Happy New Year!

(Drasha given over zoom on my father’s 8th Yahrtzeit , March 7, 2021)

This coming week is Shabbat HaChodesh, which celebrates Rosh Chodesh Nissan – one of the Rosh Hashanas that we have in our calendar

As you have probably heard, there’s a Mishna in Rosh HaShana that says that there are 4 New Years – 1st of Nissan (coming up), 1st of Tishrei, 1st of Elul, and Tu Bishvat.

1st of Tishrei everyone knows, we make a very big deal about it, and that’s how we count our years, this being 5781 תשפ”א.  But then, we also know that the months are counted from Nissan, so our Rosh Hashana is the 1st of the 7th, and the 1st of the 1st is next Sunday. It doesn’t have its own chag, so we forget about it, and it’s overshadowed by Pesach. (Imagine if we had to have another 2-day chag right before Pesach like we do right before Succot!!!!)

But – when it comes to when our years start, it’s not so simple.

Of course the very question of when a year starts is kind of silly if you think about. The year is a circle. One rotation around the sun. It doesn’t have a beginning or an end, it keeps going and going… like the song in Rechov Sumsum: the seasons are like a circle …

You can pick any day in it and call it the beginning. So, the Western World picked the darkest time of the year. Your birthday is a new year of sorts, why not. In my birthday greetings, I wish people, “have a wonderful year” – their personal year begins on March 3rd or whenever.

And we like to say that Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world, היום הרת עולם, and that’s why we start there, right? well.. not surprisingly, this is a Machloket:

R’ Eliezer vs R’ Yehoshua: R’ Eliezer said, The world was created in Tishrei; R’ Yehoshua said, The world was created in Nissan.

And it’s not like this machloket is resolved, not even le’Halacha – if you recall Birkat HaChama, blessing of the sun, which we did last time in 2009 – it’s in Nissan, not in Tishrei

Not only that, but that machloket between R’ Eliezer and R’ Yehoshua keeps going:

You know how we often hear around this time of the year: “Be’Nissan Atidim lehigael” (we will be redeemed in Nissan) ? Well, that’s the opinion of R’ Yehoshua, not R’ Eliezer:

R’ Eliezer said: In Nissan they were redeemed, and in Tishrei we will be redeemed, as it says, “On that day the Great Shofar will be blown.” R’ Yehoshua said: In Nissan they were redeemed, and in Nissan we will be redeemed, as it says, “A night of keeping”, a night that was kept from the six days of Creation

But what does it all matter, if the seasons are like a circle anyway?

I was reading a book recently, just a novel, and it was describing the passing of the seasons in a rural community, waxing poetic about how in touch they were with each change. And then the author pointed out something that I hadn’t thought of before: they said, “and because these cycles keep repeating, nothing ever changed.”

So they have the circle of seasons, and the circle of life, but it ended up in the same place every time, and they don’t ever escape it.

I found this to be quite shocking. Because we don’t think like that. I mean, we do, on Succot, read Kohelet when it says, “דּוֹר הֹלֵךְ וְדוֹר בָּא, וְהָאָרֶץ לְעוֹלָם עֹמָדֶת

“Generation passes, generation comes, and the earth stands in its place”

which is plenty depressing, but for us, it’s only part of the story

The more important part is that the world has a beginning. That, by the way, is the only real proof R’ Yehoshua brings for his opinion that Nissan is the season of Geula. He says that it comes from the ליל שמורים הוא לה’ לילה המשומר ובא מששת ימי בראשית – it’s reserved from the 6 days of Creation. The world is not eternal, therefore, the world can change, therefore, it has the potential of Geula.

Whether that happens in Tishrei like R’ Eliezer, or in Nissan like R’ Yehoshua, the point is that our lives are not stuck forever in the same rut again and again. It’s a spiral, not a circle

Last year, when I did this, one of the first zoom meetings of the shul if I’m not mistaken, I spoke about my father’s philosophy of “one day at a time”. How to deal with the unpredictable. I must say, it has truly helped me this past year, narrowing my focus to just a few days, at most a week, ahead. We’ve survived that.

But we cannot live our lives like that forever. It can’t be the only tool in our kit. Because people who believe that nothing ever changes have no incentive to change anything ever. And that’s not us, that’s not the Jewish People, and that wasn’t my father

He disliked change, and when something was good, he would stick with it long after others would give up – he had the opportunity to take a vacation in Niagara Falls, and then for the next 10 years, they went to Niagara Falls. He saw that we liked fruit compote, so he made fruit compote every week.

But – when something needed to be changed, when he needed to show up for Geula – he left everything he knew, and he walked out into a world that he knew nothing about, seeking new beginnings – because beginnings are possible

B”H now we are entering a season of new beginnings – we see Geula on the horizon, the ability to rebuild our lives, perhaps, to look ahead beyond a day or a week at a time. On a personal level also, as you probably heard, Dedushka has a new great-grandson who will be entering the Brit of Avraham Avinu be”h on Wednesday… generation passes and generation comes, but no, the world does not stand still, because this is a new year, and a time of Geula

Happy New Year!

