Category Archives: Special Shabbatot

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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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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Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot, Shabbat Parah, Yahrtzeit

Machar Chodesh – Darkest Hour

When Rosh Chodesh comes out on Sunday, then, on the previous Shabbat, instead of reading the Haftarah that is appropriate to that Parsha, we read a special Haftarah called “Machar Chodesh” – “Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh.” This is rather puzzling. When Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbat itself, it makes sense that we would read a special Haftarah. But what does it matter what the next day is? We don’t have a “Machar” anything else – no “Machar Pesach” or “Machar Shavuot,” only “Machar Chodesh.” It must mean that the day before Rosh Chodesh has intrinsic meaning, one worth marking with its own prophetic message.

The definition of Rosh Chodesh is the night that the sliver of the new moon appears in the sky. The night before, Machar Chodesh, is a night with no moon at all. It is completely dark.

The Haftarah of Machar Chodesh describes the darkest time in the life of David HaMelech. Until this point, he had been the golden boy of the kingdom: he defeated Goliath, was married to the king’s daughter, the king’s son was his best friend, and the entire country was singing songs about him. Now, all of a sudden, for no reason that he can discern, the king has turned against him. He barely escaped arrest and execution – his wife Michal helped him sneak out the window and lied about him to the guards. Yet, as far as he knows, he has done nothing wrong, and none of it makes sense.

Yonatan, Shaul HaMelech’s son, does not understand it, either. He is sure that his father loves David as much as he does, and that he would know if something were wrong. The Haftarah tells us about the plan that David and Yonatan devise to figure out how Shaul really feels about David, a plan that is carried out the next day – on Rosh Chodesh. And indeed, when Shaul hears that Yonatan let David be absent from the Rosh Chodesh celebrations, it is sufficient pretext to ignite his fury, and he lashes out not only at David, but at Yonatan himself.

Now David has no choice but to run and hide from the king. This means that he loses everything – his family, who are also in danger and go into exile in Moav, his position in the king’s army, his role in the court, his wife Michal, and worst of all, his dearest friend, Yonatan. As we read about the two of them standing there crying on each other’s shoulders, we wish that we could tell David that his future will be a bright one, that he will become king over all of Yisrael, and that he will establish a dynasty that will be the aspiration and hope of all of the Jewish People for all generations.

And indeed, when we sanctify the new moon at Kiddush Levana, it is our tradition to say, “David Melech Yisrael Chai Ve’Kayam” – “David, the king of Israel, lives on forever!” The Rema, when citing this tradition in his gloss to the Shulchan Aruch, explains the relevance of David HaMelech to the moon:

ונוהגין לומר: דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים, שמלכותו נמשל ללבנה ועתיד להתחדש כמותה וכנסת ישראל תחזור להתדבק בבעלה שהוא הקדוש ברוך הוא, דוגמת הלבנה המתחדשת עם החמה שנאמר: שמש ומגן ה’ (תהילים פד, יב) ולכך עושין שמחות ורקודין בקידוש החדש דוגמת שמחת נשואין.
It is customary to say: “David Melech Yisrael, lives on forever!” because his reign is compared to the moon, and is destined to be renewed like the moon, and Knesset Yisrael will return and reconnect with her spouse, which is HaKadosh-Baruch-Hu, just as the moon is renewed with the sun, as it says, “Hashem is the sun and the shield” (Tehillim 84:12); therefore, we dance and rejoice at the Kiddush HaChodesh as one does at a wedding.
(Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Rosh Chodesh 426)

The Rema explains that the moon symbolizes David HaMelech. Just as the moon waxes and wanes and disappears but then waxes again, so, too David’s dynasty waxes and wanes. It might look like it has completely disappeared, but it will reappear. When we see the renewed moon, we are filled with the hope that we will also be privileged to see the renewal of David’s kingdom.

The Rema takes this idea one step further: the moon is a metaphor not only for David, but for the Jewish People as a whole. We, too, wax and wane. We, too, sometimes feel like we’re in danger of disappearing entirely, and that G-d’s light no longer shines upon us. The renewal of the moon gives us hope and reminds us that our relationship with G-d is also renewed.

