The start of the school year had already passed. Our youngest son was waiting for community leaders to determine what should be done for the students of his beloved school that had recently fallen apart due to lack of funds. The result turned out to be better than anyone could have ever expected.
After Reb Elimelech had restored the glory of his colleague, Reb Shmelkeh of Nikolsburg, he departed home to Lizhensk. He was en route when a voice descended from Heaven and proclaimed, “In the merit of your helping Reb Shmelkeh you have the privilege of blessing whomever you desire during the next 24 hours. And your blessing will be fulfilled.”
A long drama had taken place. Moses had led the people from slavery to the beginning of the road to freedom. The people themselves had witnessed G-d at Mount Sinai, the only time in all history when an entire people became the recipients of revelation. Then came the disappearance of Moses for his long sojourn at the top of the mountain, an absence which led to the Israelites’ greatest collective sin, the making of the Golden Calf. Moses returned to the mountain to plead for forgiveness, which was granted.
The first and only time I said I was a rabbi was also the first and only time I had a gun pointed at me. What led me to that moment was my need to stay on the Upper West Side for a Shabbos and a hospitality committee that arranged for me to stay with a man who lived in the former janitor’s apartment on the fifth floor of a synagogue.
Framing the epic events of this week’s sedrah are two objects: the two sets of tablets – the first given before, and the second after, the sin of the Golden Calf. Of the first, we read: “The tablets were the work of G-d; the writing was the writing of G-d, engraved on the tablets.”
There were three names with brief bios on the list. All had similar qualities and were within the correct age and frumkeit range. With nothing to distinguish one from the others, we could have enlisted the tried-and-true option of “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…” Instead, we decided to base our decision on practical and geographic considerations. So we opted to go with the candidate from Teaneck, New Jersey, reasonably close in proximity to our son’s apartment in Edison.
Like many children, some of my grandchildren tended to rush through the berachot they recited each day. Somehow, the first few words were inclined to run together. The last few words often got swallowed up, especially those that were part of berachot made before eating something they really liked.
As soon as we read the opening lines of Terumah we begin the massive shift from the intense drama of the exodus with its signs and wonders and epic events, to the long, detailed narrative of how the Israelites constructed the Mishkan.
Wherever the term “and these” is used, it signals continuity. Just as the commands in Parshat Yitro were given at Sinai, so too were the commands in Parshat Mishpatim. Why are the civil laws in the beginning of Parshat Mishpatim placed in juxtaposition to the laws concerning the altar at the end of Parshat Yitro? To tell you to place the Sanhedrin near to the Temple.
Reb Elimelech was concerned for every Jew but himself. Even when he was physically assaulted by an over-zealous misnagid, his reaction was typical: “Master of the Universe, I forgive him with my whole heart. Let no man be punished on my behalf.” But when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was persecuted, Rabbi Elimelech rallied to support him. He was always there on behalf of others.
To be honest, I never really understand what’s happening on the screen during an ultrasound scan. But on this visit the technician was strangely quiet. I looked at the screen. “How come you’re not showing me everything?” I asked. “It’s all still there, isn’t it?” I asked jokingly.
It is very important for Jews to first help family, then other Jews close to us, then Jews not as close. Next, if possible and appropriate, Jews should help those of any race or creed.
The revelation at Mount Sinai – the central episode not only of parshat Yitro, but of Judaism as a whole – was unique in the religious history of mankind.
Is it just me? Maybe it’s the aging factor. The shorter days perhaps? Somehow by the time the day is done there is still so much left to do. This nagging sensation becomes even more acute right before the end of the year when you know you’ll soon need to give a din v’cheshbon and will, in all likelihood, come up short.
The Song at the Sea was one of the great epiphanies of history. The sages said that even the humblest of Jews saw at that moment what even the greatest of prophets didn’t. For the first time they broke into collective song – a song we recite every day.
As night fell and Shabbat drew to a close, a minyan gathered in my sister’s home in Manchester, England.
We were literally in “seventh” heaven. The Sabbatical year in Eretz Yisrael was almost too good to be true. My husband was enjoying a rare break from his hectic schedule of teaching and administrating and was thrilled to be able to instead sit on the other side of the desk, quenching his perpetual thirst for knowledge. The entire family felt blessed to have so much heretofore unheard of quality time with Abba, while living in the Promised Land and participating in frequent exciting family activities and touring opportunities with the program. We unanimously agreed that our proverbial cup had indeed runneth over.
Throughout all Egypt the dust turned into lice. But when the magicians tried to produce lice by their secret arts, they could not. The lice attacked men and animals alike. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of G-d.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen.
It was when Reb Elimelech assumed the leadership of the chassidic movement that the Austrian Kaiser decreed that before a woman may wed, a tax of 400 golden coins must be paid to the government. This tax was far too exorbitant for the commoner to pay and many feared that they would never be able to marry off their daughters.
The sedra of Shemot, in a series of finely etched vignettes, paints a portrait of the life of Moses, culminating in the moment at which G-d appears to him in the bush that burns without being consumed. It is a key text of the Torah view of leadership, and every detail is significant. I want here to focus on just one passage in the long dialogue in which G-d summons Moses to undertake the mission of leading the Israelites to freedom – a challenge which, no less than four times, Moses declines. I am unworthy, he says. I am not a man of words. Send someone else. It is the second refusal, however, which attracted special attention from the sages and led them to formulate one of their most radical interpretations.
Once a week or so some of my friends and I get together for activities and a little socializing. Over time I have gone through some personal changes and growth, and I sometimes feel out of place with these girls, some of whom I have known for years. I experienced a real struggle during a recent get-together that will surely have a long-lasting impact on me.
Having faith is often difficult, especially when having to deal with more than one life challenge.
The drama of younger and older brothers, which haunts the book of Bereishit from Cain and Abel onwards, reaches a strange climax in the story of Joseph’s children. Jacob is nearing the end of his life. Joseph visits him, bringing with him his two sons, Manasheh and Ephraim. It is the only scene of grandfather and grandchildren in the book. Jacob asks Joseph to bring them near so that he can bless them. What follows next is described in painstaking detail:
It was the last week of the summer season that I would spend in my upstate home. I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend, although a busy week of cleaning and closing up the house for the year was in store.
Joseph is now the ruler of Egypt. The famine he predicted has come to pass. It extends beyond Egypt to the land of Canaan. Seeking to buy food, Joseph’s brothers make the journey to Egypt. They arrive at the palace of the man in charge of grain distribution: