Beraishit: The challenge given to man to perpetuate creation.

29 09 2013

Each time we read Parshat Beraishit, we are reminded of the Divine Imperative to join with G-d in creation, by ourselves being creative-both practically in our Avodat Hashem and intellectually through learning and teaching Torah. The Abarbanel on the pasuk 1:26,’ And G-d said: Let us make man in Our… image, after Our likeness’, describes how unlike in all the other creations, when G-d created man it was done with the greatest involvement of Divine Providence and wisdom. The mission of man was to join and bridge the gap between the physical world and G-d.

The Vilna Gaon comments that until man was created, the world was in a state of potential and was just ‘Ki-Tov’. Until man was created all previous creations were in isolation from each other. Man was able to combine and bring together what had been created so far and actualize the purpose of creation. Hence, when man was created the world was transformed to a state of ‘Tov Meod’. The Rambam says that it was only once man was created that everything was fit for its purpose and the world would function as G-d had planned. The ultimate act that man can do to continue creation is by having children. In 1:28, the Torah commands man to populate the world. In accordance with the Divine wish the world is to be inhabited. The Sefer Hachinuch comments that one who does not have children violates a positive commandment, as he demonstrates that he does not wish to comply with the Divine will to populate the world.

By the entrance to the famous Volozhin Yeshiva was written the phrase, ‘Eyn Bet Midrash Bli Chiddush’. Learning, which is void of creativity and personal insight is lacking and dry. In fact Avodat Hashem in general, needs to be exciting and innovative in order to remain fresh and relevant. One of the main themes of the Netziv in his perush on chumash, the ‘Ha’emek Davar’ is the importance of creativity and innovation in Avodat Hashem.

Rav J.B. Soloveichik believed that through being original and imaginative in learning-through ‘chidush’, we are in fact imitating G-d and continuing the creation of the world. A similar idea is expressed in the Shemot Shmuel when he discusses the difference between the 1st and 2nd Luchot. As the 2nd Luchot were a product of man joining and becoming a partner with G-d, they remained in tact and effective in guiding Am Yisrael.

Judaism which is void of innovation, vision and novelty is benign, boring and superficial and runs the risk of becoming irrelevant and unattractive. On the other hand a Judaism which is kept young, vibrant and original will always be able to inspire and guide each generation. The ability to create communities and mould societies has always been a hallmark of Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom,

Benjy.

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Succot: Learning to live with Uncertainty.

16 09 2013

not knowingAs we get older and gain life experience, we also reflect upon our priorities and values. Life seems at times so uncertain and unpredictable and it seems we have little control over what really matters to us. The yearning for control over our lives and knowing what the future holds is a basic human need. Also for those of us who live in Israel with the precarious security here in the Middle East, this desire to know what will be, is something we all yearn for.

But do we need to know what our future holds for us-both on a personal and national level, to achieve happiness, peace of mind and inner calm?

I would like to suggest that if we focus on the two main themes of Succot – Emunah and Community, then we can live a perfectly happy and relaxed life, without knowing our fate and destiny.

The Rambam at the end of Hilchot Lulav describes there is a Mitzvah of ‘Simchah Yetairah’ – extra Simcha on Succot, based on the Simcha that existed in the Bet Mikdash over Succot, with all the Simchat Bet Hashoeva celebrations.

It’s ironic that of all the Chagim, Succot has an extra dimension to the Mitzvah of Simcha, as after all the Mishnah and Gemarah tells us we should leave our ‘Dirat Kevah’ – our permanent dwelling and move into a ‘Dirat Aray’ – a temporary dwelling, for the duration of Succot. How can we feel true Simcha, let alone ‘Simcha Yetaira’ the Rambam is talking about, whilst we are living in the flimsy and unstable Succot?

The answer is of course that the two main themes of Succot – 1 )Emunah and 2) Community/Family, which can lead us to feeling a true sense of Simcha and even, yes, ‘Simcha Yetairah’.

1) Emunah:
The book of Kohelet which we read on Succot, takes us back to the basics of life, like many of the Tephilot of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do. Reminding us of what is ‘Ikar’-important and significant in life, and what is ‘tefel’ – peripheral and less critical. It is through realizing and acknowledging what is ‘Ikar’ and what is ‘Tefel’ in our lives, that leads one to lead a truly happy and meaningful life.

Furthermore, the Succah and Schach, which reminds us of the ‘Ananei Hakavod’-the clouds of glory that Hashem protected us with in the wilderness, reminds us of the protection and care that Hashem demonstrates to us.

Another example of how Emunah is central to Succot, is the water which is the focus of the Simcha Bet Hashoevah. Why was water such a source of happiness? Because water represents the relationship between Hashem and Am Yisrael and our dependency on Hashem. When the rain falls in the right time, this shows that we have found favour in Hashem’s eyes, which is the ultimate source of joy.

Particularly in Israel, a Chag that makes us be outdoors and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Eretz Yisrael, is something that can only enhance our Emunah in Hashem.

