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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Are you a Red, Yellow, or Green Jew?

 These days we sit and wait week after week thinking, when are we going to move from red to yellow and eventually from yellow to green? We know that these transitions are not dependent on us, but on factors that are out of our control. Yet, we hope that the situation will improve so that our lives can return to some normalcy.

 

This got me thinking—If I had to grade myself, what color would I give myself? Not in regards to corona, but in regards to Judaism. Am I a red, yellow, or green Jew? 

 

The Red Jew: You stop in your tracks. You are a Jew because you are a member of the tribe. You are the “chosen nation.” You might not be too sure what that really means but you know that if someone calls you a Jew, you know that they are referring to you.

 

The Yellow Jew: You stop and take pause. You think about it once in a while. You might light the Shabbat candles, make Kiddush Friday night, or lay the Tefillin. You have a charity box in your home and pay synagogue dues. You have a mezuzah on your front door. You proudly identify yourself as a Jew wherever you go!

 

The Green Jew: You are a Jew-on-the-go. You are always looking for a mitzvah to do. On an ongoing, daily basis you are thinking, planning, talking, and acting like a Jew. Perhaps you are even an activist on behalf of Israel or some other Jewish cause. One thing is for sure, when it comes to Judaism, you are always on the go!

 

As we prepare for the Shavuot holiday, let’s all be in the Green Zone, even if only spiritually.

What Is the Upside to the Coronavirus?

Let’s be honest: Before this all started, how often did we spend quality time with our spouses and our children? Yes, an hour here and there, a vacation for a week here and there. But two months (and counting)? Unheard of!

 

If you are alone the next question will still apply, but perhaps not as resolutely. I am sure we are all spending more time thinking about the big questions in life. Who is really the provider of life, of our livelihood, of our health? One day we might have a job, and the next day it can be gone. One day the stock market is up, and the next it can fall. We start to think after all, is there a “creator to this world?” Who is pulling the strings? Is it President Trump, Dr. Fauci, or Governor Wolf?

 

This week’s Torah portion talks about the Mitzvah of the Sabbatical year, a Mitzvah that is still practiced today in Israel. Every seventh year, farmers must let their fields lay fallow. One way to understand the reason for this commandment is that when we work the land, even if we try to remember at all times that all our blessings come from G-d, it is easy to forget – at times - where our livelihood truly comes from. Therefore, once every seven years we take a year off, which forces us to rely on the blessings from heaven. This reminds us that even during the years that we do work the land, it is not our hard toil that brings us our blessings; it’s G-d that provides for us.  

 

So, although we must do our part, we also keep in mind that the blessings come from G-d. This can be done in two ways: Thinking that we are the main providers and G-d is just our “support system,” or, we can look at it the other way around—that G-d is our provider and we are just the ones who create the conduit for G-d's blessings to take hold.  

 

We are now living a “sabbatical” of sorts. Working at home is still work, don’t get me wrong. But since we are spending more time at home, it does give us this opportunity to think about G-d, our provider.

This gift of time allows us to slow down, even though this is sometimes very difficult to do. 

 

However, now that we have been forced to put the brakes on life and even come to a screeching halt, let’s take the time to think about G-d's role in our lives, how He is the ultimate provider. Even if life is hard now, things will turn around—they always have. G-d does not remain a “debtor;” if we do our part, he will do His.  

Should We Be Enforcing Mask-wearing?

Recently we have seen in the news that the police in New York are issuing summons to people not wearing masks.   

 

The question is: Is this method effective? Or is it better to use a positive approach by handing out free masks to those in need?  

 

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, starts with, “G-d telling Moses to tell the Kohanim (priests), the children of Aaron, that they should not become ritually impure.” This double expression (telling and tell) teaches us that it is the responsibility of the elders to teach the younger generation these laws. Or to interpret it another way, it is the responsibility of the courts to teach these laws.

  

Let’s apply this teaching to our lives today. The elders and parents should teach the young. Or the courts, meaning the authorities and the police force, should teach the public how to remain pure and safe from any virus and disease. How is this done? By education. This is not done by punishment. This is done by positive reinforcement.   

 

When we teach a child what it means to grow up to be a holy “priest” and how special it is to be able to serve G-d, this child wants to be extra careful in his or her behavior so that they are always pure and holy.  

