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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Divrei Torah

Ki Teitzei: Ideology and the Preservation of Human Dignity

Administration of the death penalty by beit din accomplished two very different goals: It served in a punitive capacity to punish the criminal and it also provided a deterrent against future crimes. Based on this latter “deterrent” function, the Torah proscribes hanging the bodies of severe criminals—blasphemers and idol

Shoftim: Appreciating Jewish Courts and Police

In the first part of Sefer Devarim, Moshe both rehashes desert highlights (and lowlights) as well as cautioning the people about the challenges of life in Israel. The next two sectio, Shoftim and Ki Teitzei, recount a broad list of mitzvot, and it is this “registry” of mitzvot that lends the sefer of Devarim its nickname

Shoftim: Wholesome Simplicity

A friend of mine discovered a growth and underwent tests. The results put him into an exclusive club no one wants to join: cancer. He underwent surgery, chemo treatments and radiation. Throughout this ordeal I was deeply moved by his attitude and trust in Hashem. In one conversation he told me, “Hashem has a plan for me. Whatever

Re’eh 5778: Beginning Near the End

Last summer, my wife and I went to Lake Placid, New York, and toured the Olympic bobsled track training center. We learned a very interesting detail: the competition in this sport is so close that the race is won by a mere 1/1000th of a second! A crucial part of the race is the “loading”—how quickly the bobsledders run and

Re’eh: A Land of Abatement and Legacy

Our experience in Israel is multi-dimensional and oftentimes paradoxical. This land distills so many different values and experiences that rarely can a single phrase or term capture its various layers and the depth of our relationship with Israel. The Torah employs a battery of phrases to capture life in Israel; sometimes these

Learning to Move Along

We read in Parshat Re’eh that one should not make any cuttings in one’s skin for the dead (14:1). Apparently, this was a mourning custom in ancient times. At the same time, we know that when an immediate family member dies we are supposed to cut our lapels and rip our clothing to mourn our loved ones. What is the difference

Eikev: Is It Easy to Fear Hashem?

It amazes me how palpable the Divine providence is in Eretz Yisrael. During my trip there recently I felt Hashem guiding me with each step. On my first day, my cousin Aviva called me out of the blue, thinking I might be interested to know that Rabbi Binyamin Finkel—otherwise known as Rabbi Binyamin “Hatzadik”—was having

Eikev: The Beasts of the Jungle

The Book of Devarim provides Moshe with one last opportunity to issue moral guidance, as well as warn his flock of the unique challenges emergent upon entering the Land of Israel. In particular, in this week’s parsha, Eikev, every moral message is prefaced with a prediction about entering Israel and the trials following in its

Living in Israel and Living Israel

No human being who ever lived deserved entry into the Land of Israel more than Moshe. He had stoked the redemptive imagination of a band of dispirited slaves portraying a faraway land carrying a Divine promise. Moshe had patiently endured their constant whining and exasperating cowardice as they initially spurned their invitation

Parshas Va’eschanan: Sharing the Love

Russell Moskowitz grew up with very little knowledge about being Jewish. He was living the American dream, working at a nice job for Fuji Bank in the World Trade Center, on the 79th floor of 2 World Trade Center. In three days he would turn 25. He was making his mark at a young age. On Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001, he felt

Marriage and Intermarriage

The Talmud (Baba Batra 121a) tells us that there were no greater festive days for Israel than the 15th of Av and the end of Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur we were forgiven our sins. Naturally, that would make it a very joyful day. The 15th of Av, apparently, was also celebrated as a big “shidduch” day. Reportedly, the custom was for

Desperation, Despair and Doing:  Dealing With Devastation and Destruction

The Gemara in Gittin 56b tells a story about R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of the Jewish people at the time of the destruction of the Temple, talking to the Roman general Vespasian who was laying siege to Jerusalem. After he impressed Vespasian with his wisdom, Vespasian offered to grant his requests (within reason). R. Yochanan made