Archive for September 2013

Modern Day Zealot?

Excerps from the teachings of Rabbi’s Jay Shapiro, Akiva Grunblatt, Yossi Bilus and Dr. Robert Goldman


The term “zealot”, in Hebrew kanai frequently used in plural form, (kana’im)), means one who is zealous on behalf of God. IS ZEALOT SOMETHING WE CAN RELATE TO TODAY? Is it possible that “zealot” can be applied to many aspects of our lives?


By creating a new minyan, for example, does that constitute being a new zealot?Are there valid reasons for establishing a new minyan? It all depends on the motives of the person. If he is doing it solely for the purpose of improving a problem then it is great. However, there can be underlying reasons, such as honor or reward, which can be a real issue. What are the criteria required for establishing a new minyan? Some considerations (not an exhaustive list) for why people might want a new Minyan:

1. Different style of reading or custom (perhaps very few people in the community pray this different custom at one time, but now more people with that custom have moved to the community).

2. Personal grievance (shared by the group).

3. Convenience (location and/or scheduling).

4. Too friendly (ie., too much talking).

5. Not friendly enough (ie, no socialization, even at permitted times or after prayer).

6. Personal preference (speed, speeches, announcements, Mi SheBerachs, etc.).


Are there hard and fast requirements for establishing a new Minyan? Guidelines? If a Minyan is established not in accordance with the requirements/guidelines, does this preclude someone from attending the Minyan, whatever his motivations might be?


It’s funny how people get inspired differently these days. Today there is a major Baal Teshuva movement on the rise. Jews who had little or no affiliation to Orthodox Judaism are embracing it through many avenues. Some have been influenced through the experience of spending Shabbat with a family. The Shabbat table is tailor-made to remedy a dysfunctional family. Some found Judaism through intellectual means. Some unfortunately, through their difficulties or problems they faced in life. I heard something profound by one such individual. “If G-d wants you to get close to him, he will try various ways for one to connect. He’ll even crush and squeeze you till there is no choice but to recognize him, which will force you to see the light and to embrace him”. In essence that person will be considered LUCKY!!


We say a few times in the 2nd blessing of the Amida (the silent prayer) ” the ALL MIGHTY revives the dead”. Why the repetition? There are some people who are spiritually dead and cannot be revived. In essence G-d is saying “AH leave him alone”. However, you!! I want you to come back. I’ll give you an opportunity. The fact that there are occurrences in our lives which can be construed as a sign, remind us that WE SHOULD GET UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE! Everything that happens to us in life is from above and shows us that it is never too late to become more observant of G-d’s commandments. Ah, but I have a career. A family. A life. I don’t have time for such stuff. Well, there are plenty of fine Orthodox Jews who are juggling both career and a vibrant progressive and fulfilling Torah life, and are leading happy lives.


An individual confessed to me that when he finally realized G-d and was ready to change his life, he went to a private room and cried. He relayed that at that moment of realization he felt so close to G-d, he knew he found the truth. The special and lucky individuals who have become inspired are called Ba’alei Teshuva.


This weeks parsha we read how Pinchas was enraged with the actions of Zimri ben Salul, who challanged Moshe’s authority by taking a non-Jewish woman into the tent, in front of the entire nation to have an illicit relationship. Pinchas was so furious with the audacity of Zimri that after receiving permission from Moshe, he entered the tent and speared the two sinners to death. His brazen act of zealousness was praised by G-d and he was rewarded greatly.


Is there such a thing as being a zealot today? G-d says and I paraphrase “A place where a Baal Teshuva stands no one can stand in his place.” Meaning, he is special to G-d. After all, it’s a hard and brave step in life. However though, some problems may arise. The Baal Teshuva who is supercharged with enthusiasm can be over-zealous. He is so eager to do G-d’s will that he might look down at people that have not “seen the light” like he has. One falls into a trap that ” I’m holier then thou”. One of the most important ingredients in Judaism is strengthening character traits. Tolerance and patience is important, especially for people who have risen to greater heights. They are challenged not to look down at people below them but rather help them grow.


When Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai came out of the cave he was learning in, he saw a man wasting his time. With just one stare, this holy tzadik was able to kill the man since he could not tolerate his lackluster attitude. G-d said to him “go back to the cave you are not ready to live with people. Train yourself to be patient”. A lesson to learn from this is that don’t act on impulse. Think first and always ask advice from someone who is greater than you in Torah knowledge. Some people make the mistake of doing something l’shem Shamayim yet they don’t realize that they are simultaneously hurting others. Sometimes keeping one’s mouth shut is the best remedy, because if one gets involved then he can make the situation worse.


Being a zealot does not work very well in marriage. There’s an old expression; “A woman has the last word in any argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument. A real zealot is who has an unconditional love for Hashem and does His will with no ulterior motives. We cannot achieve such a high level in our day and age since there are underlying reasons why people do good deeds (such as honor, reward, etc.). Pinchas however, was able to achieve such a lofty level of holiness where everything he was doing was purely for the sake of G-d. This was Pinchas’s greatness that is still remembered till this day.

Some Insights into the Mezuzah


In this week’s Parsha, G-d commanded that the Israelites inscribe the Torah on twelve gigantic stones.  Some say it was written in seventy languages; some say only the commandments were written. What’s the purpose of this commandment which was placed in Gilgal, at the entrance to Eretz Yisrael?


One answer is the stones signified that one was about to enter the land of Torah. Just as a Jewish home is distinguished by the mezuzah at the doorpost; so a huge monument at the border of Eretz Yisrael reminds the traveler that the purpose living there is to keep the Torah.


We have 613 commandments in the Torah, do’s and don’ts. There are only two mitzvot where one gets severely punished if one does not do a “do it”….and that is brit milah and korban Pesach (sacrifice). Seemingly, these two commandments are very important and it’s the first two commandments we had. The brit – Avraham was commanded to do on himself and his children. The korban Pesach was mitzvah number two. G-d said whoever did not perform circumcision cannot participate in the korban Pesach. Therefore, that night, many Jews, who were lax in this area, circumcised themselves. Then they were instructed to put the blood of the brit milah and korban Pesach on the doorpost which protected them from death of the first born. G-d skipped over the doorposts with the blood.


G-d said, because you did these two mitzvot you will be redeemed.


The RAMBAM writes, by walking in and out of our houses we kiss the mezuzah to remind us of the fundamental principles of our religion. We are reminded of going out of Egypt. The brit mila is also a declaration acknowledging G-d and the korban Pesach – a declaration to do the commandments. These declarations which consists of the Shema and VEHAYA IM SHAMOAH is found in the parchment in the Mezuzah. 

