Category Archives: Sefer Vayikrah

Parshas Acharei Mos: The Puzzle Piece Always Fits!

Parshas Acharei Mos

The Puzzle Piece Always Fits!


“And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons….” (Vayikra 16:1)

Life’s challenges can cause untold stress. However, we can feel calm, safe, and secure when we remember that Hashem runs the world. Events that occur are not haphazard. Rather, they are all part of Hashem’s master plan. We can visualize a large puzzle. Each challenge is a critical piece in our personal jigsaw puzzle of life.

The following two stories can help us with this visualization:

Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein is a well-known educator. One of his programs enables troubled youths to turn their lives around. He learned about equine therapy which involves activities with horses to promote therapy for mental health. So, Rabbi Wallerstein decided to buy a ranch to start this new program. He searched for years, trying to find the right location. Rabbi Wallerstein wondered why Hashem did not listen to his prayers to help him find an appropriate ranch. Finally, he found the perfect location. It had a large indoor area with many horse stalls. The house on the premises was large enough for his program’s needs. It seemed as if it was brand new and had never been used. When questioned, the real estate agent explained that the owner had been a millionaire. He had spent a few years building a magnificent house and grounds for his prize horse. Then, he had a massive heart attack the day that the house was completed and never used it. Now Rabbi Wallerstein understood that Hashem had listened all along to his prayers and had been preparing the perfect location for him. Rabbi Wallerstein said, “Sometimes we think that we have been forgotten by Hashem. With proper bitachon (belief) we realize that Hashem is working for us behind the scenes.”            (Night of Emunah by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky) 

A similar theme revolves around the story of the Mir Yeshiva in Europe. In early 1941, seizing the opportunity to escape from the Nazis and the Soviets, the rabbis and students of the Mir Yeshiva traveled as a group. They traveled across the Soviet Union to Japan and then to Shanghai, where they spent the rest of the war. The Mir emerged as the only eastern European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust intact. It is interesting to note that in Shanghai, the yeshiva found a perfect building on the outskirts of the town. The building had enough space for all the students and had a large kitchen and dining hall. The story behind their building is fascinating! Silas Hardoon, was brought into Shanghai from Iraq by the Sassoon family to help manage their real estate business. There, he became independently wealthy. Although he was an assimilated Jew, he but he built a synagogue in Shanghai, in memory of his father, Aharon. He built the synagogue on the outskirts of town where it was not accessible to the public. There is no evidence that the synagogue had ever used for Jewish worship. Yet, fourteen years after its completion, the Mir Yeshiva managed to secure the Beth Aharon structure for their learning. The synagogue was converted into the beis medrash. There were exactly 252 seats in the synagogue, and there were exactly 252 yeshiva students who filled those seats!  (Silas’s Folly: The Beth Aharon Synagogue in Shanghai and how it Saved the Mirrer Yeshiva by Vera Schwarcz)

Clearly, Hashem orchestrated events, many years earlier, to provide the Mirrer Yeshiva with exactly what it needed!

When challenges come our way or we hear nerve racking news, we can stay calm,

knowing that Hashem is in control. All that occurs is part of Hashem’s plan.

We see the benefit of visualization from the parsha. Hashem told Moshe to tell Aharon that he was forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. He was only permitted to enter on Yom Kippur and only at certain times of that day. The Torah states, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons…. (Vayikra 16:1)” The following pasuk states, “And Hashem said to Moshe, tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Holy of Holies….” Rashi (see Sifsei Chachamim and Sforno) is troubled as to why the first pasuk says that Hashem spoke to Moshe and then then repeats in the second pasuk that Hashem again spoke to Moshe. It seems that Hashem gave Moshe two directives to tell Aharon. Rashi quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah who illustrated both directives with a parable: A doctor visited a sick person and told him, “Do not eat cold things or sleep in a damp place!” Another doctor came and told the patient, “Do not eat cold things, or sleep in a damp place so that you not die as Mr. So-and-so died!” Certainly, the second doctor’s warning, which was more graphic, was more powerful. 

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l  pointed out that we can understand why a regular person might need a graphic warning. However, why would someone as great as Aharon need such a warning? Wouldn’t it have sufficed to simply tell Aharon that he was usually forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies?  Yet, Hashem felt that the graphic warning was necessary even for someone as great as Aharon. On some level, the added warning would make a difference to Aharon, as well.   If it would make a difference to him, certainly it would make a difference to us.

One can be aware of the serious punishment for sinning as well as the wonderful reward for performing mitzvos. However, the evil inclination is very strong and in the moment of challenge, one may tempted and momentarily forget the importance of doing the right thing.

