Please use the Search bar to access the archives instead of the Alphabetical / Chronological Archives as we are experiencing technical difficulties with those areas of the website. Thank you.

back to blog home | about Rabbi Buchwald |  back to main NJOP site

Noah 5778-2017

“Rebuilding the World Through the Children of Noah”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Although this week’s parasha, parashat Noah, focuses primarily on the Flood, it also traces the history of humankind following the Flood. After the passing of Noah, the Torah lists the names of the children of Noah and describes the repopulation of the world.

The Bible, in Genesis 10:1 states, וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת בְּנֵי נֹחַ, שֵׁם חָם וָיָפֶת, וַיִּוָּלְדוּ לָהֶם בָּנִים אַחַר הַמַּבּוּל . These are the descendants of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth; sons were born to them after the Flood. 

Although there is a rabbinic dispute regarding which of Noah’s three sons was the oldest, certainly the most significant child is Shem, from whom the Semitic nations and the Jews are descended. The three sons of Noah, eventually, were also the progenitors of the seventy nations who inhabited the world in those days.Abraham was a tenth generation descendent of Noah, through his son Shem.

A particularly notable descendent of Shem was his fifth generation great-grandson, עֵבֶר -Eber, who, according to rabbinic sources, played a key role in resurrecting the world after its near destruction in the time of Noah. According to the Midrash, Eber was one of the few righteous men in those times, who along with his great, great, great-grandfather Shem, established a yeshiva. Since the Torah had not yet been given, speculation is that Shem and Eber, like Abraham, had rationally come to the conclusion of the existence of many of the ethical and moral laws that eventually would be revealed in the Torah.

At their house of study, Shem and Eber spent time studying and propagating these principles, trying to inspire the world to follow, at least, the basic laws of humanity. Maimonides, in the Laws of Idolatry 1:1, regards Eber as one of the few individuals along with Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, and Shem, who came to the conclusion that there was one Creator, despite the fact that all of humanity at that time was worshiping idols.

The name Eber, in Hebrew, means “to come across.” The Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 3, explains that Eber and his family came across from the other side of the Euphrates River. Consequently, all of Eber’s descendants were known as עִבְרִי -Ivri (crossers). Thus, Abraham’s descendants became known as עִבְרִים -Ivrim, Hebrews, because he too had crossed the river. According to Rashi, they were named Ivrim because they were descended from Eber.

The commentary to Rashi, Mizrachi Genesis 39:14, maintains that only someone who was both a descendant of Eber and had crossed the river, is known as Ivri. Thus, only Isaac, and not Ishmael, is known as an Ivri.

The impact of Shem and Eber on humankind was profound and, according to the Talmud, Megilla 17a, Jacob spent 14 years studying Torah at the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber before joining Laban and his family in Haran.

Two key descendants of Eber were his son פֶלֶג -Peleg and his son יָקְטָן -Jokton. The word “peleg,” which means to split, confound or confuse, refers to the great purging of the nations that took place in Peleg’s days (Genesis 11:7-9), during the period of the Tower of Babel. Some attribute the scheme of building the tower to Peleg himself, which is why the generation is named after him, דּוֹר הַפְלָגָה , the generation of confounding, confusion and splitting.

Peleg’s son, Jokton, also played a central role in the development of humankind. The Radak explains that Peleg named his son Jokton, from the Hebrew word קָטָן , meaningsmall, because from the time of Peleg’s birth, human longevity began to diminish. Because he was born physically smaller than those who preceded him, Jokton’s father, Eber, concluded that his son’s years would be fewer than previous generations.

Rashi, based on the Midrash, claims that Jokton merited to establish many families because he was humble and frequently belittled himself. The Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 6:6, cited by Rashi, claims that Jokton merited to establish thirteen large families. Jokton, despite being small of stature and who diminished himself, serves as a paradigm of humility to those who are large and imposing.

It could very well be that the name Jokton is the first allusion in the Bible to the ideas of humility and modesty–characteristics that are of enormous importance in Jewish and human values. Noah, as well as Joseph’s son Ephraim, and Moses are all considered to have been extraordinarily modest people who profoundly influenced Jewish posterity.

When Abraham, Genesis 23, comes to the children of Het to purchase a grave for his wife, he bows down before the people of the land who call him, Genesis 23:6, נְשִׂיא אֱ־לֹקִים , Prince of G-d. Despite being so exalted, Abraham in his great modesty, continues to bow. The Midrash HaGadol (an anonymous 14th century compilation of aggadic midrashim on the Pentateuch), states that because of the two times that Abraham humbled himself before the children of Het, nations of the world would later humble themselves before his descendants, the People of Israel.

The special qualities derived from the descendants of Noah–crossing the river and swimming against the tide, as well as their modesty and humility, have served the Jewish people well over the millennia. The continued practice of these qualities by the Jewish people will undoubtedly serve the people well in the future. 

May you be blessed. 

 

Bereshith 5778-2017

“The Torah Promotes the Work Ethic”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In parashat Bereshith, after six days of creating the world, G-d rested on the seventh day, blessed it and designated it as a sanctified day of rest to be known as Shabbat.

In Genesis 2:4, the Torah describes the state of the world after creation. Genesis 2:5 records, כֹל שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ, וְכָל עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִצְמָח, כִּי לֹא הִמְטִיר השׁם אֱ־לֹקִים עַל הָאָרֶץ, וְאָדָם אַיִן לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה . Now all the trees of the field were not yet on the earth, and all the herbs of the field had not yet sprouted, for the Lord G-d had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil.

The Torah (Genesis 2:6) then notes that a mist ascended from the earth and watered the whole surface of the soil.

Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinowitz in his commentary, Daat Sofrim, writes that human history began under extraordinarily promising conditions. The earth was full of light, radiating splendor and pleasure, and G-d’s creations were free of worries, stress, and suffering. The primordial human beings were placed in an entirely spiritual setting where they could live a pure and elevated life. Only after the humans proved that they were not capable of living a fully spiritual life in the Garden of Eden, were they removed from the garden. The earth, despite its immense resources and potential wealth, was desolate, disorganized. The original splendor had vanished.