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One Day at a Time

(Drasha given over Zoom to Kinor David – March 19, 2020)

Today is the yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Nassan Nota, z”l

This upcoming Shabbat, Shabbat HaChodesh is the last of the 4 special Shabbatot that precede the Passover season.

The special maftir of Shabbat HaChodesh is the very first mitzvah that Am Yisrael got as a nation. Before telling the Jewish People in Egypt to prepare their houses for the Korban Pesach, no chametz, blood on the doorposts and all, G-d first tells them: – החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים  – this month shall be for you the first month of the year.

The first commandment that we got was about the calendar – how to identify the new moon, and how to combine the solar and lunar year, and when to start counting the months.

If you were G-d, and had to choose one of the 613 mitzvot to say, this is Mitzvah #1, which one would you choose?

The Rambam, when he wrote his compendium listing the mitzvot, chose “Belief in G-d” to be the 1st

The Sefer HaChinuch went in chronological order, with “be fruitful and multiply” (a universal mitzvah)

We might consider others – perhaps R’ Akiva’s choice: “ve’Ahavta le’reacha kamocha” (love your friend as yourself)

So why HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem? Why the calendar?

The Jewish People were used to getting commands from their Egyptian taskmasters. As slaves, they would be told, do this, and do it now, and keep doing it for the foreseeable future. Slaves do not have calendars because they do not plan their lives.

Free people have calendars, and a calendar and its holidays is one of the most visible and notable aspect of a national identity.

So, in order to make us free – a free and independent nation – G-d gave us our own calendar. So that we can plan our lives and plan our future.

Today, this year, before Shabbat HaChodesh, we don’t feel like we can plan anything. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and what we will be asked to do – or not do.

My father, z”l, used to say to us, “one day at a time”. He would say it a lot, when we’d try to make plans a bit farther in advance than he was comfortable with, or whenever he heard us worry – “one day at a time”

Focus on today, worry about what you’re doing now. Who knows what you’ll need to worry about tomorrow? One day at a time.

Those of us who are planners, who like to know where they will be for all of the year’s holidays, and where they’re going for summer vacation, find it very hard to live one day at a time. But now, we must. Nobody knows where they will be for Shavuos, or Yom HaAtzmaut, or even Pesach. We have to live like my father, one day at a time.

But there are days and there are days.

The first day on the Jewish calendar,  the first of the first – was Aleph Nissan

Besides being the first day ever, it was the first for many other things, too

The Gemara says:

That day took ten crowns: first to Creation, first of the Nesiim, first of the Cohanim, first for Avodah, first for the descent of the fire, first for eating sacred food, first for the dwelling of the Shechina, first for blessing Israel, first forbidding individual altars, and first of the months. (Shabbat 87b)

8 of those events happened on a single day: the 1st month of the 2nd year, on the 1st of the month, when the Mishkan was first built – the first official sacrifices were brought by the first Cohanim, the first time that the fire descended from Above, the first time G-d’s palpable Presence appeared among us, the first time the Cohanim blessed the people, and so on

Busy, busy day.

But only a single day.

Living one day at a time can feel unproductive. If we can’t plan, if we don’t control your calendar, what does that do to our independence, our identity?

The First of the First, HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem, teaches us that one day, a single day, can be full to overflowing with G-d’s Presence.

So that is how we must live our lives now, too

One Day at a Time

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The Book!

Isn’t it pretty?
https://youtu.be/9KbXAgUEuKw

Buy it here:
https://www.amazon.com/Haftorah-Unrolled-Kira-Sirote/dp/1988022142/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_img_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=F30AXRQTC1PA64H7FJ5B

Contact me to arrange a lecture / book signing in Israel , or to purchase autographed copies

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Be’Ahava U’Ve’Ratzon

Drasha given in Kinor David on Shabbat VaYakhel-Pekudei / Parah, 23 Adar 5778.

Today is the Yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l; who was a member of Kinor David for ten years. It’s been five years since his passing. This Drasha is in his memory.

Moshe gathers the Jewish People to tell them about the commandment to build the Mishkan, to fulfill the ambition of “I shall dwell among you” – G-d’s Presence within the Jewish People, serving G-d through sacrifices, the Holy of Holies.

This is how he starts:

“Moshe gathered the entire Jewish People; he said to them: This is what Hashem commanded you to do:

Six days, you should do work, and on the seventh day, you shall have holiness, Shabbat-Shabbaton to Hashem… (Shemot 35)”

And only then does he continue:

“Moshe said to the entire Jewish People, saying: This is what Hashem commanded you: take donations from among you for Hashem…”

Before the building of the Mishkan could begin, they had to be told to keep Shabbat.

So, first of all, on a practical level, this is how we learn what is considered “work” for the purposes of the Laws of Shabbat: anything that is necessary for the building of the Mishkan is forbidden on Shabbat. That is the source of the 39 Melachot of Shabbat.