 

If we cannot inspire ourselves in our behavior, how can we expect to inspire others? When we practice responsible social distancing (according to CDC guidelines) then when the economy starts to reopen and we go back to work, others will do likewise, not because they fear that we will snitch on them, but because they are inspired to do the same.  

 

We are in this together. Let us be a holy nation. A nation of “priests.” Let us remain healthy and happy and let us pray that a remedy will be found for this awful coronavirus quickly! 

 

Shabbat Shalom. 

 

 

Celebrating Judaism at Home

 At a time when we are all homebound, the yearning to go to synagogue becomes stronger. We miss seeing people. We miss praying together as a congregation. We miss the camaraderie.  We simply miss congregating.  However, we can also ask ourselves: Isn’t being “cut off” from the world a holy and spiritual endeavor that we should all aspire to?  

 

On a recent Backstage production, they were talking about utilizing this time of quarantine to slow down and so on, when someone said, yes, that’s called Shabbos!  

 

Yes, we have Shabbos, and we certainly have the most holy of all days of the year, Yom Kippur, when we go to synagogue for much of the day, we fast, pray and feel inspired. Back in the days of the Holy Temple, the High Priest would prepare for this day for a week in advance, separating from his family while he lived on the Temple grounds.  

 

Today, I would like to take a lesson, not from Yom Kippur itself, but from the end of the holiday, when the High Priest would finally return home. The custom was for the Jewish community to follow him home and the High Priest and his family would host a huge party for everyone!  

 

The purpose of Yom Kippur is to forgive all of us for the sins we committed during the year. However, the High Priest is not meant to be separated from the community and seen as “higher” than everyone else, but rather to be one of us, one who feels the pain and suffering of each and every member of the Jewish people.  

 

That is why first and foremost he prays for himself and his immediate family, to show that he is relevant, a real down-to-earth person; then and only then does he pray for the rest of the Jewish community.   

 

After Yom Kippur is over, when the first thing he does is go home, to his lovely family, he teaches us that as holy as Yom Kippur is, and as holy as the Holy Temple is, Judaism is meant to be celebrated in the home.

 

Today, we are celebrating Judaism in our home, not necessarily because we want to, but because we must. Let’s embrace it, as this is the highest level of serving G-d! 

 

Finding the Hidden Treasures

There are times when we feel that the laws of the Torah may be too stringent. One such example is in this week’s Torah portion when we are given the laws of the Metzorah. Here are the details in short: 

 

Let’s say someone is inflicted with tzara’at (for lack of an exact English translation, some form of leprosy), and it spreads from a person to their clothes and finally to the walls of their home (like mold). The treatment to rid the home of this tzara’at is to destroy the home!   

 

Don’t worry, though: The famous commentator Rashi quoting from the Midrash, tells us the Emorites hid many valuables in their walls when they heard that the Jews would be making their way toward Israel. Eventually, when a Jewish house – which once was an Emorite home – would be destroyed because of the tzara’at, they would find these valuables. So, although it looks like a punishment, there is a hidden treasure within the punishment.      

 

It is interesting to point out that although Rashi is quoting the Midrash, he changes the words of the Midrash and instead of writing the “Canaanites” (the general term that describes all the nations that lived in Israel at the time), he mentions one specific tribe that lived in one area, the “Emorites.” From this we learn that there is a lesson to be learned.  

 

Emor means “to say.” There are hidden messages in the words that we say. When they are bad words, they can cause damage, to the extent that we can be punished with tzara’at; but even within this “punishment” we can reveal a reward, something even greater—we can find an inner treasure. All we must do is look. Sometimes we place them there ourselves, and sometimes they are placed there by others.  

 

Being home for the foreseeable future, we are doing some cleaning and we are finding some treasures of our own. This has encouraged some great conversation. Look around your own home and see if you can find a treasure of your own. The trick is to keep all the words that we say to be positive, as our words reveal the hidden “I”.  

 

Shabbat Shalom. 

Are We All Professionals?

Overnight, parents became teachers, people who always ate out are preparing meals for themselves and their loves ones, and people who worked in teams suddenly find they are fending for themselves. The world has turned upside down. Or perhaps, did it turn downside up?
 

Is there a positive side to all of this?
 

We find an interesting lesson in this week’s Torah portion where it talks about building the courtyard fence. 
 

