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SWEET GRAPES


The Jewish People crosses the Red Sea!

A nation that has been crushed in Egypt suddenly bursts forth like blossoms in the spring! Surely there is no other nation like this, able to rise not only from slavery but from the slave mentality, a nation uniquely close to G-d, far above what other nations can even imagine. 

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I HAVE A PLAN


The deputy mayor of Jerusalem was recently quoted as saying the government has given up hope on preventing attacks against Jews. I believe that. The government has no plan.

I have a plan.  

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SEVENTY WOLVES


In the old, old days, long before I became observant, I lived in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a world of wealthy, assimilated Jews who fled the Torah as if it were poison. From nursery all the way through twelfth grade, I attended what was considered an “elite” private school. Our class, numbering about one hundred, was composed almost exclusively of assimilated Jews, with a smattering of others as a result of the school’s liberal philosophy. Feelings of guilt as a result of our comfortable lifestyle made it almost mandatory to include a few non-Jews.  

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THE BOY IN THE BARBER SHOP


Recently, in the barber shop, a boy was waiting for the next appointment. He wore a hockey uniform and sat hunched over his phone. He looked at no one. He said nothing. When his turn came, he wordlessly walked to the barber’s chair. No “good morning.” No smile or interaction. He looked into space. No word came from his mouth or light from his eyes.  

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WE ARE ORPHANS!


We have arrived once again at that moment, painful for me, when we leave the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, not to meet again until next year. It is like mourning for one’s parents. How can we go on?

Just who were these angelic but achingly real people? 

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"JOSEPH COULD NOT RESTRAIN HIMSELF"


We have just participated in one of the most remarkable dramas in the entire Torah. It began in the Torah portion of Vayeshev with Joseph’s dreams, continued through Mikeitz and concludes this week with the words “Ani Yosef … I am Joseph.” This extended scenario, in a way, represents the culmination of the lives of our Patriarchs. This is where the foundation of the entire future relationship among the Children of Israel is established.  

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DREAMING OF STARS


Joseph is in prison and Pharaoh dreams. Suddenly Joseph is king of Egypt. “Yeshuas Hashem k’heref ayin … the salvation of G-d comes in the blink of an eye!” This is high drama.

Our contemporary world also reflects high drama, as powerful battles play out on many stages. Hidden behind all these conflicts, the great salvation is being prepared in Heaven, as the Messiah prepares to arrive “k’heref ayin,” with blinding suddenness.  

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WHAT IS DARKNESS?


“Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates all” (Morning Service).

Like anything written by our sages, these words are filled with eternal significance.  

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TERRORIZED BY THE NEWS


I do not like the term “terrorism.”

It makes us cringe, as if we were slaves to our enemies. The word induces fear, but we are not supposed to be afraid of people. “G-d is with me. I have no fear. How can man affect me?” (Psalm 118) 

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"MAGDIEL IS ROME"


In a few weeks we will, please G-d, read the Torah portion of Vayishlach, which concludes with the words, “Now these are … the chiefs of Esau (father of Edom) … the chief of Magdiel” (Genesis 36:40-43). 

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FIRE AND TEARS


During the second summer of our marriage, when we were still in college, my wife and I were employed as fire lookouts in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. We lived in a mountaintop cabin 9,000 feet above sea level and our view extended 150 miles in all directions, taking in thousands of forested acres. That summer there were two small fires and the world seemed normal. 

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"EXHAUSTED NATION"


“Perhaps you will say in your heart, ‘These nations are more numerous than I. How will I be able to drive them out?’  

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TWO KINDS OF WEEPING


In a certain study hall in Jerusalem, there was a Rabbi who would continually pace up and down between the lecterns, carrying on an intense conversation in learning … with himself! This was a delightful and sometimes amusing spectacle. As he paced, however, he was also aware of his surroundings. One day, I was explaining to my study partner my personal criterion for a good leader of the prayers, namely that he should make me cry. 

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WHAT EXACTLY IS EXILE?


How contemporary is every word of Torah!

Tragically, the events of this week’s Torah portion are reflected in our own days. As our sages tell us, “In the period which will precede the coming of the Messiah, insolence will increase … those who dread sin will be despised … and truth will be absent…” (Sota 49b). 

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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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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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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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"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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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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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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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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MORE EVIL AUTOMOBILES


We have just returned after two months in the Holy Land. It was hard to leave, but we have much to accomplish, and the words of Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch Shlita"h still ring in my ears: "Yisroel, you are a soldier and soldiers have to go where the battle is." 

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WHY WE NEED TO ACT LIKE ANGELS


The essential message of Yom Kippur is that everything depends on our spiritual condition. To the extent that we follow Hashem's will, our life will be good. The economy is not the determining factor. Politics is not the determining factor. Social issues are not the determining factor. The only thing that counts is our relationship with G-d. That's it. 

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