Balak 5781

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Bilaam’s interaction with Hashem[1]

ויבא אלקים אל-בלעם ויאמר מי האנשים האלה עמך: ויאמר בלעם אל-האלקים בלק בן-צפר מלך מואב שלח אלי
G-d came to Bilaam and said to him: “Who are these men who are with you?[2]” Bilaam said to G-d: “Balak, the son of Tzippor, the King of Moav, sent [them] to me”[3]

ויאמר אלקים אל-בלעם לא תלך עמהם לא תאר את-העם כי ברוך הוא: ויקם בלעם בבקר ויאמר אל-שרי בלק לכו אל-ארצכם כי מאן יקוק לתתי להלך עמכם
G-d said to Bilam: “Do not go with them. Do not curse the nation, as they are blessed”. Bilaam got up in the morning and told the ministers of Balak: “Go back to your land, as Hashem has withheld permission for me to go with you[4]

ויבא אלקים אל-בלעם לילה ויאמר לו אם-לקרא לך באו האנשים קום לך אתם ואך את-הדבר אשר-אדבר אליך אתו תעשה
G-d came to Bilaam in the night, and said to him: “If these men came to invite you, then get up and go with them. However, relate [only] that which I will tell you. That is what you shall do”[5]

The King Balak, whom this parsha is named after, hired the sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. The verses show that he was a non-Jewish prophet, and communicated with G-d. It’s interesting to see and analyze their interactions. Rav Rutterman, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel, related that we can glean two fascinating insights into the human psyche from these interactions.

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Vayeishev 5781

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Why we are called Jews[1]

יהודה אתה יודוך אחיך וגו’‏
Yehudah, your brothers will admit to you[2]

In a few weeks’ time, we’ll read Yaakov’s blessings to his kids in parshas Vayechi. The blessing given to Yehudah is that “your brothers will admit to you”. This is somewhat of a play on words, as the name Yehudah has the same root as the word מודה, to admit. What this blessing is referring to is elucidated by Targum “Yonasan”[3]. The blessing is that since Yehudah admitted his collusion with the incident with Tamar, the descendants of Yaakov will all be called by Yehudah’s name. The word Jew, or Yehudi, comes from the word Yehuda. What was the incident with Tamar, and why was it so meritorious for Yehudah that for thousands of years there would be a nation called the Jewish people?

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Simchas Torah 5780

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Celebrating our newly attained wisdom[1]

ושמחת בחגך וגו’‏
You shall rejoice on your festival…[2]

Anyone who has ever been to a Simchas Torah celebration can attest to the intense simcha, joy, that is present. Everyone’s happiness is palpable. People can dance with the Torah for hours on end (even without the aid of alcohol). Where does this simcha come from? More importantly, how can we make this simcha last even after the festival is over? Can be bring this simcha with us throughout the rest of the year?

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Sheva Berachos #5 – Chomah

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The Week of Sheva Berachos, Day #5 – Chomah[1]

במערבא אמרי…בלא חומה…דכתיב נקבה תסובב גבר
In the West they say: [Any man who doesn’t have a wife lives]…without fortification…as it is written[2]: “A woman shall go around a man”[3]

As part of the Jewish wedding ceremony[4], seven blessings known as sheva berachos are recited under the chuppah. As well, our Sages tell us[5] that once a couple gets married, they are to spend the first week of their marriage rejoicing. During these seven days, the sheva berachos are again recited, at the end of a festive meal. Some say[6] that these seven blessings correlate to the seven things[7] that a man acquires[8] when he gets married. Our Sages inform us[9] that until a man gets married, he doesn’t have joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, fortification, peace, nor is he a complete Man[10]. As such, it would be appropriate during this week to elaborate on each of these seven qualities, and how they relate to marriage.

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Sheva Berachos #1 – Simcha

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The Week of Sheva Berachos, Day #1 – Simcha[1]

אמר רבי תנחום א”ר חנילאי כל אדם שאין לו אשה שרוי בלא שמחה…דכתיב ושמחת אתה וביתך
Rabbi Tanchum said in the name of Rabbi Chanilai: Any man who doesn’t have a wife lives without joy…as it is written[2]: “You shall rejoice, you and your household”[3]

As part of the Jewish wedding ceremony[4], seven blessings known as sheva berachos are recited under the chuppah. As well, our Sages tell us[5] that once a couple gets married, they are to spend the first week of their marriage rejoicing. During these seven days, the sheva berachos are again recited, at the end of a festive meal. Some say[6] that these seven blessings correlate to the seven things[7] that a man acquires[8] when he gets married. Our Sages inform us[9] that until a man gets married, he doesn’t have joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, fortification, peace, nor is he a complete Man[10]. As such, it would be appropriate during this week to elaborate on each of these seven qualities, and how they relate to marriage.

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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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