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Rabbi Bassous Blog

The Power of One or Jonah and the Whale.

Nearly everyone knows the famous story of Jonah and the whale, one of our Bible classics. Jonah was a Jewish prophet circa 750bce who was commanded by God to go and warn the inhabitants of Nineveh, the Assyrian metropolis to repent. Jonah for various reasons did not obey God’s command and tried to escape Him by embarking on a ship in the Port of Jaffa and sailing across the Mediterranean Sea to Tarshish - ancient Carthage according to some. God knew exactly where Jonah was and caused a storm in the area and the ship containing Jonah and many others started to sink.

Jonah admitted to the captain that he was the cause of the storm having incurred God’s wrath for not obeying His instructions to go to Nineveh and instead fleeing from God. Jonah advised the captain to throw him overboard to pacify God and by doing so save the ship. The captain a decent person and his crew were extremely distraught at the idea of throwing Jonah overboard but due to the extreme conditions acquiesced and fulfilled his wishes. Unbeknown to them Jonah is swallowed by a whale and is spit out on dry land after he repents.

According to Jewish tradition - the Midrash the captain and crew were shocked by these events and decide to convert to belief in the God of Israel whose awesome power they had witnessed.

There are a multitude of moral lessons we can learn from this story:

1.      You cannot run away from God;

2.      It is possible to gain God’s grace by repenting;

3.      People should be more aware of the company they keep…etc.

The Zohar in Parashat Nasso stresses ‘the power of one’ that one evil person can cause the sinking of a whole ship with many innocents on board. Or as we see at the end of the Book of Jonah one person i.e. Jonah caused the repentance and deliverance of the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Nineveh.

Each one of us has tremendous power both for good or evil that is well known. The Zohar adds that each one of us also has the power to affect the destinies of others. This is known as the spiritual ‘ripple effect’.

Let us ensure that we cause only good ripple effects with our deeds.

Have a good, happy, healthy, successful sweet new year.

Rabbi Bassous




The month of Tishre may be divided into two parts: the period of the Yamim Noraim, the days of awe, centering around the New Year and the Day of Atonement, and the period of the Zeman Simchatheinu, the Season of Our Joy, which is based on the festival of Succoth.
Rosh Hashanah starts the period known as the “Aseret Yemei Teshuva”, the ten days of penitence. This is a time for soul-searching and striving for improvement of character traits and deeds. In the prayers of these ten days, when we address the Almighty, we refer to Him as the King of Creation, who decides at this point in time on the fate of us all for the coming year. Rosh Hashanah, celebrated on the first and second days of the month of Tishrei, also marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Unlike other nations that celebrate their New Year with hilarity and boisterous gaiety, we observe our New Year as a most solemn festival.
After kiddush on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and on the second night, during which Shehecheyanu is said, it is customary to precede the family meal with special foods chosen symbolically, and eaten with appropriate blessings and wishes suggested by their names and qualities. See pages 91 - 93 of the New Year Prayer book.
In the Torah reading of the first day, we read about the birth of Isaac. In the Torah reading of the second day, we read about the binding of Isaac - the Akeida.
After the reading of the Torah on both days, the Shofar is blown during Musaf, unless it happens to be Shabbat. This is a biblical precept. The blessings before the Shofar blowing should be listened to very carefully and amen should be answered. Baruch hu uvaruch shemo is NOT said.
We are not permitted to speak at all from the first blast of the Shofar until the end of Musaf. The message of the Shofar is, “Don't be afraid or too lazy to fulfill all those holy precepts: praying every day, putting on Tefillin, wearing Tzitzit, keeping Kosher, observing Shabbat etc.”
Rosh Hashanah is known in the Torah as Yom Teruah (the Day of Blowing the Shofar). In the prayers we refer to it as Yom Hazikaron (the Day of Remembrance). This name is based upon the teachings that the New Year is the Day of Judgment, the Yom Hadin, the day on which G-d determines the future course of events for each and every individual for the coming year. There is a tradition that on Rosh Hashanah the judgment is “written down”; that is, it may still be changed during the Ten Days of Penitence – the ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement inclusive. In the last moments of Yom Kippur however, the future of every human being is “sealed.”
The climax of Rosh Hashanah is, of course, the blowing of the shofar at the morning service. A great Jewish scholar by the name of Saadia Gaon (892-942) enumerated ten reasons why the Torah has commanded us to blow the shofar on the New Year. Chief among those reasons are the following:
·        Since the New Year marks the day when the world was created, we blow the Shofar to proclaim that G-d is the master of the world and of everything that is in it.
·        Since the New Year is the beginning of the Asereth Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Penitence, the blowing of the Shofar reminds us to “seek G-d while He may be found; call upon Him while he is near.”
·        Since Abraham brought a ram as a sacrifice in the place of his son Isaac, the blowing of the ram’s horn reminds us to follow the example of our patriarchs, who were ready to offer their lives for the true faith.
During the Ten Days of Repentance, the prayer Avinu Malkeinu is recited in the morning and afternoon services, as well as at Mincha on Friday, Shabbat, and the Eve of Yom Kippur.
After the meal on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (or the second day, if the first day falls on Shabbat), it is customary to observe the ceremony of Tashlich (casting away). The ceremony consists of going to a river or lake, etc., and reciting certain prayers near the shore. Chief among the prayers is the following verse:
“He will again show us mercy…”
“He will forgive our sins.”
“You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
It is from this verse that the name Tashlich (casting away) is derived. Tashlich is performed near a stream or other watered place where there are fish. The reason for this is that fish are always in danger of being caught in the net, so we too are in danger of falling into the “net” of sin if we are not careful. Another reason is that fish always have their eyes open just as G-d always watches us with a watchful eye.
The day after Rosh Hashanah, which is the third day of Tishrei, is observed as a fast. This year the fast is pushed to the Sunday after Rosh Hashanah. It is known as the fast of Gedaliah. The reason for the fast is as follows:
When Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, destroyed the city of Jerusalem in the year 586 B.C.E., he appointed a prominent Jewish leader by the name of Gedaliah as governor of Judah. Gedaliah made a sincere effort to save the Jewish nation. However, his rule only lasted two months, for on the third of Tishrei he was murdered by men who were jealous of his power. With this treacherous murder, all organized Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael came to a complete halt.
The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance. The name is derived from the Haftarah, which begins with the words Shuvah Yisrael, “Return O Israel, to the L-rd your G-d.” Thus we devote the Sabbath before Yom Kippur to the main theme of the Ten Days of Penitence -- deep regret for past wrongdoings, and a profound determination to correct our ways in the future.
·        Adam was created on Rosh Hashanah and sinned and was forgiven on the same day.
·        Cain and Abel were born on Rosh Hashanah along with twin sisters.
·        Sarah, Rivka and Chana's prayers were answered on Rosh Hashanah and all gave birth: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were born on Rosh Hashanah.
·        On Yom Kippur, Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second tablets, upon which were written the Ten Commandments.
·        Rabbi Akiva died a martyr's death on Yom Kippur.
·        Rabbi Judah the Prince (Yehuda HaNasee) was born on Yom Kippur and later compiled the Mishna.
The first day of Rosh Hashanah can never occur on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. The new moon of Tishre is not announced or blessed in the synagogue on the Shabbat before it, because G-d Himself blessed this month. When Adam was created on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, he immediately proclaimed the Creator as the King and Master of the universe. This is one reason the Shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah.
It was on Rosh Hashanah that Joseph was freed from prison in Egypt and became Viceroy of Egypt.
During the ten days of repentance, the prayer Avinu Malkainu is recited in the morning and afternoon services, as well as at Mincha on Friday, Shabbat, and the Eve of Yom Kippur.


