Rabbi Zevi Saunders

Bringing Torah to Everyday Life

Parshas Lech lecha – Get Out!

This week we learn about the various trials and tribulations of Avrohom Avinu (Abraham). He was told, By Hashem, to leave his father’s house and go to a land that would be pointed out to him at a later time.
This turned out to be Israel which G-d promised to his descendants. As soon as he arrived there was a famine of epic proportions. He moved to Egypt where his wife was captured and nearly violated by the King. G-d punished him with boils so he released her.
Lot was captured during the war of the 4 kings and 5 kings and was rescued by Avrohom.
We read about the birth of Yishmael, the father of the Arabs. We read about the impending slavery of the Jews in Egypt and the birth of Yitzchock.
At the end of the sedra G-d commands Avrohom to circumcise himself and his children. This he does at the age of 99. Yishmael was 13 at his circumcision.
When Sarah saw she didn’t have any children, she offered her maidservant as a wife to her husband. She became pregnant straight away. When Sarah found out she was pregnant, she acted horribly towards her and she fled.
Why did Sarah act horribly to Hagar when she became pregnant?

According to the Ramban (nachmonidies) this was a sin. He goes on to say that because of this sin G-d made Yishmael into a strong powerful nation.
So, if Sarah the matriarch made a mistake by making someone else’s life unbearable and got punished, how much more so us. We should take a lesson from here not to upset people, tease them or cause people pain. No matter what the circumstances are.
We can also see this from the story at the beginning of the book of Samuel where Peninah had children and Channah had none. Peninah teased Channa in order to make her pray harder. In the end Peninah lost all but two of her children and Chanah went on to have 5 children.
If we all treated people equally with respect hopefully we will merit seeing the coming of Moshiach.
In this week sedra Hashem promises Avrohom he will have lots of descendants. The first time he compares them to the dust and the second time he compares them to the stars. The analogy to dust could also be as follows;-
Just like people walk on dust so people will walk all over your children, but when we are compared to the stars that could be the idea that we will shine through the darkness.

The Yom Kippur Avoda

The main focal point of Yom Kippur was the ‘avodah’ (service) performed by the Cohain Gadol in the temple. The order of service is detailed in Leviticus chapter 16 which we read on Yom Kippur morning. As we don’t have the temple nowadays we read about it instead. This is in place of offering the sacrifices as it says in Hosea (chapter 12 verse 3) ‘And we shall make up for the sacrifices with our lips’. Therefore, it is important, to understand what is being said. The ‘Avodah begins with the poem AMITZ COAH’ (standard edition Artscroll machzor page 554)
The avodah comprised;
1 bull,
2 he goats,
2 rams,
44 sprinklings of blood (16 on the ark, 16 on the curtain of the Holy of Holies and 12 on the golden Altar),
4 changes of clothes from gold to white and vice versa,
4 entries into the Holy of Holies,
And 10 utterances of the Holy Name of G-d.
After the normal daily sacrifices were offered, the Cohain Gadol changed into his special golden clothes and started the ‘AVODAH’.
He approached the bull, which was standing between the Altar and the temple, and confessed his own personal sins and that of his family (‘vchach’ middle of Artscroll p 560). He would use the Holy name of G-d 3 times during the confession. Those who heard the Holy name would prostrate themselves and say ‘baruch sheim (‘Vhacohanim’ bottom of page 560). We should also prostrate ourselves when we read this paragraph.

