Month: January 2020

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Bo

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Throughout the narrative of יציאת מצרים – the exodus out of Egypt, the Torah says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened or heavy. This metaphor is understood to mean that he was being obstinate, and he was being foolishly brave in opposing Hashem’s demand that he free the Jewish people.

Rav Sholom Schwadron, the Jerusalem Maggid, asks why the Torah doesn’t describe Pharaoh as having no heart at all. After all, he wasn’t displaying any good judgment and seemed to be acting with no thought or emotion.

Reb Sholom quotes the Mesilas Yesharim – (Path of the Righteous, a mid-16th century ethical work by R. Moshe C. Luzzato) that explains that Pharaoh and his behavior are an allegory for the Yetzer Harah, the evil inclination, which drives us incessantly and wants us to be so immersed in our daily affairs that we don’t reflect on our spiritual state at all. This makes us vulnerable to all sorts of mistakes and bad choices.

Pharaoh also had moments where he acknowledged Hashem’s power over nature and that he could not challenge Hashem’s wisdom and power. Those occasions were few and short in duration. He immediately returned to his stubborn behavior and refused to follow through on those short bursts of clear thinking. This is described as having a hard heart. He was capable of thinking and seeing the truth; he wasn’t able to act on that truth. His desire for power and control dissipated any impression he had from those short moments of insight.

When we read about Pharaoh and his behavior, we are supposed to look at ourselves and think whether we don’t display similar behavior. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed by life and we crave control. This may lead us to ignore Hashem and his Torah. These parshiyos help us refocus on what a hard heart can do to us and reminds us that we have the benefit of learning from Pharaoh’s lessons.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Vaera

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In this week’s Parsha we come across the four words that represent different levels of redemption. The first one is vehotzasi, alleviating us from the burdens of Egypt, the second is vhitzalti saving us from the hard labor, the third is vgoalti, the actual leaving of Egypt, and the last is vlokachti, G-d saying that He will take us for His nation. What does it mean to be the nation of G-d? What responsibilities accompanies that relationship?

Chazal tell us that there are three qualities that define the Jewish people: being compassionate, having a sense of embarrassment, and bestowing acts of kindness to others. At a time when we are focused and living up to these values, we represent the nation of G-d. G-d took us out of Egypt for a purpose. It was not just for freedom from slavery, but freedom for living up to these values and changing the world around us.

I heard a beautiful story that took place at the recent Siyum Hashas in Met Life stadium. One of the volunteers inside was handed a ticket by a member of the crowd coming in. The volunteer was told that this was an extra ticket that he had and if the volunteer found someone who needed it, he should please give it to him. The volunteer didn’t think there would be a need for it, but he took the ticket just in case.

 A few minutes later an officer outside the gate called this volunteer outside to help him with a situation that was unfolding. There was a man crying, and the officer was trying to calm him down without much success. The man said that he had a ticket for the Siyum and had been looking forward to this special day. Unfortunately, when the ticket was scanned, it was discovered that it was not a valid ticket. However, the sad man was convinced that his ticket was authentic and somehow the scanner wasn’t working properly. Security had no choice and refused to let him in.

When the volunteer heard the story, he immediately pulled the ticket out of his pocket that minutes before he had just received and said, “Here, I have an extra ticket. Use this one.”

The officer was amazed exclaiming, “Wow! That is so nice. We usually don’t see things like that happen here.” The volunteer explained that he had just received the ticket a few minutes before from someone who didn’t need it and wanted to help a person if it proved necessary. The officer replied again, “Wow!  Your G-d is really unbelievable.” 

This is who we are as a people. When we act in the ways that G-d wants us to follow, we are a reflection of G-d in this world and are truly His nation.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Shemos

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

“וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ – And he (Moshe Rabeinu) saw that the thorn burning in fire.” This posuk describes Moshe Rabeinu’s first encounter with Hashem. Hashem commands him to return to Egypt and to deliver the Jewish people from their slavery.

The Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim of Lonshitz, commentator on Chumash 1540-1609) takes note of the unusual syntax of this posuk. Since the fire did not consume the bush, it would seem to be more appropriate to say, “The fire was burning in the thorn bush.” Instead, it says the bush was burning in the fire. The Kli Yakar gives a homiletic answer to this problem.

 Moshe Rabeinu was troubled by the intensity and duration of the Jewish people’s suffering. Why wasn’t Hashem bringing an end to this terrible time? The answer was given to him by the vision of the sneh – thorn bush. The thorn bush represents callousness and hatred. The fire represents the wrath of Hashem which is sometimes directed at his people. The message was that although the fire of Hashem’s anger was being displayed against his people, there still was infighting and hatred amongst Jews as we see from the encounter that Moshe had with Dasan and Avirum earlier. This hatred is symbolized by the thorny bush. Our people’s troubles should bring us together, not create rancor and jealousy. This is why the thorn bush was burning in the fire.

