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Bamidbar-Shavuot 5778-2018

“Counting a Very Special People”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald


With this week’s parasha, parashat Bamidbar, Jews throughout the world begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, known as Bamidbar/Numbers, also known in rabbinic literature as Sefer Pekudim, סֵפֶר פְּקוּדִים , the Book of Counting.

In the opening chapter of the book of Numbers, G-d speaks to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month of the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt. In Numbers 1:2, G-d commands Moses, שְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם, Take a census of the entire community of the Children of Israel according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by number of the names, every male according to the headcount. The Torah then clarifies that Moses is to count all the men who are twenty years and older who are fitting to go out as soldiers in the army of Israel.

Clearly, the purpose of this census is to determine how many men are fit to serve in the army of Israel as they march through the wilderness to the land of Canaan, to conquer the future land of Israel that they are to inherit.

The Torah does not tell much about the personal information that was gathered during this census. What appears to be most important in this survey is to determine the yichus, יִחוּס , the family pedigree of the Children of Israel, according to their families, their fathers’ households, and their tribal identities.

There is no record that the people who were counted were asked to identify their skills or trades, reveal their personal finances, the extent of their education, their physical well-being, their athletic prowess, or even their aptitude for soldiering. What seems most important in this census is to affirm that each solider was part of a noble and secure Jewish family and tribal unit, to prove their appropriateness to serve in T’zva Hashem, צְבָא השׁם, the army of the L-rd.

The Torah, in Genesis 1:28, states that all human beings are unquestionably created in the image of G-d. However, the Jewish people are said to have a special relationship with G-d. Some refer to that special connection as the “Pintele Yid,” a Jewish spark in the soul of every Jew that can never be snuffed out, no matter how far a Jew may stray.

When G-d instructed Moses to count the Jewish people, the great Moses and Aaron were counted alongside the wicked Datan and Abiram, together with the shoemaker from the tribe of Dan and the water-drawer from the tribe of Issachar. All were equal in G-d’s eyes, no matter whether a cobbler, a baker, a butcher, or a Torah scholar, a prince, a firstborn, or a tribal leader of Israel.

Furthermore, all this occurred b’midbar Sinai, בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, in the wilderness of Sinai, where there were no distractions–no radios, no tvs, no iPhones. In fact, Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus (Tiferet Shimshon), suggests that the setting was much like a yichud room, the special chamber where the bride and groom retreat immediately following the marriage ceremony for private time. In this setting, in the barren wilderness, G-d and every single Jew were able to focus on the special relationship of love between the Al-mighty and His people. It is this same feeling that Jews everywhere seek to evoke on Shavuot night by staying up all night, learning Torah, reviewing the memorable photographs and the nostalgic videos of the marriage ceremony between the Al-mighty and His people.

It is this special bond between G-d and His people that is reaffirmed every single year on the festival of Shavuot. Without distinction to class, education, sophistication, and even the extent of one’s religiosity, every Jew is embraced, because the soul of every Jew contains the “Pintele Yid,” the spark of the Divine.

We live in a blessed era in which more Torah is studied than perhaps at any other time in Jewish history. Torah schools, especially in the State of Israel, are flourishing today where the chirping voices of little boys and girls studying Torah has been made possible by the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Despite the fact that most of the early founders of the State of Israel were non-religious Jews who were not directly connected to Torah, their souls still contained that “Pintele Yid,” that spark of G-d that made possible the greatest renaissance of Jewish life in the past 2,000 years. Once again, it was demonstrated that every single soul is precious, every soul critical.

Like the ancient Jews in the wilderness–the 603,550 males over the age of twenty who were counted on the first day of the second month of the second year after the exodus from Egypt, the founders of the State of Israel were not singled out because they were scholars or leaders, religious or non-religious, but because they were members of the House of Israel, and betrothed partners with G-d.

Congratulations to all those who survive today as identified Jews, who endured the challenges of the past 3,300 years and are still counted among the people of Israel. May we continue to stand tall and proud that we are here to be counted among the blessed people of Israel, to celebrate this wonderful festival of Shavuot, the anniversary of our betrothal to the Al-mighty G-d.


May you be blessed.


Please note: The wonderful festival of Shavuot commemorating the giving of the Torah at Sinai 3330 years ago is observed this year on Saturday evening, May 19th, and continues through Monday night, May 21st, 2018.

Chag Shavuot Samayach. Have a happy and festive Shavuot.



Naso 5778-2018

“Counting the ‘Special’ People”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In last week’s parasha, parashat Bamidbar, after conducting a census of all the tribes of Israel and assigning each tribe a camping location around the Tabernacle, G-d tells Moses, Numbers 3:15, to count the sons of Levi. The conclusion of that count is found in this week’s parasha, parashat Naso.

In Numbers 4:48 we are informed that the total number of Levites from the family of Merari, from age 30 years old until 50 years, was 8,580. Like all the other Levites, the Merarites were counted, Numbers 4:46, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to their families and according to their fathers’ household.

The Midrash, Bamidbar Rabbah 8, points to an interesting anomaly in the text. The Levites are always counted לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to the families and according to the households. The tribes of Israel are also counted לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to their families and according to their households.

The emphasis on the families and households underscores Judaism’s supreme regard for family–the ultimate source of strength and structure of the People of Israel. Therefore, any person claiming to be a כֹּהֵןkohen, priest had to provide proof that he was from the particular household of Aaron. Levites, as well, must prove that they descend from the family of Levi. In fact, each member of the twelve tribes of Israel had to prove that they were members of that particular tribe according to their families and their fathers’ household. An allusion to this is found in the well-known Hallel prayer, Psalms 135:19-20, בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם; בֵּית אַהֲרֹן, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם. בֵּית הַלֵּוִי, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם, House of Israel bless the L-rd, House of Aaron bless the L-rd, House of Levi bless the L-rd.

However, no allusion to “house” is found in the psalm’s conclusion: יִרְאֵי השׁם, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם, Those who fear the Lord, bless the L-rd.

