However remote the prospect of acquittal, a Jew must never give up. God commands us to challenge indictment with prayer. And the rabbis urge us to confront sentencing with hunger strikes. And so, the Midrash tells us, when Moses stood before God, at a loss for words with which to defend the sin of the golden calf, God Himself donned a tallit, took to the prayer stand, and showed Moses how to pray and what to say:
The five-year-old boy was in a church in Puerto Rico with his parents. As they and his grandparents were Catholics, that made him Catholic – as far as his young mind could figure.
It would be reasonable to assume that a language that contains the verb “to command” must also contain the verb “to obey.” The one implies the other, just as the concept of a question implies the possibility of an answer. We would, however, be wrong. There are 613 commandments in the Torah, but there is no word in biblical Hebrew that means “to obey.” When Hebrew was revived as a language of everyday speech in the nineteenth century, a word, letsayet, had to be borrowed from Aramaic. Until then there was no Hebrew word for “to obey.”
“A himmel geshrai” is a Yiddish phrase that, loosely translated, means “a tragedy of such catastrophic proportions that the heavens themselves cry out.” Sadly, every one of the letters on family breakdowns I’ve featured these past several weeks can be summed up as “a himmel geshrai.”
The start of the Jewish New Year, the month of Tishrei, is filled with holy days, among them four foundational celebrations: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah-Shemini Atzeret.
Phil and Mike were part of a team of construction workers building a skyscraper in the middle of the city. When it was time for their lunch break they sat down together with their feet dangling twelve stories from the ground. Phil opened his lunch box and peered in, “Peanut butter and jelly?! Again peanut butter and jelly! I have had enough! If I get peanut butter and jelly again tomorrow, so help me I’m going to jump right off this structure.” Mike then opened his lunch box and peered in, “Tuna fish?! Again Tuna fish! I can’t take it anymore. If I have tuna fish for lunch one more time I’m going to jump off with you.”
You will not have much time this week for your gathering - the haftorah is very short, only ten pesukim. (Let me be clear. I most certainly do not support Kiddush Clubs for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the what should be obvious lowliness of leaving a shul minyan to go and have a whiskey party, and not being able to wait until after davening. Despite efforts to combat these gatherings, I know they still exist and figured I would warn “the guys” about the brevity of this week’s haftorah.)
As the year is coming to an end, with endless days filled with doing the very same commandments, we besiege G-d on each remaining day, asking for one vital ingredient for the one yet to come: May we never get used to our routine.
A Two Way Street? ‘Joining Geulah To Tefillah Is Preferable’ (Berachos 30a)
The Talmud asserts that the rebellious son of the verse below never existed and never will. Nonetheless, the Torah relates this law to advise parents in the most difficult of issues – raising children. To Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, the law and its lessons help reveal Israel's greatness.
The pasuk from which most of the halachos of gittin (divorce) are derived is in this week’s parshah. The pasuk says: “Ki yikach ish isha… vechasav lah sefer kerisus v’nasan b’yadah veshilchah mi’beiso – If a man marries a woman … and he wrote her a bill of divorce and placed it in her hand and sent her from his house” (Devarim 24:1).
Question: What should the chazzan do when he reaches Kedushah and Modim? Some chazzanim say every word of Kedushah out loud and some only say the last part of the middle two phrases out loud. As far as the congregation is concerned, some congregants say every word of Kedushah and some say only the last part. Finally, some chazzanim and congregants say Modim during chazaras hashatz out loud and some say it quietly. What is the source for these various practices? A Devoted Reader (Via E-Mail)
Over the past several weeks I have featured tragic stories of family disintegration. Some of you might protest that “tragic” is a rather extreme word and that “sad” or “painful” would be more appropriate, but once again I emphasize tragic.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness...” (Dr. Martin Luther King).
I felt ill at ease in a strange way when our daughter drove off in our old Dodge Caravan to pick up my son from yeshiva. She was new at the wheel, and there was plenty of traffic to maneuver around in Lakewood on Friday afternoons. An innocent, precious neshamah in my eyes who didn’t belong on the busy roads, she wanted to help out. So when I was called later to the scene of the accident, the One Above seemed to confirm that my assessment had been totally accurate.
It is hard to believe that Elul is upon us and that the Day of Judgment is only one month away. In a short 30 days we must face our Creator and have our deeds evaluated in the hopes of a receiving a merciful blessing for a good and healthy year. We spend the month of Elul focused on repentance, and we learn the holy books of mussar to inspire us to grow and change.
Mr. Morris was home one evening, when an acquaintance, Mr. Roth, knocked at his door. "May I have a word with you?" Mr. Roth asked. "Certainly, come in," Mr. Morris said, welcoming him into the living room. "Perhaps you've forgotten," Mr. Roth began, "but last year I lent you $500, which you never repaid." Mr. Morris scratched his head and thought for a moment. "I never borrowed from you," he replied.
No Cell Phones Please! ‘A Kerchief That One Designated For Storing Tefillin’ (Berachos 23)
Question: I understand that at a minyan, the chazzan is required to repeat Shemoneh Esreh out loud so that people who may not know how to daven can fulfill their obligation to daven with the chazzan’s repetition. What, however, should the chazzan do when he reaches Kedushah and Modim? I hear some chazzanim say every word of Kedushah out loud and some only say the last part of the middle two phrases out loud. As far as the congregation is concerned, I hear some congregants say every word of Kedushah and some say only the last part. Finally, some chazzanim and congregants say Modim during chazaras hashatz out loud and some say it quietly. What is the source for these various practices? A Devoted Reader (Via E-Mail)
In this week’s parshah the Torah discusses the halachos of eidim zomimim. The Gemara in Makkos 2a explains that eidim zomimim is when one set of two or more witnesses testifies against someone, and another set of witnesses testifies that the first set of witnesses was with them and therefore could not have known their testimony. The Torah says that the later set of witnesses is believed and the testimony of the first set of witnesses is disqualified.
There is a fascinating detail in the passage about the king in this week’s parshah. The text says that, “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he must write for himself a copy of this Torah on a scroll before the levitical priests” (Deuteronomy 17:18). He must “read it all the days of his life” so that he will be God-fearing and never break Torah law. But there is also another reason: so that he will “not begin to feel superior to his brethren” (Kaplan translation), “so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers” (Robert Alter). The king had to have humility. The highest in the land should not feel that he is the highest in the land.
For the past several weeks this column has featured letters from parents who have experienced rejection and hatred from their children – as well as my suggestions on how to cope with such situations. This week I would like to share a letter that adds another dimension to the breakdown of so many families in our community. In this instance it’s not the children who have rejected the parents but a parent who has rejected her child.
The other night, after having a truly bad day where nothing seemed to go right, I jokingly changed my Facebook status to “I have had one of those awful, miserable, terrible days! And there is NO chocolate in the house!”