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Weekly Insight

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Shabbat Parshat Reeh 5777

Teshuva and Seeking Out God, No Signposts for Olei Regel

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

I promise that it is more frightening for me than for you that today is Rosh Chodesh Elul which means that Rosh Hashanah is only a month away.

It also means that the season of repentance has begun, or should begin.

There is a beautiful and meaningful teshuva idea that emerges from a difference between two travelers, one recorded in this morning’s parsha and one in next weeks. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Ekev 5777

How Many Arons?  Which One Goes to War?

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5774

An Iron Dome battery commander tells the following story:

“A missile was fired from Gaza. Iron Dome precisely calculated [its trajectory]. We know where these missiles are going to land down to a radius of 200 meters. This particular missile was going to hit either the Azrieli Towers, the Kirya (Israel’s equivalent of the Pentagon) or [a central Tel Aviv railway station]. Hundreds could have died.

“We fired the first [interceptor]. It missed. Second [interceptor]. It missed. This is very rare. I was in shock. At this point we had just four seconds until the missile lands. We had already notified emergency services to converge on the target location and had warned of a mass-casualty incident. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Va’etchanan 5777

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Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

About a month ago I was visiting a congregant in Centre State Hospital. He was in the cardiac critical care unit. After spending some time I sat outside the room waiting for the nurse when I was approached by a woman who turned out to be the hospital chaplain. She came over with the following request. There was a family in the next room whose husband/father had just had an aneurysm. He was not going to recover but not yet clinically brain-dead and they had decided to pull the plug. And they were looking for a rabbi to do deathbed prayers. Would I mind doing that with them, as they would prefer a rabbi to a Christian chaplain?

After navigating the “he’s not brain-dead and this is murder issue” I did go to do vidui for this man. When speaking to the family I came to learn that they had no religious affiliation. They had no rabbi. They had no real connection to Judaism. Yet when I asked them to recite the Shema with me, they all joined in without skipping a beat.

When thinking about it – it really struck me; this family with literally no connection to speak of to Judaism knew the Shema. It rolled off their tongue.

You wonder – what is the secret and meaning of Shema? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Devarim-Chazon 5777

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Tisha B’Av As A Moed (Holiday)

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

If you were to go to the cemetery on Tisha B’av you would not recite a kel maleh, our traditional prayer. It almost seems backwards – this is the saddest day of the year, a day of national Jewish mourning and yet we can’t recite a prayer for the dead?

As strange as it seems, that is correct. Why should that be? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Matot Masei 5777

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Divisions in Orthodoxy

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

This past Wednesday (5 years ago) the Jewish people lost a giant with the passing of Rabbi Joseph Sholom Elyashiv, the recognized leader of the Lithuanian Orthodox community in Jerusalem. 

The question that I thought about immediately after I learned of his passing and the question that I pose to you this morning is how our community relates to his life and death.

Clearly there were things that he believed that our community does not espouse and the direction for his community was not necessarily the direction that we have taken. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Pinchas 5777

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And the Sons of Korach Did Not Die!

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

This week 4 words in the parsha caught my attention. ובני קרח לא מתו, and the children of Korach did not die.

After the plague has ended there is a military census conducted and recorded. In the midst of the count, while listing the family of Reuven, we find:

במדבר פרק כו

ז) אֵ֖לֶּה מִשְׁפְּחֹ֣ת הָרֽאוּבֵנִ֑י וַיִּהְי֣וּ פְקֻדֵיהֶ֗ם שְׁלֹשָׁ֤ה וְאַרְבָּעִים֙ אֶ֔לֶף וּשְׁבַ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת וּשְׁלֹשִֽׁים

ח) וּבְנֵ֥י פַלּ֖וּא אֱלִיאָֽב

ט) וּבְנֵ֣י אֱלִיאָ֔ב נְמוּאֵ֖ל וְדָתָ֣ן וַאֲבִירָ֑ם הֽוּא־דָתָ֨ן וַאֲבִירָ֜ם קרואי קְרִיאֵ֣י הָעֵדָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִצּ֜וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֤ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹן֙ בַּעֲדַת־קֹ֔רַח בְּהַצֹּתָ֖ם עַל־יְקֹוָֽק

