Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Where Are You Heading?

Have you read the Haggadah recently? Why are we so obsessive about remembering the Exodus?

Here’s a fascinating little section of the Haggadah with profound lessons for us.

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah said: "I am like a man of seventy years old, yet I did not succeed in proving that the (obligation of mentioning) exodus from Egypt must be mentioned at night, until Ben Zoma explained it...’all the days of your life’... ‘all’ indicates the inclusion of the nights.”

Superficially, this statement seems to refer to the Mitzvah of recounting the story of the Exodus on the seder night. But then why was he not successful in proving that the exodus be mentioned? Also, why does he say mentioned not recounted (as the verse instructs us (Exodus 13:8) “And you shall tell your son on that day”)?

Obviously this statement of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah is not speaking about just the seder night. It is referring to any night. That’s why it says mention (rather than recount), because on a regular night it’s necessary to remember the Exodus from Egypt. The Torah tells us to remember the Exodus every day. Here Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah is telling us that this obligation extends to the nighttime too.

Nice commentary, right? But why is it necessary to constantly remember the Exodus from Egypt?

The actual Exodus from Egypt took place 3324 years ago, but the concept of leaving Egypt is an ongoing experience. The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which translates as boundaries or limitations. Every time that we overcome a challenge in our life, it is our personal Exodus, our personal redemption. The obligation to remember the Exodus is to incorporate redemption in our lives; to overcome our challenges and personal limitations.

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azarya takes this even further - he says, this personal redemption mindset is not only relevant during times of personal growth (daytime) but also in times of personal stagnation. Even when we feel that we are against the wall, distant and removed - nighttime - in that time too, we have to remember the Exodus. The very fact that we yearn for better, we strive for change, that in itself is redemption - even before we successfully implement this change in our life!

It’s not where you are, it’s where you are going!

When Was the Exodus?

This question has bothered historians throughout the ages leading modern scholars to consider the Exodus story as nothing more than “Jewish Mythology”. They point to various archeological findings that seem to negate (in their view) the possibility of an Exodus, of the proportions described in the Torah. They postulate when the Exodus might have happened, and when they don’t find archeological or historical evidence, they categorically declare that it never happened.

I’m perfectly comfortable relying on the Torah to verify the story’s authenticity but for those more rationally minded individuals here’s a nice article that helps to clarify the record and align the biblical account of the Exodus with the picture painted by archeology: Click here to read.

Passover Newsletter

Tragedy in Toulouse

This week we unfortunately felt the all too familiar pain of terrorism. As the news came in, it became horrifyingly evident the extent of the depravity of this killer; he purposely sought out a Jewish school so he could kill Jewish children. Once there, he chased after young children in order to be able to murder them, in cold blood, at point blank range.

There are no words; there is nothing that can be said. But we are here and the natural feeling is to want to do something.

While words may fail us, actions cannot. The appropriate response for all of us around the world who were affected by this terrible tragedy is to add in goodness and kindness. Add in observance of mitzvot. Tonight - light a shabbat candle (click here for the time), put on tefillin (contact me and I can help you with them), make Torah study a part of your regular schedule. This is the way that we respond to tragedy, by strengthening ourselves and not allowing terror to deter us.

This Shabbat is also Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month of Nissan. The Jewish calendar runs according to the moon’s cycle and our Sages tell us that the Jewish people are compared to the moon. The moon shrinks at the end of the month, only to grow again in the next month. So too, the Jewish people experience periods of depression and periods of renewal. We will always bounce back and continue to grow.

Please take a moment and read this heartfelt plea for increased light from Mrs Chava Sandler (wife and mother to three of the four victims).

May we have only good news to share!

So you think you know why we eat Matzah!?

Instead of sharing a thought or insight, this week I present you with a question.  Please share with me your thoughts on the matter; I’d love to hear back from you.

Do you know why we eat Matzah on Passover? Of course! It was because the Jewish people had to rush out of Egypt and they didn’t have time to let the dough rise into bread. It was baked instead as flat, unleavened bread - Matzah. The Haggadah (the guide to the Passover seder) even says as much:

“This Matzah that we eat for what reason? Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.”

It then quotes the verse in the Torah (Exodus 12:39) ,“They baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt as unleavened cakes, for it had not leavened, for they were driven out of Egypt, and they could not tarry.”

It sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? They rushed out of Egypt and didn’t have time to bake bread for the journey.