Visualizing the rewards or consequences of our actions
can help strengthen us against the onslaught of the evil inclination.

Parshas Metzora: Is Silence Truly Golden?

Parshas Metzora

Is Silence Truly Golden?


“And he shall take two birds on behalf of he who is becoming pure” (Vayikra 14:4)

The Midrash (Tehillim 39:2) relates a fascinating story. There was a Persian King who was near death. The doctors said that his only cure was to drink the milk of a lioness. A volunteer came forward. He requested that the king provide him with ten goats. He traveled to a lion’s den where he found a lioness nursing her cubs. He stood a distance away and threw one goat to the lioness. Each subsequent day he threw another goat to the lioness. Each time he came a little closer to the lioness. After ten days he was able to get close enough to milk her. While he was traveling back to the king, he had a strange dream. All his limbs were arguing amongst themselves as to which was the best and the one most responsible for the successful outcome. When the tongue said that it was the best, all the other limbs made fun of it. The tongue replied, “Today you shall see that I am master over all of you!” When the volunteer reached the king, he entered the palace and said, “Here is the dog’s milk”. The king was furious that he brought milk from a dog rather than the milk of a lioness. The king ordered that the volunteer be hung. As he awaited his death, he dreamt again. The tongue said to the other limbs, I told you that today you will see that you are nothing. If I save you, will you admit that I am master over you?” The other limbs agreed. When the man awoke, he immediately asked to be brought back to the king. He told the king that in his language a lioness is called a dog, and indeed he brought the milk of a lioness. The king drank the milk and was cured.

This is what King Shlomo said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Mishlei 18:21).

One who spoke loshon hara, slander, was punished with tzara’as, a spiritual skin disease. After the tzara’as disappeared, the kohen brought two birds on his behalf. One was sacrificed and one was set free in the field. Why were birds used instead of larger animals? Rashi (Vayikra 14:4) quotes the Talmud (Arakhin 16B) that explains the offering matches the sin that it came to atone. The plague of tzara’as came as a punishment for slander, which is done by chattering. The slanderer had acted in a way that had demeaned his power of speech to something no better than that of a bird. Therefore, birds were required for his purification, as they chatter continuously.

Why were two birds brought and not just one? The Maharsha (Arakhin 16B) says that the tongue has the power over both life and death. One can choose either path. The offering of one bird hinted to the chattering of loshon hara from which the sinner should refrain. The second bird hinted to the “chattering” of learning Torah, which is the antidote, the cure to speaking loshon hara.

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (quoted in the Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yisaachar Dov Rubin) expounds on the idea set forth by the Maharsha. He says that had only one bird been brought the sinner may have erroneously concluded that he should try to remain silent to avoid sinning in the future. Therefore, the second bird was brought to teach the sinner that speech can also be beneficial. It can bring eternal life to a person if he uses his speech to learn Torah rather than speaking idle or sinful chatter.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2) quotes a Zohar with a different answer as to why two birds were brought. One bird was brought to atone for improper speech and one to atone for good speech. The first is obvious. Improper speech causes rifts, creating disharmony.  However, how can a person misuse proper speech? The Shemen Hatov says that positive speech can be misused by NOT using it. Sitting passively and not utilizing positive speech can be harmful! Positive speech can be used to give a compliment, to acknowledge someone’s hard work, to make another person feel good or appreciated. It can bring a smile to the face of a person who is feeling sad. A simple greeting of good morning can bring a smile to the face of a person feeling sad. It can change his mood for the day.

Compliments benefit the giver as well as the receiver. Being in the habit of giving compliments and expressing gratitude helps one to notice and appreciate that which is good. “Being complimentary helps create an optimistic, happier outlook”. Scientists have found that being paid a compliment lights up the same part of a person’s brain that gets activated when he gets paid a monetary award. Short one-line sentences can brighten a person’s day. Some examples are, “Your haircut looks great. Your speech was so moving. You are a good friend. I can’t tell you how great it was to talk to you when I was upset”. (Marcia Naomi Berger, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist quoted in NBC News BETTER).

Compliments create a ripple effect of kindness and encouragement which spread to others. Compliments cost nothing to give, but the value felt by both the giver and the receiver is priceless.

Refraining from speaking can be harmful. It may even be forbidden and be considered as “stealing”. If we see another person being harmed either physically or verbally, we must speak up in their defense. If we do not, we are “stealing” what is due to them (see Rashi in Bereishis 16:5).

At times, “silence is golden” when we refrain from speaking badly of others.
Silence can be “harmful” when we refrain from giving a compliment or cheerful word.
At other times, “silence can be criminal” when we refrain from defending or protecting someone.

