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The COVID-19 Diaries day 12

04/03/2020 01:50:52 AM


ליל שישי, ט' בניסן, תש"פ
Thursday, April 2, 2020

The challenge of taking

Some people struggle to give. Others struggle to take.

Everyone has opportunities to give and opportunities to take. We appropriately try to train ourselves to be givers and not takers. Sonei Matanos Yichyeh - one who hates (a strong word) gifts, lives. Yet, being in quarantine, due to two of my boys testing positive for COVID-19, I was put in a situation where I have no choice but to take. We can’t go to my in-laws for Yom Tov - in fact, today my Mother-in-law got her test results - negative for COVID-19. So we CERTAINLY can’t go there for Pesach. Which left us in a situation of inability to leave home, with no food or utensils for Pesach! That’s kind of tricky. We were left with no choice but to ask others for help.

So one Tzaddik got us produce from where he works, another did ALL our food shopping for us. A worker at Auction Mart patiently went through a whole list with my wife, had everything toveled and delivered. One Tzaddik picked up food from Bais Yaakov for us that will get the kinderlach by for another few days, and another let me know when he was going to the store in case anyone needed anything (which we did!).

The most out of the ordinary thing that occurred so far though, is the “random” family that is renting from Rabbi Richard across the street. They must have seen my kinderlach playing outside. So a few girls came to our door and asked if we would take their extra milk since they don’t eat dairy (one of the siblings apparently is highly allergic). We gratefully took several half gallons off their hands. The next day they came back with more, and then offered us two boxes of food they received from school in Monroe that they weren’t going to eat! We now have enough deli, rye bread, apples and cereal to last until Pesach. Until then, we weren’t sure what we were going to do about shalosh seudos this coming Shabbos; being so focused on Pesach and formulating precise shopping lists, we were kind of ignoring this coming Shabbos - but now we have tuna and egg salad and pears in syrup too! All thanks to the random chessed of the neighbors across the street that we don’t even know.

Yes, HKBH still gives manna. And it tastes pretty good.

The feeling I want to focus on though, is the opportunity to take. It doesn’t feel good to have to take, it feels even worse to have to ASK to take. But, when HKBH puts you in a situation, when you have no choice, He is telling you that He wants to give others the opportunity to GIVE... to you.

Chazal tell us that Elisha haNavi is the model for “taking” from others. He accepted gifts (except from Naaman!). The question is how he could violate the principle of sonei matanos yichyeh?

I think the answer is that when you take, because you want to enable the other to give, you are not actually taking. If someone wants to give you a present to show their appreciation for you and your relationship and you refuse, you create distance. By accepting the gift, you become closer.

We should never be takers, but sometimes we are forced to take or even to ask. In those situations, we should graciously accept, because, as funny as it sounds, when others want to give, and we accept... we “take” - the truth is, that we are actually giving.

The COVID-19 Diaries day 9

03/30/2020 11:42:38 PM


יום שני, ה' בניסן, תש"פ
Monday, March 30, 2020

Just like that, plans change.

All it took was the results from the COVID-19 tests to change our Pesach plans. Out of three boys tested two came out positive. Maybe they didn’t stick the spaghetti far enough down the third one’s nose.
So now we are all in quarantine. Dinner shopping was done by a righteous friend and delivered to our door.

We have never made Pesach, we have no dishes, no pots, nothing. Fortunately, we do have a lot of things at my in-laws, which is just a 5 minute drive away. Unfortunately, I’m not legally allowed to drive there to retrieve them. Fortunately, my mother-in-law can bring them over. Unfortunately, we’re pretty sure she also has the virus and is scheduled to be tested tomorrow. So... it’s getting tricky.

This morning, before we got back the test results, I had the opportunity to drive and run an errand. So I decided that I would listen to the entirety of the shiur I was upset about yesterday. Long ago I learned that you have to put your feelings aside and listen to what the other person is saying, and fully understand it before you can honestly respond. There is one thing that we are assuming, but perhaps will never know with certainty: Was all of our social distancing and quarantining etc. successful in slowing the spread? Did we save lives? Or, would the outcome have been identical no matter what?

We assume from the tragic numbers of dead in Italy and Spain, that it could be much worse than it is and that we were successful. However, as a personal anecdote, I was rather surprised to discover that two of my boys had COVID-19 and that the “minor cold” that had gone around my house was in all likelihood the coronavirus. My stomach has been bothering me, which I attributed to eating habits, but now I am being told that it is more likely a symptom of COVID-19. I know so many people at this point that are sick or tested positive, but I NEVER would have tested my boys were it not for our Pesach cheshbon (discussed in yesterday’s post). So wait a minute, does the whole world already have it?!

Answers may come in retrospect, or they may not. I read one fascinating article that suggested a pattern for the cycle of the disease ( and I am so curious to see if his reading of the stats is correct. “Ignoring both tails of the graph, it indicates that this bell's life cycle is around six to eight weeks, with its peak appearing after about two to four weeks from the time when incidents begin to occur at a substantial rate.” According to that, the peak in NY should be less than a week or two away, but not more than that. It would then decline and be basically done by the beginning of May.
I believe the only country that is sticking to allowing the virus to run its course is Brazil. “Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has staked out the most deliberately dismissive position of any major world leader, calling the pandemic a momentary, minor problem and saying strong measures to contain it are unnecessary.” ( One wonders how the numbers will compare.
On the other hand, a New York Times article claims that early restrictions in Seattle, seem to show significant slowing down of the spread.

As some sort of concrete conclusion to today’s ramblings - whatever the truth is regarding the efficacy of the worldwide shutdown, I think it is important to recognize the positivity in the world-wide statement that people’s lives are more important than anything else. While that may seem obvious, it is not. If someone wants to damage themselves, as long as they don’t damage anyone else without consent, contemporary “morals” are fine with that. Life is not as important as quality of life, is a modern mantra, stated outright or not. As a Rabbi I can say confidently and definitively, “that just isn’t true”. God, as He has expressed Himself in the Torah, in it’s broadest sense, values life, even the “lowest physical quality” therein as paramount, and the world has just demonstrated their commitment to that truth.

The COVID-19 Diaries day 8

03/30/2020 12:53:29 AM


ליל שני, ה' בניסן, תש"פ
Sunday, March 29, 2020


Today I had a disturbing experience.

We have a dilemma regarding our location for Pesach. After we married, my wife and I made an annual trek  to my parents in Toronto for Pesach. After I became the Rav of KZD, we started going to my in-laws instead, so that I could remain local. Just like it was for my mother for so many years, Pesach is something that my mother-in-law, despite all the kashering, purchasing cooking organizing, etc. looks forward to as a highlight of her year.

This year, like many, many others, the coronavirus has put our Pesach location into question.

As of now, we are going with the following plan. Since the only ones leaving the house, and only for basic food shopping are myself and my wife, if we can be “confident” that none of us are carriers of the virus, we will consider going.
How can we be at all confident? Well, that’s where it gets tricky. So today, the three kinderlach that have cold symptoms went on a field-trip (yes, the whole “school” went so that they could get out of the house - I tried to get them to stay home to no avail) to get tested for COVID-19. So now we wait for the results. If any of them test positive, then our decision has been made for us. If not... then it remains tricky. TBD.

The test itself was only mildly disturbing. Did one of your friends (I’m certain no one reading this), ever put spaghetti up their nose, only to pull it out their mouth? (here’s a link to a muttonhead doing it if you really want to watch Well, that’s basically what the test is. I’ll leave it at that.

The disturbing thing was the shiur I played to use the time productively. A prominent and popular speaker shared his perspective on the world’s response to the virus. I wasn’t expecting to hear what I heard. In a nutshell, he said that the world overreacted and really it’s nothing more than the flu, etc. etc. etc.

This bothered me for a number of obvious reasons, that I do not think it necessary to go into. But it was disturbing to hear someone this late in the game still viewing it this way.

When all this began, I also naively thought that closing YU, KBY, New Rochelle, was overreacting. I was consulting with an infectious disease doctor who, merely reflecting the understanding of the CDC, understood the possibility of contagion to only be significant when the carrier is expressing symptoms. To me, that was the most significant piece of information. It was based on that information that I made all my decisions vis a vis the Shul. I believe I acted responsibly and in full accordance with Halachah, as Halachah responds to reality as we understand it. One person, respectfully questioned my allowing shalosh seudos the last Shabbos the Shul met, but I made my decision based on the accepted medical knowledge at that time. It is still unclear if an asymptomatic individual is significantly contagious.

Once I began to hear of contagion creeping closer to the people of Pomona, I felt it was time to close the Shul. A primary calculation that was going through my mind was something I had heard from Rav Asher Weiss shlit”a, regarding hospital policy. He paskins for Shaarei Tzedek in Jerusalem that a doctor may and must make the proper documentation on Shabbos - WITH A SHINUY -, even when that particular documentation is not pikuach nefesh in and of itself, because if that is not a POLICY, people will die. Mistakes will creep in and be made and it will cost a life. Therefore, as a matter of policy, everything must be documented. I am told that Rav Dovid Feinstein shlit”a disagrees with this. Be that as it may, in the case of attending a Shul, there is at least some safeik pikuach nefesh, and therefore, as a policy (among other cheshbonos) I felt the Shul had to close.

I take our spiritual wellbeing no less serious than our physical well being, and closing a Shul is a difficult thing to bring oneself to do, but I felt it was necessary. I wasn’t the first, but I was far from the last to come to this conclusion.

This past Shabbos, there were at least 11 deaths in the frum greater NY community alone. Pictures were spread on Sunday of morgues that no longer had proper space for the deceased, and bodies were wrapped in bags and left on the floor - reminiscent of the aftermath of a terror attack. In Italy decisions had to be made as to which patients to put on respirators because there weren’t enough for everyone that needed them, and the doctors had to decide who had a chance to live and who would not be given that chance. Everyone here is terrified that those decisions will have to be made locally as well. Patients locally are being doubled up on respirators to prevent this from becoming a reality.

In Bnei Brak Sunday afternoon, HaRav HaGaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit"a finally, sort of, told people that they must daven beyechidus - because Bnei Brak has the second highest number of infections in the country only behind Jerusalem. The population in Bnei Brak is under 200k, while the population of Jerusalem is around 900k. If nothing is done to slow the infection rate, it is statistically guaranteed that more people will die.

The bottom line is that COVID-19 is dangerous and deadly, for whatever reason. Whether it is because it is more contagious than the flu, or because we have no immunity, or whatever. But to suggest that the world is overreacting after seeing the number of deaths, danger of death, rate at which it is spreading, and knowing that there is a limited number of respirators, is completely ignoring the value of life and the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh.

So do I try to argue with this Rav? Do I send him an email? I really have a hard time believing that it is worth it. But wow, that is disturbing. People have a way of seeing things in a distorted manner, for whatever reason they subconsciously have.

The COVID-19 Diaries day 7

03/29/2020 02:10:21 AM


יום ראשון, ד' בניסן, תש"פ
Motzei Shabbos, March 28, 2020

Are we turning a corner?

I have been in places and have had times where and when I have found it difficult to daven, but I have also encountered locations and experienced moments of connection. For whatever reason, I found it easier to connect this Shabbos. Usually, my mind is busy, and before I daven, when I try to focus, even closing my eyes, there is a lot of “noise”; mental noise. Every once in a while, there is little or no noise, and my mind has less trouble focusing and using the words of shmonah esrei to commune with the Ribono shel olam. This Shabbos, for the first time since all this began, I was able to focus for a bit. It was a good feelings; a feeling of chizuk; a feeling that HKBH is available and listening.

Just a few days ago, there was news from Eretz Israel. For the first time in quite some time, things are starting to get organized governmentally. Perhaps that is a reflection of a new energy coming to the world. I hope that this portends an end to the chaos and reflects the beginning of things becoming “under control”.

The COVID-19 Diaries day 6

03/27/2020 02:04:58 PM


יום שישי, ב' בניסן, תש"פ
Friday, March 27, 2020

How do we avoid getting used to something that we don’t want to get used to?!

I heard a story that due to the danger of impending war, the Chofetz Chaim had to flee to another town for a while. While in his town, the Chofetz Chaim never saw chillul Shabbos first hand, but in his temporary city of refuge he witnessed many disturbing acts of desecration of kedushas Shabbos. We can only imagine how much this bothered him and impacted his Shabbos.

The second Shabbos he was there however, the Chofetz Chaim cried even more than the first. When asked why he was so much more upset, he replied, “Last week I cried because of the chilul Shabbos. This week I’m crying because I can’t cry about it like I cried last week. It no longer bothers me like it bothered me then.”

Last week we were exiled from our Shul for the first time. Last Shabbos was awkward in so many ways.