After sinning with the forbidden fruit, humankind was now destined to do battle with the powers of nature. In order to create for themselves a life in the real world, they would have to struggle to succeed. Human beings would now be constantly weary, hungry, barefoot and mortal, with the prospect of death always looming, a far cry from the utopian conditions in which they had originally been created.

When humans were first created, they emerged as kings, not laborers, and were certainly not inclined to work. In that purely spiritual environment, it was impossible for primordial man to recognize that real pleasure in life comes from work. He could not fathom the insightful conclusion reached by Ben Hey-Hey who declared (Avot 5:27), לְפוּם צַעֲרָא אַגְרָא , according to the effort is the reward.

To keep things fresh in the world, G-d had to bring a mist, for there was no man to “work the soil.”

As the story evolves, in Genesis 2:15, G-d takes the human beings and places them in the Garden of Eden, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ , to work it and to guard it. After all, every meaningful relationship requires not only work, but effort to preserve the work, to enhance it, to make it more meaningful. It is in this rather obscure statement, that the Torah reveals the subtle formula for a meaningful existence. Not only is there a need to work, but also to guard, to preserve, to conserve, and to protect the works of our hands and our environment.

This revolutionary idea that the Torah records, goes back 5778 years. Although it was revealed in antiquity, humanity today is still trying to understand and appreciate the inevitable conclusion: The more effort invested in a relationship–the greater the reward. Only through intense effort and labor can human beings re-create the original spiritual environment intended for humanity.

It was this special work ethic that played a critical role in the establishment and founding of the State of Israel.

One of the truly fascinating pioneers of modern-day Israel, was A.D. Gordon (1856-1922), a man who came from a traditional Jewish background and lived most of his life as a religious Jew. At age 48, he moved to what was then Palestine. Although he had no training in farming or agriculture, he decided that he was going to work the land with his own two hands and make it blossom. Working long days, in often brutal conditions, dedicating his nights to study, A.D. Gordon was soon recognized as a revolutionary and came to be considered the father of “Torat ha’Avodah,” proclaiming the immense value of labor, especially of manual labor. Until he passed at age 68, he supported himself as a menial agricultural laborer working every day.

In his writings he declared, “The land of Israel is acquired through labor, not through fire and not through blood.” Returning to the soil, he proclaimed, would transform the Jewish people and allow its rejuvenation.

His writings boldly reflect his uncompromising commitment to these ideals:

The Jewish people have been completely cut off from nature and imprisoned within city walls for 2000 years. We have been accustomed to every form of life, except a life of labor–a labor done at our behalf and for its own sake. It will require the greatest efforts of will for such people to become normal again. We lack the principal ingredient for a national life, we lack the habit of labor . . . for it is labor which binds the people to its soil and to its national culture, which in turn is the outgrowth of the people’s toil and the people’s labor (A.D. Gordon, Our Tasks Ahead, 1920).

As we start the new year, it is important for us to appreciate how vitally important is the ingredient of labor. It is only through our willingness to invest sincere effort into the principles we cherish that our dreams will be realized and our connection to the Al-mighty G-d solidified. This powerful message is found in the very first parasha of the Torah. We must embrace it, practice it and make certain to transmit it to the future generations.

May you be blessed.

The intermediary days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Wednesday, October 11th. On Wednesday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Thursday, October 12th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Thursday evening, October 12th and continues through Friday, October 13th.

Sukkot 5778-2017

“Jewish Unity and the Festival of Sukkot”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Of all the Jewish holidays, the one holidaythat is singled out as a “Festival of Joy” is Sukkot. As the Torah in Deuteronomy 16:13-15 declares, חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים…וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ…וְהָיִיתָ, אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ , You shall make the festival of Sukkot for a festival day….You shall rejoice in your festival….and you will be completely joyous. That is why the rabbis call the festival of Sukkot, זְמַן שִׂמְחָתֵנוּ , the time of our rejoicing.

Rabbi Yaakov Filber points out in his writings, that the nature of the joy that is experienced on Sukkot is much more than simply the joy of an individual. It is intended to be a festival of communal joy that the entire nation of Israel experiences. The Torah, in Deuteronomy 16:14 explicitly includes the broad spectrum of the community in this joy, וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ, אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ, וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ, וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה, אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ , You shall rejoice on your festival–you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite, the proselyte, the orphan and the widow who are in your cities. The happiness experienced on this festival is to be a collective happiness, resulting from the sense of unity and feelings of equality among the people.

The Midrash Rabbah in Leviticus 30:2 explains the expression שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת , fullness of joy, found in Psalms 16:11, תּוֹדִיעֵנִי אֹרַח חַיִּים, שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת אֶת פָּנֶיךָ, נְעִמוֹת בִּימִינְךָ נֶצַח , You make known to me the path of life, in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures evermore. Playing on the word שֹׂבַע , whose root is related to the Hebrew word שֶׁבַע , seven, the Midrash draws a reference to the seven mitzvot that are associated with the festival of Sukkot: etrog, hadass (myrtle), lulav (palm), aravah (willow), the Sukkah, the festival sacrifice and the mitzvah to be happy.

There are many references of unity that are alluded to on the festival of Sukkot. The rabbis of the Talmud in Menachot 27a, state:

Of the four species that are used for the lulav, two are fruit bearing (the etrog and the lulav) and two are not (the myrtle and the willow). Those which bear fruit must be joined to those which bear no fruit, and those which bear no fruit must be joined to those which bear fruit. A person does not fulfill his obligation [of holding the lulav together with the other species] unless they are all bound in one band. And so it is with Israel’s conciliation with G-d, [it is achieved] only when they [the people] are all [bound together] in one band, as it is stated by the prophet Amos 9:6, He [G-d] Who builds His chambers in heaven, and founded His band upon the earth.

