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The last year has sadly introduced tragedies into synagogues that North American Jews have not had to suffer before. Like the countless other acts of anti-Semitism that have been perpetrated against our people throughout history, these have left their unsightly scars on the Jewish psyche whi…

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After stealing his father’s blessing intended for his elder brother Esau, Jacob is forced to flee his home to escape his brother’s wrath. Along the way, he finds a place to sleep and he has a dream in which he sees angels ascending and descending a ladder based on earth that reached to the h…

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“If you had to condense the message of Judaism into one word, what would word would you pick?”

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Alden Whitman is known as the godfather of obituary writers. His style, sensitivity, attention to detail and work ethic set the standard by which all obituary writers are judged and measured. The story is told about the time he met with the larger-than-life Bette Davis. He was writing a news…

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We are taught that Rachmana liba bai, that in the service of G-d, the Merciful One desires the feeling that permeates our heart far more than any physical act we could possibly do. As parents, educators and role models, therefore, it follows that one of the traps that we should be most wary …

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“Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. So that the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together.” -Genesis 13: 5-6

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The timeless story of Noach and the Ark is so profound that many other cultures have adopted a similar narrative. Whether it’s the Epic of Gilgamesh or an ancient tribal tale of many canoes strung together and separated throughout the world by stormy flood water, the storyline is one that is…

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This week we start reading the Torah from the beginning. The parsha is one of the most fascinating portions in the entire Torah. Indeed, there is so much exciting material in it that it is unfortunate that it is all crammed into one single week. I could see focusing on dozens of episodes tha…

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Sukkot is one of the most intriguing holidays on the Jewish calendar. There is no doubt that the purpose of Passover is to commemorate the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It is unanimously agreed that we celebrate Shavuot because of the revelation that took place before the entire Jewish peo…

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Right before the Kol Nidrei services, the Rabbi noticed little Daniel was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the synagogue. It was covered with names and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. The seven year old had been staring at the plaque for some t…

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This week’s parsha, Vayelech, describes the end of an era, the termination of Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership. Transferring power from one leader to the next is always fraught with dangers, especially during a crucial point in the life of the nation.

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Whenever we read Parshat Nitzavim (literally “Standing”) we know that Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner. During Moses’ final address to the Israelites, he encourages them to be loyal to the Almighty and to observe His commandments. He recounts Israel’s history and reviews many of the l…

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What a bizarre commandment!

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It’s war. The troops are assembled in their armor, fresh and unsullied. The sun glints in their eyes as the general shouts to his men: 

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Basic manners teach us that we should never show up to a special occasion empty-handed. For my mother, of blessed memory, both preparing and presenting gifts was an act of gratitude. Picking out the perfect gift came so naturally to her. I remember even as a young child watching her use her …

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This week, we find ourselves in the book of Deuteronomy, which serves as sort of “recap” of the commandments that Moses shares with the Israelites during the 40 years of wandering in the desert. The Israelites are currently standing on the east side of the land flowing with milk and honey an…

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Even people who have not read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie know that you have a better chance of getting something from someone if you are nice to them. 

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Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I hear words all day through/ first from him, now from you...— “Show Me” from “My Fair Lady” by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick LoeweOne of the world’s greatest gifts of light is our Torah. A quick peek into the Torah scroll provides aseemingly unendi…

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A fellow was boasting about what a good person he was and what a disciplined lifestyle he led. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, I don’t cheat on my wife, I am early to bed and early to rise, and I work hard all day and attend religious services faithfully.” 

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While we only read each Torah portion once in the normal cycle of Torah readings throughout the year, there is one parshat from which we read more often than all others — Parashat Pinchas, named after High Priest Aaron’s grandson who became famous (or infamous) for impaling a couple engaged …

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Imagine having a conversation with your spouse about a fault in one of your children and exploring ways to help your child. The next day someone tells you how bad your child is because they have the fault you just discussed with your spouse. You then get very offended even though you just sp…

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The sidrah Chukat, this week’s parashah, is multilayered with several disjointed tracks — the purification rituals of the red heifer, the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, Moses striking of the rock to produce water, followed by the battles with neighboring tribes. So much to ponder.

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Is controversy a positive or a negative phenomenon? Since the ideal of peace is so fundamental to the Jewish ideal — to such an extent that we even greet and bid farewell to each other with the Hebrew word shalom, peace — I would expect that controversy would be universally condemned by our …

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Dusty from the road, the tribes of Israel arrive at the Promised Land. They’ve crossed the sea, built the mishkan, fought, hungered and heard God’s own voice. Having now reached the border, their destination is in sight and they suppose their exodus is over. They are mistaken. It is just get…

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This week’s Torah portion begins with the instruction to the Kohain regarding the kindling of the menorah in the Sanctuary.

