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By: Talia, Grade 7

Parshat Shlach Lecha

Mazal tov to Talia who celebrated her Bat Mitzvah last weekend. Her dvar Torah below is on parshat Shlach Lecha.

My Bat Mitzvah parsha is Shlach. In my parsha the story opens up with God promising the Israelites a land flowing of milk and honey, but the Israelites were scared. They had just been rescued from being slaves and had gained a slave mentality on life. They still held fear in their hearts and doubt what God held for the future. 

So they assigned 12 spies, one man from each of their tribes, to make sure the land and its inhabitants were safe.

However when the spies returned ten of the spies came back as cowards and gave terrible reports on how there were giants living there and there was no way the small and weak Israelites would be able to fight for this land. Two of the men, Caleb and Joshua, came back with positive reviews and confidence that the Israelites could conquer with success.

It didn’t matter because the review from the ten spies rattled the Israelites enough and made them yell out with fear and mistrust for God's plans and they refused to move into the promised land. God was angry and disappointed with the ten spies and the Israelites with their betrayal and sentenced them to 40 years in the desert. 

My question is why did God decide on the number 40 for their punishment? What is the significance of 40? We tend to use the number 40 a lot in Judaism. Why is 40 such an important number? Did God just decide all these things having to do with forty for a purpose? 

What we learn from the great Rabbis is that the number 40 represents transition and change. The number represents the concept of renewals and new beginnings. It has the power to lift a spiritual state

Here are some examples of change with the number 40 in the torah:

● In the story of Noah It rained for forty days and nights

● Noah waited 40 days after the tops of mountains were seen after the flood before releasing a raven

● The 12 Spies in parshat Shlach explore the land of Canaan’ for 40 days

● Several early leaders and kings ruled for forty years

● When a person becomes ritually impure, they must immerse in the mikveh, the mikveh has to be filled with 40 se’ahs (a measure of water). The mikveh is a spiritual renewal for that person.

● Moshe was on Sinai for 40 days 

● In pregnancy, it takes 40 days for the embryo to be formed in womb

● There are 40 days between the first day of Elul to blow shofar to prepare for Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur. These 40 days are very auspicious time for personal growth and renewal 

*At age 40 a person transitions from one level of wisdom to the next

In conclusion, after the Israelites traveled in the desert for 40 years, then there would be a renewal, a transition to another stage of being. The Israelites could reach a new level of understanding and be worthy to accept this gift of the land of milk and honey, the land of Cannan from God.

By: Shira, Grade 6

Parshat Shelach Lecha

Boker tov! Good morning. When I first started competitive dance, I had to learn how to do a baby freeze. It is a very challenging move. And I didn't know how to do it at all. Then by learning and trying and trying, even more, I finally got it. This teaches us that we have to work hard and try to succeed. It doesn't just come naturally. I know it may sound bizarre - but this all relates to this week's Parsha, Parshat Shelach Lecha, and I am going to tell you how. 

At the beginning of this week's portion, the Torah tells us that God commands Moses to send spies into the Land of Israel. God wants there to be 12 spies, one from each tribe. The spies were meant to find out: what kind of country is the Land of Israel? Are the people there strong or weak? Are there a lot of people, or not so many? Are the towns open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? And bring home some of the fruit. All reasonable questions for spies to explore.

This story ends up becoming one of the main downfalls of the Israelites in the desert. What went wrong? And what can we learn from that today?

The Torah tells us that the spies checked out the land for forty days. They came back to Moses, Aaron, and the entire people. When they returned, they said that the land was flowing with milk and honey. They brought huge, massive, delicious fruit from the land. Then they warned the Israelites that the cities are fortified and that the people there are powerful. So far, everything is going smoothly.

However, until now, they did everything Moses had asked. They answered his questions about what the Land of Israel was like, and what the people living there were like.

The problem came a few verses later. Caleb said, "Let's go, people! We can do this!" But the rest of the spies said, No, we cannot attack. These people are stronger than us. We looked like grasshoppers.

Unfortunately, this is where the spies did not do what they were told. The spies' job was not to say whether or not they were strong enough to attack. Their job was to describe what they saw and then figure out how to enter the land.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches us on this that people with a growth mindset do not fear failure. They relish challenges. They know that if they fail, the people will try again until they succeed. It cannot be a coincidence that the two people among the spies who had the growth mindset were also the two who were unafraid of the risks and trials of conquering the land. Nor can it be accidental that the ten others, all of whom carried the burden of people's expectations, were reluctant to do so.

If this analysis is correct, the story of the spies holds an important message for us. G-d does not ask us never to fail. He asks us to give our best. He lifts us when we fall and forgives us when we fail. It is this that provides us with the courage to take risks. That is what Joshua and Caleb knew. "Fear of failure causes us to fail. It is the willingness to fail that allows us to succeed."

That is what it meant for me to work hard to get my baby freeze. I had to believe in succeeding in order to succeed. Joshua and Caleb were the only people who tried to succeed and achieved that goal. They did the work they had to do to succeed, unlike the other ten spies who did not try to succeed. They did the opposite of what they were supposed to do. 

By Eliana, Grade 7

Parshat B'har/B'chukotai

This week's double portion is called Parshat B’har/B’chukotai. There are three main topics in Parshat B’har - the Shmita/Sabbatical and Yovel/Jubilee years, treatment of the poor, and rules regarding slavery.

The Shmita/Sabbatical year is the sevnth year of the seven-year agricultural cycle where you rest instead of working the land because the land needs rest. In the days of the week, the 7th day is Shabbat, a day of rest. In the Shmita/Sabbatical year, the 7th year is the year of rest. Since the land is not ours, we are told not to overwork it. 

Then, the Torah says the Yovel/Jubilee year is the 50th year at the end of seven cycles of Shmita/Sabbatical years. This means that there are 7 cycles of 7 years which adds up to 49 years. The Jubilee year is the 50th and last year of the cycle. Then not only is the land rested again but, in the Jubilee year, whatever land you have received in those 49 years will return to the ancestral tribe originally assigned to it. This means that a person can only have the land outside his ancestral clan for up to 50 years. Imagine if a family fell on hard times and had to sell its land, because of these laws preserving land ownership such a family would not remain destitute because every 50 years, the Yovel/Jubilee year they could reclaim their ancestral land. 

Another key theme in Parshat, B’har is slavery. We usually think of slavery in the American Civil War period when slavery was based on race and people could be born into slavery and die as slaves. But in the Torah, most Israelites are born free. Only when someone falls into debt and has no other option can they sell themselves into slavery. 

We see examples of how we treat different slaves differently. For example, when an Israelite owns another Israelite as a slave, they will treat them as a fellow Israelite, not rule over them ruthlessly or treat them as a slave. The Israelite must also let them go on the Jubilee year as they do with the land.  The Israelites have chosen to serve God which means the slave belongs to God. But if an Israelite has a non-Israelite slave, the slave becomes the property of the Israelite and can be inherited by future children. They might also be treated more harshly. Lastly, when an Israelite is in slavery and owned by a non-Israelite, a relative of the Israelite slave has to pay for them and then must release them by the Jubilee year. 

Although the slave treatment rules are good for the Israelites, it doesn't seem to me that it would be fair for everyone. For example,you were born with a certain skin color, so why should you be treated differently because of something you can't control. Just so, non-Israelites cannot change their ethnicity. That does not justify harsh treatment. The Torah says that the Israelites belong to God but never said that anyone else doesn't. 

This story stands out because historically the Jews have been treated differently or unfairly. Since we know how this feels I think the rule should change and we should treat everyone as the Israelites were treated in the Parsha. 

After reading both the ideas of the Yovel/Jubilee year and Shmita/Sabbatical years we see that the main connection between them is the role of God. In the Yovel/Jubilee year, we are returning the land that belongs to God. In the rules regarding slavery, we are returning slaves to those whom belong to God. They tell us that the land and the people belong to God therefore we should treat the land with respect and all people with respect as agents of God. This shows us that we should try our best to be respectful to not only God, but also to all the things God has provided us with.

By: Max, Grade 6

Parshat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

This week’s parsha is a double parsha of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. I am going to focus on parshat Kedoshim. The parsha is a listing of many, many laws. Some of the laws are:

-not insulting the deaf
-not putting a stumbling block in front of the blind
-not practicing witchcraft
-giving new fruits to God
-leaving the corners of your fields as charity


I thought about if these laws were all connected, and at first I thought they were all about keeping people safe, like treating a stranger well and leaving the corners of your fields for the poor. But many of the laws are things you have to do for God and not about keeping people safe.

The one thing I noticed that they all seem to have in common is that after every set of commandments it says “I am the Lord, thy God”. I counted at least 13 in this parsha. It seems here that God is establishing God’s authority and taking ownership of morality and the highest law. 

Another theme I found was that laws seem to be made to keep humans equal, and in doing so putting  God above all. For example, giving the corners of the field to homeless people is God telling us that we are equal and if not, we should equalize ourselves. The same goes for the rule: don’t insult the deaf. 

But what about the rule: “You shall not turn into ghosts”? Perhaps this is a rule to say I am the only thing “above you”. Same with the rule: “you shall not sacrifice your children to other gods.” Meaning I am the only God, the one ruler above all equals.

In short, this parsha is one made to govern a nation with a clear ruler. Authority has been established and a set of morals helps keep people in their equal places.

We were able to celebrate Micah Stone's Bar Mitzvah this week (originally scheduled for June 2020). Please enjoy his dvar Torah from Parshat Beha'alotcha...

By: Micah, Grade 8

Parshat Beha'alotcha

In Beha'alotcha we witness many events such as God instructing Moses to purify the Levites and even the betrayal by Miriam and Aaron when they protest against Moses. However, today I am going to be discussing the lack of respect that takes place when the Israelites start to complain about their hunger.

Let’s take a step back so we can view the habits of the Israelites. One could say the complaints started just after the Israelites were liberated from slavery in Egypt. Despite the fact that God and Moses have just saved them from the harsh grasp of slavery, the Israelites immediately begin complaining about the uncomfortable environment of the wilderness. Regardless, God responded with kindness and he gifted them with water and food. God even gave them manna each day and a double portion on Shabbat. This seems to have solved the problem for now.

Unfortunately, two years later, just after the Israelites have received the ten commandments, the Israelites voice their complaints again. They raise nostalgic memories of the meat, fish, vegetables, and all the other foods they were able to eat in Egypt. But they neglect the fact that they were slaves at the time!

You may be wondering why they would do this? After all, they just received the Torah and they have a promise of their own land. Some commentators believe that they were tired and cranky from their long journey. Others say that they complained out of boredom. I, however, think that they just needed to practice a bit of gratitude. Ilene Rosenstein, a psychologist at USC, said, “Taking a few moments to reflect on gratitude can broaden your perspective, helping you find meaning in small but enjoyable moments.” This means that the Israelites should have been grateful for the food they did have, as well as the torah, and every favor that God and Moses did for them. If they were grateful, they could have found that delicious bite of manna or joy in being with their fellow Israelites. We can apply this lesson of gratitude to the pandemic.

During the pandemic, a time of great loss and uncertainty, it is so easy to get stuck on what we had before. This might cause us to overlook the good that has emerged during the pandemic. For example, maybe you met new friends, maybe you developed a new hobby, maybe you got to spend more time with your family, and maybe you were able to use zoom to spend holidays with family in far places. No matter what it is, we should be grateful. Practicing gratitude helps us shift our perspective from the glass being half empty to half full.

By Sivan, Grade 6

Parshat Shmeini

Today I will be talking about Parshat Shmeini. The laws of kashrut are in this week’s parsha, but today I want to talk about a different part of the parsha.

There is a story about Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, that they brought a fire to the mishkan that God did not want. God uses their fire to kill them. Moshe and Aaron were in the mishkan as this was happening and they knew exactly what happened.

Moshe turned to Aaron to say two things:

- God will be sanctified by those people who are nearest to God and this will honor God before the entire nation


- Don't show your mourning publicly in front of the nation or God will be angry. The nation will mourn anyway.

I wondered - why did Moshe say these two things? Why did Moshe tell Aaron to hide his emotions? Wasn’t he sad that his two nephews died? And, why would God get angry if Aaron mourned publicly?

I think that Moshe said the first thing to Aaron almost to make him feel better about losing his sons. He wanted Aaron to know his sons' deaths were not in vain. Their deaths brought more sanctity to the mishkan and honor to God. Personally, it wouldn’t make me feel better, but maybe for Aaron, who served God and worked in the mishkan, that was a comforting thing to hear.

And I think the reason Moshe said the second thing to Aaron - about not mourning publicly - is because Moshe was scared that the people would get angry at God for killing Aaron’s sons. They might rebel against God and in Moshe’s experience so far, when people get angry with God they disrespect God and then bad things happen. When they built the Golden Calf, Moshe ended up leading a civil war between the people who believed in God and the people who rejected God. And God also sent a plague to punish the people for their sins. When the people rebel against God, God rebels against the people. So, Aaron should not publicize his mourning so the people don’t start fighting and God does not have to punish anyone who rebels.

It’s not what I would have said to my brother, but I think Moshe said these two things because he was thinking of Aaron and trying to make him feel better and he was thinking of the nation and trying to keep everyone safe.

By Shira, Grade 6

Parshat Vayikra

Have you ever done something wrong and tried to avoid telling the truth? I’m sure that my sisters will remember the times when we were fighting and all of a sudden I WHACK them. When my dad, who was sitting right there when it happened, would ask me why, I made up excuses. But I am not here to tell you about sister rivalries, you’ll have to wait until Breishit to hear about that. I am here to talk about leadership in the olden days. In this week's parsha, G-d calls Moses to the Tent of Meeting and teaches him the laws of Korbanot, sacrifices. The Kohanim who are ritual leaders, help do all of these. There are many rules and instructions on how and when these should have been done. Hidden in all of these ritual laws, we learn interesting things about the nasi’im, the other leaders of B’nei Yisrael.

Rabbi Shai Held, the President, Dean, and Chair of Jewish Thought at Mechon Hadar, noticed something in this text. In chapter 4, the text tells us about the things that different groups of people had to do when they sinned. We hear about 4 different groups, The Cohen, All Israelites, a Single Person, and A Chieftain (also known as a leader or nasi). The first three groups are talked about similarly. For all these, the text uses the word אם, which means if. This shows that we aren’t assuming that this will happen, but just in case, this is what to do. But in the case of a Leader, nasi, the text says something different. In chapter 4 verse 22, we have:

 אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָשִׂ֖יא יֶֽחֱטָ֑א

Which means “When it is a chieftain who incurs guilt” For the case of a nasi, we have the word , אֲשֶׁ֥ר When. This shows that they assumed it would happen. Why is the nasi written about differently? A nasi is different from the nation but what about the Kohanim, who are also leaders? I think it’s because A nasi is more of a political Leader, while the Kohen is more of a spiritual Leader. 

But this brings me to my next question: Why do we assume that this is going to happen to a nasi? Rabbis say that leaders are pressured because of their status in the community. Because they’re so high up, they’re doing good and bad things that other people wouldn’t necessarily do. But why doesn’t this apply to kohanim, who are equally as in power as the nasi’im? I think it’s because the Kohen is a ritual leader, he is expected to know G-d’s laws and follow them. Whereas, A nasi, is a political leader and is more focused on rules that will keep everybody and everything in line and not focused on ritual rules about the temple. Vayikra is showing more concern for the leader who has power over how B’nei Yisrael lives their day to day lives.

By expecting that the nasi’im will make mistakes and have to bring sacrifices, we can learn that it is better to have a leader who is willing to acknowledge their mistakes and be a good role model. 

Even though this parsha is mostly laws about sacrifices, we can learn some very important lessons about leadership. Leaders can’t take advantage of their position of power and they need to participate in the laws and community. When B’nei Yisrael sees the nasi’im going to make a sacrifice after they’ve made a mistake, the community will see that they are an honest person who will acknowledge their mistakes.

By: Emma, Grade 7

Parshat Vayakel-Pekudei

My Torah portion is in Pekudei. Pekudei is all about the building of the mishkan and preparing the priests for priesthood. It lists details about how the mishkan was built, how the priests became priests, and how all of that relates to God. My particular portion is about the cloud that fills the tabernacle once its built (the cloud being God). The portion talks about how when the cloud fills the tabernacle the Israelites rest, while when it lifts they pack up and move. It is also mentioned how the cloud turns to fire at night while returning to cloud form by morning.

There is more than one theme in this parsha, and many details to go with each one, but I feel there are two main ideas that are more important than others. What this parsha is about is the building of the Tabernacle (mishkan) so I think it's pretty clear that's a main idea. Now the second main idea is God's cloud. But not only that it was there, the cloud seems to represent something. It obviously represents God, but I think it also represents a job well done. God is rewarding the Jews with his presence, because he is pleased and maybe proud of them.

The parsha I’m reading from is kind of hard to relate to because we no longer have a tabernacle, nor priests (well, no priests like Levi ) and we definitely don't have a magic God cloud. But it's certainly possible to make connections. My portion is talking about the cloud of God and that's what I’m going to try to respond to. In my mind there are two ways to view the cloud, one good, one complicated. Let's start with the good.

During the time of the tabernacle the Jews weren’t exactly in the best situation. They were still in the desert, and at this point had been there awhile. I feel like the building of the temple was kind of like a distraction from just walking through the desert every day, but that's not my main point. My main point is that they were in crisis after being saved from Egypt, and God was protecting them, but that couldn’t have been clear to them in the desert because Moses was the only one who could actually speak to God, so I think the cloud was like a beacon of hope. It showed the Jews God was there and protecting them. Now this relates to us in modern times because we are also in crisis, with COVID. A mere few months ago a new leader took the seat of presidency, and for many people this was a beacon of hope, this was our cloud, and it worked. Things are by no means better, and in some places are even getting worse, but the “cloud” (aka our new president ) gave us hope and a little more belief in our ability to get through this pandemic.

My second way to relate the cloud is simpler, yet also more complicated. This way of looking at the cloud isn’t really me looking at how it represents God, just the cloud itself, and it's not very positive. The parsha says when the cloud descends upon the people they cannot leave where they are at and cannot do much. They may only leave once the cloud lifts. This again, reminds me of COVID. But not hope in COVID, it just reminds me of COVID itself. When viewing the cloud this way it looks kind of like COVID because it descends upon the people and keeps them where they are, not letting them move on, or keeping their normal patterns of the day. That doesn’t sound very pleasant to me, and it also sounds kind of like what we’re going through during this pandemic.

Now I know this is a lot of talking but I just have one thing (with a couple parts) left to talk about. My haftorah. My haftorah portion is in Ezekiel and it’s all about sacrifices and preparations for passover. It explains how many sacrifices are to be made during the 7 days of unleavened bread, what those sacrifices will be, who will be sacrificing them, and how they will be sacrificed. My particular portion describes the eating of the unleavened bread and the details of the sacrifices the prince must make during each day of the holiday  (to be specific 7 bulls and 7 rams a day for the burnt offering and a goat a day for a sin one).

I think the main ideas in my haftorah are rather apparent, but just in case they have not been I shall point them out. My portion is about the prince, his sacrifices, and the unleavened bread we must eat. Those are the main ideas plain and simple.

This portion is quite audibly about passover. Now the actual holiday is mentioned surprisingly little for a chapter that's supposed to be all about it. But we do hear a scant bit about the week of unleavened bread, making it quite evident this is a passover portion. Now obviously the connection to this holiday is through the timing of the occasion, but I believe there is also a connection to events that have happened recently. Passover is all about the escape from Egypt and the Israelite’s bread which had insufficient time to rise. This holiday is all about hope, triumph, and freedom, all things that have been threatened recently in modern life. Now I hate to keep bringing COVID up but it’s a rather large and noticeable happening in our lives right now, so a fairly important subject. COVID has been controlling our lives for about a year now, in fact it started commanding mine exactly a year ago, to the day. This virus has stopped me from being with my friends, from going to school normally, from just going out to places in general and it hasn’t been very fun. But I have gone through nothing like what millions of other people have gone through. COVID has hurt many people, and not just the people who caught it. With an exceedingly contagious virus on the loose millions of jobs have been lost, and millions of families have struggled. This clearly isn’t slavery, which is what passovers about. But this is a huge issue that has affected everyone, and believe me when I say not in a good way. This pandemic may not have physically enslaved us and the whole world, but it did enslave us in the way of lack of jobs, opportunities, education, and all the essentials we need in this system we’ve built ourselves. Now that we have experienced a worldwide pandemic, a massive issue in our lives, we like the Jews must stay strong and pull ourselves through these rough times.

I think this part of the Torah is a very important section to remember. It's important because it shows that even in the worst of times, we can succeed, we can overcome whatevers holding us back (physically, spiritually, and emotionally) and we can prevail. This is an important message even in the best of times, but while we are going through a pandemic and all the issues that come with it, it is especially essential that we remember this message of hope, so we, like the Israelites, can overcome this and triumph.

By: Sophia, Grade 8

Parshat Ki Tisa

Ki Tisa is a story of patience: specifically the patience in Moses, Aaron, the Israelites, and even God. The main story begins with the Israelites noticing how long it has taken Moses to come down after receiving the Torah from God on Mount Sinai, so they go to Aaron and ask him for advice. Aaron immediately tells the Israelites to melt their jewelry and build the calf. The Israelites follow his instructions with no questions, When Moses comes down from the mountain, he sees this and is obviously enraged, and he destroys the Ten Commandments. Everybody knows the idea of this story, but it’s hard to find the reason behind everybody’s actions. That is what I would like to explain today. 

Let’s start with Aaron. Now to do that, we have to start at the beginning. His little brother, who his mother sent out in a basket on the river, comes back to save Aaron, his people, and all future generations from a lifetime of slavery.

That is not something that you would immediately trust especially considering Moses was never a slave. But Aaron follows Moses. Even after all of that, Moses tells Aaron that he and his children have to devote their lives to serving God. After all of this, If it were me when one thing goes wrong I would be quick to doubt both Moses and God. So you can see where the spontaneous decision to make a golden calf comes from, it seemed like more of a distraction from their situation than a God.    

The Israelites are in a similar boat to Aaron,  and they don’t have any obvious personal connection to Moses. But that probably only heightens the worry that they feel when Moses doesn’t come down from Mount Sinai when they expect him to. So when you’re in this panicked state and the only figure of authority you have tells you to do something, it isn’t that hard to comply. 

Moses, however, is probably the one with the most polarizing action in this story. Having people blatantly disobey you is always extremely frustrating. I feel as though smashing the Ten Commandments was in a way symbolic of that. However, as a leader, you have to account for your followers messing up sometimes and handle it in a civil way. 

I want to end by thinking about God’s perspective, God also loses patience with the Israelites when God sees what they have done while Moses was away -- and tells Moses that they have disobeyed and MUST be punished. In this way, God has no immediate understanding of their loss of faith in him and in Moses --  God doesn't take into account how abandoned they must have felt. Or how Aaron’s direction to make a golden calf was -- in many ways -- a way to divert the Israelites’ attention away from Moses’ absence.  As a result of this, God doesn’t handle the situation in the best way, which makes God seem very human and tangible. I think these actions are a very good reflection of the Parsha Ki Tisa itself. In a section of the Torah largely filled with seemingly endless instructions on things that people today might have trouble connecting with, the behavior exhibited in this Parsha make Ki Tisa a relatable human story.

By: Daphna, Grade 6

This past Thursday was Taanit Esther, the Fast of Esther. We fast nowadays because of the fast in Megillat Esther. In the Megillah, Esther asks Mordechai to gather all the Jews to fast for three days before going into the inner chamber of the king to ask to save the Jews. She does this because the punishment for going into the inner chamber without permission is death. She is very nervous, but, as we all know, God helps her and she wins the favor of King Achashverosh and saves the Jews.

This made me wonder, “Why do Jewish people fast whenever we are scared or feel threatened?” “Why did Esther ask the people to fast?” Maybe one reason is that fasting is related to God. When I fasted for Yom Kippur, it made me think about God because I could be more focused on God without drinking and eating... So maybe Esther and her people fasted so she would be more connected to God before she went somewhere where she would really need God’s help. Maybe if the people can show they believe in God and turn to God, God will be more likely to help. God does not help every single time we need help, but will help us. You just need to be alert and take the help.

Another idea of why we fast is that our ancestors didn’t do the right thing and fasting is a way of redemption and an opportunity to revise our own behavior. When we fast, we are more vulnerable. This is a good time to revise our own behavior.

When we fast, we acknowledge that God gives us food and water, and that it isn’t just us. But we must also let God help us. You have to have your skin in the game and also acknowledge that God does help. But maybe God offers help when he sees people helping themselves. This is what Esther did. She realized that God had made her queen so she could save her people, and she used that opportunity to save the Jews.

By: Benjamin, Grade 6

Parshat Mishpatim

This week’s parsha is Mishpatim. In this parsha the Israelites receive many laws. Many of these laws are about slavery. These laws were given just after coming out of Egypt where the Israelites had been slaves themselves! This raises the question if they had such a hard time being slaves, then why do they still want people to suffer the same fate? Shouldn't God tell the Israelites not to have slaves? 

Many other people have asked this same question. When researching the topic I stumbled upon Rabbi Alex Israel’s opinion on the matter. His opinion is that it was not ideal for the Israelites to have slaves. But back in those ancient times every other society owned slaves. Because of this God didn't think it would be possible for the Israelites not to have slaves.

Instead, the Torah puts into place so many rules that people might not even want to own slaves. The text tells us: A slave owner would have to set his/her slaves free in the seventh year and give them a home and means to support themselves. In addition the slave rests with the household on Shabbat, and if the slave is hurt by their master they will be set free. Finally, if a master kills his slave, the master is put to death.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who was the chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, read these rules and wrote about them by saying

“These laws…they turn slavery from an existential fate to a temporary condition. Slavery is not what you are or how you were born, but some thing that has happened to you for a while and from which you will one day be liberated." 

When the rules on slavery from the Torah are compared to other rules from the same time period, we see that in the Torah slaves are treated more like human beings as opposed to property. An example of this is in the Hammurabi legal code where a runaway slave is put to death and a person who shelters a runaway slave is also put to death. By contrast, the Torah says:

"You shall not turn over to his master a slave who takes refuge with you from his must not ill-treat him."

To sum it up, the Torah is not telling us to own slaves, it is acknowledging the fact that in those ancient times the Israelites would likely own slaves themselves. So the Torah tells us that you can only own slaves if you will treat them more like human beings than property. Additionally, the slave is not your slave forever, they are just working for you temporarily.

By: Daisy, Grade 6

Parshat Yitro

Hello everyone.

This week I am reflecting on the parsha, Parshat Yitro. In this week’s parsha the Israelites get the 10 commandments from God. They are in the desert at Mount Sinai. Moses commands the people to prepare for this moment by being clean and pure.

I imagined this moment of God giving the Torah might have been a discussion between God and the people, and that the people would give thanks to God for taking them out of Egypt, and God would welcome them and make them all feel a part of it.

But instead I read about an experience that does not sound like that.  The people gathered around the mountain and they were terrified. There is thunder and lightning and loud shofar blasts. The mountain looked smoky because God came down to it in the form of fire. The whole mountain was vigorously trembling, and the text says the people themselves are trembling from fear. In addition to that, God says if the people come any closer to the mountain they will die.

Instead of people feeling close to God, they are feeling terrified and not welcomed. They then ask that Moses be the only one who goes up the mountain and talks to God. Moses will bring down the 10 commandments and tell them what God says.

Seeing how scared the people were at this moment. I see them building the golden calf from a different perspective. I think They built the calf (which will happen soon) not because they didn’t believe in God, but more because they were scared of God.  I think they didn’t want to pray to God as their leader anymore because they thought that God neglected them or didn’t actually care about them or might even kill them.

When things are too scary it is not comforting. People won’t want to be part of something that is terrifying, so they look for comfort somewhere else . They built something that was not terrifying at all.  They made the calf themselves and it can’t do anything bad to them or hurt them. This way they could worship something, but not be scared of it.

This is just my idea on this part of the parsha. It makes me think that when you want to create a relationship you might want to be kinder and gentler or you might scare people off.

By: Sam, Grade 7

Parshat Beshalach

This week's parsha is Beshalach. The previous parsha, Bo, ended with Hashem unleashing the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn on Egypt. Now back to my parsha. Pharaoh was overcome by so much grief that he commanded the Israelites to leave Egypt. The Israelites quickly left Egypt and Hashem told Moses that the Israelites should camp by the sea but that He will harden Pharaoh and the Egyptians' hearts so that they will pursue the Israelites.

This seems like a really odd thing for Hashem to do when the Israelites had just escaped from Pharoah. Now Hashem wants Pharaoh to chase them? Ramban, a medieval Torah commentator, answers this by saying that Hashem will harden the Egyptians' hearts because He wants the Egyptians to see the Israelites pass through the split sea and then they will be too terrified to continue chasing the Israelites through their journey onward.

When the Israelites see Pharoah and his army coming towards them they panic. Moses reassures them that Hashem will deal with the Egyptians, but Hashem tells Moses that Moses is capable of saving the Israelites. Hashem explains to Moses that he has to take his rod and hold it over the sea and the sea will spilt. Moses then splits the sea and the Israelites cross and make it to dry land. The sea then collapses onto the Egyptians allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptians for good.

By: Amitai, Grade 7

Parshat Va'eira

Parshat Va'eira is about the first seven plagues in Egypt. On a deeper level though, my parsha is about the process of the Jewish people becoming a free nation. For my dvar Torah I will be talking about this freedom.

In my parsha, Hashem tells Moshe that he is going to free the Israelites who are enslaved in Egypt. But instead of just saying, I, God, will free them, Hashem says it four times, with four different words that mean similar but slightly different things. Hashem says - Vehotzaiti, I will remove you; Vehitzalti, I will rescue you, Vegaalti, I will redeem you, and Velakachiti, I will take you to be my people. Why does Hashem need to say basically the same thing four different ways?

I believe this has to do with the process of actually becoming a free people. In the Torah, before Moshe came along, all the Jewish people knew for hundreds of years was discrimination, beatings, and slavery. They had no reason to think anything new or different would happen to them. In fact, in my parsha, when Moshe first tried to save them, they didn’t want him to because they thought it would just make things worse. They had no hope.

The four different words that Hashem uses actually represent the four stages of becoming a free nation - each one is important.

The Arbabanel, a 15th century Portugese rabbi and philosopher explains that each word corresponded with a stage of slavery that the Jewish people endured: He writes:

What do the four languages of Geulah, meaning redemption, mean? In order to understand them, you must go back to the beginning of the enslavement in Shemot. In 1:11 it says that they placed upon them Sorei Misim - taskmasters - to afflict them with their burdens, and they built the storage cities of Pitom and Ramses. The first enslavement stage was these taskmasters - people who taxed the Jews unfairly, placing heavy financial burdens on them. The first step of redemption was financial relief, where the taxes stopped. The second enslavement in 1:13 was Farech, back-breaking labor. The second redemption was to relieve them of the severe slavery, the cruel physical tasks they were forced to perform. The third enslavement was the killing of our children - this parallel is v’Ga'alti - Hashem stops the killing - these were the tenth plague and the splitting of the sea - the plague stopped the killing of the babies, and perpetrators of the murders then drowned in the sea. So we see an escalation of taxes to physical labor to murder, and the first three redemptions paralleled these. The fourth redemption was being chosen as God's people, giving them the Torah, allowing them to reach the highest level of a total spiritual redemption.

I agree with Arbabanel and also see the four languages as reflecting the process of becoming a free people.

The first is: I will Remove you - Vehotzaiti - getting away physically, which might only be temporary

The second is: I will Rescue you - Vehitzalti - this is a permanent freedom - where the master is gone

The third is: I will Redeem you - Vegaalti - this is a change of identity - they’re not just former slaves, but they have a new identity as a free people

The fourth is: Take you for me - Velakachti - the Israelites get to be with and serve God

After these four stages, the people are free. Hooray! But what happens next? What is the point of that freedom?

