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Parasha Insights

IS THE TORAH ETERNAL?

Sam was a single guy living at home with his father and working in the family business.

When he found out he was going to inherit a fortune when his sickly father will die, he decided he needed a wife with whom to share his fortune.

One evening at an investment meeting he spotted a woman whose natural beauty grabbed his attention.

"I may look like just a plain, ordinary man," he said to her, "but in just a short while, my father will die, and I'll inherit 30 million dollars."

Impressed, the woman obtained his business card.

Three days later... she became his stepmother.

The holiest article in the Tabernacle that the Jewish people constructed in the desert was the Ark, which housed the Tablets of the Ten Commandment… Read More »

ARE YOU A KIND JUDGE?

On a pleasant April morning in Jerusalem several years ago, a 20-something young guy crossed an intersection at a red light. A police officer who happens to be standing there stops him. Another officer suddenly shows up, this one running. So, the young guy loses his cool and bolts. The two officers give chase and catch him. 

Now, our young hero has no criminal background. But for whatever reason, he made the mistake of fleeing from a police officer. He later says that when the second officer suddenly rushed up to him, he panicked and ran perhaps because he had just started a new job. He didn’t know why he had fled. 

Well, the police slap him with “interference of a police officer discharging duties.” The young … Read More »

Why the Obsession with Israel?

One of the intriguing things about the Ten Commandments, that we will read on this Shabbat Torah portion Yitro given to the Jewish people is that they were engraved on two separate tablets. Was G-d short of granite that He needed to use two tablets? Why could He not carve the commandments onto a single stone?

There is the stereotypical Jew-bashing joke about this. Before coming to the Jews, G-d approached all the nations and asked if they would like to accept the Torah. Each of them refused because of some commandment in the Bible to which they could not possibly adhere. When G-d presented the offer to the Jews, their sole question was: How much do you want for it?

To which G-d responded: “It’s for free.” … Read More »

I FELT EMPOWERED

Before heading into battle, Master Sgt. Elkana Vizel, 35, penned a letter for his loved ones. At his funeral this week, his widow read the letter.

The father of four young children, Rabbi Elkana Vizel was among 21 reservists killed last Monday night in Northern Gaza.

Despite sustaining injuries in Operation Protective Edge and having the choice to stay out of combat service, Elkana opted to enlist in the reserves, dedicating himself to defending his people. In his heartfelt letter to his loved ones, he expressed unwavering conviction in his decision to return to the front lines. Here is what he wrote:

If you are reading these words, something must have happened to me. If I was kidnapped, I demand that no deal be made for the release of a… Read More »

HOW CAN YOU BE A GOOD PERSON?

Why is it that of all the religious groups in Israel, Chabad seems to be the most accepted by the non-religious?

The Rebbe is revered by all Jews, and Chabadniks seem to reach everywhere. What is unique about them?

There was a very sharp thinker who lived in 19th-century Poland called Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk. Among his profound witticisms was the following pearl.

If you are religious, you are wicked.

If you're intelligent, you're a heretic.

If you're kind, you're a fool.

But if you're all three, now that's a good person.

This pithy little riddle summarizes the highest ideals of Judaism and warns of the pitfalls that lurk on the path of those who try to discover the truth.

Being religious, being a thinker,… Read More »

Are you a prince or a peasant?

When President Dwight Eisenhower met with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, the American president said: “It is very hard to be the president of 170 million people.” Ben-Gurion responded: “It’s harder to be the prime minister of 2 million prime ministers.”

It is one of the great questions about the most impactful Jewish teacher. Why did Providence have it that our first and greatest leader be raised among non-Jews, and even worse, in the home of their archenemy, Pharaoh? “It takes a village to raise a child,” the old saying goes. No man is an island. We all grow up within a community and are molded by our environment. Nurture, not only nature, craft our identities.

It certainly “takes… Read More »

LIGHT OR DARKNESS?

An old German man was feeling guilty about something he had done, so he decided to go to Confession. He said, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I feel terrible because during World War II, I hid a Jew in my attic."  

The priest said, "But that's not a sin! I wouldn't feel bad about that if I were you." "But I made him agree to pay me 50 Marks for every week he stayed."

The priest said, "Well, I admit that it wasn't the noblest thing to do, charging the man to save his life, but you did save his life, after all, and that is a good thing. Don't worry about it too much; G-d forgives."

The man said, "Oh thank you, Father, that eases my mind. I have only one more question to ask … Read More »

What Is Joseph’s Blessing?

For most of us, money is important. It can buy food, clothing, and shelter. But dignity is also important. Many people would rather miss dinner than ask for a handout. But I don’t know anyone who would put their dignity ahead of their children’s well-being.

If your child needed something desperately and couldn’t get it, most of us would demean ourselves willingly to plead their case.