When we read the parsha, we relive the great moments and lessons of our people’s history. We have begun the Sefer HaGeula – the Book of Redemption.  We too are in great need of redemption and resolution to our people’s troubles. The way to affect that redemption is to examine the rivalries and disrespect that we show our fellow Jews. When that is corrected, G-d’s promised redemption will surely follow.

Successful Cohort for New Rebbeim

The ATT has just concluded a very successful training cohort geared specifically to new rebbeim in Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi, Arie Crown and Yeshiva Ohr Boruch. Nine teachers from these schools, who have all spent fewer than three years in the classroom, met for several sessions, totaling 16 hours, focusing on classroom management, building routines, parent communication, building trust and relationships with students, lesson planning and lifelong learning as an educator. The facilitators and presenters were veteran principals and educators from the ATT system and the local educational community.

The rebbeim were offered followup coaching to assist them in working on any of these areas of their choice. This kind of one-on-one coaching as a followup to formal training is proven to be an effective model of improving classroom outcomes.

Feedback from the participants in an anonymous survey following the course proved to be overwhelmingly positive:

“The fact that we sat together and heard real challenges from the classroom made me feel better and more supported.”

“Next year I would be interested in hearing more about different teaching modalities and more on modifying lessons.”

“I was attracted to attend these sessions because I want to be the best mechanech I can be, and I want to continue growing throughout my career.”

“I continue to look for new tools to add to my classroom.”

“I learned that trust must be built with parents and that I must choose my words carefully when criticzing or expressing teacher concerns.”

“There are so many components to proper lesson planning; mastery objective, activities, assessment, time management.”

“It is very helpful to have a protocol to teach routines. I learned about teaching the benefit of the routine, then modeling, reviewing, practicing, noticing the correct way and the incorrect way in the modeling and reviewing again!”

The new rebbeim cohort all left with a commitment and curiosity to continue growing in their careers through professional development.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayechi

Long Lasting Effects

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, Yaakov tells Yosef that your sons who were born before I came down to Egypt, Ephraim and Menashe, are mine. Rashi understands the statement to mean that Yaakov has a greater connection with the sons born before he came down to Egypt than to Yosef’s future children that would be born while he would reside in Egypt. Rashi notes that this statement also has a practical application. Only these two sons born before Yaakov’s arrival are to be counted as part of the twelve tribes and receive an inheritance in the land of Israel. A question then arises. Wouldn’t it be natural to assume that the sons born while Yaakov is living in Egypt would have a greater connection with Yaakov being raised under his guidance as opposed to the sons who were already grown when their grandfather arrived?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, says this passuk illustrates a great lesson about chinuch – educating one’s children. Yaakov’s message to Yosef was simply defining successful parenting. He is saying to Yosef that the chinuch, I, Yaakov, gave you enabled you to raise your children true to the values of Torah even in a foreign land without my presence.

Educating one’s children to learn the values that are dear to us is a daunting task, and its true measure of success is recognized even more so when one’s children leave home and take those lessons with them. Therefore, a parent does not have to be close by watching every move his/her child makes.  Parents need to give their children the tools, life lessons, and values to make the right choices wherever they may be.

May we all follow in the footsteps of our forefather Yaakov and instill in our children a deep appreciation of who we are and for what we live.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayigash

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Yosef HaTzaddik is portrayed in the Torah as being the provider for his father, his family, his country, and indeed, the entire region around Egypt. During the seven years of famine, all of the neighboring countries had to come to Egypt to purchase food from Yosef’s stores. When his father and brothers came to Egypt, it was Yosef who provided them with all of their needs. Yosef showed a great deal of leadership and strength during this period as he negotiated with the Egyptians and relocated an entire population while managing this enormous distribution program.

One might picture Yosef as a highly disciplined, efficient, driven and very organized person and that is probably correct. Yosef HaTzaddik had been sold into slavery and had risen from rags to riches without anyone giving him a break. He had spurned the advances of Potiphar’s wife and endured imprisonment because of wicked accusations which should have left him very embittered. Yet, we also read about a compassionate and emotional person (Yosef is the Torah personality who is described as crying the most) which he must have been. He treated his brothers with tremendous sensitivity and kindness in spite of all that they had done to him.

It is typical for people who are overachievers to be very demanding of themselves and also of others. It is really rare that someone can be highly disciplined and demanding of one’s self, yet gentle and understanding of other people’s shortcomings and foibles. Yosef HaTzaddik is compared (Devarim 33:17) to the ox which is immensely powerful yet also very patient and gentle. This is because he was this synthesis of calm patience and inner strength.

The truth is that both of these attributes are really one. To be demanding of one’s self yet tolerant of others’ shortcomings are two sides of the same coin. When we withhold judgement and give others the benefit of the doubt, we are also showing strength as the passuk says, “The patient one is better than the champion and one who conquers his spirit is better than the conqueror of a city”(Mishlei 16:32). We should all aspire and work on developing our strength in both our self-control and our acceptance of others.