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The Intricacies Of Selichos

There is a custom to say Selichos before Rosh Hashanah. Sephardim have the custom to say Selichos during the entire month of Elul, while Ashkenazim follow the custom of the Ramah (Orach Chaim 581:1) to only say Selichos for a minimum of four days prior to Rosh Hashanah – beginning with Motzaei Shabbos. The Ramah quotes from the Kol Bo that certain communities had the custom that the ba’al tefillah should also be the chazzan for the remainder of the day. The Magen Avraham explains that this is because of the general rule that when one begins a mitzvah he should complete it.

‘Personally Unique’

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.”

Ki Seitzei – Kiddush Clubs Beware!

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.)

Ki Tetzei: The Rebellious Son

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.

Divorce And Monetary Documents

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).

Living With The Past, Not In It

“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).

Eidim Zomimim: Conspiring Witnesses

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.

Greatness Is Humility

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.

The Politics Of Freedom

Having set out the broad principles of the covenant, Moses now turns to the details, which extend over many chapters and several parshiyot. The long review of the laws that will govern Israel in its land begin and end with Moses posing a momentous choice.

Kavanah In Davening

In this week’s parshah the Torah gives us the mitzvah of tefillah – davening to Hashem – for as the pasuk says, “oso sa’avod – you shall serve Him.” The Torah repeats this mitzvah several times, with another mention further in this week’s parshah: “uleavdo bechal levavchem – serve Him with all of your heart.” The Sifri explains that one serves with his heart by means of tefillah.

The Morality Of Love

Something implicit in the Torah from the very beginning becomes explicit in the book of Devarim. God is the God of love. More than we love Him, He loves us. Here, for instance, is the beginning of this week’s parshah: “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love [et ha-brit ve-et ha-chessed] with you, as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers” (Deuteronomy 7:12-13).

Parshas VaEschanan: ‘Wholeheartedly’

Harav Matisyahu Salomon, the Lakewood Mashgiach, once related the following personal story: “When I was a young man I was a student in the Gateshead Yeshiva. The yeshiva had a 125 students - not large quantitatively, but qualitatively tremendous. The building was fairly small and the tables were so narrow that the volumes of Gemara overlapped each other. If a student wanted to turn the page he had to ask everyone around him to lift their Gemaras first. Yet despite it all we studied with tremendous diligence.

Comfort And Consolation

We’ve all seen the ads in the papers. Shabbos Nachamu is one of the biggest getaway weekends of the entire “frum” summer. There has long been a long-standing American tradition for people to go up to the mountains for Shabbos Nachamu.

Numbers Don’t Tell The Story

Near the end of Parshas Va’etchanan, so inconspicuously that we can sometimes miss it, is a statement with such far-reaching implications that it challenges the impression that has prevailed thus far in the Torah, giving an entirely new complexion to the biblical image of the people Israel:

Remembering Har Sinai

In this week’s parshah Moshe Rabbeinu recounts ma’mad Har Sinai – the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai. Additionally, the Torah warns us earlier in the parshah not to forget the revelation that we witnessed at Har Sinai, for as the pasuk says: “Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Devarim 4:9).

Devarim: Like The Sand Of The Sea

Moshe's blessing to the nation of Israel is interesting in that a similar blessing, which Hashem had given Avraham and Yizchak, had already been fulfilled. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, observes that among the greastest blessings is abundant offspring, and therefore this blessing was particularly auspicious – even the third time around.

The Aveilus Of Tisha B’Av Week

One may not perform several actions during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls. This is referred to as shavua she’chal bo. For example, one may not take a haircut or wash his clothing (Ashkenazi Jews are forbidden in these actions prior to the week of Tisha B’Av in accordance with the ruling of the Ramah). The Mechaber (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 551: 4) writes that in a year when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos and is pushed off to Sunday (as it does this year) there is a machlokes as to whether there are any prohibitions during the week before Tisha B’Av. The Mechaber seemingly sides with the view that there are no halachos of shavua she’chal bo in such circumstances.

Preempting The Death Penalty

In this week’s parshah the Torah writes about a prohibition on killing a murderer prior to his trial. As the pasuk says: “…v’lo yamus harotzeach ad amdo lifnei haeidah lamishpat – … so that the murderer will not die until he stands before the assembly for judgment” (Bamidbar 35:12). The same rule applies to anyone who commits an aveirah that is punishable by death; no one is permitted to kill him prior to his trial in beis din, including the witnesses that warned him and witnessed the aveirah. The Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah 409) writes that if one kills a transgressor prior to his trial, he is regarded as a murderer.

Matos-Masei: Virtue Of Men, Virtue Of Nations

In the confrontation between Israel and Midian, the Torah reveals the great void of virtue that separated the two nations. While Israel had fallen to great depths in the challenge of the Peor, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, points out that it had risen again to great heights in the ensuing battle against a nation steeped in immorality.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

During The Three Weeks between 17 Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, as we recall the destruction of the Temples, we read three of the most searing passages in the prophetic literature, the first two from the opening of the book of Jeremiah, the third, next week, from the first chapter of Isaiah.

The Three Weeks – Realizing What We Are Missing

The story is told of a Chassidic Rebbe who stayed one night in the attic of a simple farmer. Promptly at chatzos (midnight) the Rebbe sat on the floor and began saying Tikkun Chatzos (a prayer said most nights by pious individuals, mourning the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.) Immediately, a fountain of tears began to flow from his eyes, as he unabashedly mourned our great loss. Soon, his crying became so loud that it aroused the farmer and his wife from their sleep. The concerned farmer quickly knocked on the door and asked if everything is okay. The Rebbe answered that he is simply mourning the Bais Hamikdash.

Parshat Pinchas

When national tragedy struck on November 22, 1963 Vice President Lyndon Johnson was inadequately prepared to assume the presidency. The Kennedy people had done their best to sideline him throughout the first three years of JFK’s term. Thus, he was not in the know in regards to many of the important initiatives Kennedy had proposed, but that would now become his responsibility. Additionally, there was substantial personal ill will between LBJ and Kennedy’s people - especially JFK’s younger brother Bobby, the attorney general.

Pinchas: Zealous For Hashem

“Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aharon the kohen turned away my wrath from upon the sons of Israel by his zeal for my sake in their midst; and I did not bring destruction upon the sons of Israel because of my jealousy. Therefore, say, behold, I give to him my covenant of peace” (25:11-2). This is a special proclamation of acclaim. Though Moshe certainly approved of Pinchas, Hashem here teaches the necessity to render public recognition to the righteous.

The Claim Of The Daughters Of Tzelaphchad

The Gemara in Baba Basra 119b relays the following conversation that took place in this week’s parshah: Moshe Rabbeinu was teaching the halachos of yibum when the daughters of Tzelaphchad approached him with the following question: Our father died in the midbar and did not have any sons. Why then is our mother not required to fulfill the obligation of yibum? And if the fact that he had daughters is the reason that she is not obligated to fulfill this requirement, why then can we (his daughters) not receive an inheritance – just like sons would?

Balak: The Attempted Takeover

We often sit through the haftorah wondering, “Why do we read the haftorah anyway?” Krias HaTorah of the parsha makes sense—we read a portion of the Chumash each week so that we finish the entire Torah over the course of the year. But we’re not reading a portion of Navi each week so that we can finish all of it on some kind of schedule.

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