This Shabbos, we already know the drill. Last week set a precedent that will simply be repeated. It will not be so awkward. We already have a makom kavua in our home, and we have been davening there for some time now. In and of itself, that’s good. We need to have a certain comfort and yishuv hadaas to be able to daven properly. The flip side, of course, is that our exile won’t bother us as much as it did last week. It won’t be as awkward as it was last Shabbos.

This is not something I want to get used to! We must maintain a positive attitude, but at the same time we have to also remain conscious that we have been thrown out of our of Shul, and we CANNOT GET USED TO THIS!

The COVID-19 Diaries day 5

03/27/2020 12:13:29 AM


ליל שישי, ב' בניסן, תש"פ
Thursday, March 26, 2020

I can’t wait for it to pour!

I’ve never heard anyone say that they can’t wait for it to pour. But tonight I said exactly that to my wife. Yes, it was primarily because I was in one of those moods and wanted attention, but that wasn’t the full intent behind my comment.

Today, we had our gutters replaced.

The truth is that I do kind of want it to pour, because I want to see if they really work. I paid money to have it done and I want to see the return on my investment.

I had been a little nervous, because in my case, the gutter replacement was somewhat of a process. Yesterday, the old gutters were removed and the fascia board replaced, so I was feeling rather vulnerable. Yesterday, I certainly did not want it to rain. But today, when the job is done, I can’t wait for my nachas.

HKBH gives us challenging times, in which we need to replace our parts and work on new keilim - new perspectives. That is a delicate time for us. Once we have worked on ourselves and have new perspectives, however, the tests we pass give HKBH great nachas.

The COVID-19 Diaries day 4

03/25/2020 09:39:05 PM


יום רביעי, כ"ט באדר, תש"פ
Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Personal space

There are introverts and extroverts, people who are more comfortable and able to express themselves best in small groups, and people who are most comfortable and at their best, in a larger social context.

I have a hunch that both of them are struggling right now. The extroverts are struggling because the best they can do now is a Zoom birthday party (we already had two this past week), but even the introverts often need to recharge by being alone. If you have a large family, and a small house; personal space, both in the physical and psychological sense, is hard to come by. For me personally, the noise and action level in my house for such an extended period of time has been draining for my psyche.

This reality has led me to select a particular schedule for myself that I would otherwise not necessarily have chosen.

In a vacuum, I would ideally be rising first thing in the morning to daven ke-vasikin. As of now, that means finishing Shema and starting Shmonah Esrei at 6:50am. Since there is not even a tzibbur with which to daven at the same time, the value of davening simultaneous to others davening alone is unclear. Yet the value of davening ke-vasikin is undisputed.

My problem is this. I know that I am not a morning person. I learn better after a coffee at night when its quiet, than I do tired in the morning, anxious that the kinderlach could awaken at any moment. After a long day of noise and action I recharge in the calmness of sleeping children. To get up early, I would have to go to sleep early, and forfeit my nights, which would not only mean losing recharge time, but also focused learning, and time to schmooze and hang out with my wife, and in general, time to relax. To make a cheshbon short, in order to have the mental personal space that I need to be me, and function as a happy, mentally healthy Abba, which is what I need to be more than ever right now, it’s smarter for me to stay up late and wake up late.

The moral of the story is that while on the books, certain structures might seem ideal, we have to know ourselves and what’s better in the bigger picture. ובלבד שיכוון לבו לשמים.

The COVID-19 Diaries day 3

03/24/2020 10:28:28 PM


ליל רביעי, כ"ט באדר, תש"פ
Tuesday, March 24, 2020

It’s truly amazing to witness how HKBH can do one mass disruption resulting in everyone having to be in the same situation and nonetheless every individual experiences therein his own nisayon.

The entire world has been plagued by the COVID-19 virus. Everyone is basically quarantined to their home. Yet, each individual is experiencing the challenges of that situation differently. Some are struggling with bitachon related to their loss of parnosoh, others are struggling with the stress of still being at work. Some are struggling with the challenge of having to relate to their children. Others have been using work as an escape from their poor relationship with their spouse, and are now forced to spend time together. Some are struggling with the lack of social interactions, others struggle to get by without the luxuries that they have become accustomed to. The list goes on and on.

The bottom line is that HKBH has His way of “isolating” people’s issues. Everyone can be the “same situation” and be experiencing the challenges completely differently. I don’t refer to the psychological experience, I am referring to the spiritual/religious experience. Everything that happens to us, involves our “personal trainer”. Every challenge we encounter is HKBH providing us with an opportunity to grow. The fact that one person experiences the situation as a particular challenge indicates that THAT is exactly what he should be working on at this time. We should use that as an indicator for our teshuvah.

The COVID-19 Diaries Day 2

03/23/2020 05:19:46 PM


יום שני, כ"ז באדר, תש"פ
Monday, March 23, 2020

No one is good at everything.

I know I have talents, but I am also aware of my challenges.

I have a hard time focusing on things that I consider insignificant. When these tasks are long or numerous, or both, I get anxious and frustrated and my emotions start to shut down my ability to get them done.

My other paralyzing challenge involves multitasking. I know I am not alone on this one, but I thrive when I can calmly focus on one thing at a time. When I encounter too many tasks at once, again my emotions start to shut me down.

So when I am faced with organizing four Elementary School children’s schedules from a disorganized email, printing out assignments and sheets for countless classes from twenty different emails (all forwarded from my wife because for some reason my email address wasn’t included in the school list), chasing down and locating those children in between classes (today we had snow outside!), keeping track of when the next class starts for each of them, making sure they eat (a “healthy”) lunch so we can have dinner at a normal hour, following up with homework, and checking on my other three boys in High School, while simultaneously giving my own shiur on Zoom for Yeshiva, being inundated with messages from WhatsApp about sometimes important and often irrelevant or [not-really] amusing memes, plus the occasional sheiloh, or individual that needs chizzuk, it kind of stresses me out.

I’m not saying any of the “Online Elementary School” tasks are objectively insignificant, but each one is a small detail in a big picture that I would rather be seeing from afar (where all the tiny brush-strokes blend together into a beautiful composition). The multitasking element is clear.

That is what I am finding hard to handle. Baruch Hashem, my wife is around somewhat (as unfathomable as it sounds, she was instructed by the NYC DOE to continue her OT sessions via video conference), and is a powerhouse when it comes to getting the multitasked details done.

Today I made it until about four o’clock before starting to fall apart. Right now my wife is working with our youngest who in first grade has more, and more detailed work than any other child in the family. Meanwhile, I made myself a coffee, and am listening to the sounds of a fan on Youtube on almost half volume while I am writing this to keep my sanity.

It’s working pretty well.

One thing that I tell people all the time. Stress is usually the result of feeling “overwhelmed”. Overwhelmed means that the tasks you feel responsible for, are bigger than you can handle. The truth is that they only seem that way, they aren’t really. That’s one of the reasons why telling your problems to someone else, or putting them on paper, helps to reduce stress. If it can be concretely told, or delineated on paper, it can’t possibly be that big. At that point it’s no longer “overwhelming”.

The COVID-19 Diaries

03/22/2020 11:58:32 AM


יום ראשון, כ"ו באדר, תש"פ
Sunday, March 22, 2020

Last Sunday, March 15 2020, was the last time I davened with a minyan. I haven’t said kedusha, haven’t heard kaddish for a week.

Yeshiva for the kids has become phone or zoom conferences. I haven’t verified it, but the boys in Breuers think that Rav Mantel shlit”a does not want learning Torah to be done on Zoom. The secular classes are on zoom. Interestingly enough I found a reference to this concern this past Shabbos in Rav Elya’s Lev Eliyahu. He asks why Betzalel was linked to his grandfather Chur (Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur). Everyone assumes that it has to do with Chur’s murder as he attempted to prevent the Eigel. Rav Elya writes that the mesiras nefesh of Chur allowed the Mishkan of Betzalel to never be destroyed. Things infused with kedushah from the earliest stages, facilitate kedushah in the object. To the extent that the kedushah is lacking in production, the object produced  will lack kedushah and potentially worse. In fact, a sefer Torah written by a min is to be destroyed. Something to consider. Although, I personally feel we are way to far from ruchnius for this to impact us; I could be totally wrong.

It is a big challenge to  keep up a proper schedule in this reality. Minyan is what I used to wake up for. Now my davening can’t even parallel the same time as the tzibur, because there is no tzibur. So BH teaching and the kids schedule force me into routine. I really think I would fall into a bad rut were it not for that.

Nechemiah, as an example, does not want to wake up in the morning. I think it’s not healthy to sleep in too much, but I have no leverage. There is no minyan, sof zman shema is not until 10 and his conference call is not until 11:20, so he is falling into a terrible sleep-wake pattern. Does it really matter?

I have constant thoughts about the current matzav, vacillating between the negative and positive involved, which I think is the balanced, correct approach. Last night I listened to an audio recording from Rabbi Reuven Epstein, a cousin of Adam Childs, a talmid of mine, who has COVID-19. It has left him with a fever and aches so severe that, while he is not in a hospital, he describes how he feels nearly paralyzed from weakness. He described rolling up into a fetal position just to be able to daven, and the feeling that Hashem really doesn’t want his prayers. All the Shuls are now closed, the Yeshivas are closed. This week all that will be open will be essential stores, which seems to include liquor stores, so we shouldn’t have a problem getting wine for Pesach (which Elisha is nervous about - getting his Kal). I have heard several schmoozen like Rabbi Epstein’s who’s perspective is that HKBH is trying to force us to realize what HE deems important and get us out of the trap of what WE think is important. It’s amazing. There is no more sports, no more shows, movie theaters are closed, restaurants are closed, cruises are closed, obviously all the hangouts are closed, people are supposed to maintain social distancing, remaining 6 feet from each other. I was joking about shopping and turning down an aisle at Wesley to get something but since someone is in that aisle, quickly going down another. What’s left? Being home with family working on relationships and trying to have a personal relationship with Hashem.

So while that does seem positive, there is a real sense of punishment, certainly from Rabbi Epstein who is physically suffering from it, and to a lesser extent, from all of us, who have been exiled from Shuls and Yeshivos. Will it be enough to focus on those relationships and personal tefillah, or does Hashem want more from us?

One thing for sure, when Chazal say that disaster happens only for Yisroel, we saw this coming and totally didn’t see this coming. When it all began in Wuhan, we could have said that it’s for us and done serious teshuva, but we never did that before and didn’t think to this time. And it hit us as it spread. In fact, the first local community was the Jewish one. Westchester. It spread to Yidden from there. In any case, now the whole United States is dealing with it.

On the positive side, we know that this is the avodah now and it should be embraced. We should not have thoughts of “nebuch this is our situation” or with total yeiush. Rav Kahn keeps stressing that vegilu beraadah means we can’t get too carried away with simchah, but the flip side is also true, we cannot get carried away with fear. There has to be gila in the raada too.

However, I am not on the bandwagon of those currently celebrating the arrival of moshiach or whatever they think. There were people driving around in cars honking, playing Jewish music and blowing shofar or the like on erev Shabbos, and while I am all for people releasing tension and the amusement value for the onlooker, there is absolutely nothing to celebrate right now. Now we need to be seriously trying to be better. We can celebrate when we see it end, not while we are in it. We are not Nachum Ish Kam Zu and we are not even Rebbi Akiva - who by the way only laughed regarding building the Mikdash (because there was a nevuah!), not on a regular basis. When his possessions were lost he said, “Whatever Hashem does is for the best”, he didn’t laugh or smile or make a kiddush!

In a similar vein, this morning a received a forwarded message, “I have a proposal for when all this madness is over, I’m sure we will all have many ideas about how to give thanks Hashem for everything. But one thing we are missing. Our Sifrei Torah and our shuls sit alone during this entire time. I propose each Shul hold a grand Hachnasas Sefer Torah celebration dancing with our Sifrei Torah around the block to show our appreciation and then hold a big kiddush to rededicate the Shul. TY Joel Wohl Please spread”

I totally understand what this person is saying, and I relate. I really do. But a while back I learned a Tanna Devei Eliyahu (I learn it every motzei Shabbos at my melaveh malkah) about when the Aron was captured by the Plishtim  and returned, and I learned something amazing from it because I didn’t understand it.
The gist is that when the Aron came back, the first Jews to see it were those of Beit Shemesh, and they came out to great it with tremendous joy and celebration. Well, Hashem smote them, and Eliyahu HaNavi describes theirs was a totally wrong response. They should have responded with fear and trepidation and teshuva (see Tanna Devei Eliyahu Ish Shalom Parsha 12).
Now the first time I read this I didn’t understand. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that if you punish your son and he gets to come out of his room and does so with celebration and simchah, you feel like he is happy to be out, but not full of remorse. It’s the seriousness and focus with which one rededicates himself that reflects his change. So aside from the inappropriateness of removing sifrei Torah from the Aron without reading from them (which we would NEVER do, other than to roll them), the whole perspective is warped. I am not blaming him, chas veshalom, like I said, I understand and can relate, but I have learned enough to know that this is the wrong approach.
At the end of the day, the focus right not must be on change and that requires a seriousness and focus, but balanced with a simchah of purpose and confidence that we can change and that our change will change the world and bring it to a better place. When we get there, we will return with a sense of humility to be welcomed back, not with a party.
Mu biggest concern is that we are adjusting, but not consciously changing. I just don’t know if that is enough.