But taking a step back, there is a bigger picture. The two commandments are two related ways to serve G-d, two forms of sacrifice: keeping Shabbat, and the sacrificial service of the Mishkan.

In our Siddur, there are phrases that we add on Shabbat. They begin with the word “Retzei” (accept). We say, “Retzei ve’Hachlitzenu”, “Retzei be’Menuchateinu”. This term is normally used in the context of serving G-d through sacrifices (and the prayers that substitute for them). For instance, the blessing in the Amida, “Retzei”, is labeled by the Koren Siddur as “Avodah” (Service). It says, “Accept the Jewish People and their prayers and bring back the Service …. May their Service be accepted by You”. “Retzei”, “accept”, refers to the Service of G-d, Avodah.

What, then, is “Retzei be’Menuchateinu”, “accept our rest”?

Our rest is, in itself, our Avodah, our Service. Shabbat, too, is sacrifice.

Those of us who grew up keeping Shabbat do not always appreciate how much of a sacrifice it really is – a sacrifice of our time, our money, of opportunities; in our career, our businesses, our lives in general. This is true even living here in Israel, where it’s relatively easy to keep Shabbat; not to mention other times in our not-too-distant history when people would be told “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t come in on Monday.”

And even so – for those of us in hi-tech, which needs to run 24/7, for university students who might have a test on Thursday and a project due on Sunday, for family that lives out of town that you don’t get to see, for friends that go out on Friday night that you can’t join – this is sacrifice, this is serving G-d. We pray that our sacrifice, our rest, will be accepted: “Retzei be’Menuchateinu.”

I read an article recently, about the sociology of Modern Orthodox people, in particular, of women, which suggested that we have three shifts. Work is one shift, family is the second. The third shift is Shabbat. It’s not one day of seven, it’s an entire “shift”.

When I read that, I thought, yes, well, till I finish clearing up after Shabbat, it’s around … Tuesday… and by then I’m already inviting guests for the next Shabbat. So yes, it’s a whole shift.

But that same article pointed out how that third shift, Shabbat, gives balance to the other two, and meaning to the rest of our lives. It is an opportunity to be with the family, with ourselves, to get dressed up, to enjoy good food, to see friends, to come to shul, to sing and to pray. It is not a punishment, it is a gift.

There is another phrase that we add to our prayers for Shabbat – in fact, we will do so this Pesach, which is approaching all too soon. In the Kiddush of the Seder, we will add “Be’Ahava”. And during the Amida, we will add “BeAhava u’ve’Ratzon”. Not just Ratzon, but also Ahava. Because Shabbat is a gift of love from the Ribono shel Olam, His love for us, and our love for Him.

My father, as you might know, did not grow up with Shabbat. It was not possible to observe Shabbat in the Soviet Union, to say the least. So when we came to America and were reunited with a Torah observant Jewish community, it was very difficult for him to understand Shabbat. Why are some things considered Melacha, and forbidden, and other things, which require more effort, are permitted? We were invited for many Shabbat meals by families in our community in Far Rockaway, week after week for years at a time, but it was Shabbat from the outside.

Then we all went to Israel for a 3 week trip, and there, my father experienced Shabbat from the inside, the whole thing. When we got back, he said, “I understand that He wants me to go to Shul on Shabbos.” So he did. And clearly, when one comes home from Shul, one makes Kiddush, and if one makes Kiddush, one has to have a bite of something, yes? And so it was.

He had Shabbat, with friends in shul, with singing, and davening, with an ironed shirt, and brandy for Kiddush. Be’Ahava u’ve’Ratzon.

And on his last Shabbat, he came to Kinor David, in a Shabbat shirt, to be with us all, and enjoy Shabbat, be’Ahava u’ve’Ratzon.

Shabbat Shalom


Source of “third shift”

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Shvi’i shel Pesach – Yeshuah

All nations have enemies, and all nations fight wars. The primary purpose of a leader of a nation is to defeat these enemies and provide security for his people. The term used in the Tanach for defeating enemies is “ישועה,” deliverance. There are many stories in the Tanach of G-d appointing leaders in order to bring about “yeshuah.”
One of the earliest examples of this is found in Shoftim, when Midian had been raiding Jewish towns in the north of the country. An angel of Hashem came to a young man who was threshing his wheat in a wine press, so that the Midianites wouldn’t find it and steal it, and said to him:

…וַיֹּאמֶר לֵךְ בְּכֹחֲךָ זֶה וְהוֹשַׁעְתָּ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִכַּף מִדְיָן הֲלֹא שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ:
He said, ‘Go with this strength, and deliver Yisrael from the hand of Midian; as it is you that I am sending.’ (Shoftim 6:14)

This young man was Gidon, who went on lead the Jewish People to a decisive victory over Midian, and entirely eliminated them as a threat. The same term appears when describing the actions of other leaders, and in particular, the kings Shaul and David, who were appointed to bring yeshuah by defeating Israel’s enemies.

