Shevat and the Land of Israel 5779

Now that we are in the month of Shevat I would like to continue my theme of the laws of the land of Israel.  The seventh year of the agricultural cycle, is known as Shmittah, the Sabbatical year. In Israel, no new crops are planted and only maintenance work is done on crops and trees that already exist. Farmers may not sell their produce or prevent people (or animals) from ...

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Why All the Hype?

In this week’s Torah portion, VaEra, and in the Passover prayers and Haggadah, we emphasize the miraculous nature of the Exodus from Egypt. Moses’ staff became a snake, ten terrifying plagues punished the Egyptians, the Red Sea split for the Jews but drowned Pharaoh’s army and on and on. It does not appear however, that all of these miracles were necessary to expedite the redemption. God could have ended our ...

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The Tenth of Tevet

The fast day of the 10th of Tevet is approaching, so before I discuss its history, just a brief introduction to the idea of fasting in general. Six days a year we are forbidden to eat or drink.  About eighty days of the year we are commanded to feast — a 13 to 1 ratio of feasting to fasting.  Rather than being ascetic, Judaism clearly rejoices in life and seeks ...

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Chanukah Celebration!

Chanukah is a celebration of the miracle of Jewish spiritual survival.  After millennia of attempts to assimilate us, whether through force or persuasion, we are still here.   But, it is not mere physical survival that we celebrate.  After all, the genes of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks have also physically survived.  The miracle of Jewish survival is that we have survived with our spiritual heritage intact.  When we ...

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Chanukah Background

Chanukah begins on Sunday night (Dec 2, 2018) so here is a little historical introduction to the Chanukah festival, to which we will hopefully add some spiritual insights in the coming weeks. Approximately 200 years before the events of Chanukah, hundreds of thousands of Jews returned from the Babylonian exile to the Land of Israel.  In time, they rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem and established an independent Jewish monarchy.  Meanwhile in ...

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Jacob's Ladder

Visions of G-d?

In this week’s parsha, VaYetzei, Jacob has a vision of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, on which angels ascend and descend.  At the top of the ladder, in his dream, he “sees” G-d standing over him.  Now, there are many, many prophetic visions in the Torah, and many expressions that seem to assign some type of form or even body to G-d.  We always understand these as allegory and ...

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The Soul, Mourning and the Afterlife

In this week’s parsha, Abraham mourns the passing of his wife, Sarah, and we, in the Jeiwsh world also are mourning the tragic deaths of eleven innocent Jews, gunned down by a rabid anti-Semite in Pittsburgh.  I felt that it would be appropriate, for both ancient and current mourning to discuss some ideas about the soul, death, and the afterlife.  The Jewish view of the human being encompasses both physical ...

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Clothes Maketh the Man or Woman (or do they?)

It is almost impossible to avoid media discussions about the clothes of the latest star in the British royal family.  A segment of a talk show is dedicated to this, newspaper articles, blogs and twitter feeds dwell on the most minute details of the royals’ fashion choices.  So, I thought that a few words may be in order regarding Judaism’s attitude to clothing, modesty and beauty. He has told you, O ...

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Lech Lecha – Go to…Israel!

The first words of G-d to Abraham are a commandment for him to go to Israel, Aliyah.  Aliyah has been cherished dream of Jews throughout the centuries.  In fact the very word aliyah means to “go up” because the Jewish people have always regarded moving to Israel as an ascent, an act of spiritual elevation. At times, this dream was realized, but more often, circumstances prevented it becoming anything more ...

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New Moon, New Month, New Festival

This week we will be celebrating the first Rosh Chodesh, New Month, of the new year. The concepts and lessons contained in the Jewish calendar are so central to our belief that it is necessary to teach and emphasize them regularly.  One of the ways in which Jewish tradition makes us aware of the cycle of the calendar and brings home its messages is by celebrating every new moon, Rosh ...

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