The Torah, in fact, explicitly relates the mitzvah of joy to the mitzvah of taking of the four species together. In Leviticus 23:40, it is written: You shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the citron tree, the branches of the date palms, twigs of a plaited tree, and brookwillow; and you shall rejoice before the L-rd your G-d for a seven day period.

The theme of unity is similarly found not only with the four species, but with the Sukkah itself. The Talmud in Sukkah 27b, states, that even though the rabbis declared that one may not use a borrowed lulav on the first day, nevertheless, one may sit in a sukkah belonging to a neighbor. As the verse in Leviticus 23:42 underscores: You shall dwell in booths for a seven day period, every native in Israel shall dwell in the booths. The Talmud concludes from the phrasing of the verse that all of Israel are worthy of sitting in one great big Sukkah.

An additional theme of unity and Sukkot is found in tractate Sukkah 2a. Citing the verse from Leviticus 23:43, בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים , You shall dwell in the booths for seven days, the Talmud derives that, “Just as every Jew must leave his permanent dwelling place for seven days and live in a temporary dwelling place, so must every Jew on Sukkot live equally in a temporary dwelling, poor and rich alike.”

Similarly, the mitzvah of הַקְהֵל (Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5777-2017), celebrated every seven years on Sukkot, brings everyone together–the men, the women, the babies, and the strangers who are in your gates.

The festival of Sukkot marks the conclusion of the three pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish year where Jews all travel to Jerusalem and come together to celebrate in united happiness. It is only natural that on the last day of Sukkot, the festival of Simchat Torah, the rejoicing of the law, is celebrated. This is intended to teach that the true joy of Judaism is not only external, but internal. Consequently, the Al-Mighty is not satisfied with people only serving or worshiping G-d. The Torah expects the people to observe בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוּב לֵבָב , with happiness and with a full heart.

The Torah, in Deuteronomy 28:47, warns that evil will befall the people, because they failed to serve the L-rd amid gladness and goodness of heart when everything was abundant.

Looking closely at the verse, we see that the Torah does not reprove the people for not worshiping. In fact, it is clear that the people do serve the L-rd their G-d, but do not serve with happiness and with a full heart. That is why the final Torah reading of the year is always about experiencing full happiness on the festival of Sukkot.

May you be blessed.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday and Friday, October 4th, 5th and 6th, 2017. The intermediary days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Wednesday, October 11th. On Wednesday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Thursday, October 12th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Thursday evening, October 12th and continues through Friday, October 13th.

 

Yom Kippur 5778-2017

“Forgiveness Before Sin”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

According to tradition, the Torah was given to the People of Israel at Mount Sinai in the Hebrew year 2448 (1312 BCE), on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. On the seventh day of Sivan, Moses went back up the mountain for forty days to be with G-d and to master the Oral Code.

Forty days later, on the seventeenth of Tammuz, Moses descended the mountain with the two tablets of G-d in his arms. When he beheld the frenzied People of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf, he smashed the tablets.

Moses remained in the camp with the people for forty days and then returned to Mount Sinai on the first day of Elul. After remaining atop the mountain far an additional forty days, Moses descended and joined the people on the tenth day of Tishrei–Yom Kippur. The Divine clouds, that had always hovered above the people but had vanished when they sinned, suddenly reappeared, confirming Divine forgiveness for the nation. In recognition of these clouds of mercy, the People of Israel celebrated their first Sukkot holiday, as the prayer states, וּפְרושׂ עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלומֶךָ , Spread over us Your canopy, “Sukkah,” of peace.

The Midrashic tradition records a dispute regarding which came first, Yom Kippur or the sin of the Golden Calf. The Tanna Dabai Eliyahu Rabba, 28  records, that on the final day of the forty days that Moses was on Mount Sinai preparing to deliver the second set of tablets, the heavens declared a fast day, so that the evil inclination would not hold sway. On the very next day, the people arose early in the morning to greet Moses as he returned.

The People of Israel cried when they saw Moses, and he cried when he saw the people, until both cries ascended directly to G-d. G-d’s compassion reached out to the people and He accepted their repentance. G-d pronounced a vow to the people, saying, “My children, I swear in My great Name and in My Holy Throne, that this crying will be converted into happiness and great joy. This day [Yom Kippur] will be a day of atonement and forgiveness, for you and your children, until the end of generations.”

The Midrash Rabbah  on Genesis 2, maintains that G-d established the Day of Atonement even before the sin of the Golden Calf. According to the Midrash, Yom Kippur was given as a gift to the first humans, Adam and Eve. In fact, when the Bible declares, (Genesis 1:5), “And there was evening and there was morning, one day,” this “day” was the gift of Yom Kippur that G-d gave to the people.

According to Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 46, it was not the atonement and the repentance of the people for the sin of the Golden Calf that led to the establishment of Yom Kippur, but rather it was the Day of Atonement that caused the people to do Teshuvah, to repent. When the people saw in the written Torah that Moses had delivered, that there was a specific day of atonement on which the people were to afflict their souls and sound of the shofar, they all fasted, young and old.

Unfortunately, today, there are no prophets to inspire the people to repent, nor a High Priest to perform the ritual of the scapegoat, and there is no Holy Temple to help the people to atone. We have only the prayers of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to help us atone.

Therefore, it is most vital to acknowledge that the Ten Days of Penitence are special times for atonement. G-d is out “in the field” waiting for His people to return and repent. So propitious is this time that the rabbis of the Talmud declare (Talmud, Yoma 86b) that when one repents with a full heart, not only are his/her sins forgiven, but sins are actually turned into merits.

Clearly, the Al-mighty greatly desires the peoples’ repentance. So desperately does G-d want to forgive us, that it is reflected in the Midrash that Yom Kippur was created even before the sin of the Golden Calf.