The Midrash notes that in Psalm 146:8-9, we read, השׁם, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים, השׁם, שֹׁמֵר אֶת גֵּרִים, G-d loves the righteous and G-d protects the righteous converts. There is no mention of “house” in this verse, because G-d’s love for the righteous and the converts is not due to an inherited portion of land or because they belong to a particular family. Any person who wants to be righteous, says the Midrash, even a gentile, can become righteous without being a member of a particular tribe, sect or family. Those who “fear the L-rd” are not G-d-fearing because they belong to a particular family or tribe, but because they stand up and proclaim their love of G-d. That is why the Al-mighty declares in Psalms 146:8-9, השׁם, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים, השׁם, שֹׁמֵר אֶת גֵּרִים, G-d loves the righteous and G-d protects the righteous converts.

Only those who descend from the House of Levi can be Levites, only those who descend from the House of Aaron can be priests and only those who descend from the tribe of Benjamin can be Benjaminites. But, all those who faithfully submit themselves to G-d can be G-d-fearing, and all those who proclaim that the L-rd is G-d, can be regarded as righteous converts.

The Midrash tells of a king who entrusted his flock of sheep and goats to a loyal shepherd, who would take the king’s flocks out to pasture each day and bring them in at night to rest. One day, a deer joined the flock and started to accompany the herd wherever it went. The shepherd asked the king what to do with this strange animal. The king quickly took a liking to the deer because it seemed to care so deeply for the king’s sheep and goats, and rather than remain in the wilderness with the other deer, helped the shepherd tend to the needs of the king’s flock.

So says G-d, the righteous converts could have remained in great comfort with their families. Instead, they chose to embrace G-d’s flock. I will love them more and care for them more.

And, so it is with the righteous people, who could have chosen to follow the masses, living comfortably along with the other Israelites. Instead, they chose to live heightened spiritual lives, and influence others with their righteous behavior. The Al-mighty therefore embraces them as His own, and cares for them as the apple of His eye.

May you be blessed.

Behar-Bechukotai 5778-2018

Torah From Sinai

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The opening verses of parashat Behar, the first of this week’s combined parashiyot, Behar and Bechukotai, speak of the laws of Shemitah, שְׁמִטָּה , the commandment to let the land lie fallow and unworked during the sabbatical year that occurs every seven years, and during the Yovel,  יוֹבֵל, the Jubilee year, every 50 years.

The opening verse of parashat Behar, Leviticus 25:1, reads: וַיְדַבֵּר השׁם אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר, and the L-rd spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai saying. G-d tells Moses to speak to the Children of Israel and tell them that when they enter the land of Israel that He will give them, the land must observe a Sabbath rest for the L-rd. The people shall sow their fields for six years, prune their vineyards and gather in their crops. But the seventh year, shall be a complete rest for the land, “A Sabbath for the L-rd. Your field you shall not sow, and your vineyard you shall not prune.”

By leaving the fields untended and unguarded for a year, the Jews boldly demonstrate that the world belongs to G-d and that they are merely its caretakers (Behar-Bechukotai 5764-2004).

In one of his most famous comments, Rashi, inquires, “Why does the Torah mention that the mitzvah of Shemitah was given at Mount Sinai? Weren’t all the mitzvot given at Mount Sinai?” In response, Rashi answers, “Just as the mitzvah of Shemitah was given with all its details at Sinai, so were all the mitzvot given with all of their details at Mount Sinai.”

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, in his commentary on Chumash, responds that the mitzvah of Shemitah, of requiring the land to lie fallow, is proof that the Torah was actually given in full at Sinai, and therefore singularly poised to be held up as a mitzvah that the Children of Israel received in all its details at Sinai.

Rabbi Schwab argues that had the Torah been written by ancient scholars, as some suggest, the mitzvah of Shemitah would have been omitted. Mortals would have found this law, which requires the entire country’s crops to lie fallow for a full year, to be untenable. Even though allowing the land to rest provides many benefits, leaving all the fields barren during the same year leaves the people without sufficient food. More logical, would have been to allow different parcels of land to rest on different years, not all in the same year. Besides, says Rabbi Schwab, the idea to leave all the lands fallow for two consecutive years, as the Torah requires during the seventh year of Shemitah and the eighth year of Yovel, in the Jubilee year, could not be the product of the human mind.

Rabbi Schwab concludes that the only one who could possibly know that there would be abundant food in the sixth year to last through the seventh and eight years, is G-d Himself, and therefore only He could have conceived of a mitzvah such as this.

Therefore, says Rabbi Schwab, it is incontrovertible that this mitzvah was proclaimed by the L-rd Al-mighty Himself. It is the mitzvah of Shemitah that confirms that all the mitzvot and all the teachings of the Torah were given at Sinai along with all of their details.

I have often argued that if one wants to find G-d, the best place to look for Him is in the “book,” the Torah, which is reputed to have been given by G-d Himself at Sinai.

The Torah, which is the original source of so many revolutionary ideas that are fundamental to human life, could not possibly have been conceived by humans. Collectively, these revolutionary ideas form a compelling argument for the divinity of the Bible.

The idea of the Sabbath, a day of rest for humankind, the bold declaration, “Thou shalt not murder,” pronouncing the sanctity of life, the concept of not causing undue pain to animals, the revolutionary idea of guarding the environment, were all introduced over 3300 years ago in the Torah.

Most of these exalted ideas were either never considered or summarily rejected by all other ancient civilizations. Not muzzling an animal while it works in the field, returning a lost object of a friend or even an enemy, not eating the limb of an animal while it is still alive, the prohibition against human sacrifice, the pursuit of justice and righteousness in law, not favoring one litigant over the other, the concept of majority rules, of not speaking evil against a neighbor, of getting rid of one’s bodily waste in a sanitary manner–-all of these exalted ideas were not even a glimmer in the minds of other ancient civilizations.

The fact that the Torah (Deuteronomy 12:21), states that, “You shall slaughter the animals the way I have commanded you,” and yet there are no instructions found in the Torah, not only indicates that written words of the Torah are of Divine origin, but that an oral code of Divine origin, was given along with the written Torah at the same time. In fact, the written code, in many instances, can hardly be understood without the elucidation of the oral code.

