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Weekly Insight

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Shabbat Parshat Behar 5779

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Yom Yerushalayim and Yovel

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5778

One of the most famous pictures from the modern state of Israel is of 4 paratroopers who helped liberate the Kotel in 1967. Everyone has seen that picture!

Less famous although very well known in religious Zionist circles is a picture from that very same day of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief Rabbi of the IDF at the time, blowing a shofar at the Kotel.

My question for this morning is – was the blowing of the shofar simply a Jewish proclamation or was there more to it?

While I can’t know for certain what was in his mind, I would like to venture a guess.

Let’s begin with a shofar blast recorded in this mornings parsha. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Emor 5779

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Kohanim Being Metameh for their Relatives

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5776

Everyone knows that a kohen is not allowed to come into contact with a corpse, they don’t go to funerals as they cannot even be in the same building.

We also know that for 7 relatives we allow kohanim to become tameh (ritually impure). The question I would like to raise this morning is “can they” or “must they” become tameh?

What if the kohen says- I don’t want to become tameh, I will not go to the funeral!

The last of the permissions given to the Kohen is listed in verse 3. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Kedoshim 5779

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Yom Ha’atzmaut – What Does it Mean?

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5776

There are many reasons to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day.

We celebrate once again seeing God’s hand in history. We have a place for Jews to live with the ability to control our own fate and an army do defend ourselves. We anticipate redemption. 

This year I want to highlight another aspect, one which we don’t always associate with Yom Ha’atzmaut and one that has interesting applications for the value of living in Israel.

There is a fascinating book written by Rav Shaul yisraeli, who was the Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Harav entitled Zeh Hayom Asah Hashem – “this is the day that God did for me”. The book contains his derashot from Yom hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. The earlier derashot from the late 1940’s obviously focus on the miracle of the state and its challenges etc. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Acharei Mot 5779

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The Two Goats and Things We Don’t Understand

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5776

What do you do when you come across an idea or source that you have trouble digesting, or seems counter to what you think Judaism believes?

That question has been nagging me for the last two weeks. Over Pesach I reread the commentary of the Ramban explaining the 2 goat ceremony that is performed on Yom Kippur.

Two goats are presented to the Cohen Gadol who draws lots to decide which one is Lashem and which is l’azazel. The Goat lashem is sacrificed in the Temple and the goat l’azazel is sent out to the desert.

It is certainly a strange ceremony. It is especially interesting because that goat leaves the temple. Nearly everything else on Yom Kippur happens in the Beit Hamikdash.

What does it all mean? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Metzora 5779

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Yekum Purkan

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5769

On Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach Avi came over to me and wanted to know why we say two Yekum Purkan paragraphs after we read the haftarah if they are the same. Maybe the concern for length of service time is genetic or maybe he was simply curious about the prayers that we say and why we would recite one twice.

I told him that they were similar but not identical and then it hit me. I have been saying these paragraphs for many years, week in and week out and while at least I knew what the words meant and that the 2 paragraphs were different (the first is a general prayer for Torah scholars and sages, the second for the communities) – I had never really stopped to think about where they come from and why they are even said in the first place. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Tazria-hachodesh 5779

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Pesach and Family

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5771

Whenever your kids are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God’s omnipotence did not extend to God’s kids. After creating Heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And the first thing He said to them was: “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Adam replied.

“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit,” God said.

“Forbidden fruit? We got forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve…we got Forbidden Fruit!”

“Don’t eat that fruit!” said God.

“Why?” “Because I’m your Creator and I said so!” said God, wondering why he hadn’t stopped after making the elephants.

A few minutes later God saw the kids having an apple break and was angry. “Didn’t I tell you not to eat that fruit?” God asked.

“Uh huh,” Adam replied.

“Then why did you?”

“I dunno,” Eve answered.

“She started it!” Adam said.

“Did Not!” said eve

“DID so!” said adam

Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own.

Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Shmini 5779

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Sancitity and Kashrus

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5767

At one of the JSOR meetings last year there was a restaurant owner who was interested in converting his treif restaurant into a kosher one. After discussing the requirements for certification and all of the other details that would be involved and necessary this person turns to the group of rabbis and says, “You should know rabbi that by going Kosher I am doing you a favor because a fair share of my clientele is your congregants who come in to eat fish.”  Not that we needed it but that was pretty good incentive for us to help turn the restaurant over.

I am not interested this morning in going through the detailed halachot as to why eating fish out is not allowed, rather, I want to highlight one aspect of why we keep kosher and it is one that I believe is glaring at us as we read the parsha of shmini this morning.

To fully appreciate the point we need to look not only at the verses that speak directly to the prohibition of eating certain types of foods and those details, but we must look at the parsha as a whole. Here, context is just as important if not more important as the text itself. As we read through the psukim we need to be asking ourselves: “why are the laws of kashrus given in the book of vayikra at all, I mean they are not kohen or temple related?”  And secondly “why do they follow the story and laws in the first half of the parsha?To better appreciate that question let me give you the quick overview of the parsha. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Tzav 5779

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The Eternal Fire

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

 Last week while learning with someone in the shul I came across a beautiful idea in a place where I did not necessarily expect it.

This morning we read two mitzvoth, one positive and one negative which are as they say two sides of the same coin. In chapter 6 verse 5 we read;

ה) וְהָאֵ֨שׁ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ תּֽוּקַד־בּוֹ֙ לֹ֣א תִכְבֶּ֔ה וּבִעֵ֨ר עָלֶ֧יהָ הַכֹּהֵ֛ן עֵצִ֖ים בַּבֹּ֣קֶר בַּבֹּ֑קֶר וְעָרַ֤ךְ עָלֶ֙יהָ֙ הָֽעֹלָ֔ה וְהִקְטִ֥יר עָלֶ֖יהָ חֶלְבֵ֥י


  1. And the fire upon the altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out; and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order upon it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings.

In the next verse we read:

(ו) אֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽה: ס

  1. The fire shall be burning always upon the altar; it shall never go out.

Why should that be? Why don’t we light it when we need it? And why do we need a positive and negative commandment to teach us the same thing? Is it really that important? Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Vayikra 5779

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Olah vs Shelamim

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5776

 Our Torah reading begins with a list of the animals from which one brings a sacrifice.

ויקרא פרק א

ב) דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם אָדָ֗ם כִּֽי־יַקְרִ֥יב מִכֶּ֛ם קָרְבָּ֖ן לַֽיקֹוָ֑ק מִן־הַבְּהֵמָ֗ה מִן־הַבָּקָר֙ וּמִן־הַצֹּ֔אן תַּקְרִ֖יבוּ אֶת־קָרְבַּנְכֶֽם

2. Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock.

The Herd is the holy cow, and the flock is sheep and goat.

There is only very significant issue with this verse. Before we make it out of the chapter we realize that it is at the worst a wrong list or at the very best an incomplete list.

The first sacrifice offered is the Olah, which is totally consumed on the altar.

In verse 14 we read:

ויקרא פרק א

יד) וְאִ֧ם מִן־הָע֛וֹף עֹלָ֥ה קָרְבָּנ֖וֹ לַֽיקֹוָ֑ק וְהִקְרִ֣יב מִן־הַתֹּרִ֗ים א֛וֹ מִן־בְּנֵ֥י הַיּוֹנָ֖ה אֶת־קָרְבָּנֽוֹ

14. And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the Lord is of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Pekudei 5779

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The Position of the Torah in the Ark

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5774

Many of the items in shul are fashioned after the temple and meant to remind us of the temple. We have a Shulchan upon which we read the Torah as there was a Shulchan that had the Show Bread lay upon it. We have a Ner Tamid just as the Temple did. We have an ezrat nashim, a woman’s section, just as the Temple did. We have an Ark with a Torah in it just as the Temple had an Ark with the Tablets in it. We read about the placing of the Tablets in the Ark at the end of today’s parsha. Continue reading

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