רַחֲמָנָא לִבָּא בָּעֵי, Sanhedrin 106b, G-d wants our hearts. Come, let us go out now and embrace Him, and pour out our hearts before the Al-mighty. This is the propitious moment. Let us not fritter away this very precious opportunity.

May you be blessed.

Wishing you a Shanah Tovah and a G’mar Chatimah Tovah, a very Happy and Healthy New Year. May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, and may all our prayers be answered favorably.

Yom Kippur will be observed this year on Friday evening, September 29th through nightfall on Saturday, September 30, 2017. Have a most meaningful fast.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday and Friday, October 4th, 5th and 6th, 2017. The intermediary days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Wednesday, October 11th. On Wednesday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Thursday, October 12th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Thursday evening, October 12th and continues through Friday, October 13th.

Rosh Hashana-Ha’azinu 5778-2017

“The Blame Game”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

America, and the American media, in fact, the world and world media, are frequently consumed with what is known as the “Blame Game.” Is Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, a maniacal provocateur, or is President Trump falling into a trap that Jong-Un has set to spark a world conflagration? Can’t mention the “Blame Game,” without noting that the tabloids were absolutely obsessed with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, taking sides on who was responsible for the couple’s breakup after thirteen years of being together and six children.

The Bible is filled with stories of blame. In Genesis 3:12, when G-d asks Adam why he ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam responds by blaming G-d. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate it!” The woman also says to G-d that it’s His fault. “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” (Genesis 3:13).

An obvious case of blaming the other is found in the story of Cain and Abel. When G-d confronts Cain for killing his brother, G-d says to Cain, Genesis 4:9, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain replies by refusing to accept the blame, saying, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

In Genesis 30:1-2, when Rachel saw that she had no children, she desperately beseeches Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob responds callously, that it is not his fault. “Am I in place of G-d, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” I am fertile, I have children. It’s your problem!

In Genesis 42, after Joseph demands that Benjamin remain as a slave in Egypt as punishment for stealing Joseph’s chalice, Joseph’s brothers say to one another that they are guilty for what they did to Joseph when he besought us and we would not hear. That is why this distress has come upon us. Reuben then laces in to them, saying (Genesis 42:21,22), “Did I not speak unto you, saying, do not sin against this child, and you would not hear? Therefore all this blood is required.”

There is even a reference in this week’s parasha, Ha’azinu, in which G-d scolds the People of Israel for not acknowledging their own shortcomings. Instead, they accuse G-d of being corrupt and show no gratitude for all the good G-d has done for them. In Deuteronomy 32:6, G-d declares:הַלְהשׁם תִּגְמְלוּ זֹאת, עַם נָבָל וְלֹא חָכָם, הֲלוֹא הוּא אָבִיךָ קָּנֶךָ, הוּא עָשְׂךָ וַיְכֹנְנֶךָ , Is it to the L-rd that you do this, O vile and unwise people?Has He not created you and established you?

Now we discover that Taylor Swift, America’s great pop singer, has issued a new record-breaking single entitled, “Look at what you made me do,” filled with rage and even hatred for others. But, the greatest anger is reserved for herself. She says, “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead.”

The ten day period of penitence between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is meant to be a time for intensive introspection. Each person is to look into their deepest inner selves, not to blame themselves or others, but to find the faults that are in themselves, and are oh so human.

The Bible, in Ecclesiastes 7:20, gives us an out by boldly proclaiming, כִּי אָדָם אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא . There is no perfectly righteous person who does no evil. We are, after all, human. We fail, we sin. Rabbi Mark Wildes, in his dynamic “Eli Talks” (Jewish adaptation of the inspirational “Ted Talks”) speech, refers to failure as “falling back,” which is to be seen as one of the most powerful gifts that we have–to pick ourselves up and repair ourselves.

The most challenging first step of Teshuvah is recognizing that we’ve done something wrong, accepting that it is our fault no matter who might have provoked or seduced us. G-d has given each one of us the wisdom and the strength to recognize what is wrong and the ability to resist the temptations. An even greater gift is that once we have yielded to temptation, we can stand up, march on and even wipe our slates clean and start new and fresh.

Maimonides says that the Teshuvah process continues by resolving not to commit the sin again. Ultimately, the greatest test of Teshuvah is to be faced with the same temptations, to blow them away and to not yield. That person, Maimonides suggests, is a Ba’al Teshuvah Gemura, a person who has completely repented (Laws of Teshuvah 2:1).

Taylor Swift is wrong. We do not die from sin. In fact, we can grow as a result, if we strive to extirpate the sin from within us, to be reborn and cleansed again. Now that we are aware and know the bitter wages of sin, we can perform good, positive actions with fresh enthusiasm. This is healthy guilt, not destructive guilt, which comes to our salvation, encouraging us to be better than we were yesterday.

This is the message of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is not, “Look what you made me do,” it is “Look what I let happen to me, and I am determined never to let it happen again!”

May you be blessed.

Rosh Hashana 5778 is observed this year on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday and Friday, September 20, 21 and 22, 2017.

The New Year holiday is immediately followed on Friday night, and Saturday, September 22-23, by Shabbat Shuva.

The Fast of Gedaliah will be observed on Sunday, September 24, 2017 from dawn until nightfall.

Wishing you a שָׁנָה טוֹבָה –Shana Tovah, a very Happy and Healthy New Year.

 

Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5777-2017

“Inspiring the Next Generation”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In parashat Vayeilech, the second of this week’s double parashiot, Nitzavim-Vayeilech, we read, what is to my mind, one of the most remarkable of all the Jewish observances in Jewish life, known as הַקְהֵל“Hak’hel.”

There are, for sure, many profoundly dramatic moments on the Jewish calendar.

As we stand before the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, facing the impending judgment of the Heavenly tribunal, we feel the profound majesty of Al-mighty G-d enveloping our very being.

On Passover, we recall, each year, the power and the grandeur of the exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea, as we reenact the redemption from Egypt at the seder.

