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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Chanukah Gifts


Chanukah is a time to give gelt (that is money, not the chocolate coins) to our children. In more modern times, this tradition turned into giving gifts. This modern concept can cause jealousy between children and their peers. It is important to prepare our children to not be jealous of their friends if the friends receive more gifts than they do, and that if our children receive more, they should not flaunt them in front of their friends, either—especially not in front of those who could misinterpret a gift the wrong way.

Let me explain.

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the famine that hit the Middle East, from Egypt to Israel and beyond. Everyone was going down to Egypt to buy food from the young Viceroy to the Pharaoh, whom we know as Joseph. Included in the throngs of people were Jacob and his sons, Joseph’s brothers. The Torah tells us the story of how Joseph gave his family more than enough food to last for a long time. Jacob, however, felt that they should return to Egypt a second time – knowing there were dangers involved. He didn’t want his enemies (the children of Ishmael and Esau) to be jealous—they could potentially assume that the reason Jacob and his family were not returning to Egypt was because they had more than enough food, when in actuality, they really just had enough to last for a while.    

Jacob understood that he could not change the inherent hatred that the descendants of Ishmael and Esau had toward him and his children. However, he did know that he could preempt it by a proper response that not everything has to be advertised.

From this story we learn to be sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings. Not only to know how your friends think and feel about you, but even how your enemies think and feel about you. It is important not to make people jealous for no reason, especially when it can be avoided.

In this season of giving, whether it be a gift of money or an item or even an experience, it is important not to compare it to others. Just look at what we have and be happy with what we have in our lives. 

Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom


A Tranquil Life

Have you ever wondered why when you are finally at a point when you just want to relax after finishing a project at work, or reaching a milestone in life, or when you have simply reached a point in life when you want to retire, you find that there is still something calling on you to do? You think to yourself, why can’t someone else do it? How come this cannot be someone else's problem? Why me? 

The interesting thing is that when we embrace that new, unwanted challenge, we not only end up doing a good job at it, we do a better job than even we expected of ourselves. 
Why is that so?
Let’s first look at this week’s Torah portion, at the story of Jacob when he was an old man. He had many challenges in his life and he finally had the opportunity to settle into a relaxed life with his family. He was a happy man. What seemed to him a short while later, his beloved son Joseph was killed. He found out in subsequent Torah portions that Joseph actually lived, and became the viceroy in Egypt, so Jacob and his other children joined him in Egypt at a time when life – at first – was very good, and when Jacob himself said, the times were the “best of his whole life.”
Let’s take a closer look at Jacob’s life.
At this point in his life, we might think that he was entitled to start winding down a bit. Yet, what ended up happening was that he became even busier, accomplishing tasks. He did not retire. He had asked G-d for a blessing that he could sit in tranquility. This does not mean sit in retirement and drink tequila by the pool. What he meant by his request was that he should be able to accomplish his tasks in this world without worries.
Although his blessing request was fulfilled for a short time, Jacob suffered a prolonged burst of pain with the absence of his beloved son Joseph. When they finally did reunite in Egypt, Jacob went into overdrive and set up a Jewish community there that flourished. 
Jacob took his pain and turned it into gain.
This is a lesson here for all of us. It is never a good time to stop working. There is a reason why every project, job, or responsibility that comes our way, came to us—perhaps because we are good at it, or maybe just because the job was meant for us to do. Either way, we should embrace it as our life’s mission and do our best at it.

Three Reasons to Give Thanks

 When families get together to give thanks, there is a high probability that three topics will come up in conversation: health, wealth, and G-d.

We all want to be healthy and wealthy for reasons that need no explanation. We want G-d to be there for us when we need to call on Him, so we give Him appropriate mention as well. However, we should be asking ourselves, is that really what is asked of us?
Let us take a lesson from this week’s Torah portion and Jacob’s life.
During Jacob’s travels he overcame large obstacles in life; as examples, his brother Esau and his uncle Lavan tried to swindle him at every turn. Yet he outsmarted them and at a later point in his life, he finally felt “complete” in life.
He had his health in his old age. It may be true that he had been hurt, but he healed. However, true healing means understanding that even when he was hurt, that pain was part of his growth. This appreciation only comes with age, and that is why only in old age could he say that he was “complete.”
He also had wealth. It is true that he gave away much of his wealth to his brother in order to save his life, and for this he could hold a grudge, yet he didn’t. He saw the bigger picture. He understood that all of his wealth was a gift from G-d, so even if he had to give away part of it, it was never meant to be his to begin with.
Jacob also had strong faith in G-d, and not the kind where he turned to G-d only when in need.
Jacob didn’t live the kind of life where he kept G-d in the sanctuary and kept his personal life, personal. Jacob realized that having faith in G-d meant incorporating being Jewish into everything that one does. Every action, whether in business or preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving, can be, and should be, a G-dly action.
Jacob understood this and that is why he said that even though he was not able to put in hours of actual Torah study, he did incorporate the teachings of the Torah in everything that he did.
The lesson for us is clear. We, too, have to see all of our trials and tribulations as part of our growth; see our charity, or charitable acts, not as a cost but as the right thing to do; and incorporate our Jewishness into everything that we do. 

