On Happiness

What is the meaning of happiness? How do we achieve it? It appears from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavoh, that happiness is a major value and indeed is looked at as a duty as well. The Torah tells us that one of the reasons for G-d punishing the Jewish people was that they did not serve Him with the appropriate amount of joy, Simcha. How do we understand Simcha? There ...

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Are You Listening?

As we approach Rosh Hashana and anticipate the blowing of the shofar during prayers, I would like to present five different shofar soundings from our history. The sixth will be, G-d willing, the shofar that heralds the redemption and the Mashiach. Shofar During the Inquisition - Sefer HaTodaah, Rosh Hashanah, Eliyahu KiTov Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain, expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492. It was the ...

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For The Shofar Blows for Thee…

The month of Ellul just began this week, heralding in the period of prayer and repentance culminating in Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.  It is the custom of Ashkenazim to sound the shofar every weekday morning during this month, and the custom of Sephardim to say special Selichot prayers early every morning.  The central commandment of Rosh Hashanah, and the defining feature of this festival in the Torah is the ...

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Rosh Chodesh Ellul – The New Month

This week we will be celebrating the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar, Ellull.  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, ...

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The Ninth of Av

The fast of the Ninth of Av, Tisha B’Av, is the most famous and the most stringent of all the fasts relating to the destruction of the Temple and the Exile.  The very first tragedy to occur on this day took place soon after the Exodus from Egypt.  The Jewish people sent spies to the Land of Israel, in preparation for its conquest.  When the spies returned with a discouraging ...

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The Light in the Darkness

Despite the dreadful, heartbreaking nature of Tisha B’Av, an element of happiness is concealed within it.  Tisha B’Av  is called a mo’ed,  meaning festival, and certain prayers associated with sadness that are omitted on happy occasions are, in fact, not said on this day.  What is the source of the joy that lightens our mourning on Tisha B’Av?  Some commentaries explain that it springs from the knowledge that eventually, at ...

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17th of Tammuz – Broken Tablets and Burnt Scrolls

The Seventeenth of Tammuz, this coming Sunday, occurs exactly three weeks before Tisha B’Av and is the next most significant fast day.  The Mishnah states: Five things happened to our ancestors on the 17th of Tammuz — The First Tablets were broken, the daily offering ceased, the walls of Jerusalem were breached, the evil Apostomus burnt a Torah scroll, and an idol was set up in the Sanctuary. The first calamity to ...

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This is the Statute of the Torah

The Torah reading for this week begins with an intricate series of laws regarding purity, impurity and purification. This involved many details which appear to some to be, excessive, a complaint commonly heard about Jewish law in general. I would like to explain one idea behind all this detail: consistency. Consistency is much more difficult to achieve than one might expect. Imagine someone waking up one morning and making a firm ...

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Kaddish

I recently observed the Yarhzeit (yearly anniversary of the passing of a relative) of my mother, of blessed memory.  Part of the observance is saying Kaddish, a prayer that is said by mourners and by the prayer leader.  Kaddish  was instituted almost 2,000 years ago and is mentioned in numerous places in the Mishnah and Talmud.  Kaddish is written in Aramaic, the spoken language of the Jews in Israel and ...

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The Mitzvah of Knowing Truth

There is a popular misconception that “Judaism is not a religion of dogma” and that it makes no demands on belief.  However, it is clear from the Torah itself that there are obligations of the intellect as well as obligations of action.  In this week’s Parsha, Yitro,  we find the following, famous statements. I am the Lord your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the ...

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