Parshas Lech Lcha- Move, get on with it!

This week we read of some of the trials G-d set before Abraham.These include;-
Leaving his city and travelling to Israel at the age of 75,
leaving Israel because of famine,
Seeing his wife captured,
The war of the 4 kings against the 5 kings,
Circumcising himself at the age of 99.

If G-d knew he was going to pass the test, why did G-d bother testing him?
The answer is that going through a trial makes you stronger. People find strength when faced with adversity that is unbelievable. The skills and knowledge you attain stay with you for life. In fact, they are even passed on in your genes to the next generation. So, the trials were really for Abraham’s benefit not just to test him.

This should be how we view trials in our own life. We should see it as an opportunity to acquire skills and resolve to help us in our lives.

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Parshas Noach- A wet-suit anyone ?

This week we read of how Hashem instructed Noach to build a box or an ark to withstand the flood he was going to bring to destroy the world. He survived along with his wife, three sons and their wives. In addition two of each Non Kosher animal species and seven sets of Kosher animals were also saved. Of the seven Kosher animals, five sets were offered as an offering to Hashem after Noach’s safe exit on to dry land. Noach was in the ark for 365 days.
I think we can take a lesson from the story of the flood. In order to withstand the gushing waters of temptation that surround us, we need to retreat into our own four walls of Torah to survive. Whilst of course we need to live among the nations, we also need to have some privacy as-well.
I would like to wish all the people who are participating in ”Shabbat International” or ”Shabbat UK” the very best of luck. May you all see the sweetness that Shabbat can bring and try and dedicate yourself to it.

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Yom Kippur – The happiest day of the year.

What is Yom Kippur?

The 10th of Tishrei in the year 2449 was the day G-d finally forgave the Jews for serving the Golden Calf. G-d therefore chose this day to annually forgive the Jews from their sins as long as they repented. This means that we can break up our lives into small sections called years. If there was no Yom Kippur we would go on sinning with no natural break. Our lives would be one long block of sins. We are fortunate however, that G-d has given us the opportunity to examine our deeds and repent for our sins.

In the Neilah prayers we take this a stage further and thank G-d for giving us this day: “In order stop our treachery.” We can understand this quite simply. People get frightened when the High Holy Days approach. People might be scared about what may be written down for them for the coming year. This brings about repentance. Even if people return to their sinful ways after the High Holy Days at least they have broken the cycle and achieved something. A good example of this can be found when health inspectors come visiting butchers. During the time they are there, everyone is on their best behavior. All the laws and rules are strictly adhered to. The inspector goes away thinking that these high standards are adhered to all year around. This is the gift G-d has given the Jews. Even though G-d knows everything at all times He only judges us by our behavior over the High Holy Day period. Therefore, if we are good during the High Holy Day period we can still achieve forgiveness and be inscribed for a good year. This can be seen by the verse in Genesis (chapter 21 verse 17) where G-d saved Yishmael because, “He was good now (i.e. merited saving)”, even though he and his descendants would go on to cause problems for the Jewish people further down the line. Even if it takes until the very end of Yom Kippur for people to repent as it says in Ezekiel (chapter 18 verse 23)
“G-d does not desire the death of the wicked; rather they repent and are saved.” We can hopefully take the inspiration from this clean slate we have been given to improve ourselves for the entire year. This is the reason why the High Holy Day period comes at the beginning of the year so we may start as we mean to continue.

There is another aspect to Yom Kippur. The Mishna in Taanit (4:8) says Yom Kippur is the happiest day in the Jewish calendar. Note, it does not say the evening after Yom Kippur when we have received atonement for our sins, rather Yom Kippur day itself. This is because Hashem’s ‘Shechina’ [lit. G-d’s presence- explanation of which is beyond the scope of my knowledge] descends to earth, and G-d is closer to us than he is on any other day of the year. We spend our whole day in complete service of him. It is a day where we have no earthly pursuits at all. We don’t eat or drink, wash, anoint ourselves or indulge in sexual relations. We can use every second of the waking day in service of Hashem. It is a day when we are comparable to the angels which is why males wear the kittel (white robe). G-d bestows tremendous mercy and good feeling on the Jews. It is a day where we can pray for anything we wish for and hope to get answers (further terms and conditions may apply!) We should all feel elated and happy on this day that we are able to get close to G-d. If we have the mindset that we want to feel the spiritual happiness of the day and crave G-d’s gifts then hopefully G-d will allow us a small snippet of that happiness. (If that doesn’t work, just pretend!)