The Talmud in Berachot 32b states that four human activities require strengthening with constant efforts to succeed: a) Torah study; b) Acts of Loving kindness; c) Prayer; d) Making a living. The Talmud is making a very important point that our lives should be balanced between achieving two goals: the spiritual and physical: Torah study and Prayer on one side, and Acts of kindness and Earning a Living on the other, these are the areas of our lives that we should focus on.

Torah study is the only way that we have today of listening to the voice of God and hearing what he wants from us. There are no prophets or Urim ve tumim to give us advice and direction in life only by studying the holy texts and trying to fathom God’s will we be able to find direction in these confusing amoral times.

Prayer is our vehicle to connect to God (Hashem) to unburden ourselves from our troubles, to praise, thank and reach out to him.

Acts of Kindness are the interface between us and others: in the family with our parents; spouses; children; brothers and sisters and others. If only people will know and remember us by the kindnesses and smiles that we give them.

Earning a living is as hard as crossing the Red Sea just to find good honest trade and keep it in today’s economy is extremely stressful. A person should find a trade that gives them satisfaction and fulfillment and that makes use of the unique skills that the person has.

By focusing our energies on these four areas of our lives we will achieve success in our mission here in this world.


“If there will be a destitute person among you …you shall not harden your heart or close your hand …rather you shall open your hand to him…” Deuteronomy 15:7

Why the double language “you shall not harden your heart or close your hand”.

Whenever the heart is mentioned it means the mind. I can understand that the Torah is telling is not to be hard hearted fine but why does it repeat and don’t be tight fisted as if the hand has a power of its own, why the double language?

The torah is teaching us that there are at least two decision making processes going on in a person: The conscious mind and the sub-conscious or the force of habit of the body so that even after the mind has consciously decided to act the body through lack of follow up can negate the decision.

When Abraham our forefather was commanded to sacrifice his son it says “he sent his hand and took the knife…” His hand did not want to follow through on his mind’s decision, Abraham had to focus extra hard to ‘send’ his hand to follow through.

To give charity a person has to overcome two barriers that of the mind; “I work very hard for my money, this guy is lazy otherwise he would have found a job let him earn his own living etc.” and that of the body that out of habit does not want to part with his wealth and resists the physical act of giving.

Rambam (Maimonides) states in the laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:1: We are obligated to be careful with the command to give charity (tzedakah) more than any other positive commandment he provides us with the following three reasons:

  1. Charity is a sign of a righteous individual a descendent of Abraham. (In Hebrew the words Tzaddik and Tzeddaka have the same root Tzeddek or righteousness.
  2. Judaism survives through the merit of charity.
  3. The Jewish people will be redeemed from exile through the merit of charity.

Rambam continues that there are eight levels of givers of charity.

[1] The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others . . .

[2] A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple [in Jerusalem]. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.

[3] A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor. It is worthy and truly good to do this, if those who are responsible for distributing charity are not trustworthy.

[4] A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes, so that they would not be ashamed.

[5] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.

[6] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.

[7] A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.

[8] A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.



Starting the day after Rosh Hodesh Elul, Sephardic Jews around the world wake up early to recite Selichot. Selichot consists of special prayers, psalms and supplications they are recited with a lot of different usually beautiful uplifting tunes with the exception of the viduy. The Selichot are recited every day until the end of the Yamim Nora'iim. The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Aseret Yeme Teshubah (עשרת ימי תשובה). During this period, we add extra prayers in the Tefillah and there are some extra supplications that we say in the Selichot. 

