Author: ATT Chicago

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Shmini

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Using Everything for the Good

This week’s Torah portion starts off talking about the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, was charged with the inaugural service which included bringing a calf as an offering to G-d. Rashi points out that this was not so easy for Aharon to do. A discussion took place between Aharon and Moshe about this service. Aharon appeared to be embarrassed and was not ready to fulfill the service for he was well aware of the fact that he participated in the sin of the Golden Calf and now felt uncomfortable bringing a calf to G-d. However, Moshe counters this reasoning and says to him, “Why are you embarrassed? This is exactly why you were chosen.” What was the idea that Moshe was conveying to his brother that made him worthy to be chosen for this task?

On a basic level most commentaries understand that Moshe was telling Aharon because you have a sense of embarrassment and you are approaching G-d with a feeling of remorse that is why you are chosen to bring this offering.

However, there is another layer here to be understood with a timeless message of hope for all. Human beings are frail, and we succumb to our evil inclination at times and make mistakes. G-d teaches us that we can always turn things around and learn from our mistakes. We should not give up hope that since we have sinned, we are unworthy to serve G-d. Instead, we should understand that the opposite is true. Yes, we may have sinned and made some mistakes, but we can learn from our sins and mistakes and use those experiences as a vehicle to get closer to G-d. Learning from our mistakes is an important part of growth in life.

Moshe is telling Aharon the reason you were chosen is because you sinned. You can now teach this lesson to everybody – that after one sins, don’t despair, but rather use what you have learned from that experience and turn it around to get closer to G-d. You, Aharon, must be the one to take a calf and offer it to G-d. In the past you used a calf for a sinful purpose. Now, you can use it to get closer to G-d.

One always has the opportunity to learn from every experience in life. Certainly, doing mitzvos and positive things are good for us. Let us also remember that even our negative experiences in life can be turned around and used for good as well.

ATT event honors teaching excellence

Nearly 500 educators, community members, friends and lay leaders gathered on Tuesday, February 21 to make this year’s ATT celebration of educators an inspiring evening celebrating Jewish education in Chicago.

At the event held at the Ateres Ayala Simcha Hall, the Hartman Family Foundation Educator of the Year Awards were presented to the following outstanding educators:

Mrs. Malka Loterstein, (Arie Crown Hebrew Day School)

Rabbi Ephraim Kletenik (Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi)

Mr. Chaim Safier (Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School)

The award and selection process are designed to highlight the outstanding and innovative efforts of our educators. The ATT and Hartman Family Foundation hope that through the awarding of this prize not only three of the most outstanding teachers in Chicago are recognized, but the award also further elevates and ennobles the entire profession in the eyes of our community.

Awards are selected by a committee of educational consultants and community members. Selection criteria for the Educator Award include exceptional instructional skills in a nurturing environment, commitment to one’s students’ success, superior communication skills with parents, students, and peers, commitment to continued professional development, and contributions to one’s school’s learning community.

Mrs. Loterstein’s award is sponsored in memory of Gayle Anne Herwitz. Watch a video featuring her contribution to day school education below.

Watch a video featuring Rabbi Kletenik’s and Mr. Chaim Safier‘s contribution to day school education below.

The evening concluded with an auction for RebbeimMoros, and Teachers only. The ATT looks forward to continuing to find ways of showing our hakoros hatov to all of the dedicated educators in our city.

The program also highlighted ways the ATT team are proud to support teachers, administrators and students.

The ATT has over a 90-year history of supporting Chicago Jewish day schools.

Thank you to the ATT staff and lay leadership who made this year’s annual dinner such a success.

A Taste Of Torah – Pesach

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Three Matzos

As we approach the Seder, there is a noticeable change in the start of the meal. Usually we set the table with two challos on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but on the night of Pesach we use three matzos. Some commentaries explain that each matzah represents one of our forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the founders of the Jewish nation. Since Pesach is the time when the Jewish people became a nation, it is befitting to keep our beginnings in mind, look back at our roots, our spiritual genes so to speak, as we start the Seder night.

One question arises if we explore this idea one step further. The middle matzah which represents Yitchak is the matzah that we break in two and save part of it for the Afikomen. What, if any, is the significance to breaking Yitzchak’s matzah?