However, the first time that the enemies of the Jewish People were soundly defeated, the yeshuah did not come from a human king or leader. The term first appears at the Splitting of the Sea, which is the Torah reading for the last day of Pesach, the anniversary of that event.

וַיּוֹשַׁע ה’ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִיַּד מִצְרָיִם וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת מִצְרַיִם מֵת עַל שְׂפַת הַיָּם:
Hashem delivered Yisrael on that day, from the hand of Egypt. Yisrael saw Egypt dead on the shore of the sea. (Shemot 14:30)

It was G-d Himself who defeated Egypt and delivered the Jewish People from their enemies. The magnitude of the defeat was such that they expressed their stunned reaction in song:

עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה…ה’ אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה ה’ שְׁמוֹ… ה’ יִמְלֹךְ לְעֹלָם וָעֶד:
My strength and my song is G-d, He became my deliverance… Hashem is a man of war, Hashem is His Name … Hashem will be the king for all eternity!
(Shemot 15:3-4,18)

By effecting this yeshuah, G-d showed us not only that He is all-powerful, but that He is specifically our King, and that He uses His power to defeat our enemies.
But if G-d is our king, why did He need to appoint mortal leaders to bring about yeshuah?

It seems that it is not ideal for G-d to directly intervene and miraculously get rid of our enemies. Part of the function of the Jewish People as the Nation of G-d is that we have a partnership with Him. He doesn’t fight our battles for us while we stand around helplessly wringing our hands, He expects us to defend ourselves. At the same time, we must realize that we will not succeed without His assistance, and it is vital that we continue to see Him as our King, and the source of our yeshuah. It needs to be clear to us that we will only defeat our enemies if Hashem, Ish Milchama, is with us.

A prime example of this is yet again with Gidon:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל גִּדְעוֹן בִּשְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת הָאִישׁ הַמֲלַקְקִים אוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם וְנָתַתִּי אֶת מִדְיָן בְּיָדֶךָ וְכָל הָעָם יֵלְכוּ אִישׁ לִמְקֹמוֹ:
Hashem said to Gidon: with these three hundred men who lapped up the water, I will deliver you, and I will hand Midian over to your hand; everyone else should go home. (Shoftim 7:7)

Gidon took these three hundred men and used them to wreak mayhem on the Midianite war camp, who turned on each other in their confusion. As a result, the victory of the very few over the very many was credited to G-d.
That brings us to the Haftarah that we read on the last day of Pesach, after reading of the Splitting of the Sea. It is the song that David composed to praise G-d for delivering him from his enemies:

אֱ-לֹהֵי צוּרִי אֶחֱסֶה בּוֹ מָגִנִּי וְקֶרֶן יִשְׁעִי מִשְׂגַּבִּי וּמְנוּסִי מֹשִׁעִי מֵחָמָס תֹּשִׁעֵנִי. מְהֻלָּל אֶקְרָא ה’ וּמֵאֹיְבַי אִוָּשֵׁעַ
My G-d is my rock that I can shelter in, my shield and the ray of my deliverance, my sanctuary and my refuge, my deliverer – from injustice, You deliver me! Praised, I will call Hashem, from my enemies I will be delivered. (Shmuel II 22:3-4)

None of David’s victories were miraculous; no seas were split. It would have been natural for him to credit his own courage, his military prowess, and the dedication and training of his staff. Instead, he attributed all of his victories to G-d.

As the king of the Jewish People, David HaMelech was responsible for fighting and defeating our enemies. As the king of the Jewish People, David HaMelech was also responsible for making it known to everyone that the victory belongs to our true King:

עַל כֵּן אוֹדְךָ ה’ בַּגּוֹיִם וּלְשִׁמְךָ אֲזַמֵּר: מִגְדּוֹל יְשׁוּעוֹת מַלְכּוֹ וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לִמְשִׁיחוֹ לְדָוִד וּלְזַרְעוֹ עַד עוֹלָם:
Therefore, I praise Hashem among the nations, and to Your name, I sing. The greatness of His deliverance for His king, with devotion to His anointed, to David and his descendants, forever. (Shmuel II 22:51)

And so, even as we wait for the descendants of David HaMelech to do their part in defeating our enemies, the yeshuah that we hope and wait for, is from Hashem, our King.


Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Rav Chessed ve’Emmet

Drasha given in Kinor David on Shabbat Ki Tisa / Parah, 20 Adar 5777, in memory of my father, whose Yahrzeit is 23 Adar

The Sin of the Golden Calf made it clear that despite all the miracles of the Exodus, of the Splitting of the Sea, and of the Revelation at Sinai, the Jewish People really did not understand G-d. They were too bound up in the pagan mindset of Egyptian culture, where every god had his own set of characteristics.