3300 years ago, the Torah introduced to humanity the idea of monotheism, which not only mandates the worship of a single G-d, but also posits the indispensability of a single ethical system, with absolute values and absolute morality that cannot be changed or modified.

It was in this light that Judaism introduced the concept of the sanctity of life, the sanctity of property and the sanctity of marriage.

Other civilizations argued that resting on the Sabbath day was a waste of precious time, and that allowing the land to lie fallow was only for fools who wish to wreck the economy of their lands. Most ancient civilizations maintained a belief in a legal system that allowed for superior rights for nobles and inferior rights for slaves and serfs. Judaism, 3300 years ago, declared, Deuteronomy 10:19, וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר, You shall love the stranger. This commandment, which is repeated 36 times, more than any other commandment in the Torah, was a radical departure from all other contemporary ancient civilizations.

While it is impossible for a mortal to truly comprehend the Immortal, or for the finite to truly comprehend the Infinite, the astounding number of revolutionary ideas that are contained in the Torah, certainly make a compelling case for G-d’s existence, and serve as a powerful refutation of those who doubt G-d’s existence and the divinity of His Torah.

May you be blessed.

Emor 5778-2018

“The Great Moses Seems Not to Know the Answer”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Emor, we encounter the episode of the מְגַדֵּף, megadef, the blasphemer, which is the first of four cases where Moses seems to be unable to determine what the proper disposition of the religious or legal issues should be.

The Torah, in Leviticus 24:10, tells us that the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man went out among the Children of Israel, and fought in the camp with the son of an Israelite man. The next verse states, וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת הַשֵּׁם, וַיְקַלֵּל, וַיָּבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה, the son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Holy Name of G-d and blasphemed, so they brought him to Moses. After identifying that the man’s mother’s name was Shlomit the daughter of Divri of the tribe of Dan, we are told that they placed the blasphemer in detention to clarify through G-d what should be done with him.

G-d instructs Moses that the blasphemer is to be removed to outside the camp, and all those who heard him blaspheme shall place their hands on his head and the entire assembly shall stone him to death.

In Leviticus 24:23, the Torah confirms that the Children of Israel took the blasphemer outside the camp, they stoned him to death and the Children of Israel did as the L-rd had commanded Moses.

The second case where the proper response eluded Moses is found in parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha, Numbers 9:6. There we are told that there were a group of men who were in the state of ritual impurity and could not bring the Passover sacrifice in its proper time in the month of Nissan. In Numbers 9:7, they say to Moses, אֲנַחְנוּ טְמֵאִים לְנֶפֶשׁ אָדָם, לָמָּה נִגָּרַע לְבִלְתִּי הַקְרִיב אֶת קָרְבַּן השׁם בְּמֹעֲדוֹ בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, “We are contaminated through a human corpse. Why should we be diminished by not offering the L-rd’s offering in its appointed time among the Children of Israel?”

Moses then tells the people to stand by while he hears what the L-rd will command. In Numbers 9:10-11, G-d informs Moses that there will be a make-up date for those people who are unable to bring their Pascal sacrifices at the proper time, and that thirty days later, in the month of Iyar, they will be permitted to bring the Passover offering together with matzah and marror.

The third case is found in parashat Shelach, Numbers 15:32. There the Torah states that while the people were in the wilderness, וַיִּמְצְאוּ אִישׁ מְקֹשֵׁשׁ עֵצִים בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, the people found a man violating the Sabbath by gathering wood on the sacred day. They brought him to Moses, Aaron and the entire assembly. The Torah informs us that he was placed in custody, for it had not been clarified what should be done to him.

Eventually, G-d says to Moses that the man shall be put to death and that the entire assembly of Israel shall pelt him with stones outside the camp. The Torah reports that the perpetrator was stoned by the people and put to death.

The fourth and final instance in which Moses was unable to promptly respond, is found in parashat Pinchas regarding the daughters of Zelophehad. The five daughters of Zelophehad stood before Moses, Elazar, and the princes of Israel and the entire congregation and claimed that their father had died in the wilderness for his own sin and not as part of the Korach rebellion. They maintained that their family should not lose the land of their paternal estate in Israel, simply because their father had no sons.

The Torah, in Numbers 27:5, reports, וַיַּקְרֵב מֹשֶׁה אֶת מִשְׁפָּטָן לִפְנֵי השׁם, and Moses brought their claim before the L-rd.

G-d responds that the daughters of Zelophehad are indeed correct, and that they shall surely be given possession of their father’s inheritance in Israel among the other tribes.

The commentators point out that in the case of the people who are impure and couldn’t bring the Pascal sacrifice, as well as in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, the reply from G-d was immediate, whereas in the case of the blasphemer and the person gathering wood on Shabbat, there is a delay. The blasphemer and the one who gathered wood were placed in detention until the final verdict was clarified.

The reason for this, say the rabbis, is that when the issue is a monetary matter, the answer is given immediately to preclude any further financial losses. However, in the case of capital punishment, the justice system seeks to postpone the determination as much as possible, since a human’s life is at stake and Judaism places great value on human life.

There are those who say that Moses actually recused himself in these four instances because he felt that he had a direct relationship with each of these cases. Moses is always somehow involved, either because he is directly associated with the conflict itself or because of his status as the primary decisor of law. Of course, Moses knew the proper disposition in each of these cases, but he felt that it would appear to be far more equitable if G-d adjudicated the issues.

In the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, Rashi  notes that Moses also knew what the proper disposition should be–that the daughters should inherit their family’s land, but he did not know if they should inherit the additional portion of the firstborn as well. Furthermore, the daughters of Zelophehad showed such great devotion and love for the land of Israel that the Al-mighty felt that these newly clarified statutes of inheritance should, as a reward, be recorded for posterity in the names of these righteous women (Talmud, Sanhedrin 8a).