Machar Chodesh, the darkest night of the month, symbolizes the Jewish People at our most vulnerable. The Haftarah of Machar Chodesh presents us David HaMelech at his most vulnerable, as he stands before a future that looks bleak and dark. His life, and the life of his descendants, will not move in a straight line. There will be highs that will reflect light and hope for millennia, and there will also be lows that last for generations on end.

So, too, the Jewish People. Our story also does not follow a straight line. Yet, as the Haftarah of Machar Chodesh reminds us, no matter how bleak and dark a given moment in Jewish History might be, we know that the future we face is full of light.

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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Second Shabbat Chanukah – Seventy Candles

In years when the first night of Chanukah comes out on Friday night, there are two Shabbatot of Chanukah. The Gemara tells us which Haftarah to read in that case:

ואי מיקלעי שתי שבתות, קמייתא בנרות דזכריה, בתרייתא בנרות שלמה) מלכים א’ ז'(
If there are two Shabbatot; on the first we read the Candles of Zechariah; on the second, the Candles of Shlomo. (Talmud Megilla 31a)

The “Candles of Shlomo” refers to the description of the vessels that Shlomo had made for the Beit HaMikdash. The Haftarah includes the following verse:

וְאֶת הַמְּנֹרוֹת חָמֵשׁ מִיָּמִין וְחָמֵשׁ מִשְּׂמֹאול לִפְנֵי הַדְּבִיר זָהָב סָגוּר
The Menorahs, five on the right, and five on the left, before the Sanctuary, of pure gold (Melachim I 7:49)

The Midrash explain the symbolism of these Menorahs:

וכל מנורה היו בה שבעה נרות הרי שבעים כנגד שבעים אומות
Each Menorah had seven candles; seventy represents the seventy nations
(Yalkut Shimoni Melachim I 185)

Ten Menorahs with seven candles each add up to seventy candles. The number seventy, which is an iconic number in the Torah, refers to the Nations of the World.

The reference to the Seventy Nations appears also in the context of Chanukah. There is a famous dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai whether we should light one candle on the first day, two on the second, and so on until there are eight candles on the eighth day, or whether, according to Beit Shammai, we should light eight on the first day, seven on the second, and so on, until we light one candle on the eighth day. The reason for Beit Shammai’s suggestion is stated in the Talmud:

טעמא דבית שמאי – כנגד פרי החג
The reason of Beit Shamai: representing the bull sacrifices brought on Chag (Succot). (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 21b)

According to Beit Shammai, Chanukah candles refer to Succot sacrifices. The Torah commands that on the first day of Succot, we bring thirteen bulls, twelve on the second, eleven on the third, and so on, until there are seven on the seventh day, for a sum total of seventy bulls. On the eighth day, Shmini Atzeret, we bring a single bull.
The Talmud explains the symbolism of these numbers:

אמר רבי (אליעזר) הני שבעים פרים כנגד מי כנגד שבעים אומות. פר יחידי למה כנגד אומה יחידה. משל למלך בשר ודם שאמר לעבדיו: עשו לי סעודה גדולה. ליום אחרון אמר לאוהבו: עשה לי סעודה קטנה, כדי שאהנה ממך. אמר רבי יוחנן: אוי להם לגויים שאבדו ואין יודעין מה שאבדו, בזמן שבית המקדש קיים מזבח מכפר עליהן, ועכשיו מי מכפר עליהן?

R’ Eliezar said: Seventy bulls are analogous to what? To the Seventy Nations. The one bull is analogous to what? To the Unique Nation. Like the king that says to his servants, “Make me a big feast.” On the last day, he says to his beloved friend, “Make me a small meal, that I will enjoy your company.” R’ Yochanan said: Woe to the nations that destroyed, and do not realize what they destroyed. In the time of the Temple, the Altar would atone for them, but now who atones for them? (Talmud Succah 55b)

Part of the purpose of our service of G-d is universal. The rainfall of the entire world is determined on Succot; therefore, the sacrifices that we bring are not only for ourselves, but for all seventy nations. Ironically, as R’ Yochanan points out, the Nations of the World did not appreciate what we did for them, and destroyed the Beit HaMikdash, even though it was a source of blessing also for them.

By suggesting that we light Chanukah candles in the manner of Succot sacrifices, Beit Shammai highlights the tension in our relationship with the Nations of the World. On the one hand, we act to further the welfare of the entire world, be it through service of G-d at the Altar, or through the light of Torah wisdom that we project to the world. On the other hand, our expectations of being appreciated for our efforts are minimal. Just as they destroyed the Beit HaMikdash, a source of blessing to themselves, they have not hesitated to destroy Batei Midrash, and, as in the time of the Maccabees, to ban the study of Torah.

While the first seven days of Succot are outward-facing, Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day of the Succot holiday, is a day set aside only for the Jewish People. We bring a single bull, representing the singularity that is the Jewish Nation. We are unique, and our relationship with G-d is unique.

When Chanukah has two Shabbatot, the second Shabbat is the eighth day of Chanukah. We read the Haftarah of Shlomo’s seventy candles, symbolizing the universal aspect of Chanukah, of the light that the Jewish People give the world. The seventy candles allude to Beit Shammai, according to whom we would light a single candle on the eighth day. That single candle, like the single bull offering of Shmini Atzeret, remind us that ultimately, the Jewish People stand alone.

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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Shabbat Parah – Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh

(A translation of the Dvar Torah that I gave in Kinor David on 23 Adar 5775 (3.14.15). It was written as a speech, not an essay)

Today is the yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l. This Dvar Torah is in his memory.

The Haftarah of Parshat Parah describes the transition between Exile and Redemption. One of the stages is:

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will place in you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. (Yechezkel 36:26)

The prophet does not explain what the “heart of stone” of Exile is, nor what the “heart of flesh” of Redemption might be, nor how this transition is supposed to take place.

Many years ago, my father and I were discussing making Aliya, and he told me that he is afraid to live in Israel. Not because of the security situation, not because of the economic situation. He said like this: if someone betrays you and harms you, if that person is not Jewish, it is upsetting and disappointing. But if another Jew does this to you, it is intolerable. And he was not interested in putting himself into a situation where everyone around you is Jewish and the person who will harm you is a fellow Jew.

To fear that you will be betrayed is to live with a heart of stone. A heart that is defensive, closed, that is always anxious and distrustful. A heart of Exile.

But my father did make Aliyah. And those of you who knew him, can testify to the fact that he did not walk around with “a heart of stone.”

Pirkei Avot says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות
“You should greet every person with a pleasant countenance.” (Avot 1: 15)

That is, even if you are worried, if you are sad, or in pain, that is not a reason to pass that forward, so that everyone who sees your angry face will also become upset. Chazal tell us that even if you are living with a heart of stone, you must make an effort that when you meet another person, you at least don’t ruin his day with your expression. This is a minimum, “sever panim yafot”, a pleasant countenance.

But there is another Mishna in Pirkei Avot, and it says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בשמחה
“You should greet every person with joy.” (Avot 3:12)

And this is a completely different experience. This is, when someone runs into you on the street, you see true joy, not just on the face, but from the heart. “How wonderful to see you! How great it is that you are here, and I am here, and we are here together!” That is a “heart of flesh”, a heart that has nothing to fear, a heart that knows to rejoice. That is Redemption.

But how do we reach this? How do we build a society that supports these kinds of hearts, and doesn’t trample upon them?
The prophet of the Haftarah, Yechezkel, says that it will be G-d who will remove the heart of stone from us, and replace it with a heart of flesh. But what about our role? Can it be that we don’t need to do anything, and G-d will do it all?

There is a general rule that “words of Torah that are limited in one place, are expanded upon in a different place” – it doesn’t say what we must do in Yechezkel, but it does say it in Zechariah. Zechariah chapter 8 also talks about the transition between Exile and Redemption, and here, G-d tells us precisely what we are supposed to do:

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּ – דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם: וְאִישׁ אֶת רָעַת רֵעֵהוּ אַל תַּחְשְׁבוּ בִּלְבַבְכֶם
“This is what you must do: speak truth to each other. Judge with truth and justice in your courts. Do not plan evil to each other in your hearts.” (Zechariah 8:16)

This is exactly what my father said: if a Jew undermines another Jew, if he “plans evil in his heart”, to harm him and betray him, it is intolerable. If society accepts it as a norm, then it is not Redemption.

But the truth is, our society here in Israel – which perhaps is not as refined as it ought to be, and still has much to improve – this is not part of our culture here. Even now, with the upcoming elections, the advertisements are all about how this party does not do enough for this segment of the population and that party should do more for that segment. Because we actually do want everyone to do well.