Our child’s happiness is our happiness. Nothing makes us happier than knowing that our children are happy. If you and your child both loved popcorn and there was only one bag, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice to give it to your child. You would derive much more pleasure from watching him or her eat it than from enjoying it yourself. Yo… Read More »

WHAT IS MY PURPOSE HERE?

Tomorrow Friday, December 22, 2023, marks the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet. The tenth of Tevet is a fast day that commemorates the beginning of the siege against Jerusalem that concluded with the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’av. The fast is observed from daybreak until nightfall. In New York, the fast begins at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 5:04 p.m. We break the fast with the Kiddush of Friday night followed by a Shabbat Dinner.

The story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers after decades of bitter separation is one of the most dramatic in the entire Torah. Twenty-two years earlier, when Joseph was seventeen years old, his brothers loathing their younger kin, abducted him, thr… Read More »

Living is Giving

We were once proud to say, “My best friend is Muslim,” but it turned out that some of them were not our friends. Oh, they say they don’t hate me. They just hate the Jews in Israel. But they don’t get it. The Jews in Israel are me. It's not that I agree with everything Israeli Jews say. It's that they are my heart and soul. They are the blood that pumps in my heart and the life that pulses through my veins. When they bleed, I bleed. Do you think I can separate your disdain of them from myself? You are mistaken. I can’t blame you. I never told you differently. I gave you every appearance of being American. Turns out I was always Jewish. I didn’t realize it. And neither did you.

But you know what? I have be… Read More »

Ani Maamin - I Believe

Once upon a time, a scorpion was standing at the Gaza port, yearning to get out of Gaza and cross the sea. But alas, scorpions don’t swim. Suddenly, the scorpion saw a swan. It asked the swan if it could ride on its back and cross the sea.

The swan refused. “That would be suicidal,” said the swan. “You will give me one bite and I will die,” cried the swan.  “You are dumb,” said the scorpion. “If I bite you, I will drown myself, because I do not swim. If you go down, I go down. So for my own selfish sake, I will never bite you.”

That logic made sense to the swine. It agreed. The swan took the scorpion on its back, they left the Gaza port, and off they went on their voyage across th… Read More »

AM I PROUD OF MY JUDAISM?

The Jewish core has emerged stronger than ever these past few weeks. The monstrous massacre, compounded by the public blaming Jews for it, was a murderous double stab to the collective Jewish heart. The fact that some of our decades-long friends and neighbors have turned on us so suddenly left us disillusioned. We were once proud to say, “My best friend is Muslim,” but it turned out that some of them were not our friends. We loved our alma mater and thought of it as home. It turned out it never was home.   Oh, they say they don’t hate me. They just hate the Jews in Israel. But they don’t get it. The Jews in Israel are me. It's not that I agree with everything Israeli Jews say. It's that they are my hea… Read More »

Light and Strength in the Darkness

These are challenging times for our people and for all good people. For Jews, one of the most powerful resources for millennia has been thanksgiving and gratitude. In our transition, we express gratitude hundreds of times a day, at every step of the road. Before I eat an apple, after I come out of the bathroom when I open my eyes in the morning, and when I am about to retire. How do we cultivate this life-changing gift during times of visceral pain and distress?

In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob traveled from Beer Sheva to Haran. Beer Sheva, Hebrew for the well of the oath, was named after the oath of friendship taken by Abraham and the Philistine king, Abimelech. Haran was named after the Hebrew word haron, which means anger.… Read More »

Two Forms of Kindness

These loving, pleading words came from Margalit Megidish as she prayed for her daughter, Ori, whom Hamas took hostage. Ori Megidish is a soldier who served on a base near Gaza that was overrun on October 7 by Hamas. Hamas slaughtered many of her friends and took her and several others as hostages to Gaza. A short while after her mother’s prayer, Ori was rescued by the IDF in a complex daring raid.

Many wondered how Margalit could say, “I love you,” while her daughter was held hostage by the cruelest monsters on earth. Indeed, Margalit was in a dark pit of despair. Indeed, her tears flowed freely as she prayed, her heart torn asunder. But amid her prayers, the words “I love you” tumbled out. In this time of dee… Read More »

The iPhone, and the Terrorists From Gaza

Growing up in the aftermath of the Holocaust, many of us were tempted to fantasize about how things would have turned out differently if only conditions had been a bit more favorable. Indulging in the “if only” train of thought is how we seek to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of what is.

 Many of us also experienced the natural tendency to explain why things are different now and the Holocaust can never happen to us, not here and not now.

Take the ubiquity of the smartphone.

I’ve often imagined that if someone had an iPhone back in 1942 and snuck over the barbed wire into Auschwitz and took photos and videos and even live-streamed the atrocities, surely everything would come screeching to a h… Read More »

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