Seemingly, it was a simple task to set up the foundation blocks, hammer the pegs into the ground, and tighten the string that would hold up the fence surrounding the courtyard. Yet, we find that this task necessitated talented people who knew how to tighten the ropes so that the material would not sail in the wind. It was not enough to have talented individuals to weave the beautiful tapestry, goldsmiths to create the fine gold ornaments for the temple, carpenters to hew the large wood beams, and so on.  Every single task required skilled craftsmanship.
 

This is a lesson for all of us. Until this week, we handed off many of our daily “routine” tasks to others. From educating our children to preparing our meals. Suddenly, we are noticing that these tasks require talent and care, and requires us to step up to the plate and learn quickly how to accomplish these tasks.  Things that we took for granted, not noticing their value, have suddenly been brought into focus and taught us that yes, this too, takes skill.
 

The Torah calls all these talented people Chachmie Lev, meaning caring, wise people. To be one requires not only an understanding of what has to get done, but to do so with passion and sincerity. 
 

We, too, should embrace our “new” roles with wisdom and passion, or to use the more modern vernacular, emotional intelligence, as we embark on this short-term lockdown of our society. 
 

Let’s utilize this quality time with our loved ones to learn together, play together, and be creative together, to create positive family memories together and ultimately, as a nation, we will pull out of this together as a healthy nation!
 

Shabbat Shalom. 

Wash Your Hands!

How important is it to wash your hands? Better yet, is this a new phenomenon? A few weeks ago a doctor stood up in shul and told everyone to start being more careful about shaking hands, about “social distancing,” about the importance of good hygiene, and so on. He even gave us a quick history lesson on why Jews have been spared, historically, from plagues because we have a tradition of washing ourselves more frequently than other peoples.  

 

Where does this tradition come from?  

 

From this week’s Torah portion!  

   

The first thing that the priests did when they entered the tabernacle/temple to serve, was to wash their hands and feet in a specially made wash basin. This was obligatory.   

    

From here we learn that the first thing we do every morning before we say our morning prayers, is wash our hands.  


One may think that this washing of the hands is a “traditional” purification done by the priests before entering the temple, and we just mimic their behavior so that we can remember what they have done. This may be true on some level, but it is much more than just that.   

 

If it were just a ritual purification of the hands, then why did they wash their feet? They didn’t have paved roads like we have today, so they cleaned themselves off so that they could simply be clean, as the verse says, “Prepare yourselves so that you can serve G-d.“ Judaism espouses cleanliness. 

 

That is why many codifiers of Jewish law are of the opinion that it is not enough to just perform the traditional hand washing in the morning before saying prayers, but one must also wash their face, etc.  to be truly clean first thing in the morning before serving G-d 

 

As we enter this hypersensitive mode of not spreading disease from one person to another, we should know that this is not just good manners, but a Torah idea as well.  

 

However, just like we can spread a disease, we can spread positivity. Good deeds spread a lot quicker, because they spread without contact. If you know someone, especially someone elderly who is stuck at home, go grocery shopping for them.  

 

And if you are concerned about your health, perhaps you need your Mezuzah checked to make sure that it is Kosher, give me a call so that I can come over and take a look! Remember, trust in Hashem. He who has the power to heal.  

 

Shabbat Shalom, 

 

 

 

 

 

A Purim Lesson

At the very end of the Purim story, the scroll of Esther tells us how to celebrate the newly established holiday of Purim. It says that in addition to performing the four mitzvot (reading the scroll of Esther, giving gifts of food to your friends, giving money to the poor, and having a festive meal), it explains why we should do all of theseit is not just because our lives were saved. It is much more than that.  

 

 

 

 

The scroll tells us that our lives were turned upside down – in a good way: Everything that we did not expect to happen, happened. The choice was ours and we took it.  

 

 

 

 

What does this mean?  

 

 

 

 

Let us go back to the beginning of the story to have a better appreciation of this ending.  

 

 

 

 

King Ahasuerus threw a big party and invited everyone to come to the party. At the party there were numerous abnormalities. Let’s point out two of them: He offered an abundance of alcoholic beverages but took the unusual step of not imposing on anyone to drink (this was not in vogue at the time)He said, If you want to drink, drink. If not, not. Then, when he ordered his wife, Vashti, to appear in a compromised way and she refused, he was unsure if she deserved the death penalty – for disobeying him king! Under normal circumstances his decision would be clear as day. Why suddenly the doubt? That he needed to be convinced to kill his wife? 

 

 

 

 

From this we can deduce that an underlying theme of the Purim story ifree choice. Vashti had free choice to listen to her husband but she chose not to. The guests at the party had a choice to drink or not to. Some did, some didn’t.  

