Month: June 2021

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Pinchas

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

The Three Weeks

Every year when the Hebrew months of Tamuz and Av return, they contain the period of the three weeks. This is a time where tragic events took place in our history which ultimately led to the destruction of both Temples on the ninth day of Av. During this time, we conduct ourselves with customs of mourning and refrain from making weddings, listening to music, etc.

The Torah portion of Pinchos is usually read during the three weeks. This Torah reading includes a section that deals with all of the Yomim Tovim (Festivals). Isn’t it ironic that during the weeks of mourning and sadness, we read in the Torah portion about festive times? Since there is no such thing as a coincidence in Judaism, there must be an explanation for this juxtaposition.

Reb Elimelech of Lizensk (18th c – Rebbe) explains the reason we read this portion during this time of sadness and mourning is so that we should not be swept away by the various mourning rituals practiced during this time frame. We are being reminded that this part of our history will pass, and we will once again rejoice during the Festivals in the Temple. A famous expression gam zeh yaavor (this too will pass) personifies this idea.

We all need to remind ourselves of this lesson. In looking at our own personal histories, everyone has experienced situations where one would think there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Yet somehow, we end up seeing the light, and we do move forward. This Torah portion is read to bring us that message of hope – to keep on looking ahead. May we all merit to see that light of redemption in the near future.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Balak

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

Get Real

In this week’s parsha, we read about Bilaam’s attempt to destroy the Jewish nation by cursing them. If we step back and take in the context of this story, it is quite breathtaking. From the perspective of the inhabitants of Moav and Canaan, the Jews are an aggressive upstart nation leaving Egypt with the public goal of conquering Canaan and the neighboring nations. They are allied against this threat and instead of arming themselves and formalizing defense pacts, they choose to bring in a sorcerer to curse the Jews, and thereby, destroy them.

If we consider this in modern terms, it seems childish and naive. (Remember the media allegations that happened when Ronald Reagan consulted the astrologer Joan Quigley regularly during his presidency.) Yet, the Torah gives us a full account of the incident and of Hashem’s involvement with Bilaam, eventually bequeathing us with ספר בלעם – The Book of Bilaam, which the Gemara considers a distinct section of the Torah.

There is a very important message in the way this story develops. The Torah is demonstrating to us that there are many levels of reality and that there are spiritual dimensions of existence that are as real and even more real than the physical world that we engage with our senses. Even the non-Jews of the time understood this world and engaged it. The modern world has relegated “all of that stuff” to backwardness and superstition, yet the Torah validates it and deals with it.

This is not to suggest that we try to engage with the occult; the Torah actually forbids it, and today’s practitioners are all phonies.  Instead, the Torah wants us to realize that there is much more to the world than meets the eye. As Torah Jews, we can and should engage the physical world with the mindset that our actions have major ramifications well beyond the physical confines of existence both in terms of time, since our time frame is eternity, and in terms of place, since this world is merely an antechamber to a greater world.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Chukas

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

What Do We Do With Perfection?

In this week’s Torah portion Chukas we learn the laws of the Parah Adumah (the red heifer). One essential part of the details is finding a perfectly red cow. This cow is then totally burned, and its ashes are used to purify those that became impure by being in contact with a dead body. It’s interesting to note that those involved in the purification process of those who are impure become impure as well. This is one of the chukim (law without reason) in the Torah that we can’t fully comprehend.

Rabbi Michel Twerski shared an insight about this mitzvah that contains a deep and profound lesson in how we live our lives. There must be some significance in taking a perfectly red cow and burning it? What could it be? He suggested the following. In life many of us get caught up with the pursuit of perfection. Everything has to be just right. Sometimes that dream of perfection sets us back as we become so focused on the perfect outcome we lose so much in the process itself. Much anxiety and suffering occur because of that elusive pursuit. Sometimes, it actually cripples us to the point where we can’t do anything at all because we think the end result will not be perfect.