According to the classic biblical commentator Rashi and others: Moshe (Moses) spent three forty-day periods on Mount Sinai starting the day after Shavuot: During the first he received the first set of Tablets, which he broke on the17th of Tammuz upon seeing the Golden Calf. During the second he pleaded with G-d to forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf. At the end of this period G-d reconciled with the Jewish people and told Moses to hew a second set of Tablets, so Moses went up for another 40 days. On the fortieth day of the third period (Yom Kippur) G-d fully pardoned the Jewish people, and Moses descended the mountain with the Ten Commandments inscribed on the second set of Tablets.

This third period, of good will and forgiveness, began on Rosh Chodesh Elul and concluded on Yom Kippur. Since then these forty days on the calendar have been designated as days of good will before G-d, and Yom Kippur as the Day of ultimate pardon and forgiveness.

Based on this historical context Sepharadim start Selichot the day after Rosh Chodesh Elul and continue up to Yom Kippur. This is a very old custom mentioned by Rav Hai Gaon 939-1038ce and codified by the Shulchan Aruch OC 581:1 as a Sephardic minhag (custom). At Etz Ahaim selichot are held Sundays at 7.45 am and weekdays at 6.00 am.  Everyone is welcome.

Underlying Reasons for Assimilation

Posted on July 19, 2013

Some Underlying Reasons for Assimilation by Rabbi David Bassous

In the Torah portion of Va’etchanan G-d stipulates the prohibition of intermarriage, not because of racismJudaism is definitely not racist. Note: the only time blacks were taken out of Africa en mass not to be enslaved was the movement by the Israeli government of the entire population of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel; in addition, anyone from any race can convert to Judaism. Rather, the prohibition of intermarriage is to strengthen and guarantee the survival of unadulterated Judaism.

What fuels intermarriage today is the fact that many young Jews are either totally ignorant or totally turned off to Judaism – why? The following are offered as possibilities:

  1. Widespread ignorance of the contributions of Jews and Judaism to world history, philosophy, science and to humanity in every field of human endeavor. We need to know for ourselves, and spread the reasons why it is great to be Jewish. See for example http://www.ikehillah.org/18reasonswhyitsgreattobejewish
  2. The widespread belief that religion is incompatible with science and modernity. Science says the world was created 16 billion years ago Judaism seemingly 5773 years old. Science talks about dinosaurs inhabiting the world millions of years ago. Whereas the ‘rabbis’ seem to challenge their existence. These matters have been answered in an excellent volume entitled Challenge: Torah Views on Science and Its Problems by Rabbi Arye Carmell and/or listen to: http://etzahaim.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=402&Itemid=84
  3. There is a misconception that Judaism forbids all fun activities and only allows that which is boring. This may seem true to many people living in today’s permissive society where ‘fun’ is equated with promiscuity and immorality and succumbing to ones passions. We need to stress how Judaism gives us meaning, purpose and betters the quality of our lives. For example please listen to:http://etzahaim.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=383&Itemid=84or http://etzahaim.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=427&Itemid=84 or see Kindness Changing people’s lives for the better by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.
  4. When people see religious people breaking the law or misbehaving they dismiss Jews and Judaism as unethical and lacking value we need to live with Kiddush Hashem – sanctifying G-d’s name by behaving morally and ethically and being good role models for all. See http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/jl.htm on kiddush Hashem.
  5. Students in Yeshivot especially weak ones can be turned of by the focus of studying texts.in a very dry, boring way depending in the teacher

Some Techniques for Successful Prayer

While cleaning out the office, the secretary found an old brass lamp. She was rubbing it and out popped a genie. “You have three wishes.”, it announced. “I wish I was in Hawaii on the beach.”, she responded, and immediately she was there. Her co worker said “I wish I was with her in Hawaii at the beach.”, and suddenly she was there too. The boss was worried about who was going to do all the work in their absence, so he said “I want them back right now.” and they magically reappeared.

Many people think that G-d is like the genie of the magic lamp. Whatever they pray for must be answered. The answer is He is better than a genie because He actually exists, and like a good parent He also knows when to say no. There are certain techniques that our Sages have advised us will make our prayers more acceptable:

· A firm knowledge that Hashem truly exists and is concerned with the welfare of every individual, as we state “Understand, Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.”

· A person should always pray humbly and never with the attitude that G-d should answer them because of their merits – maybe in G-d’s system of calculations their merits are inadequate. It is also a form of pride that almost guarantees failure.

· A person should pray to G-d to grant his/her desire, even though they do not merit it. In Parashat Vaetchanan, Moshe pleads with G-d to allow him into the Promised Land, even though he did not deserve it, because Hashem is altruistic. He gives despite a person being undeserving. (This is the 3rd middah of the 13 middot – grace, Hashem loves us unconditionally.)

· Thank G-d for everything. Inculcate an attitude of gratitude. Say the appropriate blessing on all situations. Be grateful to Hashem for everything you have, even for a slice of bread (Birkat Hamazon).

· We need a firm belief that Hashem is the provider for humanity. Every day we repeat the Ashre - Psalm 145. One must concentrate on the meaning of the verse "Pote-ach et yadecha ...." [You open your hand and satisfy every living thing with favor]; that Hashem is the provider of munificence.

· It is always more generous and therefore more acceptable to Hashem to pray in the plural, especially for others who need the same thing.

· It is always better to pray with the community (minyan) or whenever possible at the same time as the community prays.

· It is important to mention in our prayers the merit that we have due to our forefathers who were beloved by G-d.


The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) states: All Israel has a share in the world to come. [Is. 60. 21]

In Ethics of the Fathers (4:16) Rabbi Ya'akov Kursai, rabbi of Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi said that this world is like a vestibule before the World to Come. "Prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you may enter into the hall of the palace. Better is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the whole life of the World to Come; and better is one hour of blissfulness of spirit in the World to Come than the whole life of this world."