Every week, the Jewish people joyously welcome the Sabbath, in order to better appreciate the Al-mighty’s acts of creation, and savor the benefits of G-d’s greatest gift to humankind, the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest.

And yet, despite these very special moments in Jewish life, it is impossible not to include the little-known ritual of “Hak’hel,” in the pantheon of G-d’s greatest gifts to His people.

In Deuteronomy 31:10, Moses commands the People of Israel to gather together for the special observance of “Hak’hel.” Every seven years, as they celebrate the festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem, the Children of Israel, led by the King of Israel, are to come together to read the Torah for all the people. Deuteronomy 31:12 states,הַקְהֵל אֶת הָעָם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף, וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ,  לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת השׁם אֱ־לֹקֵיכֶם, וְשָׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת , Gather together the people–-the men, the women, and the small children, and your stranger who is in your cities, so that they will hear and so that they will learn, and they shall fear the L-rd your G-d, and be careful to perform all the words of this Torah.

The ceremony of “Hak’hel,” takes place every seven years, immediately following the year of שְׁמִטָּהShemita, the year in which all the farmers allow their lands to lie fallow. During this entire year the land is given an opportunity to regenerate and the bodies and souls of the People of Israel are rejuvenated through physical rest and the study of Torah.

On the festival of Sukkot, during the year that immediately follows the sabbatical year, the king of Israel himself would rise to teach the people Torah. This very special occasion is intended to underscore the primacy of Torah study, by emphasizing that everyone, king, scholar, farmer, women and children, come together to experience this unprecedented educational celebration.

Rashi citing the Talmud Chagiga 3a, explains that the men come to the “Hak’hel” ceremony לִלְמוֹד –“lil’mod,” to study, the women, לִשְׁמֹעַ –“lish’moh’ah,” to hear, and the small children, לְתֵת שָׂכָר לִמֽבִיאֵיהֶם , to give reward to those who bring them.

This traditional interpretation raises questions about the efficacy of Torah education for women. After all, while the men come to “study,” women only come to “listen.”

This issue has been debated in the Talmud by the great scholars over the centuries. The majority of rabbinic opinions maintain that women must learn Torah too, so that they will know how to properly practice the mitzvot. The debate over the requirement to study is really regarding the Oral Code, the Talmudic exegesis of the written Torah. Obviously, without knowing the Oral Code, it would be impossible for the women to fulfill a good part of Jewish observance. Observant Jewish women must have at least an academic mastery of the Rabbinic interpretations of the laws of Shabbat, Kashrut, family purity and many other mitzvot, which comprise a major part of Jewish life.

The unresolved question is whether women must engage in the purely academic, scholarly side of Jewish learning, which does not impact on Jewish living and observance.

I would like to suggest that there is another way of interpreting the words of Rashi when citing the Talmudic tradition stating that the men come לִלְמוֹד , to study, and that the women come, לִשְׁמֹעַ , to listen or to hear.

A most profound educational insight, one that has bearing on the Talmudic citation in Rashi’s commentary, may be derived from the basic statement of faith that Jews recite daily: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, השׁם אֱ־לֹקֵינוּ, השׁם אֶחָד , Listen, O Israel, the L-rd is your G-d, the L-rd is one.

The word, שְׁמַע –“Shemah,” cannot merely mean to “listen.” After all, the “Shemah” is a declaration of intense and deep faith in G-d, and cannot mean to only hear the words, to only mouth the words, or to allow the words to penetrate one ear and go out the other.

Shemah,” in this case, must mean that every Jew must strive to achieve a deep and profound understanding of G-d, as well as the nature of G-d, leading to total faith in Him.

While the men may come to the “Hak’hel” ceremony to study, to engage in the rigorous back-and-forth arguments about the meaning of the words and the lessons to be derived from the textual nuances, the women are there “lish’moh’ah,” to help derive the deep and profound spiritual messages that are hidden within the texts and the words of the Torah. While the men engage in analyzing the fine points of scholarship, the women discover and uncover the profound messages that lie within the text, and teach them to the men and children. While לִלְמוֹד means to learn, לִשְׁמֹעַ , means to understand, to absorb, to bring the message home and to allow it to penetrate one’s heart and mind, which is, of course, the most effective way of transmitting these teachings to future generations of family and young people.

And, finally, why does the Talmud state that the children are brought “in order to give reward to the parents who bring them”? Because a most profound lesson is conveyed to a child when parents, not caretakers, personally accompany their children to school, deeply affirming the value of education. The joint learning of child and parent has a most intense impact on the child, on the family and on Jewish future.

Like the celebration of “Hak’hel,” the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur afford Jews the world over a unique opportunity to study and to listen together as one united Jewish family. May the experiences of these High Holidays be a source of profound and positive impact on family and nation for the entire year to come, and may the year 5778 be a blessed one for all people.

May you be blessed.

Kee Tavo 5777-2017

“The Choice Parts to G-d”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Parashat Kee Tavo is best known for the second תּוֹכֵחָה , Tochacha, G-d’s second reproof of the People of Israel. The first is found in parashat Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:8-26:44.

Aside from the Tochacha, this week’s parasha, Kee Tavo, also concludes the general clarification of the numerous mitzvot that are found in the Book of Deuteronomy. As the parasha opens, Moses emphasizes those mitzvot that specifically relate to the land of Israel, focusing on the fruits that the land brings forth. It also records the texts of the prayers recited by the farmers when the first ripened crops are brought to the Temple and which the farmers present to the Kohanim-the Priests, in Jerusalem. This ceremony serves to underscore the fundamental principle of Judaism, which recognizes every mortal accomplishment as a gift from G-d.

Parashat Kee Tavo opens with the verse in Deuteronomy 26:1, וְהָיָה כִּי תָבוֹא אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה, וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בָּהּ , and it will come to pass when you enter the land that the L-rd your G-d gives you as an inheritance and you possess it and dwell in it. The Torah continues (Deuteronomy 26:2), you shall take the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land that the L-rd your G-d gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the L-rd your G-d will choose to make His Name rest there.