Parshas Tazria – Look in the Mirror-You Will NOT See Yourself!

Parshas Tazria

Look in the Mirror-You Will NOT See Yourself!


“The kohen shall examine the affection on the skin of the body: …When the kohen sees it, he shall pronounce the person impure”. (Vayikra 13:3)

Rabbi Eliyah of Vilna was known as the Vilna Gaon. He lived in the 1700’s and was one of the greatest rabbis of our century. His influence is still felt in our time. When the Vilna Gaon was in his 70’s, he wrote a letter to Rabbi Yaakov ben Wolf Kranz of Dubno, known as the Dubno Maggid, asking him to travel to Vilna to see him.  The Dubno Maggid was well-known for using parables and stories to teach important Torah concepts. The great Vilna Gaon asked the Dubno Maggid to give him admonition. As great as he was, the Vilna Gaon understood that no one is perfect and that every person needed rebuke in order to correct their faults.

One day, The Vilna Gaon asked the Dubno Maggid to help him avoid arrogant and prideful thoughts.  The Vilna Gaon understood that a genius like himself, who had immense Torah knowledge, apt to feeling that he was better than others.

The Dubno Maggid thought for a moment and told the Vilna Gaon a parable: Once, a number of merchants traveled home from the great Fair in Leipzig, Germany. A wealthy merchant was leading a horse which was pulling a wagon laden with valuable merchandise. As he was walking, he noticed another merchant walking beside him, pushing a cart that was filled with cheap merchandise. The wealthy merchant was incensed. How dare this small-time merchant walk beside him, as if they were equals! He voiced his feelings to the other merchant. The small-time merchant had a quick response. He said, “I know that you are a well-known wealthy merchant. You would have had a reason to be proud had you paid cash for all your merchandise. However, I know that all your purchases were bought on credit, just as all my merchandise was. I only bought a few cheap items. However, you purchased many expensive items. Obviously, your debt to your creditors is much greater than mine. Therefore, remember that you may be richer than I but your burden of debt is much greater”.

The Dubno Maggid continued that in a similar way, Hashem admonished the Jewish king. The king should not think that he was better than his fellow Jews, even he held an important position and was very wealthy. He had to remember that the greater the gifts that Hashem gave him, the greater his debt was to Hashem. When one has greater abilities, Hashem expects more from him. He must be careful not to be overbearing to others and must carefully follow the mitzvos.

The Vilna Gaon understood the Dubno Maggid’s message. Hashem had granted him outstanding gifts. That meant that Hashem expected much more from him than Hashem expected from others. He had no right to feel pride in his accomplishments. (The Maggid of Dubno and his Parables by Benno Heinemann)

This week’s Parsha discusses the disease of tzara’as. This skin disease resulted from a person’s sins, especially that of speaking loshon hara, speaking badly of others. The Torah says (Vayikra 13:3) if a person thought that he had contracted tzara’as, he should go to a Kohen to verify it. If it was indeed tzara’as, the person was declared impure and was sent away, in seclusion, until the tzara’as left.  The Mishna (Negaim 2:5) says that a Kohen who thinks that he himself may have tzara’as must go to another kohen to verify it. Why isn’t the kohen allowed to decide it for himself? The Torah is concerned that the kohen with the tzara’as will be unable to make an unbiased decision to determine if he had tzara’as. Therefore, he has to go to another kohen to make that determination for him.

It is easier to notice the imperfections of others than our own. Even an honest person may often rationalize that he had not done anything wrong. (based on Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin)

If one truly wants to become a better person, he will be willing to listen to the criticism of others. Some people organize small groups of friends with the intention of hearing constructive criticism of their actions. Their intention is to further perfect their character traits and come closer to Hashem.

Honestly, no one likes to be criticized. When one is criticized, one instantly becomes defensive and is apt to criticize the “attacker”. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we will understand that the way to improve is to listen to the criticism of others. Others can notice faults that we are not aware of or cannot admit to. Obviously, criticism should be gentle and should come from a place of genuine love and caring. This is not an invitation to notice the faults of others and cruelly criticize them.

When we are “open” to hearing constructive criticism, we are opening ourselves to truly improving.



Parshas Shmini – True Love!

Parshas Shmini

True Love!