Halachos of Yom HaKippurim

09/22/2015 12:57:54 AM



It is with great trepidation yet simultaneously great confidence that I wish all of you a גמר חתימה טובה and a year filled with only ברכה והצלחה in all you do.

Below are select Halachos of Yom HaKippurim to keep in mind.

Click here for a PDF version.

Eating on Erev Yom HaKippurim
    There is a mitzvah from the Torah to eat and drink on Erev Yom HaKippurim. While it appears that the mitzvah applies only to eating something the volume of a fig (approximately 30 grams of water; 1/8 of a cup) and drinking a minimum of a cheekful, some have the custom to be continuously eating all day by sucking on a candy or the like.
    The widespread custom is to eat at least one meal with bread in addition to the seudah hamafsekes (last meal before Yom HaKippurim).

    Although Rav Yosef Karo (the author of the Shulchan Aruch) writes that the custom of Kaparos with a chicken should be done away with, the Ramo validates it as a legitimate custom.
    The Mishnah Berurah quotes the custom to use only money to be given to tzedakah instead of a chicken, out of concern for improper slaughter due to the volume of chickens and state of mind of the slaughterers.

Asking for forgiveness from others
    Yom HaKippurim only atones for interpersonal sins if the sinner has appeased the one whom he has offended (or at least attempted to appease on three different occasions). Therefore, one should ask for forgiveness before Yom HaKippurim.

    The custom is to go to the Mikveh erev Yom HaKippurim.

Confession erev Yom HaKippurim
    One must confess his sins after the Shmonah Esrei of Minchah prior to his last meal before Yom HaKippurim (Seudah hamafsekes) - for this reason, Minchah is earlier than usual.
    According to many poskim, one is obligated to confess immediately prior to Yom HaKippurim so that he enter the day with Teshuvah. For this reason, one should make a point to say “Tefillas Zaka” (found in the beginning of the Yom Kippur Machzorim) before Kol Nidrei. Since it is being said as a form of confession, it should preferably be said standing in a submissive posture.
    Even though many sins are categorized generally in the “Al Cheit” confession - one should also specifically confess any sins that he has done.

Seudah HaMafsekes
    There is a Mitzvah from the Torah to begin the prohibitions of Yom HaKippurim before sunset. Therefore, one should complete his seudah hamafsekes with some time left before sunset, and make a verbal declaration that he intends to accept upon himself the mitzvah of adding to Yom HaKippurim.
    If one intends on eating or drinking after he ends his seudah hamafsekes, he should preferably declare out loud before benching (or at least have in mind), that he will eat or drink more.
    When a woman makes the blessings on lighting the candles, she is accepting Yom HaKippurim upon herself. She must therefore remove her shoes beforehand, and be aware that she is thereby automatically adding to Yom HaKippurim.
    The minhag is to eat easily digested food that is not heavily spiced or fatty (chicken as opposed to red meat) for the seudah hamafsekes. One should also refrain from eating warm milchigs.

Extra Candles
    In addition to the Yom Tov candles, and Yahrtzeit candle (if applicable), an extra (24 hour) candle is lit for each married man in the household.
    One should also prepare a 24 hour candle and add a bit of extra oil to it, to assure that he has a flame that was burning all of Yom HaKippurim with which to make the blessing on fire for havdalah.
    There is also a custom to leave a light on, or shining into the bedroom of a husband and wife, to remind them that sexual relations are prohibited (all regular harchakos also apply).

Special Clothing
    Married men wear a kittel even at night. The widespread custom is for a mourner in the twelve months after a parents death to also wear a kittel. There are varying customs regarding a choson in his first year of marriage.
    One should not defecate while wearing his kittel, as it is an article of clothing used specifically for prayer. Urinating while wearing a kittel is allowed.
    The custom is for women as well to wear white clothing, but it should not have gold objects embroidered on it.
    Due to the nature of the day, women should only wear jewelry that they wear daily. This jewelry may be made of gold.

Prohibitions of Yom HaKippurim
    All melachah that is prohibited on Shabbos is prohibited on Yom HaKippurim. In addition, eating, drinking, washing for pleasure, applying ointments and creams, wearing leather shoes and having sexual relations are prohibited. The punishment for eating, drinking, or doing melachah on Yom HaKippurim is kareis.
    If one, God forbid, has a debilitating headache or other illness that is effecting his entire body, he may swallow an unflavored pill without water.
    Only washing for pleasure is prohibited. Therefore, one is allowed to wash actual filth off of his body.
    One should wash upon waking up in the morning, but only his fingers up to the palm.
    A kohen should wash his hands normally, all the way to the wrist before he duchens.
    So too, one who must eat bread should wash normally, all the way to the wrist.
    One should not rinse out his mouth with water or even mouthwash.
    One is not allowed to put on scented deodorant or perfume/cologne.
    Yom HaKippurim is not a sad day, but rather a joyous one. Therefore, children that are not fasting should be given special foods and treats and not limited to a minimum amount of food.
    One who eats on Yom HaKippurim does not make kiddush.

Baruch Sheim Aloud
    One says Baruch Sheim aloud in Shema before bed.

    Havdalah after Yom HaKippurim includes wine, but only the blessing on fire, not besamim. This blessing may only be recited on a fire that was burning on Yom HaKippurim. For this reason, before Yom HaKippurim begins, one should light a 24 hour candle with some extra oil added. If one does not have such a flame, he makes havdalah anyway, but leaves out the blessing on the fire.

Introducing Kehillas Zichron Dovid

09/10/2015 10:23:17 PM


Below is the דרשה I gave at the event marking the naming of the Shul:

יום שני, כ"ג באלול, תשע"ה

Monday, September 7, 2015

We are here together today for several different reasons.

First, we are a family, and this is what families do; we get together in social contexts, because we love each other, we look out for each other and we want to spend time together.

Second, we are a community; a community that is brought together by a common vision of the purpose of life. And communities need to create contexts to forge bonds between one another.  Not everyone feels like part of the family... YET. So as a community we need to create that feeling. But even if we don’t, we are a community.

Third, we are a Shul, and our Shul must recognize and appreciate the major change that is occurring; and recognize and appreciate those who are responsible for that major change.

I hope that what I am about to say does not sound trite, because I do not mean it to at all.

The first person that must be recognized and appreciated is you. Every single individual in our Shul, has, at some point, added something significant to our lives.

There are those that make our Shul a מקום תורה, by learning and creating a קול תורה in its walls - whether it is the Daf, or a חברותא or even sitting down by himself every Shabbos with the מדרש says.

There are those that enhance our תפילה, with beautiful tunes, and create the tone for davening while others make sure that everyone is involved in the תפילה, getting the proper people the proper aliyah, making sure the ספר תורה is rolled, the הפטרה is prepared...

There are those that make our Shul geshmack - by purchasing the food, by cooking the food (like cholent, for example), by making sure that there is always food even when things are overlooked by others.

There are those that lend a handy hand - fixing things that break, quietly shoveling the walkway (and digging Rabbis out of snow).

There are those that plan events, that make sure things happen, items ordered and purchased, decorating the Shul.

There are those that do the things that no one wants to do - setting tables, cleaning up, making sure the bathrooms have tissues, plunging the toilets!

Sometimes, when a certain individual is away, we might realize that we have no cups to drink from, because who thinks about those details ahead of time.

So the first person we need to recognize and appreciate, is each and every one of you.

The second person we need to recognize and appreciate is the person that does all of the things I just mentioned and more. Ronnie Schwartz is the backbone, and brains and heart of our Shul. He is the reason that there is still a Shul and he is the reason that our Shul is moving onwards and upwards. Everything that happens in the Shul, is his זכות.

Lastly, we need to recognize and appreciate two, or actually three people, that made it possible for us to make our move אי“ה from a Bais-ment, to an upstairs Kehillah.

My father-in-law, Rabbi Jerry Berkowitz, has been involved with us from the beginning of my involvement with the Shul - advising and directing, behind the scenes. And now, he has honored us by enabling a new building and giving us a new name.

Kehillas Zichron Dovid is a tribute to two individuals, עליהם השלום whose name our Kehillah proudly carries forward.

I was not זוכה to meet my wife’s paternal grandfather, but my family, believe it or not, purchased meat from his butcher shop. An educated man, whose education far outshined his occupation, but when jobs required working on Shabbos; you took what you could get - if you were a צדיק, which he did, because he was. A sacrifice for קדושת שבת that we should not take for granted. We hope that our Shul is the kind of place that he would want to daven in.

The other Dovid, is not exactly Dovid. His name was דוד אברהם נתנאל, but everyone called him Danny, or as we called him, Uncle Dan. He was an amalgamation of everything we aspire to. He learned Torah, he was a musician, a chazan, he was a tremendous בעל חסד, he was a Hatzoloh member. He brought together the דוד with the אברהם and the נתנאל - as I will explain.

When שלמה המלך built the בית המקדש, he wanted to bring the ארון into the קודש הקדשים, but the gates clung together, and wouldn’t let him bring the ארון in. No matter what שלמה המלך said, they wouldn’t open up - until he said אל תשב פני משיחך - do not turn away the face of your anointed one - open up in the זכות of my father, Dovid. Once שלמה said that, the gates opened up (Shabbos 30a).

Our Shul has been through so much. Ups and downs. All you wanted was השראת השכינה. You never wanted just a minyan - you always wanted a Rav, you always wanted a Shul.

Now with the mention of the name דוד, the gates open up; it becomes a reality.

I want us to remember that in the name דוד אברהם נתנאל, lies the manifesto of our Shul.

Reflected in each name is both השראת השכינה and the mechanism to achieve that השראת השכינה.

דוד - the משורר, the singer, the one that represents מלכות and השראת השכינה and the בית המקדש. Where there is song, there is prayer, and where there is prayer, there is שכינה. Our Shul is not a no-frills minyan. Our תפילות are musical and our davening is sincere. Our Shul is, and must be, a place to rendezvous with the שכינה.

אברהם - the איש החסד the מרכבה - chariot - for the שכינה - the רמב“ן says that the entire idea of גאולה from מצרים and the building of משכן which would ultimately morph into the בית המקדש was simply to get back to the level of the אבות, the level of relationship that ה‘ had with אברהם. Greater is הכנסת אורחים than greeting the שכינה. אברהם taught us, that when there is a חסד to do, you put your conversation with the Eibishter on hold, while you help another man. Our Shul is a place of חסד, a family, a community, a place where we look to see how we can help and support one another. אברהם and his חסד, made him a מרכבה for the שכינה; our חסד will make our Shul a מרכבה for the שכינה.

נתנאל: נתנאל בן צוער was the נשיא of יששכר, the tribe that contained the teachers of תורה, and he was the one whose idea it was to bring the sacrifices of the נשיאים to inaugurate the משכן. And the מדרש asks why was his name נתנאל? Because he represented his שבט who gave their hearts to Torah. It was their love; Torah, that was given by קל to ישראל through משה רבינו, as the פסוק says ויתן [שרש נתן] אל משה - the name נתנאל.

מדרש אגדה (בובר) במדבר פרשת במדבר פרק א

ולמה נקרא שמו נתנאל לפי שנתנו שבט יששכר לבם על התורה, שנתנה האל לישראל על יד משה, שנאמר ויתן אל משה וגו' (שמות לא יח) 

All הקב“ה has left in the world nowadays; His only place, is where תורה is being learned. The תורה that we will learn, brings with it השראת השכינה.

Each name דוד אברהם נתנאל, has within it a vehicle for השראת השכינה - and that is our goal. The רינה, the חסד and the Torah, that we will constantly work on in Kellias Zichron Dovid.

יהיו זכרם ברוך

Halachos of Tishah B'Av on Shabbos

07/24/2015 02:11:11 PM


Due to the infrequency of Tishah B'Av occurring on Shabbos, there is confusion regarding the proper observance of both Shabbos and Tishah B'Av. Below are answers to common sheilos:

Despite this Shabbos being Tishah B’Av, all public displays of mourning are prohibited. Therefore, meals, zemiros and the like should be observed as usual.