 

 

 

 

Why is this important to us?  

 

 

 

 

In some way, Ahasuerus opened the minds and hearts of the Jews to look at their own Torah in a way in which they never looked at it before. Until that point, they had followed the Torah because their ancestors did. To take ownership of something, you have to do so out of free will.   

 

 

 

 

Having our life turned upside down can be a good thing, if we end up standing straight up. That is, if we stop to contemplate what just happened. The Jews at the time did just that. They said: Our lives just went through the biggest roller coaster of our generation. We came out on top, seemingly without any major, earth-shattering miracle(they didn’t know of the behind-the-scenes miracles). Yet, the Jews were smart enough to learn a major lesson: We have free choice! Let’s embrace that free choice. Let’s reconnect with the Torah. Let’s make it ours, not only because it is our inheritance, but because we want it. 

 

 

 

 

We too should internalize the lesson of Purim and embrace the lessons of the Torah, with free choice. Not because our parents told us to, but because we want to.   

 

 

 

 

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom.   

 

Build for me a Temple

While there are many very famous verses in the Torah, one of them that can be found in many synagogues around the world is, “Build for me a sanctuary so that I can dwell within it.” This verse refers to the commandment that the Jews must build a temporary tabernacle while in the desert, and then build a permanent one in Jerusalem. The only remnant of that permanent structure is the Western Wall on the Temple Mount; hence, it is a very holy place.
 

This verse’s meaning has been interpreted to include “mini-temples,” synagogues that we have built over the last two thousand plus years, and that our synagogues also are places where G-d’s presence is felt, and that He can and does dwell within its four walls.
 

However, we should ask, does it stop there? Can we turn our homes into mini-mini-temples as well? 
 

You might be familiar with the famous rabbinic adage that the world stands on three pillars: on the study of the Torah, on prayer, and on charitable acts.

These three pillars existed in the Temple in Jerusalem. The study of Torah obviously was there.  Prayer was practiced three times a day; and the Temple was the center of charitable acts.
 

We can incorporate these same three ideas into our own homes. We can study Torah, by book or on the internet. Our prayers can be as short as saying a blessing on food or the quick Modeh Ani or one-line of the Shema in the morning. And we can be doing good deeds such as having a charity box at home and putting some money into at least once a day, having guests over, and being kind to your family and friends.
 

In these ways we can make our home a place where G-d can feel welcome.

Thinking About Passover Yet?

 If it is not Purim yet, why are we thinking about Passover?

 

Actually, we think about Passover every day! Jews are obsessed with Passover. Every day we do things to remember the Exodus from Egypt. Rosh Chodesh, which has become known as a “girls’ thing,” was the first Mitzvah to be established, even before the Exodus. Why? It is so that we should know for future generations when Passover falls out, so that it falls out in the spring. And the Torah tells us to wear Tefillin, a “men’s thing,” every day so that we remember the Exodus from Egypt every day.

 

What is the obsession with the Exodus? Granted it was a great miracle, but why isn’t it enough to remember the story once a year when the holiday comes around, just as we remember the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai? Or the story of Purim?

 

The Exodus from Egypt was unique in the sense that it was not an experience that benignly happened to us, with the Jewish people as observers, even if it affected us and made a great impression on us. The Exodus was different. We were not only part of the experience; we were the experience itself! The transformation happened outside of us and inside of us. Egypt, in Hebrew is Mitzroyim. Change the vowels, and you have the Hebrew word Meitzorim, limitations and boundaries. The Exodus was not only from within the confines of the physical borders of Egypt, but from the personal limitations and self-imposed boundaries that we put on ourselves. Going out of Egypt is not a one-time success story; it is a daily battle. It takes faith in G-d, and faith in oneself to overcome our struggles and overcome the challenges of life, and make it through our own exile.

 

This is why an integral part of Judaism is to remember every single day, even multiple times a day, that G-d took us out of Egypt so that we know that, we too, with the help of G-d, can overcome our own personal Egypt, and celebrate our own exodus.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

The Choice to Procreate

 Honoring our parents seems to be a given, but is it?
 

Why are we drawn towards respect for our parents? Why are they like “G-d” in our eyes? After all, they are just two human beings who decided to have us and raise us. 
 