Riding The Waves Of Life


Where do you expect to find holiness? In the synagogue or in the workplace?


On the one hand, one would expect to find spirituality in a spiritual place. After all, that is where you can shut off the outside world and concentrate on G-d and “holy thoughts.” However, if you think about it, is that what Judaism is all about, being secluded in a sanctuary? Or is Judaism about tikkun olam, about perfecting the world?


Tikkun olam is not about planting trees! That is a misinterpretation of the words. Tikkun olam means bringing G-d into our day-to-day living. It means that G-dliness should penetrate everything that we do, including while we plant a tree, while we sit at a desk working, or while we shop at the store.


Imagine every time someone asks you how you are doing, you answer, “Thank G-d!” By doing so, you are bringing G-dliness into this world. It is such an easy act to do, and this is how we bring the “sanctuary” into our lives, whenever and wherever we are.


We learn this lesson from this week’s Torah portion when Leah names her child Zevulon. Zevulon is Leah’s sixth son, which makes her the mother of the progenitors of half of the tribes. With this son’s birth, she feels she has anchored her husband, Jacob, who is considered a “man of the tent” (for sake of our conversation, we will call him the man who stays in the sanctuary) into her home. However, Zevulon grows up to be a very successful businessman, with fleets of ships, a man of commerce. How does Zevulon, the exact opposite of Jacob, anchor him?


That is exactly Leah’s point.


Leah is here to teach us that Judaism is not meant to stay only in the synagogue. It is meant to sail across the ocean, into our day-to-day lives! The more we can ride the waves of life, the more the Torah can penetrate our day-to-day living in the “real” world, and the more meaningful Judaism becomes to us.


This is the deeper meaning of tikkun olam. We repair this world by anchoring the Torah into our daily lives.



Happiness Leads To?


If being kind to another person makes you happy, does being happy turn you into a kind and giving person?

Before you answer, let me share with you a thought.

When a child does an act of kindness toward their parent, there could be duplicitous motivation—at the same time that it is a kindness, there is a desire for a certain closeness that underlies that act, and is the impetus for the act. You want to be close, hence the kind behavior. In a sense, this is selfish.

On the other hand, when an employee does a kind act for their employer, it is more an act of humility than an act of love. It is the restraining of one’s ego much more than a show of affection, as one would see with the child to a parent. In a sense, this is a selfless act.

We see that not every action, although it may be kind, is the same; some actions are ego-driven while others are humility-driven.

What feeling does happiness solicit from us?

When we are in a truly happy mood, we are not thinking about ourselves but about the other person, regardless of whether it is our parent, friend, colleague, or boss. This is the beauty of being happy. We are in the mood of self-restraint, in the sense that we are restraining our ego and making space for others; that is why we feel so “loose,” because we are allowing ourselves to shine. 

Although it is true that being kind to others makes us happy, being happy truly allows us to be giving to others, in a greater way.

We learn this idea from Isaac in this week’s Torah portion.

On the one hand he is known for his attribute of “restraint,” which on the surface sounds like the opposite of “kind.” Yet his name also means “happiness,” which has the connotation of being kind. However, once we understand that happiness leads us to restrain our ego, which leads us to be kind, we start to have a different picture of whom Isaac was.

Isaac has only one Torah portion dedicated exclusively to him. On the surface it might not look so exciting or full of action. That is because when one keeps their ego in check, one remains quiet and humble.

Isaac was humble and happy and the lessons he taught us remain with us.  


Three Times to Say Thank You

It is important to recognize and give thanks to someone, and especially to G-d, for the good that is bestowed upon us. However, the question is, what steps are to be taken?

