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Posted January 27, 2017 - 5:42am

Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the high priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive. (m.Avot 3:2)

In the Hebrew Roots movement there is often a strong anti-government sentiment woven into the core belief system, and government conspiracy theories abound. While some of this paranoia is justified (we should never be completely ignorant of the inevitable manipulations of governing authorities), the far majority of it is merely based on fear and an aversion of authority. These are the same people that are anti-rabbinic and fabricate all kinds of misinformation about the Talmud and rabbinic writings. Organized religion of any sort can’t be trusted. In their minds a ruling authority of any kind is illegitimate and power-hungry. However, we must realize that governing systems are necessary for the welfare of humanity.

Of the seven categories of commandments that are incumbent upon all of humanity by way of what has been codified as the Noachide Laws, establishing a system of courts and a legal system to uphold civil law is one of them. Why? Because without it, as our mishnah says, “men would swallow each other alive.” Irving Bunim, in his commentary on this passage, points out that humans can be inherently cannibalistic. It is human nature to devour other humans by any means possible. We will find a way to dominate, subjugate, and denigrate another human being at the drop of a hat. However, Hashem requires us to resist our base nature and assist those who have no assistance, to protect those who have no protection, and to defend those who have no defense. Therefore, a system of justice is required in order to protect the weak and the innocent from the indomitable and culpable.

Posted January 20, 2017 - 12:09pm

Last week we concluded the book of Genesis and this week we have begun the book of Exodus. Up to this point we have been studying a brief history of the world leading up to the emergence of the Children of Israel. Beginning in the book of Exodus, however, we now begin to learn about how God calls Israel out from among the other nations of the earth to be a bride to himself. From here we will learn about the marriage covenant between God and Israel, and their unique responsibilities in that covenantal relationship. Now, however, we are learning about how God raised up a single man who would be faithful over the flock of Israel and lead them in the paths of righteousness. This man, of course, was Moses.

After we read of the miraculous incidents surrounding the birth of Moses and how he was taken into Pharaoh’s court to be raised there, we are given our first glimpse into the compassion he had for his own people: 

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:11–12)

Posted January 6, 2017 - 6:57am

Ani Yosef—“I am Joseph.” You could have heard a pin drop when Joseph spoke those two Hebrew words to his brothers. Their mouths fell open and their jaws nearly hit the floor. Their eyes bulged as they strained to recognize their younger brother hidden beneath the Egyptian garb. Confusion and despair rushed over them from head to foot in an instant. An icy chill coursed through their veins at the sudden realization that the man who stood in front of them—the second most powerful man in Egypt—was the one they had betrayed over twenty years previously. The next few seconds played out as if they were in slow motion as they began processing those two words. Their minds rewound the moment and zoomed in on his lips as he spoke, “Ani Yosef!” “Did he really just say what we think we heard???” It probably seemed like an eternity as a million thoughts, fears, and regrets all collided in their minds simultaneously. Time stood frozen solid as the implications of this simple statement firmly landed on each of them.

Posted December 30, 2016 - 9:45am

Nearly every year Parashat Mikeitz is read in conjunction with the celebration of Hanukkah. Is there any parallel or insight we can find in this week’s Torah portion that relates to Hanukkah? A few of our rabbis (particularly Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg) have brought insight into this correlation. Our parashah tells us:

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Genesis 41:15–16)

In this instance we read of Joseph being brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dream. Pharaoh begins his conversation with Joseph by giving him credit for being able to interpret dreams. Rather than taking credit himself, Joseph deflects this statement and gives proper recognition to God as the true interpreter of dreams. Joseph is an example of true example of humility. In him we see a firm reliance upon God. He realizes that everything that happens to him—every success and every failure—is in the hands of Heaven. He is only the vessel through which the Creator can do His will. He shined his light before Pharaoh. A single candle amidst the darkness of Egypt.

We see this in the leadership of Judah Maccabee as well:

And Judah and his brethren saw that evils were multiplied, and that the armies approached to their borders, and they knew the orders the king had given to destroy the people and utterly abolish them. And they said every man to his neighbor, “Let us raise up the low condition of our people, and let us fight for our people, and our sanctuary.” And the assembly was gathered that they might be ready for battle, and that they might pray, and ask mercy and compassion. (1 Maccabees 3:42–44)

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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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