Shalosh seudos should be eaten in the normal fashion and one should not refrain from eating with his usual company. However, one should not get together with friends that he would normally not eat shalosh seudos with.

One must finish eating shalosh seudos before sunset and birkas hamazon should preferably be completed by sunset as well. There is no seudah hamafsekes.

Private observance of mourning, however, is observed on Shabbos Tishah B’Av (by Ashkenazim). Therefore, sexual relations are prohibited, unless one’s wife goes to the mikveh Friday night.

Shoes should not be removed until Shabbos is over and one has said ”ברוך המבדיל בין קודש לחול“. In Shul, however, the shaliach tzibur will remove his shoes prior to saying barchu, and the tzibur will remove them after barchu.

One should remember to bring his shoes to Shul before Shabbos begins.

Havdalah is added to davening in the normal fashion, but havdalah is not said on a kos until Sunday night after the fast has ended. The brachah on besamim is not made at all. The brachah on fire will be recited in Shul before Eichah. A woman may make this brachah on her own at home.

Women should make sure not to do any melachah until they have said ”ברוך המבדיל בין קודש לחול“.

One who needs to eat on Tishah b’Av must first recite havdalah on grape juice to be given to a child to drink, or on chamar medinah. The child that drinks the grape juice must be old enough to know how to make brachos, but too young to understand that we are mourning the loss of the Bais Hamikdash (around 6 or 7 years old, but it depends on the child). The child should preferably drink the majority of the cup, but must drink at least a cheek-full. Chamar medinah is preferably beer; or alternatively orange juice (not from concentrate), coffee with milk and sugar, or tea with sugar.

Children under the age of bar/bas mitzvah do not need to make havdalah before they eat.

Havdalah motzei Tishah B'Av consists only of the brachah on the wine and המבדיל בין קודש לחול בין אור לחושך וכו‘, just like after Yom Tov. One may drink the wine.

Even though motzei Tishah B’Av this year is the 11th of Av, since we have been mourning the loss of the Beis HaMikdash all day, it is considered inappropriate to partake of meat and wine that night. Some include listening to music as inappropriate at well. All agree that all other restrictions of the nine days no longer apply.

If moshiach has not arrived by then, may everyone have an easy but meaningful fast, and let it be the last for Klal Yisroel.

Good Shabbos,

Etan Moshe Berman

Pesach Guidelines 5775

04/02/2015 04:57:06 PM


The following guidelines are for Pesach 5775 ONLY
בדיקת חמץ
When? After מעריב, at the time of צאת הכוכבים, this year that is about 8:03pm.  One may not sit down and have dinner first or get involved with anything else in the half-hour prior.
Where? Any room that חמץ is typically brought into or stored requires בדיקה.  This ends up being the entire house once one has children.
How? The מנהג is to use a candle so that one can see into cracks and crevices, I would recommend using a flashlight in addition, or after a few minutes of using the candle.  If it is helpful to turn the lights on in a room that is appropriate.
How? The מנהג is to put out 10 pieces of bread, each one less than a כזית, but adding up to at least a כזית so that when one burns them the next day, he is properly fulfilling ביעור חמץ.  One might want to wrap them to avoid crumbs or to put them in little cupcake cups or the like.
How? If one is doing the בדיקה at the proper time, the 13th of Nissan, he makes a ברכה before searching.  He should then begin to search immediately so that the ברכה is connected to the search.  After the ברכה is made, for the duration of the בדיקה, one should only speak if necessary to the checking, otherwise it is considered a הפסק between the ברכה and the בדיקה.  If one spoke unnecessarily, he should not make a new ברכה.
What for?  The בדיקה is supposed to be real, we are looking for חמץ, anything the size of a cheerio - smaller than that is not significant, especially if it is on the floor between slats of wood and the like.
Who? Technically, one can rely on a child who says he checked out a room - however, children tend to not do a very thorough job and one should not instruct them to check their own rooms לכתחילה.
תענית בכוֹרים
Any first-born child, even if born after a miscarriage is required to fast.
The מנהג is to avoid fasting by taking part in a סיום.
If one is not a first-born, but has a son who is, the father must fast or attend a סיום.
One must not eat חמץ in Pomona after 10:28am מג“א or 10:52am גר“א
One must burn his חמץ in Pomona by 11:44am מג“א or 11:56am גר“א
The חמץ must be burned completely - a word of caution, toast is delicious, one must make sure that the bread is not still edible on the inside.
One should not pour lighter fluid directly on the חמץ to destroy it, because he is then making it inedible through the fluid and not the fire.
Even though one was מבטל his חמץ after searching at night, one must do so again after burning his חמץ.  If one does not understand Aramaic, he should say it in English, it is important to properly nullify the חמץ.
ערב פסח אסור במלאכה אחר חצות
In the times of the בית המקדש, may it be soon rebuilt, the 14th of Nissan was a holiday because the קרבן פסח was sacrificed and prepared.  It could not be prepared until a half an hour after midday, since it had to be brought after the תמיד של בין הערביים.  Therefore, like חול המועד, מלאכה is prohibited after midday.  One should therefore make sure to cut his hair and shave in the morning.  He should not get a hair cut or shave after 12:59pm.
Laundry should be completed before that time as well.  One may start the machine before that and let it run.
Fixing clothing, like sewing on buttons and the like is permitted even after midday.
מאכלות ערב פסח
One must not eat מצה on ערב פסח and that includes baked goods made from matzo meal, like matzo meal bagels and the like.  However, one may eat cooked matzo meal products like kneidlach. One may eat egg matzoh in the morning, but only during the time that חמץ may be eaten.  Egg matzoh should not be eaten after 10:28am.
Even one who does not regularly טובל in a מקוה should do so ערב יו“ט.
One should have nicer clothes for יו“ט than for Shabbos.
ד‘ כוסות
The four cups of wine required for the סדר is a Rabbinic requirement and one may therefore be lenient in the amount one must drink.  Therefore, one may use a cup that holds no less than 3.3oz, and while preferably he should drink the whole cup, he is יוצא as long as he drinks a full cheekful.
Non-מבושל, red wine is preferred.  However, if there will be non-Jews or even Jews who are not שומר שבת at the סדר the non-מבושל wine is likely to be compromised and become forbidden to drink.  Be aware that some large bottles of Kedem wine and even grape juice are not מבושל.  You should check.
If one needs to dilute wine, one may dilute it with either water or grape juice, but not to the extent that it loses the alcoholic flavor.  Taking allowed liquid sugar content into account, one may add up to 3.5 cups of water or grape juice to 1 cup wine. So the general ratio to keep in mind is 1:3, one part wine and three parts grape juice or water.
מצה however is דאורייתא and one must be מחמיר in terms of the amount, and therefore one should consume a half of a hand matzo for both מוציא מצה and אפיקומן and one needs only 1/4 for כורך since it is a זכר למקדש.  It should be noted that one who is making המוציא on two מצות, one whole and one broken, should eat a כזית from BOTH the top and the bottom one (an entire hand matzo) - but one who is receiving מצה from someone else need only have one כזית total.  If one cannot consume a full half of a hand matzo for אפיקומן he may be lenient and eat 1/4.
The כזית of מצה for מוציא מצה and אפיקומן should be eaten in two minutes if possible, but for כורך one may be lenient and eat it in 9 minutes.
One must consume a כזית of מרור for both מרור and כורך.  The size of leaf necessary is approximately 8x10 inches.
The מרור should not be cooked, which includes any form of pickling - so if one is using Romaine lettuce and wants to soak it in vinegar, he should NOT allow it to soak overnight, or it will invalidate it from being used for מרור.
Men must recline when eating מצה and drinking the four כוסות.  If one did not, he should eat at least one more כזית of מצה (preferably two) again but not drink another כוס.  The מנהג אשכנז is that women do not recline.
We have a very special opportunity סדר night to be בעלי מסורה and pass on all previous generations to our children. The goal is to feel like we left מצרים ourselves.
The first part of the הגדה is the הלכות of סיפור יציאת מצרים. It might be better to run through this section in order to discuss what it must have been like to be slaves in מצרים and the נסים through which הקב“ה saved us. You have to know your kids, but the focus should be the kids. When the night is over, they should feel like הקב“ה loves them and takes care of them, just like He did in מצרים.
It is appropriate to stay up and relate the miracles of יציאת מצרים until one is falling asleep at the table. We often reminisce with our friends about our past, this should be viewed as no less than one of those conversations.
קריאת שמע על המטה
Because it is ליל שימורים, we only say the first paragraph of שמע and the ברכה המפיל (for those who say it).
שלוש סעודות
One should have שלוש סעודות on the first day of פסח this year, which is שבת, but eat earlier than unsual. One may not eat מצה after the end of the 9th hour, so that he is hungry for מצה (and food) at the second סדר. One should not eat מצה after approximately 4:12pm in Pomona, NY.
Second Seder
Preparations for the second seder should not begin before Shabbos is over (three stars emerge). This year (5775) the זמן is approximately 8:07pm in Pomona, NY. The reason is that one may not prepare for the second day of יו“ט on the first.
Salt Water
Salt water was historically used for preservation and tanning and one therefore may not prepare it on שבת or יו“ט. If one forgot to prepare the salt water before שבת or יו“ט he may prepare it on שבת or יו“ט but (a) only enough for that night’s seder, and (b) it cannot be too salty to drink.
The laws of ביטול like בטל בס‘ do not apply to חמץ on פסח. One must be very careful about this. If even the smallest crumb gets into a food on פסח, the food is prohibited.
The מ“ב in סי‘ תנג ס“ק ז writes that we do not observe the חומרא of קטניות for a חולה, even שאין בו סכנה. Therefore, if a person is sick in bed and the only medicine available contains קטניות (e.g. corn starch, etc.) he may take it.

The Background to and Story of Chanukah

12/19/2014 09:42:18 AM


The incidents around which Chanukah revolve are not recorded in Tanach. On the simplest level this is due to the fact that there were no prophets left at that time. On a deeper level, the role that Chanukah plays relates to the Oral Law and the human element of Torah, and therefore even the story itself finds expression only therein.

This fact puts us in a challenging position when it comes to relating the story to our children and even to ourselves. With this in mind, I merged several articles from Rav Berel Wein's website "" that provide a small sketch of background. The section of the website is titled, "Crash Course in Jewish History" and should be read as such - it is a general overview (with some of his enlightening comments along the way). It is my hope that we can refresh our memories regarding the history and situation of the time and have something concrete with which to relate the story to our children.

I hope you find it useful.

A Freilichen Chanukah!

Rabbi Berman

*From Rav Berel Wein’s


The Book of Daniel (Daniel 7:3-7) begins with a frightening vision: four beasts, one more frightening than the other, emerge from the sea. According to Jewish tradition (Midrash, Leviticus Rabbah 13:5), each beast represents one of the four major empires that would exile the Jews: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.

We tend to think of Greece as a nation of poets and philosophers, which they were. However, they were also an empire, a terrifying predatory beast, and embodied all the traits that empires embody: violence, oppression and terror.

For the longest time in world history, Greece was a side-show, a small, divided country at the extreme western end of the known world. They were a seemingly insignificant player in global events that saw the Babylonians and Persians rise and become masters of the world. How did Greece come to take center stage and supplant major, world-crushing empires?

A Brief History of Greece

The first thing to know about Greece is that, romantic as it sounds, it is a difficult land to tame. Great rivers and impassable mountains dominate its topography. Thus, for centuries the communities of Greece were disparate and antagonistic toward each other.

Unable to ever successfully put up a united force or government, the Greek tribes developed as city-states. The most famous were: Athens, Sparta, Thebes (not to be confused with the Thebes of Ancient Egypt) and Macedonia. For 500 years, Greek history was characterized by a series of conflicts such as the Peloponnesian Wars, as well as many other nameless wars between Athens and Sparta, and everybody against everybody else.

In the last Peloponnesian War, which happened in about 420 BCE, Sparta made an agreement with Persia to use part of the Persian navy to bottle up the Athenian fleet. Athens always had a great navy, which often was the decisive factor in victory over land-locked Sparta. However, in the last Peloponnesian War, the Persians bottled up the Athenian fleet and the Spartans won the war.

However, the victory came at a great price: the Persians were now in Greece for the first time.

The Persians also made a great mistake, because they were now in a place people came to resent them. The resulting hatred toward the Persians created a common enemy and thereby laid the groundwork for a great leader to step in and do what no one before him was able to do: unite the powerful and industrious Greek peoples.

Philip of Macedon

At the beginning of the fourth century BCE, in about the year 370 BCE, a king arose in Macedonia known as Philip of Macedon. Macedonia is in the northwest corner of Greece. It is basically a Balkan country, and the Macedonians were part of the general Greek nation. However, they were looked down upon and despised by the Athenians and Spartans because they were boorish and uncultured.