Parshat Ki-Tavo

First Portion
* Many commentaries including the RAMBAM – Maimonides – say the whole issue of the commandment of bikurim, (first fruits are brought from the seven species – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates which the land of Israel is most famous for), is to stress man’s total submission and appreciation to G-d. When a land-owner notices that the first fruits of any of the aforementioned begin to ripen in his field, he ties a thread around it to mark it bikurim. When it ripens, he takes it to the Temple, as part of his tithe. The first fruits of the land were chosen to express this basic principle, because whatever is first is always precious to a person.
The same concept applies to pidyon haben – redeeming of the first born son. It’s special because it has enhanced the status of man to father; there is a continuity of the new father where he has the opportunity to pass down the Jewish tradition which he has received from his father. The precious valuable commodity firstborn belongs to G-d and the father proudly redeems the boy. The ceremony consists of the father purchasing back his son from any Kohen (they are G-d’s representatives) for five silver coins. The ceremony is conducted on the 30th day from birth. If one is not redeemed on the 30th day, he can still do the procedure in his lifetime regardless if his father is alive; he can redeem himself. The reason bikurim-first fruits – is emphasized is because after the Israelites entered and settled in the promised land, Israel, we must take great care to ensure we don’t have any delusions that it was because of my strength that I have attained this wealth. Every year that our ancestors brought bikurim was testimonial that the earth is G-d’s. It’s not our land, it’s His. So bringing the first which is always so special would be a meaningful gift to G-d. There are a number of firsts which are important to discuss. How important it is therefore for a woman to hold herself until her wedding and let her husband be the first. It is a tremendous added plus to the relationship. Unfortunately, at certain times in our history we were tremendously subservient to our gentile oppressors who demanded that the first night would belong to the gentile officers before the Jewish groom. The enemy knew they would dampen and sour the relationship and bond which would have a detrimental lasting effect on the newlyweds. This is, by the way, one of the curses which we find later in the Parsha. “You shall betroth a wife and another will take her.” We also find that the acts of smelling, touching, seeing, and hearing for the first time, is a lot more pleasurable at first. Human nature has always anointed the first in every aspect of life, as special.

Second Portion
* Interesting to note – there is no commandment in this Parsha where the owner gives the teruma and ma’aser. However, the commandment is on the declaration of the Teruma and ma’aser (end of Pesach fourth and seventh year). We see how the Torah finds speech crucial in the ongoing daily activities of man. What distinguishes us from the animal kingdom, who can physically receive and give, is the power of speech.

Third Portion
* The question is asked who has a greater reward, someone who is obligated to do a Torah commandment or someone who doesn’t but does it anyway? The answer is someone who has the obligation and does it. A person who inherits an obligation is struck a psychological burden on himself therefore greater is his evil which prevents him from accomplishing the mandatory task. The other with no obligation feels lightweight. It’s an easier feeling when one can pull out at any given time with no obligations.

Fourth Portion
* The Jews were instructed that as soon as they enter the land they should erect monuments and write the Torah on each. Rav Sadya Gaon says only the commandments that were written but not the full text.

Fifth Portion
* Moshe commanded that on the day the Jews enter the land under his successor’s leadership, they were to travel directly to Mt. Greezim and the adjacent mountain, Mt. Aival, where the twelve tribes will be divided equally on each mountain, and they will pronounce G-d’s blessings and curses. The kohanim, Levites, and the ark would remain in the valley between the two mountains. The levi’im then would begin the recitation of the blessing and the two sides will answer amen. Why did G-d command the Jews to listen to curses and blessings on the day they entered the holy land? This was a new covenant, a new acceptance of the Torah in the land itself. The two mountains would serve as two internal witnesses who remind the Jews of their pledge to keep the Torah in the land of Israel.

Sixth Portion
* “Bless shall you be when you enter and bless shall you be when you leave.” This is a very popular slogan which is found in the entrance in many Jewish homes. You shall leave this world as free of sin as you were when you came into it (Rashi).
* “G-d should place you as a head and not as a tail.” This is one of the brachot we say symbolically to have a good year on Rosh Hashanah. It is possible that one can be a leader to some but to be a follower to others. G-d promises that if Israel is worthy, it will be respected by everyone and subservient to no one.

Seventh Portion
* Many times in our lives, human nature dictates, we do not appreciate or are sensitive enough to fully comprehend the event that occurred most recent in our lives. It takes some time to digest. Moshe has tried to inject an awareness drug so they can comprehend now what has transpired and put the wilderness years into perspective. Unfortunately, for us we cannot fully understand or appreciate until the event, time, or individual is gone.

Standing on the Threshold of Rosh Hashana

Rabbi Baruch Dopelt quoting the RAN hakadosh, Rabbi’s Yitzchak Aminov, Yossi Bilus Dr. Robert Goldman
          Today even a 4 year old has access to making a music video. We are so attached to the computer that some of us have become anti-social. The computer has replaced the dog as “man’s best friend”. One can proclaim that all the modern technology, things like the iphone, ipad, pc, smartphone and laptop have dehumanized us; it has influenced us to an extent where in cases we’ve been transformed and mimic the dull-machine-Mr. Spock personalities of our circuit brain friend. However, one can argue to the contrary, that focusing so much attention on these new gadgets our vulnerability and  humanity manifests itself the most.
          Such is the case many years ago at my bar mitzvah, although it seems like the stone age compared to the gadgets today. By coincidence, the photographer my parents chose to take pictures and video of the event happened to receive the latest technology on the market first, Oo la la “sound super 8mm film!”; WOW,  what a revelation!! Apparently, we were the first family to have a movie of a bar mitzvah with sound in our community.
          The element of surprise and excitement was evident the way many of the guests  stood on line to wish the bar mitzvah boy their best wishes. Today many of us are familiar with the routine and have a set standard greeting when the camera is motioned around the table. “I want to wish the bar mitzvah boy and his family mazal tov may he grow up….yada yada yada……”, however it was funny to see how people clumsily struggled to hold the big mike, some for the first time in their lives, and speak into it. The cat would bite their tongue, even though nobody else at the party was listening, and they would, in a very funny way, get camera shy.
There was one poignant moment though, bringing out the emotions and inner-feelings of some as the camera was given to three guests at one particular table. They were my parents friends and, like them, migrated from Israel to America. Seemingly they missed  the generation of their parents which they experienced as children and young adults; in other words, they were nostalgic. Their parents were immigrants themselves coming to Israel, from the old country, many years before.
One of them said “lets give the mike to him he’ll sing us an old song”. Apparently  one of the three had a nice voice and gifted where he was able to mimic perfectly the old tunes with the accent. As he was singing to the camera, with only the other two listening, they began to get misty eyed as they were reminded of their youth a world far away.

When I was 15; I remember seeing the bar mitzvah movie and thinking what audacity, what chutzpah, three middle aged men at a happy occasion crying. Their emotions seemed misplaced. It may be a time and place to get nostalgic but not to cry. Hey guys! you are supposed to make the bar mitzvah boy and his parents happy. WHY ARE YOU RAINING ON MY PARTY!……THE NERVE.