The soul, being "a part of G-d," is immortal: it exists both before its descent into the body and after its departure.

The purpose of its descent is twofold:

By serving G-d while clothed in the body below, the soul is enabled to upgrade the status that it will enjoy after leaving the body. Its descent was thus undertaken for the sake of a subsequent ascent. (Conversely, if the soul fails in its mission, it later finds itself below the level which it left before descending into the body.)

King Solomon says (Mishle 20:27): "The soul of man is a lamp of G-d." But why does the Creator of light need a lamp? - Because since the world is dark, the soul of man (a spark from the Divine luminary) is placed within the body and the physical world in order to illuminate it. By thus revealing the hidden Presence of G-d, the soul constructs a dwelling place for Him.

There are two schools of thought as to what is the World to Come:

Rambam [Hilchot Teshuvah 8:1-8; Midrash Tanchuma, Vayikra, sec. 8; Rabbeinu Bachya, Chovot HaLevavot 4:4; R. Yehudah HaLevi, Kuzari 1:109; R. Yosef Albo, Ikkarim 4:30, 33; R. Yeshayahu HaLevi Horowitz, Shnei Luchot HaBrit: Bet David 1:16d] maintain that the World to Come (Olam HaBa) is the World of Souls (Olam HaNeshamot), which is often referred to as the Garden of Eden (Gan Eden). It is from this pool of souls in the spiritual realms that a soul descends into a body, and it is to this same state that the soul returns when it leaves the body at the conclusion of its mission. When the time comes for the Resurrection, the soul will re-enter the resurrected body to receive reward or punishment the body will again die, and the soul will return to the World to Come, i.e., to the World of Souls.

Rambam states: The good that’s sequestered for the righteous is referred to as “life in the World to Come". It is [a form of] life without death, [of] good without bad. It is what the Torah was referring to when it said: "... that it may go well with you, and that you may have length of days" (Deuteronomy 22:7) which means according to the tradition, "... that it may go well with you" in a world that is all good, and "that you may have length of days" in a world that is everlasting, i.e., in the World to Come. This is the sort of delight and goodness that the righteous merit. The retribution the wrongful endure for their wrongdoing entails not meriting such a life and experiencing spiritual excision and death [instead].One who doesn’t merit such a life will [simply] die as if never having lived, for he’ll be spiritually excised for his wrongfulness and will be undone like an animal. This spiritual excision is the one referred to in the verse [that reads]: "That soul will be utterly excised" (Numbers 15:31), which means according to the tradition, "that soul will be ...excised" in this world, "[and] utterly [so]", in the World to Come. That is, the soul that had been “excised” [i.e., cut off] from its body in this life will not merit life in the World to Come, which it will be excised from as well…There is no corporeality in the World to Come, only the bodiless, angel-like souls of the righteous. And since there is no corporeality there, there is neither eating nor drinking, nor anything else there that human physicality requires in this world. In fact, none of the physical things that occur in this world occur there: there’s no sitting, standing, or sleeping; no death, sadness, amusement, or the like…Rather, the righteous sit with crowns on their heads there and bask in G-d's Presence" (Berachot 17b)…when they say that the righteous "sit" there they mean to say allegorically that the souls of the righteous there are unburdened with effort or toil. And when they say that they sit "with crowns on their heads" the sages were referring to the righteous one’s intellect, with which they merit life in the World to Come, and they are saying that it remains with them there…And what they mean when they say that the righteous "bask in G-d's Presence" is that they comprehend and grasp the truth of G-d to a degree which they could not have in a murky and lowly body…Our sages didn’t refer to it as “the World to Come" because it doesn’t yet exist or because this world would eventually be destroyed and be replaced by it. That’s simply not so. The World to Come exists right now. As it is written: "How great is Your goodness [right now, G-d], which You hid away for those who revere You" (Psalms 31:20). The only reason it is called "the World to Come" is because it comes upon a person after life in this world…

In contrast to the view of Rambam, most authorities Ramban, Shaar HaGmul;  [Rabbeinu Saadiah Gaon, Emunot VeDeot 6:4 (end of sec. 47 and sec. 49); Raavad on Hilchot Teshuvah of the Rambam 8:8; Kesef Mishneh 8:2; Shnei Luchos HaBrit: Bet David; Chida, Avodat HaKodesh 2:41; Arizal hold that the phrase "World to Come" in the Talmud refers to the era of the Resurrection of the Dead. (This state is called Olam HaTechiyah; literally, 'the World of the Resurrection.')

It goes without saying that both Resurrection and the World of Souls are fundamental concepts in the thinking of all the authorities concerned See Ikkarim 4:31; Kesef Mishneh 8:2. The difference lies in the following question: What is the ultimate good? Is it the spiritual World of Souls, as Rambam maintains, or (as conceived by most authorities) will that good become manifest within the context of material reality at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead.

Parashat Behaalotcha - Wasted Opportunities.

There is a highly unusual phenomenon in this week's Parasha - Bemidbar 10:35 that never occurs again in the whole Tanach. One verse is surrounded by two inverted Hebrew letter 'nuns'. Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi the first century ce prince, sage and editor of the Mishna describes this verse as a whole book.

According to this great sage there are seven books in the Torah and not five:

1. Beresheet - Genesis; 2. Shemot - Exodus; 3. Vayikra - Leviticus; 4. Bemidbar - Numbers before the first inverted ‘nun’; 5. The sentance bracketed by the inverted ‘nun’s - probably the very first use of brackets in history; 6. The section after the inverted ‘nun’ and 7. Devarim - Deuteronomy.

