Yom Kippur 5778

The power of tzedakah[1]

ותשובה ותפלה וצדקה מעבירין את רע הגזרה
Repentance, prayer, and tzedakah can remove the evil of the decree[2]

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur share the famous Unesaneh Tokef prayer. It is one of the most moving and powerful prayers in the High Holiday liturgy. What makes it so memorable is not only the chilling tune, but the intense words themselves. It reminds us that during these days we are like sheep being assessed by their shepherd[3]. On Rosh Hashanah, it is written who will live and who will perish, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. What gives the Unesaneh Tokef prayer the power it has undoubtedly comes from its origins. It was written by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz about 1,000 years ago. The Church insisted that he convert to Christianity, and after refusing, they brutally amputated his body. Before he died, he requested to be carried to the Ark during the Rosh Hashanah prayers. He recited the words of Unesaneh Tokef, and died[4].

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Aseres Yemei HaTeshuvah 5778

Breaking free from inertia[1]

אף מי שאינו נזהר מפת של עכו”ם, בעשרת ימי תשובה צריך לזהר
Even someone who normally eats [kosher] bread baked by a non-Jewish [baker][2], during the ten days of repentance one must be stringent [to only eat bread baked by a Jew][3]

The seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, including the holidays themselves, are known as the aseres yemei teshuvah, the ten days of repentance. They are days reserved for introspection and correcting past faults[4], with the hopes to better one’s behavior for the upcoming year. There is a halacha, Jewish law, that one should try to take on extra chumros, stringencies, during this time. It’s not meant to be a lifetime commitment; just for these ten days. The paradigm example that is given is that for these ten days one should be careful to only eat bread baked by a Jew.

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Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5777

The choice of a lifetime[1]

ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת ולמדה את-בני-ישראל שימה בפיהם למען תהיה-לי השירה הזאת לעד בבני ישראל
And now, write for yourselves this song; teach it to the Children of Israel; place it in their mouths. [This is] in order that this song will be testimony for Me regarding the Children of Israel[2]

Towards the end of Moshe’s life, Hashem commanded him to write down a prophetic song that he was to reveal to the Jewish people[3]. Many learn[4] from this verse that it wasn’t simply a mitzvah for Moshe for that specific time, but it was also a mitzvah for every Jew[5] to write their own sefer Torah[6]. The verse also commands that what is written should be taught to others. The gemarra learns[7] from here an additional obligation: that a teacher is obligated to teach their student until they’ve successfully learned the material. The gemarra follows this ruling with an interesting story that demonstrates how far a teacher must go to fulfill their duty.

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Ki Savo 5777

Taking the first step[1]

דרשו יקוק בהמצאו קראהו בהיותו קרוב: יעזב רשע דרכו ואיש און מחשבתיו וישב אל-יקוק וירחמהו ואל-אלקינו כי-ירבה לסלוח
Seek out Hashem where he is found, call out to Him when He is close. The wicked one will abandon his ways, the sinful man his thoughts; he will return to Hashem, who will have mercy on him, and to Our G-d, since He is wont to forgive[2]

The Midrash says[3] that once the Jews started to approach the land of Israel, Moshe pleaded with Hashem that he be allowed to join them. He had recently been barred from entering the land[4]. He asked: “Please can I see it”[5]. Hashem responded by asking how could He annul His decree against Moshe and yet maintain Moshe’s earlier decree? When the Jews sinned during the episode of the spies, Hashem was going to annihilate the nation. Moshe said: “Please forgive them”[6]. Hashem fulfilled his decree. By asking to enter the land, Hashem informed Moshe that it was like he wanted to hold on to a rope from both ends. If Hashem’s decree is nullified, Moshe’s decree can’t stand. Once Moshe heard this, he desisted from his prayers. This Midrash on the surface is astounding. How come one decree is dependent on the other? Why does letting Moshe into the land remove their earlier forgiveness?

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Ki Seitzei 5777

Sending away the mother bird[1]

כי יקרא קן-צפור לפניך בדרך בכל-עץ או על-הארץ אפרחים או ביצים והאם רבצת על-האפרחים או על-הביצים לא-תקח האם על-הבנים: שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים
When you chance upon a bird’s nest on the way, on any tree or on the ground, [with] chicks or eggs, and the mother bird is crouching on the chicks or on the eggs, don’t take the mother bird with her children[2]. [Rather][3], send away the mother bird, and [then] take the children for yourself, in order that it should be good for you and for Him to lengthen your days[4]

This week’s parsha introduces a very exotic mitzvah. If a person finds a bird’s nest with either chicks or eggs, it is prohibited to take the mother bird along with her children2. The Torah commands that first the finder must send away the mother bird, and only then take the children3. As with many mitzvos, there are various explanations among the commentators as to the purpose behind this mitzvah. Why did Hashem command us to send away the mother bird?

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