          As time went on, it’s funny, but 15 years later when I was 30; apparently I had a change of heart of those three fellows and that scene. I didn’t look at them in a negative way anymore; I understood them a bit, however there was a disinterest. One, at this age, is trying to climb the latter of success. My age group, at the time, wanted to establish ourselves financially and socially. It’s an age to built an identity. There was a sub-conscience part of us that looked at our parents for guidance and help us shape up. As our high school principal said at graduation “these graduates have the world in front of them, let them go out and explore”. There was also the time consuming dreadful process of looking for a soul mate. With all that on our plate who had time to reminisce about our young  past?  We were on a mission. We also wanted to have fun. There is excess energy that one just feels like running as fast as he can to win the race. After all we were living in the metropolis of the world.
In my mid-forties though, the attitude changed once again. One sees life totally different. There is an element of experience where one doesn’t jump into things, and I think most importantly, a certain ability to appreciate life and what G-d has on this earth. The prayer we read in the AMIDA- MODIM-appreciation becomes more apparent on the awareness scale; it’s more emphasised . There is a certain sensitivity that one develops. He sees life through a different lens. He also appreciates the past. One cannot help but to say where did that time go? Wouldn’t it be cool if technology developed a time warp?

          There seemed to be a huge transformation in attitude from the age of 15 to 45. What happened to that tough edge personality who didn’t put much emphasis on the past?

In this weeks parsha Moshe informs the people (29:3) after forty years you are now ready in all aspects of life, feeling, seeing, hearing to enter the promised land. Rashi develops this idea, saying  time had to pass and the nation had to grow up, lick their wounds from the sin of the spies and experience that chill time. A time spent wisely developing their Torah skills in order to graduate to the level of entering the land. Dr Goldman points out, we learn from here one does not fully comprehend a Rebbi’s or teacher’s message until forty years later. One can acquire a vast amount of informational knowledge and with it build the world; however it will still be somewhat on a superficial level. A vital part, an emotional edge, kicks in later.

          For this reason one has to show respect and stand up for an elder gentile as well as a Jew. Because through certain painstaking experiences he has acquired wisdom and understanding.

          The Jews who received the Torah at Mount Sinai did not fully comprehend the magnitude of the event until later. Then they had a clearer and deeper understanding of G-d’s masterpiece; they needed years to digest the monumental event. They needed time
One cannot rush time
          Rav Avni said whoever presses his luck before its time will forfeit it entirely. For example, Avshalom, who tried to dethrone his father David. He lost his life and never became king. But whoever waits for the right time will be able to survive the hour of his bad fortune.

Such was the case of two Rabbis, Rabbah and Rav Yosef. The time came for a new head of the Yeshiva. A vote was cast and Rav Yossef was chosen. Nevertheless Rav Yossef did not accept the position because the astrologist had told him that he would officiate as Rosh Yeshiva for only two years and then he would die. So Rabba was chosen and headed the Yeshiva for 22 years then Rav Yossef was chosen. He served for two and a half years before he passed away. During the 22 years Rav Yossef never had a doctor come to his house. By waiting for the appropiate time Rav Yossef gained 22 years of life.
Tractate Brachot
Jews have the power to manipulate time
          Jews have the power to manipulate time. An example of their power is kiddush, whether it be Shabbat or Festivals. The idea of kiddush-sanctify but also means separation. A Jew has the power to bless and separate the day or days and make it special.
How can you make it special?
          A Jew is able to bring back time. One has the power to bring back the first Shabbat or the first Pesach, where G-d had mercy on our ancestors and released us from torture and slavery. We manipulate time to bring that moment of mercy back. If we have the proper intention when we pray or make kiddush, we can receive the same special treatment our ancestors received because we deliberately performed the commandment at the designated times.
Why is Rosh Hashana a day of Judgement?
          It doesn’t state anywhere in the Torah Rosh Hashana is a day of judgement. It only refers to it as yom teruah,  a day of blowing the shofer. So how do we derive that its one of the holiest times of the year?

          The more popular opinion is that Rosh Hashana is when G-d created the world. To be more precise, the world was created on the 25th day of the month of Elul and after six days of creation, the day that G-d created man, Judgment day was proclaimed.
Why was judgement day proclaimed when G-d created man?
          Well,.it was an eventful day to say the least. The first hour G-d thought about creating man; the second hour he asked the angels their opinion. We learn even though one thinks he’s the greatest, he should always ask advice. The third hour G-d gathered dirt from the four corners of the earth. The fourth hour he gathered all the materials together; The 5th hour he created the body; the 6th created a golem, a walking body; on the 7th man was able to speak – he instilled a neshama-soul; on the 8th hour he created Gan Eden. On the 9th hour he warned man not to eat from the tree; an hour later man sinned. The eleventh hour G-d judged him that he should be put to death. However on hour twelve, G-d had tremendous mercy on Adam and let him live for 930 years.
          The mercy that G-d displayed, on the first day, was a textbook blue print of the ultimate mercy ever. We said earlier a Jew has the power to bring back time, as long as it’s in the time frame of the time warp. Pesach seder is the same date as when we left Egypt. Shabbat is a day of rest as it was the same seventh day from the inception of the world.
          Rosh Hashana is the same day G-d showed his tremendous mercy.  We purposely manipulate time by making kiddush and conducting special prayers, sanctifying the day. We attempt to enhance the day to bring back the feeling of mercy that G-d displayed on that very first day Adam was created.

          Rabbi Kamenetzky once gave his son a present, a watch. The card said this is the most precious commodity you’ll own. It will guide you to organize your day and allocate time correctly.

          Another year has passed and I will be soon the same age as my father and his friends were at the time of  my bar mitzvah. Its true I understand life a lot better then when I was younger. I also realize the precious commodity ” time”; it’s marching on and not waiting for anybody. As we stand on the threshold of a new year we have to be prepared to submit to G-d what we accomplished this year proclaiming we were productive. We must draw up a plan that the coming year we will improve even more and perhaps he will say we are righteous enough to merit not just entering the promised land but entering another year of good life.

What’s the Purpose of Stars

          When G-d revealed Himself to our forefather Avraham, after Avraham committed to a life of serving G-d, He fondly promised him that his offspring will be many like the stars in the sky. Poetically, that’s nice and romantic; however, why did G-d pick on the stars? The holiday of Succot, where we eat and some of us actually sleep in these little huts. It’s not so easy to build these huts. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of intrinsic and detailed laws on how to build a Sukkah. One of which is when one puts on the SCHACH – the bamboo roof, he should be careful to leave enough space to see the stars. One may ask why?
Why do we have to see the stars through the SCHACH?
          Succot is a fitting holiday following Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is very scary, we’re not sure who will live and who will die. Life is very short and one is not sure what will be tomorrow. During Succot, one lives in temporary quarters. Such is life – temporary. It’s a lesson to drive home – never be too sure and comfortable in life. Nothing is yours for long. Therefore, one should be more giving to his fellow man.
The sun and the moon were the same size. However, the moon wanted to have the upper hand and slyly suggested to G-d, why have two huge lights? Make one smaller. So G-d said “You know, you’re right! I’ll make you smaller”. The moon realized his ambitious desires at the expense of others, and kept quiet, accepting G-d’s punishment. G-d then created the stars around the moon, to appease the moon; their task is to illuminate the sky and to make the moon not feel lonely and the burden of the punishment. Similarly, the Jews are here to appease each other because life is too short; its temporary. So one has to make the best of life. Succot represents unity.
Living in Kew Garden Hills where the houses are attached and the backyards are very close to each other, during Succot one feels a sense of unity when everybody is out back in their sukkah, singing and eating. After a while though, everyone invites the others for a bite here and a dessert or a l’chaim there. G-d is blessing Avraham that his offspring will appease each other and together they’ll grow and be G-d’s number one representatives.