In Ethics of the Fathers (chapter 4 Mishnah 22) it says ‘one minute of doing teshuva (repentance) in this world is better than all the bliss and happiness of the next world’. On Yom Kippur we have over 700 minutes (approx. 12 hours of davening time) of doing teshuva. Imagine how great that must feel. It also goes to show how great ‘teshuva’ is to be better than all the bliss of the next world!!!!!

What is ‘Teshuvah’?

Teshuvah (repentance) is made up of three parts: -

1) Acknowledge that a particular action was sinful.

2) Regret the sinful action and wish one had never done it.

3) Resolve that if one remained on this current lofty level achieved on Yom Kippur, you will not repeat this sin.

Our Rabbis tell us that when a person passes away all his actions and thoughts will be viewed by G-d and the heavenly angels. The embarrassment caused is how our rabbis explain the idea of ‘the fire of hell’. However, if one does proper teshuvah then those sinful actions will be erased from the video and no embarrassment will be caused. This should hopefully prompt us to make use of this wonderful gift that G-d has given us, and truthfully repent from our sins. Our Rabbis explain that the reason we repent 10 times over Yom Kippur is that hopefully one of those times will be sincere. In temple times the focal point of Yom Kippur was the service of the High Priest in the temple where he entered the Holy of Holies four times. As the temple no longer exists we recount the service word for word in the chazzan’s repetition of Mussaf. One should therefore make sure one is versed and alert when it comes to reading this in the synagogue.

The 5 special services on Yom Kippur

Kol Nidrei

This famous declaration of annulment of our vows is the way our rabbis chose to begin the Yom Kippur service. It is a way of showing how regret can make things better. After the Maariv davening we start Selichot. This is a series of prayers begging G-d for forgiveness. We also chant some wonderful, inspiring songs in which we declare our total inability to achieve anything without G-d’s help.

Shacharit

The theme of shacharit is G-d’s power in the world and his sovereignty. The extra prayers focus on the angelic praises of G-d.

Reading of the Law

The leining in the morning comes from where G-d tells Moses how and what service to perform on Yom Kippur in the temple. The Haftorah comes from Isiah who is telling the people that fasting is pointless if we continue in our evil ways, oppressing the poor and not generally caring about one another. We also read this in the Haforah for Shabbat Shuva ‘Tear your hearts not your clothes and return unto Hashem.’ (Joel chapter 2 verse 13)

Mussaf

In temple times the focal point of Yom Kippur was the service of the High Priest in the temple where he entered the Holy of Holies four times. As the temple no longer exists we recount the service word for word in the chazzan’s repetition of Mussaf. One should therefore make sure one is versed and alert when it comes to reading this in the synagogue.

Mincha

We read the chapter of forbidden relationships in order to warn people when they are all sitting together of the most severe sins. This also serves as a reminder that even though we are spiritually uplifted on Yom Kippur, we must guard against such sins. We also read the book of Yonah which shows the power of repentance where the whole city of Nineveh was saved.

Neilah

THIS IS THE HOLIEST TIME OF THE WHOLE HIGH HOLY DAY SEASON. Our rabbis tell us that G-d forgives the Jews approximately 15 minutes before the end of Yom Kippur. This corresponds to the time when the ‘He Goat’ containing all the Jews’ sins was pushed down the mountain in the temple times. (Please see further explanations of the ‘Yom Kippur Avodah’). After forgiveness has been issued one has a few minutes to pray for all one’s needs, which is why ‘Aveinu Malkeinu’ is recited even on Shabbos (we omit it at Kol nidrie and Shacharit ). We also declare our belief in G-d and his sovereignty in a holy, sin -free state. This has such a powerful effect in the lofty spheres. The time during Neilah is the most merciful time of the year. Both G-d and the Jews are emotional at the prospect of losing the close bond for another year. G-d also wants to bestow leaving presents to his dearest children. Even if one has been in a state of religious slumber and has not heeded any of the calls of the High Holy Days one can achieve forgiveness during Neilah.
A good example of this is the European soccer Cup Final of 1999 between Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Entering injury time Bayern Munich were joyously celebrating their victory. Despite the impending doom United reinvigorated themselves and in a mere 99 seconds had snatched victory from the tonsils of defeat. This is how we can view Yom Kippur Neilah. Hope is never lost. Nothing is signed and sealed until the fat man blows the shofar!