Therefore, Moshe asked G-d to describe Himself to him in terms of His characteristics, and G-d responded:

ה’, ה’, אל רחום וחנון, ארך אפיים רב חסד ואמת
Hashem, Hashem, G-d Who is merciful and gracious, patient, and has “great kindness and truth” (Shemot 34:6)

This expression, Rav Chessed ve’Emmet, which is usually translated as “great kindness and truth,” is actually quite hard to interpret. Rashi says that “Chessed” is when one is given more than one deserves, and “Emmet” is when one is given precisely what one deserves. He sees the two words as antonyms – Chessed vs Emmet.

As you know, I do a fair amount of translation, having translated all the Haftarot, and I must say that this interpretation does not work for most of the times that these words are used together in Tanach. For instance, the verse made famous by Yonatan Razael’s beautiful song:

קטונתי מכל החסדים ומכל האמת שעשית את עבדיך
“I am unworthy of all the kindnesses and all the truth that You have done for Your servant” (Bereishit 32:11)

It makes sense to say, “I am unworthy of all that you have given me beyond what I deserved,” but how does it make sense to say, “I am unworthy of all that you have given me that is precisely what I deserve?”

Moreover, what does it mean to have “great truth”? Truth is binary; something is either true, or not. But here we have “Rav Emmet,” a lot of truth. So there’s such a thing as only some truth, and a lot of truth? And sometimes, we can also have all the truth?

Dr. Amos Chacham, who wrote the Da’at Mikra commentary of Yeshayahu and Tehillim, points out that the word “Chessed” is not only used together with “Emmet,” it is also used together with “Brit” (covenant). For example:

לְעוֹלָם אֶשְׁמָר לוֹ חַסְדִּי וּבְרִיתִי נֶאֱמֶנֶת לוֹ
I will always keep for him My “Chessed”, and My “Brit” is faithful to him. (Tehillim 89)

It is very clear that the two parts of the verse are parallel; the words “Chessed” and “Brit” are synonyms, not antonyms. “Chessed” here is the fulfillment of promises. The three words, “Chessed,” “Emmet,” and “Brit” are variations on the same theme – the idea of keeping one’s word.

In English, we would translate “Chessed” as “loyalty,” “constancy,” “devotion.”

I’m not saying that “Chessed” isn’t kindness; the actions that result from it are indeed kind. However, Chessed does not come from feelings of compassion or benevolence; it comes from commitment.

And what, then, is “Rav Chessed?”

To help us understand the distinction between plain “Chessed,” and “Rav Chessed,” I will tell you a story about my father, z”l.

When my sister and I were growing up in America, we were a small family. Just parents and two children (although two children is already a big family for Russians 😉 ). With the exception of some very dear friends who were distantly related to us, all of our extended family was behind the Iron Curtain, and we were able to be in touch, with great difficulty, with only a handful of them.

Then our parents came to live in Israel, and it turned out that we had a whole bunch of second and third cousins, many times removed, who lived here. One of them was Aunt Donya, my father’s mother’s youngest first cousin, who was at the time in her early eighties, living in Ashdod. Needless to say, my father made an effort to make contact and visit her. That is “Chessed,” devotion – remembering connections and commitments, and strengthening them, despite the passage of time.
But my father did not stop there. He called Aunt Donya every single week, every Tuesday, for ten years. In fact, she was one of the first people to find out that he had passed away, because it was Tuesday, and he hadn’t called.

That is “Rav Chessed” – great devotion; unfailing commitment.

Emmet must also be understood from that perspective. It is not binary truth, true or false; it is truth over time, that is, keeping one’s word. The blessings of the Haftarah are phrased in those terms:

הָאֵל הַנֶּאֱמָן, הָאוֹמֵר וְעוֹשֶׂה, הַמְדַבֵּר וּמְקַיֵּם,שֶׁכָּל דְּבָרָיו אֱמֶת וָצֶדֶק
“The faithful G-d, Who says and then does, Who speaks and then fulfills, all of Whose words are truth and justice. “

How do we know if prophecy is true? When it is fulfilled. So when the prophet Yechezkel says in the Haftarah:

וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם
I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land. (Yechezkel 36:24)

We look around us, and we see that these words have been fulfilled. How lucky are we, our generation, to be able to say that?

So now we know that “Rav Chessed ve’Emmet” means that G-d keeps His word despite the passage of time, with great commitment and devotion.

This is important because in the pagan mindset, this is not at all obvious. In the pantheons of many cultures around the world, there is a god who is described as a “trickster” – Loki – a god whose main characteristic is his unpredictability; not only can he not be trusted, he goes out of his way to wreak havoc. There is something in the human psyche that makes us want a god like that, perhaps to explain the chaos in the world around us.

This has even affected Jewish culture: there is an expression in Yiddish: “Der mensch trakht un gott lacht,” “man plans and G-d laughs.” But for us, it is not coming from the same place. It is not that we think that G-d enjoys it when our plans go awry, and that He’s doing it out of some perverse pleasure in our pain. It is that we realize that His plans are greater than ours, and that we are limited human beings who can only do so much.
As we say on Yom Kippur:

מה אנו מה חיינו מה חסדנו מה כוחנו
“What are we? What are our lives? What are our commitments? What is our strength?”