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the Ten Commandments. The Midrash tells us that the first five of the Ten Commandments are between “man and G-d,” while the second set of five is between “man and man.” Based on this idea, why is the commandment to “honor your father and mother” in the first five, between “man and G-d,” and not between “man and man,” which would seem to be more fitting?
 

Perhaps there is more to begetting children than what meets the eye. A man and woman can be one hundred percent healthy and still not have children, either for medical reasons or by choice. This does not make them any less human. (Did you see the latest issue of Philadelphia Magazines cover story: “Why doesn’t anyone want to have kids anymore?”) However, when a man and woman choose to have children, they are acting G-dly. When a couple decides to have children, they are not only procreating, they are bringing G-d into their lives—they are “partnering with G-d.” Therefore, when a child respects their parents, it is not only an act between man and man, but between man and G-d.
 

This is why it is important for us, when we are children, to not only be kind to our parents, but to have respect, and to be in awe of our parents, for acting “G-d-like” and choosing to bring us into this world.  For this act, we should be forever grateful. 
 

In just a few weeks my mother will be celebrating her 70th birthday. In her honor our family got together to celebrate her life and to say thank you for all that she does for us. She is a woman who not only brought me and my siblings into this world but created this family (see picture) and built a world all of its own. Her home is always open. Her Shabbat table is always surrounded by guests from around the world. The bedrooms are constantly filled with people from who-knows-where. And, if you think she would have slowed down after my father passed way more than ten years ago, you are wrong.  My mother is a positive person, always living life to the fullest! She lifts us all up, inspiring a generation to do more good, to change the world for the better, and to make our homes, G-dly homes.  
 

May G-d bless her to live a happy life, a long life and may we all merit to give her much Jewish nachas.  Shabbat Shalom.
 

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Going Out of Your Way

If you ask 10 random people if they think of themselves as kind, the answer in 9 out of 10 cases would be yes. If you press them a little further and ask them if they are willing to go out of their way to do a good deed for someone, now you have them thinking. Not because they are not kind people, but because at this point, they are being asked to go out of their comfort zone. You see, there is a difference between just doing good and going that extra mile.

 

Last week’s Torah portion taught us about the first seven plagues, and in this week’s portion we learn about the last three of the ten. We learn that only at the last plague, the death of the first born, do we find the expression, “G-d went out” during the plague of the death of the first-born child. So what happened during the other plagues—was G-d not involved? Surely, He was! Yet this time something very different took place. During the other nine plagues all that G-d had to do was give instructions to Moses and Aaron as to how the plagues should come forth—and so they did. This time around, G-d wanted to make sure that nothing went wrong.

 

G-d was concerned—What if there was a Jewish first-born in the house of an Egyptian? Would he be killed by mistake? Granted he didn’t belong there, and the fact that he was there should tell us something about this fellow (as in, what is he doing there in the first place?). So G-d says He will “go out” and roam the streets, so to speak, to make sure that nothing happens to any Jew.

 

G-d went “out of His way” to protect the Jew. The ungodly Jew. The Jew who didn’t care that he was hanging out in the non-Jewish section of town, in the homes of anti-Semites! Yet, G-d didn’t give up on them and went Himself to find them! This is what it means to go out of our way to help a fellow person. 

 

Yes, we think of ourselves as fine people. But are we willing to go out of our way for another person, especially when they make us uncomfortable? That is the question. Let us learn from G-d how to do so. 

On Being Angry

Is it ever worth getting angry? On the one hand it shows that you are a person of passion, filled with so much emotion that a situation can move you to the point where you are boiling with anger. However, if you look at it from another perspective, it shows that you allowed a situation to get the better of you. And then you might come across as cold and callous.

 
How do you balance your emotions and yet show that you are serious?
 
If we look at this week’s Torah portion, we see something very interesting. G-d was about to punish the Egyptians for the suffering they caused the Jews. However, before He did so, he would perform, through Aaron and Moses, a little miracle.
 
Aaron took his staff and threw it down on the floor and it turned into a serpent. The Egyptian magicians were unfazed; they took their walking sticks and did the same. Aaron’s serpent then returned to the status of a staff and only then, swallowed the Egyptians’ staffs as they were serpents. Voila! Two miracles in just a few minutes.     
 
Our first question is why the need for this miracle in the first place? Don’t the miracles of the plagues make enough of an impression so that G-d does not have to perform this little meaningless trick as well? In addition, we must also ask, what is the meaning behind this double miracle—the staff turning into a serpent and then eating the other serpents, not as a serpent, but once it become a staff again first?    
 