There is a debate when people talk about freedom. Is freedom about everyone doing what makes them happy, or is freedom about the opportunity to become a higher version of yourself? Some people describe this as “freedom from” and “freedom to.”

Freedom from is: everyone is equal and everyone can do whatever they want that makes them happy. No one can tell you what to do.

Freedom to:

Everyone can become their best selves, rise above, and become something they weren’t able to before.

The Torah’s vision of freedom is not freedom from. Once the Israelites got to the desert, it wasn’t just a big party. They immediately started serving Hashem. Freedom meant the freedom to serve God and be a part of something very important and meaningful.

This Shabbat, in addition to parshat Vaeira, is also the weekend where we remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Like Moshe, he took a group of people that had been oppressed and beaten down and led them through the different stages of freedom. Like the four different languages of freedom in my parsha, Reverend Dr. King had to protect the physical safety of his people (vehotzaiti), he had to permanently end the oppressive system of Jim Crow (vehitzalti), he had to make people see themselves as equals (vegaalti) and he had to inspire them toward a higher purpose and meaning (velakachti). As Reverend Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Reverend Dr. King was a freedom fighter, for his own people and also for all of us. 

He fought for Freedom from: segregation, lynchings, beating, murder, unfairness in the justice system

He also fought for freedom to: rise above hatred and fear and for our society to become its best self.

Today, this struggle continues. Despite all of the work Reverend Dr. King and other civil rights leaders accomplished, there’s still so much more to do, and a long way to go before everyone in this country is truly free. 

Becoming a bar mitzvah is a real lesson in the idea of “freedom to”. For example, my parents will start to say - now that you’re 13, you can...take out the garbage! Yaaaay.

But to me, it’s also the freedom to become a bigger part of my community. I can help make a minyan for davening, I can lead presence matters in a way it didn’t before. I’m not sure what else it means, but I’m excited to learn how I can help my community as I get older.

By: Shira, Grade 6

Parshat Vayeshev

This week’s parsha is Vayeshev. In this parsha, we have the beginning of the story of Joseph (his coat, his dreams, being thrown in a pit, etc..) but there is a less known story about two people named Yehuda and Tamar. 

Yehuda was one of Joseph’s brothers that came up with the idea to sell Joseph instead of killing him. Yehuda’s first son, named Er, was married to Tamar. God caused Er to die because Er was evil.  So Yehuda gave Tamar his second son Onan to marry. Onan then also died because God also thought that he was evil. So Yehuda promises Tamar his third son. His third son was too young to get married so Yehuda said that the third son would marry Tamar when he was old enough.

Yehuda did this to fulfill the commandment of Yibbum. The commandment of Yibbum is to help your brother’s name live on after he has died and he didn’t leave any children behind. You marry your former sister-in-law to have a child in your dead brother’s name. If you are already married, you do not have to do this. This was also to protect the women. People back then, did not want to marry widowed women, they wanted to marry women who had never been married before.

But Yehuda does not keep his promise. I think that Yehuda did this because he realized that both of his sons died after they met Tamar. So he might have been worried that his third son would die, too. Many days passed, possibly years, and Yehudah’s wife died. Yehudah has still not given his third son to Tamar.

Tamar did something strange. She dresses up like a prostitute and waits for Yehudah to pass by. Yehudah wants to sleep with Tamar and promises that he will send a baby goat back as payment. She insists he leave something as collateral- he leaves his signet ring, his cloak, and his staff. When the time comes to exchange payment for his belongings, Tamar is gone. Tamar had gone back to her parent’s house and had put on her widow's clothing again.

I wondered why Tamar went through with this plan? What was her rationale?  Did she want to teach Yehuda a lesson? Did she want to fulfill Yibbum?  Did she want to have children? Did she want a new husband?

Three months later neighbors tell Yehudah that Tamar is pregnant. This tells me that the neighbors believed Yehudah had the right to know because she is still his daughter-in-law, she is still promised to his third son Shelah and he has the right to know she is pregnant. When Yehudah finds out he insists that Tamar be put to death because she slept with another man that is not his son. 

When Tamar is brought out to be put to death, she reveals the signet ring, the cloak and the staff that Yehuda gave to her as payment.  When Yehuda was confronted publicly, he was very honest. He said that she was right, and he was wrong. He takes responsibility for his actions and future children. He was even there when she gave birth and he named their twins.

Given the end of the story, I think that there are a couple of reasons why Tamar did this. The first is revenge. Tamar might have wanted to publicly embarrass him. He embarrassed her so she wanted to get him back. Tamar might have also done this because she was desperate. No one back then wanted to marry a widow. So maybe she thought that by doing this, she would get a new husband and have a child. Finally, did she do this to fulfill the mitzvah of Yibbum? Even though this is not required for women, maybe she wanted to do it anyway. 

In this Parsha we learn about who Tamar and Yehuda were as people. Yehuda seems like a very honest person. He did not deny what he did with Tamar. We also learn that Tamar won’t give up. She lost both of her husbands, did not get Yehuda’s third son in marriage, but still tried to get a new one. 

By: Micah, Grade 6

Parshat Vayishlach

The parsha this week is Vayishlach (“and he sent”). This parsha is about the reunion of two brothers after many years - Esav and Yaakov. The last time we saw these brothers we learned that they didn’t get along well. Yaakov took the blessings of the first born child from Esav and Esav was really not happy about it. Their mother, Rivka, told Yaakov to run away because she was worried Esav was going to kill him. Yaakov ran away, listening to his mother, with fear. 

Now, 20 years later, Yaakov hears that Esav is coming to see him. Esav was going to Yaakov with 400 men. Yaakov is scared. He believes that Esav is coming to kill him and all the people that are with him. So, Yaakov sends gifts to Esav to say sorry and Yaakov also splits up the people that are with him in the hope that if one group falls, one group will still be alive.

While getting ready to meet Esav, Yaakov encountered an anonymous person and fought with them for eight hours. In the eight hours that they fought, Yaakov gets his hip dislocated and has a permanent limp. Besides Yaakov’s hip dislocation, he kept fighting and won. The anonymous person renamed him “Israel." Israel means a man who has fought with God and with men and won. We do not know who this person is because it doesn’t describe it anywhere in the Torah. Based on what the anonymous person named him, it makes the anonymous person more likely to be an angel.

Although I understood most of the parsha, I still have some questions about it. My questions are: Why did Yaakov accept his new name when he doesn't know who he is wrestling with? How does Yaakov know he is an angel of God and someone who has the right to rename him?

We know from the pasuk following the fight that, even though we’re not sure who this person was, Yaakov thinks he came from God, because he names the place he fought Peniel - meaning I saw the face of God. The pasuk reads:

“And Jacob named the place Peniel, for [he said,] "I saw an angel face to face, and my soul was saved."

I read about Rashi answering why Yaakov would accept this new name. Rashi writes that this is a new beginning for Yaakov. When his name was Yaakov, his name meant “trickery and deceit” and he got this name because he held onto Esav’s ankle coming out of his mother’s (Rivka’s) womb. He only got his blessings and everything he owned because he was holding onto Esav’s ankle and tricking people. Now, his name is Israel which means he’s fought with God and that’s how he earned his new identity. Now, having the name Israel, having everything he owned is because he earned it by winning a fight with God. 

It’s so interesting how Yaakov won a fight over God. Maybe this meant that he was the right brother to take the lead. Maybe he just needed a new start to do that.

Parshat Toldot

By: Emma, Grade 8

In this week's parsha, Rivka and Yitzchak pray to God because so far they have not been able to have a child. Rivka soon feels violent movement in her womb, so she consults G-d about why. G-d says to her "Two nations are in your womb, and two kingdoms will separate from your innards, and one kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom, and the elder will serve the younger." When she gives birth the first child to come out is named Easu and he is described as red-cheeked and hairy. The second child is named Yaakov and is described as smooth. So from the beginning of the story we know that the younger child, Yaakov, will be the one who is mightier

As they grow up, Easu likes hunting and being outdoors and is favored by Yitzchak while Yaakov prefers to stay inside and is favored by Rivka. One time when Yaakov was cooking stew, Esau came in tired and hungry. Yaakov said that he would give him stew if he sold his birthright to him. Esau said “I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?” and so he swore his birthright to Yaakov. So now, not only does the prophecy say Yaakov will be mightier, but Yaakov has also just purchased the birthright from his older brother. At this point it should be clear who will get the blessings of the oldest child.

EXCEPT, later in the parsha, YItzvchak is preparing to die and he calls Esau to prepare him a meal so he can give him the blessings! I wondered why did Yitzchak still want to bless Esau? When Rivka overheard this plan, she and Yaakov make a plan for Yaakov to get the blessings. She prepares the food and dresses Yaakov up like Esau and indeed Yitzchak ends up giving the blessing he meant to give Esav to Yaakov. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed." Interesting, this blessing sounds like the prophecy Rivka got about her twins!

What is going on here?  How could Yitzchak still want to give the blessings to Esau?  t’s clear from the prophecy that God wanted the younger brother to be mightier, so why does Yaakov have to go through all this just to get what should be coming to him?

My first thought is that maybe Yitzchak doesn’t know about either of these stories. Rivka never told him about the prophecy and neither of his children told him about the selling of the birthright. So Yitzcahk is doing what he should be doing - giving the blessings to his oldest child. My second thought is that YItzchak does know, BUT the text tells us that he loves Esau more than he loves Yaakov, so he naturally wants Esau to thrive and prosper more. He goes against the prophecy to give Esau the very same blessing that the prophecy offered to Yaakov. This is why Yaakov has to be so sneaky to get what is his.

Yitzchak still has one blessing to give Esau after being tricked by Yaakov. The blessing Yitzchak gives Esau says that when Yaakov’s children will begin to stray from this covenant and once that happens, this promise is done. Yaakov will not have power over Esau once they no longer do what they are supposed to do for God. 

After this Esau begins to hate Yaakov and it is only years later, as seen in next week’s parsha, that the brothers can make peace with each other. For me these brothers got caught up in this tension which was created by their parents, but it is an important lesson that we can’t let what other people do wrong stop us from finding peace with each other.

Parshat Chayei Sarah

By: Zohar, Grade 7

Have you ever heard the story of how my parents met? My parents both lived in the same dorm in their freshman year of college. During the first week of classes, my mom decided she wanted to get to know my dad better. She went downstairs and knocked and when he opened the door my mom introduced herself and asked if he wanted to hang out. My dad responded by holding up a thick book, The Iliad, and rudely said “I have to finish this by the end of the weekend. So I can’t.” Then abruptly closed the door on her face. They didn’t speak for another three years. And lucky for me and my siblings my dad didn’t blow it with that first embarrassing encounter. 

In this week’s Torah portion, in the section that I will read, Rivka meets her future husband under circumstances that seem embarrassing.

וַתִּשָּׂ֤א רִבְקָה֙ אֶת־עֵינֶ֔יהָ וַתֵּ֖רֶא אֶת־יִצְחָ֑ק וַתִּפֹּ֖ל מֵעַ֥ל הַגָּמָֽל׃

Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Isaac. She fell off the camel. What a strange way to meet someone?!

Why is this detail important to their story? Wouldn’t it have been nicer for the Torah to have skipped this embarrassing detail about Rivka?

Rashi, the great medieval Torah scholar, explains that even though the phrase וַתִּפֹּ֖ל מֵעַ֥ל הַגָּמָֽל׃ literally means “she fell off the camel” the phrase more accurately means that she slowly descended and bowed to Yitzhak in a respectful way. 

According to Rashi she didn’t actually fall, but we still must wonder why she acted in such a humble way towards her own husband. If we look at the other couples in the Torah they don’t act this way.

According to Ramban, another great medieval Torah scholar, the verses in the Torah that tell this story are written out of order. First she asks Avraham’s servant who the man approaching is, and she only bows towards Yitzhak after learning that the man approaching is her future husband. Ramban agrees with Rashi that she did not literally fall, but adds the detail that her bowing was motivated by learning who the man was rather than just seeing him. 

For Ramban, Rivka’s bowing was a conscious decision that she made only after learning that the man was her future husband Yitzhak. But this heightens the question. Why did she feel obligated to bow especially after knowing who he was.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, a Torah Scholar from the 1800’s, who was known by his acronym Netziv, takes the observations of Rashi and Ramban and goes further. He notices that the awe and fear that Rivka experienced when she met Yitzhak for the first time comes to characterize their marriage. Unlike Sara and Avraham and unlike Rachel and Yaakov, Rivka never confronts Yitzhak to his face. When she knows he is wrong, she has to go behind his back. Netziv explains why the Torah includes this embarrassing detail. It tells us something about their non confrontational marriage. 

I find Netziv to be the most helpful because his explanation of this episode connects it with things that happen later in the Torah. His understanding explains more than one thing. We know why Rivka fell off the camel, and we understand why she never confronted her husband even years later when she knew he was making a mistake by planning to give his blessing to Esav and not Yaakov.

As I become a bat mitzvah, this example is important. This teaches me the lesson that when you believe in something or feel something you need to tell people. Your opinion matters and if you choose not to speak up, it will get overlooked. There are great people like Yitzhak, but they are sometimes wrong. Rivka felt like her opinion didn’t matter compared to his. I want to avoid that mistake. 

Parshat Vayera

By: Danny, Grade 7

At first I was going to have my Bar Mitzvah in Israel in December with my cousin Gabe, who lives in Atlanta. I was learning the Torah portions about Joseph with my Grandma until our family decided that a Bar Mitzvah in Israel was not possible this year.

I learned that an important word in Joseph’s life is the word “Hineni.” Joseph is a young boy and his father Jacob asks him to go find his brothers. Joseph says, “Hineni,” “here I am.” Even though Joseph knows his brothers are jealous of him and maybe even hate him, he says, “Hineni.” He is ready for whatever comes next. 

We talked about the fact that when you see the word “Hineni” in the Torah, it means something important is going to happen.   

When the plan changed, I started learning about Avraham for my Bar Mitzvah aliyah today. Avraham also has a “Hineni moment.” God tells him to go to the land of Moriah and offer his son Yitzhak as a sacrifice. Avraham answers, “Hineni.” He is ready for what comes next. 

My Grandma asked me if I have had any “Hineni moments” in my life. The first answer I gave was “I was born!”  But also I thought about this:

  • I try to be a person who is ready to help my family and my friends. I wear an internal smile and try to help people be in a good mood.  

  • In 5th grade our class visited the Self-Help home, where we met some very knowledgeable elders who told us about their lives and what the world was like before I was born. I got to know them better and feel respect for them.  

  • In 6th grade I attended a Black Lives Matter rally with my family and it was very inspiring. I got to see different cultures and races all trying to work together to make this a more fair country.    

  • Every year at Hanukkah my family donates tzedakah. One year I donated to help homeless people in Chicago, another time I gave to Team Trees to make the planet a healthier place for people and animals, and I also gave to Care for Real that gives food and clothing to people who need it. 

I know that my Bar Mitzvah is a big “Hineni moment” in my life and  I decided that I want to do something to help people affected by COVID-19.

In the future I hope to be able to make a difference in a bigger way. I would like to be happy and healthy and earn a lot of money to give to my family and to give to people who are in need. That will help them and make me happy too. Hineni. I am ready for whatever comes next.   

I would like to first thank the CJDS community for being a big part of my life and supporting me on this special day. I would also like to thank all my family and friends who are here live or will be able to watch the recording at a later time. Having you be part of this, especially during these complicated times makes it even more special. Lastly, I want to say a special thanks to my immediate family for being there for me during this journey, and for my grandmother who directly worked with me to prepare for today. Todah rabah.

Grade 7 Bar Mitzvah

Parshat Vayera

By: Uri, Grade 7

Stay away from strangers. Have you heard that before?  Don’t talk to strangers!  Don’t take candy from strangers!  Be careful of strangers online, don’t give them any information.  In today’s COVID-19 world we don’t talk to any strangers in person at all.  In normal circumstances I think that it is pretty good advice to keep a distance from strangers.