It is in Jerusalem that the farmers come to the Priests who will be there in those days to proclaim that their every accomplishment is a gift from G-d, and that the beautiful fruits are a testimony to that fact.

Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus in Tiferet Shimshon al HaTorah, Deuteronomy, explains why the Torah’s commandment to bring the first fruits to the Temple is relevant to contemporary times. In Temple times, every Jewish farmer brought the first fruits that grew in the gardens and fields, and transported them to Jerusalem in beautifully decorated baskets in a great public ceremony accompanied by music.

Although we are no longer able to practice this commandment, and the first fruits are no longer brought to the Temple, the basic premise of the ceremony is still relevant and applicable today.

In general, the first fruits are always the most beloved by the farmer. It was for these fruits that the farmer longed for an entire year, labored in the fields during the harsh winters and the hot summers, looked with hope for the spring to come to behold the rewards of his efforts. Obviously, when the farmer finally goes to the field and sees the beautiful, first-ripened fruits, the farmer is eager to bring them home as quickly as possible to share them with his family. The Torah, however, says that the first and most beloved fruits are the portion of G-d.

Like the farmer, we too must remember that the source of all the blessings is the Al-mighty Who has given us these fruits with abundant grace and love.  As we look upon the colorful and beautiful basket of fruits, or their modern equivalents, in our homes, every fruit so unique and tasteful, we must recognize the abundant love that G-d showers upon us. It is He, Who provides food for the entire world with grace, loving-kindness and mercy.

The sparkle emitted from the basket of the first fruits is very much like a kiss from G-d, that is to be reciprocated to G-d Al-mighty with abundant love. The first fruits that are brought to the priest at the holy Temple, are therefore sanctified to G-d.

Rabbi Pincus points out that the idea of gratitude that’s expressed in the ceremony of the firstborn fruits, applies to the entire Torah, and to all of life.

Maimonides in the Laws of Forbidden Offerings 7:11, writes:

The same principle applies to everything that is done for the sake of the good G-d; namely, that it be of the finest and the best. If one builds a house of prayer, it should be finer than his private dwelling. If he feeds the hungry, he should give him of the best and sweetest of his table. If he clothes the naked, he should give him of the finest of his garments. Hence, if he consecrated something to G-d, he ought to give the best of his possessions. Thus, scripture says: “All the fat is the L-rd’s,” Leviticus 3:16.

Rabbi Pincus provides a stark example of this principle from contemporary times. A person comes to the door to collect for Hachnassat Kallah-funds for a poor bride. In most instances, people start rummaging through their closets for some old garment to get rid of that they never wore, that they received long ago from an aunt. While they mistakenly think that they profit from the mitzvah, that is wrong. After all, Maimonides says, “Give the best garment.”

Rabbi Pincus concludes by emphasizing, that everything that is done for the sake of Heaven and for the good of G-d, needs to be done in the most beautiful and elegant manner.

May you be blessed.

Kee Teitzei 5777-2017

“Lessons from the Wayward Son”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Kee Teitzei, we learn of the law of the “Ben soh’rayr oo’moh’reh,”  בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה , the wayward and rebellious son. The Torah, in Deuteronomy 21:18, describes the wayward and rebellious son as one who refuses to hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, וְיִסְּרוּ אֹתוֹ, וְלֹא יִשְׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם , and they discipline him, but he does not listen to them. The parents then take the child out to the elders of the city and proclaim: “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” The Torah then concludes (Deuteronomy 21:21), that all the men of the city are to pelt him [the boy] with stones, and he shall die; and you shall remove the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear and they shall fear. The law of the “Ben soh’rayr oo’moh’reh” is surely one of the most complex laws in the Torah. According to many of the sages of the Talmud, it was virtually impossible to fulfil all the conditions necessary to execute the boy. In order to do so, the child had to be a particular age (between 13 and one day and 13 and 3 months), he must have consumed a very specific amount of meat and wine, not more or less. His parents had to “speak with one voice,” which is very unlikely, given the differences between male and female voices. The regulations were so specific, that the sages of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) declare that there was never a case of a בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה , a wayward and rebellious child. The only reason that the law is recorded in the Torah is to teach fathers and mothers the art of good parenting. The case of the “Ben soh’rayr oo’moh’reh” is not only meant to teach good parenting, but may also serve as an important source of information to all who seek to achieve a good life. Of particular relevance to our generation, are the issues of gluttony and intoxication which have become common in our times. The relative tranquility and peace of contemporary times and the abundance of wealth and resources may be unparalleled in human history, certainly for the Jews, but these blessings have become a breeding grounds for excess. According to Maimonides, Book of Knowledge 1:7, the laws and rituals of Judaism are intended to promote a “golden mean.” Judaism does not encourage excess, nor does it endorse asceticism. It strives to strike a balance in life that leads to true fulfillment and happiness. That the excesses of contemporary society are so great, can be easily confirmed by the ubiquitous self-help groups that have sprung up for an untold variety of behaviors, the most popular being addiction to alcohol and drugs, gambling, sex and overeating. In reality, the issues are limitless. Rashi citing the Sifre and the Talmud Sanhedrin 71a, describes the procedures of the “Ben soh’rayr oo’moh’reh.”  The parents discipline the child and warn him before a court of three judges. If the child transgresses despite the warning, he is flogged. If he continues his prodigal ways, the wayward and rebellious son is still not liable to punishment until he steals and eats a specific amount of meat and drinks a specific amount of wine. Rashi explains that the wayward and rebellious child is not punished because of his actions, but rather because of what he might do later if he is not controlled. The Torah, which attempts to presume the child’s way of thinking, assumes that if the defiant behavior continues, the child will exhaust his father’s resources. Seeking to maintain his habits, the boy will then stand at the crossroads and rob people. The Torah therefore says: “Let him die now as an innocent person and not die as a guilty person.” What was is it that Pogo said? “We have met the enemy and he is us.” There is so much of the wayward and rebellious child in each of us that is frequently reflected in contemporary society. So many communities and individuals find themselves constantly fighting and wrestling with the limits of pleasure. Contemporary society is faced with unlimited pleasure, unlimited sport, unlimited gaming, unlimited internet, which on the surface does not seem very harmful, but in the long run, is quite perilous. America is faced with a very serious problem of obesity, especially among young children whose rate of obesity has tripled since the 1970s. Others struggle with bulimia, anorexia and binge eating disorders. Jewish mothers are often subject to the accusation of being overly protective and always warning their children, “Ess ess mein kind,” “Eat, eat my child, they are starving in Africa!” The Code of Jewish Law Orach Chaim 180:2, suggests the opposite, warning that one must not be a glutton when eating. In fact, it is proper to leave something over on a plate, as a reminder that there are others who are without food, starving while we are stuffing our faces. The disparity between the rich and the poor today is so great that what is thrown out from a single Shabbat meal could feed a family of five who are hungry, who live, not in India, but in New York City, quite possibly, on the next block! With Jerusalem in ruins, the psalmist (Psalm 137) asks: “How can we sing?” With so many starving, how can we possibly eat and drink, laugh and smile? If we are truly our brothers’ keepers, we must learn well the lesson of the בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה , the wayward and gluttonous child. We must learn to control our appetites and master our temptations. We must not look away from those who are following us with their ravenous eyes and gazing with hunger at our food. We must strive to achieve far more equitable treatment for the poor, for the infirm, the disabled, and for all those who languish for a morsel of bread. The wayward and rebellious son may be a philosophical construct that may have never occurred. But, every one of us must learn from this important Torah portion that every bite that we eat, every morsel of food that passes through our lips, has moral consequences on our lives, our children, our homes, our environments and impacts on the entire world and, ultimately, on all of humankind. May you be blessed.