A great deal of commentary has been written to try and explain this radical explanation.

Let us try to understand the context of the inverted ‘nun’s. Rashi the classical commentary quotes the Talmud Shabbat 116 that states that this verse was placed here from another location to purposely break between the positive topics in the first part of the parasha and the negative topics in the last part of the parasha. Everything was going so well for the Jewish people in the desert. The Manna fell like clockwork a stream of fresh water was available 24 hours. They had been drilled into an effective fighting force they had just built and dedicated the Mishkan - sanctuary and had a couple of months more to trek to Israel. Everything was put on hold because of their complaints and backsliding and they were eventually forced to spend another forty eight years in the desert.

This extra verse that Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi called a book really symbolizes the lost account of what could have been, the potential wasted, the opportunity lost,  it could have been a whole different book describing their triumphant entrance into the promised land with Moshe at their head and the creation of the model utopian society that is the fulfillment of the Torah dream and Hashem’s plan.

All of us in our lives are authoring books or producing movies of our lives of the things we did the children or events or interactions that we created and produced  and also the lost books or scenes that we could have produced - the lost potential of our lives that we never got around to fulfilling.

We find cases of siblings and even twins through the Bible that chose different paths of creativity or destruction: Kayin and Hevel; Isaac and Yishmael; Esau and Yaakov; Yoseph and his brothers. This bracketed verse represented this path never travelled this opportunity lost. What do we have left to do? Exactly what the Torah ends with - suffer the consequences and pick up our socks, regroup and move on. It will be a long detour but eventually we may reach the same destination wiser and more mature.


One of the most important declarations of belief that a Jew can ever make is to say 'Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad' normally translated as: 'Hear O'Israel The Lord is our God The Lord is One'.

This declaration should be made at least twice a day from Biblical law, morning and evening, and rabbinically twice more, once more in the morning and once before sleeping.

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states that this line should be among the first spoken words taught to Jewish infants when they start to speak.

In addition this verse should be recited by a dying Jew preferably among the last words said and ideally synchronizing the work 'echad' or 'one' with ones last breath - the soul leaving the body.

The Talmud in Berachot 15b states that reading the 'Shema' correctly has a tremendously positive effect on ones status in the future world (olam haba). If the 'Shema' is not said with concentration and understanding of its meaning it needs to be repeated and a person does not fulfill the mitzvah.

So what exactly should a person think when uttering these words?

The simple translation of the words: 'Hear O'Israel The Lord is our God The Lord is One'.

The commentator Yalkut Yosef explains that there are at least two fundamental concepts that a person must focus on A) to accept on oneself the Kingship of God the King of the Universe and B) belief in the Unique unity of God.

Here is the Shema in brackets are the explanations a person should concventrate on :when saying the words








Posted on May 13, 2013

As more and more cases of violent crime becomes manifest and as society crumbles around us we hear discussions of what is wrong, and what should be done about it. Some of the solutions proposed are: more police; attack the underlying social problems of inequality and unemployment, the media is irresponsible, let us curb the violence and exploitation all to frequently depicted.

What should the Jewish response be: – All the proposed changes are negative in nature, we need a positive response – the answer is an ethical and moral upbringing based on an idea of a moral and ethical all knowing G-d.

The story of Abraham and Sarah comes to mind. They move to Philistine country where Sarah is promptly kidnapped and taken to the King’s harem. On hearing that Sarah was Abraham’s wife she was returned. Abraham was challenged by the King, “Why did you lie to me and say that she was your sister?” Abraham’s answer, “I know that there is no fear of G-d in this place and they would kill me and take my wife”

The ideal society would be one with no need for police. A society with no crime, one in which you can leave your front door open. The more need we have for police the further we are from the ideal.

Values must be taught. Most schools are not teaching them, therefore we the parents have an added responsibility.

Who is teaching you and your child ethics and morality?”