In this week’s Torah portion, our first patriarch, Avraham, is introduced to us. In this week alone, we see how he gives thanks to G-d three times. None of the three times occurs just after an incident—it is much more than that; it takes us to a higher level, toward a deeper relationship with G-d.

The first step in building our relationship with G-d is to recognize that we want to have a connection. So step one is to make the commitment.

 At this point we might not know exactly what that may entail. What are the conditions? We don’t know how to make it happen, and therefore although we want to do what is right, there is a good chance that we will mess up. Once we find that we made a mistake, however, we regret our faults and we rectify it. We straighten out our life and we start to grow spiritually, we mature, and we come closer to G-d. This is step two.

And there is yet a higher level of closeness that is not meant to rectify anything (step three). It is not meant to make up for anything that we may have done wrong—it is giving thanks purely out of love – “just because” – when you just want to come close to G-d.

These three steps are repeated in our own lives in many different ways: in our lives as we grow up and in our relationships with our parents, siblings, spouses, or friends. Sometimes it can take years for us to move from one step to the next and sometimes we can go from one to the next in just a few moments.

The lesson for us is to take note at each of these points in our life, whether we are just starting out in a relationship, or if we messed up, or, even if it safe and secure, to take a moment to reflect and to say thank you.




Carry The Light

One biblical story that all children grow up with is “Noah’s Ark.” Many children’s artists and authors have illustrated and written books about it, and with today’s social media, the memes don’t stop floating around the web. Children and adults alike just love animals, especially when they are depicted as living together in harmony.

Interestingly enough, the images generally follow the dimensions outlined in the Torah, which in and of itself is interesting. G-d gives us all the details—how long the Ark should be, its width and its height, and even that it should have a pitched roof!

Then the Torah gets even more specific, describing where to place a door, which is being very practical. However the next piece of advice is not so simple. G-d tells Noach to place a tzohar in the Ark. 

What does tzohar mean? It can be explained in two ways—either a window or a precious stone, which shines and will give off light. But here is where the problem lies with both of these explanations: neither of them will bring enough light into the Ark to illuminate all three floors of the Ark! And even if either could illuminate all three of the floors, during the storm (which raged the first forty days that they were in the Ark) the sun did not shine, so how would they bring in light? One window/stone wouldn’t be enough. In addition, there was more than one human being in the Ark, plus all the animals, all of whom had to see what was going on! Can you imagine the chaos that would go on in all the darkness? How could one window/stone do the job?

Logic tells us that Noach built windows and hung lanterns throughout the Ark. Perhaps he even hung precious stones to illuminate the Ark, even without the direct command from G-d. 

This begs the question—if Noach had the sense to do so on his own, why did G-d have to command him to add “one tzohar” to the Ark?

We must say that G-d had a deeper reason for this odd command.

G-d was telling Noach that although the world outside is dark, he must figure out how to bring the "light" from outside in, and how to share the "light" from inside with the outside world.

Look what the outside world can give to you and what you can contribute to the outside world.

No matter how special you may be, there is still some kind of lesson that you can take from others.

You may meet a disagreeable person, yet you can still look for a way to learn a positive lesson from them. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them; you must only recognize that they, too, are a source of light. The same thing is true the other way around. It is imperative for each of us to find a way to share what we know and what we have with others, so that they can understand and appreciate what it is that we cherish so much. 

Like the Jewish Federation motto “Share the Light,” or the classic Chasidic saying, “Become a Lamplighter,” shine so that others can shine as well.

Shabbat Shalom

The Gift of Giving

Here is a Friday morning question for you:  


Many a bakery gives their leftover baked goods to homeless shelters at the end of the day as an act of charity. Do you agree that this is a good deed? Or would you say that since they would be throwing it in the trash anyway, they might as well give it away? 


The same can be said for clothes ... and many other such in-kind donations.  


Interestingly, the Torah’s perspective is that if you really mean to do a Mitzvah, you should give away the “first” - a small portion – and do so happily. This way you are truly showing that you know where your blessings come from. Then, at the end of the day, you can and should give with abundance.  


However, this begs the question, why?      


Before I answer, let me fill you in about this law. The Torah teaches us about Bikurim, the laws about the “First Fruits.” In Temple times, Jews would bring the first of their fruits to Jerusalem and eat them there as a “gift to G-d," demonstrating that they understood the growth that occurs in the fields is all thanks to G-d.  


Why is it important for us give a "gift" to G-d? Does G-d really need our gifts? 


The question is not really about what G-d needs; it is more about us. Why do we have to show G-d that we appreciate what He does for us? 