Yom Kippur


Rabbi Joel was coming back from a conference in New Jersey where he figured he’d stop at the cemetery to visit the grave of his father, since it’s conveniently on the way. As he was saying tehilim at the grave site, he notices a family burying their loved one, not far away from his father’s grave. It didn’t seem they were observant and were having a hard time with some of the rituals.

After Rabbi Joel finished saying tehilim, he walked over to the family and said ‘Can I offer you my help, I’m a Rabbi”. After getting a nod of approval, he immediately helped with the rituals and then gathered ten Men and asked the sons of the deceased to say kaddish. Unfortunately, they seemed disinterested with saying the prayer that is said for the deceased and gave him permission to finish off the ceremony himself. Rabbi Joel proceeded to say kaddish and finished the necessary customs of burying the dead. On the way back on the Belt Parkway, he felt a tremendous uplifting feeling having helped out a perfect stranger getting buried properly according to Jewish law. Through the ride back, he couldn’t stop to think about the name of the deceased, ‘Sam Rosenberg’.
             That evening as Rabbi Joel was curiously looking up Sam Rosenberg’s name on the internet for any information, he gets a call from his Rabbi. After some casual greetings, he decides to tell his Rabbi the act of kindness he did earlier that day. ‘I can’t seem to find out anything about Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island’ Rabbi Joel said in frustration. ‘What’s his name?’ his Rabbi asked. ‘Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island, why do you know him?’ Let me tell you about Sam Rosenberg from Staten Island. Thirty five years ago, I was a young rabbi convincing parents from a secular background to place their child in Yeshiva. The parents half heartedly agreed as long as it was free. I was handed a list of rich-well-to-do businessmen whom might be gracious enough to help. After a few hours, I called Sam Rosenberg who’s name was half way down the list. I began to go through my pitch on how important it is to give these boys a Jewish education and we need people who can commit long term for their studies. I told him, I have five boys that need the financial help. He said to me ‘I can only finance one; THAT ONE WAS YOU!
There is an old expression, ‘What goes around, comes around’. Be aware, Baruch Hashem, kindness is contagious.
Taken by the lectures of Rabbi Issac Olbaum
          Throughout many of our prayers, the style that our great sages evoked is to have a poem, a piyut before we start. The reason is to warm the hearts of the one praying. We are not robots, we need something to get us in the mood, to get the emotions going. So we begin with a piyut. Here we begin with LECHA ELI written by the Even Ezra.

How appropriate to start off Yom Kippur with Kol Nidrai. Man was given special powers over the other living creatures of the world. He was given the gift, the power of speech. Unfortunately, it’s hard not to abuse it even though our tongue is enwrapped with teeth and a second layer of lips. It still manages to escape and put its foot in its mouth. Kol Nidrai tries to annul our careless misuse of our mouth.

* Introduction to Slichot

Betzalel, the builder of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, knew how to combine the letters (the Hebrew letters) with which heaven and earth were created. This is how he configured to build the temple. It is written in the mystic sefarim, “If the letters were to remove themselves for an instant and return to their source, the entire heaven will be an obsolete vacuum.” The Hebrew letters are the building blocks, the foundation of the world. One can understand the essence of a person through his name which consists of a combination of the alef bet. So it wasn’t the physical strength which enabled Betzalel to succeed in enacting the temple; it was the knowledge and expertise on configuration the letters.
Chas ve shalom – if we sin, these spiritual letters are erased, damaged. These are the same letters that enlighten the neshama, that the spiritual and physical world depends on. How do we fix it? How do we un-damage the letters?
If one notices many of the peyutim, paragraphs, poems are in alphabetical order Alef till taf, taf till alef (A-Z, Z-A) The philosophy is to fix the damage by reciting the letters in KEDUSHA form and in a proper state of mind; therefore, creating a positive force. Then one will re-organize, re-configure, re-structure the letters properly and fix the damage. So we find throughout the Slichot, actual in our everyday Tefillot – prayer as well, this format. A few examples: ASHRAI, ANSHAI EMUNA AVADU, ADON HASELICHOT. So it’s important to realize what the chachamim are trying to accomplish. By reinventing the letters again, it will give us a fighting chance.

This prayer is referring to Yona, the prophet, who did not want to perform his task out of fear that the Jews will not repent. So he basically tried to phase himself out of the picture, thinking that G-d does not reveal, talk to His prophets at sea. Yona fled and took refuge on a ship. As the ship sailed, though, G-d brought upon a bad storm. People on board were terrified. The passengers and crew figured it must be someone on board that’s the cause of their misfortunes. So each one prayed to their G-d. However, none of their prayers were answered. “Someone didn’t pray.” So they searched the entire ship and they found Yona asleep. This is the basis of the prayer. “Hey man! Why are you asleep? Go call, pray to your G-d!” Before one knows it, time, life marches on. So go call your G-d before it’s too late.

This is the main part of slichot. The Rosh Hashanah method was malchiot, shofrot, and zichronot. Here we are shifting methods. It’s a great strategy of “Doing it for the merit of our fathers.” However, that doesn’t always work. Its limited.
VA YA AVOR HASHEM AL PANAV – G-d passed before him and proclaimed. He taught Moshe something essential, vital for survival. When Moshe was on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, G-d showed Moshe the method and the text of the special prayer that will always invoke his mercy, unlimited RACHAMIM. G-d said “When Israel sins, let them perform the order of this prayer and I shall forgive them.” An important note, it says perform, besides recitation; one also has to perform acts of mercy with others in order to receive mercy. Only then will G-d respond.
When someone loses a close loved one, one goes through tremendous hardship in the beginning. The mere thought of the one who had passed on evokes a sharp, stinging, uncomfortable pain. As time goes on, though, the memory of the loved one is there; however, the traumatic experience has softened quite a bit. Our forefather, Yaacov, made a promise to G-d after he got up from his dream, “If G-d takes care of his servant, Yaacov, then the stone will be a covenant to you.” Apparently, Yaacov got tangled some twenty years plus in the house of his crooked father-in-law, Lavan. G-d then approached Yaacov and asked “Why did you forget your promise?” He answered, “I didn’t forget.” What did G-d mean when He said “Why did you forget?” Yaacov forgot the feeling. You don’t feel now as when you felt then. REMEMBER – ZACHOR – memory has different levels. If one wants to remember a deceased loved one with the same intensity, then he has to work, meditate to bring back that feeling. Measure for measure, G-d remembers us the same way we remember Him. Appropriately, ZACHOR LANU is sung by the chazzan with intensity to jar up feelings and memories.


