Month: June 2020

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Korach

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In this week’s Torah portion, Korach leads a rebellion against Moshe and challenges his authority. Rashi quotes a Midrash that relates two questions which Korach and his followers brought before Moshe. One, if a house is filled with seforim, does one need a mezuzah? To this question Moshe answered yes. Second, if one wears an article of clothing that is made of techailes (a bluish dye), does one need to still have a string of techailes in their tzitzis? Again, Moshe’s answer was yes.

These questions were asked to mock Moshe. Really, does one need a mezuzah as a reminder of G-d and His mitzvos if one’s house is full of seforim? Does one need the little blue string of techailes if the entire garment has it? At first glance, Korach and his followers seem to be correct. What is the point of a reminder when you have so much more in front of you? The queries posed were questioning Moshe’s leadership role. If we, the Jewish people, are a holy people, why do we need a leader? Why does Moshe need to govern us?

However, their logic was flawed. True, they were all on a very high spiritual level. They had all lived lives in the desert seeing clearly the hand of G-d. Still, even with that experience, one can’t rely on just going with the flow and following the crowd. One needs a leader to guide one to the right path. One can’t rely on the popular vote because very often that vote is tainted with an agenda which is not in line with the values that one really needs to be living by. We as Jews rely heavily on Mesorah, tradition and a value system, which has been handed down from generation to generation from Rabbi to Rabbi, starting with Moshe. It is imperative that we recognize that leadership and humble ourselves to that eternal Mesorah. Life isn’t just about learning Torah; it is about living it. To understand that living, we need role models to guide us on that path. Left up to ourselves and the general masses, it is very likely that we can lose sight of our mission. This is an important message for life. As the Mishna in Pirkei Avos states, “Make for yourself a Rav.” This means – Find him, follow him, and ultimately take those lessons to heart in following the chain of Mesorah.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Sh’lach

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Purity of Intent and Objectives

Many wonder why the mission of the meraglim (the spies) ended in failure. It seems quite legitimate for a conquering nation to reconnoiter the territory they seek to conquer. We even find that Yehoshua, Moshe Rabeinu’s successor and one of the original spies, sent spies to Yericho in the beginning of the conquest of Eretz Yisroel. It was a most successful mission and no criticism is made of this action.

Chazal give us several answers. The stated purpose of the mission was reconnaissance and to form a strategy for conquest. However, the real purpose of the meraglim was to “confirm” that the land was as good as it was promised to be and to evaluate whether conquest was feasible. Although the people asked –  “Are they strong? Do they live in fortified cities?” – there was a hidden and distrustful agenda to confirm that they were not being misled. This illustrated  too much self-reliance. After our experiences in the desert, they should have known better. Hashem’s response was, in Rashi’s words, “I told them it is a good land and that they will conquer it; if they question that, I will give them opportunity to fail.”

The second explanation for failure is in the process that created formulation of the plan. In Sefer Devarim, Moshe recounts the story of the meraglim and describes, “You all came forth to me and said let us send spies before us.” Rashi says it was a chaotic and strident group that approached Moshe. The predictor of failure lay in the fact that, “the young pushing aside the old” as Rashi points out. It was a poorly conceived idea put forth with little reflection and thought.

The third explanation is in the quality of the people who were assigned. Although they were respectable men and “heads of Bnei Yisroel,” there was a lack of inner faith and character. Their respectable veneer was not backed by substance, and it led to the great debacle when the hidden agenda came to the fore.

Like all stories of our early past, the purpose of the Torah’s recounting the incident of the meraglim is  מעשה אבות סימן לבנים – The deeds of the fathers are a template for their children. Therefore, whenever a community gets ready to do something big and ambitious, they must look for three things:

  • Is the real agenda transparent and clear? Are all the cards on the table?
  • Is this decision process deliberate and considered in a calm and organized way?
  • Who is leading the way? Is it people with integrity?

If there are satisfactory answers given for these three questions, one can hope for Divine assistance to get positive results.

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Beha’aloscha

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

All in a Day’s Work

In this week’s Torah portion it discusses the service of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol. Every day he had the responsibility of lighting the Menorah. The Torah states, “Vayaas kayn Aharon… – Aharon did as the way he was commanded by G-d to do through Moshe. Rashi comments that this verse praises Aharon for not changing anything in the way he performed the service.

Two questions naturally follow. First, if Aharon did what he was told to do, why is that so worthy of a special mention of praise? Second, why would we think that Aharon would do something different than he was commanded to by G-d?

There is one basic ingredient in life for success in one’s spiritual growth. That ingredient is consistency. The Torah is stressing that Aharon was consistent in the way he performed the service every day. His enthusiasm, his passion, his concentration never became stale. He was not changing anything in the way he performed his mitzvah of lighting the Menorah. He did it with the same fervor and intensity as he did in day one. That is worthy of praise.

As we approach the summer months, one can easily fall into a more relaxed mode. However, we need to be aware of being consistent in our behavior. Our actions should be done with the same passion and fervor all year round. The season of the year should not matter.

Finishing an unusual school year and staying on track with REACH

As this unexpected last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year winds down, students and their parents reflect on students’ overall success working with REACH teachers this year.

REACH is helping to minimize stigma and helps students succeed in academics

One year ago, day school student Sarah* finished first grade still struggling with reading. Her school offered her parents the option of having Sarah repeat first grade or begin second grade with support from REACH. 