But Hashem, our G-d, He is Rav Chessed ve’Emmet – He speaks and He fulfills His word.

Now, to explain “Rav Emmet.” The Haftarah helps us here as well:

וְהוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת הֶעָרִים וְנִבְנוּ הֶחֳרָבוֹת
I will cause the cities to be settled, the ruins rebuilt (Yechezkel 36:33)

G-d words of Emmet would have been fulfilled if Yerushalayim had been rebuilt within its original boundaries. But that is not what we see. We see hill after hill covered in buildings, miles of them. Hundreds of thousands of people.
G-d promised:

וְהָאָרֶץ הַנְּשַׁמָּה תֵּעָבֵד
This abandoned land will be tilled (36:34)

His words of Emmet would have been fulfilled if the land were simply supporting its population. But we export cut flowers to Holland, and tropical fruit to Italy.

This is what Yaakov Avinu meant when he said, “I am not deserving of all the Emmet that You have done for Your servant – for I crossed the Jordan River with just my walking stick, and now I have grown to two full camps.”

G-d had promised him that He would take care of him. And He did, through very trying times. That promise would have been fulfilled if he had just gotten back safely. When Yaakov looks around at what he was given, he is overwhelmed by the quantity of Emmet, of fulfillment.

We also look around, and we are also overwhelmed by the quantity of Emmet.
Because that is our G-d, Hashem, Who says and then does, Who speaks and then fulfils. G-d Whose characteristics are Rav Chessed ve’Emmet.

Unfailing devotion, and eternal, overwhelming commitment.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Miketz

Miketz is read rarely, as it is almost always either Shabbat Chanukah, either the first or the second.

But this is one story that everyone knows: Mishpat Shlomo, The Judgment of Solomon:

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Miketz
Judgment of Solomon

The Haftarah gives us insight into Yosef’s behavior in Parshat Miketz: Wise and Perceptive

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Miketz – Wise and Perceptive

To understand the Haftarah and what it teaches us about the Parsha, we need to step back a few verses. Earlier in the same chapter, we read about Shlomo’s prophetic dream, where God offers him to bless him with anything he needs. Instead of asking for power or wealth, he requests wisdom to judge his people. God approves of his request and grants it, using this phrasing:

הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לְךָ לֵב חָכָם וְנָבוֹן אֲשֶׁר כָּמוֹךָ לֹא הָיָה לְפָנֶיךָ וְאַחֲרֶיךָ לֹא יָקוּם כָּמוֹךָ
…I will give you a wise and perceptive heart, the likes of which has never existed before you, and after you, will not occur again. (Melachim I 3:12)

The Haftarah of Miketz begins by describing his waking up from this experience and realizing that it is a dream.

וַיִּקַץ שְׁלֹמֹה וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם
Shlomo woke up, and it had been a dream. (Melachim I 3:15)

This is followed immediately by a story that demonstrates the wisdom and perceptiveness that he had been granted, the famous “Mishpat Shlomo” (Solomon’s Judgment). Two women, prostitutes sharing a home, come to the king for justice. The plaintiff claims that the defendant’s baby died in the night, and she switched the babies, claiming the live one as her own. The defendant denies it. Shlomo commands to bring a sword and cleave the baby in half. One of the women pleads to spare the child, and the other says, “Neither one of us will have it!” Shlomo declares the true mother of the child to be the one who was willing to give the baby up to save his life, and “the Judgment of Solomon” becomes a by-word forever after.

We are so familiar with this story that it is hard for us to imagine not knowing how it ends. But let us put ourselves for a moment in the court of the inexperienced young king. Imagine the reaction of the onlookers when he said, “Bring me a sword.” Imagine the shock when he said, in all seriousness, “Cut the child, and give half to one and half to the other,” as if it were a monetary dispute that can be resolved that way. They did not think that he was bluffing. They thought he was going to murder the child and claim that it was justice.

It was the stress of this shock that caused the women to drop their defenses and reveal their true feelings. Shlomo intentionally set up the circumstances for that shock and manipulated them into dropping their guard. This showcased the “wise and perceptive heart” that G-d had promised him in his dream.

The term “wise and perceptive” appears also in Parshat Miketz, as do dreams. Pharaoh dreams of the fat and skinny cows and fat and skinny sheaves, after which we are told:

וַיִּקַץ פַרְעֹה וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם
Pharaoh woke up, and it had been a dream (Bereishit 41: 7)

As a result of that dream, Pharaoh meets Yosef, who advises him:

וְעַתָּה יֵרֶא פַרְעֹה אִישׁ נָבוֹן וְחָכָם וִישִׁיתֵהוּ עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Now, let Pharaoh see to finding a man who is perceptive and wise and place him over the Land of Egypt. (Bereishit 41:33)

The dream leads Pharaoh to appoint Yosef to be the “wise and perceptive man” overseeing all of Egypt.