By showing our appreciation, we are not only recognizing that all of our blessings come from G-d, we are actually drawing down His blessings into our world, by “sending” them back up.   


Let me explain: G-d provides us with a blessing. When we show G-d that we recognize that blessing, we are "returning" the favor, and hence get a renewed and a greater blessing in return. 


We learn this from the prayer that we say while bringing our first fruits—we mention the miracles that G-d provided to Jacob while in Laban's home, and the miracle of the exodus from Egypt. 


Why these two miracles when there were other times that G-d performed miracles as well? 


These two miracles occurred while there was stability in the life of the Jews, during the 20 years in Aram and the 210 years in Egypt. During both of these times, the peace was challenged and both times the Jews were saved from calamity.  


The Jews brought the Bikurim only after the Jews settled in the land of Israel and it was a peaceful time. At that point they were able to recognize that not only did G-d provide them with a blessing, they wanted to recognize it and capture the blessing by giving back. 


This type of giving back is not with words, but through action! While we are working to earn a living, we take that earning and use it to give thanks to G-d.


That is why it is important to “sandwich” our livelihood with a gift to G-d.


Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova. 




Defining our Relationship


Imagine getting into a relationship knowing in advance that you plan to get out of it. Would you call that a commitment to the relationship or just a pledge? Surprisingly, some people might even call that a marriage.

Interestingly, Jewish law prohibits one from getting married if they don’t plan to stay married for life. Yes, there is a way out if it doesn’t work and, in this week’s Torah portion, we read about the laws of divorce, but that cannot be in the plan as the couple starts off under the chupah.

Yet, we may ask the question, why not? Why must we make a commitment for life? Isn’t it enough if we promise to “give it a try?”

After all, G-d Himself did that with the Jewish people when he chose us as his nation. He made a commitment and then kept on second-guessing Himself, asking Moses, “Should I exchange this nation for another one?” Is that the way one talks when they have made a lifelong commitment?

Clearly, G-d did make a lifelong commitment to the Jewish people – as we made to Him – and the evidence is right in front of us. The fact that we, G-d’s children, are still here, preparing for the High Holidays for the 3,300th time tells us something. True, we might have a rocky marriage at times, but the thought of divorce? Never. Not from G-d’s perspective and not from ours. Does G-d ever get upset with us? Clearly. Do we ever get frustrated with G-d? Naturally! Is that to be expected? Obviously—we are human, after all. But that is beside the point. What matters is the underlying commitment that we have to this relationship.

Since this commitment is here as a nation, we have an obligation to be honest with ourselves as individuals, and ask - Are we in this for life or is this just a trial run?

Contemplate this question as you sit this year during the High Holidays services. Consider yourself under the chupah with G-d: Are you trying it out or are you committed for life? Our attitude matters as we ask G-d for a blessed new year. As our appeal goes, so do the blessings in return.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova U’metukah!





Whose Money Is it After All?

Once I visited my friend Marty Pearlmutter at his store in Dresher, Lester Martin Jewelers, and he showed me an envelope from a jewelry company with an interesting acronym on the envelope: EO”M. Knowing that the owners were from Chabad in New York, he asked if I could make sense of it. Marty was familiar with the letters commonly found on stationery, B”H, which stand for Baruch Hashem (blessed is G-d), but EO”M was new to Marty.



Recognizing the family business, I remembered the famous family history and its associated story.


This family has been in the jewelry business for many decades. Its founder’s name was Binyamin Kletzker. The story goes that one year when he was preparing his books for taxes, he worked through his ledger. When it came time to declare his total profit for the year, instead of filling in a number, he wrote the words “Ein Od Milvado,” meaning there is nothing else other than G-d. The family still keeps the acronym, EO”M on all business-related stationery.


What does it mean when a businessman looks at his business and recognizes that all of it comes from G-d? Doesn’t he deserve some credit for building it up?  If he truly believed that it all belongs to G-d, then shouldn’t he have written this sentence on the first line of his ledger, not on the last?


What is the lesson here?


Before we answer, let's take a little detour by asking a question that doesn’t appear to relate to the lesson.


Can one self-incriminate? On the one hand, if you say something about yourself, it is valued as if 100 witnesses say something about you. On the other hand, what if you self-incriminate? Do you have permission to hurt yourself?


The Torah differentiates between self-incrimination that affects your finances vs. your body and soul. For example, we believe you if you say that you owe a person $100, but we don’t believe you if you say that you killed someone.