Thirteen Traits

from the Teachings of Reb Yisrael Salanter
1. Truth
Don't say anything unless you know in your heart that it is true.
2. Alertness
A minute is too precious to waste. Time must be properly utilized.
3. Diligence
Decide what has to be done; then do it enthusiastically and well.
4. Respect
Honor every person. He/she may not be your friend, but he/she is a human being.
5. Peace of mind
Be calm and composed. And let it show in everything you do.
6. Gentleness
Wise men speak gently. Develop the habit and you'll find yourself being listened to.
7. Cleanliness
Respect your body and your clothing. Keep them clean.
8. Patience
Whatever happens - and often it will be unpleasant - accept it with calm and patience.
9. Orderliness
Make your willpower the master of your time. Plan, organize - and follow through.
10. Humility
You're not perfect. Recognize your own weaknesses; ignore the faults of others.
11. Righteousness
Always do the right thing - plain and simple. What Jewish Law requires - and more!
12. Thrift
Every penny should be spent carefully. Money can do too much good to be wasted.
13. Silence
Choose your words carefully. And don't talk unless you have something worthwhile to say.
Did the Avot Keep all the Mitzvot?
Biblical source: "... Ekev asher shama Avraham bekoli... - because Avraham listened to Me, and he kept mishmarti, mitzvotei, chukotei, v'torotei." (Bereshit 26:5)
The Avot were commanded to keep the seven noachide laws and indeed kept them, but they were not commanded to keep the other mitzvot - did the Avot keep the Torah before it had been given?
There are several examples of the Avot (and others) going against Torah commands; Yaakov married two sisters, Yaakov made Yosef the firstborn over Reuven a prohibition in Devarim 21.16 and Amram married his aunt Yocheved. So did they keep the entire Torah or not?
1. Mishnah Kiddushin 82a, Yoma 28b says that Avraham kept all the Torah he even kept future Rabbinic laws too. He knew the Torah because he had ruach hakodesh (Ramban Bereshit 26.5).
2. Rashi Bereshit 26.5: The Avot kept the entire Torah - even the Oral Law and later Rabbinic prohibitions.
3. Rema, Rav Moshe Isserlis, in Shut Rema siman 10 writes that only Avraham kept all the Torah and not the other Avot. Other commentators [1] show that others knew and kept the Torah too.
4. Ramban Bereshit 26.5 asks how Yaakov could marry two sisters, this is prohibited by Vayikra 18.18. He answers that the Avot only kept the entire Torah in Eretz Yisrael, and Yaakov married the two sisters [and refigured the firstborn] in chutz l’aretz; this is why Rachel died on the way to Eretz Yisrael. [2]
5. Maharal Gur Aryeh Bereshit 46.10 (and 32.4), and Chiddushei Aggadot Chullin 91a states that the Avot only kept the positive mitzvot but not the negative mitzvot. The reason is, he explains, that one can still get reward and achieve spiritual results for keeping positive mitzvot even when not commanded (e.g. a woman shaking lulav), but breaking a negative commandment is only spiritually damaging when it goes against something HaShem has commanded us not to do. And since the Torah had not been given yet, the Avot had not been commanded by HaShem about the negative prohibitions; not to marry two sisters, for example.
6. Rambam Igrot HaRambam; Iggeret leRav Chisdai HaLevi L’Alexandria also the opinion of the Oneg Yom Tov in his introduction, as well as Rav Avraham ben HaRambam al HaTorah: The Avot did not keep the mitzvot, but rather got to their lofty spiritual level by ‘having understood everything there is to understand in true wisdom and corrected themselves in every way.’ What the Rambam means is each mitzvah achieves a certain spiritual effect/tikun, the Avot had the ability to be able to tap into creating these effects and tikkunim without necessarily performing the technical details of the mitzvah.
7. Ridbaz & Maharsha (Shut Ridbaz 696, Maharsha Yoma 28b ‘mitzvotai’) the Avot kept the entire Torah and the reason that Yaakov could marry two sisters is based on the dictum that a convert to Judaism is considered like a newborn baby (Yevamot 22a.)
8. Or HaChaim Bereshit 49.3 the Avot knew and kept the entire Torah, but the discrepancies above were instances where they received a specific prophecy temporarily suspending a mitzvah.
9. Da'at Zekeinim Bereshit 37.35 and Nefesh HaChaim sha’ar alef chapter 21 The Avot kept and knew the Torah and its mitzvot through ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration), they also saw via ruach hakodesh that in specific situations there would be a great benefit which allowed them to ‘deviate’ from the Torah. Examples of this ‘great benefit’ are marrying two sisters in order to build Klal Yisrael, or the specific insight of Yaakov to realize that Yosef was more spiritually befitting the firstborn status than Reuven. Once the Torah was given, however, the commandments were to be kept unswervingly with no regard to any perceived ‘great benefit’ in failing to observe them. Nefesh HaChaim states that this is a reason that HaShem did not give the Torah to the Avot.
[1] Rav Osher Weis’s ‘Minchas Osher,’ Parashat Vayishlach. Ramban in Bereshit 26.5 states that Yosef learnt Torah with his father Yaakov and kept Shabbat in Egypt; Yehuda fulfilled the mitzvah of yibum, Rashi Bereshit 7.2 and 45.27 quotes some of these sources. Obviously, the Rema knew these sources too, and so must have had answers.
[2] It is implicit that Rashi Bereshit 32.5 argues with this answer, he explains Yaakov’s message to Esav to be ‘I kept all the mitzvot even in the house of Lavan;’ who lived outside Eretz Yisrael. However, according to the Divrei David brought by the Sifte Chachamim ad loc, Rashi means that Yaakov learnt all the mitzvot of the Torah during his time with Lavan, and we have a principle that to a certain extent learning a mitzvah is like fulfilling it (e.g saying korbanot is like offering a sacrifice; Menachot 110a).
Shavuot is the second of the three 'Regalim'- Pilgrim Festivals. It is celebrated for 2 days outside Israel and for 1 day in Israel. The name 'Shavuot' means ‘weeks’ because it falls 7 weeks after the 2nd day of Pesach. It falls on the 6th day of Sivan.
Shavuot marks the day that the Torah was given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. That day was a very unusual one, with lightning, thunder sound of a shofar and the earth shaking. The first two commandments were heard directly from God when Moses came down from the Mountain, his face glowing, he relayed the remaining eight Commandments to the Children of Israel.
In Biblical times, Shavuot was at the time when the Jewish people harvested their wheat crop and their last grain of the season, and began harvesting their fruit crops.
An important part of the celebration of Shavuot in those times was the ceremony of bringing the "first fruits", or bikkurim, of the harvest to the Temple as an offering of thanks to God.
