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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.

Please, start talking!

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How is Pesach treating you? I hope you enjoyed the Seder as much we did here at Chabad. The Seder is always such an enjoyable and inspirational event (if your Seder feels anything otherwise, you must join us next year!)

The Seder night is structured as an educational experience. We do things just to pique the children’s curiosity, we ask questions and we answer them in a manner appropriate for each of the participants at the Seder. The Seder can truly teach us so much about educating ourselves and our family. Here’s just one thought:

Although we may be familiar with the details of the Exodus, there is an obligation to recount the story. Why the need to constantly repeat information with which we are already familiar?

When we verbally repeat something it becomes more ingrained in mind and in our psyche. But perhaps even more important is when we verbally recount the story of the Exodus and find personal meaning in its message, we also communicate its importance to our family and our children.

Judaism is highly important to many modern American Jews but it’s not talked about enough. Many wonder how it is possible that although Judaism is so important to them and so much a part of their lives, still their children do not have the same feeling as they do.

The answer is in the Seder – we have to repeat the story! We have to verbalize - to ourselves and to our children – the importance of Judaism and its practices and beliefs. It’s not too late to start and as we learn from the Seder, it should never end.

Freedom Guide

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The haggadah recounts an episode that happened many years ago in Bnei Brak. It involves five great sages who were so engrossed in recounting the story of the Exodus that they hadn’t realized that the sun had risen and it was time for the morning prayers.

Why does the Passover seder narrative include this story? How does it add to our experiencing freedom?

The interesting aspect of this story is this: most (if not all) of these sages’ ancestors were not even slaves in Egypt! One of them was a descendent of converts, obviously his ancestors weren’t there. The others were from the tribe of Levi and the tribe of Levi never was part of the slavery. Yet, these sages spent the night recounting the story of the Exodus.

Passover is about freeing oneself of the limitations and inhibition that currently shapes our life choices. Whether we are too influenced by our surroundings or by our own behavior and tendencies, on Passover we turn to Hashem to liberate us just as He liberated our ancestors so many years ago.

The inclusion of this episode in the seder narrative teaches us two important lessons: There are many stages of liberation, when we reach our initial goals we must continue “onward and upward” towards the next goal, just as these sages continued discussing the Exodus until dawn.

Additionally, just as these sages were not personally involved in the slavery, yet they continued to discuss and share the message of freedom, we too must spread the success. When you have liberated yourself don’t keep it to yourself, share your experience with others and help them to experience the freedom and liberation of Passover too.

There are many amazing practical lessons from Passover and the seder, make sure to learn at least one new thing this year. Take a moment and browse through the insights on our website, find something that appeals to you, study and internalize it. Then share it with someone else.

 

What I wish for my son

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This past week has been quite busy to say the least, for good reason, thank G-d: On Tuesday morning just after midnight our latest addition arrived, a sweet little baby boy! Thank G-d mom and baby are well and we’re gearing up for the Bris next week.

Important milestones in life tend to trigger reflection about life in general and all the important themes that relate to it. Especially the birth of a child, even when it's not child #1 – it never become routine :-).

Every parent has dreams about how they wish their child to grow up; every parent hopes that their child will be a source of nachas.

It’s no coincidence that this week we begin the third book of the Torah, Vayikra. In Rabbinic literature it is referred to as Torat Kohanim, the laws pertaining to the kohanim, the priests who served in the Temple. This is also where the name Leviticus, which roughly means “relating to the Levites,” is derived.

There is an important lesson that the Rambam (Maimonides) shares (Hilchos Shmita 13:12-13). In discussing the reason that the tribe of Levi did not receive an inheritance in the land of Israel (or spoils of war), he writes: “Because they were set aside to serve G-d and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments.”

After elaborating a little about the Levites, the Rambam concludes: “Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world (note – he specifically doesn’t limit this to Jewish people) whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and minister to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies.”