Why is it that, if you are trusted about yourself, you should always be trusted, but if not, not.  Isn’t a truism always true?


Of course we always believe you. The question is whether you have the right to hurt yourself with your true testimony.


You see, the Torah teaches us that our body and soul are not our own. That is why we don’t have the right to hurt ourselves, even if we go to court and self-incriminate. On the other hand, money that you have earned is yours. Yes, we have to recognize that “all comes from G-d,” but only once we made it our own first. Once it is ours we have the liberty, and the responsibility, to give part of it away for Tzedakah.


Now we can appreciate the uniqueness of Binyamin Kletzker. Sure, he was a wise and successful businessman, but at the end of the day, he knew that he had to recognize that “there is nothing else other than G-d.”


As we find ourselves just weeks away from the High Holidays, it is worth taking a few moments to think of what this means to us; what does EO”M stand for? How can we incorporate this acronym into our daily lives?


Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!










How To Be Connected In a Connected World

We live in a digitally connected world. Perhaps that is why the word “connected” has lost some of its meaning. Yet, we should take a moment and think about the significance of the word.

Every time I “connect” to the internet, is that really making a connection? What is meaningful about that technicality? True, technically that is what is is happening, but that is not an emotional or a meaningful connection.

Even when we do a favor for someone, or when we do a good deed, a Mitzvah, are we really connecting to G-d? Or are we just coming closer to G-d?

Are we just splitting hairs here or is there a real difference between coming close and connecting?

The Torah says in this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, “fulfill the commandments, and connect to me.” This language seems to indicate that G-d is asking for something more than just action. What is it that G-d is looking for?

Some Mitzvot are more appealing to us than others – they make us feel good or are meaningful – so we like to do them. Then there are Mitzvot that make us uncomfortable or are less meaningful to us, so we tend to avoid doing them. G-d is telling us that when we fulfill the Mitzvot that “speak to us” we are coming closer to G-d in the process, but we are not connecting since we are blocking that connection with our ego, as there is a selfish component to our actions. However, when we do a Mitzvah, one that makes us uncomfortable in the process, we are doing so for one reason only – to connect to G-d – then we are not only coming closer, we are becoming one.

We are connected.

Shabbat Shalom



Can You Compare?

It is interesting when people compare one thing to another, as how passing a kidney stone is akin to giving birth. I am not able to confirm or deny such a claim because I am not omniscient. However, when the Omniscient Himself makes a statement comparing two seemingly unrelated events to each other, we need to take notice, since G-d does know.



The Talmud states: The breaking of the Tablets mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, was as difficult to Him as the death of a Tzadik, a righteous person.


How can the two be compared to each other? The Ten Commandments were given by G-d to Moses, engraved in stone… This is G-d’s handiwork! Compare this to a righteous person. This individual is a great person, true, but is self-made. It is not as if G-d inserted into them some special powers. They become great because they worked hard on themselves to become that way. Hard work toward self-improvement did it. How can you compare them to the Tablets?


Here is where we need to dig a little deeper to gain a better appreciation of the two, to see the comparison.


What makes the tablets, “Tablets?” The stone itself or the words engraved upon them?  Seemingly, the stone was just stone until the words were engraved. Yet, the moment the words were etched into the stone they became something very different. They became The Tablets, a totally new entity. They were no longer rock that came from a quarry; they became the holiest stone in the world. When this stone broke, it was a huge tragedy!


It’s the same with a human being. A body is flesh and blood, but so is a corpse. What makes a human being special is the soul that gives it life. The uniqueness of each individual is how that soul develops over time. What do we grow up to be? What kind of life do we lead? What contribution do we make to society? Once we grow, we are no longer defined by our flesh and blood; we are defined by the words that are etched into the society that we have created around us, into the people whom we have influenced, and into ourselves, selves that we have made into better and more refined people. We are no longer the same as we were when we were born. We become a blossoming soul. When a righteous person, one who lived their life to the fullest, dies, it is a huge tragedy!


Now we can understand the comparison.


Now we can also understand why the Jews carried with them the broken set of tablets along with the second set in the Ark of the Covenant at all times—they didn’t represent their sin that caused the break, but rather the “soul” within the Tablets that lasts forever.


We, too, can learn from this, to hold onto the souls of our loved ones forever even after they physically depart from this world.


Within Our Reach

Have you ever found yourself frustrated when you try to get something done but are held back by circumstances out of your control? 

And what if the same person who tasked you with this request is the one holding you back? What then? 