Shoftim 5777-2017

“Judaism and the Principle of the Sanctity of Human Life”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

 

This week’s parasha, parashat Shoftim, focuses, for the most part, on the principle of the sanctity of human life.

Parashat Shoftim’s themes include many laws that relate to this important principle: the establishment of courts of law and security forces to enforce the judgments, the punishments for idol worshipers and the rebellious elder, anointing a king in Israel who will lead the people in battle, the fate of false prophets, establishing cities of refuge for those who kill by accident, the punishment for false witnesses and conspiring witnesses, preparing the Jewish army for battle and confronting the enemies of Israel when settling the land of Israel. The parasha concludes with the ritual prescribed for an unsolved murder.

I have long and often argued that the bottom line of all of Judaism is the sanctity of human life, not only Jewish life–but all human life. Even a superficial review of parashat Shoftim underscores how strenuously the Torah emphasizes the need to preserve human life and to protect its sanctity.

Among the many revolutionary laws included in the parasha is the prohibition (Deuteronomy 20:19) to cut down fruit-bearing trees, even in times of war, even in instances where Jewish soldiers lives are at stake. In parashat Shoftim, the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:10) also teaches specifically that before an enemy may be attacked, the Jewish leaders must sue for peace with the enemy, providing an opportunity for former enemies to live in peace if they agree to live under Jewish authority. Even when the enemy refuses to accept peace, and war is declared, according to Maimonides, in Laws of Kings and Wars 6:7, the Jewish army may besiege the enemy on only three sides, allowing the enemy at least one avenue of escape.

Despite the frequent themes of war and battle found in the Hebrew scriptures, even a cursory examination of Jewish sources shows that Judaism has a significant strain of pacifism, even though exercising restraint during ancient times, might, at times, prove to be extremely costly.

In parashat Kee Tisah (Exodus 30:13), we learn that all potential Jewish soldiers were required to donate a half shekel, called in Exodus 30:12, “Koh’fer nefesh”, כֹּפֶר נֶפֶשׁ , to serve as a redemption for the soldier’s soul. The only time that a similar expression is used elsewhere in the Bible is in parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:30) which concerns the owner of a violent (murderous) ox, who had previously killed, and whose owner did not guard the dangerous animal properly. The Torah declares the owner responsible for the victim’s death, and pronounces him subject to the death penalty. But, since it was not through the owner’s actual power that the human being was killed, the owner may pay, “Koh’fer…pidyon nafsho”, כֹּפֶר…פִּדְיֹן נַפְשׁוֹ , a redemption for his soul.

This unusual parallel, teaches that every Jewish soldier is, theoretically, a potential killer. Thus, even before a Jewish solider goes out to war, he must pay the half shekel, a ransom for his soul, lest he take another human being’s life, violating the principle of the sanctity of human life.

Rabbi Yaakov Filber in a brilliant essay concerning the ethics of war, points out that humanism is a philosophy with many positive values. Citing the Midrash, however, Rabbi Filber notes, humanists must be careful, for those who have compassion for the cruel, will ultimately be cruel to those for whom they should have compassion (based on I Samuel 15:9 and Midrash). While the Torah endorses the right of self defense, a Jew is obligated to make certain that innocent blood is not shed.

Maimonides, in the Laws of Murderers, 4:9, states, that even though there are crimes and sins that are worse than murder, it [murder] corrupts the human community, and that all murderers are to be regarded as absolute evil people. No matter what mitzvot murderers may do during their remaining years, their good actions will never outweigh the sin of murder.

Rabbi Filber points out that our patriarch Abraham was the first humanist. Abraham respected human life so passionately, that he offered prayers to save even the Sodomites, the worst people on the face of earth. But when he heard that his nephew, Lot, had been taken captive, he ran after the army that had kidnapped Lot, and beat them severely.