Perhaps we can say that this was not about punishment, but about establishing the rules of engagement. G-d was showing the Egyptians who was in charge, and to prepare the Egyptians for the plagues to come. 
 
You see, a serpent is an “angry” animal. It slays. Therefore, first G-d sent the warning bells that bad things were going to happen. However, G-d also wanted Pharaoh to know that the punishments were not coming out of anger, but out of strength, which is symbolized by Aaron’s staff, not the serpent. 
 
That is why the miracle – as a way of introduction – is for the staff to turn into a serpent, but then to turn back into a staff and consume the other serpents, since being a serpent is not a good way of life. Being strong is.   
 
 
 
 
 
 
On Being Angry
 
Is it ever worth getting angry? On the one hand it shows that you are a person of passion, filled with so much emotion that a situation can move you to the point where you are boiling with anger. However, if you look at it from another perspective, it shows that you allowed a situation to get the better of you. And then you might come across as cold and callous.
 
How do you balance your emotions and yet show that you are serious?
 
If we look at this week’s Torah portion, we see something very interesting. G-d was about to punish the Egyptians for the suffering they caused the Jews. However, before He did so, he would perform, through Aaron and Moses, a little miracle.
 
Aaron took his staff and threw it down on the floor and it turned into a serpent. The Egyptian magicians were unfazed; they took their walking sticks and did the same. Aaron’s serpent then returned to the status of a staff and only then, swallowed the Egyptians’ staffs as they were serpents. Voila! Two miracles in just a few minutes.     
 
Our first question is why the need for this miracle in the first place? Don’t the miracles of the plagues make enough of an impression so that G-d does not have to perform this little meaningless trick as well? In addition, we must also ask, what is the meaning behind this double miracle—the staff turning into a serpent and then eating the other serpents, not as a serpent, but once it become a staff again first?    
 
Perhaps we can say that this was not about punishment, but about establishing the rules of engagement. G-d was showing the Egyptians who was in charge, and to prepare the Egyptians for the plagues to come. 
 
You see, a serpent is an “angry” animal. It slays. Therefore, first G-d sent the warning bells that bad things were going to happen. However, G-d also wanted Pharaoh to know that the punishments were not coming out of anger, but out of strength, which is symbolized by Aaron’s staff, not the serpent. 
 
That is why the miracle – as a way of introduction – is for the staff to turn into a serpent, but then to turn back into a staff and consume the other serpents, since being a serpent is not a good way of life. Being strong is.   
 
 

On Being Angry

Is it ever worth getting angry? On the one hand it shows that you are a person of passion, filled with so much emotion that a situation can move you to the point where you are boiling with anger. However, if you look at it from another perspective, it shows that you allowed a situation to get the better of you. And then you might come across as cold and callous.

 
How do you balance your emotions and yet show that you are serious?
 
If we look at this week’s Torah portion, we see something very interesting. G-d was about to punish the Egyptians for the suffering they caused the Jews. However, before He did so, he would perform, through Aaron and Moses, a little miracle.
 
Aaron took his staff and threw it down on the floor and it turned into a serpent. The Egyptian magicians were unfazed; they took their walking sticks and did the same. Aaron’s serpent then returned to the status of a staff and only then, swallowed the Egyptians’ staffs as they were serpents. Voila! Two miracles in just a few minutes.     
 
Our first question is why the need for this miracle in the first place? Don’t the miracles of the plagues make enough of an impression so that G-d does not have to perform this little meaningless trick as well? In addition, we must also ask, what is the meaning behind this double miracle—the staff turning into a serpent and then eating the other serpents, not as a serpent, but once it become a staff again first?    
 
Perhaps we can say that this was not about punishment, but about establishing the rules of engagement. G-d was showing the Egyptians who was in charge, and to prepare the Egyptians for the plagues to come. 
 
You see, a serpent is an “angry” animal. It slays. Therefore, first G-d sent the warning bells that bad things were going to happen. However, G-d also wanted Pharaoh to know that the punishments were not coming out of anger, but out of strength, which is symbolized by Aaron’s staff, not the serpent. 
 
That is why the miracle – as a way of introduction – is for the staff to turn into a serpent, but then to turn back into a staff and consume the other serpents, since being a serpent is not a good way of life. Being strong is.   
 
