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Parshat Bo: Unnecessary Roughness?

As the intensity of the afflictions increases over the course of the plagues, Pharaoh offers three compromise positions to Moshe and the Israelites: worship your God in Egypt, depart Egypt temporarily with some of the people while others remain, depart Egypt temporarily with the entire nation but leave your cattle behind.

Moshe emphatically rejects each compromise in turn.

The second of these potential compromises appears towards the beginning of Parshat Bo, in the following puzzling conversation between Moshe and Pharaoh:

Pharaoh: “Go and worship your Lord! Who are they that shall go?”

Moshe: “With our young and with our old we will go! With our sons and with our daughters! With our sheep and with our cattle! For it is a festival of the Lord for us!”

Parshat Va’eira: Belated Introductions

When Moshe’s birth was chronicled in Parshat Shmot, the text deliberately omitted any description of his lineage, choosing instead to preface his birth with the mysterious sentence “And a man went from the House of Levi and he took a daughter of Levi.”

This omission of Moshe’s bona fides is now addressed in Parshat Va’eira.

God commands Moshe to return to Pharaoh and again demand the release of the Israelite slaves. When Moshe objects, citing his speech impediment, God repeats the directive, this time to both Moshe and Aharon.

The Torah then abruptly digresses to present a genealogical table listing the descendents of Yaakov’s oldest sons, Reuven, Shimon and Levi. The listing concludes with a detailed description of the lineage of Moshe and Aharon’s family within the tribe of Levi.

Upon completion of this genealogical record, the Torah returns to the narrative of the Exodus with the words “This was Aharon and Moshe…. They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh…. This was Moshe and Aharon.”

Coming of Age: An Anthology of Divrei Torah for Bar and Bat Mitzvah – Parshat Vayechi

Can there be a better

parashah to celebrate becoming bar mitzvah than Parashat Vayechi? It is a parashah filled with blessings—from father to sons and from grandfather to grandsons. Let us analyze these blessings and try to discover what they say to us.

Yaakov Avinu blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Menasheh before he blesses his own children. Perhaps this is indicative of the special bond that exists between grandparents and grandchildren, a very different relationship than that which exists between parents and their own children.

When it is time for Yaakov to bless the two young men, Yosef arranges them in front of his father so that Yaakov’s dominant hand, his right hand, will rest upon Menasheh, the eldest, and his left hand upon the head of Ephraim, the younger son. Yaakov, however, crosses his hands so that his right hand is upon the head of Ephraim and his left hand upon Menasheh, as the pasuk states, “He directed his hands, for Menasheh was the firstborn” (Bereishit 48:14).

This verse presents us with a conundrum—it says that Yaakov crossed his hands and placed his left hand upon Menasheh specifically because Menasheh was the firstborn. Was being firstborn a reason to denigrate Menasheh?

Parshat Vayigash: The First Ghetto

After the descent of Yaakov’s family to Egypt, Yosef prepares a delegation of his brothers for an interview with the Egyptian king.

>p>He counsels them to specify that they are shepherds so that Pharaoh will settle them separately in the region of Goshen, “since all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.”

Hanukkah – The Progressive Candles: A Commentary on Jewish Life, by Rabbi Norman Lamm

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the most important feature of Hanukkah — the Hanukkah candles — is the increase in the number of candles from day to day. The lighting of the candles is progressive; that is, we proceed from least to most. The first night we light one candle, the second night two candles, the third night three candles, and so until the eighth night, when the candelabrum is ablaze with all eight candles. What we have is growth and increase and progress. It was the House of Hillel which gave this order its legal form when it said that mosif ve-holekh, the number of candles is to be increased each night, because ma’alin be-kodesh, because one must rise, increase, or progress in holiness.

America, Bless God — A Thanksgiving Day Sermon by Rabbi Norman Lamm

I am pleased to occupy a pulpit celebrated both because of its historic past and its present distinguished spiritual leadership in a congregation rightfully famous in our city. I am doubly happy because Shearith Israel is not only an illustrious synagogue, but also a good neighbor of my congregation, The Jewish Center. In this context, I prefer to translate the word she’arit of “Shearith Israel” not in its primary signification of “remnant,” but rather in its secondary meaning, as in the Biblical words she’er basar or sha’arah — “relative,” or “close friend.” For indeed both our congregations are part of the larger family of Orthodox Jewry on the West Side of Manhattan.

The Thanksgiving Day Services at the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue are not only a fine patriotic gesture as loyal American citizens; they are also an authentic expression of Judaism. The source for this judgment is the Sephardi scholar of the late Middle Ages, Abudrahm. Why is it, he asks, that during the repetition of the Amidah by the cantor, the congregation joins him for only one blessing, in the course of which it expresses the same sentiments in modified language? Abudrahm was referring to the Modim blessing, for while the cantor chants the Modim, the congregation recites, in an undertone, the Modim de-Rabbanan. The reason for this, says Abudrahm, is that the other blessings consist of petitions for various benefits: We ask God for wisdom, health, prosperity, peace. Such prayers can be delegated to a representative of the congregation, which the cantor, in effect, is — the shaliah tzibbur. But when it comes to offering our thanks to the Almighty — and this is the essence of Modim — there, no delegation suffices, for the expression of gratitude is too personal, too intimate, too significant for substitutes.

Parshat Miketz: What Frightens a King?

After dreaming of seven lean cows consuming seven healthy cows and of seven thin ears of grain consuming seven robust ears, Pharaoh awakens deeply troubled. He commands “all of the sorcerers of Egypt and all of its wise men” to interpret his visions but receives no satisfactory response.

The butler recalls Yosef’s ability to interpret dreams and mentions him to the king. Pharaoh orders Yosef released from prison and brought to the palace. Pharaoh then repeats the content of his dreams to Yosef.

Parshat Vayeishev: Who Sold Yosef?

After thrusting Yosef into a pit, his brothers sit down to eat. When they observe an approaching caravan of Ishmaelites, Yehuda convinces his siblings to sell Yosef into bondage rather than allow him to die.

The text then continues (note the pronouns and their referents): “And Midianite men passed by, merchants, and they drew Yosef up out of the pit; and they sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; and they brought Yosef to Egypt.”

Later, the Torah relates: “And the Medanites sold him (Yosef) to Egypt, to Potiphar, a court official of Pharaoh…”

Finally, even later, the text states: “And Potiphar…bought him from the hand of the Ishmaelites who had brought him there.”

Parshat Vayishlach- Sincerely Yours

Hypocrisy is rightly a despised trait, and the word “hypocrite” a harsh and contemptuous epithet reserved for vile people. It is all the more unfortunate, therefore, that the popular condemnation of insincerity is not always matched by a correspondingly universal abstention from this vice in the affairs of man in society. Every day many thousands of letters are written in which the writers employ varied devices ranging from subtle deviousness to outright deceit, and compound their crime by signing the letters, “I am, sincerely yours….”

What is a hypocrite? According to the dictionary definition it is one who pretends to be something other than what he really is (usually one who pretends to be better than he really is) or to feel what he does not really feel. Hypocrisy is feigning, acting a part, pretending. Perhaps a better word is the Hebrew tzeviut – literally: coloring, dyeing. Hypocrisy, then, is giving an impression which does not correspond with the facts. It is the incommensurateness of the inner fact and the outer appearance.