“Moshe said to Aharon, ‘Come near to the Altar and perform the service…’”. (Vayikra 9:7)

For Brandon L, learning that he was in kidney failure at age 23 was the biggest surprise of his life. But later — on his 25th birthday — Brandon was again surprised when he learned his younger brother, Derek, would be donating one of his kidneys to him to save his life. “You have always been there for me,” Derek said. “You will always have a piece of my heart and now you will have my kidney, too. We are a perfect match.” “I can’t believe Derek would sacrifice going through all this for me,” said Brandon. “He’s giving me a chance to have a healthy life again…it’s overwhelming and I still can’t believe it’s happening.” (Jan. 9, 2018, Source: TODAY Contributor)

The Mishkan was built. For seven days, Moshe officiated as Kohen Gadol, offering korbanos, sacrifices, to Hashem. Every day, Moshe constructed and then took-down the Mishkan. Hashem’s Holy Presence had not yet descended upon the Mishkan. The Jews were saddened, thinking that their involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf had made them unworthy of having Hashem’s Holy Presence descend. On the eighth day, Moshe told Aharon that Aharon would begin officiating as the Kohen Gadol. Aharon was instructed which korbanos to bring.  One korban was a calf, to atone for Aharon’s participation in the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe said that after Aharon would complete his job, Hashem’s Holy Presence would then appear in the Mishkan. Rashi (Vayikra 9:7) says that when Aharon approached the Altar to sacrifice the korbanos, he hesitated, until Moshe encouraged him to continue approaching. What made Aharon hesitate? The Ramban quotes an opinion that the horns of the Altar appeared to Aharon like the horns of a calf. According to the Da’as Zekanim Aharon feared that he was not worthy of approaching the Altar because of his involvement, albeit minimal, in the sin of the Golden Calf. The Ramban continues, that Aharon was so holy that the sin of the Golden Calf was the only sin that he had ever been involved in. Therefore, it was always on his mind. He was afraid that this would interfere with his ability to offer the sacrifices. Moshe prodded Aharon by saying that Hashem had forgiven him for his minimal part in the sin and that Hashem had chosen Aharon to be the Kohen Gadol. Rashi quotes Moshe as saying to Aharon, “You were chosen for this!”

Rabbi Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah) quotes the Toras Kohanim who says that Moshe told Aharon, “You, of all people, don’t have to fear what the ox represents”.

What did Moshe mean? According to the Midrash Rabba (Shmos 37:2) Hashem had told Moshe that Aharon’s intention was pure. Therefore, Aharon would become the Kohen Gadol who would offer the sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish People. Aharon knew that the some of the Jews were intent on sinning. He initially tried to stall them until Moshe would return. He realized that his stalling tactic would not work and that the Jews would make an idol. The Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 10:3) explains that Aharon had evaluated the situation. If the Jewish People would build the Golden Calf their sin would be very severe. Aharon felt that it would be better if he would build it. Then his sin would not be as severe since his intent was not to serve idols. Aharon was willing to accept the sin upon himself to save the Jewish People from a more severe sin.

Aharon loved the Jewish People so much that he was willing to sacrifice his own righteousness to save them. He placed their welfare above his own. Therefore, Hashem deemed him worthy, and Aharon became the Kohen Gadol. With this knowledge, Moshe told Aharon to go forward towards the Altar without any fears.

We learn two important lessons from Aharon’s greatness. He constantly remembered his “sin”. If we keep our sins in mind (not to cause us depression but to encourage us to strive towards growth), that will help us feel regret and will hopefully protect us from repeating those sins.

We also see that when you truly love someone, you should be willing to sacrifice for them.


Parshas Tzav – Special Purim Issue: Don’t Bury Him Face Down!

Parshas Tzav – Special Purim Issue

Don’t Bury Him Face Down!


“And every day Mordechai walked in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was faring and what was happening to her”. (Esther 2:11)

A Jewish informer lived in the town of Luban, Russia. He reported any Jewish “wrongdoings” to the government. If he did not like someone, he made up a story to get the person in trouble with the government. The entire town feared this informer and were forced to treat him with respect. When the informer became gravely ill, he demanded that the chevra kaddisha, the Jewish burial society, see him immediately. When they came, he told them that he wanted to be buried, face- down. They were surprised at this strange request which was also contrary to Jewish law. The informer died soon after. The chevra kaddisha went to the town’s rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l. They asked him what to do about the burial. On the one hand, it was a mitzva to fulfill a person’s request that was made right before he dies. On the other hand, burying someone face-down was contrary to Jewish law. Rav Moshe replied that one only follows the final request of a dying man if it was not contrary to halacha. Since this request was contrary to halacha, it should be ignored. A few weeks after the informer was buried, a group of Russian officials demanded that the body be exhumed. Having no choice, the chevra kaddisha opened the grave. The Russians looked at it and began to leave. Curiously, one of the members of the chevra kaddisha asked one of the Russian officials what they had been looking for. He replied that the informer had sent them a letter right before he died. The letter said that the Jews in the town hated him and would do something nasty after he died, such as burying him upside down. The officials came, to make sure that had not occurred, otherwise they would have punished the townspeople.