Philip was a great warrior and organizer. Most of all, he had the dream of empire in him. In seven years he was able to subdue all the Greek city-states and unite them, something that had not happened in almost five centuries. Of course, he united them at the point of the sword, but he united them.

He even threw the Persians out of Greece. However, his dream of empire included taking Persia away from the Persians! It was an audacious thought. Persia ruled the world. No one dared challenge them.

However, Philip took his battle-tested army into Asia Minor, near what is today Constantinople, and in one of the classic battles of history defeated the Persian army. Unbelievably, the Persian Empire fell apart.

As he turned to conquer the rest of the world, he died, which often happens. Just when someone thinks he has it made it turns out that he made the reckoning without taking God into consideration.

Alexander the Great

Philip died but left a son, who would become one of the single greatest forces in history, Alexander the Great. He called himself that modestly, but the truth is that he was great.

Philip did not want Alexander to grow up to be a coarse and boorish Macedonian. So he gave him a tutor: the renowned philosopher Aristotle. It was Aristotle who implanted in Alexander the philosophic ideals of the Greeks.

Alexander was not a pagan because Aristotle was not a pagan. Aristotle’s concept of God was that a Creator exists. The Greek philosophers referred to God as the “First Cause.” He pushed the button, so to speak. However, once He did so He did not do anything more. What happened on Earth did not interest him. Therefore, there was no interference from Heaven as to what happened on Earth. It was another way of unburdening themselves of conscience – except now with the stamp of belief in God.

Nevertheless, the Greeks believed that God existed, which is very important because it will help explain one reason why Alexander was able to tolerate the Jewish religion, whereas many of the Persian emperors were not. Aristotle knew that all the stories of the gods – from Apollo to Zeus – were made-up. Alexander, as Aristotle’s student, also believed that. Thanks to Aristotle, therefore, the ideas of the Jews were much more acceptable to Alexander.

Alexander’s Encounter with the Jews

Alexander took over his father’s leadership position when he was yet a teenager. He would be dead by the time he was 29. In that short period he conquered the entire civilized world.

One of his campaigns brought him to the Land of Israel. He arrived during the reign of the great High Priest, the last of the Men of the Great Assembly, Simon the Just. Most historians say that he came in about the year 329 BCE. (He was dead by 323 BCE.)

The Jews were terrified of the now victorious Greeks, because they had backed Persia in the war. There were two choices. We will see this story repeated over and over again in the time of the Second Temple. One was to fight, which is what the Jews did later with the Romans. The second was to somehow come to an accommodation with the enemy.

Simon the Just chose the second course. The Jews were not about to defeat Alexander in battle; therefore, the correct way to deal with the matter was to come to an accommodation with him.

The Talmud describes the drama of that first encounter (Yoma 69a). Simon the Just came forth with other members of the priesthood, as well as the sages of the Sanhedrin, to greet Alexander at the gates of Jerusalem as he strode in on his famous white horse, which he rode all over the world in his conquests. According to the historians of the time, it was an enormously tall horse and Alexander was an enormously tall person. Plus, he always wore a plumed helmet. Combined, Alexander stood about 13 feet high on the horse. He was an awe-inspiring sight to behold.

When Alexander saw the Simon he dismounted and bowed to him. When he was questioned by his advisors, he told them that whenever he went into battle he dreamed of an angel leading him to victory. The face of the Jewish High Priest, he said, was the face of the angel he saw in his dreams. That was why he bowed down to him.

Alexander the Great and the Jews

Because of Aristotle, Alexander was positively disposed toward the Jews. Instead of destroying and subjugating them, he made an arrangement with them. As long as they would be his loyal vassals and pay their taxes they could remain autonomous. That was an enormous concession because Alexander was rarely that accommodating to anyone.

Out of gratitude to Alexander, the Jews did a few things. First, they agreed to name every child born the next year “Alexander.” That is why the name Alexander, or Sender for short, became a common Jewish name even to this day.

At the same time, it also opened the door for Jews to give their children other Greek names such as Antigonus Tarphon, among other names of Greek origin one finds in the Talmud. Ironically, through showing Alexander their gratitude by naming their children after him they unwittingly opened the door to the Greek language. And with the Greek language automatically came the Greek culture.

The Jews also agreed to install a system of tax collection that would lead to terrible corruption. Indeed, it was so inherently corrupt that the Talmud held that anybody who was a tax collector was presumed to be a thief. This terribly pernicious system destroyed the morale of the Jewish community in the time of the Greeks long after Alexander was gone.

After Alexander

Alexander did not plan to die at an early age, but his death left the world in chaos. The man who had controlled it was suddenly not there.

His entire empire could have fallen apart at that moment, but split into two. The northern empire was ruled by Seleucus and became known as the Seleucid Dynasty. He was headquartered in the city that is today Damascus. The southern empire was ruled by Ptolemy and was headquartered in the city of Alexandria, which had been renamed in honor of Alexander.

The two generals agreed upon virtually everything — except the line that divided the northern empire from the southern. That put the Land of Israel smack in the middle of their disagreement. The Jews were caught in this tremendous power struggle. The story of the next 130 years would be the balancing act of the Jewish people between the two giants. Sometimes the Jews teetered to the south and sometimes to the north. The south attempted to win the Jewish people by persuasion and culture. The north attempted to do so by force. Both would fail.

This is also the backdrop to the story of Chanukah, because eventually the northern kingdom got tired of the game and sent their army in. The Jews resisted and thus the stage was set for the dramatic events of Chanukah.

After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire in the Mediterranean basin divided into two main sections. The northern empire — which included Syria, Turkey (which was then Asia Minor) and Greece itself — was under the domination of a general called Seleucus, and therefore called the Seleucid Empire. The southern empire, which was basically Egypt and Africa, was under the domination of a general called Ptolemy. These kingdoms would rule the Mediterranean world until Rome.

Sandwiched between them was the Land of Israel. When the two empires were at peace with each other there was a lot of trade to be had. However, when there was war it was a very dangerous place to be.

For various reasons, the Jews favored the southern empire, the Ptolemaic. They had a fascination with Egypt since their original sojourn there, and the large Jewish community in Alexandria also provided a kinship with them.

The Grandeur of Jewish Alexandria

At its height, Alexandria was the wealthiest, most powerful, most influential and most sophisticated Jewish community. The Talmud (Menachos 109b) describes a synagogue of immense proportions that the community built. Jewish artisans of Alexandria each had their own section in the synagogue: the goldsmiths sat in one section, the silversmiths in another, and the carpenters in a third.

Josephus writes that the synagogue was like an amphitheater. It had 8-10,000 seats. It was so large that people in one part could not hear the service taking place in the same room in another part, so in order to answer “Amen” they raised flags and waved.

Even more magnificent was a replica of the destroyed Temple in the heart of Alexandria, complete with priests and the whole ritual of sacrifices, all in accordance with Jewish law. What is strange is that, is that Torah law forbade building the Temple anywhere but Jerusalem!

Nevertheless, the Jews of Alexandria were very proud of their accomplishments and felt that Alexandria was more entitled to the Temple than Jerusalem. In their view, Jerusalem was a very provincial, small, backward city. It was not a city of the world. The situation was similar to the way the Jews of New York sometimes feel vis-a-vis anywhere else in the world.

The Jewish community of Alexandria thought of themselves in very grandiose terms. The irony is that in about 300 years they would disappear as though they never existed. In Jewish history, there are a number of such aberrations, of great Jewish communities that looked like they would last forever, and then it was as if somebody just pulled the plug on them. They disappeared. Alexandria was one of those communities.

The Septuagint

The Jews in Alexandria were so influential that the Greek rulers of the Ptolemaic empire became very interested in Jewish customs, ideas and behavior. Consequently, the emperor of the southern kingdom, Ptolemy, commissioned the first translation of the Torah into a foreign language: Greek.

Until then, the Torah had only appeared in its original Hebrew, and it remained a sealed book. However, from the second century BCE on the Torah became the open book for the world, which it is today. Only the Oral Law — the transmission and interpretation of the Torah, which later became written down and called the Talmud – would remain a “sealed book.”

The Talmud (Megillah 9b) tells how Ptolemy placed 72 Jewish scholars in different rooms and told them to translate the Torah. In miraculous fashion the 72 translations all matched each other. In Greek, the translation became known as the Septuagint, which means “the 70” in reference to the amount of scholars who translated it. This is the basic translation of the Bible that much of the non-Jewish world has today.

Mistranslation of the “Virgin Birth”

It is important to realize that the most widely used version of the Christian Bible, the King James version, is not a translation of the Hebrew Bible. It is a translation from the Greek Bible. That is one of the reasons why there are so many errors, mistranslations and lost nuances.

Just to give an example, the Septuagint was translated by the Catholic Church into a Latin Bible, the Vulgate. The famous King James version is basically a translation of the Latin version. Therefore, it is an English translation of a Latin translation of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. That is a lot like playing “telephone.” What someone says at the beginning is not going to come out exactly the same way at the end. Maimonides identifies a number of places where the basic ideas of Christianity are based simply on bad knowledge of Hebrew or on the lack of a translation.

The classic example is the story of the virgin birth. The Christian Bible attributes it to a verse in the prophet Isaiah (7:14). The Hebrew word there is not “virgin” but alma, which means a “young girl.” Now, a “young girl” can be a virgin, but if the prophet wanted to emphasize the miraculous nature of the event and leave no room for misinterpretation there is a better, unique Hebrew word for virgin.

The Greek word, however, for “young girl” and “virgin” is the same. Therefore, in the Septuagint when the translation of the prophet Isaiah was written they used the Greek word that means either “young girl” or “virgin.” In the Latin translation, only the word “virgin” already appears. Latin readers in the Roman Catholic Church saw this as an unmistakable reference to the doctrine of Immaculate Conception.

One of the reasons the Protestants departed from the Catholic Church many centuries later was because Luther and others complained about that mistranslation. They refused to accept the doctrine of Immaculate Conception simply because they were Biblical scholars enough to know that that is not what it said in the original.

That is just one example. The late Rabbi Reuven Margolies (1889-1971), a great Torah scholar, well also a self-taught Greek and Latin scholar. One of his many books is devoted to pointing out all the places where the Septuagint is different than the original Hebrew text. He found about 700 such variations — and he had an explanation in every one of the places why they did it.

How the Septuagint Changed the World

Despite advantages to teaching the non-Jewish world the Written Torah, the Sages of Israel did not welcome the opportunity. “The day when the Torah was written in Greek was as unfortunate for Israel as the day of the Golden Calf” (Soferim 1:7). They even combined it with two tragedies – the death of Ezra and the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem – and made it a public fast day (the tenth of Teves). Perhaps the reason was because they saw that the translation would open the door for usurpers and new religions claiming to supplant or succeed the Torah.

At the same time, the translation gave a dangerous stamp of approval to Greek language and culture. This allowed Greek culture and values to enter the Jewish world. From the time of the Septuagint onward, it was very hard to draw a line and say, “We are going to take this amount of Greek culture, but we are not going to take the rest.” What is going to happen is that they are going to take the rest. They are going to become more Greek than the Greeks, which is a Jewish trait. The Jews were super-Germans, super-Socialists, and are super-Americans, because the burden is upon them to prove themselves.

Here, too, the burden will be upon them to prove themselves Greek. And they will, indeed, out-Greek the Greeks. That was fallout from the translation of the Septuagint.

The Hellenists

About the year 200 BCE, there arose among the Jewish population a group called the Misyavnim, meaning Hellenists, who adopted Greek culture as a way of life to such a degree that, almost invariably, they gave up their Jewish culture and identity.

For instance, the Greeks were great believers in nudity. Their sports were done in the nude. Their bathhouses were attended in the nude. In the ancient world, the Jews and some Arabs were the only people who were circumcised. Thus, if you wanted to be a good Greek, you were embarrassed to go to the bathhouse or participate in sports. Consequently, Hellenized Jews underwent painful operations — at a time with minimum anesthetics — to restore their foreskin and appear Greek.

Imported along with the Greek language, customs and sports were Greek idols and modes of worship. Temples to the Greek gods and statues of Zeus littered the countryside. Each Greek home had its own set of idols, a patron god custom-made for the family, as well as a whole set of sacrificial rites. Worst of all, Greek strongholds embraced all the terrible moral looseness of the Greek world.

As time passed, more and more Jews not only spoke like Greeks, but took on their customs, attitudes and behaviors, which on so many levels were antithetical to the values of Judaism. Estimates are that a 30-40% of the Jewish population became Hellenists. Most of the upper class was simply swept away by this tide of Hellenist thought.