The Avoda re-enacts the entire crucial ceremony of the high priest entering the holy of holies where he will find out the fate of the nation for the upcoming year. If the prayers were accepted, then the high priest departs from the holy of holies alive and everybody is happy. We also go into detail of the sacrifices that occurred on this holy day. Interesting to note that one she-goat is sacrificed and the other is thrown off a cliff apparently given to azzazel – the devil. Why do we practice this? Do we really have to give something to the devil? As a result of Adam’s sin, nothing in this world is 100% good; there is always a negativity attached. An example, when we eat food, no matter how much nourishment it provides, a person will always have to relieve himself. Again, it’s the result of the punishment. So, too with the she-goat. It’s a reminder to us of the negativity that was brought upon the world.

Ne’ila is the most important prayer of the year. It has to be said BEN HASHMASHOT which is between sunset and nightfall. This is the time when Adam and Chava sinned and brought death onto the world. We are trying to prevent death. The in-between time is always a crucial and intense time of life and we are often tested. When traveling and one is in between destinations, it is often dangerous, so one should say special prayers to prevent harm. There is tremendous rewards if one passes the test “in-between”. For this reason, NE’ILA is a very important tefila. Even when one departs from this world and is in between life and death, a person is tested one last time. The Mystics say it’s the ultimate test; in fact, all the marbles are being placed on the poker table. When one dies, he first goes through this momentary scary nothingness. The Satan approaches the individual and tries to convince him, “You see, there’s nothing here, it was all a farce. There is no heaven and there is no hell and there is certainly no G-d.” If at that point the individual is convinced, he loses everything. All the good he did in this world is wiped out. The crucial in-between time has to be approached very carefully and prudently.


Better Understanding

Our sages look out for us; yes they do. They are our leaders and as leaders they have to squeeze out the optimal best in all of us and motivate us to be the best we can be. They are our cheerleaders when we do well, and console us when we sinned. The Sages have an important task in where they have to represent us well; they have to instruct us to say the proper terminology in court so we can get the optimal verdict.


How do they do it?


How do they provide us with proper representation?

We have to ask ourselves “What’s the best way to have a good year and get in the book of life? How do we go about it? What’s the best method, percentage-wise for a successful sweet year? Should we have a businessman approach and get the best deal possible?” If we are desperate, maybe it would be wise to grab any deal!!


The lawyers are our Sages, who through the guidance of our Torah, comprised a three method plan to approach G-d on Rosh Hashanah. Our chachamim believe this formulation of prayer, which they added some salt and pepper to it, will enable us, if done right, to receive a good verdict. We will discuss Yom Kippur a bit later.


 The Three Methods Are:


* Shofrot – A shofar is the main symbol of the high holidays. What’s so special about a shofar? Why do we need to hear it?

Why do we blow the shofer 100 times?


The Chazanim (cantors) Rabbis, and the person who tokes the shofar (shofar blower) are all meticulously careful that there should be 100 sounds blown before the crucial mussaf prayer. One may ask, why 100 sounds? Rabbi Berel Wein mentions one reason, which we learned from a famous incident that happened at the time of the shoftim (Judges).

Our ancestors were in constant war with their neighbors, the Pilishteem. Similarly, today one can identify with the conflict of our Arab neighbors. The Pelishteem army was led by the strong and mighty General Sisra who terrorized opposing countries. Sisra was a startling, frightening figure and is best described similarly as a mixture of Ivan the Terrible and George Patton.

The Jews were led by Devorah and her general Barak ben Avinoam who with G-d’s help were defeating the Pilishteem army. Sisra realized the end was imminent and fled. As he was escaping, he meets Yael who realized who he is. She brought him into her home where she fed him and gave him wine. He found comfort in Yael who seduced him. When Sisra was sleeping, Yael, who was loyal to the nation of Israel, killed him.

It is written in the ‘Song of Devora’, in the book of Prophets, Sisra’s mother was waiting by the window for her son to return. She saw the injured solders limping back from battle; she witnessed the broken war carriages. However, there was no sign of the great warrior, her son, Sisra. The text describes her waiting by the window and coming to the inevitable conclusion that her son was never coming home. Realizing this, she begins to cry and wail 100 sounds. The sages say this is the reason why we blow the shofar 100 sounds.

One may ask what’s the connection between Sisra’s non-Jewish mother, wailing for her son’s return, and the Jewish congregation listening to shofar blowing on one of the holiest days of the year?

Sisra’s mother was privileged; she came from a picture perfect prestigious family. She was a straight-A student who was a prom queen beauty. She was head cheerleader who married the star quarterback leader of the football team. They had a big house with many cars, maids, a butler, a dog named Lassie, and many kids who each went on to become successful in their own right. She never saw a cloudy day in her life. Whatever she touched, with no effort, turned to gold. Sisra’s mother felt she was in charge of her own destiny.

However, for the first time in her life, she felt she was not in control; someone else was pulling the strings and that someone else was G-d. So she turned to G-d out of feeling inadequacy and hopelessness, acknowledging ‘it’s not me but someone higher above.’

When they blow the shofar during the High Holiday, one should feel that G-d runs the world and He is in control of our lives. Granted, we have to make an effort and some of us have seen tremendous success. However, at the end of the day, G-d is always in charge. This is what Sisra’s mother felt at that moment.


The word LINSHOM means to breath; it comes from NESHAMA – the soul. The purest part of man is the soul. For this reason, G-d may have mercy and forgive us. After all those layers and layers of sin one accumulated, there lies the purest of good, the NESHAMA. When G-d created man, he blew into his nostrils the breath of life. There are a number of ways one can identify someone. At night, in the dark, one can tell a loved one through the sound of their breath; if one wants to get spiritual, one way to start is to take deep breaths. The essence of the soul is though the passage of breathing. This is the reason we blow the shofar which is the highest form of prayer because it comes from the inner part of man; a part that’s not tainted, the purest part of man, deep inside him, the NESHAMA. So, apparently through the shofar, it’s the purest Tefillah.



In the amida of Mussaf, the additional prayer said after the morning services, we say nine blessings. The Gemarah says the source for the number nine is the 9, AZKAROT mentions of G-d’s name in the story of Chana. We read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the story of Chana, who was known for the tremendous intensity of her prayer. Chana was a barren woman who had to suffer the humiliation by her husband, who took a second wife and bore his children. Chana’s prayers were finally answered on Rosh Hashanah. She had a son who became the great prophet, Shmuel. There is a very important message one can learn from the story of Chana that is a very essential part of the holiday, and for that matter an essential part of life. At the end, Chana bore seven children while her rival lost a child every time Chana gave birth to one. One must realize there is a change of fortunes that the unpredictable life offers. Rav Tzadok HaCohen says the Shofar blowing consists of shevarim and teruahs which are broken sounds representing crying, broken spirit. This must always be sandwiched in by two tekias. The firm unbroken sound represents joy. This represents the theme of the day; we have to be joyous, however we are judged; so anything can happen, which translates into fear. For some, this year will bring joy and for some sorrow. For some, fortunes will change and for others not.