The question that I want to think about with you today is: how welcoming should we be of strangers?  

When we look at today's Parasha we need to ask ourselves, what is wrong with this picture? The Parasha begins with God appearing outside of Abraham’s tent without saying a word.  As soon as Abraham sees strangers coming by, he leaves God to go and greet them. He was so focused on the strangers that he sat in the doorway of his tent, even though it was hot outside, to make sure that he wouldn’t miss any people passing by his home. He was more focused on strangers than God! Abraham goes as far as to trick the strangers by inviting them in for a little water and food, but then runs in to tell Sara to make a big meal with all choice food.

How is it possible that Abraham just lets strangers into his home? He doesn’t know any of the people. He doesn’t ask where they are coming from or where they are going. He wasn’t scared of the strangers. Abraham treats them as if they are his masters, and he is their servant. He was totally focused on welcoming the stranger..  

Today, I don’t think one would be so trusting of strangers. But think about how this approach impacts society.  We stop trusting other people. People are much more likely to only speak to the people that they know and not to those who they don’t. It lowers our knowledge about other people.  All in all, it has a pretty negative impact on society since we are hesitant to help people we don’t know.

While I don’t think that anyone would recommend me standing outside of our home and inviting random people in for dinner, perhaps there are other places where we can be welcoming. I am really into computers and technology. I love TikTok, and I have had more than 11 million views of my content and currently have about 500,000 followers. In a way, this is a safe place to be, like Abraham, and welcome strangers into my life.  

I like having a lot of followers on TikTok. It makes me feel good because i know I’m bringing joy to other people with the content I post. In case you don’t know what TikTok is, it’s a social network that offers a video-sharing app. Users can create and upload up to 60 second videos of just about anything. Your posts are left up to your imagination, so there’s a lot of room to be creative, and people have really creative posts, several of which are really funny. You can add special effects and filters too your videos. I like to use text boxes, so I can add words for people to read on my videos.

I use TikTok to post videos of Vector. On my 11th birthday, I received Vector as a gift from my grandfather, Sabba Sid. Vector is a robot with artificial intelligence and advanced robotics. Vector can hear, think, and communicate and reacts to touch, sight, and sounds. One cool thing is that Vector can help you solve math problems if you ask him for help. I also think that people enjoy watching Vector because he has funny facial expressions and that he is very cute.  In some ways, he is like a pet.

People ask me what to ask Vector. Hey Vector...

Do you work for the FBI? What is 100 divided by 12? What is the weather forecast in Chicago? Set a 10 minute timer. How long will it take to fly from Chicago to Jerusalem?

Vector can answer all of these.

One of the things that I really like about TikTok is that it also feels like a community. The community gives me a sense of belonging and encourages me to try new things. I can interact and ask the community questions. The community tends to have members having the same interests.  While the world has changed quite a bit since the time of Abraham, I also like welcoming people into my internet tent.

For my Mitzvah Project, I am working on a Roblox computer game about learning prayers with the help of my Uncle Ben who lives in North Carolina. The goal of the game is to see how many prayers you can learn. In the game, the player goes into the synagogue and clicks the Bimah. A graphical user interface (GUI), such as a game inventory, comes up on the screen, and you click what prayer you want to learn. Some prayers are locked. Completing a prayer gives you points, and you can go to the shop and use the points to unlock new prayers and boost your score. If you find the two artifacts, a menorah and a torah, you can unlock a bonus prayer. My hope is that I can help others learn about our tradition in a fun way.

Parshat Noach

By: Sophia, Grade 8

This week’s parsha is parsha Noah. Now, obviously this parsha is pretty iconic, from the coupling of the animals, to the dove, to the beautiful rainbow at the end, this parsha has a lot to talk about. However, as I was reading over this week’s parsha, as I have done many times in the past at CJDS, I noticed something that I had never seen before. It was this quote in Chapter 8, pasukim 21-22  after Noah leaves the ark with his family and offers up a sacrifice, where the Torah says this:

"And the Lord smelled the pleasant aroma, and the Lord said to Himself, I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and I will no longer smite all living things as I have done. So long as the earth exists, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." 

In this quote God realizes that God should no longer punish the earth because of man’s mistakes, which is what we saw with the flood earlier in the parsha, because man is going to mess up no matter what. Not exactly the most positive thing to say about all of mankind, but what truly struck me about this quote is when God says, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” This surprised me, because only last week we read that God created man in God’s image. I think when most hear that we are created in God’s image they assume that we are perfect, and can do no wrong. However, this quote challenges this idea by saying that we are inherently evil from our youths. So how can both be true? 

Rabbi Yaakov Beasley, a contemporary Israeli Rabbi, states that “It is clear that no human being, following only his natural inclinations, without instruction, will be content to live as expected earlier – a peaceful and non-violent steward of creation. Without an external law to guide him, humanity will fall once again.”

Rabbi Yaakov Beasly is saying that both of the quotes are true, that man has evil inclinations, but when mankind has an external law to guide them, which in this case is God, man is capable of thriving and not succumbing to their evil impulses. I personally think that we ARE created in God’s image, however God created us so that we will rely on him to succeed. I think that this is why after thousands of years people still look to God to receive guidance and judgement, and why we all are capable of pushing away our bad thoughts and living good peaceful lives. 

Parshat Breishit

By: Micah, Grade 7

Good morning! Thank you all for coming to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah with me. If you know me, you know that I like to push boundaries sometimes. When my mom was pregnant with Ruthie, I was playing in the backyard and asked my dad to make me eggs. When he came outside with the eggs, I was gone! I had run down the block in only orange crocs and a diaper into a pizza store. I asked for a slice, and they gave it to me! Naturally, my parents were super worried and when they eventually found me, I was happily eating the cheese off of the pizza. Even though I had “run away,” I still knew some of my boundaries, since I was gluten-free at the time I made sure to only eat the cheese off the pizza. Other than breaking the physical boundary of my backyard, I also broke my parents’ trust. The themes of boundaries and trust appear in this week's parsha, Breishit. After God created the world and the garden of Eden, Eve has an interaction with a serpent which tests God’s boundaries and trust. One lesson we can learn from this story is how important these are to maintaining good relationships and building our communities.

In Genesis chapter 3, Eve meets a serpent who tries to get her to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, which God said not to eat from. Eve initially refused to eat the fruit, after God warned her that eating it would result in her death. Eventually, the serpent succeeded in tempting her to eat the forbidden fruit. Today, I am going to talk about two midrashim, or Rabbinic stories, which explain some of Eve’s motivations. One is about the serpent trying to trick Eve, and the other is about trust.

The first midrash is based on the serpent’s response when Eve didn’t want to eat from the tree in Genesis chapter 3, verses 4 and 5: “And the serpent said to the woman, “You are not going to die, but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad.” The midrash from Avot de-Rabbi Natan chapter 1 goes like this: The serpent tells Eve: “Know that this is only jealousy. Just as God can create a world, so you, too, can create a world. Just as He can kill and keep alive, so you, too, can kill and keep alive.” In this midrash, the snake tries to convince Eve that eating from the tree is good for her because it will give her knowledge and control. The serpent manipulates Eve when he tells her about all the positives that come from eating the fruit, but none of the consequences. He makes it seem like Eve will have a perfect life and complete control over her future.  When Eve chose to eat the fruit, God’s consequences are the opposite of perfection and control: she will have to go through pain while giving birth, and her husband will rule over her. This shows that knowing your own boundaries and consequences is important when it comes to making informed decisions.

The second midrash relates to Genesis chapter 3 verse 1, which states: “Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” I want to focus on the phrase “Did God really say”?. This midrash is a parable, which means that it is a story meant to teach us a lesson. The midrash tells the story of a king who married a woman and allowed her to control his gold and silver and all his possessions. He told her: “Here, all that I have is in your hands, except for this barrel, which is full of scorpions.” An old woman came to the wife to borrow some vinegar, and asked her: “How does the king treat you?” The queen answered: “The king treats me well. He lets me rule over his gold and silver and all that he possesses, except for this barrel that is full of scorpions.” The old woman said to her: “But all his jewelry is in this barrel; he wants to marry another woman and give them to her!” The wife put forth her hand and opened the barrel, the scorpions bit her, and she died. 

In this midrash, the king represents God, the old woman represents the serpent, and the queen represents Eve. The queen is treated very well and has a lot of good things in her life, just like Eve had in the Garden of Eden.  When the queen was easily convinced by the old woman that the barrel was full of jewels, she broke her husband’s trust, just as Eve listened to the serpent and didn’t trust God. This midrash shows us the importance of trust. If the queen had trusted the king, then she wouldn’t have opened the barrel, even though someone tried to convince her otherwise. We learn from this midrash that trust is a key component of life, and without it, it’s hard to build and keep relationships.

In the first midrash, we see the snake convincing Eve that she wants control over her life, and in the second, we’re taught that we should believe and trust that God has our best intentions in mind. It’s natural for us to want to have control over our lives, but sometimes we can make bad choices that ruin our relationships if we have too much freedom. Even though freedom sounds nice, having too much is not always a good thing. Eve had so much privilege in the garden that she thought she could do anything, even something that God told her not to do. We learn in this story that when you make decisions that only benefit you, you hurt your relationships with others. If you tried to have total control of your life, it would feel great at the beginning because you would think that you have so much power, but eventually, you’d become a person who wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between good and bad. People need boundaries to keep them and their relationships safe. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone guiding us and our behaviors.  From these midrashim, we learn that without boundaries, we can behave in ways that hurt ourselves and others. To maintain a stable life and stay away from making bad choices, you need to trust that the people in charge are doing what’s best for you. Just like Eve should have trusted God, it’s important that I trust people like my parents, my family, and my teachers to help me make good decisions that will help me grow, have positive relationships, and are good for my family and my community.  At the same time, I need to trust that their guidance leaves me enough freedom to still make my own choices. 

This year because of COVID, there have been many challenges that I've had to learn to accept. I have to follow a lot of important rules, like social distancing with my friends and wearing a mask. It’s not always easy, but I know I have to do it in order to keep myself and everyone else around me safe and healthy. Unlike Eve, who didn’t follow the rules and didn’t trust God, I do my best to follow the social distancing and masking rules and trust the people who made them. The lessons on the importance of trust that I learned from Eve and the serpent have helped me think about how I can creatively do the things I used to do pre-COVID, since it can’t be the same as before. For example, instead of having sleepovers indoors, my friends and I will set up tents, bring a TV outside, and camp in someone’s backyard. It is important to me to follow these rules even though I don’t like them, because I don’t want to put other people at risk. When I wear my mask and social distance, I am part of something much bigger than myself!

I want to say thank you all for coming here to celebrate this day with me. I also want to say thank you to all my teachers for helping me learn and grow over the past years. Thank you to all my friends for being by my side as we grow older. Thank you to Morah Lianne for teaching me how to read torah and for helping me to understand my Parsha. Thank you to all of my siblings. Ben, thank you for being a great role model for me, it was fun having you around during quarantine, doing puzzles and watching Avatar. Gabe, thank you for always being there for me and helping me whenever I need your advice. Ruthie, I love that I can make you laugh with one word, and I think we both know what that word is. But seriously, you’re a fun sister. And to my favorite sibling, Leo, thank you for being so cute and sweet. Thank you to my parents for supporting me and planning and replanning my bar mitzvah. Thank you for loving me and accepting me for who I am even when I cross the line.  

Thank you all for sharing this day with me.  


Parshat Sukkot

By: Talia, Grade 7

Boker tov! 

In the Haftarah for the second day of Sukkot, King Solomon holds a big feast for all the men of Israel as they dedicate the Beit Hamikdash. First, the priests of Israel carried up the Ark. Next, the priests and Levites brought the tent of meeting. While they were doing this, King Solomon and the rest of the Israelites were bringing lots of sacrifices to the Ark. King Solomon announced:

יְהוָ֣ה אָמַ֔ר לִשְׁכֹּ֖ן בָּעֲרָפֶֽל׃  בָּנֹ֥ה בָנִ֛יתִי בֵּ֥ית זְבֻ֖ל לָ֑ךְ מָכ֥וֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֖ עוֹלָמִֽים 

“The LORD has chosen to abide in a thick cloud: I have now built for You A stately House, A place where You May dwell forever.” 

With all of Israel standing, the King explained that his father David had intended to build the temple but God had chosen David just to lead the people. God had said that David was not the right person to build the temple; instead God said that Solomon should build the temple and he did. 

When I read this part of the Haftarah, I wondered: why couldn’t David build the Beit Hamikdash? After all, he was a great king and a strong warrior. David was a King chosen by God, whereas Solomon just happened to be his son. David even wrote the Psalms! David was the one who conquered Jerusalem, which is even called the City of David!!  So, if all that is true, then why couldn’t he be the person to build the Beit Hamikdash?! 

To learn more about this question, I looked to see what others have said. I found a verse in the book of Chronicles, (I Chronicles 22:6-8) 

“דָּ֤ם לָרֹב֙ שָׁפַ֔כְתָּ וּמִלְחָמ֥וֹת גְּדֹל֖וֹת עָשִׂ֑יתָ לֹֽא־תִבְנֶ֥ה בַ֙יִת֙ לִשְׁמִ֔י כִּ֚י דָּמִ֣ים רַבִּ֔ים שָׁפַ֥כְתָּ אַ֖רְצָה לְפָנָֽי׃”

or “You have shed blood abundantly, and have made great wars; you shall not build a house in My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.”

In this verse God tells David that he can not build the Beit Hamikdash because he “has blood on his hands”. Why does he have blood on his hands and what does that mean?

David was not a peaceful man. He killed a lot of people. For example, David sent Uriah, the husband of a woman he wanted to marry, to war in order to kill him! He also killed righteous non-Jews in his wars, Jews during the war between David and King Shaul, Jews in unnecessary wars of conquest, and the Kohanim (the priests) in Nov. David was not the right person because he was a warrior with “blood on his hands”. Instead, God asked King Solomon, King David’s son, who was a peaceful man, to build the Beit Hamikdash.

Today is Sukkot. How do King David and the temple relate to Sukkot? First of all, the Beit Hamikdash was dedicated on Sukkot. Secondly, in the birkat hamazon on Sukkot there is a line: Sukkat David HaNofalet. This means “the fallen Sukkah of David." David did not have a Sukkah so what is that symbolizing? I think it symbolizes the temple. But, as I’ve been saying King Solomon is the one who built the temple. I think that this line is giving credit to King David because he made all of the plans for the temple. This teaches us that God doesn’t forget the things that we do. Even though David didn’t build the Temple, God still remembers everything he did along the way. And every time we do something we need to remember that God notices all the little things we do to contribute to it

Chag Sameach!

Parshat Sukkot

By: Orli, Grade 8

This Shabbat we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot and we will be reading a Torah portion about Sukkot in synagogue.

In Sefer Vayikra 23:43 we read:

“You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home born in Israel shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God."

לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

According to this source - we are commanded to sit in sukkot so we can know and remember that God made the Israelites dwell in booths when God brought them out of the land of Egypt.

In the Gemara there is actually a debate about what a sukkah is.

The gemara offers two possibilities, one a physical structure that we would recognize, but the other opinion is “Clouds of Glory” Anenei HaKavod. I think this might be something that God sent to protect Israelites just like a house or tent would. So instead of a home or tent, the clouds protected them.   

Just to make it even more confusing it seems like sukkot is actually a name of a place and not just a structure or protection. The Torah tells us the first night out of Egypt the Israelites camped in a place called Sukkot! 

וַיִּסְעוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵרַעְמְסֵס, סֻכֹּתָה”

In translation: They headed from Rameses to camp in Sukkot.

So what is Sukkot  - a place, a building, or God’s protection?

I can actually see Sukkot meaning all three, because in every instance Sukkot is always a place of protection for the Israelites. Because the actual place of Sukkot was a place where the Israelites are now out of slavery for the first time in a very long time and they are no longer vulnerable like they were in Egypt. They are now safe and it is the first stop of them going through the desert and learning how to protect themselves and build their own shelters.