There are even those who maintain (Tosafot Baba Batra 119b, cf Afilu) that the gatherer of wood was really a truly righteous person who purposely decided to sacrifice his life and violate the Shabbat in order to teach the People of Israel the great sanctity of the holy day. Many of the people who left Egypt maintained that they no longer had to keep the Sabbath since they were going to die in the wilderness and never enter the land of Israel. Perhaps, the reason that the exact form of capital punishment eluded Moses, was so that this law would be recorded for posterity in the name of the gatherer of wood, who would be specially acknowledged for his great sacrifice.

Once again, we see that it is frequently through slight textual nuances and seemingly subordinate details in the Torah that many important principles and values are taught.

While the four cases may seem similar, the significant differences between each of them teach extraordinary values with which the Torah has endowed humankind.

May you be blessed.

The festival of Lag Ba’Omer (literally the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer) will start on Wednesday Night, May 2nd, and continue all day Thursday, May 3rd, 2018. The Omer period is the 49 days from the second night of Passover through the day before the festival of Shavuot. The 33rd day is considered a special day because, on that day, the students of Rabbi Akiva ceased dying and because it marks the anniversary of the passing of great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Simon bar Yochai.

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5778-2018

The Extreme Sanctity of the Holy of Holies–Revisited

In parashat Acharei Mot, the first of this week’s double parashiyot, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, we learn of the prohibition to enter the Holy of Holies for any non-sacred purpose.

The Torah, in Leviticus 16:2, records that G-d tells Moses to speak to Aaron his brother, and warn him,  וְאַל יָבֹא בְכָל עֵת אֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִבֵּית לַפָּרֹכֶת אֶל פְּנֵי הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאָרֹן וְלֹא יָמוּת, כִּי בֶּעָנָן אֵרָאֶה עַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת, that he [Aaron and all future High Priests] shall not come at all times into the sanctuary within the curtain in front of the cover that is upon the Ark, so that he should not die; for in a cloud will I [G-d] appear upon the Ark Cover. 

The only time that anyone is allowed into the Holy of Holies (except for repairs) is on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But even on Yom Kippur, הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל, haKohen haGadol, the High Priest, may not enter the Holy of Holies at all times, but only when he is actively performing the sacred Yom Kippur service.

During only four points of the sacred Yom Kippur service may the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies: 1) To offer his personal sacrifices; 2) To bring the blood of his sacrifice into the Holy of Holies; 3) To bring the pan with the incense; 4) To remove the incense pan from the Golden Altar.

A priest, even a High Priest, who entered the Holy of Holies on any day other than Yom Kippur was subject to the penalty of כָּרֵת, karet, excision by the hands of heaven (Tzav 5767-2007).

The Sefer Hachinuch declares that the prohibition to enter the Holy of Holies was meant to ensure the sanctity of all holy places in both the Tabernacle and the Temple. Not only were ordinary people and ordinary priests prohibited from walking around the Temple plaza without a purpose, but even the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies only at specified times on Yom Kippur.

The Kli Yakar claims that the High Priest was not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies except on the Day of Atonement, because during the entire year the people of Israel were under the influence of the יֵצֶר הָרַע, Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination. Consequently, the High Priest was prohibited to enter since he was a representative of a sinning nation. On the Day of Atonement, however, when Israel has the ability to overcome its evil inclination and even rise to the level of angels, the High Priest, as a representative of the people who have repented and come back to G-d, is permitted to enter the Holy of Holies.

The verse (Leviticus 16:2) specifies that Aaron is only allowed into the Holy of Holies, כִּי בֶּעָנָן, kee beh’anan, in a cloud. The literal meaning of this is that the High Priest may only enter the sanctuary because G-d’s glory has manifested itself there in the “Cloud of Glory” that hovers over the Ark.

The rabbinic sages explained that this also indicates that after the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur he was required to ignite incense to create a cloud, as G-d’s glory appeared on the Ark Cover.

Interestingly, the timing of the lighting of the incense became a subject of a major dispute between the traditional sages (Pharisees) and the Sadducees.

As explained in the Talmud, tractate Yoma 19b, the elder priests would require the High Priest to swear before entering the sanctuary on Yom Kippur that he would not change the order of the traditional High Holiday ritual. The Mishna (Yoma 1:5) describes that the High Priest would often cry because he was suspected of being unfaithful to the traditional beliefs, that he might follow the Sadducee tradition and change the order of the Yom Kippur rituals. The elder priests would also cry because they might have unnecessarily suspected an innocent priest.

The Sadducees would explain the verse, כִּי בֶּעָנָן אֵרָאֶה עַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת , that I, G-d, will appear upon the Ark Cover in a cloud at the קְטֹרֶת, ketoret, meaning that the incense offering must be lit outside of the actual sanctuary and placed in the Holy of Holies on coals only after the priest enters.

The traditionalists, the Pharisees, would insist that since no one but the High Priest himself is allowed to enter the holy area when the ritual of the Yom Kippur service is performed, the incense needs to be lit in the first chamber of the Tabernacle/Temple before the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies. Therefore, they made the High Priest swear that he would not change the order of the ritual.

It is important to note that even to this day the area of the Temple Mount is regarded as exceptionally sanctified. Therefore, according to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, it is forbidden to stand upon the Temple Mount even though the Temple has been destroyed and a mosque stands upon the mountaintop. Since the rabbis have declared that all Jews today are regarded as טְמֵאֵי מֵתִים, t’may may’tim, defiled by contact with the dead, and hence are both physically and spiritually unclean, they may not stand on the Temple Mount.

There are, however, other authorities who maintain that the prohibition does not apply to the entire Temple Mount, but only to certain sacred areas. While others prohibit visiting entirely, these authorities do allow visitors to visit limited parts of the Temple Mount.

Unfortunately, the Temple Mount today is a highly-volatile area, and under the authority of the Muslims. Consequently, Jews are not allowed to pray or even move their lips while they are on the Temple Mount, even in those areas where they are permitted to visit.

May the day soon arrive that the Temple Mount will be returned entirely to Jewish authority and the Temple rebuilt. We hope and pray that not only Jews, but all inhabitants of the world, will flock to Jerusalem to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah who prophesied (Isaiah 27:13), “And all who were lost in the land of Assyria and all the dispersed in the land of Egypt will bow down to the L-rd in the Holy Mountain at Jerusalem.”

