When giving over the word of Hashem to the Jewish people we usually find that Moshe spoke to the Bnei Yisrael directly. Our Parsha begins with Moshe teaching us about the laws of Nedarim. It is interesting that it does not say וידבר משה אל בני ישראל לאמר rather it says ‘וידבר משה אל ראשי המטות לבני ישראל לאמר  זה הדבר אשר צוה ה. We see that Moshe spoke to the leaders of the Jewish people and not to the Jewish people directly. We also see that the leaders are referred to as ראשי מטות and not simply as ראשי שבטי ישראל. The Seforim explain the terminology of the word מטות or מטה,refers to Hashem being  מטה the world, that He can do with the world as He wants. Similarly, a tzaddik has the koach of the מטה אלהים, to tilt the ways of Hashem in our favor. Moshe was telling the leaders of the Jewish people: You need to be מטות to the Bnei Yisrael, you need to tilt things in their favor.

When one makes a neder, many times it stems from anger or pride or other unhealthy habits. Therefore, Chazal distance us from making nedarim and likens the making of a neder to making a sacrifice to Avoda Zara or to שחוטי חוץ, bringing a korban that was slaughtered outside of the Machane.

Why would the seemingly trivial act of making a neder be likened to such grave sins?

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There is a minhag not to have the same  person be honored as a Sandek twice in one family. The Rama quotes the Maharil who likens a sandek to a Kohen who brings the ketores in the mikdash. The ketores was considered an important mitzvah and was a segulah for wealth. In order to create a fair society amongst the Kohanim,  they created a system so that no kohen should be able to bring the ketores more than once. During the daily gorel they would announce that only those Kohanim who have not bought the ketores should participate in the gorel.

Similarly, being Sandek at a Bris is a segulah for wealth and like the Kohen offering Ketores, it is limited to once per family.

But why is bringing a baby to the Bris likened to offering Ketores? What is the deeper connection between the Bris Mila and Ketores which causes us to equate them?

To understand the power of Ketores, let’s first take a look at the Parsha. After Korach and his cohorts are punished for their rebellion, Bnei Yisroel complained that Moshe and Aharon were responsible for killing the nation of Hashem. As a result, Hashem sends a plague to punish the Jewish people.

Moshe tells Aharon to offer Ketores to atone for the Jewish people. Why did Moshe suddenly pull out the Ketores? What is the connection to the impending plague? The Gemara explains that when Moshe was on Har Sinai to receive the Torah, each of the Malachim presented Moshe with a gift. Even the Malach Hamaves gave Moshe a gift, teaching Moshe the secret that Ketores has the ability to stop a plague. When Aharon burnt the Ketores amongst the Jewish people, the Malach Hamaves halted in his tracks, bringing the plague to its end.

What is the unique power of Ketores that it can stop a plague, even when the Jewish people seemingly deserved to be punished?

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It was at my grandfather’s funeral that I first noticed the unique gravestone. My grandfather was a world traveller in his days at the Merchant Marines. He had many stories of coming into contact with Kamikaze suicide pilots and transporting Nazi prisoners of war. He also was active in the transportation of thousands of Jews from the ravages of Europe to the shores of Israel. After the war, he returned to his hometown of Buffalo with his wife and stayed there to raise his family.

He had many ups and downs during his lifetime, but through it all he remained a simple and committed Jew. He was proud, yet unassuming. He lived a simple life. He died a simple Jew. Through his simpleness, he raised children and grandchildren who became leaders in their communities and are spreading his message of simplicity.

When I first saw that gravestone, I was immediately struck by the uniqueness of it. The average gravestone is a single stone monument with a short inscription about the deceased. This was different. It had the stone, but it also had a small fisherman’s chair with a large fishing rod hanging over with a plastic fish on the string. The description on the gravestone depicted a gentle and friendly man who loved going to the sea to fish.

I felt comfort in the fact that my grandfather would have company with this simple fisherman.

Recently, however, it struck me that this is not the correct simplicity we should aspire to be in the company of. It is possible that this deceased man was a truly righteous individual, however the legacy he left behind is merely that he loved to fish.

The legacy of my grandfather was that he was a Jew who craved simplicity. He was a Jew first and he was unpretentious to his core. He has a simple gravestone. But his legacy continues to be written.

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For millennia Jews have dreamed about the Holy City of Jerusalem, known in Hebrew as Yerushalayim. There is an interesting phenomena which we see in Tanach regarding the spelling of Yerushalayim. We find that the Hebrew spelling is only spelled 5 times as we know it, ירושלים. The rest of the instances are spelled without the latter letter yud and reads ירושלם. 