And this is why my father truly enjoyed his ten years here in Israel, years of Redemption, the opportunity to greet every person with joy.

Now that we are entering the month of Nissan, which is the season of Redemption and national joy, and also our family is entering the joyful time of the Bat Mitzvah of the first granddaughter born to Dedushka in Israel, I wish all of us that we will succeed to continue and build a society of joy, a community of joy, and continue to share many joyful times together.


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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Shabbat Shekalim – Parshat HaKessef

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special Shabbatot that precede the Passover season. For the Maftir at the end of the Torah reading, we read verses that describe the commandment to give a half-shekel for the census. The money would be used for the communal sacrifices for the entire year. Since these funds were collected at the beginning of the national year in Nissan, the reminder of the commandment would be read one month earlier, at the beginning of Adar.
Besides the Maftir, we also read a special Haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim. It tells us how King Yoash attempted different ways of raising money in order to repair the Temple. The word, “כסף”, silver/money, is repeated fourteen times in about as many verses.

Shabbat Shekalim usually comes out on Parshat Mishpatim. It is the first set of commandments that Moshe was given at Har Sinai. “Mishpatim” means “civil laws” and the Parsha contains dozens of commandments about money.
Shabbat Shekalim also marks Rosh Chodesh Adar, the month of the Purim holiday. Money shows up there, too: at the crucial moment when Haman gets Achashverosh drunk and convinces him to kill all the Jews, we read:

ט) אִם עַל הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב יִכָּתֵב לְאַבְּדָם וַעֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים כִּכַּר כֶּסֶף אֶשְׁקוֹל עַל יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה
לְהָבִיא אֶל גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ:
9) If it pleases the king, let it be written to destroy them, and ten thousand measures of silver, I will weigh out into the hands of the contractors to bring to the king’s treasury. (Esther 3:9)

That money must have been very important, because when Mordechai tells Esther about the meeting between Achashverosh and Haman, he says:

וַיַּגֶּד לוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ וְאֵת פָּרָשַׁת הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הָמָן לִשְׁקוֹל עַל גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיְּהוּדִים לְאַבְּדָם:
7) Mordechai told [Esther’s proxy] about all that had happened to him, and about the matter of the money, that Haman had said to weigh out to the king’s treasury to destroy the Jews (Esther 7:7)

Thus, Parshat Mishpatim, Parshat Shekalim, the Haftarah of Shekalim, and the Megilla can all be called Parshat HaKessef – a matter of money.

There are religions and philosophies that see money as a necessary evil at best; they believe a person of intellect and standing should not concern himself with something so trivial. Then there are societies where money is the ultimate way of keeping score, where entire industries exist for its growth, where it achieves an overriding importance in people’s lives.
There are those that worship its power, and those that attempt to negate it altogether.

How does the Torah view money?

שנא’ (דברים ו) ואהבת את ה’ אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך … ובכל מאדך בכל ממונך
… as it says, “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” … With all your might: with all your money (Mishna Berachot 9:5)

The Mishna equates “might” with “money”. Money gives you the power to build, or rebuild. As we see in the Haftarah, even the House of G-d cannot be repaired if there isn’t money to pay the contractors.

The Haftarah goes out of its way to tell us of the failures of King Yoash’s attempts at incentive-based fundraising. Ultimately, the money did not come from his complicated schemes, but rather through crowd-funding: a tzedaka box placed in the Beit HaMikdash itself, to which people donated as they saw fit. Small contributions from many people added up to more than enough to fund the project.

The commandment of Shekalim carries the same message: everyone gives a small amount, half a shekel, and it adds up to enough money to fund all the daily sacrifices for the entire year.

Money, thus, is not just a source of power for individuals; it is a way for a society to pool its resources to accomplish something that no individual could possibly do alone.

In truth, money only exists because society makes it so. Silver did not become a medium of exchange because of its inherent value, but only because people agreed that it should be one. In our society, money is not even based on silver or gold, but that doesn’t matter. Money is whatever the society agrees to use. It is not true value, but rather a representation of value.