May you be blessed.

This Saturday evening, April 28th through Sunday evening, April 29th is Pesach Shay’nee, the second Passover. Click here to find out why a second Passover was ordained, who celebrated it in ancient times, and how it is commemorated today.

Tazria-Metzora 5778-2018

“Looking at Tzara’at from a Different Perspective”


by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s double parshiyot, Tazria and Metzora, deal almost exclusively with the issue of the tzara’at, צָרַעַת , disease, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the dermatological ailment known as leprosy.

According to rabbinic interpretation, the tzara’at disease is a social/spiritual disease that results from lashon hara, לְשׁוֹן הָרָע –speaking evil. The infected tzara’at area can appear on a person’s clothes, a person’s house and, of course, on a person’s body. (See Tazria 5765-2005)

The rabbis point to two instances in the Torah where people are stricken with tzara’at. Best known, is the instance (Numbers 12:1-15) where Miriam and Aaron speak against their brother, Moses. Miriam is stricken with tzara’at and is required to stay outside the camp for seven days. In the second instance, Exodus 4:6-7, one of the three omens that G-d gives Moses to show to Pharaoh and the Jews, is tzara’at. The rabbis maintain that the reason that Moses is stricken with tzara’at, is because he had spoken against the Jewish people, insisting that they will not listen to him.

The basic symptom of the tzara’at disease is the appearance of a small white patch on the skin. The patch appears in one of three forms: se’et, שְׂאֵת , a rising or swelling; sapachat, סַפַּחַת, a scab; baheret, בַהֶרֶת, a bright spot.

The Chatam Sofer says that the se’et, the rising, results when one person puts another down in order to raise himself up. The sapachat, the scab, results from a person who wants to increase his possessions and says that the other is not good at his business or skill. Baheret, the bright spot, results when one wants to show how smart he is, at the expense of the next person.

There are many insights and meanings that are conveyed through the tzara’at disease about the evils of lashon hara, and the harm that results from a loose tongue and evil speech.

Two very sensitive insights about tzara’at may be found in a newly published volume by Sivan Rahav-Meir, entitled #Parasha: Weekly Insights from a Leading Israeli Journalist.

Rahav-Meir comments on the verse in Leviticus 13:11, צָרַעַת נוֹשֶׁנֶת הִוא בְּעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ , it is an old leprosy on the skin of his flesh. Rahav-Meir criticizes what she calls the “new style” of communication that has seized the world, requiring all to show their “true selves,” the good and the bad. Politics, reality shows and media expect everyone to be “authentic” and “to let it all hang out.” There is little or no room for discretion, no self-control, only impulsiveness and displays of raw emotions.

Rahav-Meir emphasizes that the Torah has an entirely different approach to life: “The Torah demands that we strike a fine balance between truth and peace…” and that sometimes, “peace takes priority over truth.”

Of course, Judaism doesn’t defend lying or advocate for it. But there are certain times when it is preferable to refrain from saying the whole truth, rather than reveal things that are hurtful and harmful and would be of no benefit. Rahav-Meir concludes, “When we speak politely and respect others, when we think once, twice, or even three times before we speak so as not to insult someone, we may end up with fewer ‘likes on our Facebook page,’ but we are building the foundations of a more likeable, healthy society.”

Continuing her comments on contemporary society where lashon hara, evil and gossip, dominate the headlines and garner great attention, Rahav-Meir cites the verse in Leviticus 13:46: כָּל יְמֵי אֲשֶׁר הַנֶּגַע בּוֹ יִטְמָא טָמֵא הוּא, בָּדָד יֵשֵׁב מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה מוֹשָׁבוֹ , all the days that the affliction is upon him [the slanderer], he shall remain unclean. He is unclean: he shall dwell in isolation, his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Ours is a society addicted to lashon hara. If a notable person writes or says something indiscreet, it almost automatically becomes a scandal. All the newspapers, all of social media, all the headlines focus for a while on this new scandal, until a newer, even more outrageous, statement is made by a different celebrity actor, politician, or broadcaster that seizes the limelight.

Rahav-Meir maintains that the Torah has an entirely different approach. The gossiper and the defamer are not to be given a soapbox, and certainly not given the limelight or even fifteen minutes of fame. The greatest punishment for a gossiper is isolation. And that is why, in ancient Israel, the person who was diagnosed with the tzara’at disease by the priest, was sent out of the camp. After all, it’s impossible to speak lashon hara with the sheep that are usually stationed there.

It is the priest who diagnoses the violator, not the doctor, because tzara’at is a spiritual disease that results from a lack of spiritual purity. It is not a conventional illness or a medical issue.

Undoubtedly, we all need to try harder to nip lashon hara in the bud, at least in our own lives, by closing down the outlets that allow free expression without limitation. We need to isolate those who seem to thrive on lashon hara and calumny. We all need to strive harder to be holy.

May you be blessed.

Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day (which is preceded by Yom HaZikaron–-Memorial Day, April 18) is observed this year on the 4th of Iyar, Wednesday evening, April 18th, and all day April, 19th.

Shemini 5778-2018

“Kashrut and Copepods”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Shemini, is one of two parshiyot (the other is Re’eh, Deuteronomy 14:3-21) that serve as the main sources for many of the laws of kashrut, specifically regarding those animals and creatures that may be eaten and those that are forbidden.

Although many Jews know that kosher mammals must have split hooves and chew their cuds and that kosher fish must have fins and scales, very few are aware of the major prohibition of eating bugs, insects and creeping crawling things. (There are certain grasshoppers that are kosher, but most communities do not consume them because of difficulties identifying the precise species.)

In parashat Shemini, five verses declare the prohibition of eating things that swarm upon the earth. Leviticus 11:29-30 lists eight small animals that contaminate people, as well as objects, that come into contact with their dead carcasses.