Sarah’s parents wavered because they recalled support services from their own childhood. To explore the options, they met with Rusi Sukenik, REACH director of student services. Mrs. Sukenik clarified that the services REACH would provide their daughter would address her academic needs and be delivered in a way that coordinated with the teachers so that it would integrate with her school day. Although some of the support can help with executive function and behavior, REACH’s primary function is to support educational challenges.

Sarah’s mother is now thrilled that her daughter receives support through REACH and says, “There is no way she would thrive in her classroom without the supplemental support.” With remote learning specifically, REACH educators are able to give the students one-on-one support to help them stay on track. 

For some students, staying motivated in school, in general, is a challenge, with remote learning, the challenge is that much greater. REACH educators have been busy developing creative ways to continue supporting students. For Sarah, Mrs. Sukenik called often to try different ways to help modify the program for her to find the most effective learning method that works. REACH teachers and programs are flexible and committed to working together with staff and with families to find a solution that works for each specific child. Although times are tough, having the support of REACH makes it more manageable.

REACH teachers instill confidence in students 

Eli*, who is in third grade, has worked with REACH teachers for two years. Eli’s parents appreciate the REACH support, especially in light of how some of their older children struggled in school. They realize how much their older children would have benefited from the REACH program. REACH gives students the opportunity to feel confident and accepted rather than lonely and isolated. “REACH fills in gaps and forms bridges our son needs to thrive in school,” says Eli’s mom. 

Classroom support and communication between the day school teacher and REACH educator has made a big impact on Eli’s success in school. “Receiving individualized instruction every day is remarkable. This year, the coordination between REACH and the classroom teacher has made Eli truly feel like part of the class.”  

During remote learning, the consistent visual component his REACH educator provides has kept him from falling behind. Not only that, but he is making strides and progressing in his studies. “We don’t know what we would do without REACH. The consistency REACH has provided during remote learning has been tremendously helpful.”

For many students, REACH gives the confidence that will stay with students long after they graduate. Without REACH, Eli “would be getting virtually no academics right now…he is getting 10 percent of the material and feels stupid noticing the discrepancy between him and his peers. If not for REACH, it would be a waste of the end of the school year.”

Teachers are learning from remote learning

As the school year ends in such an unexpected way, REACH teachers have seenthe positive aspects of working with their students remotely. REACH staff will be analyzing their successes and challenges and thinking about ways to apply this knowledge when we return to regular school. Estie Siegal, a REACH teacher based at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School (ACHDS), finds that some of her students are thriving now because the classes are recorded, so the students can pause to take notes and then continue listening. They can always go back if they missed something, which is very helpful for some learners. Estie is eager to find ways to apply this knowledge to the classroom.  

Some educators have noticed that students are performing better without the social social pressure and pressure. Shoshana Perlmuter, who works at both Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov (JDBY) and ACHDS, has found that some of her students are actually more engaged and focused on their work now.

When motivation is running low, Aviva Lopin with Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi (YTT) has seen the difference having a personal connection with students can make. Now that she can’t meet in person with students, Mrs. Lopin tries to drop off notes and even small rewards to celebrate students’ achievements. “After the student met one of his goals, I dropped off a prize at his house with gloves and a mask. He was so excited and taken by surprise, and his feeling of accomplishment motivated him for future lessons.”

There are many lessons to be learned from education during a pandemic, REACH teachers are using this experience as a springboard to continue striving to help their students succeed in the best ways possible. 

*Name changed for anonymity

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Nasso

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Parshas Nasso begins with a census of the three branches of the tribe of Levi. This count focuses on those who are of age to serve in the transport of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as the Jewish people made their way through the desert. When the passuk reaches the count of the third family of Levi, M’rori, it states, “You shall name them as they are charged with their task of carrying.” The Ramban notes that this command to name the members of the family does not appear when the Torah speaks of Gershon and Kehos, the other two families. He suggests that since M’rori were responsible to carry the heaviest components of the Mishkan, they had to be singled out and named specifically to assure that they didn’t avoid the task. (Their job was to transport the wall boards which weighed about 900 lb. each and were about 30 feet long.)

Rabbi Shimon Schwab (Rav in Baltimore and Washington Heights, NY 1908-1995) suggests another explanation. The Leviim’s task of carrying the Mishkan was a symbol of the work which is required of our public servants. Some provide spiritual needs and others provide material support. The boards of the Mishkan represent the structure that held and sheltered the hallowed vessels. M’rori, therefore, represents the laity that sustains the community’s spiritual activities with their material support. They needed a special “shout-out” to highlight that they are a critical part of the communal infrastructure.

Rav Schwab notes that when Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the tribes of Yissachor and Zevulun, he praises  Zevulun first as he is the merchant that travels the seas to provide for the upkeep of the scholars in the tribe of Yissachor who “sit in the tent.” Without the sacrifice and devotion of the supporters of Torah, Torah cannot exist.

We are living in a time that the laity is as important as ever. Our institutions of learning and spirit have had to pivot and offer their services in a different way and the rapid change has bewildered many of us. Behind this array of services are selfless lay people and school leaders who work tirelessly to support the institutions both materially and with hard work to assure that we emerge from this situation better, wiser and stronger.