* Zichronot – remembrance: When we pray and ask G-d to remember our good merits, we are referring to our ancestors. We said in our previous newsletters since we are the genealogy of those great people, it would be a good bet, and it would be safe to assume that those great qualities are found in us. Therefore, He should forgive us because we are bound to do well. So we remind him of the major shining moments in our history where it was so impressive it would be hard for Him not to forgive us. It’s a tremendous weapon which we use on Rosh Hashanah. The three major characters that will help us in this theme is Avraham, his wife, Sarah, and their son Yitzchak, and the major event is the Akeda.



What’s important to note and a major aspect to Judaism is the power of the Hebrew letters. Avraham and Sarah were believers of monotheistic G-d and they openly campaigned for Him. Unfortunately, though, they could not have children. G-d rewarded them by adding the letter ‘HEY to Avraham and Sarah. As a result, Avraham and Sarah became a new entity. (Perhaps this is the reason when someone is sick, a new name or a letter is added). Avraham was taken out from the mazal of the world and was rewarded with the ability to go against nature. “You will always have the ability to break nature through your faith,” G-d said to him. They weren’t supposed to have children, it was against nature and yet, they did. So we see, the inception of Jewish nation, the whole Jewish entity began against nature through the power of the letter HEY. This letter represents G-d’s name. So if someone calls Avraham, Avram, they take away the power, not just from Avraham, but himself. He takes away the essence of the Jews. Avraham with the HEY fuels us together. Ever wonder why we are called children of Avraham and not the children of Noach (non-Jews). Because Noach had children naturally, he was part and parcel with the natural state of the world. We have an unnatural and illogical existence; we were crucified, humiliated, and tortured throughout history. However, we never lost hope; we were tenacious and we never gave up. So G-d remembers Avraham’s ability to spread G-d’s name and being a model example of what a Jew is all about. The acts of kindness were passed down through the generations to us. G-d looks at us and that particular potential to manifest itself through our personality. Then it would remind Him of our forefather, Avraham.

* Malchiot

Ever wonder why we do not say one slicha – please forgive me – on Rosh Hashanah. Why don’t we bang on our heart like we do on Yom Kippur? Nevertheless, it’s the big time, Judgment Day. How is it Judgment Day if you’re eating such delicious foods via three course meals? When I was a young care-free fellow, the tradition was I would buy a new suit every Rosh Hashanah; that’s Judgment Day? Maybe one is being judged by friends on who bought the nicest clothes at bargain prices. Who got more bang for their buck this holiday season? The cheap is to pay Jamaica Avenue prices and have the Hugo Boss, Fifth Avenue look and quality. In essence, though, Rosh Hashanah is designed that way; it’s designed to feel like royalty. Everybody in shul is on their best behavior, dressed to the tee; one feels like royalty.


ME ZEH MELECH HAKAVOD – who is the king that’s wrapped in honor, in royalty? He’s the one who gets the KAVOD. The KAVOD is due to him. G-d is the king. However, if the king has no followers, his kingship is weakened. His people are the ones who raise the volume and strengthen his rulership. If not, they are not needed. So it’s our responsibility to make a tremendous kavod in His honor all year round, especially on Rosh Hashanah. We wear the fine clothes, cook fine foods and we feel good about ourselves. We feel like royalty. What a great feeling, right? By enhancing and indulging in the royalty, one is enhancing G-d. However, it’s important to think, “I am doing this for G-d.” All the clothes, the food, the feel-good is all for G-d. This is the frame of mind we should have on Rosh Hashanah when we pronounce MELECH – King – at every juncture of our prayer. All this material beauty is all for You, G-d.


The greatest teshuvah – repentance – that ever occurred was by one of the three central characters:


The Matriarch, Sarah 

When the three angels arrived to Avraham’s home and proclaimed, “Sarah and you will have a child”, Sarah upon hearing them from the back, by the door, laughed. We’re going to have kids – that’s funny. Apparently, G-d didn’t find her reaction too amusing and asked her, “Why did you laugh?  Do you doubt I have the ability to do so, the ability to change your mazal?” Sarah answered something very startling, “I didn’t laugh.” “What do you mean you didn’t laugh? Are you lying in front of the Almighty? That’s chutzpah!!!”  What is startling is that she meant it! Sarah was completely sincere that she didn’t laugh.


“HAYOM HARAT OLAM” We say in the Mussaf Amida prayer “today”. Today, I am a different person. I totally regret what I did, to an extent, to such a level that I disengage, dis-associate myself from the person who sinned. Although I take responsibility, however, that’s not me anymore; I’ve changed; I would never do those things again. With all the regret that was in her heart, she meant it. How else would one explain her naming her son Yitzchak; Yitzchak means laughter. Is it possible she would name her child after a sin? That would constitute the highest level of audacity. However, the name will forever be associated with the highest level of teshuvah – repentance – performed by our matriarch, Sarah.



Yitzchak’s special quality was how he prayed. No one prayed with such intensity as Yitzchak did. When his bride-to-be, Rivka, arrived and she saw him for the first time, she fell off her camel, because she saw him at the time when he was in the middle of prayer. It left such an impression that she was struck with such fear and awe of him for the rest of her life. When one makes the leap and becomes religious, this individual’s prayer is beloved in G-d’s eyes more-so than the prayer of one that has been religious all his life. One may think such was the case with Rivka who came from a house of reshayim. Rivka’s strong character and extreme kindness was quite the opposite of her family. One can only imagine how difficult it was for her to live in her father’s house; she was a unique individual, a tzadakus. Rivka’s prayers rattled the heavens. However, it was Yitzchak’s prayers that were accepted, in which, enabled them to have children, because he prayed with intensity.

The Test

G-d injected Avraham with such a love for his son, Yitzchak, like no other, which made the test extremely difficult.


These three characters showed such devotion to G-d; such devotion and love to each other, that they’ve taken human potential to an unprecedented level. We are proud to say we are their offspring and offspring inherit the character traits, the genes of their ancestors. So if they were outstanding, we too, have the credentials and potential to reach them. G-d, then should give us the benefit of the doubt; after all, we’re a chip off the old block.

With these three methods, we hope that it would be sufficient for a good Judgment Day. The next part of repentance is Yom Kippur.

The Symbols of the Rosh Hashana Table and its Mechanism

Symbols; How does it work? Can it really benefit us?  On Rosh Hashanah, a traditional practice is to eat simanim, or symbolic foods, in order to presage good things for the future.  The origin of eating simanim can be found in the Talmudic discussion of omens (Horayot 12a; Keritot 6a). Abayei comments that since “simana milta,” “omens are of significance,” a person should make it a practice to “see” [other texts state to “eat”] five specific symbolic foods at the Rosh Hashanah table. According to the Talmud, these foods are “qara,” “rubya,” “kartai,” “silka” and “tamari” (gourd, fenugreek, leek, beets and dates). Other foods have been added over time, such as the pomegranate.