After Achashverosh had Vashti killed, he held a beauty contest to look for a new wife. Esther was brought to the contest against her will. Mordechai had commanded Esther not to tell anyone that she was Jewish and that she came from royal blood, as she descended from King Shaul (Esther 2:10). Rashi explains that Mordechai had felt if it was known that Esther came from royal ancestry, she would have had a better chance of being chosen as the new queen. Mordecai wanted to avoid that at all costs. He didn’t want Esther to be forced to marry Achashverosh. Even after Esther was chosen as Queen, she still did not divulge her ancestry, as per Mordechai’s behest (Esther 2:20). The Talmud (Megillah 13A) says that the king made a special feast and even lowered taxes to try to encourage Esther to divulge her ancestry. King Achashverosh was so curious about his new Queen’s ancestry that he asked Mordechai for a suggestion as to how to encourage Esther to divulge her secret. The Ben Yehodaya (on Megillah 13A) says, Achashverosh was aware that Mordechai had raised Esther. Therefore, Achashverosh felt that Mordechai would be able to help him find-out Esther’s secret. Mordechai did not divulge the secret. However, Mordechai suggested that the king hold a second beauty contest. He said that Esther would probably get jealous and then reveal who she really was. The Maharsha says that Mordechai’s actual intention in suggesting the second beauty contest was the hope that Achashverosh would find another woman that he liked more than Esther. Then Achashverosh would crown a new queen, thus sparing Esther from having to be with Achashverosh.

Mordechai was convinced that Hashem had placed Esther in the palace to eventually save the Jewish People. Otherwise, Hashem would not have permitted the tragic event of a righteous Esther becoming the queen of a non-Jewish man (Esther 2:11). Rashi says that Mordechai even received a “hint” from Hashem that Esther was being put into a position to save the Jews at some future time. Haman had not yet risen to power, so Mordechai did not know yet how Esther would be helpful to the Jews. Therefore, everyday Mordechai would walk past to see how Hashem’s plan would unfold (Esther 2:11).

Mordechai’s actions are astounding! By telling Esther

to keep her heritage hidden, even after being chosen as queen, and by proposing a new beauty contest Mordechai was acting contrary to Hashem’s intentions! If Hashem had placed Esther in the palace to save the Jews, how could Mordechai try to manipulate Achashverosh to find a different queen?!

Mordechai’s actions teach us a very fundamental lesson in Torah hashkafa, philosophy.  One must follow halacha, Torah law, doing everything possible to ensure that halacha is being followed. Mordechai knew that halacha dictated he save Esther from becoming the wife of a non-Jew. As far as the future safety of the Jewish People, that was up to Hashem to ensure. Even though Mordechai knew what Hashem had wanted, Mordechai still had to do what he felt was the appropriate course of action. If the Jews were supposed to be saved, Hashem could find another way for that to happen 

Even when confronted with a very challenging situation, we must always follow halacha

and follow the guidance of our rabbis who clarify and interpret the law for us.


Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l


Parshas Vayikrah: Don’t Cut “Your” Other Hand!

Parshas Vayikrah

Don’t Cut “Your” Other Hand!


“When a man among you bring an offering to Hashem…you shall bring your offering.” (Vayikra 1:2)

The Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim 9:4. See the Pnei Moshe) discusses why one should not take revenge if another person harms him. The Talmud says, imagine you were cutting meat with your right hand, using a very sharp knife. The knife slipped and cut the left hand. Would anyone think that you would take revenge on your right hand by cutting it also? Of course not!

Both hands are part of the same body! If we can understand that all the Jewish People are considered as one body, we wouldn’t feel the need to take revenge.

The realization and understanding that all Jews are part of one body, is a very important concept!

There is a glaring question on the first pasuk of the Parsha. The pasuk begins in the singular, “When a man brings an offering” and ends in plural, “you shall bring your offering”. Why is there a change in tenses?

HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, in his sefer Ta’am Vada’as (as quoted in Yalkut Lekach Tov by Yaakov Yisroel Beifus) gives a beautiful answer. When a Jew sins, he harms more than himself. His actions affect all Jewry. This concept is found in the Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 4:6). Chizkiyahu taught (Yirmiyahu 50:17): “Israel are scattered sheep.” Why are Israel likened to a sheep? When a sheep gets hurt in one spot of its body, its entire body feels it. It is the same with Israel. When one Jew sins, all Jews feel it and are hurt by it.

