Dvar Torah Parshat Nitzavim 5775 2015 – It’s Not In The Heavens

Moshe, speaking to Bnei Israel about the Torah before his demise, states that it is not in the heavens nor overseas but: כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתו, “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to perform it.” (Deut. 30,14) We see in this verse a connection between the mouth, the heart, and performance.

It speaks to everyone. There are Jews to whom Judaism is connected only to the mouth. They publically proclaim that they are Jewish. There are Jews who add to that their heart. They give charity and similar deeds but executing Mitzvot is not part of their performance. They believe that you can be Jewish with only the mouth and the heart but need not consider the Mitzvot.

Both of these views err critically. Being Jewish requires fulfillment with all your body and all your faculties. The psalmist says: כָּל עַצְמוֹתַי תֹּאמַרְנָה, “All my bones shall say…”, (Psalms 35,10) We also recite this verse every Shabbat and holiday morning when we say נשמת. This verse implies that practicing Judaism requires our entire body and our total ability. The mouth and the heart and the Mitzvot are all part of being Jewish.

Dvar Torah Parshat Re’eh 5775 2015 – Choosing Your Friends

The Torah instructs the Jews to give tithes from the produce of the field and then it states: וְאָכַלְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹקיךָ …לְמַעַן תִּלְמַד לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְקֹוָק אֱלֹקֶיךָ כָּל הַיָּמִים: “You shall eat before Hashem your G-d…so that you shall learn to fear Hashem your G-d all the days.” (Deut. 14,23)

Rabbi Simcha Bunim asked, what is the connection between the two parts? How does eating “before Hashem” lead to “learn to fear Hashem”? He answers that when you sit down to eat with friends you should first see with whom you will be sitting. You should eat only with people with whom it can lead to fear Hashem.

Obviously, what he is saying is that one should associate only with people from whom you can learn good things and with whom you can carry out the beliefs that you yourself have. Too often people get involved with friends and acquaintances who could lead them astray.

This is especially important for children who spend much time with friends. When making friends you should ask yourself, “will my parents approve of them?”

The Torah tells us that we should choose wisely when we decide to sit down to eat in the company of others.

Short Dvar Torah on Parshat Ekev 5775 2015

This weekly Portion starts with the words: וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה, “And it shall be as a consequence if you shall harken to these Mitzvot.” (Deut. 7,12) The Hebrew word for “as a consequence” is עֵקֶב. This word has another meaning in Hebrew. It means heel. Because the Torah uses this word Rashi presumes it is talking about those minor Mitzvot that one is apt to tread upon with his foot.

Besides meaning “minor Mitzvot” perhaps it also means performing a Mitzvah in a minor way. For example, instead of buying a nice set of Lulav and Etrog although he can afford it, one buys a cheap set to save money.

Another example would be if a poor individual asks you for a donation you give him a dollar when you know he could use more. That could also be considered trampling on the Mitzvah.

Rashi is trying to emphasize that all the Mitzvot have a value which we may not realize. Hence, it is important for us to do all the Mitzvot with our full heart. We never know what value they have or what effect they can have on others. Rashi implies the Torah refers to minor Mitzvot but it can also be referring to doing Mitzvot in a minor way.

Dvar Torah on Parshat VaEtchanan 5775 2015 – Be a Role Model

One of the most common prayers Jews recite is found in this week’s Sidra – the Shema. It is said morning and evening. It is on the lips of the dying. It is proclaimed by martyrs and soldiers who fall in battle. In it we read: וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל לְבָבֶךָ, “And these matters which I command you today shall be on your heart.” The next verse reads: וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ, “You shall teach them thoroughly to your children.” (Deut. 6, 6-7) This implies education, to teach our children. Why mention education in this context and why the sequence?

Every parent wants their child to grow up knowledgeable and to do the right thing. Our literature tells us, הדברים היוצאים מן הלב נכנסים בלב התלמידים, “that which comes out of the heart goes into the heart of the students.” If we want our children to follow in our footsteps, if we want them to accept our teachings, then what we want must be imbedded in our own hearts.