 
 
 
 
 
On Being Angry
 
Is it ever worth getting angry? On the one hand it shows that you are a person of passion, filled with so much emotion that a situation can move you to the point where you are boiling with anger. However, if you look at it from another perspective, it shows that you allowed a situation to get the better of you. And then you might come across as cold and callous.
 
How do you balance your emotions and yet show that you are serious?
 
If we look at this week’s Torah portion, we see something very interesting. G-d was about to punish the Egyptians for the suffering they caused the Jews. However, before He did so, he would perform, through Aaron and Moses, a little miracle.
 
Aaron took his staff and threw it down on the floor and it turned into a serpent. The Egyptian magicians were unfazed; they took their walking sticks and did the same. Aaron’s serpent then returned to the status of a staff and only then, swallowed the Egyptians’ staffs as they were serpents. Voila! Two miracles in just a few minutes.     
 
Our first question is why the need for this miracle in the first place? Don’t the miracles of the plagues make enough of an impression so that G-d does not have to perform this little meaningless trick as well? In addition, we must also ask, what is the meaning behind this double miracle—the staff turning into a serpent and then eating the other serpents, not as a serpent, but once it become a staff again first?    
 
Perhaps we can say that this was not about punishment, but about establishing the rules of engagement. G-d was showing the Egyptians who was in charge, and to prepare the Egyptians for the plagues to come. 
 
You see, a serpent is an “angry” animal. It slays. Therefore, first G-d sent the warning bells that bad things were going to happen. However, G-d also wanted Pharaoh to know that the punishments were not coming out of anger, but out of strength, which is symbolized by Aaron’s staff, not the serpent. 
 
That is why the miracle – as a way of introduction – is for the staff to turn into a serpent, but then to turn back into a staff and consume the other serpents, since being a serpent is not a good way of life. Being strong is.   
 
 

How to Stop Hate


 
Lately, I have been asked about all the anti-Semitism that we currently see in America. Although we are not happy with this new wave, it is not new to us. Jews have been experiencing anti-Semitism here since the birth of our nation, but long before that, while we were in Egypt.
 
It all started when we were in Egypt way back when, after Joseph died, which occurs in this week’s Torah portion. “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” The rabbis point out that this can be taken literally: “A new king.” Or, the king made out as if he were new, i.e., he made out as if he did not know Joseph. Either way we interpret the verse, we see that anti-Semitism is born. The lack of appreciation for what Joseph did for the Egyptians was evident, but then it became time to strike back.
 
To gain a deeper understanding of this concept and how we as Jews are affected by it, we should continue reading the story. If we look closely, we see that two stories are told concurrently: the story that happens to us from the outside and the story that happens to us from within our own community.
 
I would like to focus on the story that happens from within our own community.
 
In the original story, after Moses neutralized an Egyptian for beating up a fellow Jew, he found out that word about his violence spread to the palace and his life was placed in danger. Moses said, “Behold, it became known.” In other words, people were talking negatively about Moses.  Clearly, someone reported his deed to the palace, so he concluded that there was an informer amongst the Jews. Such behavior was considered unacceptable.
 
Moses escaped and years passed. Eventually G-d appointed Moses to be the leader of the Jewish people and to take them out of their exile. Moses witnessed their suffering, which became so much worse than it was before he left. Moses said, “Now I understand why the Jews are suffering.” He didn’t mean that as a form of punishment, but rather as a form of enlightenment.
 
You see, even when we suffer and experience anti-Semitism (which is inexcusable), and even if it was brought upon us because of our own behavior (although that is not always the case), there can also be a silver lining. That is what Moses witnessed—Moses saw that the Jews came together. No longer was one Jew talking negatively about another. They were not backstabbing each other. Instead, he observed a united Jewish community. When his eyes beheld that scene, he knew that they would be redeemed. There would be an end to the suffering, an end to their pain.  
 
In our own time we have witnessed this as well. Less than two weeks ago on a beautiful Sunday morning, Jews from all stripes and colors walked hand in hand. Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews. Chasidic Jews and Conservative Jews. It didn’t matter because labels don’t matter. A Jew is a Jew, and we stand by each other’s side. Each put politics and differences aside and were united with one voice. We are one family, one people. When we witness such unity, we know that there will be an end to the hatred in this world.
 
Just as in Moses’s day when the Jews triumphed, so too today, we will succeed in stopping hatred from spreading and we will dispel the darkness with light, and replace hate with love, and usher in an era of peace and prosperity.  

 
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