When the sinner brings a korban, a sacrificial offering to Hashem, and corrects his sin, he becomes uplifted. In doing so, he uplifts all Jewry with him. To teach us this, the pasuk begins in the singular. The sinner repents and achieves atonement with his offering. His action purifies the entire congregation. Therefore, the pasuk concludes in the plural.

We see that all Jews are inextricably linked. The sin of one individual affects all and can result in punishment to all. Conversely, a mitzvah done by one Jew, brings blessing to the entire nation.

We are more than One Nation. We are One Body!

This realization will help us withstand the temptation to retaliate when another Jew harms us.

This understanding will also help us to be aware of the significance of all our actions, both bad and good.

Each of our individual deeds impacts “the rest of our body”, namely all the Jewish People.


Parshas Behar – Bechukosai: Cheaters Never Prosper!

Parshas Behar – Bechukosai

Cheaters Never Prosper!


“When you sell to your friend or buy from your friend, do not cheat each other.” (Vayikra 25:16)

There was once an Emperor who had no children and needed to choose a successor.

Thousands of children from across the kingdom came to the palace. The Emperor gave each of them a seed. He told them to plant the seed in a pot and tend to it for a year. When they return in a year, the Emperor would judge their efforts and choose his successor.

After a few months, some pots had trees starting to grow, some had flowers, and some had leafy shrubs. One boy, Ling, still had nothing growing in his pot, despite watering his seed every day. The other children made fun of Ling, yet he continued to water his pot every day.

After a year had passed, it was time to return to the palace. Ling was anxious as his pot still showed no signs of life. “What if they punish me? They won’t know that I’ve watered it every day.” His mother looked him in the eye and explained that whatever the consequences were, he had to return and show the Emperor his barren pot.

Ling and the other children entered the palace gates. By now, some of the plants were looking magnificent and the children were wondering which one the Emperor would choose. Ling was embarrassed as other children looked at his lifeless pot and laughed.

The Emperor came out and started to make his way through the crowd, looking at the many impressive trees, shrubs and flowers that were on display. Then the Emperor came to Ling. He looked at the pot then he looked at Ling. “What happened here?” He asked. “I watered the pot every day, but nothing ever grew.” Ling muttered nervously. The Emperor moved on to see the rest of the pots.

After a few hours, the Emperor finally finished his assessment and congratulated the children on their efforts. He called Ling to come to him. The Emperor held up the pot for all to see and the other children laughed. Ling was embarrassed. The Emperor continued, “A year ago, I gave you all a seed. I told you to go away, plant the seed, water it, and return with your plant. The seeds that I gave you all were boiled until they were no longer viable and wouldn’t grow, but I see before me thousands of plants and only one barren pot. That is an indication of your dishonesty, for the seeds which grew these plants were not the ones that I had provided to you. Integrity and courage are more important values for leadership than proud displays. The only honest one among you is Ling. Therefore, Ling will become your new Emperor”. (The Emperor’s Seed — A Story About Integrity by Rafael Magaña)

The Torah discusses the mitzvah of Shemitah. Farmers who owned land in Eretz Yisroel were instructed not to do any work on their land during the 7th, or Shemitah year. They were forbidden to weed, plant, or harvest their field. The produce of their fields was free for anyone to take.

In the middle of this topic, the Torah seems to briefly go on a tangent, indicating that it is forbidden to cheat one’s friend by overcharging on a sale. Why does the Torah teach the prohibition of cheating one’s friend, in the middle of the laws of Shemitah? Furthermore, the laws of overcharging involve portable items whereas the laws of Shemitah involve land. What is the connection between the two? Rabbi Yissocher Frand brings a beautiful idea from Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, the Rosh Yeshivah of Harama of London, and the author of Sefer Bais Av. He says that the basic idea of following the laws of Shemitah is to help one develop a strong faith in Hashem, understanding that everything comes from Hashem. A farmer will seemingly have no income since he cannot do any work on his field. Yet Hashem will provide for him.

This was also the lesson of the mann. The mann was the miraculous food that fell from the heavens, providing for the Jews in the desert. Some Jews spent much time gathering the mann, while others spent less time. When they returned home, they all ended up with the same amount. The lesson was that our sustenance comes from Hashem. A person should not think that the harder he works, the more he will earn.

Rabbi Frand continues that once one understands that his sustenance is totally from Hashem, he will not feel the need to cheat others. He will realize that Hashem will provide him with all that he needs. He won’t have to overcharge on his sales. He will realize that any “ill-gotten gains” won’t be permanent because that is not what Hashem wanted to provide him with. Any “gains” will be taken away by an unexpected cost such as a repair bill or medical expense.