We cannot expect our children to act in a particular way when we ourselves act differently. Unfortunately, too often parents don’t act ethically and they want their children to act differently. This does not happen. What we have imbedded in our hearts we can transmit to them. What we don’t accept totally in our hearts we cannot expect our children to learn from us.

Dvar Torah Parshat Devarim 5775 2015

Moshe says he instructed the judges and said to them: שָׁמֹעַ בֵּין אֲחֵיכֶם

וְהַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יִקְשֶׁה מִכֶּם תַּקְרִבוּן אֵלַי וּשְׁמַעְתִּיו….ושְׁפַטְתֶּם צֶדֶק : “listen among your brethren and judge righteously…any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I shall hear it. (Deut. 1,16-17) Moshe does not say I will judge it but I will hear it. He teaches here a very important principle. Before you can judge someone you must listen attentively and hear what he has to say. Only then can you judge righteously.

Often we see something in our friends or neighbors, or perhaps, something in Shul that we dislike. We immediately jump to conclusions and condemn the person. What Moshe is teaching us is that we must not judge a person’s actions before we listen to him and hear how he explains what he did.

If we follow this wise directive of Moshe we can avoid many arguments and many break-ups in friendships. We must learn to listen and then judge.

Dvar Torah Parshat Haazinu 5775-2014

After the crossing the Sea of Reeds (the Red Sea) Moshe sang a song of praise to Hashem. Now, as the Israelites stand ready to cross into the Promised Land, he again sings a song of praise. Among the many tributes to Hashem for His blessings to our people, Moshe states: יַעֲרֹף כַּמָּטָר לִקְחִי תִּזַּל כַּטַּל אִמְרָתִי, “May my teaching drop like the rain, may my utterance flow like the dew…”. (Deut. 32,2) The Zohar teaches that the rain refers to the Written Torah and the dew to the Oral Torah. What is the connection between rain and dew to the Torah?

Rabbi Moshe Zevi Neriah, who is considered the founder of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva movement in Israel, offers a unique answer to this question. After the farmer plants his seeds the rains come. An onlooker sees the water seep into the ground and thinks to himself, this water will serve no purpose. It sank into the earth and is gone. Later the vegetation springs through the ground, grows and offers its wonderful produce. Only then one realizes the benefit of the rain.

The same is true with the study of Torah. Often a student studies Torah and we see no benefit derived from it. It seems that it had no effect on the student. And behold, after some period of time, maybe months or even years, it suddenly appears that the teachings were not in vain. They accomplished their intention and eventually they bear fruit. They were like the rain and like the dew.

Dvar Torah Parshat Nitzavim Vayelech 5774 2014

Moshe gathers all the people, the men, women, and children, everyone who is in the Israel camp. What is the purpose of this gathering? Moshe tells them the purpose: לְעָבְרְךָ בִּבְרִית יְקֹוָק, “For you to pass into the covenant of Hashem…”. (Deut. 29,11) This was not a new covenant. It was first made with the patriarch Avraham. It was repeated at Har Sinai and was referred to on other occasions.

This covenant stated that Hashem would recognize us as His people but we have an obligation to follow His dictates and live up to the demands of the Torah. It is a tragic fact that among our people there are those who cry that we should be ככל הגוים, we should be like all nations. This is not a new cry but already we hear about it in the days of Samuel when they wanted to establish a government with a king.

When you think of this demand in our times it is certainly not understandable. What nation would these people want Israel to emulate? Almost all nations today are not living up to any moral standards. They are all interested in their own survival and are ready to condemn all other nations, especially Israel.

As things stand today, even though the world is constantly condemning Israel for whatever it does, the truth is that Israel is more ethical and more moral than any other nation. Israel is proud of what it offers the world and how it conducts itself in peace and war.