Friday, August 21, 2009

PARSHA - Shoftim/ Cities of Refuge.

This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, talks about the cities of refuge whence a person would flee if he accidentally killed someone. There, the unintentional killer would be protected from the wrath of the victim's relatives, until the High Priest who served in the Holy Temple passed away.

The cities of refuge offered protection, even for someone who committed murder intentionally, he waited there till the court issued a ruling. Basically it protected anyone who had caused a loss of life.

After the destruction of the Holy Temple the cities of refuge ceased to exist in the physical sense. Yet the Torah and its lessons are eternal, therefore, the concept of cities of refuge finds expression in the spiritual dimension.

The Torah itself is the refuge in which all may seek asylum.

In the spiritual sense, "killing" symbolizes the act of committing a sin, causing a spiritual death to the G-dly soul.

We learn from this week's Torah portion that it is never too late to repent. Even the person who deliberately sinned can repent and seek protection in the refuge of Torah.

In the times of the Holy Temple, repentance alone was not enough to atone for a sin. The unintentional killer had to remain exiled in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest. Yet after the destruction of the Temple, like now, teshuva, repentance alone can atone for even the gravest sin.

In the same way, the month of Elul, during which we take account of our actions of the previous year, is a "city of refuge" - in time, offering us the same opportunity to clear the slate and merit a good and sweet year to come.

Candle lighting time for L.A. is 7:16 pm

Shabbat Shalom!

PARSHA - Shoftim

In this week's Torah portion Shoftim we find the verse, "For man is the tree of the field." What is the connection between human beings and trees?

The unique characteristic of a plant is its connection with the ground, its source of life and sustenance. Humans and animals are not bound to the earth by their roots and are free to move about. A plant, must always be connected to the ground; if it is uprooted, it will wither and die.

Bound to the earth, a tree must suffer the harsh punishment of the elements throughout the four seasons of the year. A tree has such a strong connection to its source that even the changes in season do it no harm.

It is in this respect that man resembles the tree of the field. He, too, is unable to exist cut off from his source of life. His soul requires a constant and continuous bond with the source of his existence.

The source of life for the Jew is the Torah.

He draws his strength and vitality from it. Even though most of us cannot spend our entire day in Torah study we derive meaning and inspiration for the rest of the day from the time that we actually did spend time learning Torah. When we dedicate a small amount of time in the morning and evening to learning Torah, the influence is felt throughout the day.

We must always bear in mind that "man is the tree of the field" - we are always bound by our roots to our source of life. Even as we actively pursue a life of commerce, or whatever one's profession may be, we must strive to feel that intimate bond with our Creator. The Torah that is learned during those few moments will permeate our life and create a Torah-true atmosphere.

Candle lighting time for L.A. is 7:16 pm

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the final month of the Jewish year.
Just as a shopkeeper devotes a certain amount of time to taking inventory and evaluating the success of his enterprise, so too, each one of us must take time to evaluate his or her conduct and see whether we have been using our Divine potential successfully.

In one month's time, on Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the new year, G-d will judge us. This month of Elul is set aside as a time for us to judge ourselves - to take stock of the way we are living our lives and see whether there is a need for change.

Although Elul is a time for introspection, it is characterized by feelings of love and closeness to G-d. As is the acronym for Elul - Ani l'dodi v'dodi li - 'I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine'. We are bound to G-d in an intimate bond. Since a spark of G-dliness lies at the core of our being, we need not feel threatened by the process of self- assessment.

There is no worry that G-d will reject us, for our relationship with Him is an established fact. Taking the time out for self-appraisal is itself an act of love, spurring a response of love from G-d.

And through this preparation, one merits a good and sweet year, materially and spiritually.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


(Today's Torah message in honor of the birth of Baby Girl Levin and the birthday of Mushka. May they be a source of pride to their parents and to all of Israel.)

Tomorrow, Thursday and Friday is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul.

In Elul we prepare for the upcoming High Holidays by blowing the shofar each morning, having our mezuzot and tefilin checked to make sure they are still fit, being more careful about keeping kosher and saying special selichot, penitential prayers.

Why do we do all of this in the month of Elul? Can't it wait until we're closer to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?