This is the message of Shemitah.

We should be honest in all our dealings for, as we know, cheaters never prosper!


Parshas Emor: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times!

Parshas Emor

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times!


“Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to Hashem. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.”

“It Was the Best of Times!”

The Six-Day War took place on June 5–10, 1967. In response to the apparent mobilization of its Arab neighbors, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden preemptive air assault that destroyed more than 90 percent Egypt’s air force on the tarmac. A similar air assault incapacitated the Syrian air force. Without cover from the air, the Egyptian army was left vulnerable to attack. Within days the Israelis had achieved an overwhelming victory on the ground. The Arab countries’ losses in the conflict were disastrous. The Arab armies also suffered crippling losses of weaponry and equipment. The lopsidedness of the defeat demoralized both the Arab public and the political elite. Israel had proved beyond question that it was the region’s preeminent military power. Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Old City of Jerusalem, and Golan Heights.

“It Was the Worst of Times”

On Yom Kippur of 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, catching Israel off guard.​​ The Egyptians and the Syrians initially made some significant initial: the former crossed the Suez Canal and established themselves along its entire length on the east bank; the latter overran the Golan Heights and came within sight of the Sea of Galilee. The cost of the battle was heavy: Israel lost 2,688 soldiers. Many airplanes were lost to Russian-made surface-to-air missiles, and only 100 out of 265 Israeli tanks in the first echelon survived. Things were so bad that on the second day of the conflict Israel’s defense minister Moshe Dayan told prime minister Golda Meir, to consider preparing for the use of nuclear weapons.

The Sforno says that the principal reason for the Yomim Tovim is to afford us an opportunity to express our gratitude to Hashem in prayer and in deed. On Pesach, we pray to Hashem, giving thanks for His having given us our freedom at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The time between Pesach and Shavuos is a time when the crops are ripe and waiting to be harvested.  The Omer sacrifice was brought on the second day of Pesach. A lamb was offered together with an omer, a measure of barley taken from the first harvest of the land of Israel. This was an expression of gratitude for the barley harvest, the first of the ripened crop to Hashem. The farmer, observing his harvest, felt contentment and satisfaction, confidence, and security. The future looked so bright. This prayer also contains a request concerning the future. During this time, the Torah mandated the counting of Sefira for 49 days, as a continual, daily reminder to turn to Hashem in prayer. It is a reminder that success and failure is in the hands of Hashem. At a time when everything seems to be going well, when the farmer’s hard work has produced a bountiful harvest, he should not become too complacent and over-confident and forget to turn to Hashem. The counting of the 49 days between Passover and the festival of weeks reminds us of the need to offer such prayers daily.

When things are going well, we should not become too complacent but should thank Hashem every day. Similarly, if one’s situation is bleak and the future seems ominous, when disaster seems imminent and escape is apparently impossible, we should NOT give up hope or feel despair! Hashem is with us and loves us.



Parshas Tazria-Metzorah: The Power of Love!

Parshas Shmini

Parshas Tazria-Metzorah


“The Kohen shall look on the affliction on the skin of the person’s flesh. If the hair in the affliction has changed to white and the affliction’s appearance is deeper than the skin of the flesh, it is a tzara’as affliction. The Kohen shall look at it and declare him impure.” (Vayikra 13:3)

A man wanted to be appointed as the Rabbi of a certain city. He sent his son to get a letter of recommendation from the Gadol Hador, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski zt”l. Rav Chaim Ozer did not feel that this boy’s father was competent for this position so he gave an excuse and did not write the letter. The young man became very angry and hurled insults at Rav Chaim Ozer. Rav Chaim Ozer sat calmly throughout the tirade. When the young man left, Rav Chaim Ozer’s students questioned how he could remain so calm. He responded that the young man was not in control of his emotions. His father had wanted and perhaps truly needed that job. The son was probably thinking of his father and the impact that not getting the job would have on the family. “Had I reprimanded him at that point, he would have been too irate to listen to my rebuke.” (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2)

The Torah says that the kohen looks at the afflicted person’s flesh to determine if he has tzara’as (a skin affliction caused by one of seven specific sins. One of those sins is lashon hara.) The pasuk repeats that the kohen looks at the affliction again and declares the person impure. The Malbim and other commentators question the repetitiveness. The Malbim explains that the kohen first looks carefully at the specifics: Is the affliction in the skin? Are the hairs inside of it white? Does the appearance have a depth to it? The second time the kohen looks at the total picture. If he can see the affliction in its entirety than he can declare it impure. If he can only see parts of it at one time, then the kohen cannot declare it impure.