There have been many Jewish scholarly interpretations over the centuries concerning which bean-like food was meant by Abaye and so, different Jewish communities follow different rabbinical interpretations of what was meant by Abaye


Regarding whether the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashanah were to be eaten or simply displayed on the Rosh Hashanah Seder table was a subject of debate among various Talmudic authorities. The custom that was decided upon was simply to recite blessings over each symbolic food, touching each food in turn while blessing it. Today, the custom is to recite the appropriate “Yehi ratzon” blessing over each food, and to sample each of the symbolic foods in turn.

The following is a basic structure of a Rosh Hashanah Seder. Mind you there are many customs.


One recent custom I heard involves lettuce, half a raisin and celery.


Its prevalent in United States- it’s a play on words  “let-us have a raise in salary”. Now if you think I’m being a wise guy, well…. think again.
Some have a custom to recite the symbolic Yehi Ratzon before washing of the hands and some after one eats bread

We dip the bread after we say the blessing of HAMOTZIE LECHEM MIN  HA’ARETZ in honey instead of the customary salt. Honey is symbolic of having a sweet year.

Why do we add UMEH TUKA when we say shana tova?
The ultimate believe and trust in G-d is to understand that everything HE does is for the good even if the situation is bleak. We would not be able to see the truth until we leave this world. Mind you, relegion is a belief. We reaffirm our belief by the first statement (shana tova) However by adding UMETUKAH we suggest to make the good, though be sweet and wonderful.


Why do we dip the apple in honey?

When Yitzchak requested to smell Yaakov, after Yaacov dressed up like his brother Eisav to receive the bracha instead of him, Rashi comments that he smelled an apple tree from Gan Eden and he knew, then, he’s giving the bracha to the right son. This kindness that G-d did with Yaakov is reiterated on Rosh Hashana by dipping Apples in honey

Honey represents sweet year. Our Sages recognize the value of honey They call it a “sixtieth of the manna” because it shares many of the curative qualities of the nourishment food from heaven which our ancestors ate in the wilderness.
Nowadays the term honey means bee’s honey, but the famous Biblical verse ” A land filled with milk and honey” refers to date honey. Dates are one of the seven species characteristic of the land of Israel.


In earlier times the tall majestic date palm and its nourishing fruit were a symbol of victory and prosperity  The pillars of the holy Temple were decorated with palm leaves in relief. It has the ability to relieve depression according to the Rambam. Dates are known as “tamri” is related to the word “tamri,” meaning consume or finish. This food is similar to the beets and leeks in that it is eaten with the intent that all enemies will end their detrimental wrath.


Yehi ratzon milfanecha ……..sheh-yee-tahm’u oy-vay-nu.
May it be your will Eternal God that our enemies will be finished


The prayer for the pomegranate is “sheyirbu zechuyoteinu kerimon. It is one of the Shivat Haminim, the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised (Deuteronomy 8:8), and was one of the fruits brought back by the Twelve Spies (Numbers 13:23). Both the decorative items hanging from the Kohen Gadol’s robe (Exodus 28:33-34; 39:24-26), as well as the ornaments atop two columns in the Beit Hamikdash built by King Solomon, resembled pomegranates (I Kings 7:13-22; Jeremiah 52:22-23; cf. Tosefta Ohalot 13:9). The pomegranate is mentioned in Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, as a symbol of beauty. Rimon, the Hebrew name for pomegranate, may be derived from ram, which means high or elevated, because unlike other fruits pomegranate are lumpy rather than smooth.


Pomegranate is mentioned in the Song of Songs six times and many times elsewhere in the Bible. It is likely that the famous six pointed Star of David symbol of the Jewish Monarchy, was inspired by the “crown” of the pomegranate. When its spikes are flattened they form the familiar star. According to a Kabalistic interpretation, the six points of the star are composed of two superimposed triangles. One triangle represents Pesach, Shavuot and Sucot the three festivals spent at the Temple in Jerusalem. The second triangle represents Rosh Hashana, Yom Kipur and the Shabbat- the three festivals that have no obligation to be spent in Jerusalem.


The misconception about the pomegranate having 613 seeds is widespread, but its source is readily apparent.  The pomegranate is also a symbol of fertility, and thus of the unlimited possibilities for the New Year.


Beets- Lav Lehvu

Beets are known as “silka,” related to the word “siluk,” meaning removal. The adversaries referred to in the prayer before eating the beet are the spiritual roadblocks created by the past year’s missteps that must be removed before a sweet New Year is granted.
Yehi ratzon milfanecha ……sheh yestalku oyvaynu….may it be your will that our adversaries will be removed.


Black-Eyed Peas- Ruvia

Egyptian Jews and others eat black-eyed peas because they are called Rubya, related to the Hebrew word rov meaning a lot, manyyehi ratzon….sheh yirbu zechiyatenu



We eat leeks in the hopes that our enemies will be destroyed. The Hebrew word for leeks is “Karsi,” which sounds like “kares”, to be destroyed. The Artscroll Machzor lists the יהי רצון on leeks as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה’ אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שיכרתו שונאינו

Note: We eat gourds squash (the family to which pumpkins belong) in the hopes that any evil decree against us will be destroyed and our merits proclaimed (rendering a favorable judgment). The Hebrew word for gourd is קרע (k’ra), which is also the word for ‘tear/rip’ and sounds like the word for ‘read/proclaim’ – קרא. The Artscroll Machzor lists the יהי רצון for gourd as:
יהי רצון מלפנך, ה’ אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו, שיקרע גזר דיננו ויקראו לפניך זכויותינו

May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that the decree of our sentence be torn asunder; and may our merits be proclaim


We should be like the head and not the tail

Weather it be the head of a kosher animal or fish this symbolic custom is a bracha for great achievement in spirituality. If our spiritual side see’s success then automatically our physicality will have bracha. We should be in the head of the class and not in the back of the line.


Since fish live under the water and are thus concealed from view, they are protected from the gaze of the seventy nations of the world. Its a symbol against the evil eye. Fish is a symbolic expression of our wish that our merits may multiply like the fish of the sea.


There is a direct connection between our physicality and our spiritual side. What happens here has an effect there. The physical symbols are there to awaken the spiritual counterpart. The tool that we are provided with is through physical actions and speech.


G-d gave man the ability, the gift to express himself through speech, and we clearly see it from these symbolic practices. When one recites the yehi ratzon he should have deep concentration like he does with his prayers. Interestingly, there is a pattern where we derive these symbols through puns, words that sound the same. The power of speech is such that even words that have similar sounding puns can affect our fate. The angels say amen to what we utter and it happens.


Its funny, the Chofetz Chaim suggest to an extent that one can utter puns in his comfortable language and that in essence can be symbolic. That’s astonishing! One can change fate through the English language through puns. It works in every language. That’s how, to a large extent, the power of speech works.  This is the formula of how symbols have an opportunity to materialize our life into a sweet year.

Give Me Life

Yigal ben Chaim was considered one of the best chazzan of his times,

Talent; Do you think you have it?  Maybe……just a bit?
            Well besides your Mom there is someone else who thinks you have talent and what HE thinks counts…G-d.