Here’s the question: Do you know what the Jewish people did the day before they left Egypt? They were instructed to bring a "Passover offering" to G-d: a lamb or young goat was to be slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of every Jewish home, so that G-d should pass over (hence the holidays name, Passover) these homes when He comes to kill the Egyptian firstborn (the tenth plague). The roasted meat of the offering is to be eaten that night together with... (drum roll) matzah(!!) (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs.

So, the night before they left Egypt they were already commanded to eat Matzah as part of the annual Passover offering!

Another point, do you know what time the plague of the firstborn struck Egypt? Exactly at midnight. As an immediate result of that plague Pharaoh came running to Moshe (Moses) begging him to leave Egypt and spare them from this plague. (Pharaoh himself was a firstborn and was afraid that he too would die.)

But did they leave right then and there? No! The commentaries explain that they actually left the next day at noon - 12 hours later! Could they not have baked regular bread in that time?

In summary, it turns out that 1) they already were commanded to eat Matzah on Passover even before they left Egypt and 2) they had plenty of time to bake bread and allow it to rise. So why does everyone think (and the Haggadah state) that we eat Matzah because of their haste to leave?

Please share with me you answers and thoughts on this matter. We will discuss this question (and many others) at the pre-Passover class coming up on Tuesday, April 3rd at 8pm click here for details.

Jewish Gift Giving

Guest Post by Sam Frieder

The concept of Jewish gift giving is important to understand if you are going to give a gift to a Jewish person or for a Jewish event. The following is a brief Jewish gift giving guide for some occasions at which it is customary to give gifts:

Bris (Brit Milah) or Baby Naming
In Jewish tradition, parents do not share the name of their newborn until the baby naming. For boys, this event is called the Bris or the Brit Milah. (The Hebrew word “Brit” means “covenant,” and it is at this event at which a newborn baby boy enters the covenant between G-d and the Jewish People by ritual circumcision.) For girls, this event is called the baby naming. (A girl’s baby naming includes no commanded ritual, but is a festive and ceremonially important occasion for family members and friends alike.)

For these events, it is customary to give a gift to the child that he or she will continue to use for years to come. Usually, these gifts have religious significance. Many people will give baby pins or other items for the baby. A baby blessing to hang on the wall of the baby’s room is also appropriate.

Bar Mitzvah/Bat Mitzvah
When a boy turns 13 and a girl turns 12, they become Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or Children of the Commandments. At this time, they are expected to follow all the same commandments their Jewish family members already follow. If you are invited to these events, it is customary to give a gift of religious significance so the Bar or Bat Mitzvah can continue to keep practicing the religion as they get older. For boys, it is a good option to give
Traditional Kiddush Cups or a Designer Tallit. For girls, many people will giveMeaningful Jewish Jewelry (such as a Star of David or Chai necklace)or Shabbat Candlesticks.

Weddings are very festive celebrations in all cultures. The wedding couple gets many gifts, so it is important to make sure yours is special and is not inappropriate for the celebration. Many guests will chose to give something to the couple that will help them to keep practicing Jewish tradition. In this case, Judaica items used for holidays, such as hand painted or
Silver Seder Plates, are very good gift ideas.

Jewish celebrations, like all celebrations, are very happy times for the family involved. Giving a gift with Jewish significance enhances the Jewish tradition surrounding the event and ensures a gift that is appreciated and meaningful for years to come.

The Purim Hangover

Many have the custom to drink a few extra L’chaim’s on Purim. Certainly if one were to fulfill the Talmud’s encouragement to drink excessively on Purim they would no doubt experience a serious hangover. But even if you celebrated Purim in a way that would allow you to go back to work the next day, you should still experience a hangover – figuratively speaking.

You see, Purim may be behind us but its message is continuously relevant. Like in our time, the story of Purim took place when earth shattering miracles and awesome prophetic vision was no longer the norm (as it had been in the days of the Exodus from Egypt).

Like in the days of Mordechai and Esther, we have to peel away the layers and discover the miraculous within the mundane. And just as they recognized their blessings in four ways, we too should incorporate these ideas in our lives.

On Purim we fulfill four mitzvahs: we read the megillah; we give gifts of food to one another; we give tzedakah to the poor and we enjoy a festive meal. If we were to incorporate these ideas in our day to day life, we would be much happier and more fulfilled.