The Torah, through the laws of the Parah Adumah, sends us a strong message about how we need to live life. BURN PERFECTION. Obsessing on perfection is not the way on how to live. No human being is supposed to be perfect. That is for angels, not for people.

We all want the best for ourselves and our children. We need to make sure we don’t set up the future generations for failure. False expectations and pursuit of perfection are not healthy options. We need to teach our children a strong work ethic and how to set goals, along with the understanding that failures will come along the way as well. That is how we succeed and grow in life – as human beings who are just fine working hard and building character every day.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Korach

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

In the aftermath of Korach’s insurrection against Moshe Rabeinu, the Jewish people struggled with its outcome. Initially, they blamed Moshe and Aaron for having “killed the nation of Hashem.” Rav Shamshon R. Hirsch explains that they misunderstood Hashem’s reason for destroying Korach. They believed that Moshe and Aaron had invoked Hashem’s retribution on Korach for personal motives. They believed that Moshe and Aaron had been personally affronted by Korach and his assembly. This was not the correct understanding.

Hashem had destroyed Korach because he was challenging the authority of the kehuna and the system of leadership that Hashem had prescribed. Hashem made this point clear by punishing the people for leveling the charge of personal vendetta against Moshe and Aaron. The Jewish people finally realized that the issue was that they needed to accept Hashem’s system of religious leadership, and that they would have to abandon Korach’s populistic argument that “the whole congregation is (equally) holy.”

To drive this message home, Hashem instructed Moshe to invite each of the tribal princes and Aaron HaKohein to present a staff before the aron, the ark, where the staff submitted by Hashem’s chosen person would blossom immediately. When this was done, it was Aaron’s staff that produced almond blossom flowers and leaves overnight while the others did not. What is the symbolism of the almond branch and its characteristics that can serve a symbol of the special status of the kohanim?

Rav Hirsch explains that the almond is unique in the way it presents its fruit blossoms before the leaves are formed. All other trees first form leaves to collect and process the sunlight and nourish themselves. Once that is in place, they begin to form fruit to benefit others. The Kohanim were chosen because they put the community before themselves. This was demonstrated at the incident of the golden calf and during the episode of the meraglim, the spies.

Jewish leadership must be focused and unwavering. It needs to be held by people that truly have the community as a top priority. They have to resist the whims of the times and be able to inspire others with the eternal truths of the Torah.

Learning and Teaching: Pre-Covid, During Covid, Post Covid

Now that we’re completing this unusual year, it’s important to reflect on the challenges and successes and celebrate what our schools managed to accomplish.

We anticipate saying good riddance to many of the pandemic protocols next year, but much of what teachers and administrators learned this year will continue into the future.

As students and teachers adapted to learning during a pandemic this school year, some students struggled more than others. At the same time, others who struggled with traditional learning started to thrive and learn beyond their typical in-person classroom learning. 

Moving forward in education after COVID

It’s time to look forward to what happens next. 

At Janice Levitan’s recent professional development class, ATT teachers discussed interesting findings to help them plan for future teaching and learning. She explored the use of Google Classroom and other online resources that teachers used successfully during the past year. She also offered suggestions on how they  can be used in today’s new learning environment. 

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Google Classroom was a key tool in this year’s new learning environment. Whether students were in school or at home, Google Classroom ensured they always had access to their assignments and work. Those schools that adopted Google Classroom will likely continue using it in future learning.

Key benefits to Google classroom include: 

  • Students in school and at home can see all the work and materials. 
  • A teacher can post videos, Docs, Slides, Sheets and Forms and can choose to differentiate work with ease and privacy.
  • Teachers can view work in progress and make comments in real time. 
  • Grade books exist to track student progress. 
  • Paperless assignments are cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Google features for better education 

Using Google Docs in the classroom allows for open-ended questions that are easily modified for student needs. Questions can be scaffolded and assignments are able to be tailored to student needs. Teachers can also provide different prompts or rubrics for different students. 