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Perhaps the most salient aspect of this week’s Torah portion — Parshat Naso— is that we read the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) in full for the first time. This blessing — known as birkat kohanim — connects the generations through its nature of transferring holiness through physical act…

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Early in the book of Numbers, the Torah records the first census in the history of the Jewish people: “Count the heads of the entire witness community of the children of Israel, by their families, by their parents’ houses” (Numbers 1:2). Certainly a census is a momentous event — not only as …

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In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah states: “Do not give him your money for interest, and do not give your food for increase. I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt…” (Leviticus 25:37-38). 

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Last week, the film “Tolkien” was released in theaters. I admit, I was excited. I am a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” A movie exploring Tolkien as a young student, imagining what early life experiences contributed to and inspired …

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We often think of scrolls, clergy and the synagogue as physical representations of the realm of holiness in the Jewish conception. But is the work of all Jewish communal leadership holy? Is there anything that we can do — those in leadership and those in the community — to achieve an ultimat…

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This Pesach, I asked the guests seated around the table an open-ended question: How do you strike the balance between changing in different situations that come up in life and when do you stay consistent? The answers reflected each person's view on how to lead life. People suggested four mai…

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This week we begin the quintessentially Jewish holiday of Passover. That is because it is a holiday filled with food, friendship and family. Furthermore, the Passover Seder and the recounting of the story of the Exodus from Egypt reminds us of our humble beginnings, the epic story of our lib…

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This week’s Parsha, Metzora, concludes the subject of tzaraat, which was introduced in last week’s reading. 

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You may have encountered women and men who think that women can’t touch the Torah when they are menstruating. Those women and men are not aware that the torah is not m’kabel tum’ah, it is not susceptible to impurity.  It makes sense, however, that this might be less well-known, because in ti…

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This Shabbos we read the weekly Torah portion of Shemini and Parshas Parah, which discusses the laws of one that becomes impure from contact with a corpse and the method for becoming pure once again. 

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Throughout my childhood, my parents taught me the importance of a well-written thank-you note. I was not allowed to play with a toy or use money received for a birthday or Chanukah gift until the handwritten card was signed and sealed. There was a time, as an adolescent, when I decided to te…

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This week we begin reading the third book, Vayikra (Leviticus) of the five books of Moses. The last few Torah portions of Shemot (Exodus) elaborated on the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The book of Vayikra focuses on the many animal offerings that were given by the Jewish people in t…

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I would like to share a letter written in 1951 from Lubavitcher Rebbe, which I recently came across.

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Do you remember the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning social experiment when Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten enlisted renowned violinist Joshua Bell? A winner of the Avery Fisher Prize for outstanding achievement in classical music, Bell, who regularly undertakes more than 200 internation…

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On the list of items and materials required to produce the priestly uniforms, there was one thing that was particularly difficult to obtain. To follow the plans for making the choshen (breast plate) and ephod (apron), the craftsman would need a list of several rare gem stones. How would they…

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The meaning I picked, the one that changed my life: Overcome fear, behold wonder. — Richard Bach

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This week, we find the Torah going through the royal clothing of the Kohanim in great detail. They were made of either all white and linen for a regular cohen or a mixture of wool and linen — a combination that is not allowed in normal garments — for the Kohen Gadol, High Priest. This High P…

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One of my students recently asked me, “You always say God is everywhere, but sometimes I find it hard to see. How do you see God in everything?” I have been thinking about this question a lot, especially since we read in this week’s Torah portion, “And let them make for Me a sanctuary that I…

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On this Shabbat in Jewish communities throughout the world we will read the Ten Commandments, which can be found in Parshat Yitro. During the recitation of the Ten Commandments each year, individuals within congregations will stand up. This act reminds us all that we each “stood” along with …

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Dear parents: There is no question that our child-rearing years can often seem to be the ultimate roller coaster ride. Just as we find ourselves reaching a potential breakthrough, in which our children seem to display the maturity/kindness/responsibility/etc. for which we had labored mightil…

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In Parshat Bo, we learn that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. This is perhaps the greatest problem in the Exodus story and still the worst of moral conundrums today. It is the root of the great societal ill that causes a breakdown in social trust and empathy. Sadly, it is becoming even more per…

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