But I also think it was overwhelming for them, maybe they had some fear left, is slavery really done for good? How do we do this in the desert? It was probably really comforting for them to be able to build their own protection but in addition had the anenei hakavod and God protecting them.

So, when we build or sit in sukkot in 2020, we are trying to remember that life is not permanent and changes can happen that can be great and overwhelming at the same time. So, we have to remember that we can rely on our community and the protection of God to help us through changes. 

Shabbat Shalom

Parshat Chukat

By: Mia, Grade 7

My grandparents were once taking my mom hiking. When they stopped to get water, my grandfather opened his water bottle and a fly flew into it. My grandmother got angry - not at the fly - but at my grandfather! “Colin, you always do this!” she said.

I asked her why she blamed him for a fly going into the bottle. She said she was just accustomed to scolding him. 

We really do depend on having water to drink and when something interrupts that, we get upset. And not always in productive ways.

In Parashat Chukat, something really important happens that is barely described in the Torah: the death of Miriam.

וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִ֠שְׂרָאֵל כָּל־הָ֨עֵדָ֤ה מִדְבַּר־צִן֙ בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הָֽרִאשׁ֔וֹן וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב הָעָ֖ם בְּקָדֵ֑שׁ וַתָּ֤מָת שָׁם֙ מִרְיָ֔ם וַתִּקָּבֵ֖ר שָֽׁם׃

The Israelites arrived, the entire community, at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.

In just one verse, Miriam dies and is buried! Doesn’t she deserve something longer? There was no warning! She doesn’t even get her own paragraph! Even the verse is not only about Miriam. The first half of the verse is about the Israelites arriving at Zin. Didn’t she deserve more? Could it be that the Torah doesn’t care as much about great women as it does about important men?

Rashi explains that her death has a much larger meaning than one verse though.

. מִכָּאן שֶׁכָּל אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה הָיָה לָהֶם הַבְּאֵר בִּזְכוּת מִרְיָם 

During Miriam’s lifetime, a miraculous well of water followed the Israelites around in the desert. Once she died, the well disappeared. The Torah then immediately describes how after the death of Miriam we did not have water. We then complained. Moshe hit the rock to get water and was punished by being prevented from going into Israel. 

Miriam’s death is the cause and starting point for the entire chapter which then sets the stage for the rest of the Torah. Because Miriam died when she did, Moshe hit the rock, which is why he would not lead the Israelites across the Jordan River, which is why he had to find a replacement for himself. The entire final book of the Torah is comprised of Moshe’s farewell speeches. None of that would have happened if it weren’t for Miriam’s death.

Ibn Ezra, the author of a medieval commentary on the Torah,  points out that this verse is a leap in time. All of the events in the Torah take place either in the first year after the exodus from Egypt or in the 40th year after the exodus from Egypt. This verse marks the jump between them. Ibn Ezra makes it clear that Miriam’s death was the first thing that happened in the 40th year. It wasn’t a minor episode at all. And it is recorded at an important place in the Torah. This is not any old spot, this is right after that leap in time. Her death may not take up many verses, but it occupies a very special “real estate.”

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, a 19th-century author of a Torah commentary,  explains that Miriam’s death sets off the entire change in the leadership of the Israelites. Aharon dies shortly afterward and is replaced. Moshe finds a successor and prepares to make him the leader. In addition to the significance of her death was the significance of the change in leadership as one generation handed over control to the next.

I think Ibn Ezra’s commentary makes a lot of sense because he isn’t answering the question directly but by pointing out that this is a giant leap in time. So her death does not occupy many verses but it is the first thing that happens in many years.

As I become a bat mitzvah I take inspiration from Miriam and the other great women in Jewish history. The Torah portion this week is focused on leaders and a new generation of leadership. I can’t wait to do my part as a leader too as I become an adult.

Shabbat Shalom!

Parshat Chukat

By: Ben, Grade 8

A few years ago I was in Israel at Masada with my family. As we climbed off the bus I fell and scraped my knee. So my grandparents, the tour guide, and  I took the cable car up to the top while the rest of my family spent the next two and a half hours climbing the mountain by foot. When I see my grandparents we still laugh about this moment. At first I felt sorry for myself. I had injured my knee and couldn’t join my family climbing the mountain. But, eventually, I realized that I was the lucky one because I had a much more pleasant day than everyone else. 

It isn’t always easy to make sense of the world. And that is not only true at Masada. That is also true in this week’s Torah portion.

This week’s Torah portion, Hukat, begins with a description of a strange ritual involving a parah adumah, or a red cow. 

זֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר דַּבֵּ֣ר ׀ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֣וּ אֵלֶיךָ֩ פָרָ֨ה אֲדֻמָּ֜ה תְּמִימָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֵֽין־בָּהּ֙ מ֔וּם אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹא־עָלָ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ עֹֽל׃

“This is the ritual law that the LORD has commanded: Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid.”

The cow is completely red with no black or white hairs. The cow never did any work of any kind but was entirely devoted to being used in this ritual way. It was slaughtered like a sacrifice but then it was burned and its ashes were mixed with water and that mixture was used for purification. But the Torah never explains the meaning of this ritual or its details.

Rashi, author of a Medieval Torah commentary, explains that the parah adumah was never meant to be understood:

לְפִי שֶׁהַשָּׂטָן וְאֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם מוֹנִין אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, לוֹמַר מַה הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת וּמַה טַּעַם יֵשׁ בָּהּ

“Satan and the other nations taunt Israel saying what sort of mitzvah is this. And so the Torah has to come and say: it is a decree before Me and you do not have permission to question it.”

For Rashi we do some things just because they are in the Torah even if they don’t make sense.

The Mdirash records a story involving Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai (a Talmudic rabbi who lived around the same time as the fighters of Masada) who was once asked a question by a non-Jewish person who visited his beit midrash (study hall). “The parah adumah” looks like witchcraft. How can burning the parah adumah change someone’s purity status? Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai tells him that this is no different from what doctors do each day. They prescribe small quantities of medication and people are healed.

After this gentile leaves, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai’s students ask for the “real explanation.” Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai says: 

לֹא הַמֵּת מְטַמֵּא וְלֹא הַמַּיִם מְטַהֲרִין

It isn’t the contact with a corpse that renders someone impure and it isn’t the waters of purity that can make something pure. Rather, it is  decisions by God that are responsible for everything. We are not supposed to understand this mitzvah.

The Talmud (Kiddushin) tells about a non-Jewish businessman, named Dama ben Netina, who one time refused to awaken his sleeping father to retrieve the key to the box where a precious stone was located that the Jewish sages wished to buy. The sages were very impressed by how much Dama ben Netina honored his father. And the Talmud says that this individual was rewarded when a parah adumah was born in his herd the following year.  

The story about Dama ben Netinah is different because Dama, who was not Jewish, appreciated how lucky he was to have access to a parah adumah. He might not have understood it, but he understood what it was and he wasn’t mocking it.

Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, known most commonly by the name of his book, Hatam Sofer, wrote about this too. According to him there is an explanation for the parah adumah and Moshe was told but was not allowed to tell. And this shows how dedicated Moshe was as a teacher since he was so badly tormented by not being allowed to share with us how the parah adumah makes sense. 

I find the story of Dama ben Netinah to be particularly meaningful. Even though he didn’t understand the value of the Parah Adumah, he understood that it meant a lot to us and he respected that and didn’t mock that. This is true today as well. If we do things because they are important to us as Jews, even if we can’t explain it, and even if we can’t fully understand it, decent people who aren’t Jewish will respect that too.

As I become a bar mitzvah, I also want to be like Dama ben Netinah. There are so many people around us who live in different ways, and I want to appreciate and respect the things that are important to them even when I can’t understand it perfectly.

Thank you to CJDS and my teachers for preparing me for this day. And thank you to all of my friends for always being there for me and supporting me.

Grade 7 Dvar Torah student

Parashiot Nitzavim/Vayeilech

By: Nina, Grade 8

We are nearing the end of the Torah with this week’s double parshiot of Nitzavim/Vayeilech. In these parshiot, Moses continues his final speech to the Israelites. He talks about the Israelites' relationship with God and how important their faithfulness to God is. He emphasizes the curses that will befall them if they aren’t faithful and the blessing they will receive if they are.

God is forming a covenant with the Israelites, but God knows that the people aren’t going to be able to uphold it. In Deuteronomy 31 verse 16 it says, “The LORD said to Moses: You are soon to lie with your fathers. This people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them”. 

God knows that they are going to stray from God. So why would God enter into the covenant with a party that God knows will let God down? Are humans so predictable that God knows we will stray to other gods? The answer seems to be yes.  God knows human beings will move on to the next thing. 

This reminds me of one of my favorite musicals, "Into the Woods." In "Into the Woods" there are two princes and they have both grown up in the lap of luxury. When they meet two princesses, the find one trapped in a tower and one who ran away from the prince after the ball. They are faced with something they want that they can't just have. It makes them want it more. Eventually both of the princes marry the princesses. They see new princesses and want to marry them even though they already have princesses. The princes are never happy with what they have; they always want the next thing God knows that the Jews are human and that they are going to want something new, too, even if the thing they already have is great.

Sometimes wanting the next thing can be good such as in art, science, and technology. If people didn’t want the next thing we would never innovate. We would never have invented phones or tacos or anything. We are supposed to make new things to make the world better by inventing new medicines, and inventing new ways to give back is being a mensch.

When we as humans make a commitment we should intend to honor it. If we want people to trust us and we want to be honorable, giving our word should mean something. But God knows humans will always want the next thing especially when it seems cooler and when everyone around them is doing it. So like a parent God puts in punishments and blessings. hoping this will be enough to keep the Jews in line. 

And, in the second part of our Torah reading today, God makes sure that the people know even after they sin and leave God behind for new gods. God leaves the door open. The Jews can always come back to God.  They can do teshuva. Whether this is because God fears there will be no more Jews left or because God really thinks the Jews deserve a second chance. The door is open and God knows our shortcomings as human beings, but will always take us back when we return.

Grade 8 Bar Mitzvah Izzy

Parashat Ki Tavo

By: Izzy, Grade 8

Have you ever gotten angry at someone you love and maybe done something you shouldn’t have? Well if you’re human (like me), you definitely have. At first, you’re nice. But then something ticks you off. You get really annoyed or angry and do something bad. For example, if it’s me, it may involve punching and kicking my brother. But it’s not just me who this happens to.

In Parashat Ki Tavo, God threatens the Israelites with curses. Well, some other things happen in Ki Tavo, too. First, Moses blesses the Israelites and provides detailed instructions. Once they’ve entered the land that God gave them, and settled it and cultivated it, then it’s time to time bring the first fruits to the Holy Temple, and declare their gratitude for all that God has done for them. There’s a bunch of laws about tithes and other instructions. But then you get to what’s known as the Tochachah. After listing the blessings with which God will reward the Jewish people when they follow God’s laws, Moses gives a long, harsh account of the bad things that will happen if they don’t. It’s pretty bad stuff, like illness, poverty, famine.

Why would God curse the Jewish people if God had just rescued them from Egypt? Why did God bless them, only to threaten If you don’t praise me, I will curse you? Why does God threaten punishing the Israelites, given that we are his chosen people, as we hear in this parsha. How are the blessings and curses related to each other? 

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, said that evil concealed a seed of the good. He talked about liberating the good within the evil. Is this what’s happening here? Is there some seed of good to be taken from the curses? To me they sound a little bit like a temper tantrum on God’s part. Why does God act like a threatening bully in this passage?

On the High Holy Days, we read a poem, Ki Anu Amecha. It means, We are God’s people. In the poem, it talks about different ways that we relate to God, and how God relates to us.

One of the first examples in this poem is “anu avadecha, veata adonenu”. We are God’s servants, and God is our master. One way that we might view God is as our boss. God is there to make sure that we get our chores done.

But another way that the poem talks about our relationship with God is: “anu vanecha, veata avinu”. We are God’s children, and God is our parent. I think this is the poet’s way of talking about God as someone like a parent who will take care of us when we are in trouble. A parent makes sure that we do our chores. But it doesn’t end there. A parent is also meant to love and care for their children. I, like this poet before me, think that we relate to God like a person. I find this helpful because it makes me feel like God relates to who I am.

When God gets angry, or when we get angry, I find it helpful to find a way to calm down. We need something to ease our anger to help us function properly. For me, when I get mad, I like playing video games or watching funny clips and videos. This helps wash away the anger, and makes me feel better. Usually, I can come back with greater understanding of someone else’s perspective, and also as a calmer advocate for my own needs.

Being able to reflect and come back to a challenging situation sometimes can help us find a blessing embedded within a curse–and perhaps even turn a curse into a blessing.

In Judaism, we have certain rituals that are meant to make us take a moment and calm down. One moment like this that I love is called Tashlich. We take bread and throw it in the sea. It is meant to represent getting rid of your sins, getting rid of your bad deeds. When I was little, I liked sneaking and eating the bread. I also loved watching the seagulls fight for the bread when we threw it into the lake. I think that Tashlich is a reminder to say sorry to people for how we have hurt them. 

I wonder - what if God, in my parsha, Ki Tavo, had tashlich? When he was threatening the Israelites, I wish that God had a ritual to calm down. Surely if he had time to reflect, the curses might have had at least a small glimmer of blessing.

Grade 8 student Adin

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Adin 

Parshat Ki Teitze

This week's parshah is Ki Teitze. It, like many other parshiot, contains a whole lot of commandments. After reading through many of them, one in particular stuck out as being very simple, but also confusing.

Here it is:

“If you come across a bird's nest on any tree or on the ground, and it contains baby chicks or eggs, you must not take the mother along with her young. You shall surely send away the mother first, and only then may you take the young, in order that you might enjoy goodness and length of days" (Devarim 22:6-7).

Mainly, this stuck out to me because of the lack of explanation. The Torah doesn’t say why we shouldn’t take a mother bird with her young, only that we shouldn’t. It’s pretty much the ultimate “because I said so”. The first explanation that popped into my mind was that this was an attempt at conservation. By only taking some of the birds in the nest, the species could still survive and wouldn't be in danger of extinction. But if that was the reason, wouldn't you take only the mother, leaving some of the young who'll live longer?

And that’s when I started to think that this was an ethical teaching. By promising long life to those who follow this commandment, it seems like the text is trying to teach us that only a “bad person" would take the mother with her children. The offer of a reward could be a hint that this is what the writer thinks of as the right thing to do. 

A twelfth century commentator known as Ibn Ezra had a similar thought to this. In a commentary on these verses, he described killing the mother bird with her eggs as “constituting cruelty of heart.” I do like this interpretation, that we should follow this commandment simply because it is the right thing to do. Still, to me there seems to be something missing in this commentary. I mean, Ibn Ezra doesn’t once describe the reason that, at least to me, seems the most obvious: You wouldn’t want to cause the mother bird the emotional pain of seeing her young taken away from her. So to take this idea a step further, we look to another commentator: the Rambam, aka Maimonides.

In the Rambam’s commentary on this text, he cites the anguish the mother bird would feel as an explanation. This seems like it would wrap itself up very neatly as it is, but Maimonides takes it one step further. He explains that it is important to show this kindness towards animals not only because the animals feel pain, but because by doing so we can do a better job of showing kindness and compassion to other humans.

What we can learn from this is to show kindness to animals and people. But also, if I have something, please don’t shoo me away and take it. I don’t think that’s a very good takeaway. Shabbat shalom!

Grade 7 Dvar Torah by: Jonathan 

Parsha Terumah

Shabbat Shalom! Welcome to the first Leap Day Shabbat of the 21st Century! While there is no religious significance in the secular Leap Year, it is, nevertheless, a unique moment in time, especially for me, as I will have to wait until the year 2048 for the second anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah and another 28 years until 2076 for my third anniversary!