The word that the Torah uses for the concept of a representation of value is “כופר” , usually translated as “atonement.”
In Parshat Mishpatim, we find the following commandment:

וְאִם שׁוֹר נַגָּח הוּא מִתְּמֹל שִׁלְשֹׁם וְהוּעַד בִּבְעָלָיו וְלֹא יִשְׁמְרֶנּוּ וְהֵמִית אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה הַשּׁוֹר יִסָּקֵל וְגַם בְּעָלָיו יוּמָת:אִם כֹּפֶר יוּשַׁת עָלָיו וְנָתַן פִּדְיֹן נַפְשׁוֹ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר יוּשַׁת עָלָיו:
But if the ox has gored in the past, and the owner has been warned and did not guard it, and it killed a man or a woman: the ox shall be stoned, and the owner also will die.
If an atonement is placed upon him, he may give a ransom for his soul,
according to what is placed upon him. (Shemot 21:29-30)

The commentaries explain that despite the statement that “the owner also will die,” in actuality, the law is that the owner pays a monetary fine. The reason it is stated in this harsh manner is to point out that it was due to his criminal negligence that this life was lost. However, because he was only an indirect cause, in this particular case the Torah allows a “כופר,” an atonement, to take his place. Money, which is itself is a representation of value, can be used to represent the value of life.

The commandment of Shekalim is stated in similar terms:

הֶעָשִׁיר לֹא יַרְבֶּה וְהַדַּל לֹא יַמְעִיט מִמַּחֲצִית הַשָּׁקֶל לָתֵת אֶת תְּרוּמַת ה’ לְכַפֵּר עַל נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם:
The rich will not give more and the poor will not give less than the half a shekel, to give the donation to Hashem, to atone for your lives. (Shemot 30:15-16)

The donation of half a shekel is meant to represent the value of each individual in the Jewish People. This money was used for sacrifices, which themselves are a representation of G-d’s ownership of our very lives. Through this half a shekel, we “purchase” our lives from G-d.

But why did G-d decide on half a shekel as the symbolic price of a Jewish life? One of the many interpretations is that the half shekel highlights the fact that the amount is incomplete. In order to achieve anything with half a shekel, you need someone else to contribute the other half. This is not about the monetary power of the individual, but rather the combined power of the entire Jewish community. The sacrifices that this money paid for were not individual sacrifices, but rather communal ones that represented all of the Jewish People.

The Midrash points out that the sum total of all the half-shekel donations of the entire nation added up to ten thousand measures of silver. This brings us to Haman, who handed over ten thousand measures of silver to Achashverosh. Haman thought that he was purchasing the lives of all the Jewish People from Achashverosh. Perhaps he would have been successful, if not for the fact that Achashverosh was not the owner.

אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש גלוי וידוע לפני הקב”ה שעתיד המן הרשע לשקול שקלים על ישראל לפיכך הקדים שקליהם לשקליו:
R’ Shimon ben Lakish said: Hashem knew that Haman the Rasha would weigh Shekalim against Israel, therefore, He pre-empted his Shekels with their Shekels.
(Midrash Yalkut Shimoni Ki-Tisa 386)

The commandment of Shekalim made it impossible for Haman to purchase the Jewish People. We were already “paid for”, and no longer for sale.

Moreover, Haman had described the Jewish People as “dispersed and scattered among the nations.” They were vulnerable because in their exile, they saw themselves as no longer a nation, but rather as scattered individuals. The commandment of Shekalim is the antidote to this self-image. All the little half-shekels put together represent the value of an entire nation.
Shabbat Shekalim heralds the season of the Passover Holidays, the new year that begins in Nissan. Just as Elul is a time of preparation for the New Year of Tishrei, Adar is a time of preparation for the time of national renewal and redemption. Money allows society to abstract the concept of value, and makes it possible to achieve things that would be out of reach for scattered individuals. Parshat Mishpatim, the Megilla, Parshat Shekalim, and the Haftarah all teach us how money can be used to serve G-d, “with all your might.”


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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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Shabbat Shuva

Shabbat Shuva (not “Shabbat Teshuva”) is named after the Haftarah from Hoshea that begins with the words, “Shuva Yisrael”. It comes out on either VaYelech or He’ezinu. In addition to Hoshea, we also read a few verses from Michah, and half a chapter of Yoel.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat Shuva

It connects to He’ezinu through the theme of dew. G-d’s love for the Jewish People is compared to dew, which unlike rain, never fails, and nurtures the land every day regardless of circumstances. The difference between Tal (dew) and Matar (rain), unconditional and conditional love, can tell us a great deal about our relationship with G-d.

