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SPIES AGAIN


In this week’s Torah portion, the Jewish People encounters the other nations and becomes petrified. But we are not supposed to be afraid! As King David tells us, “G-d is with me. I have no fear. How can man affect me?” (Psalm 118) 

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HOLD ON TO THE ROPE


Several weeks ago, newspapers pictured a young boy, head in hands, in front of the remains of his family home, which had been destroyed by a Texas tornado. At about the same time, in Nepal, entire mountainsides slid away; avalanches buried mountain dwellers and climbers; entire villages slid down the slopes of the greatest mountain range in the entire world. 

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"YOU HAVE RAISED MY SOUL FROM THE LOWER WORLD"


What does King David have to do with the holiday of Shavuos?  

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UTTERLY HELPLESS


“Until the time of Jacob, there was no feebleness that preceded death. Jacob came and beseeched G-d for mercy, and from then on feebleness came into being, as it says: And he said to Joseph, ‘Behold, your father is ill…’” (Bava Metzia 87a). 

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THE PATH OUT OF EXILE


I believe that it is appropriate during the Sefiras HaOmer countdown between Passover and the holiday of Shavuos to contemplate our own life and our relationship to events in the world around us. Especially in this era of history, a realistic assessment of world events is likely to lead one closer to the Master of the Universe, as it becomes increasingly clear that we cannot depend on the surrounding culture.  

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THE VOICE OF G-D IS UPON THE WATERS


“Kol Hashem al hamayim …. The voice of G-d is upon the waters. The G-d of Glory thunders. G-d is upon vast waters. The voice of G-d is in power! The voice of G-d is in majesty! The voice of G-d breaks the cedars; G-d shatters the cedars of Lebanon…” (Psalm 29).  We say these words every Sabbath eve. 

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LESSON IN CHARACTER REFINEMENT


During the Sefiras HaOmer period of counting the 49 days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuos, we are working intensely to refine our character, trying to merit receiving the Torah on Shavuos. During Passover, I was privileged to perform the rare mitzvah (Torah commandment) of “shiluach hakan” - sending away the mother bird before taking her young (Deuteronomy 22:6-7). 

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THE APPEARANCE OF DARKNESS


In Biblical times at this season, we were marching with Moses toward Mount Sinai. It was a time of tremendous anticipation. Did the Children of Israel know what was coming? Could anyone have imagined the stupendous events which were about to occur at Mount Sinai? 

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WHAT IS SEFIRAS HaOMER?


We are in the count-down – excuse me, the count up! – from Passover to Shavuos.

It’s amazing! It’s great! But there are so many things I don’t understand. 

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THE IRON FURNACE


“G-d has taken you and withdrawn you from ‘kur habarzel’… the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a nation of heritage for Him, as this very day…” (Deuteronomy 4:20). 

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WHERE IS BAKU?


Next week is Passover, and I can think of no better introduction to the festival of our liberation than to report to you on our recent speaking trip to Baku.  

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"YOU CARE ABOUT EACH OTHER"


There is a dispute whether the world was created in the Jewish month of Tishrei or Nissan (Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a). In a real sense, the answer is …. both! Tishrei marks the anniversary of physical creation; Nissan marks the anniversary of spiritual creation.  

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A VERY GOOD BOY


Eliyahu is a nine-year old boy who lives in Israel. 

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A SATISFYING AROMA


“Ketores - the Incense Offering - the dearest of all the offerings.”  (Rashi on Numbers 16:6)  

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ROYAL APPAREL


As I write, it is the coldest day I can remember in my entire life. Since when does the New York temperature drop to zero, with gale-force winds? Is anything normal these days? 

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THE CENTER OF THE WORLD


Years ago, there was a movie called “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Why are the nations of the world obsessed with the Ark of the Covenant? Why is Jerusalem the center of world attention and the Temple Mount the most coveted location on earth?

 

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GETTING PAST FEAR


We have reached a new level in our weekly Torah portion. From the Book of Genesis through last week’s Torah portion, in which Israel receives the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Torah portions have been narrative, beginning with the epic story of Creation, the formation of the Nation of Israel, and culminating in the redemption from Egypt and the (literally) earth-shaking meeting between G-d and His Chosen People at Mount Sinai.  

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IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN


According to Dr. Amos Porat of the Israeli Meteorological Service, rainfall in Israel this winter has been 120 to 200 percent over the normal level, depending on location. This is important for more than agricultural reasons, because rain is a “siman bracha,” a sign of blessing, and Israel seems to be receiving much blessing this winter.  

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THE SALVATION OF G-D


How can we sing songs of praise when the world is burning? 

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DARKNESS AND DARKNESS


There is physical darkness and spiritual darkness. These distinctions are not theoretical.  

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TREMORS


The second summer after our marriage, years before we were observant, my wife and I were employed as fire lookouts in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. We lived in a cabin on top of Mount Scott, 8,832 feet above sea level. Our view extended about 150 miles in each direction and we looked down on Crater Lake, one of the most beautiful spots you could imagine. 

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THE EIGHTEENTH OF TEVES


In this week's Torah reading, our ancestors descend into Egypt and the days of exile begin. Immediately, the Torah informs us, "a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Joseph." (Exodus 1:8) Exile begins innocently. We may even think it is for our benefit, but it never works out for us, because we are meant to live in subservience only to G-d. 

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FAREWELL TO THE PATRIARCHS


This week we say “goodbye” to the Patriarchs. “When Jacob finished instructing his sons, he drew his feet onto the bed; he expired and was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 49:33) 

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STARS OF ISRAEL


"When Jacob finished instructing his sons, he drew his feet onto the bed; he expired and was gathered to his people." (Genesis 49:33) So ends an era. But the influence of the Patriarchs is so powerful that it remains with their children until the end of time. All of our prayers begin with the words, "G-d of Abraham, G-d of Isaac and G-d of Jacob...

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HOW DID WE SURVIVE EGYPT?


This week's Torah portion ends with the words, "Vayaishev Yisroel ... Thus Israel settled in the Land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; they took property in it and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly...." (Genesis 47:27) 

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CULTURE OF SELF-WORSHIP


The “wicked Greek kingdom” in the time of the Maccabeans was so dangerous that we commemorate our liberation thousands of years later. What was the problem? How exactly did the Greeks attempt “to make Your people Israel …. forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will?” 

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REFLECTED LIGHT


Chanukah is the quintessential holiday of exile.

The neiros (Chanukah lights) illuminate the darkest season of the year. This is the only holiday that begins during the period of the waning moon. The days of Chanukah actually become darker and darker ... until the very end, because Chanukah ends just when the sliver of the New Moon is becoming visible in the night sky. 

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MITZRAIM!


Now we descend with Joseph to Egypt.

The significance of our ancestors’ sojourn in Mitzraim (Biblical Egypt) must be prodigious, because we never cease to mention it. Every Sabbath begins with, “zaicher l’ytzias Mitzraim … a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt,” and every holiday cycle begins with Passover, the entire theme of which is the story of our Redemption from Mitzraim. 

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ANA HASHEM HOSHIA NA … PLEASE G-D, SAVE US!


“Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (Genesis 32:25)

Who was more alone than our father Jacob? Jacob is alone and his children are alone. “Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9) That is our unique position in the world and also our strength. 

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WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BE AFRAID


As I write these words, the headlines read, "Terror in Tel Aviv, Gush Etzion." And then, the following week, the headlines read, "Terrorists kill four rabbis." 

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