Google Slides is great for interactive work and fill-in-the-blank assignments. Teachers are able to differentiate learning while using Google Slides. Simple worksheets can become interactive ones and add-ons like Peardeck and Nearpod can help teachers explain content. 

Teachers can use Google Forms to take quick assessments of learning. Forms is self-grading, gives immediate feedback and is a great tool for quizzes. Like many Google classroom tools, it’s very user-friendly. 

Using Google Sheets is an effective tool to look at data. When you create a Google Form, you’ll be able to see all the data collected in a Google Sheet. 

Teachers and students can keep track of assignments with Google Calendar. It can also be used to schedule appointments with students and parents. 

Virtual learning tools 

Several virtual learning tools help teachers with review and instruction especially for absent and at-home learners. These include:

  • Loom records quick videos of your screen. Teachers can walk students through an exercise or show them how to use virtual learning software. 
  • EdPuzzle  a teaching tool used to place interactive content into pre-existing videos from a variety of sources, such as TED, YouTube or into teacher-made videos 
  • Kahoot! is a game-based learning platform that can be used as educational technology in schools and other educational institutions. Its learning games, “kahoots,” are user-generated multiple-choice quizzes that can be accessed via a web browser or the Kahoot app.

Ways for students to share work include: 

  • Loom
  • Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions and students can post video responses that appear in a tiled grid display.
  • Screencastify, a free screen recorder for Google Chrome. No download required. This allows teachers to record, edit and share videos in seconds. Screencastify is the number one free screen recorder for Chrome. 
  • Padlet  is a digital tool that can help teachers and students in class and beyond by offering a single place for a notice board. 
  • Kahoot

Other online educational resources that will continue to prove useful for student learning:

  • TeacherMade allows quick creation of online worksheets and more.
  • LiveWorksheets is an interactive worksheets maker for all languages and subjects. Teachermade and LiveWorksheets are very similar, so teachers can decide which one suits them best. 
  • Khan Academy provides individualized instruction for students and is most well-known for math support.
  • Go Formative allows for testing and evaluation of student work.
  • Anchor  is a website to create, distribute and host podcasts.
  • Vocaroo is the simplest audio recorder on the web.

When the pandemic restrictions are officially over in schools, there is still a benefit to using these tools because they allow for individualized instruction and differentiation that is often challenging to execute in the classroom. Additionally, these resources provide a central location for materials and a calendar to keep track. 

These resources also allow for hybrid learning and enhance creativity in both teachers and students alike. Learning about these new strategies and tools can help teachers as they navigate the constantly changing learning environment. 

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Sh’lach

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Heads Up

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the sin of the spies. The spies were leaders of the Jewish people who were sent on a mission to check out the land of Israel. The spies returned with a pessimistic report claiming the Jewish people would not be able to conquer its inhabitants and inherit the land. The people believed them and cried upon hearing this report, causing Bnei Yisroel to be punished by wandering 40 years in the desert before entering the land of Israel.

This story is retold later in Sefer Devorim with a fascinating insight given by the Seforno (a 16th century scholar). The Seforno asks why were the Bnei Yisroel really crying?   Did they really think that G-d was incapable of bringing them into the land? Didn’t they just witness miracles saving them from the plagues in Egypt and at the Red Sea? How can we understand this?  The Seforno says they were crying because they served idols in Egypt and felt they were unworthy of entering the land of Israel. Their doubts were not about G-d’s ability rather their own frailties. They felt that they had sinned in the past and were unworthy of entering the Holy Land.

According to this interpretation, why was this action of crying such a grave sin that the Bnei Yisroel received such a harsh punishment? In reality, weren’t the Jewish people just being remorseful for their past sins?

One can learn a great lesson from this narrative. Yes, it is proper to reflect on one’s past; yet one has to be careful not to allow it to paralyze oneself and give up hope. In G-d’s eyes, there is never a point where one is totally unworthy. There is a phrase – seeing is believing. The opposite is just as important – believing is seeing. When one believes in oneself and in the G-d given talents that one receives, one will be able to keep on moving forward and see the potential of what lies in store.