Month: August 2021

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Nitzavim

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

The Sounds of the Shofar

As we approach Rosh Hashana, a beautiful teaching comes to mind. In the Sefer Sifsei Chaim written by Horav Chaim Friedlander, ZT”L, he poses the following question. Why are there three different sounds to the shofar?  There is a tekiah (long blast), a shevarim (a series of small blasts) and a treuah (choppy blast). Is there any significance to the different sounds?

He explains that the shofar blowing and the order of its sounds parallels the process of teshuvah (repentance). Each set of shofar blowing begins with a tekiah. This long blast represents our current status, a level representing our complacency. However, no one is perfect. Everyone has an area in one’s life which needs improvement. Therefore, the middle sound changes to a shevarim or a treuah, the broken and choppy blasts, or both, representing our need to scrutinize our behavior, the awareness that a change in one’s behavior needs to be done. The final blast of the set is another tekiah. This long blast represents our resolve to change course and focus on a new direction for the coming year.

As we listen to the shofar this year, let us keep this message in mind. If all of us look into ourselves and accept just one area of our lives to improve, we will have understood the message of the shofar, a call to change and constantly grow in life.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Ki Seitzei

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

In this week’s Torah portion Rashi teaches us about the concept of the mitzvah Gorreres which means that when one does one mitzvah it draws one to do another one afterwards.  One who performs the mitzvah of Shiluach Hakan will have opportunities that follow it such as building a fence in a new home, even though these two mitzvos are not similar at all.

The question one needs to ask is how does this work.  Just because one performs a good deed, how does a totally unrelated mitzvah follow that one?  The answer is quite simple. There is a concept in sports when one is in the zone, a reference to when one player is focused on the game and performing at a high level. That is the same idea here.

When one is in the mode of performing mitzvos and seizing opportunities to serve Hashem, that person, shall we say, is in the mitzvah zone focused on getting closer to Hashem.  No matter what the opportunity is, he/she grabs it and moves forward in his/her observance of mitzvos.  Literally one mitzvah leads to another when one is in that frame of mind.

This time of year is a time to refocus and dedicate ourselves to growing in our mitzvah observance. Let us focus and rededicate ourselves to value all of the opportunities that come our way and to literally be in the mitzvah zone for the coming year.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Ki Savo

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

This week’s parsha opens with the mitzvah of Bikurim, the obligation to present our first produce of the the land as a gift to Hashem in the Bais HaMikdash. Rashi, at the beginning of Beraishis, quotes a Midrash Rabbah that the mitzvah of Bikurim is the reason that Hashem created the heavens and the earth. What is so monumental about this mitzvah of expressing gratitude that it is the reason for creating the whole world?

The mitzvah of Bikurim frames the relationship between man’s efforts and his attributing his successes to himself. It is easy to attribute blessings to Hashem when we haven’t worked hard to gain that success. If a person buys a lottery ticket and wins, he will be immensely grateful to Hashem because it is obvious that the winnings are not a result of human effort or wisdom. However, if one works hard and sees great success, it is a big challenge to accept that Hashem is the one who brought that success, and it is simply that He wants us to put in the effort. This is the idea of Bikurim, that the farmer who worked hard to grow produce acknowledges that this is all a result of Hashem’s blessing.

This might almost seem unfair, but in reality, this is a source of great happiness in life. When a person sees blessing in life, he is joyful. If he views life as a quid pro quo, you get what you invest, that will grind him down. There are so many blessings and free gifts we receive from Hashem if we care to focus on them, and when we do, we are inspired, grateful and happy.

Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe in Cleveland, asked , “Why does the Torah instruct us to rejoice with all of the good that Hashem has given us? Isn’t  rejoicing the natural response to having blessings?” He answers that in actuality man has the ability to disregard all of the goodness that Hashem has given him and to focus on the small frustrations and disappointments. This can remove all  the joy out of life and out of our service of Hashem. The Torah insists that we must rejoice with all of the goodness and recognize that it is from Hashem.

This lesson is very relevant as we prepare to begin a new year and to ask Hashem for a year full of blessings. We must reflect upon ourselves and ask if we have “rejoiced with all of the good” we received previously and has that caused us to serve Hashem with joy and enthusiasm. This will give us the right to request a blessed and fulfilling new year.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Shoftim

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

The first commandment of this week’s parsha is,  “שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן – לְךָ בְּכָל-שְׁעָרֶיךָ – You shall designate for yourself judges and enforcers in all of your communities.” This verse teaches us that we must create a judicial system in every Jewish community. This is the mainstay of a just society and Jews have maintained these courts for millennia. However, there seems to be a superfluous word in this passuk, “לך – for yourself.“ It would seem that the commandment would be understood without this word.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (prominent halachic authority and Rosh Yeshiva 1895-1986) answers that the Torah is teaching us that we need to create an internal system of self-judgment and accountability. Just as we need a communal system of justice to assure civil order and justice for all, we need a system to check our own moral inadequacies. If a person cannot restrain his base desires and cannot identify his weaknesses and personal conflicts, he will fail as a human being and as a member of society. Reb Moshe interprets the next passuk, “Do not give recognition (special consideration) to either party,” which warns the judge against playing favorites in the courtroom, to apply to our internal judgment as well. We are warned not to give our own interest and desires the upper hand when we are making decisions that affect our interactions with others.

The Torah teaches us that we need to regulate our behavior by having an internal system of planning and accountability. This system has to work with the realization that we have an emotional and a pleasure-seeking aspect of our personality that shades our judgment. If we are aware of this and really in touch with ourselves, we can remain objective in our decision making. If we don’t think and reflect or if we’re out of touch with the forces within us, we are liable to do the wrong thing and we can really ruin ourselves.

The mussar masters placed great emphasis on identifying the subconscious biases which affect us  even when we are not aware of them. There is a story told about Reb Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, the “Alter of Novarduk,” who once took a train ride to a distant city and then got on the next train back without doing anything at his destination. When he was questioned about this, he explained that he had considered attending to some business in that place but then he had decided against it. He was concerned that this decision came from a place of laziness not from an objective analysis of the question. To clarify this to himself, he chose to make the trip so that the effort and exertion would not be in the equation!

We are now in the somber month of Elul, the time when we prepare for the Yamim Noraim. This special time is especially opportune for us to self-assess our internal system of judgment and make the necessary adjustments so that we can look toward a truthful and an internally honest life.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Re’eh

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Open Your Eyes

This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, starts with the phrase “Re’eh anochi nosayn lifnaychem hayom borcha uklalla – See what I have placed before you today, the blessings and curses.” Rav Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L, asks why is it that the word re’eh is written in a singular vein addressing the individual while the word lifnaychem is a plural which seems to address the public?

Rav Feinstein, ZT”L, answers his own question sharing a great insight. One has to open one’s eyes to see a complete picture in life. At first glance, one looks at what is in front of him/her and that often makes a strong impression. What society defines as success through materialistic gains is alluring and can influence one’s way of thinking.

With this phrase, the Torah is cautioning the individual – re’eh – take a serious look, gain a deeper insight into what is around you and truly see what is the lifestyle of  lifnaychem, all those around you. Is it really the most famous and wealthy that enjoy meaningful lives of blessing?

Blessings are found internally, in our homes with our family, friends and community. It is the intrinsic blessing that we need to aspire for in life. As we approach the month of Elul, a time of introspection preparing ourselves for the New Year, let us all open our eyes and see the blessings in front of us; let us all stay focused on the internal values that impact the lives of all of our children daily.