The Midrash (Talpiot 191) explains that the yud represents the yud in the names of Hashem of שד’י, אדנ’י, הוי’ה & אהי’ה. This means to say that if you remove the yud from שדי you get שד – destruction. If you remove the yud from הוי’ה you get הוה- another form of destruction. If you remove the yud from אדנ’י you get אדן – that we will be subjected to servitude. If you remove the yud from אהי’ה you get אהה, which is loosely translated as anxiety. We see that the removal of the yud from any of the names of Hashem will cause the destruction of the Jewish people. The Midrash explains that since there was a Gezeira of Galus, the yud was removed from Yerushalayim and the Shechina lifted up from resting therein.

What does the yud of Yerushalayim have to do with Galus and what does all this have anything to do with the names of G-d?

In order to understand this, we need to go back a few millennia in history. It was the year 2015 circ. and Avraham Avinu had just arrived in Canaan after a long sojourn from Ur Kasdim. Upon arrival, he was immediately thrust into the midst of “The Battle of The Kings”. During the battle, Avraham’s nephew Lot was captured by King Kdorlaomer and Avraham set out to defeat Kdorlaomer and rescue Lot. After he successfully won the battle, the other Kings grew nervous of him and extended their hands in peace. One of the kings was Malki Zedek, who was the ruler of Shalem and was a Kohen of Hashem. Rashi tells us that Malki Tzedek was Shem, the son of Noach. Malki Tzedek proceeded to bless Avrohom and went on to bless Hashem.

The Gemara (Nedarim 32b) tells us that because Malki Tzedek prioritized Avraham over Hashem when giving his brachos by blessing Avraham first, he was punished and the Kehuna was taken from him.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 56;10) tells us that Avraham called the city Yirah and Malki Zedek called it Shalem.Hashem combined the two names and called the city Yerushalayim. We see that in the name Malki Zedek used, Hashem added the letter yud from His own name.

In the period of time preceding the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the Jewish people lost their sense of direction, and idolatry to the deities of astrology was rampant. In other words, they put the tools of Hashem as a priority before serving Hashem Himself. Therefore, Hashem took out his anger on Yerushalayim. As we see in the Midrash (Eicha Rabba 4;14), that Hashem pours out his wrath on sticks and stones and not on Yisrael.

It was at this time that Hashem took out the latter yud from Yerushalayim, which is the letter from his name which was inserted in the name “שלם”. This was the name that Malki Tzedek gave to Jerusalem. Now, the name of the city reverted back to ירושלם in order to remind us that the city was destroyed due to the Malkizedek’esque sin of not getting our priorities with G-d straight. When we constantly refer to Jerusalem as ירושלם, we are constantly reminded of the need for this essential Tikkun.

Over the past few decades, we have seen a subtle yet radical change in the spelling of Jerusalem, with its full spelling now being used. The reason seems to be to allow for proper pronunciation. Based on what we learned, this does not seem to be the correct and proper practice. Perhaps in an effort to resolve this, the practice was started to use the acronym י-ם to spell ירושלם.

In whichever way that we refer to the holy city, may we always remember to keep our priorities straight and merit to see the full Tikkun and the complete rebuilding of Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh.

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This week is Parshas Para, the third of what is known as the Arba Parshiyos. I would like to explore the significance as to why we read these Parshiyos and some of the various practices that are associated with them.

The Mishna[1] states that the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar we read Parshas Shekalim. On the second Shabbos of the month, we read Parshas Zachor. On the third Shabbos, we read the Parsha of Para Aduma. On the fourth Shabbos, which is the shabbos preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we read Parshas HaChodesh. On the fifth Shabbos, we resume reading like usual.

The order of these Parshiyos is significant.

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We all have our challenges through the twists and turns of life. Some are easy and some are harder. Sometimes we see bracha clearly in our lives and at times, it seems that the wells of bracha have dried up.

Chazal in Taanis 8b state that bracha does not rest upon things that have already been weighed, measured or counted, rather bracha can only be found on things hidden from sight. The Kedushas Levi asks, that we find by the Mishkan that everything had an exact accounting, yet there was still Bracha there?

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The past ten days have been very emotional for the Jewish people. We have buried fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children and classmates. At the same time, though, we have rejoiced at weddings and bat mitzvahs and each others accomplishments.

Sometimes, we may feel that those who are suffering, are not people we know and the emotions are minimal compared to the emotions that run, were it someone closer. Likewise, it may be difficult to feel the joy that is not your own.