Some were no doubt simply ignorant of Jewish life and tradition. Others, however, became vicious self-haters. The Greeks found many willing collaborators among the Jews in their attempt to eradicate Judaism and install the more “enlightened” pagan culture of theirs in Israel. These Hellenist Jews hated their brethren and openly sided with the enemies of Israel who attempted to destroy the Jewish nation and faith. They hated themselves for being Jewish and resorted to things like painful cosmetic surgery not only to blend in better with the Greeks but as a sign of defiance in their attempt to remove any trace of being Jewish from their bodies. Naturally, the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks (which we will discuss next) was a great disappointment to them.

Jews true to Judaism were an increasingly shrinking island awash in a sea of Greek culture. They were victims of a cultural revolution that in a short time would have completely swamped them.

However, historical currents were at work which would give the besieged Jews an opening not only to stop the momentum of Greek culture, but reverse it and replace it with a brand new aspect of Jewish identity that would provide spiritual nourishment for countless generations in the future. That nourishment would become known to posterity as the story of Chanukah.

In the wake of Alexander’s appearance in and departure from Jerusalem, relations between Jews and Greeks were so good that an exchange of cultures took place. Each influenced the other. For the Jewish minority, however, what began as a small undertow of assimilation — such as giving children Greek names and speaking the Greek language — became a surprisingly powerful, high-speed rip current threatening to drag the caught-off-guard Jews out to the sea of complete assimilation.

Jews who embraced Greek culture at the expense of Judaism became known as Misyavnim, or Hellenists. Estimates are that a third or more of the Jewish population was Hellenist, including those who reversed their circumcision, ate pork, bowed to idols and even became self-hating enough to side with the enemies of Israel. Hellenism threatened to annihilate the Jewish world through assimilation in ways tyrants tried but could not do by force.

Had the situation continued as it was, the Greeks would perhaps have won the battle by default. However, they overstepped themselves.

Here Come the Greeks

At the beginning of the year 190 BCE, the situation between the two great post-Alexandrian empires, the Seleucid and the Ptolemaic, deteriorated badly. The Seleucids mounted an invasion that took their army through the Land of Israel, which was sandwiched in-between.

Whenever a foreign army comes into a country it changes the view of the populace. Instead of an attractive culture, the Greeks were now an occupying enemy. Instead of something to be imitated, now they became something to be resisted.

The Jewish people are very stubborn. The same person who is so stubborn that he will not observe the Torah in freedom will observe it with passion if forbidden from observing it. He becomes stubborn the other way.

A good case could be made that if the Communists in Russia would have left the Jews alone they would have completely assimilated. However, once told that they could not be Jewish a certain percentage of Jews decided to be Jewish at great risk. That happened with the Greeks as well.

Progressively More Intolerable Laws

The Greek army exerted a very heavy hand against the Jews. First, they forced Jews to finance their war through collection of taxes. Then they forced them to quarter their soldiers in Jewish homes. Finally, the Greeks were determined to crush the Jewish religion.

First, they took the statue of Zeus and mounted it in the courtyard of the Temple. Next, the Greeks banned the observance of the Sabbath on the pain of death. Then, the Talmud (Kesubos 3b) records, there was a period of time which lasted a number of decades when the Greek officer in town had the right to “live” with a woman on her wedding night before her husband-to-be.

The Greeks also banned circumcision. Whoever circumcised his child was put to death; both child and father were killed. Then the Greeks demanded that altars to the Greek idols be established and that sacrifices be offered on a regular basis in every Jewish town. Finally, the Jewish educational system was entirely interrupted.

The Jews Rebel

About the year 166 BCE, a group finally stood up to the Greeks: Matisyahu (Mattathias) and his family, known as the Hasmoneans. We do not know much about them except that they were of noble descent from the priestly class (Kohanim), including those who had served as High Priests.

They lived in a small town called Modin, which was about 12 miles northwest from Jerusalem. (The town exists today, and is about 20 miles west of modern Jerusalem.) One day, a Greek contingent marched in, set up an altar, gathered all the Jews and forced them to sacrifice a pig to Zeus.

They then asked for a Jewish volunteer to perform the sacrifice. One stepped forward. As he approached the altar Matisyahu stabbed him to death.

Chaos broke out. The Greek army attempted to subdue the crowd, but the Jews were armed and slaughtered the entire Greek patrol. There was no turning back now.

The Maccabees

Matisyahu had five sons, all of whom were people of great organizational leadership as well as pious, committed Jews: Johanan (Yochanan), Simon (Shimon), Jonathan (Yonason), Judah (Yehudah) and Eleazar.

They ran to the caves and organized an army – not to fight an open war, but a guerilla war. Originally they organized of force of about 3,000 men. Eventually it grew to 6,000 and never reached more than 12,000 men.

The General of the Army was the great Judah, known to the world as Judah the Maccabee (or Judas Maccabaeus as he was called in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost). “Maccabaeus” is the Greek word for hammer, but the Jews took it, as Jews are wont to do, and made it Jewish by declaring that “Maccabee” stood for the first four letters in Exodus 15:11, meaning, “Who is like You, God?” — which was said by Moses and the people after the miraculous drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds.

An enormous Syrian-Greek army, numbering almost 50,000 men, marched into Judea. Judah the Maccabee marshaled his forces and with guile and courage outmaneuvered the far larger Greek army, forced it to divide and then destroyed its various components, killing many thousands and forcing the survivors to flee north to Syria.

It took many years, but their hit-and-run tactics wore down three great Greek armies. However, the Jews paid a very heavy price in terms of blood. Matisyahu died in the early going. Judah Maccabee was killed in the third great battle. Eleazar died while attacking an elephant. Johanan and Jonathan were killed as well. The only Maccabee brother who survived was Simon.

The Miracle

The last famous battle was for the fortress of Antonius, which guarded the Temple. When Antonius fell, the Jews came back to the Temple. They shattered the statue of Zeus and cleaned the Temple to the extent that they could. Any priests who worked for the Greeks were sent away or executed.

They only found one small flask of uncontaminated oil with the seal of the High Priest. By Torah law, the flame of the Menorah (Candelabrum) in the Temple could only be lit with specially prepared pure olive oil. The amount of oil remaining in the one uncontaminated flask was only enough to burn for one day, and it would take eight days to produce a new batch of pure oil.

What could they do?

They lit it — and it miraculously burned for eight days. That is why Chanukah lasts eight nights (the festival was established a year later by the Rabbis).

What is Chanukah?

The Talmud does not say much about Chanukah. There are perhaps forty lines spread out in different volumes, whereas almost all the other holidays have an entire Talmudic volume about them. In addition, the few words the Talmud has to say about Chanukah are cryptic. Perhaps that is why Chanukah has been subject to reinterpretation, as it has been in our time. People make whatever they want to make out of it. However, that is a mistake, a tragedy.

In the Western world, it has the misfortune of falling out in December. Therefore, in the homes of many Jewish people it has sadly became the Jewish version of the December holidays, a mixture of commercialism and non-Jewish traditions and ideas.

What is Chanukah?

What the Talmud does say is that the important thing is to “advertise the miracle.” People have to recognize that a miracle took place. It is vital to keep the wonder in Chanukah. That is why the rabbis gave more emphasis to the miracle of the lights than the military victory.

Wars come and go. Even the glow of miraculous victory can fade. Young people today do not think that Israel’s War for Independence in 1948 was such a miracle. In 1967, Jews expected a second Holocaust. Now people brush the miraculous Six Day War off as nothing special.

History provides numerous examples of outnumbered forces defeating a superpower using guerilla tactics. Was the Maccabean victory so miraculous? That was the question Jews at the time must have asked themselves.

However, when the small flask of pure oil that could only last one day lasted eight days it proved that there was a miracle that happened there. The little flask of oil shed light on the big military campaign. “Not by the army, not by power, but through My Spirit, says God” (Zechariah 4:6). Chanukah is about the little light that sheds a great light.

There is an indefinable, spiritual, electric charge that binds the generations together that cannot be found in any book. It can only be had when parents and grandparents do things like sitting together with their children around the Chanukah lights celebrating, discussing and advertising the miracle; experientially getting in touch with the wonder of the past, the wonder of the present, the wonder of life.

What Ever Happened to the Hellenists?

Chanukah is a very popular, emotional and beautiful holiday. However, the necessity for Chanukah begins with the story of the invasion of Greek culture and the weakness of the Jews in responding to it. It originates from the growth of an enormous sect of Hellenists within the Jews, who even supported the Greeks during the war.

What happened to the Hellenists? Their influence all but collapsed in the wake of the defeat. They would never return again as Hellenists, because the war brought out their true colors as traitors and they lost whatever appeal they could have had to the Jewish people.

Most of them retreated to the city of Caesarea, which remained a Greek city (and later would become a Roman city). They were just not part of the Jewish people any longer.

Their demise punctuated the fact that more than a military victory, the miracle of the oil signified that Chanukah was a victory of the spirit of the Jewish people, a victory that granted them the right to observe the Torah. That is why its memory and the people who observe it have endured.

Many people are under the impression that after the miracle of Chanukah the war with the Greeks was over. Far from it.

The miracle of Chanukah actually occurred only in the third year of the war. After the Jews reconquered Jerusalem, rededicated the Temple and experienced the miracle of the little flask of oil that burned eight days the war dragged out another five to seven years.

At the time of the miracle, according to most historians, Matisyahu (the father of the Hasmoneans/Maccabees) and Johanan (the oldest brother) were dead. The year after the miracle Judah the Maccabee (the third brother) was dead. They were killed in battle. Three years after the miracle of Chanukah there was a major battle where the Greeks tried to reconquer the Land of Israel. At that time, Eleazar was killed when an elephant he attacked and wounded fell and crushed him.


T"U B'Shvat

01/16/2014 08:26:53 AM


In honor of T”U B’Shvat, I thought it would be appropriate to learn something related to trees and fruit.

In Halachah, there are two kinds of fruit: fruit of the ground and fruit of the tree.  A confusing area of Halachah is how to properly make brachos when both will be consumed, as well as when there are fruits of the same brachah - which one is the brachah said on?

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן ריא סעיף א

היו לפניו מיני פירות הרבה, אם ברכותיהם שוות ויש ביניהם ממין שבעה, מקדים מין ז' אעפ"י שאינו חביב כמו המין האחר; ואם אין ביניהם ממין שבעה, מקדים החביב; ואם אין ברכותיהם שוות, אפילו יש בהן ממין שבעה כגון צנון וזית, איזה מהם שירצה יקדים ואפי' אינו חביב; ויש אומרים שגם בזה צריך להקדים החביב; ונקרא חביב המין שרגיל להיות חביב עליו, אפילו אם עתה חפץ במין השני.

There are before him different types of fruit. If their blessings are the same and there are among them of the seven species, he gives precedence to the seven species even though it is not his favorite compared to the other one. If there is not among them of the seven species, he gives precedence to his favorite. If their blessings are not the same, even if among them is one of the seven species (like for example a radish and an olive), he gives precedence to which ever he wants, even if it is not his favorite. However, there are those that say in that case, as well, he should give precedence to the favorite. “Favorite” refers to the type that is typically his favorite, even if right now he desired the other one.


A person sits down to eat fruit, and he plans on eating more than one.  He is going to eat one particular fruit first, so which should he choose to eat first/make the blessing on?  There are two basic scenarios dealt with in the above passage from the Shulchan Aruch:

Sometimes, the fruits will have different blessings, in which case the question is which ברכה takes precedence (HaEitz or HaAdomah).

Sometimes, the fruits all have the same blessing, in which case the question is which fruit takes precedence.


Let’s begin with (b).  All the fruits have the same brachah.  Which fruit should he choose to make the brachah on?  There are two general possibilities: (a) Objective status or (b) Subjective status.  Objective status means that the item has a certain status in halachah regardless of his personal preference, and subjective means that the fruit has a status in his own mind (he likes it better for flavor or another reason).

In Shulchan Aruch here, we are told that if among the items before him is one of the seven species of fruit that the Land of Israel is praised regarding - then the brachah should be made on it.  If there is not a member of the seven species there, then one chooses his “favorite” fruit to make the brachah on.  The Mishnah Berurah comments that “favorite” is subjective to the individual, but does NOT mean whatever he happens to be in the mood for.  “Chaviv (favorite)” means the item that holds a special place in the individual's heart, in general, even if it is not what he wants to eat first right now.

If the fruits in front of him have different berachos; some are HaEitz and some are HaAdomah: The Shulchan Aruch has two approaches.  The first approach is that there is no official rule.  One can choose whichever he wants to make the brachah on.  The second approach insists that he must make the brachah on the one that is usually his “favorite”.

What’s the issue?