This can be answered by means of a parable of the "King in the Field", as told by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement:

"Once each year, a very mighty king leaves his palace, his guards, his finery, and goes out in the field to meet with his subjects. Then everyone who so wishes may come out to greet the king, and the king receives everyone graciously and shows a friendly face to everyone. At that time, they do not need to wait in long lines or go through security checks. They can speak with him without hesitation. When the king returns to his palace, his subjects will once again have to go through all kinds of protocol to meet with him. So, of course, his subjects make the most of the opportunity.

"During the month of Elul, G-d is "in the field." G-d makes His countenance to shine on you, which refers to the emanation of the Thirteen Attributes. We don't need to go through all kinds of bureaucracy to reach Him. We need only come out to meet Him, as it were, with a humble heart, and He will listen to us. He will accept our repentance and consider our requests most carefully.

The king will soon be in the field. Let's make sure not to miss this opportunity."

And may we imminently merit the era when G-d will continuously be "in the field" the Messianic Era.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Story - spying on neigbours

(Today's Torah message is dedicated in appreciation of Moshe Reuven ben Bentzion Eliezer. May Hashem bless him in the most revealed and unlimited manner.)

One day, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov instructed one of his followers, "If you want to learn how to be a pious man go to the city of Odessa. There, in a narrow lane in the harbor district, there lives a certain longshoreman. Go stay with him and from him you will learn the meaning of piety."

The follower eagerly traveled to Odessa and located the man the Baal Shem Tov had described. He offered the man a modest sum in return for a few weeks' lodging, and settled in to observe the conduct of his pious host.

The visitor expected long hours of prayer each morning, followed by study by candlelight through the night..but he was disappointed. His host proved to be a simple Jew, who arose early each morning, prayed simply and quickly, and went off to work at the docks. In the evening, he would return, recite the evening prayers, eat his simple meal, and go to sleep. And so, the follower spent the better part of the week growing no wiser.

Now the dock worker's garret consisted of a single dim room, its only window, a small pane set high in the wall. One day, while his host was away at work, the restless and curious visitor climbed up onto a table to look out the window. To his dismay, he found himself looking out into a backyard where all sorts of criminal activities seemed to be going on.

When his host returned that evening, the man asked him: "Tell me, how can a Jew live in such proximity to neighbors as these? Couldn't you find a place to live that is not back to back with such an establishment?"

I've lived here for twenty years," answered the longshoreman, "and not once did it occur to me to look into strangers' yards to see what they were doing. You, on the other hand, are hardly here a few days, and you're already climbing on tables and spying on every sinner in the neighborhood."


Sunday, August 16, 2009

First Haircut - Upsherenish

Today's Torah message is dedicated to our very own Yisrolik Levin. As he is turning 3 years old today he is celebrating his first haircut.

The Torah compares man to a tree.There is a prohibition against benefiting from the fruits that grow in the first three years of a tree's life. In the fourth year, the happy farmer, takes his harvest to Jerusalem, to partake of it in an environment of holiness. Similarly, In the first three years of a child’s life, there are no edible fruits no tangible returns for a parent’s endeavors. During the fourth year however, there are harvests of holiness; the first fruits of the child’s education are seen. A child's third birthday signals a major transition in his education.

For a Jewish boy, this transition is marked with a ceremony. It is an age-old custom to allow a boy's hair to grow untouched until he's three years old. On his third Jewish birthday, friends are invited to a haircutting ceremony—an upsherin in Yiddish, called a chalakah by Sephardic Jews. The child's peyot, the distinctively Jewish side curls, are left intact; the initiation into his first mitzvah.

The child is taught to wear a kipah and tzitzit, and is slowly trained to recite blessings and the Shema. The world now begins to benefit from the Torah study and mitzvot of this young child.

The very first value we wish to teach our children is the importance of a fierce pride in their beautiful and unique heritage. We are different and unique. We are privileged to be G-d's "ambassadors of light" to a dark and difficult world. We are thankful that we are the Chosen People.

We thus tell the child, "You are yet young and have much to learn. But the first lesson we wish to teach you is that you are a Jew and must never be embarrassed to act and dress as a Jew. Your nation has the most glorious history, and an even more magnificent future awaits our people with the coming of the Moshiach. Come what may, always be a proud Jew!"

Wishing Yisrolik and his entire family many blessings and may we all be so proud of him.