י) וַתִּפְתַּ֨ח הָאָ֜רֶץ אֶת־פִּ֗יהָ וַתִּבְלַ֥ע אֹתָ֛ם וְאֶת־קֹ֖רַח בְּמ֣וֹת הָעֵדָ֑ה בַּאֲכֹ֣ל הָאֵ֗שׁ אֵ֣ת חֲמִשִּׁ֤ים וּמָאתַ֙יִם֙ אִ֔ישׁ וַיִּהְי֖וּ לְנֵֽס

יא) וּבְנֵי־קֹ֖רַח לֹא־מֵֽתוּ: ס

The family of Reuven contained 34,700 men of military age. Phalu had Eliav whose child was Eliav who was the father of the infamous Datan and Aviram who were major players in the Korach affair. The ground swallowed them up etc. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Balak 5777

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The Talking Donkey and Talking in Shul

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5773

One of my favorite scenes in the entire Torah is today’s talking donkey scene.

A story about a talking donkey seems to be the perfect medium for a message about talking in shul. 

Most of the commentators devote the bulk of their commentary to the obvious question – how does the donkey talk? Although Rav Hai Gaon argues that the donkey does not actually speak, most conclude that this is a miracle done by God in honor of the Jewish people.

The Mishna in Avot claims that this donkey’s mouth was one of the 10 things created by God during the twilight of creation.

The Midrash Aggadah (Buber Balak 22/28) elaborates and explains that from the day that this donkey was created it had the ability to speak but did not have permission to speak. Our verse does not say that God placed the words in his mouth; rather that God opened his mouth. From there the Midrash concludes that the words were already there, the only thing missing was the key to open the donkey’s mouth.  Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Chukkat 5777

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Og Melech Habashan

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

There are some stories that you hear as a child that will stay with you and intrigue you forever. One of these legends surrounds a Biblical figure that we read about this morning: Og melech haBashan, the famous Og, the king of Bashan. In our parsha, we read of the military defeat of Og at the hands of Moshe and the Jews. An ordinary man, albeit a king, defeated in battle.  The presentation of the story in the Torah is very clear and simple.

  1. And they turned and went up by the way of Bashan; and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he, and all his people, to the battle at Edrei.
  2. And the Lord said to Moses, Fear him not; for I have delivered him into your hand, and all his people, and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon.
  3. So they struck him, and his sons, and all his people, until none was left alive; and they possessed his land.

The legend that has stuck with me goes as follows: Moshe was 10 amot, or cubits, tall. He had an ax that was 10 amot tall and he jumped 10 amot off the ground, struck the ankle of Og and killed him.  For years I had this in my head until I finally sat down to think about it: Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Korach 5777

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Shul Unity, Breaking Out of Our Comfort Groups

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

Our parsha opens with a technique used at times by the Torah where a verb is used but we are not given the object which that verb relates to. At times I believe that this is done to allow for the possibility of many interpretations that all might be correct. Let me give you an example to illustrate-

In the famous story of Cain and Abel, Genesis 4/8 the Torah tells us:

ח) ויאמר קין אל הבל אחיו ויהי בהיותם בשדה ויקם קין אל הבל אחיו ויהרגהו

And Kayin said to Hevel, and they were in the field, and kayin arose towards hevel his brother and he killed him.

What did Kayin say to Hevel? What was their fight about? The commentators and Midrashim have many answers, there are many reasons that brothers fight and people in general fight and kill each other. There is no one answer, so the Torah leaves it open to allow for many correct interpretations. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Shelach 5777

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The Majority Are Not Always Right

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

Very often it is difficult to be in the minority. In the world of orthodox Jewry and the world of the rabbinate centrist orthodoxy is in the minority. Very often I sense among people and at times even amongst rabbis within our community a certain religious and spiritual inferiority complex regarding our place and positions within orthodoxy.

To that I would respond, stand firm in your principles and beliefs; being in the minority does not mean that you are wrong!

And I can prove that to you from today’s parsha!

The major episode in today’s parsha is the sin of the spies. Every year it becomes more difficult to find new meaning and new aspects of the story. I glanced through a couple of books on the parsha and numerous articles and we have been there and done that. Then it hit me – the greatest lesson was staring at me, literally jumping off the page of the text. Continue reading

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