When Avrohom was about to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice to Hashem, Yitzchak never wavered in his belief. He was ready to give up his life for his beliefs. The breaking of “his” matzah symbolizes that mesrias nefesh (giving of one’s self) to do the will of G-d. Yitzchak’s actions instilled in Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) the fortitude and strength to overcome the many challenges not only in connection with the Pesach story but for all successive generations.

Pesach, as we experience the Seder, is the opportune time for all of us to acknowledge how we have benefited from the previous generations’ mesrias nefesh. Their tremendous sacrifices continue to play a big part in instilling in us Torah values. The Seder provides the perfect setting for us to express our gratitude to our Rabbeim, Moros, parents, and grandparents for their constant mesrias nefesh to help us become steadfast in our commitment to be Torah Jews.

ATT, especially in this unprecedented time, calls for all to acknowledge and applaud the dedication of all of our schools, our principals, our teachers, our administrators, our staffs, and our parents for their tremendous efforts and tireless work to keep education alive in our community. May we all gather the strength and mesiras nefesh from our past generations and dedicate ourselves to make this a most joyful Yom Tov.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayikra

Written by: Avrohom S. Moller

This week we begin Sefer VaYikrah also known as תורת כהנים, the Laws of the Priesthood. It is because VaYikrah, Leviticus, deals with the laws of sacrifices, ritual purity and the special requirements of the priestly caste. It underscores that there are different strata and status amongst the Jewish people, where the Kohanim are “holier” and more chosen than the Leviim and Yisraelim. Sefer VaYikrah comes after Sefer Shmos, the Book of Redemption, where the Jewish people develop from a family to a mighty nation which receives the Torah, and everyone is a member of the “kingdom of priests.” Together they build the Mishkan, an earthly “abode” for Hashem to “dwell” in their midst. It seems very egalitarian and accessible to every Jew from every background.

The juxtaposition of Sefer Shmos and VaYikrah seems to pose a very fundamental question. If we have a very basic belief that all men stand equal before Hashem and that free will is in the words of the Rambam “a basic tenant and a major pillar in Torah and mitzvah,” then why would Hashem create a hegemony of kohanim who inherit their status and seem to be privileged from birth with their status?

Perhaps the answer is that there are two pathways which one must utilize to achieve closeness to Hashem and success as a Jew. It can be imposed externally by divine decree that a person must follow a prescribed path. His free will is expressed in his acceptance of these rules and restrictions, and when one views these responsibilities as an opportunity to grow, it will bring him closer to Hashem. On the other hand, one has to pursue a course of self-expression and individuality to become closer to Hashem. Autonomy is a pillar of Judaism together with humility and submission to Hashem’s will. Every Jew is a priest, some are given more responsibilities, but all Jews must create their personal connection with Hashem as well. The Gemara actually says that an illegitimate scholar is greater than an ignorant high priest.

We are preparing for Pesach, a time where we relive the אהבת כלולותיך, the sweet love of our union with Hashem some three millennia ago. It is time to reflect on how we relate to Hashem in our special and individual way and also how we conform to his dictates expressed in the Torah.

Midwinter break update

In recent years, many ATT schools have scheduled midwinter break in January to provide teachers and students a well-deserved break during the long winter. Each school has important considerations regarding which week is scheduled. Unfortunately, this past January break presented challenges for families and teachers who have children in multiple schools.

At a recent ATT Principals Council meeting, the principals agreed to prioritize the communal need for a coordinated midwinter break, and therefore, resolved to implement a uniform calendar for 2024 in which midwinter vacation will be scheduled during the week after Martin Luther King Day is observed.

We acknowledge and applaud this decision and appreciate the effort made by our schools’ leadership to accommodate this communal need. 

Please note that this will not change the school schedules in schools that do not have a January midwinter break.

Safety summit for schools

On January 25, 25 administrators and staff from eight ATT schools gathered for a half-day “mini-summit” focused on abuse prevention and safety in our schools. ATT, JCFS and Upward Community have partnered creating a coalition of Chicago organizations that will continue to improve practices and education in our community about this important topic. The partners each bring resources and experience in this field including relationships with national organizations that have expertise which can be accessed by our schools. 