2) Community and Family:

There is a beautiful minhag of each night of Succot welcoming in Ushpizin, again reflecting the social nature of the Chag.

Also, the Rambam in Hilchot Lulav describes how the Simchat Bet Hashoevah, was an event for everyone – men , women, children etc. Everyone was expected to join in and share their positive feeling and joy with others. The Rambam warns that anyone who does not take part and feel the joy and happiness is to be reprimanded. The whole idea of residing for the duration of Succot in a Succah creates a feeling of Achdut- togetherness. The Midrash describes how the Araba’at Ha’minim, represent all the different types of Jew, and when we hold the Arba’at Ha’minim together, we are demonstrating the importance communal responsibility.

Like all the other Chagim, being with one’s family is also a central element. The Ramah writes that a man should not sleep in his succah, unless his wife is with him and it is preferable for a man to sleep in his house with his wife than without her in his Succah. Again, showing how family life, is central to Succot.

So, the message of Succot is even though we don’t know what lies ahead of us, either on a personal or national level, if we have Emunah in Hashem and have the support of our community and family, we can live with the uncertainly that is so much part of life, and still achieve calm and inner peace, and even ‘Simcha Yetairah’.

Chag Sameach,

Benjy Singer.





Teshuva: Become more human.

10 09 2013

benjyWhen asked about the nature of Teshuva and the power of the Yamim Noraim, Rav Soloveichik used two very personal stories.

The first occurred on Kol Nidrei, the year before his wife died. He looked into the Aron Kodesh and saw a Sefer Torah slip slightly. He knew from seeing this happen, that the coming year his wife would die from her illness, which she did.

The second happened in the winter after his wife died. When as he describes how there was a strong breeze through his house and the windows and doors were rattling and banging. He describes how he jumped out of bed, and ran downstairs to stop the windows and doors making a noise and letting in a cold wind, as his wife who was too ill to walk upstairs, was sleeping there. He then goes to check that his wife is tucked in properly and asleep. When he looks at her bed, he sees the bed is empty and made and she isn’t there.

Where was she? She had died months beforehand and the Rav was living an illusion. He was seeing life how he wanted it to be, not how it really was.

Why does the Rav use these very personal stories?

We generally associate Teshuvah with cleansing and purifying ourselves from sin and becoming closer to Hashem. Of course these two themes are found in the Tenach and the Talmud, as well as the Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuvah, the ‘Sharei Teshuvah’ of Rabbenu Yona and all the other literature written on Teshuvah, including ‘Al Ha’Teshuvah’ written by Rav Soloveichik himself.

But I believe there is a third perspective to Teshuva, that the Rav was also trying to describe and portray with these two stories. Not the theological and purifying/cleansing from sin aspect, but also a human and real aspect. Through this third perspective, by doing Teshuva, we are supposed to become more human and honest and true to ourselves of who we really are.

Just some examples of how this third human element is very evident in the Yamim Noraim and Teshuva literature:

The Kriyat Hatorah and Haftarot we read on Rosh Hashanah deal with the most human and personal themes-childlessness, broken families, parent/child relationships, self-sacrifice, marriage, having hope, and being optimistic and not falling into despair etc.


In the ‘Unetaneh Tokef’ prayer which is so central, we declare that Tzedakah after doing Teshuva and Tefilah can save us from an evil decree. Why Tzdekah? The Netivot Shalom explains that by giving to others, we break our natural inclination and learn how to give and empathize with the other. Teshuva is internal, Tefilah is between man and G-d, whilst Tzedakah is between man and man. The test of what types of people we are is in how we treat and interact with others. The human and interpersonal element is crucial in Teshuva.


The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva 3:4 says that the purpose of the shofar is to wake us up from our slumber. First, he says, search your deeds, in other words how you treat people and only then bother to repent. In Hilchot Aveilut, the Rambam talks about the purpose of death and Aveilut is also to make us wake up and reflect on our lives. We see therefore, that the Rambam draws a parallel between Teshuva and death. They are both supposed to make us reflect and as a response to the realization of how fragile and short our lives are makes us live more meaningful lives – to value the time we have and strive to have clarity.


In Tenach the purpose of the shofar was not just to warn us to do Teshuva, but also to prepare the people for impending war. In other words, the shofar was used as a wake-up call to be ready to take action and not stay passive and complacent but to act. Not just to be ready to fight to save yourself physically, but also to save your soul and character, to live a more purposeful and real existence. The Shofar which is so central to our tefilot over the Yamim Noraim is the sound of a human cry – the music of the heart and soul, not the mind and intellect.


The Tefilot also reflect this human element. In Shacharit in the ‘Le’kel Orech Din’ Tefilah, we read how Hashem tests our hearts and reveals our depths. The emphasis is on the private and individual, not the public and us as humans.


Furthermore, in ‘Unetaneh Tokef’ and at the end of the Amidah on Yom Kippur we read the paragraph about how all humans are from dust and will return to dust. The awareness of our mortality should encourage us to lead meaningful lives and value people and time more.

