reminds us of the coins collected in the month Adar and the pieces of silver Haman bid on our destruction in the story of Purim.