Surprisingly, the Parsha spends very few verses showing how Yosef, in his wisdom, overhauls the economy of Egypt and saves its population from starvation. In contrast, it spends entire chapters describing how Yosef manipulates his brothers, causing them stress and shock. From accusing them of beings spies, to jailing Shimon, from demanding that they return with Binyamin, to replacing their money in their bags, from seating them in age order, to accusing Binyamin of having stolen the goblet, it looks like Yosef is toying with them, and it is not clear why.

One of the solutions offered by the commentaries is that Yosef felt it necessary to make his original dream, the one with all his brothers bowing down to him, come to pass, which could only happen if all eleven of his brothers did so, including Binyamin. Other commentaries question this idea. Even if there is value in making dreams come true, could that justify what appears to be cruelty on Yosef’s part?

We can learn more from looking at Yosef’s reaction to Pharaoh’s dream. When Yosef interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, his first thought was how to ameliorate its ill effects. He did not worry about making it come to pass, he worried about fixing the trouble it foretold. If that was his concern for Pharaoh’s dream, it was probably his concern for his own dream, too. Yosef searched for a way to ameliorate it, to take out the potential ill will, jealousy, and hatred that comes from having to bow down to a member of your own family. When he saw his dream coming to pass in part, he did not think, “Oh, one brother is missing, how do I get him to come?” He thought, “Oh, they will never be able to look me – or each other – in the eye, how do I get us to be a family that can survive living in exile in Egypt?”

This where the “wisdom and perception” comes in. Like Shlomo, Yosef created situations where his brothers’ defenses came down, and their true feelings were revealed.

In that process, they expressed their remorse at what they had done to Yosef:

וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ עַל אָחִינוּ אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ צָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ בְּהִתְחַנְנוֹ אֵלֵינוּ וְלֹא שָׁמָעְנוּ עַל כֵּן בָּאָה אֵלֵינוּ הַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת:
They said to each other, “But we are guilty toward our brother, that we saw his anguish when pleading with us, and we did not listen; that is why this trouble has come upon us.” (Bereishit 42:21)

They took responsibility for Binyamin:

אָנֹכִי אֶעֶרְבֶנּוּ מִיָּדִי תְּבַקְשֶׁנּוּ
I will vouch for him; from my hand you will demand him … (Bereishit 43:9)

They were willing to put themselves in danger rather than leave Binyamin alone in Egypt:

הִנֶּנּוּ עֲבָדִים לַאדֹנִי
… we will all be your slaves.. (44:16)

And, finally, they expressed their concern for their father’s reaction to the loss of his favored son:

כִּי אֵיךְ אֶעֱלֶה אֶל אָבִי וְהַנַּעַר אֵינֶנּוּ
“How can I go up to my father, and the boy is missing?!” (34:44)

Did Yosef know, when he first saw them, that they had this in them? Most likely, they themselves did not know. Until it was expressed, through words and actions, their sense of family unity and mutual responsibility had been uncertain. Yosef manipulated them, shocked and stressed them, so that what they revealed would be their innermost truth. It was not easy for any of them, and caused much grief and many tears, but ultimately, they bowed down to Yosef, fulfilling the dream of his youth, without rancor and with hope for reconciliation.

It is this achievement that showed most clearly that Yosef, like Shlomo after him, was a “man who is perceptive and wise.”


Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Tazria

Tazria is not read very often; it is either read together with Metzora, or it’s Parshat HaChodesh, but when we do read it, it’s a great story of one of Elisha’s miracles:

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of Tazria

What we learn from Na’aman’s Tzaraat: Catalyst for Change

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Tazria – Catalyst for Change

The Parsha of Tazria spends the bulk of its text on the diagnosis of the Biblical disease, Tzaraat, “leprosy.” In his summation of the Laws of the Impurity of Leprosy (16:10), the Rambam points out that the term “Tzaraat” covers so many unrelated symptoms that it cannot possibly refer to a natural malady, but is rather a supernatural phenomenon whose purpose was to cause people to reevaluate their behavior. The particular behavior that the Rambam singles out as the cause of Tzaraat is Lashon Hara, speaking in a derogatory manner about other people. A person who makes a habit of doing so will first see signs of Tzaraat on the walls of his house. If he stops his behavior, the house can be purified; if not, the house will need to be destroyed and it will affect the furniture, then the clothes, and ultimately his own skin, and he will be isolated so that he is unable to speak with anyone about anything. The purpose of all this is to shock a person into changing his behavior and the dismissive attitude that underlies it.

Whereas the Rambam focuses on Lashon Hara as the behavior that Tzaraat is meant to reverse, the Midrash lists several other behaviors and character traits that cause it. One of them is the subject of the Haftorah of Tazria.