Leviticus 11:29 reads, וְזֶה לָכֶם הַטָּמֵא בַּשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ עַל הָאָרֶץ , These are the contaminated things, among the teeming animals that teem upon the earth. Although some of these creatures are not clearly identified, they are generally translated as the weasel, the mouse, the “great lizard,” the gecko, the land crocodile, the lizard, the sand lizard and the chameleon.

The Torah, in Leviticus 11:41, reiterates the prohibition. וְכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ עַל הָאָרֶץ שֶׁקֶץ הוּא, לֹא יֵאָכֵל , Every teeming creature that teems upon the ground–it is an abomination, it shall not be eaten. This includes snakes, scorpions, worms and other similar reptiles. Leviticus 11:42-44, includes the prohibition of insects that breed in filth or decay.

The Torah concludes, Leviticus 11:44-45, “For I am the L-rd your G-d, you have to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I am holy, and you shall not contaminate yourselves through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth, for I am the L-rd your G-d who elevates you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you. You shall be holy for I am holy.”

The biblical commentator R. Abraham Ibn Ezra who subscribes to the belief that “We are what we eat,” declares that one cannot have a pure, clean conscience with the knowledge that one’s own flesh is a product of a diet of insects, snakes and other vermin.

As science and technology have advanced, food specialists have alerted us to previously unknown contaminations in our food. The banning of DDT had a big impact on the numbers of bugs that are found in green vegetables and other farm plants. Advances in monitoring equipment have even found contaminants in our nation’s water supply, which may or may not affect our health. As a result of these discoveries, in the past fifteen or twenty years, an entire new industry has sprung up for the kosher consumer to ensure the availability of bug-free vegetables.

It is a bit ironic that the former Jewish settlements in Gaza, known as Gush Katif, were known for producing bug-free hydroponic vegetables of very high quality. Gush Katif products became staples in many observant Jewish homes, making life much easier for the kosher consumer, who no longer had to go through the rigorous process of carefully checking and cleaning vegetables.

However, in early 2004, reports appeared claiming that bugs were found on the leaves of the green vegetables coming from Gush Katif. An investigation was conducted and lo and behold, it was discovered that the vegetables themselves were perfectly clean, and that the process of rinsing the vegetables with New York City tap water was the source of the bug contamination.

Once the reports became known, the nation’s kashrut organizations, particularly the primary kashrut organization, the OU, confirmed that copepods, a tiny, almost microscopic, crustacean, were swimming in New York’s tap water.

New York City water was always known for its high quality, purity and excellent taste. In fact, New York City is one of the few major cities in the United States that is not required to filter its water because its sources are so pure. However, due to the lack of filtration, the New York City water contains copepods, which are harmless creatures that are even considered to be helpful for keeping the waters clean.

Copepods may be harmless, but they are a cause of great concern to observant Jews. The basic rule of kashrut is that if bugs are not visible to the naked eye they are not forbidden. Alas, these crustaceans are often just large enough to be seen with the naked eye and therefore are forbidden to be consumed. In fact, the rabbis say that eating a single bug may result in violating as many as eight Torah violations (many more than a bacon and cheese sandwich!).

Soon after the discovery of the copepods in the water system, religious Jews were advised to install water filters in their homes or to drink and cook with only bottled water.

Although installing the water filters was a rather expensive proposition and an inconvenience for our own family, having a hot water filter in the house proved to be a much appreciated convenience. Some would argue that the flavor of home-filtered New York tap water has an enhanced taste because it removes some of the chemical impurities and contaminants that are found in the unfiltered water.

It’s highly unlikely that many bugs in the New York water actually enter our household, especially those who live in high-rise buildings. These tiny, swimming creatures can’t really make it up to the third floor. Nevertheless, the fact that the Torah so frequently emphasizes the prohibition of eating these creepy crawling things gives observant Jews reason to pause to consider that perhaps the Torah knows something about the issues of health and cleanliness that even our most advanced scientists have yet to discover.

November 2004 was a big month in my professional career because I was quoted in The New York Times, not once, but twice in a single week. One article concerned a statue that had been recently dedicated in Central Park in memory of the founder of the New York Marathon, Fred Lebow. The second article was about those little creepy crawling things found in the New York waters, known as copepods.

Not a bad week for a Beginners rabbi.

May you be blessed.

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed this year on Wednesday night April 12th, and all day Thursday April 13th, 2018.


Passover II /Final Days 5778-2018

Passover: The Final Days ”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

According to the Torah (Numbers 28:16-25), there are seven official days of Passover. In Israel, the first day and the final seventh day are sacred holidays. Between the first and last day of Passover are five non-sacred, “intermediate days,” known as “Chol ha’Moed,” חֹל־הַמּוֹעֵד. In the diaspora, the first two days are sacred holidays that are followed by four intermediary days and the last two sacred days of Passover.

The festival of Passover celebrates two great historical events. The first is the triumphant exodus of the People of Israel from Egypt. The second, of course, is the crossing of the Red Sea.

The Israelites left Egypt on the first day of Passover, the 15th of Nissan. On the seventh day of Passover (22 Nissan) the sea split before the Israelites who were being chased by the Egyptians.

After the Israelites emerged safely from the sea, the walls of water returned to their normal state, drowning the Egyptians. It was at that point that both Moses and Miriam sang their historic songs of tribute, praising the Al-mighty G-d for the miracles and the peoples’ great salvation.

The splitting of the Red Sea is known in Hebrew as “Kree’at Yam Suf,קְרִיעַת יַם־סוּף, which literally means the “tearing” of the sea.

The question is asked, why was it necessary for G-d to cause the Egyptians to chase after the Israelites and drown them in the sea? The Israelites could have simply fled Egypt and gone directly to the Holy Land without crossing the sea. Why didn’t the Egyptians, who were virtually paralyzed by the death of the firstborn, realize that all was lost, that G-d was fighting for the Israelites, and that there was no chance of them ever bringing the former slaves back to Egypt? Yet, for some reason, the Egyptians felt compelled to chase after the Israelites and bring them back to Egypt. And why did the Israelites act as if they were lost in the wilderness so that the Egyptians would chase after them?