At the end of the Bible Moses tells the Jews of the forthcoming exiles that the Jews will endure. The exile will only end when the Jews make one final repentance. Let us hope that we can motivate ourselves, cast off the shackles of materialism and yearn for G- d’s salvation by doing a proper teshuvah. We wouldn’t want to be the ones that stopped the salvation from happening this year, would we!!

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I am still available to lead your Rosh Hashanah services

I am still available and waiting to be snapped up for Rosh Hashanah. I don’t mind who snaps me up as long as it isn’t a crocodile while i’m doing Tashlich in the Everglades!!!

contact
zevisaunders@gmail.com

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Nitzavim Vayelech -Let’s live!

This week is the last Shaboss of the year so we finish with a bang with two Sedras. We read Nitzavim and Vayelech but don’t worry they have a combined total of 70 Verses. Look out for the verses from Selichot which we will be starting on Sunday.

The beginning of Nitzavim marks the start of Moshe’s last day on earth. He makes the most of it by cramming a lot in. He wrote 12 Torah scrolls, and gave the Jews and Yehosha a final departing pep talk.
He told them that they should always stay true to Hashem and the Torah and then they will be ok. He then predicts that they will stray from the correct path and suffer the consequences. A brief look at Jewish history confirms the validity of Moshe’s final lecture.
We have the final 2 Mitzvot of the Torah this week. They are,
To come every 7 years on Succot to hear a reading from the King of the fifth book of the Torah,
and to write Torah scrolls for themselves.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy, healthy, fulfilling and spiritually uplifting new year. We should aim to add a few minutes a week on to our Torah study and go that extra mile to help others around us. If that is too much,please pass my weekly Sedra blog onto 5 other people!!!!!!

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parshas ki Savo- watch out.

In this weeks Sedra Moses instructs the people of Israel: When you enter the land that G?d is giving to you as your eternal heritage, and you settle it and cultivate it, bring the first-ripened fruits (bikkurim) of your orchard to the Holy Temple, and declare your gratitude for all that G?d has done for you.

Our Sedra also includes the laws of the tithes given to the Levites and to the poor, and detailed instructions on how to proclaim the blessings and the curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival— as discussed in the beginning of the Sedra of Reeh. Moses reminds the people that they are G?d’s chosen people, and that they, in turn, have chosen to serve G?d. We should feel privileged and happy to be Hashem’s Chosen people.

The latter part of Ki Tavo consists of the Tochachah (“Rebuke”). After listing the blessings with which G?d will reward the people when they follow the laws of the Torah, Moses gives a long, harsh account of the bad things—illness, famine, poverty and exile—that shall befall them if they abandon G?d’s commandments.
Unfortunately these curses have come true during the course of Jewish history.

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Parshas Shoftim- Don’t embarrass me!!!!

This week we learn about the importance of appointing judges. We are warned against accepting bribes. We read of the Mitzvoh to appoint a King and limit his wives, money and horses. This is to stop him from getting to haughty and carried away with his own hype.

We also see the importance of peace and not cutting off our enemies food supply.

We also entered the month of Elul. We are on the verge of Rosh Hashanah. Elul is a time of Teshuvah. We should all take this time to look into ourselves and ask for forgiveness for our sins and resolve to improve on our faults.

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Parshas Re’eh – Finally we can eat!!!!

This week Sedra contains many interesting things. We are told that the sacrifices must be offered in the temple. We are told the laws of the three pilgrimage festivals, the kosher and non-kosher animals, and the mitzvah of giving to charity.

The Hebrew word, ”v’somachta”, and you shall rejoice, is mentioned 7 times in the Sedra.
These are
1. “And you shall rejoice while eating your sacrifices.” (12:7)
2. “And you shall rejoice with your family and the Levites” (12:12)
3. The same idea is expressed in verse 18
4. “You shall take your tithes to the temple and eat and enjoy them.” (14:26)
5. “You shall invite the poor and rejoice on the festival of Shavuot.” (16:11)
6. We are commanded to rejoice on the festival of Succot. (16:14)
7. And finally in verse 15 we are told to be utterly happy on the festival of Succot.

Question:

Why are we told to be happy so many times? Why is this mentioned especially when discussing eating?