The dispute here is regarding if “favorite” is a determining factor only for precedence of ITEM or also for precedence of BRACHAH.  If all the items share a brachah, everyone agrees he should make the brachah on the favorite.  The dispute is only when the fruits are different brachos, is he also obligated to make the brachah on the favorite (even if it is not what he wants to eat first)?

You probably noticed that the Shulchan Aruch failed to mention being from the seven species as a factor when the brachos are different.  Apparently, this opinion understands that being from the seven species is only a factor in determining precedence of item, not precedence of brachah.

Halachah Lemaaseh, when one fruit is HaEitz and the other HaAdomah, the Mishnah Berurah says that one should hold of this latter approach and make the brachah on that which is his usual favorite (even if it s HaAdomah).  If he has no particular favorite, then if the HaEitz is one of the seven species he should make the brachah on that one.  If there is no seven species, and none are a favorite, then there is a default rule, HaEitz goes before HaAdomah:


שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן ריא סעיף ג

ואם הביאו לפניו בפה"ע ובפה"א, איזה מהם שירצה יקדים; וי"א שבורא פרי העץ קודם.

And if they brought before him something whose brachah is HaEitz and something whose brachah is HaAdomah, he should give precedence to whichever he wants; and some say that HaEitz has precedence.


So bottom line:

If the fruits are all the same brachah (HaEitz or HaAdomah), he should first determine if one of them is of the seven species with which Eretz Yisroel is blessed.  If none are of the seven, then he should make the brachah on the one that is usually his favorite, even if it is not right now.  If there is no favorite, then he can pick whichever he wants.

If the fruits are a mixture of HaEitz and HaAdomah, then we do not first look to see if one is of the seven species.  First we look to see which one is his usual favorite, and he makes the brachah on that one, even if it means he makes HaAdomah first before HaEitz.  If there is no favorite, then he should look to see if there are any of the seven species.  If there is no favorite and there are none of the seven species, then he should make HaEitz first - but if he really wants the HaAdomah first, he can make the brachah on that.


One final note - even if one should make the brachah on the seven species of his usual favorite, he only has to take a small bite, he need not consume the entire thing.  What matters is that the correct brachah was said in the correct order of precedence.

Developing a community in Pomona

12/22/2013 11:54:30 PM


The phrase Bnei Yisroel can refer either to the children of Yaakov or to the People of Israel.

There is one place where it even has ramifications for a halachah.  When the rationale for the prohibition to eat the sciatic nerve is presented (Bereishis 32:33), the pasuk says, “Therefore, Bnei Yisroel shall not eat the sciatic nerve...”.  The Mishnah in Chullin (7:6) records a dispute if the term Bnei Yisroel in this pasuk refers to the children of Yaakov or to the people of Israel.  If the phrase refers to the sons of Yaakov, then the prohibition of eating the sciatic nerve applies to anything they were permitted to eat, including non-kosher animals.  If the term refers to the People of Israel, then the prohibition of consuming the nerve applies only to kosher animals.

At what point in the Chumash does the phrase cease to refer to the children of Yaakov and refer to the People of Israel instead?

The first pasuk in this week’s parshah begins, “And these are the names of Bnei Yisroel,” and proceeds to enumerate the children and grandchildren of Yaakov.  However, in verse 9, we find Pharaoh declaring that, “the nation Bnei Yisroel is more numerous than us.”  The children of Yaakov have become a nation; they have become a community; they have become a tzibbur.

In Devarim (4:20), Egypt is deemed the “kur habarzel”, the iron crucible in which the Jewish People; the Nation of Israel, was purified and formed.


Simultaneous to the formation of this tzibbur, the Torah spotlights an individual, namely Moshe Rabbeinu.  The Torah tells us that he “grew up” (Shmos 1:10), and his mother gave him back to the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then, the Torah again says that Moshe “grew up” (ibid 1:11) and went out to his brethren.  Rashi explains that the first growth refers to physical maturity, while the second relates to authority.  Moshe was, after all, a Prince of Egypt, being raised by Pharaoh’s own daughter.

However, in the manner of drush, there is another form of maturity being hinted to here as well.

When Moshe goes out to his brethren and sees their suffering, he encounters an Egyptian beating an Ivri from his brethren.  Remember, Moshe was an Ivri, but at the same time an Egyptian.  This situation pushes Moshe to decide with whom his lot belongs.  Is he in essence an Egyptian, and the oppressor, or is he a victimized, enslaved Ivri.  The Torah therefore tells us that he “looked this way and that way,” meaning that, in the manner of drush, he looked inside of himself in both directions, at the Egyptian within him and the Ivri within him - “and he saw that there was no man,” meaning he saw that he could not continue undefined.  Moshe needed to define his identity.  Deciding that he was an Ivri, he smote the Egyptian within him, and buried him in the proverbial sand.

The next day, Moshe sees an Ivri harassing another Ivri.  Even under the umbrella of Ivri, there are subsets.  There are various modes of serving Hashem, and one must choose the one that resonates with his personality and allows him to fulfill his potential as a servant of God.


In this episode we find challenges of an individual vis a vis the community, and challenges of the community itself.


Identity: Moshe struggles to identify himself.  The Jewish People also struggled with this.  The Midrash tells us that they maintained their names and their language, but these are rather superficial elements.  The Zohar HaKadosh comments that even at the moment the Jews crossed the Red Sea, the angels looked at them and commented, “These and these are both idolators, why are these drowning and these being saved?”  The superficial cultural distinction notwithstanding, the angels could not distinguish between the Jews and the Egyptians due to philosophical assimilation.

(The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim explains basically all the chukim as designed to root out false beliefs from within us due to this type of assimilation.  Take, for example, the mitzvah to cover blood after shechitah.  The world used to believe that when one killed an animal and pooled its blood, the demons would come and tell him the future.  Therefore, the Torah commands us to either pour the blood on the altar or cover it, depending on the type of animal involved.  An animal that could be sacrificed would have its blood sprinkled on the altar, while the blood of an animal that was not sacrificed would have to be covered.  This accounts for the distinction between beheimah and chayah.  When one is forced to cover the blood it leads to a rejection of the value of pooling it, and in this way the false belief can be uprooted.)

A tzibbur needs to define itself.  What makes us unique?  Klal Yisroel is a tzibbur, but within it are many smaller subsets.


The individual vs. the tzibbur: Everyone has the challenge of how to balance his commitment to the community with his family, his work and himself.  There is a limited amount of time.  When Moshe Rabbeinu decided to kill the Egyptian, did he think that the next day his life would go back to normal?  Obviously, this decision to identify with the Ivriim, in a total way, was going to have major consequences.  This was a serious sacrifice for the tzibbur.  Ultimately, Moshe would be exiled for his act, but to him it was worth it; it was necessary; it was what he had to do.  This was a sacrifice for the community he identified with.


Interpersonal struggles: Moshe Rabbeinu sees two Jews fighting - can you believe it?  A community has challenges; people will not always agree.  Compromise is necessary for a community to function and progress.  Disputes arise and have to be addressed.  This is a healthy reality of a community, not something to despair over.


External pressures: Every community has external pressures and issues.  How to deal with the oppressors, with a Pharaoh, with outside pressures, is a challenge for every tzibbur.


A tzibbur is more than a collection of individuals.  In Halachah, this is expressed in the daily sacrifice, the korban tamid.  The tamid was a communal sacrifice, it was for all of the Jewish People.  It was not a sacrifice of individuals; it was not a sacrifice of individual partners.  That would have caused some serious problems.  The tamid was a sacrifice of the tzibbur.  An entity that is larger than the sum of its parts.  A tzibbur takes on a life of its own.  It has values, a culture, inside jokes, even social pressures, be they positive or negative.


I am not speaking about next week, or next month.  But down the road, in the future, what is our for the shul?  Is it merely a convenient Shabbos minyan or is it a focal point of a tzibbur?

We could be satisfied with a comfortable, pleasant place to daven on Shabbos.  Or, we could have a shul that is the focal point of our lives, where we go to daven shacharis before we start work and finish the day with maariv and then satisfy our soul’s need for Torah.

Where we all know each other and gain chizuk and inspiration from one another.

Where we never feel alone, because we know others are looking out for us and care.

In good times and, God forbid, the opposite, we can have a community that is excited when there is a simchah, and prepared with open arms and hearts when there is, God forbid the opposite.  We could be many individuals all living in the same area, engaged in a type of parallel play, or we can become an interactive community.


How do we get there from here?

My family moved around a lot when I was a child.  When we would arrive in a new community I felt like an outsider.  After a while though, it seemed like I had always been there (it always seemed like that’s when we moved...).  After having enough shared experiences, I had become part of the community, to the extent that it became hard to remember what it had been like before I had arrived.

What defines a community is its shared values and visions, but what creates the sense of community is shared experiences and relationships.

I want to share three opportunities with you:

A member of our community, Reb Baruch, is making a kiddush this Shabbos; a seudas hodaah - I will let him explain.  This is an opportunity to come together as a community, to share in his simchah; in his yeshuah.

Sunday, January 12th is an opportunity to create a sense of community with the upcoming Pomona Family Fun day.  The heiliger Balooner Rebbe will be there.  Make sure to register so that your children get balloons!  It is not davening, it is not a shiur, it is an opportunity for the community to come together; to share experiences; to show that we are united, and to demonstrate that we are a community shul.  We are not merely a convenient place to daven on Shabbos, but we have groups for children; we have family events; we are prepared to create a community in Pomona.  Please spread the word and bring your family.

Finally, my Rebbitzen and I are hoping to meet with the members of our community, to get to know everyone personally.  Please let us know when you are available, we will be sending out emails and making phone calls.


Until now, my family has lived in Washington Heights.  In Washington Heights, the “community,” is whatever is left of the Yekes.  Everyone else is transient.  In Pomona, people are here to stay (at least until moshiach becomes clear - then maybe we can create a Pomona community together somewhere in Eretz Yisroel).  We need a community.  We need the support of a community, the structure of a community, the opportunities that only a community can provide.


Imagine, one day, b’ezras Hashem, we will look back from our community’s edifice (wherever it may be) and remember our humble beginnings in the basement of 12 Beaver Dam Rd.

Asara b'teves

12/09/2013 01:01:49 AM


A thought for the upcoming fast of Asarah b'teves:

Today, on Tishah b’av, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem, was destroyed.

Sounds dramatic, right?  But when I tell you that on Asarah b’teves Nevuchadnetzar laid siege to Jerusalem, it doesn't really grab you.  While that was unquestionably a critical moment in Jewish history, being in a certain sense, the beginning of the end; why do we need a specific fast day to commemorate it?

The other fast days we understand:

Tishah b’av was the day the Temple was destroyed. 

Tzom Gedalya was the end of our political control in Land of Israel.

Shivah-assar b’tamuz was the day that the walls of Jerusalem fell.  The walls delineate where Jerusalem begins and ends.  Without walls, there is no Jerusalem.  For example, there is a mitzvah called maaser sheini, for a farmer to bring one tenth of his crops to Jerusalem to be eaten.   Without walls, there is no Jerusalem in terms of maaser sheini.

Each fast day seems to correspond to an aspect of destruction, be it the Temple, Jerusalem, or our political control.  Asarah b’teves doesn't seem to fit in.

What makes today even more remarkable is that according to the Avudraham (Laws of Fasts, p.254), Asarah b’teves even overrides Shabbos.

According to our set calendar none of the four fast days can occur on Shabbos.  However, the Avudraham maintains that if we had no set calendar, and these fast days were to occur on a Shabbos, they would all be pushed off to Sunday, except for Asarah b’teves.  According to the Avudraham, even if today were Shabbos, we would still be fasting!  In fact, this year we will be fasting, in part, on Shabbos.  It is the only fast day that can occur on erev Shabbos.  It is an astonishing thing.  Why should the nature of Asarah b’teves be such that it overrides Shabbos?  It would seem to be the least important of all the fasts, it does not correspond to any form of destruction, and yet it is the most strict, in the sense that, according to one opinion, it even overrides Shabbos?!

The answer is that the language utilized by the prophet Yechezkel, emphasizes the essential nature of this very day, and it therefore must be observed on that day, even if it occurs on Shabbos:

“Son of man, write for yourself the name of this day, the essence of this day, the King of Babylonia besieged Jerusalem in the essence of this day.” - Yechezkel 24:2

Just like regarding Yom Hakippurim (see Vayikra 23), there is apparently a quality of the day that is so critical to observe that it even overrides Shabbos, so too the tenth of Teves.

Yet this does not satisfy our thirst to understand why this is so.