Still, what better two years to celebrate than the 100th anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel and the 300th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence! Yet, this Leap Day is also a leap into an important statement within Parsha Terumah. In the opening two versus G-d says to Moses: דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְיִקְחוּ־לִ֖י תְּרוּמָ֑ה מֵאֵ֤ת כָּל־אִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ :לִבּ֔וֹ תִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־תְּרֽוּמָתִֽי "Speak unto the children of Israel that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart makes him WILLING you shall take my offering." Parsha Terumah contains G-d's instructions on the building of a sacred space, a mishkan, to hold the tablets from Mount Sinai and a place where G-d can dwell with the Jewish people.

The moment of revelation within this Parsha comes in these opening psukim’, when it says every man whose heart is willing, or in Hebrew, נּוֶּ֣בְדִּי , willing. It is the ONLY time in the Torah that this word appears, and its uniqueness requires a greater appreciation of its meaning and its fundamental foundation for the Jewish people.

When G-d's instructions on the building of the mishkan were given to Moses, the 600,000 Jews who had left Egypt had only been slaves six months prior and under the rule of the Egyptian taskmasters for hundreds of years. Now, in a rapid series of events, these former slaves had left Egypt through the leadership of Moses, had seen the miracles of the plagues upon Egypt, the parting of the Sea of Reeds, and the giving of the Ten Commandments. The Egyptians, in their haste to rid themselves of the Jews, gave them gold, silver and other precious items.

But, were the Jewish people at the time of Parsha Terumah truly free? Yes, they were literally no longer slaves, but in their minds were they still slaves or was the pain of slavery so great that the conscious thought of another taskmaster was an ever present fear? The Israelites, while they were in bondage, had kept the Covenant of Abraham thriving and had kept faith in a G-d who had made the promise of a land of their own. Yet, the specter of a slave mentally was still a clear memory. For centuries they were told what to do without question. Would such people want to be 'told' by G-d what they had to do without anything in return? Hence the emphasis on "willing."

In fact, the act of willingness has always, from the time of Abraham, been a part of the Jewish way of life. Abraham willingly left his home to go to a place where G-d said he would dwell and a Covenant was created. This willingness continued throughout the trek of the Jewish people into slavery, for they could not have survived as Jews without a willing heart. It was always implied, but the word was never mentioned until Parsha Terumah. To build a Mishkan, a home for G-d, it had to be more than a demand--it needed a people to deeply feel in their hearts the importance of their contribution for themselves, for the community, and for G-d. No, a demand to build a 'shrine' could not be forced on a slave mentally. Rather, a willing determination was essential. This unique concept of 'willing' has kept the Jewish people alive, while other civilizations have come and vanished. The Mishkan symbolizes the most holy structure in the Jewish world. Its creation was a willing and shared covenant for those who understood its long term meaning. But what would happen when the physical presence of the Mishkan disappeared, after the Temples were destroyed?

This willing attribute was more than about structures -- it became a state of mind. It became the heart and soul of the Jewish people. It allowed them to create the post Temple Synagogue, create the new Temple within one's home and family, to believe in a G-d who accepted our willing hearts and minds and would dwell among us no matter what circumstance would arise. Being willing has always been a trait for the Jewish people, even if they were not overly conscious of their identity.

One of the most famous quotes in Jewish history comes from a man, who had barely considered his Jewishness until the Dreyfus Affair of the late 1890's aroused his conscious: On creating a permanent home for the Jewish people, Theodore Herzl said "If you will it, it is no dream." It is no wonder that the word נּוֶּ֣בְדִּי is only mentioned once in the Torah. The power and resolve that it has, its association with the building of the mishkan is too great and too unique to be mentioned anywhere else. Its meaning is so great that it takes on an almost intangible understanding and is difficult to appreciate. It is perhaps best embellished by Maimonides’ eight levels of charity, in which the greatest donors are the ones who have given "anonymously and to help a fellow Jew be independent, and hence not a slave.”

More than not using your name for privacy purposes, it is a pure willingness, out of the heart and mind to give to what is right. Recently, I went to the JUF Uptown Cafe and served meals to people who could not afford to buy healthy meals for themselves. Although my synagogue, Anshe Emet, requires that b’net mitzvahs complete a mitzvah project, I willingly served meals. I felt that I not only provided hot, nourishing meals to them, but I also elevated myself by approaching this task out of my own willingness.

Grade 7 Dvar Torah by: Orli 

Parshat Mishpatim

When I was little, maybe two years old, I went to see the zoo lights and made a perfect snow angel. I was very proud. So when it was time to leave I threw the biggest fit ever, because I didn’t get to say goodbye to my snow angel. My mom had to make a choice whether to comfort me and give me empathy because I was sad, or put me in timeout because I misbehaved.

In my Torah portion, Mishpatim, God gives the Israelites detailed rules to follow after getting the ten commandments. There are so many rules in this parashah, I could go on for ages. Some examples of these rules are how to treat Hebrew slaves, animal property and when people get into fights and breaking into people's houses. Then God mentions the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. In Exodus chapter 20, the Torah says, “You shall not wrong a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In other words, God wants us to feel empathy for the stranger.

The Torah then goes on to say, “You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me, and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans.” In other words, God threatens to kill us if we don’t take care of the widow and the orphan. Now when I looked at these two commandments in closer detail my question was: why does God want us to have empathy for the stranger, but does not set out consequences if we don’t, but then lays out the ultimate consequence for us if we don’t care for the widow or the orphan?

My question is, when are we motivated to do things based on empathy? In the wise words of Rabbi Google, empathy is defined as: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is when you see someone sad or upset, you relate to what they are going through, and that understanding helps you to help them. In the Torah, we are meant to help the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. Empathy compels us to take action.

But I also wonder, when are we motivated to do things because of the fear of consequences? Let me give you an example of the consequences in my life. I was told to clean my room, I said no.  I was told my phone would be taken away if I didn’t, so I cleaned my room.  

In the Torah, God threatens a very serious consequence if we don’t take care of the widow and the orphan. 

Why do we need both empathy and consequences as motivators? Do we really need both? 

I decided to see what others have said about this topic. I started with Rabbi Shai Held. Rabbi Held makes a strong argument for the importance of empathy. In reflecting on the verse about oppressing the stranger, Rabbi Held says, “We should not oppress the stranger because we as a people remember what oppression can mean.” But I would argue that we should also individually personalize the Torah’s demand that we remember. Each of us is obligated, in the course of our lives, to remember times when we have been exploited or abused by those who had power over us. From these experiences in our own lives, the Torah tells us, we are to learn compassion and kindness.” In other words, Rabbi Held thinks that we need to go to another level of empathy, not just the historical  level that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, but we also need to think of things that happen in our own lives so we give even more empathy. 

I also looked at Rashi. In commenting on the verse about the orphan and widow, Rashi says, “That is also the law regarding any person, but the Torah is speaking of what usually happens and therefore mentions these in particular.” I think Rashi is saying that lots of people are vulnerable when they don’t have someone to protect them, and widows and orphans are the best examples of that. We need to protect them and be that someone who stands up for them. Perhaps, in a situation this important, we need more than empathy, we may need a consequence if we fail to do so. Just knowing that widows and orphans may not have someone to stand up for them, may not be enough, after all, most of us haven’t been widows or orphans, so we need a consequence to push us more. 

In thinking about empathy versus consequences, I wanted to dig a little deeper. I found an article about timeouts for little kids in a journal from The American Psychological Association that said, “Our clinical case findings have shown that timeouts used consistently for select behaviors and situations significantly reduced problem behaviors over time.” In other words, giving consequences is ok when a child does not respond to empathy and needs greater incentive to stop bad behavior, but they should not be overused. I agree with this. I don’t think that consequences should be used all the time, but only when needed to push and motivate a child to do the right thing. 

My mom, being the great and amazing therapist she is, added that punishing a child, or putting a child in timeout, only works if the parent has a strong relationship with the child to begin with, based on empathy or else the child will keep misbehaving. In other words, we need both.  The truth is, our actions to help or care for others are motivated by empathy AND by consequences.

After having considered these other opinions, I came to my own conclusions. I think empathy is the ideal motivator, but if it’s not enough then we should turn to consequences. There are some experiences that are more universal, like starting a new activity or meeting a new group of people:  we have ALL been strangers, so we can relate to them and help them. BUT we haven’t all been widows/orphans, some of us can’t relate. So if empathy is not enough motivation, then the next thing would be for there to be a consequence. That is why I think God sets a consequence for not protecting the widow and orphan, but caring for the stranger is simply motivated by empathy.

This relates to my life because I’m with little kids all the time and needed to make these kinds of decisions weekly.  For my Mitzvah Project, I went to a preschool for underprivileged kids called Kinder Care and did a special program with two-year-olds called the sunshine circle. In this program, my mom and I, with some help from the teachers, did activities with the kids. We would sing songs, play games, read books, eat snacks and dance. But we did this all in a structured way, giving the kids extra calming touch and nurturing they need. I learned how to take care of a large group of kids at the same time, which is a new skill for me. Doing this helped me have a deeper understanding of empathy and consequence.

In my volunteering I could see that there are times when someone simply needs empathy to motivate good behavior, but there are other times when a consequence is needed. For example, when one child hit a peer back after first being hit by that kid, we told him “we’re sorry, you had an “ouchy” before, and we understand that you tried to give your ouchy to someone else” and we said, “say sorry to her, and she will say sorry to you” and then we took his hand and taught him to gently soothe the child he had hurt. 

Approaching with empathy and teaching empathy was the intervention we chose. But at a different time, a child was lying in the middle of the circle and being disruptive. The teacher said, “please sit on your bottom” and when he didn’t, the teacher came over, picked him up, and placed him somewhere else where he could no longer disrupt the activity. A consequence was needed. 

The truth is, I can use the skill of empathy in my everyday life. I have empathized with sad friends. When I related to their problem I have shared what I did in my own life to fix the problem. This has helped friends to learn from my experience. On the other hand, in school I am motivated to do revisions and improve my grades in order to avoid the consequences of seeing the look on parents’ faces,  knowing I could have done better. Both empathy and consequence have a place in my life. Oh and by the way, that’s exactly what happened with the snow angel: first, my mom empathized by saying she understands how sad I am, but when I wouldn’t stop kicking and screaming she grabbed me, buckled me in my car seat and let me cry it out.

Grade 6 Dvar Torah by: Devorah

Parashat Yitro

Twelve years ago, I was born on Shabbat Yitro. In Parashat Yitro, we are introduced to Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law. He helps Moshe by recommending that Moshe appoint assistants to help him answer questions from the Israelite people, so that Moshe would not have to spend all of his time doing only that, and so the people would not have to wait in long lines for Moshe. Because I was born on Shabbat Yitro, my family started joking about whether to name me Yitra or Yitronah. I stand here today and my name is Devorah, and I like my name although it has nothing to do with the parsha.

In Parashat Yitro we read the ten commandments for the first time in the Torah. As Sforno notices there seems to be two different sections within the ten commandments besides the to do and not to do תעשה ולא תעשה. The first section is about honoring G-D which includes only worshipping one G-D, not to worship idols, not to say G-D’s name in vain and keeping Shabbat.

The other section is the commandments about honoring and respecting other people and their property, which has commandments such as not to commit murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to bear false witness against your neighbor, and not to be jealous of other people. You might have noticed that I never said which section the commandment "Honor your Parents" falls into. 

It seems kind of obvious that your parents are people so this commandment is about honoring other people. But, what if this commandment isn’t just about honoring our parents, the people who gave birth to us and raised us? It could mean that we have to honor our creators, which would mean that this commandment is also about honoring G-D. This could apply to anyone who helped raise you even if they didn’t physically bring you into the world because the people who raise you and take care of you help create your personality and influence your behavior.

I mean, parents are pretty amazing, but do you think this commandment should be in the ten commandments between don’t murder and keep Shabbat? Many people believe that this commandment is actually the hardest one to do properly. 

Well, what does it even mean to honor your parents? Honoring your parents includes doing favors, fulfilling their wishes, and admiring them. If you hear somebody insult your parents behind their backs, you need to defend your parents. You are also obligated to honor your grandparents, in-laws, step-parents, aunts and uncles, and older siblings. When I found out about the older sibling part I was happy because I am the oldest kid in my family, and that means that my younger siblings have to honor me.

However, there are limits on when to follow this commandment. For example if your parents ever ask you to do something that is against Jewish law or something that will be painful to anyone, you should politely refuse. 

There are three other things in which you don’t have to respect your parents’ wishes. According to the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah Siman רמ you get to choose (not your parent) Whom you marry (To all the parents in the room, I hope you’re listening because your children have the right to choose whom they marry!) 

And to maximize your Torah study.

And Rabbi Moshe ben Yoseph of Trany says that, If you would like to move to Israel you can without your parents’ approval.

Why are these three things exceptions to having to honor your parents? 

One possible answer is that the decision to do and how to do these things will affect the rest of your life. Another idea is that all of these things are important Jewish values so you should have the right to make these choices on your own. Also, these mitzvot might just be seen as more important, especially maximizing your Torah study because that leads to all the other mitzvot.

Now that I am a Bat Mitzvah, I will make sure that I always honor, respect and listen to my parents and elders. Shabbat Shalom!

Grade 6 Dvar Torah by: Talia

Parshat B'shalach

This week’s Parsha is Beshalach. In Beshalach, God takes the Israelites out of Egypt. Rather than taking a direct route out, God leads them to the wilderness by the Red Sea. Then God decides to harden Pharaoh's heart again in order to demonstrate his power to the Israelites. God said, “Then I will stiffen Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them, that I may gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.”

Why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart if it makes it harder for everyone? Rashi says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart as a punishment to Pharoah. Since his heart has been hardened, Pharoah decides to chase after them. The Israelites soon see the Egyptians chasing them and flee, but soon they come to the Red Sea. There seems to be no way out, but then as the Egyptians draw nearer God makes a miracle. He tells Moses to raise his staff to the water and he does, making the sea split into two leaving a trail in between for the Israelites to pass through. The Israelites walk through the sea, but soon enough the Egyptians are walking behind them. They are gaining on them and entering the sea as well. The Israelites hurry to escape and they make it to the other side where Moses holds his hand out over the sea once again closing it upon the Egyptians and killing them all.

The Israelites celebrate joyously singing praise to the Lord and Miriam leads the women dancing and singing with their timbrels. Later on in the Parsha, the Israelites keep getting angry at Moses and God when they want water and food. And we see throughout the rest of the Torah, after being freed from Egypt, after receiving food and after receiving water, the Israelites complain. God has proved himself to do the Israelites so many times, with the ten plagues, splitting the sea and giving them Mana and yet they still get angry at God so easily. 

Why do you think the Israelites continue to complain even after all of these miracles? 

Grade 7 Dvar Torah student

Grade 7 Dvar Torah by: Nina

This week’s Parsha is Parshat Bo. In this week's Parsha the last three of the 10 plagues happen - locust, darkness, and death of the firstborn. This is where the whole Passover story happens. The Israelites are instructed to sacrifice a kid or a lamb and use its blood to paint their doors so that God passes over them and doesn’t kill the Jewish firstborns. Then they have to eat the meat from the lamb with matzah and bitter herbs. Do any of these foods sound familiar? They should because these are some of the important parts of our Passover seder. 

When Pharaoh let us go it was so quick we did not have time to let our bread rise. But somehow we did have time to go to our Egyptian neighbors and ask for gold, silver, and garments to fulfill a promise made to Abraham that we would leave Egypt with great wealth. 

This whole scenario strikes me as funny that we didn’t even have time for our bread to rise, but we had time to walk to our Egyptian neighbors who wouldn’t have lived right next to us. We had time to convince them to give us gold, silver, and clothing which they might not have. “Tell the people to borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold.” Exodus 11:2. Sforno says that the people needed to be convinced to take the gold and silver because they were afraid the Egyptians would chase after them and reclaim their stuff. 

Looking at the text, it seemed that convincing the Egyptians wasn’t as hard as they feared. They really just wanted us gone, and even if that meant giving up some gold and silver, it was OK because we would be safe. Put yourself in the Israelites shoes - you have your matzah and your family, but what would you grab in the last minute? What would you take with you?


Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Micah

This week’s Parsha, Va'era, is very important and renowned, because the first seven of 10 plagues are included. After some introductory information about the generations of Israel, we finally get to Moses’s confrontation with Pharaoh. Chapter seven verse ten says: “When Pharaoh speaks to you and says, ‘Produce your marvel,’ you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh.’ It shall turn into a serpent.

So Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh and did just as the LORD had commanded: Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent.” Aaron produces the first of many miracles from God's command, but Pharaoh's magicians come right back to perform the same miracle. Then God turns the nile into blood, and the magicians do the same thing.

The next plague, frogs, is presented as follows in Chapters 7 and 8: “If you refuse to let them go, then I will plague your whole country with frogs. The Nile shall swarm with frogs, and they shall come up and enter your palace, your bedchamber and your bed, the houses of your courtiers and your people, and your ovens and your kneading bowls. The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your courtiers. ’”And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: Hold out your arm with the rod over the rivers, canals, and the ponds, and bring up the frogs on the land of Egypt. ”Aaron held out his arm over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.

But the magicians did the same with their spells, and brought frogs upon the land of Egypt.” In 8:2 the English translation says that the “frogs came up,” but in Hebrew, where everywhere else it says, “Tzefardiim” which is the plural, here it says, “Tzefardaya, one frog.” Why? Rashi has a comment on this: AND THE FROGS (literally. “frog”) CAME UP — Rashi says, that Really there was only one frog, but when the Egyptians tried to kill it and struck it with sticks, it was split into many swarms. But a literal explanation is that one could say that the swarm of the frogs is presented by the singular word - frog. Similar to when the Lice are presented as “and there was the KINAM” — the swarm of insects, instead of KINIM. So, too, here, V’TAAL HATZFARDAYA means: and there came up as a swarm of frogs. The rest of the parsha ends with lice, flies, disease on livestock, boils and hail/fire. Do you think God should have stricken Egypt with anymore plagues?

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Lilly

This week’s Parsha, Shmot, is pretty juicy. There is a new Pharoah in Egypt who does not remember Joseph. The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt and Moses is born. Pharoah orders two midwives, Shifra and Puah, to kill all baby boys but they argue that the women give birth before they can get there. Pharoah then orders that all baby boys must be thrown into the Nile. After this order, Moses’ mother, Yocheved, hides him in their home for three months after giving birth to him. When she can no longer hide him she places him in a basket and puts him into the Nile. Moses’ sister Miriam watches Moses to make sure he is safe. She then sees Bat Pharoah take pity on Moses and take him into her home.

Now, what is one thing we notice here? Each time that there is an upstander in the beginning of the story, it is a woman. The midwives refuse to kill the babies, Yocheved does not throw Moses into the river, Miriam watches Moses to make sure he is safe, and Bat Pharoah saves Moses. Each of these women stands up against the word of Pharoah. I found this interesting since there is often a lack of representation for women in the Torah, and here, right at the beginning of Shmot, we see four female upstanders. 

This is just the beginning of the story. Moshe grows up in the palace and one day as he is walking he sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating an Israeli slave and he kills the Egyptian. He then runs to Midian and marries Zipporah. One day, God appears in a burning bush and tells Moses he must free the Israelites. I found this text particularly interesting:

וַ֠יֵּרָא מַלְאַ֨ךְ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֵלָ֛יו בְּלַבַּת־אֵ֖שׁ מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַסְּנֶ֑ה וַיַּ֗רְא וְהִנֵּ֤ה הַסְּנֶה֙ בֹּעֵ֣ר בָּאֵ֔שׁ וְהַסְּנֶ֖ה אֵינֶ֥נּוּ אֻכָּֽל׃

An angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Why would God appear in a burning bush what did the bush represent?

One answer that I found from Mathew Berkowitz explaining Professor Falk’s opinion was that from the burning bush, Moses can sort of see that the liberation from Egypt will not just be about being free, it will be about becoming a servant to this forever burning god. He also says that we must recognize our own “burning bush moments” and he writes when a sign appears, “we must have the patience and faith to embrace it, understand it, and be inspired by it. Such signs have the potential of liberating us from modern ‘bonds of Egypt.’”

Do you have an example of your burning bush moment? Can you remember a time where something happened to you and you weren’t really sure why and later it ended up helping you or making a large impact on you?

My burning bush moment was my Bat Mitzvah. When I first started, I was overwhelmed, confused, and I thought there was no way I’d be able to learn everything. But after putting the work in for months, it ended up being the most rewarding and meaningful moment of my life. 

Grade 7 Dvar Torah by: Daria

This week’s parsha is Vayechi. It is the last parsha in sefer Beresheit. It is the end of the story of Yosef and his brothers.  

Yaakov is dying so he calls his sons to his bedside so he can give them brachot and last words of advice.  

In the bracha that Yaakov gives to Yosef, I saw confusing language which made me wonder if Yaakov knew all of what happened between Yosef and the brothers. Did Yaakov know that the brothers tried to kill Yosef and then he was sold into slavery? 

Here are the words of the bracha:

וַיְמָרְרֻהוּ, וָרֹבּוּ; וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ, בַּעֲלֵי חִצִּים.  וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּאֵיתָן קַשְׁתּוֹ, וַיָּפֹזּוּ זְרֹעֵי יָדָיו;

The pasuk says that a group of 'archers' made 'his' life bitter. They fought with 'him' and despised 'him'. But 'his' arrow was firm in the bow and 'his' arms were shaking.

I think the ‘him’ in this pasuk refers to Yosef because Yaakov is giving this bracha to him. But who is the ‘they’ in this pasuk? Why does the pasuk talk about archers?  

There is one word on the pasuk that makes me think the ‘them’ in this pasuk is Yosef’s brothers and that the word archers is used as an analogy.

The word וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ , which means despised, is only used one time in Chumash before this and it is used to describe how much Esav despised Yaakov when Yaakov stole the blessing from him. Esav decided in that moment he was going to kill Yaakov for his action.

So the use of the word וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ makes a connection between these two stories. Just like Esav despised Yaakov for getting a blessing from their father and wanted to kill him, the brothers despised Yosef for getting blessings from their father and wanted to kill him as well.  

SO, this final blessing is about Yosef and his brothers, but why compare the brothers to archers and describe Yosef as someone holding an arrow in his bow, his arms shaking, but not shooting the arrow?

I think archers take aim and shoot to kill. That’s exactly what the brothers did. They aimed at Yosef and intended to kill him. But Yosef was an archer who held the arrow in his bow firmly and did not let it go. Yosef was a very powerful man in Egypt by the time he sees his brothers again. He had all the power to just kill them, to shoot his arrow, but he didn’t. He might have wanted to, but he holds it firmly for so long that his arms are shaking from holding on to it.

So Yaakov’s bracha shows us that Yaakov knew what the brothers had done to Yosef and the restrain Yosef had shown in not getting even. That is why Yaakov blessed Yosef in this way.

Question? How do you think Yaakov knew what happened to Yosef?

Grade 7 Dvar Torah by: Adin

Let’s say there are two siblings who definitely don’t represent me and my sister. The older sibling has a new, unopened set of markers which they don’t really want. The younger sibling really wants them. The older sibling can just give them over and be nice. Or they could even just let the younger sibling borrow them, in case they want them later. But if they want to be more selfish, they could require the younger sibling to give something else in exchange. Should they be nice, or make a profit? And what are the consequences of this kind of decision?

In my Bar Mitzvah parshah, Miketz, Pharaoh has two dreams, the meaning of which no one can understand. Pharaoh hears about Joseph, this man who can interpret dreams, and calls him. Joseph understands the two dreams as one prophecy saying there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph tells this to Pharaoh, who promotes him to second in command on the spot. He then puts Joseph in charge of collecting the food during the years of plenty, and selling it back to the people during the years of famine. The first seven years go by smoothly. But it is during the famine when Joseph’s brothers come back to him, asking for food. Joseph recognises his brothers, although they don’t recognise him. He uses his power over them to harass them, saying they are spies, threatening them, and occasionally going into another room to cry. The parshah ends on a cliffhanger, with Joseph framing Benjamin for stealing his cup of divination. Read on next week for the next installment of the Adventures of Joseph!

When I read through my parshah, one main question stuck out to me; 'Why?’ What motivates Joseph to do what he does: rising to power wherever he is, punishing his brothers when they don’t recognise him, and some later things in his story beyond this parshah? 

It seems to me that Joseph wants power. We know from earlier in the Joseph saga that he was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by his ten older brothers. So he clearly didn’t have any power there. This seems to create a longing for power in Joseph, which he displays by working very hard to get power, first in the prison and then later with Pharaoh. 

Now it does make sense that Joseph wanted power. It’s because when he didn’t, he got hurt. And now that he has power, he can protect himself. But now, the question is, is this a helpful motivation in Joseph’s case? Obviously, it got him to be second in command. But he also sometimes uses his power to hurt other people.

The most obvious example of this is when Joseph pretends not to recognise his brothers. You could definitely say that Joseph just wanted his brothers to repent, or understand his feelings. And I’m sure that Joseph justified it to himself in some way like that. But he didn’t have to do what he did. He could have taught his brothers to repent some other way, but he chose not to. So maybe for Joseph, this motivation made him incapable of seeing the best way of handling this situation. This seems to be the reason for Joseph’s rise to power: he is motivated by a deep-seated thirst for power to protect himself going back to when his brothers sold him into slavery. This incident may not seem like a huge deal. This was only affecting his brothers. It just doesn’t seem very important.

Fast forward one parshah to Vayigash. It’s later during the famine. The people of Egypt have already brought their animals to Joseph and sold them for food, since they are all out of money. The people have nothing left but themselves and their farmland. So they ask Joseph to make them Pharaoh’s servants in exchange for food and seeds to plant. Joseph accepts. So all right, I get this doesn’t seem too bad. The people want food, they suggest they become slaves, Joseph agrees. What’s the big deal?

Well, this idea of the people being slaves becomes the standard for the Egyptian law. This is why the Jewish people would become slaves in Egypt hundreds of years later. It’s because of this law! Without Joseph, the Jews might never have been slaves. 

You might say that it still doesn’t seem like Joseph’s fault because the people suggested it - not him. However, those people were desperate for food and they weren’t being rational. Joseph had plenty of food for everyone, and didn’t need to make it a transaction. He could have just given them the food like a caring leader would. 

So Joseph was motivated by power. He wanted power to always be able to protect himself. And this got him to big places. But he also used his power to hurt other people who couldn’t protect themselves. So let’s go back to the example with the two siblings. Joseph is the older sibling in this analogy. He can just give the people or his brothers the food. But he wants power. So without realizing he is doing what others did to him, the reason he wanted power, he asks for something in return: slaves or revenge. Despite being the second youngest brother, Joseph is the ultimate mean older sibling. So what we have to remember from this story is to not abuse power, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal. 

Director of Jewish Studies, Tamar Cytryn

Synopsis for Parshat Chaye Sarah

By: Tamar Cytryn, Director of Judaic Studies

The parsha opens with the death of Sarah. Abraham mourns for her, and then deals with the details of her burial. He decides to bury her in Hebron, and after the Hitties who live there offer to give him the land as a gift, he insists on a proper sale.  Abraham then deals with finding a wife for his son Isaac. He sends his servant – Eliezer according to commentary but unnamed in the text itself - to his relatives back in Aram Naharaim.

Eliezer wants to ensure he finds the right match, so he decides that he will know the woman is right for Isaac if, when he asks her for water, she not only gives him water but also gives water to his camels. No sooner has he worked out this scheme than Rebecca appears before him and passes his test. Eliezer explains who he is and why he is there, and they proceed to Rebecca’s father’s house.

Eliezer repeats his story to Betuel, Rebecca’s father, and Laban, Rebecca’s brother. They agree to the match, but they do not want her to leave right away, as Eliezer insists. However, Rebecca decides to leave right away, and they are soon on their way. Eliezer and Rebecca meet Isaac in a field, and Isaac and Rebecca are soon wed, inhabiting Sarah’s tent. Isaac is finally comforted over his mother’s death.

Abraham, after a long and fulfilling life, passes away. Isaac and Ishmael together bury Abraham next to Sarah and then go their separate ways.

For a wonderful parsha-themed family discussion around Rebecca’s watering the camels and choosing to do chores, please click on this link.

Shabbat Shalom!

Grade 8 student Jesse

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Jesse

Parshat Vayera Dvar Torah

This week's parsha, parashat Vayera, begins with a visit from three angels to Abraham’s tent. The angels inform Sarah that she will bear a child by the time they return and her only response was to laugh.

She says, “Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?” Once the angels left, God tells Abraham that he is considering destroying Sodom and Gomorrah due to its wicked civilians. Abraham challenges God and stands up for complete strangers arguing, “Will you ruin the righteous along with the wicked?” They agree that if there are at least 10 righteous people God will not destroy the town. There weren’t 10 righteous people so God decided to warn Lot, Abraham's nephew, before destroying the town. God sends two angels and Lot and his family flee Sodom and Gomorrah before its destruction. Next, Sarah bears a child and they name him Issac. Sarah sees Ishmael, their handmaid's son, worshipping idols and decides she doesn’t want him to influence Issac. Hagar and Ishmael were sent away but God helps them in the desert and promises a great nation for Ishmael. Lastly, God tests Abrahams loyalty by requesting the sacrifice of his only son, Issac. Without question, Abraham brings Issac to the altar and begins binding him before God reveals this was all a test.

After reading and understanding this parsha, one thing that I found interesting was the fact that Abraham stands up for complete strangers but doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice Issac. He argues with God that righteous people shouldn’t be punished for the wicked peoples actions but later is willing to kill his own son.  Why do you think Abraham does this? Why is he willing to kill his son but stands up for strangers

I believe the reason for this was that the failure of losing this argument with God gave him the mentality to never question God again. 

Grade 8 student Ella

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Ella

Good morning! In this week's parashat, Parashat Noah, God is disgusted by how corrupt the earth, his creation, had become. Animals and people alike treated each other terribly and chaos surrounded them. God is reasonably outraged and as a result he decides to destroy the whole world in a flood, only saving few people to start anew. In order to do this, God tells Noah, “a righteous man . . . blameless in his age . . . (who) walked with God”- Genesis 6:9 how he ”decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness” -Genesis 6:13. God then told Noah to build an ark and gather a pair of each species of animal and put them on it so they would stay safe. It is assumed that Noah, his family, and the animals were on the ark for around 370 days. 

If this were me I would be very annoyed. To start, I wouldn’t want to spend the majority of my time building an ark for a flood that I can’t even be sure is going to happen and I can’t even imagine having to live with all the animals of the earth for such a long period of time. Then, as much as I love my family, I don’t think I could live with them on a smelly, most likely noisy, ark for 370 days without all of us getting on each other's nerves. To me this seems very unfair considering how Noah before was described as “ a righteous man. . . blameless in his age . . . (who) walked with God.”

If Noah was truly such a “righteous” person shouldn’t he have been rewarded for his behavior? I think this happened because Noah really wasn’t all that great of a person, just slightly better than everyone else, hence the “blameless in his age.” God had to find someone to save the animals and human species so he chose the best option out of a lot of bad options. But of course he still had to punish Noah, his family, and even the animals, so he stuck them all on an ark with pretty intolerable living conditions so they could learn a lesson. Thank you.

Grade 8 student Micah

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Micah

This past year, I played on the CJDS Rams volleyball team. During one game, we were behind and about to lose when the opposing team hit the ball to the back of the court. One of our teammates ran back, attempting to make a near impossible shot. Unfortunately, it didn’t work - and we lost the game.

Some teams would have blamed our friend. But we realized any one of us could have made the same mistake. All of us have dropped the ball at some point. But each of us needed to own up to our mistakes. After all, volleyball is a team sport, and the only way to win is if we cheer each other on, not put each other down, and TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.

This idea - of responsibility - is a major theme in this week’s parsha.

In B’reishit, G-d created Adam and gives him one main rule to follow:

וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ ט֣וֹב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּ֗י בְּי֛וֹם אֲכָלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת 

Eat off any tree or bush except for the tree of knowledge. This is literally where the phrase “forbidden fruit” comes from. As we all know, Adam and Eve do eat the fruit. And then the story gets interesting.