The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva 3:3 also talks about the Tzadik and Rashah in the context of life or death. Again, as he does in other places in Hilchot Teshuva, the Rambam makes us aware of our mortality and connects death to sin and Aveilut to Teshuva. Both make us re-assess our priorities and value the people around us more.

We do Teshuva not just to rid us of sin, but also because through doing Teshuva we live a more meaningful and purposeful life, which is the only way we can cope with the inevitability of our mortality.

So, yes as we know Teshuva is about ridding ourselves from sin and becoming closer to Hashem. There is also, however, a third element to this whole process of Teshuva which is what makes the period of the Yamim Noraim so significant – that we are given the opportunity to gain more clarity of who we really are and want to be.

As a result of the recognition of how fragile our lives are, we should be spurned to make the most of time we have and focus on living meaningful and real lives, by being involved with helping and engaging with others and being part of communities that help us define ourselves and achieve self-actualization.

The Gemarah says ‘Ein Tzibur Meyta’ – Knesset Yisrael and the Jewish community is eternal and will never die. By throwing in our fate with Am Yisrael we can become immortal as we are given the opportunity of living a life of responsibilty and commitment. Through what we give to others – through the chessed we perform and the impact we have on their lives, we can live forever and transcend mortality.

Wishing you all a Gmar Tov and Tzom Moil.

Benjy Singer.





eruv tavshilin-in more detail

2 09 2013

For the next few days, we will be doing Halachot relating to Yom Tov.

Background to Eruv Tavshilin:

1) Chazal were worried if you can cook from Yom Tov to Shabbat, you may cook from Yom tov to a weekday, or from Shabbat to a weekday, which is forbidden.

2) The less serious problem was because of ‘Kavod Yom Tov’. That chazal were worried that you would respect Yom Tov less, if you could cook on it, even for Shabbat. Rather it was better to at least start the cooking process from before Yom Tov, with an Eruv Tavshilin.

What is the significance of making an Eruv Tavshilin?

In essence, when you make an Eruv Tavshilin, you are starting the cooking process from before Yom Tov, so when you cook on Yom Tov, you are merely continuing and not starting the cooking process.

The Halacha-D’Oraita/D’Rabbanan:

If you are concerned on Yom Tov that guests will come, you are allowed to cook for food on Yom Tov, for Yom Tov itself-so we see that ‘Mey’ikar Hadin’, it is permitted to cook on Yom Tov, so also ‘Mey’ikar Hadin’ it is permitted to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat. However, Chazal said that on a D’Rabban level, they would prefer us to make an Eruv Tavshilin, to protect ‘Kavod Yom Tov’. But D’Oraita, it’s permitted to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat.

So here are the practical basics for Eruv Tavshilin which we will be making on Wednesday.

1) What do you make Erev Tavshilin from?

Le’Chatchilah- from bread and a cooked piece of food, like an egg or piece of fish.

B’Dieved-from one piece of cookedf food.

2) Day 1 – Day 2 of Yom Tov.

You cannot cook from 1st day Yom Tov to 2nd day Yom Tov. You can only cook on Yom Tov for the same day. You have to wait till the evening to cook for the following day. For instance, this year, even if you have made an Eruv Tavshilin, you can’t cook on Thursday afternoon for Thursday night supper.

3) Day 2 of Yom Tov – Shabbat.

You can cook on 2nd day Yom Tov for Shabbat if you have made an Eruv Tavshilin. You can’t cook more food than you need to eat after Shabbat.

4) Brachah/Nussach.

You say a special Brachah and Nusach when you make the Eruv Tavshilin.

5) Lighting the heat.

You cannot ignite a flame to heat the food, but just transfer the heat from another already lighten source.

Tomorrow, i’ll be continuing with Halachot pertaining to the Chagim.

Benjy.





eruv tavshilin

1 09 2013

For the next few days, we will be doing Halachot relating to Yom Tov.

So here are the practical basics for Eruv Tavshilin which we will be making on Wednesday.

1) What do you make Erev Tavshilin from?

Le’Chatchilah- from bread and a cooked piece of food, like an egg or piece of fish.

B’Dieved-from one piece of cookedf food.

2) Day 1 – Day 2 of Yom Tov.

You cannot cook from 1st day Yom Tov to 2nd day Yom Tov. You can only cook on Yom Tov for the same day. You have to wait till the evening to cook for the following day. For instance, this year, even if you have made an Eruv Tavshilin, you can’t cook on Thursday afternoon for Thursday night supper.

3) Day 2 of Yom Tov – Shabbat.

You can cook on 2nd day Yom Tov for Shabbat if you have made an Eruv Tavshilin. You can’t cook more food than you need to eat after Shabbat.

4) Brachah/Nussach.

You say a special Brachah and Nusach when you make the Eruv Tavshilin.

5) Lighting the heat.

You cannot ignite a flame to heat the food, but just transfer the heat from another already lighten source.

Tomorrow, i’ll be continuing with Halachot pertaining to the Chagim.

Benjy.