At Home with the Mezuzah

(Mostly from my book, Gateway to Judaism) Now that I have been at home for over a week, teaching via Zoom, communicating via WhatsApp, not negotiating the traffic on the George Washington Bridge, I have had the time to look around our house.  The symbol that looks back at me from virtually every door is the mezuzah.  So, I thought it would be relevant to offer a few ideas about the ...

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Being Happy, Even Now

Despite the coronavirus concerns and despite all the hardships that so many people are experiencing, we are still in the month of Adar, the month of joy. It may sound strange to speak of simcha, happiness, at this time, but it makes pragmatic and religious sense.  This is especially true for those who are now homebound.  Will you be a better spouse, parent, sibling, child, caregiver if you are happier? ...

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Celebrating Under the Influence

One of the most peculiar laws of Purim is the obligation to drink wine, and even become intoxicated.  As the Talmud states, “A person is obligated to become inebriated on Purim, until he does not know the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman.’”  Excessive drinking is frowned upon by Jewish law, yet here it appears that the law specifically advocates drinking.  Clearly, a person may not become ...

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Tranquility and Tefillah

I was recently in Amsterdam where I was scholar in residence for a community Shabbaton. It was a wonderful experience, but hectic and exhausting as well. I arrived at Schiphol Airport at 6.15am in order to allow time to daven shacharis (pray the morning service) at the airport.  Thank G-d I was able to find a quiet space in an airport lounge, and although I am usually a little tense ...

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Survivor, Persia!

We will be celebrating the festival of Purim very soon, so I would like to give you an overview of the history, background and significance of this festival.  The Purim story begins about 900 years after the Exodus from Egypt.  The Jews had been living in Israel continually, since they first entered with Joshua.  For 410 years, King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem had been the focal point of Jewish spiritual ...

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Person to Person

The Ten Commandments were inscribed on two tablets, on the first tablet, were five statements about the relationship between a person and his or her creator (God and  parents).  The second five focus on the relationship between a person and his or her peers. The design of the tablets teaches us, that in order to be complete, people must cultivate proper relationships with their peers just as much as they ...

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The Ties That Bind

As different as the Super Bowl and the Siyum Hashas were, they nevertheless shared one thing in common: The desire of the human for connection and unity.  It is our belief that since the human soul was created with a similarity to Hashem and with the obligation to increase and cultivate that similarity, it therefore seeks out Oneness.  Hashem, as the Shema states, is One – He is uniquely one, ...

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Giving a Donation to Yourself

We are now in the month of Shevat and approaching the onset of spring, heralded by TuBishvat.   I would like to discuss some of the unique mitzvot that apply in the land of Israel. Many of the various tithes and agricultural taxes follow the seven cycle of the the Sabbbatical year, Shemitta.  In the seventh year of the agricultural cycle, Shmittah, no new crops are planted and only maintenance work is ...

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What Does the Exodus Have to Do With It?

Usually, we classify the mitzvot, commandments, of the Torah into commandments that pertain to our relationship with Hashem and commandments that pertain to our relationship with other people. There are some who had a third category, the commandments that govern the relationship between body and soul, in other relationship with the self. When we think about the commandment to remember the Exodus, we would be inclined to define it as being ...

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Divine Destiny and Egyptian Guilt

One of the famous questions that is asked regarding the Exodus from Egypt and the whole issue of the slavery of the Jews in Egypt is that, indeed G-d had actually told Abraham that his children would be slaves in a foreign land, he predicted the exile, He said the Jews would be enslaved. If so, the commentaries ask, then the Egyptians should not get punished, because they were fulfilling ...

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