Despite the virtuous deed of saving his nephew’s life, Abraham was afraid that he might have harmed innocent people in battle. To calm Abraham, it was necessary for G-d to reassure him by saying, Genesis 15:1, אַל תִּירָא אַבְרָם , do not be afraid. Jacob too was afraid, when he confronted his long-estranged brother Esau. As the Torah relates, Genesis 32:8, וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד, וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ , Jacob was afraid that he would be killed, וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ , he was fearful that he would have to kill his brother.

Rabbi Filber cites a fascinating statement from the Tanna Dabai Eliyahu Rabba, 28 which proclaims that the Torah was given for the purpose of sanctifying G-d’s great name. Therefore, it teaches that a person must never put himself in a position where he might steal, whether from a Jew or a non-Jew, because one who steals from a non-Jew, will ultimately steal from a Jew. Similarly, one who spills the blood of a non-Jew, will eventually spill the blood of a Jew as well.

To prove the point, the Midrash cites the case of the two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, (Genesis 34:25) who killed the non-Jewish residents of Shechem. It is they who are identified by the commentaries as the ones who conspired against Joseph to kill him. As recorded in Genesis 37:20, the brothers say: וְעַתָּה לְכוּ וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ וְנַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בְּאַחַד הַבֹּרוֹת, וְאָמַרְנוּ, חַיָּה רָעָה אֲכָלָתְהוּ, וְנִרְאֶה מַה יִּהְיוּ חֲלֹמֹתָיו , “And now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits, and we will say that ‘an evil beast ate him,’ and we will see what will be with his dreams.”

Even in our own times, concludes Rabbi Filber, where we stand in defense of our lives against those who wish to eradicate and destroy us, even though we are fighting a pure and just battle, we must spare no effort to ensure that no innocent blood is shed.

May you be blessed.

 

 

Re’eh 5777-2017

“Coming to Jerusalem–-The Festival Pilgrimages”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Re’eh, we learn of the commandment for the Children of Israel to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the three pilgrim festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

The Torah in Deuteronomy 16:16 states, שָׁלוֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָל זְכוּרְךָ אֶת פְּנֵי השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר, בְּחַג הַמַּצּוֹת, וּבְחַג הַשָּׁבֻעוֹת, וּבְחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת, וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה אֶת פְּנֵי השׁם רֵיקָם , Three times a year all your males should appear before the L-rd your G-d, in a place that He will choose: on the Festival of Matzot, the Festival of Shavuot, and the Festival of Sukkot; and he [the Jewish visitor] shall not appear before the L-rd empty-handed.

The Torah, in Deuteronomy 16:17, further states that the Jewish visitor should bring, אִישׁ כְּמַתְּנַת יָדוֹ, כְּבִרְכַּת השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ , Everyone, according to what he can give, according to the blessing that the L-rd your G-d gives you.

Among the three gifts the Jewish visitors were required to bring were, שַׁלְמֵי חֲגִיגָה –“Shalmei Chagiga,” the festival peace offerings which were brought in honor of celebrating the particular holiday. The עוֹלַת רְאִיָּה“Olat R’iyah,” the elevation offering, intended to mark the pilgrim’s visit to the Temple. The third offering was שַׁלְמֵי שִׂמְחָה“Shalmei Simcha,” a peace offering that was eaten to enhance the joy and happiness of the occasion. The value of all these sacrifices is to be commensurate with the prosperity which G-d has blessed the donor.

In order to truly enhance the joy of the holiday, it was not sufficient for the head of the family to only gather with family and friends to participate in the festival offerings. It was most important to invite the poor, the destitute, and especially the Levite to join the family in the festivities. After all, a Jew can only be truly joyous when bringing gladness to the hearts of others as well.

Since the festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot are aligned with the agricultural festivals, it is important to make a distinction that each of these festivals is much more than a celebration of nature. In Exodus 23:14, the Torah states, “You shall celebrate unto Me,” meaning G-d, in a way that will ensure that Jewish celebrations are not pagan celebrations or celebrations of nature or season.

The Abarbanel records five reasons for visiting the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the three major holidays:

1. G-d gave the Jewish people three extraordinary gifts: Freedom, Torah, and the land of Israel. On Passover, Jews thank G-d for their freedom, on Shavuot they thank G-d for the gift of the Torah, and on Sukkot they thank G-d for the gift of the land of Israel.

2. By visiting Jerusalem on the festivals, Jews confirm the fundamental belief that with G-d’s help, nothing is impossible.

3. By gathering as a community in Jerusalem, the people will be spiritually inspired by the pageantry and public presentations of the rituals performed by the priests and the Levites.

4. Sharing the joyous festivals together with the rest of the People of Israel will affect the way they live together in peace and harmony throughout the rest of the year.

5. The people who live far away from Jerusalem will have the unique opportunity to be in Jerusalem, to meet the great sages and the members of the high courts in order to discuss religious issues with them. They will also have a chance to visit the great academies of learning in Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin, enhancing their education and knowledge.

Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinowitz in his Daat Sofrim , notes that the verse in Deuteronomy 16:16, speaks about שָׁלוֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה , that Jews should appear in Jerusalem three times, whereas in Exodus 23:14, the verse uses the language שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים , three feet, three occasions, or three steps. While they both mean three times, the fact that the Torah in Deuteronomy uses the word פַּעַם“pa’am” and in Exodus רֶגֶל“regel”, underscores the difficulty of leaving one’s home and making the challenging trek to Jerusalem.

Through the exegesis, the rabbis learn that only healthy people who are able to go on their own two feet are required to fulfill this mitzvah. Those who need to be driven on a cart or require a stick to walk are exempt.

Rabbi Abraham Chill in his book, “The Mitzvot,” concludes that Jews today are also expected to celebrate festivals with great fervor and enthusiasm, with meat and drink, and, just as in Temple days, be joined by the less fortunate.

The absence of sacrifices today can be fulfilled vicariously by giving donations to charities that support Torah learning and help the destitute, which are recognized as being equal to the sacrifices that were given in ancient times.

May you be blessed.