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Posted October 13, 2017 - 10:39am

The Devil Made Me Do It

Generally, when we study Parshat B’reisheet we focus in on either the days of creation or the Fall of Man. However, there are many more lessons to be learned from this brief account of the origins of humanity and sin. We can learn an important lesson from the story of Cain and Abel about how we are the masters of our own destiny.

As we know, Adam and Eve’s first two children were Cain and Abel, respectively. Cain was an agrarian, one who worked the land to grow produce. Abel, however, was a herdsman, raising livestock. They both brought offerings before the LORD:

Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. (Genesis 4:3–4)

Immediately after this we read that the LORD accepted Abel’s offering, but rejected Cain’s. Because of this Cain became jealous of his brother, Abel. He allowed his hatred toward his brother to grow until, unfortunately, he lured his brother out into a field where he killed him. Before this happened, however, the LORD noticed Cain’s sullen attitude and his resentment toward his brother. He warned Cain about this, saying:

Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:6–7)

Posted October 2, 2017 - 5:27am

The Loving Inheritance

In our morning prayers, one of the first passages of Scripture we recite is this: Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morashah kehillat Yaakov--The Torah Moses commanded for us is a possession for the congregation of Jacob. This is taken from our current Torah portion:

Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps, receiving direction from you, when Moses commanded us a law, as a possession for the assembly of Jacob. Thus the LORD became king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together. (Deuteronomy 33:3-5)

This passage should remind us of a few things. First, it reminds us that the Torah was an inheritance given to the Children of Israel through the hand of Moses. It was not given to them as a ball and chain, or a burden, or a mockery (“You can’t keep it!”), but a loving inheritance from the One who delivered them from the yoke of slavery. The Torah is a gift from Hashem to a redeemed people in order to define the parameters of what it means to live a righteous life.

Second, this passage reminds us not only that we are to always give another person the benefit of the doubt even when they have let us down multiple times, but also that we can never become who we were intended to be until we are unified with our brothers and sisters. How do we derive this interpretation? Let’s look at the very next verse:

Thus the LORD became king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together. (Deuteronomy 33:5)

Posted September 15, 2017 - 11:22am

Circumcise Me Twice

Currently, we are living in a world where the heart of man struggles to submit to the Divine will. Its natural tendency is to challenge the guidelines God has established for the good of man. In the Messianic Age, however, the heart of man will surrender to the will of God. The prophets anticipated this future time and spoke of its implications:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26–27)

One day Hashem will subdue the heart of man and cause us to “walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This total submission to the will of God is sometimes referred to as circumcision of the heart. This concept isn’t something introduced by the prophets. It’s spoken of in the Torah. There are two places in the Torah that mention this concept of circumcising the heart and they are both found in the book of Deuteronomy. The first is a command for us to circumcise our own hearts:

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16).

The second, however, is a promise of what Hashem will do and it comes right from our Torah portion:

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

Posted September 8, 2017 - 7:30am

The Responsibility of Influence

Parashat Ki Tavo is so named because of its open verse, which says, “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it …” (Deuteronomy 26:1). The words ki tavo mean “when you come.” Thus, this parashah is focused on the responsibility of the Children of Israel when they arrive in the land promised to them by Hashem. The first few paragraphs address bringing the bikkurim, the first fruits of the land to the LORD and the ceremony surrounding this procedure. After this Hashem gives Israel a reminder of their responsibility as a people who are consecrated to the LORD:

This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice. (Deuteronomy 27:16–17)

Immediately following this, instructions are given to renew the covenant through a ritual which includes dividing up the tribes and set them onto two mountains: the Mount of Blessing (Mount Gerizim) and the Mount of Curses (Mount Ebal). The Levites are to command them from the valley between the two. The ones on Mount Gerizim are to bless the nation and the ones on Mount Ebal are to repeat a series of curses, to which all of the people will affirm, “Amen.” The specific curses that are to be recited are listed in verses 15-26. Two of these, however, are connected in a way that may not be obvious at first. Let’s look at these two curses and find the link between them:

“Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:18)

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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