Next, He would then stride over to the two he- goats which were located in the eastern side of the courtyard. He drew lots to see which would be offered and which would be pushed down the mountain later on. He would say out loud using the Holy name, which one had been drawn ‘lahashem’ (lit for Hashem) and which one would be for ‘Laazazel’ (the name of the cliff it would be pushed off). (Top of page 562)
Thereupon he crossed over to his bull and confessed the malodorous sins of his tribe, the Levites. He once again uttered the Holy name 3 times in his confession. (bottom of page 562) He then slaughtered the bull (p.565) and caught the blood in a vessel to be used later for sprinkling.
The Cohain Gadol changed back into his white clothes and entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim (Holy of Holies) with a spoonful of Ketoret (incense) in his left hand and a pan of hot coals in his right. He placed the pan on the floor between the poles in front the Aron Hakodesh (Ark of the Covenant). Then, in a rehearsed feat, he transferred the Ketoret from the spoon into his two hands.
This is how it was done:
The Cohain Gadol placed the handle of the spoon under his right arm, bent over, and spilt the contents into his cupped hands. Next, he poured the incense from his hands onto the coals. The smoke from the pan rose straight up to the ceiling. If the smoke filled the entire Kodesh Hakodoshim then the Cohain Gadol knew that Hashem has forgiven the sins of The Jewish People.
The Cohain Gadol then left the Kodesh Hakodoshim slowly, walking backwards. As he entered the Kodesh area he stopped to daven (pray) for a year of plentiful food for all the Jewish People.
He then took the blood of the bull and sprinkled it in front of the ark 8 times, once pointed upwards and another 7 times pointed down. (‘vchach’ p.564)
He then slaughtered the He- goat which won the lottery for ‘Hashem’ and sprinkled its blood in front of the ark 8 times like that of the bull. (foot of page 564)
Subsequently he sprinkled the blood of the bull and the he- goat 8 times on the curtain that separated the Kodesh Hakadoshim (Holy of Holies) from the rest of the temple. He then mixed the bloods together and sprinkled 8 times on the golden Altar and on each of its 4 corners.
Now for all our sins-
The Cohain Gadol returned to the other he -goat and confessed all the sins of the Jewish people (p566). One should have proper concentration when reading this bit as it has powers in the worlds above to atone for our sins. One should have in mind when saying the confession along with the chazzan that he is in fact confessing his own personal sins.
The he goats were then sent to a far away desert and pushed down a steep rocky cliff. The Kabbalistic Rabbis (not Madonna’s ones) explain that this was a gift to Satan. Hashem allows us to do this so he can leave us alone for a bit whilst he is enjoying his gift. Moreover, Satan even comes to praise the Jews for this wonderful present. Little does he know it contains all our sins! This allows Hashem to enjoy a few minutes of peace with us before the end of Yom Kippur. This is when He utters the word ‘SOLACHTI’ (I HAVE FORGIVEN THEM).
The he –goat would arrive at its destination and be pushed down the cliff shortly before the end of Yom Kippur. If the ‘avodah’ was successful then a red string placed above the door of the temple changed to white, showing Hashem forgave the Jews.
After this the Cohain Gadol returned to the Kodesh Hakadoshim (Holy of Holies) and removed the incense. He changed back to his gold clothes and offered up the two rams as an ‘OLAH’ (‘burnt offerings’) and read from the law.
In the Temple times there were no Synagogues as such. Therefore, the ‘Avodah’ together with private confession is all that took place on Yom Kippur. It is only following the destruction of our Holy Temple that the Rabbis saw fit to introduce formal prayer in Synagogues. Let us hope that in the merit of understanding the Avodah we will merit to actually see it next year for real in Jerusalem. AMEN!!!!!!!!

Yom Kippur by Rabbi A.Z. Saunders

What is Yom Kippur?

The 10th of Tishrei in the year 2448 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, i.e. rioting.

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.


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)


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.


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.


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 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?

Please check out my explanation of the Yom Kipour Avoda under the ‘publications’ drop down list.

A pre Rosh Hashannah thought, the last of 5775.

This coming Sunday night is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is the beginning of the 10 days of repentance. The books of life and death are open and G-d judges each and every person and decides their fate for the coming year. It is common in this period for Jews to take on extra customs and stringency’s for these 10 days. In fact, the halacha says one should be stringent and only eat bread baked by Jewish person in these 10 days despite the fact one is not obligated to be careful about this during the rest of the year.

The obvious question arises. How can God be formed in tricked by your behavior during these 10 days? Surely he knows we’re going to go back to our old ways so what is the point of it all?
I will answer with a story that happened to me a number of years ago. I was working in the slaughterhouse for the Manchester Beth din around this time. I happened to be at the very end of the line cutting off the place on the neck where the shechita was performed with a pair of secateurs. I was told to make sure to leave a little bit of the neck because people like them for their soup. After a couple of hours of bubbly rowdy noise, deathly silence broke out. The line went slower and it took longer for the chickens to come round to me. I then noticed a very official looking man standing on the line checking the chickens as they were going through. I said to the person next to me who is that man? The response was he is the inspector. I thought to myself we have been rowdy and quick for a number of hours and once he leaves will continue to be rowdy and quick so how can he judge the health and safety aspect of the plant in just a few minutes? Then it hit me. This is what G-d does for us in these 10 days. He allows us to be judged on our behavior in these days. In the same way the inspector writes his report based on what he has seen in the few minutes he’s been there, G-d writes our reports for the coming year based on our behavior in these 10 days.
We should feel honored, blessed and lucky that G-d chooses to do things this way. Let us heed this lesson and try and repent for our sins and change our sinful ways at least for this period of days. Ideally one should continue his good behavior and eradication of his sinful ways for eternity. May I take this opportunity to wish everybody a happy healthy successful New Year and implore forgiveness from people I have wronged, upset or ignored in the course of this past year.
Please check out my various publications about the High Holidays under my ‘publications’ drop down list.