Answer:
The Torah is trying to impress upon us that Hashem wants us to be happy. We must completely crush the wide-spread myth that Judaism is a sad oppressive religion. We should feel privileged to be Jewish and proud to keep the mitzvot. Happiness is the glue that holds all our mitzvot together. A mitzvah done with happiness is worth so much more than a mitzah done with a sad, long face. We can see this very clearly in our own lives. If we ask a loved one to do something for us and they do it with a long face, we get upset that we’ve troubled them. On the other hand, if they do it enthusiastically then it makes us happy too.
In the first paragraph of Mesilat Yesharim (Path of The Just), a famous Jewish book written by R’ Moshe Chaim Lussatto, asks: “What is the task of every person in this world? In what should he occupy himself?…To rejoice over G-d and to benefit from his closeness.” Here we can see we are meant to enjoy this world.
The Torah, whilst listing the curses that will befall the Jewish people if they slip from their duties, explains that the real reason for the curses is: “Because you did not serve Hashem with HAPPINESS and A GOOD HEART” (27:44). We don’t need it spelled out any clearer than that.
This is a very important lesson as we enter the Jewish month of Elul, the last month before Rosh Hashanah. We are less than a month away from the High Holidays. It is a serious time; a time for thought and reflection. This is the time we should endeavor to add more happiness and alacrity to our Torah observance.

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Parshas Ekev- Don’t be ungrateful

At the beginning of this week’s Sedra we are told of the great rewards for keeping all the mitzvoth, especially the minor ones that appear insignificant. The Sedra then digresses to warn against complacency. (ch 8 v 14)

Question
Why when warning against complacency does the Torah tell us of G-d’s miracles?
In verse 15 we are told that Hashem led us through the great and awesome desert with snakes and scorpions and no water- and yet we still survived.

Answer
It would appear from here that the worst part of sinning is being ungrateful. Hashem has performed so many miracles for us how could we even think about disobeying him. We are repaying His immense kindness with evil.

We should all take this message on board and try and be more grateful to Hashem for what he has done for us. We should constantly thank Him verbally for all that he has done for us.
People spend far too much time praying for more things without taking stock of what Hashem has already given us. In our day to day lives and relationships we are looking for appreciation for what we do. We feed off it. The more appreciated we feel the more likely we are to continue doing whatever it is we are doing.
The same is true for Hashem. The more we appreciate and thank Him for what He has given us, the more likely He is to give us more things in the future.

The problem is we are born with an inherent quality of ungratefulness. The Talmud (Avoda zarroh 5a) states that Adam was ungrateful when he blamed his wife for giving him to eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge.
If we all manage to work on this trait, then we will all see a change in our relationships. Whether it is with our spouses or parents, children of just our friends, the more grateful and thankful we are for what people do for us, the more our relationships will improve.

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Parshas Voeschanan – no make believe here, you all saw me

This week’s Sedra contains lots on interesting things. It contains;
The repetition of the 10 statements (commandments),
The first paragraph of the Shema,
And the leining from Tisha B’Av morning.
We also make mention numerous times of the fact that Hashem loves us.

How do we fulfill the mitzvah to love Hashem as expression in the Shema? (ch 6 vs 5)
Surely love is an emotion; we can’t force anyone to love something.

The Hebrew word for love is ‘AHAVAH’. In Hebrew all words are made up from routes of other words thus giving each word an intrinsic meaning. The route of the word AHAVA is ‘HAV’ which means ‘giving’. Therefore, the more one gives, the more love one feels towards it. A good example of this is a marriage. The more a husband and wife do for each other the more love they will feel towards each other.
The more a mother does for a child the more she will love that child. In fact we can say that about anything in life. The more effort one invests in a project the more one loves it and feels attached to it.
So in affect, when we are told to love Hashem we are really being told to work for him and keep all his commandments. The barometer of whether we love Hashem is the performance of every mitzvah. We cannot pick and choose which ones we want to keep or which ones are ‘convenient’. By keeping all the Mitzvot even when they are difficult is a sign that we are in love with Hashem.

We can develop this idea further. In the same way as when two people are in love they are prepared to overlook each other’s faults and shortcomings so to of our relationship with Hashem. If we truly try and love him then he will overlook our mistakes and shortcomings.

I heard in a Shiur from the late R’Chaim Kauffman of Gateshead that everyone is born with a love for Hashem. It is instilled in every Jewish Heart. The problem is that the more one sins the more covered over that love becomes. So the commandment to love Hashem is telling us to remove the cover of all our sins and get back to the original love we were born with. That’s why after Yom Kippur when people are cleansed from their sins we feel closer to Hashem and have more love for Him.

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