The bikkurim were carried in beautifully decorated baskets. Families would gather together to walk to Jerusalem and they would sing, dance and have music playing whilst they walked. When they arrived at the Temple, they gave their offerings to the priests who would bless them.
There are many different names for the festival of Shavuot. Some of them are:
1. Zman Matan Torateinu ‘Festival of Giving of the Torah’
2. Chag HaBikkurim ‘Festival of the First Fruits’
3. Chag haKatzir ‘Harvest Festival’
4. Chag Matan Torah ‘Festival of the giving of the Torah’
5. In the Talmud, Shavuot is also called "Atzeret," which means "The Stoppage," a reference to the prohibition against work on this holiday.
1. Greenery
On Shavuot we decorate our synagogues and homes with greenery, flowers and even fruits. This reminds us:
(a) that on the day the Jewish people received the Torah, Mount Sinai bloomed with flowers.
(b) Using greenery also reminds us of the harvests, another main idea of Shavuot.
(c) According to the Midrash, Mount Sinai suddenly blossomed with flowers in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its summit. Greenery also figures in the story of the baby Moses being found among the bulrushes in a watertight cradle (Ex. 2:3) when he was three months old. Moses was born on 7 Adar and placed in the Nile River on 6 Sivan, the same day he later brought the Jewish nation to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.
2. Learning Torah All Night
Adults spend the eve of Shavuot staying up all night learning Torah. This custom is called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, because the Jews at Sinai were literally caught napping when God wanted to give them the Torah we rectify this by staying up all night learning Torah.
3. Reading the Book of Ruth because
(a) She was a convert and all the Jewish people converted at Har Sinai.
(b) She was the great grandmother of
(c) The story of Ruth took place during the 'Wheat Harvest' that culminates in Shavuot.
4. We also read the Book of Tehillim because King David was born and died on Shavuot.
5. Eating Dairy Foods. On Shavuot we eat dairy foods (foods made from milk). Because:
(a) when they received the Torah all their pots and pans needed to be kashered and meat preparation had to wait.
(b) This is based on a verse in Song of songs comparing Torah to milk and honey.
(c) The gematria of chalav is 40 alluding to the 40 days and nights spent by Moshe on Mt. Sinai.
(d) Moshe was born on the 7th of Iyar and was hidden three month later and was found by Bitya and given back to his mother to feed milk on this date of Shavuot.
6. Reading Azharot which sets out the 613 Biblical commandments. Ashkenazim read Akdamot.
7. Some Sephardim read a metaphorical ketubah between God and Israel.
Lag Ba'omer Customs and Reasons for Celebration
The generally accepted practice is to treat Lag Ba'omer - the thirty-third day of the Omer as a day of celebration (Rema and Darchei Moshe Chapter 493, quoting Maharil) Because:
1. On Lag Ba’omer the talmidim of Rebbi Akiva stopped dying. (Mishna Brurah 493:MB8)
2. It is the yahrzeit of Rav Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (Birkei Yosef; Chaye Odam, Klal 131:11; Aruch HaShulchan, Sedei Chemed, Kaf Hachaim).
3. On the day of his passing Rav Shimon bar Yochai's home was filled with a spiritual fire because before his death Rabbi Shimon revealed the Zohar - many secrets of Torah and Kabbala, which are compared to fire, and his coffin was surrounded by this spiritual fire. It is thus customary to light bonfires on Lag Ba’omer to symbolize the impact of his teachings. In Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, hundreds of thousands of Jews gather throughout the night and day to celebrate with bonfires, torches, song and feasting.
4. The Bnei Yissaschar cites another reason for the lighting of bonfires. On the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said, "Now it is my desire to reveal secrets... The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain..." Daylight was miraculously extended until Rabbi Shimon had completed his final teaching and died. This symbolized that all light is subservient to spiritual light, and particularly to the primeval light contained within the mystical teachings of the Torah. As such, the custom of lighting fires symbolizes this revelation of powerful light.
5. Some have the custom to throw clothing into the bonfires to commemorate Rabbi Shimon’s stature of piety and holiness which resembled that of Adam before the sin, when he did not need clothing.
6. It is also a custom to visit Rabbi Shimon’s gravesite on Mount Meron in Northern Israel, and to study Torah and passages from the Zohar at the site.
7. It is documented that the Arizal would visit Meron with his students on Lag Ba’omer, and that they would bring their three-year-old sons to give them their first haircut at the holy site. This became a widespread custom today.
8. Why do we commemorate the death of a righteous person through festive celebration. One of the reasons given for this is that Halacha does not generally follow Rabbi Shimon’s rulings in the Talmud only under extenuating circumstances. Similarly, as a rule, when there is a conflict between the Zohar (which was authored by Rabbi Shimon) and the Talmud, we follow the Talmud. In the heavens, however, Rabbi Shimon’s rulings – both in the Talmud and in the Zohar – are accepted as authoritative. Therefore, in a sense, Rabbi Shimon’s death was a joyous occasion for him, as he entered the heavenly realm where his rulings were accepted, as opposed to the earthly realm, where his opinions were not followed.
9. Lag ba'Omer is the day on which Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar were able to leave the cave in which he had been hiding for 13 years (Aruch HaShulchan).
10. Another custom at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is the giving of chai rotel (Hebrew: ח״י רוטל). The Hebrew letters chet and yod are the gematria (numerical equivalent) of 18. Rotel is a liquid measure of about 3 liters. Thus, 18 rotels equals 54 liters or about 13 gallons. It is popularly believed that if one donates this amount of liquid refreshment (grape juice, wine, soda or even water) to those attending the celebrations at bar Yochai's tomb on Lag BaOmer, then the giver will be granted miraculous salvation. According to Taamei Minhagim, many childless couples found success with this segula (propitious practice). This practice was also endorsed by Rabbi Ovadia miBartenura and the Shelah HaKadosh.
11. Historically, children across Israel used to go out and play with bows and arrows, reflecting the Midrashic statement that the rainbow (the sign of God's promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood Gen 9:11-13) was not seen during Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's lifetime, as his merit protected the world.
12. It was the day that Rabbi Akiva granted semichah to his five surviving disciples and through whom Torah was disseminated, among them Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. (Kaf HaChayim 493:26 Sedei Chemed, Chida, Kaf Hachaim, Pri Chadash).