מכאן א”ר יהודה הלוי ב”ר שלום על י”א דברים הצרעת באה על קללת השם ועל גילוי עריות ועל שפיכות דמים ועל האומר על חבירו דבר שאינו בו ועל גסות הרוח ועל הנכנס בתחום שאינו שלו ועל לשון שקר ועל הגניבות ועל שבועת שקר ועל המחלל שם שמים ועל עבודת כוכבים … ועל גסות הרוח זה נעמן שנאמר (מלכים ב ה) (ונעמן) [שר צבא מלך ארם] היה איש גדול מהו גדול שהיתה רוחו גסה מפני שהיה גבור חיל ועל ידי כך נצטרע

R’ Yehuda HaLevi bar Shalom said: Tzaraat comes for 11 things: cursing Hashem, sexual immorality, murder, speaking lies against a friend, haughtiness, entering an area that is not for you, lying, stealing, swearing falsely, desecrating the Name of Heaven, and idolatry…. “Haughtiness:” that’s Naaman, as it says: “Naaman was a great man.” What is “great?” He was haughty and full of himself because he was a strong warrior, and for that he got Tzaraat (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbba 7:5)

The Haftorah introduces Na’aman thus:

וְנַעֲמָן שַׂר צְבָא מֶלֶךְ אֲרָם הָיָה אִישׁ גָּדוֹל לִפְנֵי אֲדֹנָיו וּנְשֻׂא פָנִים כִּי בוֹ נָתַן ה’ תְּשׁוּעָה לַאֲרָם וְהָאִישׁ הָיָה גִּבּוֹר חַיִל מְצֹרָע:
Na’aman, the general of the king of Aram, was a great man at court, and highly esteemed, for through him, Hashem had given victory to Aram. The man was a great warrior, a leper.
(Melachim II 5:1)

The Haftorah then describes how this great, famous, highly esteemed general of the Aramean court visits the prophet Elisha because he had been told that Elisha can cure him of his leprosy. He appears, as befitting a person of his rank and wealth, with an entourage of carriages and servants, in front of the hovel where Elisha lives in great poverty. Yet Elisha does not show him the slightest deference. Not only does he not fawn upon Na’aman, he does not even bother to come out to greet him. He simply sends a servant with instructions to immerse seven times in the Jordan River. The Haftorah records Naaman’s reaction to this treatment:

וַיִּקְצֹף נַעֲמָן וַיֵּלַךְ וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה אָמַרְתִּי אֵלַי יֵצֵא יָצוֹא וְעָמַד וְקָרָא בְּשֵׁם ה’ אֱ-לֹהָיו וְהֵנִיף יָדוֹ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם וְאָסַף הַמְּצֹרָע: הֲלֹא טוֹב אֲמָנָה וּפַרְפַּר נַהֲרוֹת דַּמֶּשֶׂק מִכֹּל מֵימֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲלֹא אֶרְחַץ בָּהֶם וְטָהָרְתִּי וַיִּפֶן וַיֵּלֶךְ בְּחֵמָה:
Na’aman got angry and stormed off. He said, “I had said to myself, he’s going to come out, and stand, and call in the name of Hashem his God, wave his hand over the place and the leprosy would go away. Aren’t Amana and Pharpor, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Yisrael? Can’t I bathe in them and be pure?” He turned and walked off in fury.
(Melachim II 5:11-12)

Na’aman feels that he knows what the treatment for his leprosy should be like, and what will and will not work. As a “great and highly esteemed” personage, he is sure that he knows everything there is to know, and deserves every attention and consideration, and if someone who is so clearly beneath him violates his expectations, he loses his temper and storms off.
Fortunately for Na’aman, his servants convince him that he has nothing to lose in following the prophet’s prescription, and he does immerse in the Jordan River. This concession to the possibility that there is a Greater Power is enough for his Tzaraat to be cured. Na’aman goes back to Elisha to thank him and offers him a generous honorarium. Elisha categorically refuses to accept a penny from Na’aman. One might have thought that Na’aman would be insulted by this refusal and that it would be further provocation to anger, but instead we see a remarkable shift in Na’aman’s attitude:

וַיֹּאמֶר נַעֲמָן וָלֹא יֻתַּן נָא לְעַבְדְּךָ מַשָּׂא צֶמֶד פְּרָדִים אֲדָמָה כִּי לוֹא יַעֲשֶׂה עוֹד עַבְדְּךָ עֹלָה וָזֶבַח לֵאלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים כִּי אִם לַה’
Na’aman said, “If not, then let your servant be given some earth that a pair of mules could carry. For your servant will no longer make sacrifices to other gods, except to Hashem. (Melachim II 5:18)

Na’aman, who was introduced as a “great man at court, highly respected,” who sneered at the suggestion that the Jordan River would effect a cure when the rivers of his own country would not, ends up begging for some dirt from Eretz Yisrael.
The Haftorah shows us that Tzaraat is meant to serve as a catalyst for change. If someone as proud and prejudiced as Na’aman had been can learn to see past his ego, then so can we. When we look down at other people, or seek to raise ourselves in the eyes of our friends by taking down those around us, we are guilty of haughtiness as Na’aman had been. We might not even be aware that we are being led astray by our egos. Tzaraat is a supernatural wake-up call to examine ourselves, to alter our behavior and revise our attitude before things get even worse. Tzaraat is reversible, and so are our character flaws.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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