The facilitator for this session was Shira Berkovitz, Esq., the CEO of Sacred Spaced, a national organization that has developed hiring resources, policies, and practices, called Aleinu. These are used in hundreds of Jewish institutions, schools, and shuls, and they are now available to our schools with ongoing support.

The participants had an opportunity to hear what a fully implemented system of abuse prevention looks like. They looked at some case studies and discussed several practical aspects of prevention and responses to incidents. The main point was to continue this renewed effort in all of our schools and to empower our schools through best practices and education so that they can enhance their current student and parent education and safety practices.

This effort is a continuation of ATT’s longstanding role in the “Safer Schools” initiative which is support by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. ATT and its partners will be reaching out to each school individually to follow-up on this event and to make sure that this area of school practice remains highly visible and updated.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vaera

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Be All That You Can Be

In the next few parshiyos two main characters are repeatedly mentioned, Moshe and Aaron. Rashi questions the way the Torah presents each of them. Sometimes, the text has Moshe’s name preceding Aaron’s, and other times Aaron’s name comes first. Rashi recognizes that the person who is mentioned first is the primary person for that action or event and more honor is being attached to that individual. He goes on to explain that since Moshe and Aaron take turns with being mentioned first, this teaches us that the two of them are equal in stature. However, when one carefully examines the roles that these two individuals played, it is clear that Moshe is the main leader appointed by G-d to take the Jews out of Egypt and was definitely on a higher level than Aaron. Therefore, what does it mean that they are equal?

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, explains it is true Moshe was on a greater spiritual level than Aaron. For example, Moshe spoke with G-d directly, a spiritual level that no other human being has ever reached. However, Rashi’s interpretation of the significance of the presentation of the order of the name does not contradict this, but instead, explains a fundamental principle in understanding the greatness of every individual. His point is that each individual is given his/her own unique capabilities that he/she has to bring to use in this world. It is not about how we measure up to others. Aaron may not have been on the same spiritual level as Moshe, but he lived up to his capabilities and what G-d asked of him to do in this world. Therefore, they are equally great in reaching their own potential.

This a great lesson in life for parents and educators. We have to look at every child and student with their individual strengths and what they uniquely bring to the table. As we recognize that individuality, we will truly see the greatness in every person.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Shemos

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S.Moller

“A man went from the house of Levi and married a daughter of Levi.” With these words, the Torah tells us the background of Moshe Rabeinu’s birth. It seems that the Torah deliberately does not identify Moshe’s parentage and instead describes them as members of the tribe of Levi. This is unusual since there is no secret that Amram and Yocheved were his parents. They are named in the beginning of next week’s parsha as his parents, and the Torah devotes several pesukim to establish Moshe’s parentage.

Rav Shamshon R. Hirsch suggests that the Torah is underscoring the fact that Moshe parents were Levites because the tribe of Levi had been castigated in last week’s parsha for their fierceness and uncontrolled anger. Yaakov Avinu criticized Levi for the destruction of Shechem, and he attributed his action to unbridled anger.

Although anger is a very dangerous emotion, it does have its useful side. For example, when Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish males should be drowned, Amram, a trendsetting leader, separated from his wife. He felt that there was no future for newborn children. His daughter Miriam rebuked him and said that he had no right to make such a decision about the Jewish people’s future. She succeeded in arousing a righteous indignation in her father. Amram realized that his action was a concession to Pharaoh, and instead, he needed to fight back by remarrying Yocheved and having more children and so Moshe the Redeemer was born. In greatest of ironies, Hashem had him raised right under Pharaoh’s nose. It all began with a well-placed anger against the tyranny and cruelty of Egypt which created the will to fight for a future.

There are two lessons here. Firstly, a character fault can be channeled and turned into the very thing that brings salvation. Secondly, Hashem and his Torah are very fair. By the end of last week’s parsha, Levi is chastised and seems to be left with no blessing and somewhat disenfranchised. However, his family uses the very trait which brought him this criticism, not only to redeem themselves, but to become leaders who stand up to wrongdoing in the very finest way.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayechi

Long Lasting Effects

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, Yaakov tells Yosef that your sons that 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 our 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 trust to make the right choices wherever they may be.

May we all see to 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.