13. In some circles it is customary to eat carobs on Lag BaOmer. For a period of thirteen years, Rabbi Shimon and his son were fugitives from the Roman regime, hiding in a cave in northern Israel. Miraculously, a carob tree grew at the entrance of the cave, providing nourishment for its two holy occupants.
14. It was the first day that the mann began falling for the Jews in the desert (Shu”t Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #233 s.v. amnam yodati).
15. On Lag Ba'Omer, it is believed by some, Bar Kochba's army re-conquered Jerusalem, for four years Jewish independence was restored.
The Three Major Motivators of Human Beings
There are three major motivators of mankind: jealousy; lust and pride. There are three major Biblical symbols for the Passover experience: Matzah; Maror and the Pascal Lamb. Is there a connection?
Our sages, of blessed memory offered us tremendous psychological insights into the workings of the human psyche well before the advent of Freud and Jung. The Mishnah (Pirke Avot 4:21) quotes Rabbi Eliezer Hakappar, who lists three of man's worst character traits and their impact on the person who possesses them. "Jealousy, lust and pride remove a person from the world." These three traits, however, are also some of the greatest motivators known to man, and completely eradicating them would lead to the destruction of mankind. On the other hand, if these traits were uncontrolled, the world would also be destroyed, although in a different way. The Torah, therefore, legislates rules to keep these three traits under strict control. The Mishnah (Pirke Avot 3:1) also provides us with advice for guarding ourselves against the destructive effects of these motivators. It tells us to "Remember three things and you will never sin:
1. From where you came - from a putrid drop. [This thought helps to counteract pride. Just thinking about our most humble origins should give us humility.]
2. To where you are going - to a place of dust and worms. [This thought should help us to counteract our lustful desires. After all, if we cannot take anything with us, what do we desire it for?]
3. Before whom you will give judgment — before the King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He. [This is to counteract jealousy. If we would only realize that there is a G-d who gives each person according to their needs, a person would never be jealous.]"
One may also say that this is included in the message of Passover - freedom not only from external threats, but also from the destructive elements of our own personalities.
Matzah denotes humility. The dough is not allowed to rise. Self-respect and recognition of our true worth is good; but, when a person puffs up with false illusions of self-importance, it turns bad.
Desires are important. There are few things worse than a person who loses his or her desire for life, or a person who cannot control his or her desires because of an addiction. We are told to eat broiled lamb on Passover, and whether a person likes it or not, the whole lamb must be finished the same night. Our desires are trained to be focused.
Finally, jealousy of others is hard to control. When we see others doing well and materially making it, we may feel pangs of jealousy. We are taught to remember the bitterness of slavery. Life can be very bitter. We have to remember this and think of the cup being half-full rather than half-empty.
The bitter herbs teach us to focus on the positives in our lives and appreciate our regular tasty diet.
We have to internalize this message: freedom and happiness begins from within the person.
What is So Bad about Chametz
We spend so much time and energy cleaning our houses and cars from chametz - why?
After all, chametz is bread and bread is the ‘staff of life’ that we normally respect and are prohibited to waste and destroy. What suddenly happens pre-Pesach that makes bread into something so evil and so prohibited?
The Talmud in Berachot 17a states:
Rabbi Alexandri would end his daily prayers as follows:
“Master of the Universe, You know that it is our desire to act according to Your will, what prevents us from doing so ? The yeast in the dough.”
Yeast (se’or) is a leavening agent. Rabbi Alexandri saw yeast as a metaphor for our powerful drives and inflammatory passions.
Our minds have the ability to distort the reality of our mission, inflate our desires and draw us into directions that we would never take if we were to follow our cold rational side. It is the ‘yeast in the dough' that causes us to lose control.
Seven weeks before we receive the Torah on Shavuot we are required to purge and eradicate the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) from ourselves.
The search for chametz is performed with a candle or flashlight. A candle symbolizes mitzvah (Mishlei 6:23) ‘Ki Ner Mitzvah veTorah Or…’ When we search for chametz we should remember the underlying theme, let us search and remove from our own hearts the vestiges of the Yetzer Hara.
This is the symbolism behind the search for chametz which is so important and is performed every year with such seriousness.
May we all merit to see Hashem’s salvation this Pesach.
Shabbat Hagadol
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the awesome and fearful day of the Lord. He will turn the parent’s heart upon the children and the heart of the children upon the parents…” (Haftarah Shabbat Hagadol, Malachi 3:23-24)
The Shabbat before Pesach, Shabbat HaGadol, enables us to reflect on and prepare for our national holiday of liberation - Pesach..
The haftarah read on Shabbat HaGadol (Malachi 3:4-24) occurred in the period after the rebuilding of the Temple (516-15 BCE). The prophet instructs them in God’s name: “For I am the Lord - I have not changed; and you are the children of Jacob- you have not ceased to be… Turn back to me and I will turn back to you.” (Malachi 3:6-7). That is to say: I know you’ve been through so much suffering, so much pain, so much disgrace. But, despite all that suffering, you’re still here… you’ve survived. So, let’s move forward. This is ultimately what Pesach is about. We all know the feelings of enslavement, of oppression, and of indignity. And yet, our people learned that faith in God has the power to beget freedom. God is still with us, we have survived; the power to change and be free still exists.
This message of hope is brought home further by the coming of the prophet Elijah. One of the issues that this haftarah and the seder night addresses is the generation gap that exists in our time between parents and children. The seder is an opportunity for dialogue between generations, and for parents to tell their history and the history of our people in a non-threatening props laden environment. If this fails to heal the chasm between generations we wait for the prophet Elijah who will herald an era of reconciliation between parents and children.