The Meshech Chachma by Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk, explains that the first time the kohen checks if the affliction is indeed tzara’as. The second time the kohen looks at the overall picture. Is this an appropriate time to declare the person impure? The Talmud (Moed Katan 7B) says that there are times that the kohen does not check a person to see if his symptoms are indeed tzara’as.  For example, if the symptoms of tzara’as appear on a bridegroom, the kohen does not check him during the first week of marriage (until after the sheva brachos). Similarly, the kohen does not check him during a Yom Tov. The Torah does not want to detract from the bridegroom’s joy or from the joy of a Festival. Since the kohen does not automatically declare the person impure, he must “look again” and determine if the circumstances warrant declaring the person impure or if they warrant a delay to his declaration of impurity.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand learns a beautiful lesson from this. At times, we see others doing something very wrong. Our first reaction may be to rebuke the person strongly, just as a kohen would want to immediately declare the person impure. The Torah teaches us to stop! Do not be critical and rebuke immediately! On the one hand, you should not condone the sin. On the other hand, do not be too quick to rebuke. First examine the situation. Is the person in the frame of mind to hear your rebuke? Will it be beneficial, or will it turn him further away from acting properly? Will it bring him closer to Hashem or push him further away?

Rav Sholom Schwadron once saw a group of Jewish boys desecrating Shabbos. He sensed that these boys were estranged from their families who were religious. Understanding that rebuking them would be counterproductive, he reached-out to them with heartfelt love. He offered each of them a hot meal and a comfortable bed. The boys eventually agreed to go. A free hot meal without strings attached was something they needed. This arrangement continued for some time. Eventually, the love that Rabbi Schwadron showed them, helped them change their lives and return to Hashem.

Sometimes, showing love and not rebuking, can be a more powerful tool to encourage positive behavior!



Parshas Shmini: They Gave Up on Her, but She Persevered!

Parshas Shmini

They Gave Up on Her, but She Persevered!


“… The camel—it chews the cud, but its hoof is not split, it is unclean to you… and the pig— its hoof is completely split but it does not chew the cud, it is unclean to you.” (Vayikra 11:4,7)

Chen Miller is a special education teacher in Israel. During her first year of teaching, she entered a second-grade classroom. A little boy sitting in the center of the room, cursed, spat, and screamed at her. She went over to him and said, “I know that you have a big heart. I know that you are clever. I know that you are a good boy.” He responded loudly for the entire class to hear, “Stupid teacher, you don’t know anything! I am a disturbed boy. Everyone knows that I am disturbed. The teachers say that I am disturbed. The principal says that I am disturbed. Even my parents say that I am disturbed!” Ms. Miller repeated, “You have a big heart. You are clever. I know that you are a good boy.” Hearing that, the little boy ran out of the classroom. The second week when she entered the classroom, the exact same thing occurred. The little boy cursed, spat, and screamed at her. She took a deep breath and whispered to him, “You have a big heart, you are clever, and I know that you are a good boy.” In the third week, when Ms. Miller entered the classroom, the little boy was sitting quietly in a desk next to hers. On that day, that little boy chose her to be his teacher.

Towards the end of the year the little boy asked her how she knew that children are good. She told him that when she was a child, she thought that she was stupid and that nothing good would come out of her. She, herself, was a student of a special needs class and others were ready to give up on her. She could not even read or write until she was in 5th grade!

Ms. Miller became a special education teacher to help others. The point she made in her story was that words matter! The words that teachers, principals, and parents say to a child become the words that the child perceives about himself. Negative words foster negative self-images and make a child feel that he is a failure. Positive words foster positive self-images and can encourage a weak student to become a successful one.

This week’s parsha discusses which animals are kosher and which are not. An animal that chews its cud and has totally split hooves, is a kosher animal. Most animals do not have any kosher signs at all. There are four animals that exist, that have only one kosher sign. Many of the commentaries question why we need to know that these animals have one kosher sign. After all, it really makes no difference. Since they do not have both kosher signs, they are not kosher. The Torah first says that a camel chews its cud before it says that it does not have split hooves. The Torah says that a pig has totally split hooves but is not kosher because it does not chew its cud. Why does the Torah say this at all and why does it list the kosher characteristic first?

The rabbis who teach us mussar share a very important message based on this. When giving constructive criticism, one should first say something positive about the person before mentioning the negative. That is why the Torah mentions the positive characteristic of the four animals before mentioning their non-kosher characteristics. This message is important for everyone and especially important for parents and teachers. (Rav Pam on Chumash by Rabbi Sholom Smith)

Words can build and words can destroy! Let us choose to use our word in a positive manner.