That was Moses’s dilemma. 

G-d gave a command that could only apply in the Land of Israel. Yet G-d told Moses that he would not enter Israel. How in the world was Moses to fulfil it? This was very frustrating to him!  

From Moses’s actions we can learn a life lesson.

First, however, let’s learn a little Talmudic jargon. Was the command given to Moses a command for him, the person, or a command that the action be done, irrelevant of the person doing it?

The command regards the Cities of Refuge, sanctuaries for people who killed inadvertently. Was the command that cities be set up, or that Moses himself set them up? 

Moses said, “Even if I cannot do so myself because I cannot enter the Land of Israel, it is not an excuse for me to not participate in some form or another, even if it is just as a preparation for Jews of the next generation. I want to do my part.” Moses designated the location of the City of Refuge – even though such a sanctuary did not exist yet – by figuratively sticking a stake in the ground.

The lesson for us is clear. It is easy to make excuses in life saying, “I cannot do this or that for reasons that are beyond my control.” But Moses teaches us that we can lay down the rules; we can put a stake in the ground. We must let our will be known and do something, even if we cannot accomplish our goal until a later date. Do something now, even if it is just a small step.

Shabbat Shalom! 


Applied Knowledge

Often, I am asked about the different style of the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, from the other five books of the Torah. All the other books are written in third person, “And G-d spoke to Moses saying,” etc., while the fifth book is in the first person, where Moses speaks to the Jews directly.

Why is it that this book is written differently than the rest? Especially when this style can confuse people into thinking that Moses is writing it on his own! Well, maybe Moses is. After all, doesn’t the Talmud itself say, “Moses wrote it on his own?” This can be very confusing. If the fifth book is so different, then shouldn’t it be part of the Prophets and not part of the Torah, which is considered to be have been written “by G-d?” How do we reconcile these two ideas, that it is the word of G-d yet it is Moses’s?

There are two ways a student learns and then teaches others. As they first learn and consume the information they are just a conduit, taking it all in, and passing it on to the next person. Of course they have an understanding, but they have not internalized that information; it did not become one with them. They didn’t take ownership of it. Over time, however, they can come to a deeper appreciation of the material they have learned. They start to take ownership of it. They have internalized the information. At this point, they are not sharing it in “third person” any longer; it is theirs. Of course, they will always recognize their teacher and will always give credit to that individual; nevertheless, it becomes theirs. 

I am sure you can relate when you catch yourself thinking, “Oh my! I sound like my mother!” The words that you said are your own. However, the message that your mother taught you was incorporated into your being to such an extent that you started thinking and talking exactly like her.

This is the meaning of “G-d spoke through Moses’s mouth.” Moses became so devoted to G-d that when he spoke in first person, it was not because he spoke on his own as in a selfish way, but because he became so selfless that his whole being was about teaching what G-d had taught him.

That is why the fifth book of the Torah is exactly that: a fifth book, part and parcel of G-d’s five books of the Torah. 



A Murderers Refuge

Whatever your thoughts are on the death penalty, remember that they only apply to one who intentionally killed another. What should the punishment be for one who killed another inadvertently? Purely by accident; no reckless action involved. For example, just the other week, a man was using his lawn mower. He ran over a tool in his yard, the tool went flying and hit his young daughter. In this case, he did not kill her, but she did get a huge cut across her face and needed many stiches. But if she had died – G-d forbid – what should his punishment be? To make it more understandable, let’s say it was a neighbor’s kid. Who would you judge?


The Torah, In this week’s portion, gives us the law: Set up cities of refuge where such a person can flee so that they are protected from any family member of the victim who may want to seek revenge! They are to remain in these cities until the High Priest dies.




We learn from this the following:

A – Family members can seek revenge only if the person is outside of the city of refuge, and only during the lifetime of the current High Priest.

B – The person is guilty of the crime – even though it was an accident, so long as the High Priest is alive. After his death, the person is forgiven.

C – For some unexplained reason, the High Priest is connected to this person, although he had nothing to do with his action.




The holiest of society, the High Priest, and the lowest, a killer – even if the crime were inadvertent – are nevertheless intertwined. There is no running away. We have to care for each other. Our lives are intertwined. The love that we need to show to another human being who is going through the process of self-improvement has to be non-judgmental. Help lift the person up every day of their life. Once the High Priest completes his task, and passes away, the person’s process of repentance is complete and now he is a free man and no one can seek revenge against him anymore.




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