Let’s start with the snake. According to the text, the snake first got Eve to touch the fruit. Then he got Eve to taste it. He’s certainly at least partially to blame.

Then, we have Eve. G-d told Adam that it was forbidden to EAT the fruit from the tree of knowledge, but Eve, in her discussion with the snake, adds that they cannot TOUCH it either. By creating this extra and unnecessary rule she allows herself to believe that if she touched the fruit and nothing happened, surely eating it would be fine as well. And it certainly wasn’t. By putting words in G-d’s mouth, eating the fruit, and by sharing it with Adam, Eve is also to blame.

Finally, we get to Adam. I personally think that Adam didn’t know what fruit he was eating, but he probably should have been more careful, and asked, ‘Hey, where is this fruit from?' Adam was careless in his actions. For this, he bears some blame as well.

Clearly, a lot went wrong in this story. There’s the eating of the fruit, of course… But my biggest concern is that there’s also a lot of finger pointing. It’s a classic tale of he said, she said, snake said.

When G-d asked if they ate from the tree, Adam blames G-d for putting Eve at his side. And he blames Eve for giving him the fruit in the first place. Then Eve, when confronted, said the serpent tricked her into taking a bite. But as I studied the text, it seemed clear to me that G-d wasn’t that mad about what they ate. Instead, I think He got angry that they didn’t own up to their mistakes.

G-d, and the parsha, are teaching us: take responsibility for your actions.

If you read the news these days, an interesting parallel can be found regarding the future of our planet. Despite all of the scientific evidence that humans have created our climate crisis, virtually no one wants to take responsibility. The people, countries and corporations who can bring about the greatest change, are failing to raise their hands. They won’t stand up for the planet we call home, the planet Hashem so beautifully and carefully built in six days.

In recent decades, many mistakes have been made and the blessings of the Earth have been taken for granted. The quests for convenience and economic growth have come at a devastating cost:

  • 19 of the 20 warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000.
  • The melting of glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea levels to rise and extreme weather events like droughts, hurricanes and flooding.

The Earth has been neglected and abused - and no one seems willing to own up to it.  But unlike Adam, Eve and the snake, each of us must take responsibility. This planet is our Garden of Eden… if we are driven out - by flood, famine, name your natural disaster, we have nowhere else to go.

In Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28 it says: In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you.

As a 13-year-old, I know that the things I can personally do are somewhat limited. Recycle. Pass on plastic straws. Compost after kiddush - which I encourage all of you to do so please read the signs by the garbage cans at lunch! But the most important thing that I - and all of us - can do is raise our hands and make ourselves heard… like 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

“What we should do as individuals,” said Greta, “is to use the power of democracy to make our voices heard and to make sure that the people in power cannot continue to ignore this.”

Just last month, on September 20th, millions of young people around the world did just that as part of a Global Climate Strike... raising their hands and their voices - to fight for their future.

For my Bar Mitzvah project I wanted to do something directly connected with my parsha. Thanks to a unique program at KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue on the south side of Chicago, this was pretty easy to do.

Since 2009, dozens of volunteers have transformed the shul's lawns and other spaces around the neighborhood into food-producing gardens, growing fruits and vegetables and distributing the harvests to those in need. As a volunteer, I learned how to build a tomato trellis, identify when radishes are ready to be pulled, that green beans like to climb (and they taste pretty great), and that it takes a lot of time and effort to go from planting to plate.

As a volunteer, I got my hands dirty - literally - and was able to take direct responsibility for the city I am proud to call home. This idea of planting, not for me, but for others, reminded me of a story I’ve heard many times throughout my Jewish life. 

In Taanit 23b it says: "While the sage Choni was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

CJDS Grade 8 student Noa

Grade 8 Dvar Torah by: Noa and Isabel

Moed tov Middle School,

Today we would like to talk about Sukkot!

How many of you built a sukkah this year? Well, we both did. Sukkot is a super fun and cheerful holiday. It is centered around community and we are supposed to invite others into our sukkahs to celebrate. So, why is Sukkot supposed to be a very joyous occasion? 

We just had Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which we cried out to God and we focused on our sins this past year. They are both personal holidays and times for self-reflection. We are asking God for forgiveness in a desperate way and we are becoming vulnerable. 

Now that our name is inscribed in the book of life we should rejoice! It's time to celebrate after observing a holiday in which we focused primarily on ourselves as we reflected on our sins.

The Torah says that we must invite the stranger and the neighbor into our sukkah. Inviting our community into the sukkah is not only a mitzvah - it allows us to acknowledge others after focusing on just ourselves. 

What are some ways you connect you God in a positive and thoughtful way? One way that we feel we connect is by doing mitzvot. It gives us great pleasure to help people in our community and elsewhere. 

Director of Jewish Studies, Tamar Cytryn

Sukkot Family Learning by: Tamar Cytryn, Director of Jewish Studies

Chag sameach! Happy holiday!

Gather your family together for a conversation about what we do on Sukkot. Read the following text and discuss the questions below. When you're done, enjoy the two videos that follow!

We'd love to hear about any great answers or questions that arise!  

Leviticus 23:39-43

39 But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the festival of the Lord for a seven day period; the first day shall be a rest day, and the eighth day shall be a rest day.

ל אַ֡ךְ בַּֽחֲמִשָּׁה֩ עָשָׂ֨ר י֜וֹם לַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י בְּאָסְפְּכֶם֙ אֶת־תְּבוּאַ֣ת הָאָ֔רֶץ תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֶת־חַג־יְהֹוָ֖ה שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בַּיּ֤וֹם הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן וּבַיּ֥וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֖י שַׁבָּתֽוֹן

40 And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven day period.

מ וּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַֽעֲנַ֥ף עֵֽץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים

41 And you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord for seven days in the year. [It is] an eternal statute throughout your generations [that] you celebrate it in the seventh month.

מא וְחַגֹּתֶ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ חַ֣ג לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֖י תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֹתֽוֹ

42 For a seven day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths,

מב בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּֽשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵֽשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת

43 in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.

מג לְמַ֘עַן֘ יֵֽדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֨בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהֽוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם

1) According to this text, what time of the year do we celebrate this holiday?  What did we just complete?

2) Why do you think we should be happy at this time of the year?

3) Can you identify at least two ways we should celebrate this holiday according to this text?  What are they?

4) What is the reason this text gives us for why we live in sukkot/booths on this holiday?

5) What questions do you have about this text?


Do you love the holidays?  Do you love Lego?  This is the video for you!

Sukkot is a time of the year when we welcome guests to our Sukkot and our homes.  Enjoy this video about hachnasat orchim/welcoming guests.

Director of Jewish Studies, Tamar Cytryn

Rosh HaShanah 5780 Family Discussion by: Tamar Cytryn, Director of Jewish Studies

This week we want to challenge our families to do some learning and thinking together around Rosh Hashanah! 

In the mishna (oral tradition) our Rabbis ponder what the shofar blasts should sound like. What kind of noise should we aim to produce when blowing the shofar? The mishna suggests it sound like a "יבבה", a "yevava", often translated as a wail or sob or whine.

There is only person in the Tanakh (our Bible) described as making these sounds.  It is a woman who only appears once and doesn’t even have her own name!

In Shoftim/Judges 5:28 it reads:

בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן נִשְׁקְפָה וַתְּיַבֵּב אֵם סִיסְרָא בְּעַד הָאֶשְׁנָב

מַדּוּעַ בֹּשֵׁשׁ רִכְבּוֹ לָבוֹא מַדּוּעַ אֶחֱרוּ פַּעֲמֵי מַרְכְּבוֹתָיו

“Through the window the mother of Sisera looked forth and sobbed, and peered through the window; why is his chariot late in coming? Why tarry the strides of his chariots?”   

Sisera was a very successful commander of the Canaanite army of King Jabin of Hazor, He commanded an army that included 900 chariots. According to Judges chapters 4 & 5 Sisera was eventually defeated by the forces of the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali under the command of Barak and Deborah. The verse quoted above describes his mother waiting by the window for her son.


1.     What do you think the mother of Sisera is feeling at this moment?

2.     What do you think the Israelites felt at his defeat?

3.     Why do you think the Rabbis chose this particular woman to pattern the sound of the shofar after?

4.     Do you think there is a connection between her experience and our experience on Rosh Hashanah?

Wishing all a happy and sweet new year!


D'var Torah by: Nitai, Grade 7

Here is a simple riddle... 

A basket contains five apples. How can you distribute those five apples to five different people and still have one apple left in the basket?

You give up? You give one apple each to four people, and give the fifth person the basket with the last apple still inside.  Simple, right?

This Torah portion also describes baskets filled with fruits, and these baskets were brought as gifts. The gifts, called bikkurim, were the first fruits of each year’s harvest.  Farmers brought these “gifts” to Jerusalem and presented them before the priest and ultimately sacrificed them to God. The verse states:

וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית כָּל־פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר תָּבִיא מֵאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ וְשַׂמְתָּ בַטֶּנֶא וְהָלַכְתָּ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם׃

“you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God will choose to establish His name.”

The Torah continues and a few verses later it commands the farmer not just to bring the fruits but “to rejoice in all the bounty that the LORD your God has bestowed upon you and your household”

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֣ בְכָל־הַטּ֗וֹב אֲשֶׁ֧ר נָֽתַן־לְךָ֛ ה' אֱ-לֹהֶ֖יךָ וּלְבֵיתֶ֑ךָ אַתָּה֙ וְהַלֵּוִ֔י וְהַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ׃ (ס)

Rashi, the medieval commentator adds that the farmer doesn’t just rejoice but needs to make a public statement when he brings the first fruits to demonstrate that he is grateful for all that he has been given.

Listen, I am just a kid, but it is pretty clear what is being described in the first verse -- “tax collection.” And then God commands the farmer to be happy about it!

Personally - I have never had to pay taxes, but to all the adults in the room, how many of you are rejoicing during that second week of April.  Or I’ll ask my Uncle David, the accountant. How many people run up to you when they hand over their W2s or are cutting their checks to the Federal Government rejoicing and make that public statement: “man - God is great!” 

But that is what this farmer is being asked to do, to make a dramatic speech, filled with joy when bringing his first fruits to Jerusalem .

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, a 19th century Lithuanian rabbi known as the Netziv, builds on the verse and Rashi’s explanation and asks “What does it mean to rejoice in everything that is good? That it means “to rejoice with your body and soul together.”

The Netziv explains that the moment of bringing bikurim combines different types of happiness.  Happiness of the body - because we have lots of great fruit. And happiness of the soul because we are being reminded to feel gratitude. Feeling grateful comes from recognizing that these gifts, we bring to God are more appropriately framed as “gifts that God has given to us.”   Those fruits that we think come from all our hard work were gifts that we were actually granted.

So essentially, the torah flips the script and reframes the entire picture of giving.  That these gifts that come with us in the world, whether we are blessed with nourishment, like the farmer, or with talents or skills; they are truly gifts from God, and that what comes with these gifts is a responsibility to dedicate those gifts to giving back to our community and to the broader world.

But even more importantly, the Torah is teaching us that giving back is not done with any resentment, but just the opposite. It is done with joy, happiness, with gratitude in realizing that we have been blessed and privileged, and with that blessing comes the true gift of being able to help others.  We must understand that every opportunity to give means that we have been blessed with something to give.

It is very appropriate that this reframe is one of the main themes of my Torah portion, as I get to see these lessons play out all around me.  When I look at my 4 grandparents, My GG and Zayde, My Saba and Savta, who I am so blessed to have here today, they have all dedicated their lives to live by this approach; they have dedicated their time, energy and many talents to their communities with absolute Chen - with grace, and with gratitude to God.  They built their communities, in Kansas City, Silver Spring and now Jerusalem, not out of a sense of obligation, but a sense of gratitude and pleasure. And my parents work every day to emulate their parents and pass those same lessons to me and my siblings.

So it is today, as I stand as a Bar Mitzvah, that  it is my turn to make the public declaration, to use my passions and skills to give back to my community and the world at large; and to do this, not from a sense of obligation, but out of a sense of gratitude, responsibility, and joy.

And though I imagine that when I grow up, I too will not be praising God when I cut my first check, to the Federal Government, I do hope I can live up to lessons in my torah portion, and the bar set by my family so that I can always be a source of pride for this wonderful community!  Shabbat Shalom.


In this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitze, we find an important  commandment/mitzvah - something named shiluach haken, which roughly translates to sending away the mother bird. We are commanded to shoo the mother bird away if we plan on taking baby birds or eggs for our own consumption. If we fulfill this commandment/mitzvah then the Torah tells us it will be good for us and it will prolong our lives on this earth.  

In Deuteronomy/Dvarim chapter 22, verses 6-7 the Torah commands us:

6 If a bird's nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 

כִּ֣י יִקָּרֵ֣א קַן־צִפּ֣וֹר | לְפָנֶ֡יךָ בַּדֶּ֜רֶךְ בְּכָל־עֵ֣ץ | א֣וֹ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים֙ א֣וֹ בֵיצִ֔ים וְהָאֵ֤ם רֹבֶ֨צֶת֙ עַל־הָֽאֶפְרֹחִ֔ים א֖וֹ עַל־הַבֵּיצִ֑ים לֹֽא־תִקַּ֥ח הָאֵ֖ם עַל־הַבָּנִֽים:

7 You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days.

שַׁלֵּ֤חַ תְּשַׁלַּח֙ אֶת־הָאֵ֔ם וְאֶת־הַבָּנִ֖ים תִּקַּח־לָ֑ךְ לְמַ֨עַן֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ וְהַֽאֲרַכְתָּ֖ יָמִֽים

Family Questions

1) Why might someone take birds or eggs from a nest?

2) What do you think it means when the Torah says "it should be good for you" if you fulfill this commandment?

3) What do you think it means when the Torah says "you should lengthen your days" if you fulfill this commandment?

4) There is only one other commandment/mitzvah in the Torah where you earn prolonged life if you do it, the commandment/mitzvah of honoring your mother and father. Can you think of any connection between these two commandments/mitzvot?

Grade 8 Bar Mitzvah student reads his dvar Torah

D'var Torah by: Noam, Grade 8

Means and Ends

One of the classic questions of philosophy is the relationship between ends and means. Do the ends, the goals that we are pursuing, justify the means that we use to pursue those goals. This question has occupied philosophers and politicians for thousands of years and one approach to this question appears in this week’s Torah portion.

Early in the parsha this week, we find the famous verse:

צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־ה' אֱ-לֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ (ס)

Justice justice you shall pursue in order that you live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving to you.

Even though we know that the word צֶ֖דֶק means “justice” we don’t know why the word is repeated at the beginning of the verse. What does צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף mean?

Ibn Ezra offers the simplest explanation - but one that might be true. The Torah frequently repeats words just for emphasis.

R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv) looks to the Gemara in Sanhedrin which interprets one tzedek for law and one tzedek for compromise. There is a need for judges to rule in a fair and just way whether they are engaging in law or facilitating compromise. 

He then asks: Why would there need to be a special mitzvah for judges to be impartial in cases when they are asked to facilitate a compromise? They would only ever be asked to arbitrate if they are trusted and respected by the litigants.. He answers that  sometimes there is an obligation to compromise and therefore judges must treat it just as seriously as when they are deciding a case of law.  

He then points to a gemara in Bava kama which states that the beit hamikdash was destroyed because people only followed the letter of the law and were not willing to compromise

R. Simcha Bunim of Peshischa offers a different interesting interpretation. 

One must pursue justice justly. The ends don’t justify the means. Just because you are trying to do something with good intentions doesn’t mean that you can go about achieving them in bad ways.  

We can see the relevance of this insight in contemporary debates about crime and punishment. The fourth amendment to the Constitution prohibits searches and seizures without a warrant. This is an example of pursuing justice justly. 

From this verse we can take away the importance of compromise,  and making sure we are doing things in a just and moral way.