On Purim we recount the story of Hashem’s miracles in the megillah, in our lives we should recognize the hand of G-d that we experience daily – from getting out of bed in the morning to those occasions where we "just missed" getting into a car accident or the like.

On Purim we give gifts of food to each other and gifts to the poor, in our lives let's recognize our abundant blessings by sharing with others. And on Purim we gather together with family and friends for a festive meal, let's gather with others to celebrate this wonderful – miraculous – experience called life.


Vandalism at Chabad: What You Can Do

Experiencing vandalism is never pleasant. In the context of increasingly worrisome news out of Israel, and against the backdrop of personal experiences with anti-Semitism, it’s easy to get alarmed. One thing is certain, the outpouring of moral support that we’ve received clearly demonstrates the deep emotions that this occurrence has stirred.

What You Can Do
Many have asked what they can do to help and my answer is: show up! Demonstrate your support by being an active part of the community. An excellent opportunity is tomorrow afternoon - join us for the annual Purim community event. We’ll read the megillah and hear how although throughout the ages our enemies have attempted to destroy us, we are still here celebrating while they have long been forgotten. The program begins at 5 and will include a delicious Chinese style buffet dinner prepared by Chef Lewis Pasco.

Your participation tomorrow sends a clear message to the vandals; we are here to stay and we will not be deterred by their cowardly actions!

Our Response
As I wrote on Monday, we won't allow an event like this to intimidate or deter us from our mission. We know that our cause is just and we will continue to spread goodness and kindness and encourage others to do the same.

On the contrary, we plan to expand and grow! Sidney Morganbesser, the late famous Columbia philosopher, is purported to have said that,  "The modern Jewish maxim is Incognito, ergo sum, 'I am invisible, therefore I am.'" We will make sure to counter this notion and continue to encourage others to counter it too.

With blessings for a joyous Purim!

Vandalism at Chabad

We entered Shul this Shabbat morning to find broken glass all over the room. In the cover of darkness, someone had thrown a large rock through the side window so hard that it hit the ark and cracked one of its doors.   We shook the glass off of the tables and held Shabbat services as normal. After Shabbat we filed a police report and cleaned up.

The police are regarding this occurrence as a possible hate crime; however there is no evidence that it is anything more than an unfortunate random act of vandalism. We will continue to be vigilant and we hope that no pattern develops. Regardless of the intent of these vandals, we won't be intimidated or deterred.

Until now we haven't been able to afford an alarm system or camera security, but after this experience we feel that it’s prudent that we make every effort to fully secure our community center. If you can offer any financial support towards obtaining a security system or if you could recommend someone in this business, please call me at 916 608 9811 x 101 or reply to this email. We are appreciative of any assistance you can offer to help prevent another event.

Are You at War With Amalek?

This week in synagogues around the world we will read the story of Amalek, the originators of anti-Semitism. The nation of Amalek was the first to attack the Jewish people, without any provocation, after the Exodus from Egypt. (Haman, the villain of the Purim story, was a direct descendant of Amalek, hence the story being read on the Shabbat prior to Purim).

The Torah commands us that we must remember what Amalek did to our ancestors on their way out of Egypt. We must read about it in the Torah and we must constantly recall their actions. It is even included in the six most important things to remember daily. Why such an emphasis on remembering the deplorable actions of a nation that has long since been relegated to the dust bins of history? Have you ever met an Amalakite? They no longer exist! Why such an emphasis on remembering their deeds?

Here is an interesting idea: Every Hebrew letter is also a number. The numerical value of Amalek (240) is the same as the Hebrew word safek, doubt. The experience of doubt is the modern manifestation of Amalek; when one is certain and confident in their convictions, nothing can deter them. But when one doubts the very basis for their belief, their subsequent behavior will be wavering at best.

Safek, doubt, is what so many Jewish people suffer from today. They are unsure of their own traditions and beliefs, they aren’t confident enough to display their own precious heritage proudly and publicly. Beginning with doubt, their Jewish involvement (or lack thereof) devolves into apathy, they don’t see the need, life is good as it is. Their lack of knowledge about their own religion is such that they’ll even search for meaning in other religions.

This is the modern day Amalek that we have to remember and combat! We must educate ourselves and our families - that is the weapon of this battle against Jewish apathy.

Please take advantage of the many educational opportunities that we offer (some examples are advertised below), for you and for your children, and help win the battle against this modern day Amalek!

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