Some commentators suggest that the splitting of the sea was a necessary part of redemption, not so much for the Egyptians, but for the Israelites. The idea of קְרִיעָה, of ripping or tearing, is well known from the custom of rending clothing in times of death and mourning. In Jewish tradition, the seven close relatives of the deceased rend their garments as a sign of mourning.

Another instance of rending clothes is cited in I Samuel 15:28. When King Saul failed to fulfill the instructions of G-d at the behest of the prophet Samuel to kill the Amalekite King Agag, Samuel told Saul that he had lost the monarchy. In desperation, Saul grabbed Samuel’s garment, ripping it. Samuel responds, saying: קָרַע השׁם אֶת מַמְלְכוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעָלֶיךָ הַיּוֹם, וּנְתָנָהּ לְרֵעֲךָ הַטּוֹב מִמֶּךָּ, G-d has torn the Kingdom of Israel from you this day and given it to one of your neighbors–to one better than you.

The concept of tearing and rending implies a complete break. Thus, once the person passes, death is final, there’s no going back. Similarly, with Saul, now that the kingship is taken from him, there is no recourse or return.

And so it was with the ancient Israelites. For them to truly appreciate their freedom, it was necessary for them to completely detach themselves from their previous experiences in Egypt. They could not be nostalgic about the “good old days” of Egypt or the “good old times” of Joseph, nor could they flourish with the constant memories of torture, the backbreaking work and the death of their children that they experienced in Egypt.

It was now necessary for the Children of Israel to focus on their future in the new land that they would soon inhabit, a land flowing with milk and honey where they would raise their children in peace and tranquility and eventually build a kingdom under Kings David and Solomon that would rival those of any of the ancient kingdoms. Not only would the people in the Promised Land succeed in their physical, economic and material accomplishments, they would far surpass any of the other contemporary nations in their spiritual and moral accomplishments.

For that, the people needed to tear themselves away from their past. That’s what “Kree’at Yam Suf,” the splitting of the sea was all about. They no longer had to worry about the Egyptians. They needed to look forward to planting their vineyards and fig trees, beginning their great mission of transmitting the word of G-d to all the peoples of the world.

That is the reason for the great celebration of שְׁבִיעִי שֶׁל פֶּסַח, the seventh day of Passover,and the reason for the abundant rejoicing on the final days of Passover.

May you be blessed.

Chag Kasher V’samayach.

Passover 5778-2018

Originally Published 5774-2014

“The Opening Act”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

As every good scriptwriter, playwright or novelist knows, the opening act of a television presentation, a Broadway show or the opening chapter of a novel, is crucial in determining its success. If the reader’s or participant’s attention is not captured in the first few moments, then the likelihood of success is much diminished.

Obviously, the wise authors of the Hagaddah knew that well, and created a natural, dramatic opening for the Seder, one that has had repeated success for more than two thousand years in Jewish homes and communities around the world.

Before the Seder even begins, the participants are informed of the fifteen “acts” in which they will be asked to participate at the Seder. In many homes, the fifteen steps of the Passover Seder are often sung and explained, so that all will know what to anticipate.

A good dramatist might have suggested that the Seder open with the recitation of the “Mah Nishtanah,” מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה, the Four Questions. After all, what could be more impressive than beginning the evening with a loving scene of the youngest child, standing tall on a chair, reciting the four questions? It is a scene that is embedded in the minds of many who grew up in traditional households.

The recitation of the Four Questions is not only a powerful scene, it is a true showstopper. After all, what could possibly outshine a young child, struggling to remember the questions in Hebrew or in Yiddish, sung with the traditional or contemporary melody? The children, of course, are performing to a most sympathetic audience, who invariably react to the presentation with a rousing ovation.

Instead, the Passover Seder opens with the almost mundane recitation of Kiddush, the sanctification over the wine, and the special blessing for the People of Israel and the day of Passover. Before anything can be said or done at the Passover Seder, it is necessary to affirm the purpose of the night, and the ultimate mission of the Jewish people. Of course, we want to create a magical setting in which the children will be fascinated by the unusual Seder rituals and the exciting stories. But, even more, we want all those who are able to understand that the bottom line of all of Judaism is the sanctity of human life. It is an especially profound lesson to learn for those who are slaves and whose time is not their own that for those who are free, time is the most precious commodity. That is why the Seder opens with the sanctification of time and the sanctification of the day.

For those who appreciate the many profound lessons conveyed by the Passover holiday and its unique celebratory nature, it is impossible to participate in a Seder as if it were a private family affair. For those who are familiar with Jewish history, it is simply unfathomable for a Jewish household, no matter how poor, to have a family Seder without guests, especially needy guests who have no other place to celebrate the holiday. That is why the Passover Seder begins with the Aramaic declaration of “Ha Lachmah Anya,” הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא, this is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt when we were slaves. Let all who are hungry come and eat with us. Let all who are needy, come and observe Passover with us!

Once the Kiddush concludes and the invitation to guests is extended, the opening act of the Seder is dominated by a series of significant questions. The most obvious question of all is: Why in the world do we celebrate tonight in such an odd manner?

Those who are familiar with the methods of Jewish study and Jewish education are well aware of the critical role that questioning plays in Jewish life. All of the Talmud and much of Jewish pedagogy involves questioning. That is why opening the Seder night with the questions of the “Mah Nistanah” מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה, is so natural, questions about the significance of the night, about the special foods that are eaten that night, why we recline in a seemingly defiant manner, rather than sit erect, and why we dip our foods into salt water and other liquids.

The answer to all the questions is found with the introduction of the famed paragraph: “Avadim ha’yee’noo,” עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ, We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik astutely notes that the text does not read, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves,” but rather, “We were slaves to Pharaoh,” in Egypt. Slavery for the Jewish people, says Rabbi Soloveitchik, was a greater external challenge than an internal one. Inwardly, the Jews remained faithful, not only to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but to their language, to their Jewish names, and to their Jewish garb.