The connection to VaYelech is similar, but with a twist: The Illogic of Teshuva

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Nitzavim – Hindsight

The final in the series of seven Haftarot of Consolation, the Haftarah of Nitzavim describes what it will be like when Redemption is in full bloom.

שׂוֹשׂ אָשִׂישׂ בַּה’ תָּגֵל נַפְשִׁי בֵּא-לֹהַי …וּמְשׂוֹשׂ חָתָן עַל כַּלָּה יָשִׂישׂ עָלַיִךְ אֱ-לֹהָיִךְ:
I will rejoice in Hashem, my soul will delight in my G-d…with the joy that a bridegroom feels for his bride, your G-d will rejoice in you. (Yeshayahu 61:10, 62:5)

The feeling of joy that will be felt by the Jewish People, and by G-d Himself, is compared to that of a bridegroom and his bride. The joy of a bride and groom at their wedding is unadulterated. There is no baggage between them, no history of disappointments and anger, nor do they think of the future and the mistakes that might yet be made.
So, too, at the final stage of Redemption, there will no longer be any baggage between G-d and the Jewish People. Our past failures will be erased, our anger and resentment at the tragedies of Jewish History will be gone. Nor will we need to fear for the future. In Parshat Nitzavim, after warning the Jewish People that they will betray G-d and of the consequences of that betrayal, the Torah tells us that ultimately we will come back to Him.

…כִּי יָשׁוּב ה’ לָשׂוּשׂ עָלֶיךָ לְטוֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׂשׂ עַל אֲבֹתֶיךָ
…for Hashem will return to rejoicing over you, and be good to you, as He rejoiced over your ancestors. (Devarim 30:9)

When the prophecies of pain and suffering in the Torah had been fulfilled in every detail, what is left are the prophecies of good things to come. When there is no possibility of failure or disappointment, there can be pure joy.
There is no worry for the future, but what about the past? G-d and the Jewish People definitely do have baggage. In the Parsha, G-d says that He will forgive us for what we’ve done to Him, so His side is taken care of. But what about us? How do we forgive Him for two thousand years of suffering?
In the final verses of the Haftarah, the prophet looks back at our history from the vantage point of Redemption, when all the prophecies have come to pass and all of G-d’s plans have already born fruit:

חַסְדֵי ה’ אַזְכִּיר תְּהִלֹּת ה’ כְּעַל כֹּל אֲשֶׁר גְּמָלָנוּ ה’ וְרַב טוּב לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר גְּמָלָם כְּרַחֲמָיו וּכְרֹב חֲסָדָיו: ….
The kindnesses of Hashem I mention, Hashem’s praises, for all that Hashem has bestowed upon us, and much goodness to the House of Israel, that He has bestowed upon them in His mercy and great kindness. .. (Yeshayahu 63:7)

The prophet looks back at Jewish History, and he sees only G-d’s kindness, goodness, and mercy. From the perspective of the End of Days, of the World To Come, everything is clear, all the pieces fall into place, and we see that all that we have gone through were steps on the road to ultimate joy.
There is one more thing that the prophet needs to tell us. The final verse of all of the Sheva d’Nechemta, the Seven Haftarot of Consolation, that we have been reading since Tisha b’Av says the following:

בְּכָל צָרָתָם (לא) לוֹ צָר וּמַלְאַךְ פָּנָיו הוֹשִׁיעָם בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ וּבְחֶמְלָתוֹ הוּא גְאָלָם וַיְנַטְּלֵם וַיְנַשְּׂאֵם כָּל יְמֵי עוֹלָם:
In all their pain, He has felt pain, His personal angel has redeemed them, in His love and His compassion He liberated them. He has borne them and carried them for all eternity. (Yeshayahu 63:9)

All along, throughout all our suffering, G-d has been with us. He has been personally carrying us, all along, towards a goal and a purpose.