Yaakov was left alone on one side of the river after his family had already crossed over. It was then that the angel of Esav came down and began to attack him. The Meforshim explain that this Malach is the Yetzer Hara, who was trying to knock Yaakov off the straight yet narrow path of Kedusha. The question is asked, why did the Malach wait for Yaakov to be alone to begin to fight him? There are many approaches to answering this. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky offers a unique approach.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Yaacov had left Beer Sheva to Charan, when chanced upon the shepherds at the well who informed him that his cousin, Rachel, is on the way with her flock. Yaacov went on to uncover the well for her. She then brought him home to meet her father – a visit that would end up lasting 20 years. At the end of these years, Yaacov was already a wealthy man. He had married both Rachel and Leah, the daughters of Lavan, and had 11 sons. Yaacov realized that things between him and Lavan were not so good. So, he decided, with the backing of Hashem, to leave and go back home. The problem was that Lavan would never let. Therefore he moved everything without telling Lavan. After three days, Lavan had caught wind of the plan and became upset at Yaacov for leaving just like that. They finally caught up on Har Gilad, but not before Hashem warned Lavan to leave Yaacov alone.  Lavan wanted to say a proper goodbye to his children. Yaacov explained that he was afraid to say goodbye lest Lavan confiscate everything from him. Ultimately, they agreed not to cross each other’s path and they would leave each other alone.

The pasuk when describing the parting of Lavan and Yaacov states “Lavan returned to his place and Yaacov went on his journey.” 

The Meshech Chochma explains that if someone has such a holy personage, such as Yaacov, in their home even for a short time, they are affected by his greatness. That means that they soak in the ways and wisdom of the tzaddik and are able to use that as a stepping stone towards further growth. With Lavan, however, this did not happen. Lavan may have grown to greater spiritual heights while Yaacov was staying at his estate, however when they parted ways, they parted completely. Lavan went back to his place, to square one, where he was entrenched in deceit and corruption of mind and spirit.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Machnisei rachamim – do we need Protekzia to reach god?

This Motzei Shabbos,we begin the recitation of Selichos, supplications begin for forgiveness in the advent of the Yomim Noraim. Amongst the many Selichos and piyutim included in the Selichos is the piyut of Machnisei Rachamim. Machnisei Rachamim is a piyut that is said at the end of Selichos, asking the Malachim to please bring our supplications and cries before Hashem.

מכניסי רחמים הכניסו רחמינו לפני בעל הרחמים משמיעי תפלה השמיעו תפלתנו לפני שומע תפלה משמיעי צעקה השמיעו צעקתנו לפני שומע צעקה מכניסי דמעה הכניסו דמעותינו לפני מלך מתרצה בדמעות השתדלו והרבו תחינה ובקשה לפני מלך רם ונש. הזכירו לפניו השמיעו לפניו תורה ומעשים טובים של שוכני עפר יזכור אהבתם ויחיה אותנו בטרם שלא תאבד שארית יעקב כי צאנו של רועה נאמן היה לחרפה. ישראל גוי אחד למשל ולשנינה מהר עננו ופדנו מגזרות קשות והושע ברחמיך הרבים משיח צדקך ועמך

This has not been without controversy and has caused much confusion as to whether or not we should indeed say this piyut.

I would like to explore the history of the controversy and attempt to clarify if it is correct to say this piyut.

Much of this is based on an article in Yeshurun by Rav Shlomo Sprecher Vol #3

As an aside, it is interesting, that there have been many piyutim that we skip in Selichos or which simply do not appear anymore, as the Gedolim felt they were improper. Machnisei Rachamim, of unknown origin, always managed to sneak back into the Machzor. This only deepens the curiosity to understand the nature of this piyut and the history of its controversy.

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The Torah in Parshas Shoftim recounts Moshe Rabbeinu instructing the Jewish people what they should be doing when they get across the border into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe told them that they should appoint Shoftim to judge the people properly as well as Shotrim to enforce the law. Additionally, the Jewish people are given a mitzvah to appoint a Melech.

Sandwiched between the Parsha of the Shofet and the Parsha of the Melech, the Torah describes, once again, the severity and prohibition of idolatry.

The Daas Sofrim explains the connection: Once the Shoftim can eradicate idolatry from Eretz Yisrael, which was populated by idol worshippers, they can then appoint a king who can build up his malchus on a pure slate.

Amongst the prohibitions mentioned regarding Avoda Zara, is that of planting an Asheira tree, which is a tree used for the purpose of Avoda Zara. Likewise, one may not use a tree as a source to construct the Mizbeach.

The Meshech Chochma explains the connections of these two concepts. He explains the idea of Korbanos. A Korban is not something that we are giving to Hashem to give him energy and power. Rather a Korban is intended to help perfect a person to be more complete and to grow to be a better more spiritually aligned individual.

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