A starting point can be found in the work, Bnei Yissaschar:

“On the seventh (of Av) the non-Jews entered the sanctuary, ate and ransacked it on the seventh and eighth.  On the ninth close to nighttime they ignited it on fire and it continued to burn the entire next day... This is what Rebbi Yochanan said, ‘Had I been alive in that generation, I would have made [the observance of Tishah B’Av] on the tenth, because most of the sanctuary burned then.  Why do the Rabanan disagree?  They say that the beginning of the disaster is more appropriate.” - Taanis 29a

Why is the beginning of the disaster better to mark the commemoration of the destruction?  Apparently, because all that happens subsequently is a mere consequence.

The Bnei Yissaschar asks how the Rabanan knew this principle?  Is it mere logic?  He suggests that they knew it from the verse quoted above regarding the essence of the day of Asarah b'teves.  The prophet tells us that the tenth of Teves is the most severe of the fasts, there is a certain essence of the day, because it was really the beginning of everything.  Before this, there may have been plans of destruction, but it was all in the realm of theory.  Once there was a siege, there was a physical reality to it.  That is considered the beginning of the destruction of the Temple.


I think that there is more to it than that as well.

The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 31a) says that the Divine presence, the Shechinah, made ten travels before returning to her place, so to speak.  We know that the Shechinah hovered above the lid of the ark, in the Holy of Holies.  When the Jewish people sinned, the Shechinah began to depart, little by little.

First, she went from above the ark, from where she used to speak to Moshe Rabbeinu, and from where all the prophets focused to receive prophecy, to one of the cherubs that King Shlomo had made.  From there, she went to the other cherub, making her way slowly, step by step, out of the Temple to the city; to Jerusalem.  From Jerusalem, she went to the mountains, and to the desert.  From the desert, she returned to her place, leaving us with death, destruction and exile.

Rabbi Yochanan said, "The Shechinah waited for six months in the desert; maybe, just maybe, the Jewish people would do teshuvah."

The Maharsha comments that these six months correspond to the six month siege of Nevuchadnetzar on Jerusalem.  The siege ended on the ninth of Tamuz, when the walls of the first Temple were breached.  A violent battle ensued, culminating in the destruction of the Temple one month later.

According to the Maharsha, the day that the Shechinah left Jerusalem, was Asarah b’teves, when the siege began.  As long as the Shechinah was present, a siege was impossible.  Once the Shechinah departed, what remained was a weak, physical city lacking the Divine protection it once enjoyed.  That is when the siege began; that is what allowed the siege to begin.

While the physical destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple occurred later, the destruction of the sanctity of Jerusalem, was on Asarah b’teves.

This is how Asarah b’teves fits in with the other fast days.  It also corresponds to an aspect of destruction, the essential aspect, Kedushah, sanctity.  Asarah b’teves is the day that the Shechinah left Jerusalem and waited in the desert, hoping desperately that the Jews would repent, and bring her back.

May we all have a meaningful fast and keep in mind that the Divine Presence, the Shechinah is in exile, just as we are.  We yearn for the day when we are once again deserving of God’s Presence in a tangible way, in our midst - with the rebuilding of the physical Temple, soon in our days.

Etan Moshe Berman

    Today, on Tishah b’av, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem, was destroyed.
    Sounds dramatic, right?  But when I tell you that today, on Asarah b’teves Nevuchadnetzar laid siege to Jerusalem, it doesn't really grab you.  While that was unquestionably a critical moment in Jewish history, being in a certain sense, the beginning of the end; why do we need a specific fast day to commemorate it?
    The other fast days we understand:
    Tishah b’av was the day the Temple was destroyed. 
    Tzom Gedalya was the end of our political control in Land of Israel.
    Shivah-assar b’tamuz was the day that the walls of Jerusalem fell.  The walls delineate where Jerusalem begins and ends.  Without walls, there is no Jerusalem.  For example, there is a mitzvah called maaser sheini, for a farmer to bring one tenth of his crops to Jerusalem to be eaten.   Without walls, there is no Jerusalem in terms of maaser sheini.
    Each fast day seems to correspond to an aspect of destruction, be it the Temple, Jerusalem, or our political control.  Asarah b’teves doesn't seem to fit in.
    What makes today even more remarkable is that according to the Avudraham (Laws of Fasts, p.254), Asarah b’teves even overrides Shabbos.
    According to our set calendar none of the four fast days can occur on Shabbos.  However, the Avudraham maintains that if we had no set calendar, and these fast days were to occur on a Shabbos, they would all be pushed off to Sunday, except for Asarah b’teves.  According to the Avudraham, even if today were Shabbos, we would still be fasting!  In fact, this year we will be fasting, in part, on Shabbos.  It is the only fast day that can occur on erev Shabbos.  It is an astonishing thing.  Why should the nature of Asarah b’teves be such that it overrides Shabbos?  It would seem to be the least important of all the fasts, it does not correspond to any form of destruction, and yet it is the most strict, in the sense that, according to one opinion, it even overrides Shabbos?!
    The answer is that the language utilized by the prophet Yechezkel, emphasizes the essential nature of this very day, and it therefore must be observed on that day, even if it occurs on Shabbos:
    “Son of man, write for yourself the name of this day, the essence of this day, the King of Babylonia besieged Jerusalem in the essence of this day.” - Yechezkel 24:2
    Just like regarding Yom Hakippurim (see Vayikra 23), there is apparently a quality of the day that is so critical to observe that it even overrides Shabbos, so too the tenth of Teves.
    Yet this does not satisfy our thirst to understand why this is so.
    A starting point can be found in the work, Bnei Yissaschar:
    “On the seventh (of Av) the non-Jews entered the sanctuary, ate and ransacked it on the seventh and eighth.  On the ninth close to nighttime they ignited it on fire and it continued to burn the entire next day... This is what Rebbi Yochanan said, ‘Had I been alive in that generation, I would have made [the observance of Tishah B’Av] on the tenth, because most of the sanctuary burned then.  Why do the Rabanan disagree?  They say that the beginning of the disaster is more appropriate.” - Taanis 29a
    Why is the beginning of the disaster better to mark the commemoration of the destruction?  Apparently, because all that happens subsequently is a mere consequence.
    The Bnei Yissaschar asks how the Rabanan knew this principle?  Is it mere logic?  He suggests that they knew it from the verse quoted above regarding the essence of the day of Asarah b'teves.  The prophet tells us that the tenth of Teves is the most severe of the fasts, there is a certain essence of the day, because it was really the beginning of everything.  Before this, there may have been plans of destruction, but it was all in the realm of theory.  Once there was a siege, there was a physical reality to it.  That is considered the beginning of the destruction of the Temple.
    I think that there is more to it than that as well.
    1The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 31a) says that the Divine presence, the Shechinah, made ten travels before returning to her place, so to speak.  We know that the Shechinah hovered above the lid of the ark, in the Holy of Holies.  When the Jewish people sinned, the Shechinah began to depart, little by little.
    First, she went from above the ark, from where she used to speak to Moshe Rabbeinu, and from where all the prophets focused to receive prophecy, to one of the cherubs that King Shlomo had made.  From there, she went to the other cherub, making her way slowly, step by step, out of the Temple to the city; to Jerusalem.  From Jerusalem, she went to the mountains, and to the desert.  From the desert, she returned to her place, leaving us with death, destruction and exile.
    Rabbi Yochanan said, "The Shechinah waited for six months in the desert; maybe, just maybe, the Jewish people would do teshuvah."
    The Maharsha comments that these six months correspond to the six month siege of Nevuchadnetzar on Jerusalem2.  The siege ended on the ninth of Tamuz, when the walls of the first Temple were breached.  A violent battle ensued, culminating in the destruction of the Temple one month later.
    According to the Maharsha, the day that the Shechinah left Jerusalem, was Asarah b’teves, when the siege began.  As long as the Shechinah was present, a siege was impossible.  Once the Shechinah departed, what remained was a weak, physical city lacking the Divine protection it once enjoyed.  That is when the siege began; that is what allowed the siege to begin.
    In other words, while the physical destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple occurred later, the destruction, so to speak, of the sanctity of Jerusalem, was on Asarah b’teves.  The essential destruction, the sanctity of Jerusalem and the Temple, was on Asarah b’teves.
    This is how Asarah b’teves fits in with the other fast days.  It also corresponds to an aspect of destruction, the essential aspect, Kedushah, sanctity.  Asarah b’teves is the day that the Shechinah left Jerusalem and waited in the desert, hoping desperately that the Jews would repent, and bring her back.
    May we all have a meaningful fast and keep in mind that the Divine Presence, the Shechinah is in exile, just as we are.  We yearn for the day when we are once again deserving of God’s Presence in a tangible way, in our midst - with the rebuilding of the physical Temple, soon in our days.

Rabbi Berman's Pre-Chanukah Shiur

11/21/2013 11:40:59 PM


Audio for Rabbi Berman's Pre-Chanukah Shiur.
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Pomona Women

11/18/2013 02:27:57 PM


It was movingly beautiful to see the women of the Pomona community get together last night for a social event to make jewelry and meet Rebbitzen Yoni.
The women of our community have a foundational role.
When Hashem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu regarding what will be the “Sinai Experience”, the Almighty says (Shmos 19:3), “Thus shall you say to Bais Yaakov, and tell Bnei Yisroel...”. Two things are obviously remarkable in this pasuk:
a) There are two terms for the Jewish People. Why are the Yidden being divided into two subcategories, and what is the distinctions between them?
b) The word “Ko” - “thus” is used, as opposed to simply saying, “Say to Bais Yaakov and tell Bnei Yisroel”. Why was this word necessary?
Rashi explains that Bais Yaakov refers to the women, while Bnei Yisroel refers to the men. Each must be addressed in their own manner. The women should be addressed in a soft manner (hence the usage of the word “say”), while the men must be addressed in a harsher manner (hence the usage of “tell”). The nation is subdivided because each component must be addressed in its own way.
The word “ko” is used, says Rashi, because the two must not only be addressed in a unique manner, but in this ORDER as well. The women are to be approached and addressed before the men.
The rationale for the differential presentation is understood, but why was the order so critical?

I think that the answer to this question highlights the fundamental and foundational role of the women of our community, and all of Klal Yisroel.

My Rebbi, Rav Aharon Kahn Shlit”a often makes the following comment:
Shlomo Hamelech instructs us (Mishlei 1:8), “Listen my son to the mussar of your father and do not abandon the Torah of your mother.”
The teaching of one’s father is referred to as mussar, while the teaching of one’s mother is called Torah. Shlomo Hamelech enjoins us to LISTEN to the mussar of one’s father, but not to the Torah of his mother. Regarding the Torah of one’s mother, the instruction is to not ABANDON. How can one abandon something that he never listened to? How exactly did he learn it?
Apparently, the mussar of one’s father is something that one will only learn if he pays attention, but the Torah of his mother, he absorbs without even being conscious of it.
We all have modes of behavior that we never consciously learned. Our sensitivities, our attitudes and perspectives often result from simply being raised in our mother’s home. Those sensitivities, attitudes and perspectives are the Torah of the mother, something we are instructed to take care that we do not abandon.
I think it is for this reason that a wife is referred to in the Torah with the word Bayis, home. In the first Mishnah of Yoma there is a discussion if the Kohen Gadol should have a backup wife for Yom Kippurim, in case his should be nifteres, rachmana litzlan. Why is it so necessary for the Kohen Gadol to have a wife on Yom Kippurim? The pasuk (Vayikra 16:6) states, “...he [the Kohen Gadol] shall atone for himself and beiso - his home.” Chazal explain, “beiso” refers to a wife. Therefore, the Kohen Gadol must have a wife on Yom Kippurim.
It is along the same lines that Chazal learn that Esther was married to Mordechai. The Megilla states that Mordechai took Esther as a “bas” (Esther 2:7), implying that he adopted her as a daughter. Yet, Chazal (Megilla 13a) say do not read it as daughter, but rather as “bayis”, which means a wife. There are many more example of this as well.
The Jewish woman is the foundational source of values among the Jewish People. The atmosphere of the home is determined by her. The sensitivities, attitudes and perspectives of the home are defined by her. Our precious kinderlach absorb these values without even realizing it, because they are raised in her home. This is the Torah of the mother.

How necessary it is then, that when the Torah is to be accepted by the Jewish People, that the women must be approached first. It must be this way, it can only work this way.

It was beautiful to see the precious mothers at the Schwartz home last night, in a warm expression of achdus and care for one another and the community as a whole. Neshei has such a critical role in the community, aside from its members providing the Torah of the mother in each and every home, Neshei provides the chasadim and services that our locale requires to function as a community. Whether it is meals for mommies, welcome baskets for new members of the community, mishloach manos for Purim, or the many other services and activities that Neshei supports; we cannot be a community without it.
Thank you to those that were able to make it last night. We hope to have many more functions in the future.
May we continue to grow together and spread the Torah, in its broadest sense in so many different ways.

Etan Moshe Berman

  13 Tammuz 5784