There is a famous parable in popular culture, called Footprints in the Sand, which reads, in part:

You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
(see: http://www.wowzone.com/fprints.htm, for 3 attributed versions)

The last verse of the Haftarah looks back at all of Jewish History, and tells us that the entire time, there has ever only been one set of footprints. Going forward, in the time of ultimate Redemption, there will still only ever be one set of footprints, as we walk together with G-d in pure, unadulterated joy.
And now that we are at the end of the Sheva d’Nechemta, so let us also look back at the progression of the seven stages of Redemption, and try to understand the comfort that we are meant to find in each.

1. Va’Etchanan: The First Step: An end to the oppression of the Jewish People by the nations of the world. We are reminded that it is G-d who runs history, not the so-called super-powers and empires.
2. Ekev: Impossible Hope: The return of the Jewish People to Jerusalem, as they make the desert bloom like the Garden of Eden. The years of waiting were not a sign of hopelessness and abandonment, but rather of our faith that everything He does for us has meaning and purpose.
3. Re’eh: The Standard of Leadership :The leaders of the Jewish People, who will be paragons of justice and righteousness, bring about universal knowledge of G-d and an end to war. It is G-d who determines whether weapons are effective or not; there is no one to fear but Him.
4. Shoftim: Seeing Eye to Eye : G-d’s Presence returns to Jerusalem, and with it, prophecy. With the prophetic eye aligned with our physical eyes, we see G-d’s justice in His world.
5. Ki Teitzei: What If? – No matter what happens, from this point on, the process will not be reversed. G-d will never let us fail again.
6. Ki Tavo: A Portion in the World To Come A time when G-d’s Presence is so palpable and visible, the entire world acknowledges our relationship with Him and wishes to be a part of it. The Beit HaMikdash, the Temple, is rebuilt.
7. Nitzavim: All the blessings that G-d promised in the Torah come to pass, and we realize that all of Jewish History that has led to this point was actually a function of G-d’s kindness and His unconditional commitment to us.

Our generation has been privileged to see some of the early stages of these Haftarot with our own eyes, as Jerusalem is no longer abandoned, and the Land of Israel is no longer desolate. The other stages are ahead of us. Like all the generations of the Jewish People who have read the Haftarot and were comforted, we know that the future that awaits us is full of beauty, peace, and joy. We know that G-d is with us and we know that everything we go through has purpose.

More than that, we do not know. As Parshat Nitzavim tells us:

הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת:
What is hidden is for Hashem, our G-d; what is revealed is for us, and our children, forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah. (Devarim 29:28)

It is tempting to try to predict what will happen and when, and it is tempting to try to influence spiritual forces to make things happen sooner rather than later. But the Torah tells us that we, human beings, are limited. There are things that we cannot know. We have what the prophet tells us, and we derive comfort from it and wait. And while we wait, we do the only thing that we can do: keep the Torah and carry on….

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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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Ki Tavo

This is the sixth of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, the Sheva d’eNechemta, from Yeshayahu. This stage is a time of such overwhelming connection to G-d that Chazal refer to it as “Olam Haba”, The World to Come. It is also the first time that building the Temple is mentioned.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Ki Tavo

The combination of the Haftarah and the Parsha shows us something about the World to Come that we probably would have overlooked otherwise: A Portion in the World to Come

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Ki Tavo – A Portion in the World to Come

As the sixth of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, the Haftarah of Ki Tavo describes an advanced stage of Redemption. Unlike earlier stages, which are called by Chazal, “עתיד לבא”, “the Future”, this stage is called “עולם הבא”, “the World to Come”. Some of what we know about the World to Come is learned from a verse in this Haftarah:

כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא שנאמר (ישעיה ס’) ועמך כולם צדיקים לעולם יירשו ארץ נצר מטעי מעשי ידי להתפאר
All of the Jewish People have a share in the World to Come, as it says, (Yeshayahu 60:21): “Your nation will all be righteous, forever they will inherit the land; the blossoms that I planted, My handiwork, in which I glory.”
(Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1)

Surprisingly, even though we learn from the Haftarah that all of the Jewish People will be righteous and have a share in the World to Come, a very small portion of its text describes the Jewish People and how righteous they are. The bulk of the Haftarah talks about the Nations of the World and their desire to contribute toward our Redemption. For instance, the Haftarah talks about the rebuilding of the Temple. We might have thought that it would describe how the Jewish People all contribute toward building it, just as the Torah describes the donations that were used to build the Mishkan in the desert. Instead, it says the following:

כָּל צֹאן קֵדָר יִקָּבְצוּ לָךְ אֵילֵי נְבָיוֹת יְשָׁרְתוּנֶךְ יַעֲלוּ עַל רָצוֹן מִזְבְּחִי וּבֵית תִּפְאַרְתִּי אֲפָאֵר
כִּי לִי אִיִּים יְקַוּוּ וָאֳנִיּוֹת … כַּסְפָּם וּזְהָבָם אִתָּם לְשֵׁם ה’ אֱ-לֹהַיִךְ וְלִקְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי פֵאֲרָךְ…
כְּבוֹד הַלְּבָנוֹן אֵלַיִךְ יָבוֹא בְּרוֹשׁ תִּדְהָר וּתְאַשּׁוּר יַחְדָּו לְפָאֵר מְקוֹם מִקְדָּשִׁי וּמְקוֹם רַגְלַי אֲכַבֵּד
All the flocks of Kedar will be gathered to you, the rams of Nevayot, in your service, to be brought willingly at My altar, the House of My glory, I will make glorious….

To Me the islands gather…their silver and gold with them, in the Name of Hashem, your G-d, for the Holy One of Israel, who makes you glorious…..

The best of the forests of Lebanon will come to you, fir trees, pine trees, and boxwood, all together, to make glorious the place of My Temple, and the place of My abode I will make honored. (Yeshayahu 60:7,13)

According to these verses, it will not be the Jewish people who build the Temple. It will be the Nations of the World who contribute both money and raw materials toward its construction, with the goal of making it outstandingly beautiful and glorious.

Even when it talks about our achievements during that era, the Haftarah phrases them in terms of how they look to the Nations of the World:

וְקָרָאת יְשׁוּעָה חוֹמֹתַיִךְ וּשְׁעָרַיִךְ תְּהִלָּה
Your justice system will be called salvation, and your courts, a source of praise. (Yeshayahu 60:18)

Usually, the prophets describe the courts of the Jewish People as just and righteous. Here, the Haftarah describes them as being praised throughout the world.

The implication is that the World To Come is not about us and what we do. Instead, it is about what we project to others. It is all about the praise and the glory.

In Parshat Ki Tavo, we read a handful of verses can be easily overlooked, as they do not appear to tell us anything that we haven’t heard before:

וַה’ הֶאֱמִירְךָ הַיּוֹם לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָךְ וְלִשְׁמֹר כָּל מִצְוֹתָיו:
וּלְתִתְּךָ עֶלְיוֹן עַל כָּל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לִתְהִלָּה וּלְשֵׁם וּלְתִפְאָרֶת וְלִהְיֹתְךָ עַם קָדֹשׁ לַה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר
Hashem has committed you today to be for Him a unique nation, as He has told you, and to keep all His commandments. And to place you supreme among all the nations that He has made, for praise, for the Name, and for glory, and for you to become a nation holy to Hashem your G-d, as He has told you. (Devarim 26:18,19)

It begins with our familiar mission statement: to be G-d’s people and keep His commandments. Then, it lays out the objective of our mission: praise, reputation (“Name”), and glory.

It is not enough to just be holy, just to keep G-d’s commandments. It is not meaningful to be G-d’s representatives on Earth if nobody is aware that this is what you are doing . If people don’t see what it is like to have G-d’s Presence among human beings, then they will never believe that it is possible. If G-d’s light is hidden from them, then they will never aim to share in it. Therefore, in order to fulfil the purpose of the Torah, the entire world must be aware of the holiness that it creates in the Jewish People. There needs to be praise and glory.

The Haftarah tells us that the World to Come will be a time when the actions of the Jewish People are not only consistent with G-d’s will, but they are also understood by all to be G-d’s will. The relationship between G-d and the Jewish People will be so strong, so palpable, so visible, that it will inspire universal admiration and emulation, fulfilling the mission as stated in the Parsha. The Nations of the World will wish to be a part of the glory, they will wish to contribute to the Temple and to the connection with G-d that it represents, and G-d will welcome their participation.

All of the Jewish People have a portion in the World to Come. According to the Haftarah, the World to Come is not limited to the Jewish People; it has enough portions for the entire world.


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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Filed under Connections, Ki Tavo, Sefer Devarim, Sheva de'Nechemta