My greatest wish for my newborn son, and all my children, is that they should live to personify that which the Rambam writes and, to paraphrase the Rambam, I hope that they have the strength of character and spirit to successfully remove from themselves the expectations of this physical world and it’s short-lived thrills and pleasures and dedicate their lives to serving the Almighty.

And I hope I can do this too!

Locally available Kosher-for-Passover supplies

In addition to the minimum Kosher-for-Passover food that is available at the local Save-Mart and Safeway, a large inventory is available at the Save-Mart in Arden-Arcade (on the corner of Fair Oaks Blvd and Munroe Street in Sacramento).

In addition the following items are now available at Costco Cal Expo 1600 Expo Parkway: 

#195141 Manischewitz Matzo   5lb $8.69 cracker aisle
#42877 Glatt Kosher Ground Beef   $6.39 per lb -located in meat cases by the organic ground beef (more on order, selling fast)
#406852 Kosher Shredded Mozzarella  2lb $8.99 KOSHER FOR PASSOVER and year round. Cases located by the special cheese next to the produce section (freezes great too).

Items Coming before Passover: Will update when actually arrives in store:# 293383 Schick's 7 layer Kosher-for-Passover Cake 16oz $7.99     Excepted arrival after 3/12   Gluten Free- limited amount
#41029 Glatt Kosher Chuck eye steak $8.29   Excepted arrival after 3/12

Quality Kosher wine (from Israel and elsewhere) is available at Total Wine in Folsom (Nugget and Trader Joes also have a small supply).

G-d's Home Address

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Do you spend time studying? One of the most rewarding activities one can engage in is to enrich oneself with knowledge. All the more so when one studies the Torah. Do you view Torah study as a personally enriching experience? Unfortunately,  too often the limited Jewish education people received was woefully inadequate – not so much with regard to the information, more so with regards to the attitude.

Often an underlying message is communicated by parents and educators: “Judaism is a somewhat interesting and quaint belief system and group of observances that your ancestors followed… but it’s not entirely relevant to our life today." The result? When a Jewish adult is looking for enrichment, they search elsewhere.

Many religions preach self-denial; refrain from living a normal life. At the very least the religious leaders must fast and be secluded, unmarried and disconnected from the world.  The Torah portion this week communicates an important message regarding Judaism’s attitude toward this world.

If you look closely at this week’s Torah reading you will notice that it is very familiar. That’s right! It’s virtually the same as what we already read a few weeks ago (the portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh). The only substantial difference between the two sections is that the first is the command to build the Tabernacle and this week’s portion tells us that the Jewish people fulfilled the command. The Torah is generally so careful not to use superfluous words or even letters. Couldn’t a few simple sentences communicate this fact? Why the need to repeat everything?

This teaches us an important lesson, the importance of the physical world and our relationship with it. It’s not enough to create a spiritual “home” for G-d; we must create this environment here in this physical world. As our ancestors of old did in the desert by creating the Tabernacle, we must use our physical possessions and talents to create a life and an environment that is fitting for G-d’s presence to dwell.

Uplifted by failure

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What an uplifting week! We learn about some of the purifying utensils used in the tabernacle and we learn about the special gift of Shabbat. We learn about the power of forgiveness and about the second Tablets. So powerful and holy! Even the name of the portion reflects the theme of being uplifted. “Ki Tisa” is generally translated as “When you count,” but Chassidic insight shares another layer of meaning. “Ki Tisa” can also be translated literally as “When you uplift.”

But wait a minute, you say, look again at this Torah portion – it’s not all rosy! I missed a central story, the time when the Jewish people blundered so badly that it is held against them for all time, the worshipping of the Golden Calf! This doesn’t reflect an uplifting or inspiring story.

You are right; the story of the Golden Calf is a painful and low point in our history. At least at first glance; but in the end it’s a net positive. What happened after the sin of the Golden Calf? Hashem granted forgiveness. A second set of Tablets were given. And the Jewish people were stronger because of the experience.

Failure and setbacks are difficult, but it’s important to remember to transform what we’ve learned from them into positive lessons for the future.

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