It was this faithfulness to Jewish tradition that inspired the Israelites to dream of freedom, even though they were inches away from losing that desire. It is a profound lesson for all freedom-loving people, that enemies can incarcerate the slaves’ bodies, beat and bruise them physically, but faith, internal faith, is not easily denied. The most powerful weapon that the desperate Israelite people had to counteract and defeat their challenges was faith, faith in G-d, and especially faith in their own specialness.

While it may seem difficult to fathom, the Egyptian enslavement actually helped shape the essential character of the Jewish people. It was the experience of common suffering that united the twelve disparate Hebrew tribes into one people. It was the memory of pain that inspired the suffering people to strive to eliminate pain, not only their own pain, but also the pain of others who suffer. While our ancestors, the Israelites, were slaves long ago in the land of Egypt, there are today still many others throughout the world who are not free. The exodus from Egypt was Israel’s most glorious hour. We now need to help others experience their own glorious moments, and to assist those who are not yet free to experience their own exodus, and, hopefully, obtain their own glorious freedom.

The Seder goes on for many hours. The discussions continue long after the Seder has ended. But as our teachers have always emphasized, “This is the essence, the rest is commentary. Go and study!”

May you be blessed.

The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Friday night, March 30th and all day Saturday and Sunday, March 30th and April 1st. The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Thursday night, April 5th, and continue through Friday and Saturday, April 6th and 7th.

חג כשר ושמח.

Wishing all our friends a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Passover.

Tzav–Passover 1 5778-2018

“Making Holiness Contagious”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Tzav, we are reintroduced to the laws of the Mincha, מִנְחָה , the meal offering, that were first recorded in Leviticus 2.

The Mincha, was a meal offering made of finely-ground wheat flour, oil, and frankincense, in most cases mixed with water.  There are a number of varieties of Mincha offerings. The plain Mincha consists of the uncooked mixture of the basic ingredients. Other forms of Mincha offerings are cooked, baked or fried into various consistencies.

Because the Mincha is the least expensive of the offerings that can be brought to the Temple, it was most often donated by poor people. Reflecting the extra effort involved in bringing this offering, it is assigned a special sanctity–-that of קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים , Holy of Holies, and may only be eaten by the priests themselves in the Temple environs.

Although other holy priestly foods may usually be eaten by all members of the priests’ household, the Torah declares in Leviticus 6:11 regarding the Mincha offering, כָּל זָכָר בִּבְנֵי אַהֲרֹן יֹאכְלֶנָּה חָק עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם מֵאִשֵּׁי השׁם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יִגַּע בָּהֶם יִקְדָּשׁ , Every male of the children of Aaron shall eat it, an eternal portion for your generations from the fire offerings of the Lord; whatever touches them shall become holy.

Not only is consumption of the Mincha permitted only by male priests and must be eaten only in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting, but, the Torah additionally emphasizes that whatever touches them shall become holy.

It is interesting to note that one of the basic principles of kashruth is derived from this particular verse–the law of absorption. So, for instance, if a pareve, non-dairy non-meat food item is cooked in a recently used dairy pot, the food assumes the taste of the dairy that is absorbed in the walls of the pot. As a result, the entire contents of the pot are officially regarded as dairy.

The Mincha is considered so sacred that any other foods that come in contact with it automatically become sacred and can only be eaten in the courtyard of the sanctuary by the male priests.

The concept of transferring sacredness from one object or idea to another object or idea also plays a prominent part in the Passover Seder, especially in the Seder’s opening steps.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook explains that the middle matzah at the beginning of the seder is broken into two parts to symbolize two different ways of “Jewish eating.” The smaller part, which is consumed later in the seder when we make the blessing over the matzah, serves to satisfy our human hunger, our biological need for food.

But, says Rabbi Kook, there is also a need to uplift the human spirit and refine the human soul. Therefore, the larger piece of the matzah, known as the “Afikoman,” ( the larger part of middle matzah, which is broken in two during the early stages of the Passover Seder, and set aside to be eaten as a dessert at the end of the Passover meal) is eaten at the very end of the meal when we are completely satiated and our stomachs are full, as a symbol of spiritual sustenance.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik expressed this concept in the following manner, “The world has learned how to take the animalistic act of eating and make it into an aesthetic act.  However, we Jews have learned how to take an aesthetic act and raise it to an act of holiness.”

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach explains the reason why the matzah is broken at the beginning of the seder. He suggests that the broken matzah of the Afikoman represents the brokenness of the world, the many broken hearts, broken lives, and many tears. In fact, we live in a world of brokenness and that unless we recognize that brokenness, it is impossible to repair the world.

Asks Rabbi Carlebach, “How do we repair the world?  How do we bring wholeness to the world again?” He answers: “Our children.  Our children will bring back the broken piece and make the world whole again.”

Another powerful lesson of beauty and holiness is conveyed as the seder formally opens with the Maggid portion, the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The matzah is raised and the participants declare, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.  All who are hungry, come and eat, all who are in need, join our Passover.”

Rabbi Kook explained that only when the Jews were freed from slavery could the essence of the Jewish people emerge. This essence is the expression of loving-kindness in which the sanctity of human life is acknowledged. Therefore, the seder begins with an act of kindness, inviting all those who are in need into our homes to partake of the seder and join with the joyous celebration of Passover.

The noble opening acts of our seder, the breaking of the matzah and inviting strangers into our homes, very much reflect what has been learned from the Mincha, the meal offering, which sanctifies anything it touches.

It is very much hoped that the lessons of restoring the broken hearts and the broken pieces, inviting those in need into our homes, will create a sense of “Holy of Holies,” in our lives that existed in ancient Temple times. We are also hopeful that those who come in contact with the symbols and rituals of the seder will be infected by the power of its message.

May the holiness reflected in the Passover symbols and rituals become contagious and spread throughout the planet, enlightening the world with good and noble deeds.

May you be blessed. Wishing you and yours a Happy and Kosher Passover.

The Passover insights were taken from The Night that Unites Passover Hagaddah by Aaron Goldscheider.

Please note: The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Friday night, March 30th and all day Saturday and Sunday, March 31st and April 1st. The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Thursday night, April 5th, and continue through Friday and Saturday, April 6th and 7th.

Chag Kasher V’samayach.