There is a very interesting story in the Tanach-Prophets that will shed some light on the true meaning of Rosh Hashana.


There was a man named Navot who lived at a time in Jewish history where the Jews were divided into two kingdoms,  Judea and Israel.  We Jews have a tendency to be very opinionated and therefore gravitate to our own corner and reject community. Although independent thinking can be healthy however at times two heads are better than one. There are pluses and minuses to having “too many chefs in the kitchen”.  G-d, though, encourages unity and proclaims we would be much more better off united.


Navot was a very talented chazzan, one of the best in the business, who lived under the rule of the wicked king and queen Achav and Izzevel of the 10 tribes known as Israel.


Every Shlosha Regalim, a name for the three holidays Succot, Pesach and Shevuot- these are the three holidays that Jews all over Israel and Judea proper would walk and congregate to the Bet Hamikdash-Temple and pray. The top chazzanim in all of the land will be called upon to participate in the rendition of  the holiday services; leading the pact was none other than chazzan #1, Navot.  It was such a scene to hear and it made quite a positive impression for the sake of G-d. However on one particular Holiday Navot, for no real apparent reason, decided not to attend. Perhaps there were better things to do?

What transpired after would was downright cruel and the Navi suggests that perhaps Navot refusal to go was the cause for the tragedy which will occur.


It happened to be Navot was the proud owner of a vineyard in which Achav the King desired. The king asked Navot to sell it however he refused. Achav had such strong desire for the vineyard that he fell into a depression. Izevel, the queen took note of her husband’s demise and took things into her own hands. She hired false witnesses who testified that Navot cursed at the King which deserves the death penalty.

Navot, then, with his entire immediate family were put to death. Achav took over the vineyard. As penalty for showing disrespect to the kingdom the land was confiscated and became property of the king.


What a shocking tragic turn of events. This incident degraded Achav and Izevel into murderers.


Why was Navot treated so cruelly?

One of the major and important prayers we have in which we say three times a day and a fourth on Shabbat, is the Amida (literally means standing). This prayer is also called shemona esray (eighteen brachot). When we say the Amida, we take three steps backward and then three forward, and we pray in silence. The concentration should be so intense that talking is prohibited.


The Amida is divided into three parts 1) praise 2) request, or in a crude language ‘give me’ 3) acknowledgement. The structure of the prayers is so meticulously precise that one marvels of its construction. It seems like the sages took care of business providing us with the optimal dosage of prayer power so we can be in a better standing with G-d. During the days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah, the days of repentance and Yom Kippur), a number of additions are placed in our prayers. One of which is zachrainu lechaim, (remember us and keep us alive). A very curious question has been asked about this phrase; it seems like it’s in the wrong category; it should be with the ‘”give me’s” which is in category two. Why is it in the category of praise?


My father z’l always said the five fingers on the hand are all different; each finger is unique; each individual is also unique. Rav Gedalya Schorr compares the world to an orchestra. Each individual with his uniqueness has a part, which no one else can perform, and if he doesn’t perform, he doesn’t play his instrument, and the orchestra is not the same. Therefore we see that each individual brings his gift to the table and no one else can duplicate it.


When we say ‘Remember us in the book of life’; it’s not a gimmie, because the end of the statement says ‘lema’anach’ (We’re doing it for You. We are bringing our own uniqueness to serve You in whom nobody else can.) Therefore, our contribution is essential; it is part of the existence of the world and we should have it in mind that we’re doing it for G-d.


Navot was given a gift and his mission in life was to make KIDDUSH HASHEM-to make a really feel good environment for the KAVOD of G-d, by his beautiful voice. There was no use for Navot to be in this world otherwise. When he refused to go to the Festival in Yerushalayim, when he refused to provide his unique gift, his mission was then officially terminated.


G-d gave Navot a gift; he was a very gifted cantor who was supposed to enhance and the name of G-d by his beautiful voice at the Temple during the three festivals. That was his mission in life. However, when he refused to attend then his usefulness was no longer needed.


We too have a mission in life. G-d gave each and one of us the tools and the unique gifts to perform in this world. Our argument to have a good year is that HE should give us a good sweet year, another chance so we can perform these unique gifts for HIM, not for us. This is the meaning of ZOCHRAINU LECHAYIM.

Measure for Measure


Germany in the 1930′s was known as a very cultural society. The Jews of Germany were so in love with its elegance, grace and blah blah blah that they considered themselves Germans first and Jews second; sounds familiar? One may wonder how can a society like that can turn to be cruel, brutal, and barbaric, which no one has seen in the history of mankind?


We read a few weeks ago after the miraculous crossing of the sea by our ancestors, that “they saw”, then “they feared”, then “they believed”. It seems like fear is part of the equation. Fear is part and parcel of belief. However, fear and religion – according to American taste – doesn’t get many brownie points. It’s not a popular word when associated with religion. In fact, I’m not going to title this article with that “word” in it. Hey, I got to sell this, don’t I? Americans like a slow song guitar playing spiritual orah, kumsitz style; or getting the spiritual high from appreciating the good things in life, like a good kiddush, a good meal combined with some good Torah learning. Personally, I’m all for that and that’s how I feel one can grow through the appreciation of all the wonderful things G-d has given us. However, we have to have a little fear; little just a little. I’d like to explain this through the following story. Although it’s a bit crude, it makes an effective point.


There was a father and son who had a nice relationship. At age 5, the boy got a racing car from his father. A number of years later, the boy received a bicycle for his birthday. After borrowing the family car too many times, the father decided to get a second vehicle and the boy ceremoniously declared it his. As time marched on, the son got married and had kids. The father, in the meantime, reaches an age where health is an issue and the doctor visits are more frequent. Years later, the son has to accompany the father to the medical facilities. It seems like the father has reached an age where he can’t take care of himself and the son has to put him into a home. The insurance doesn’t cover everything; it’s Medicare. However, the son and the father have some money saved up.


In today’s times, people live longer than in the past and the father has survived a good number of years at the home but the cost is a bit expensive and the family resources ran out. Therefore, he had to move back in with the son. He received plastic plates while the rest of the family was eating on the nice porcelain because of the possibility of him breaking it. It was very hard; the father became irritable and the son just the same.


One day, the son, although carefully planned, had an idea. He said to his father “Father, we’re going on a trip, you and me”. He takes him for a long ride on top of this huge mountain. After a nice walk, they get to the edge of the cliff. Just then, as he’s ready to push his father off the cliff, he notices his father smiling. He says to himself, my father is a very smart man. Let me ask him about his reaction. “Father I know you know why I brought you here, why are you smiling?” The father replied, “Because I did the same thing to my father”.


The son didn’t go through with the plan because of the fear of measure for measure in which his children will react the same.


A person can be educated, be cultured, and have elegance and class, but when G-d puts him in an extremely difficult predicament, he can turn into the cruelest animal one cannot even imagine. The one attribute that will prevent him from going to the extreme behavior mode is fear. The son was ready to kill his father out of frustration, but held himself back because of fear of measure for measure. What’s the expression? What goes around comes around.