Parhas KI Savo – Take heed of my warnings

This week’s parsha discusses bringing the First Fruits (bikkurim) to the Holy Temple. However, in doing so we learn an important lesson about being thankful and showing gratitude.

What is the connection between the David De Gea transfer collapse and Elul?

For those of you who don’t follow European soccer, I will enlighten you.
In soccer there is a 2 month window of opportunity for teams to transfer players between themselves.
There was one such Player, David De Gea, who happens to play for the team I follow (Manchester United) who wanted to move to another club in Spain (Real Madrid). He had one year left on his contract and there were rumours and reports in the newspapers that bids and deals were done throughout the two months that the window was open. The team he plays for did not want him to go for less in a certain amount of money and the team who want to purchase him wanted to pay a lower price. There was a lot of posturing and gamesmanship going on. This past Monday was the final time to conclude sales and transfers between clubs. The deadline was 11 o’clock British summertime. What transpired was that on the last day was Real Madrid put in a bid for him. This bid was accepted and finally the clubs agreed to the transfer. However significant amount of paperwork has to be filled in and various websites have to be updated in order for a transfer to be completed. It soon became clear that this transfer has not been completed in time. Both clubs are blaming each other and producing evidence to back their side but basically it seems that the transfer details were handed in 28 seconds past the deadline. The transfer was cancelled both parties are upset and annoyed and the player presumably is distraught.

As I was watching the drama unfold I thought to myself what a wonderful lesson this is for the time of year that we find ourselves in. We have a whole year to do to Teshuva and repent for our sins. This intensifies during the month of Elul and through the 10 days of repentance. People relax and think I have time I don’t need to do it now they don’t really think about their lives and how they should change. When Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, arrives, people suddenly wake up in the middle of the day and realise they make need to make a deal with Hashem. They try and repent and change their ways. However, at the end of the Neilah Service when the shofar is sounded the gates are closed. It is too late you’ve missed it. We need to make sure we get everything done on time.. We should all take heed of this message and take to heart the need to repent early that when the repentance window closes, our names are on the list. May I wish all my readers’ friends and indeed everybody a happy healthy blessed 5776


This weeks Parsha contains 74 commandments, 27 positive and 47 negative. These include the commandments not to lend with interest; sexual impropriety; the divorce process; allowing workers to eat on the job and the commandment to remember what Amalek did to us. We are also told not to reject converts from the land of Egypt even though they were horrible to us and threw our babies into the river. Our Rabbis explain that we still have to be grateful to them for their hospitality. We should all take a lesson from here to always see the good in people and situations.


Parshas Shoftim contains 41 commandments, 14 positive and 27 negative commandments. Shoftim opens up with the commandment to appoint judges in every city and establish an honest and fair court system. Other commandments include the prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery; laws governing the appointment and behavior of a king; and guidelines for the creation of “cities of refuge” for the inadvertent murderer. Also set forth are many of the rules of war: the exemption from battle for one who has just built a home, planted a vineyard, married, or is just plainly “afraid and soft-hearted”; the requirement to offer terms of peace before attacking a city; and the prohibition against wanton destruction of something of value, exemplified by the law that forbids to cut down a fruit tree when laying siege.

As we are less than 4 weeks away from Rosh Hashanah our thoughts should be turning towards repentance and improving ourselves. For more information about these concepts please view my publications on these matters under the ‘ publications’ drop down list on then home page.


This week Sedra contains many interesting things. We are told about sacrifices and that they must be offered in the temple. We are told of the laws of the 3 foot festivals, the Kosher and non kosher animals and the mitzvoh of charity.
The word ‘Vsomachta’ and you should rejoice, is mentioned 7 times in the Sedra. These are;-
1- And you should rejoice while eating your sacrifices (ch 12 v 7),
2- And you should rejoice with your family and the levies verse 12,
3- The same idea is expressed in verse 18,
4- You should take your tithes to the temple and eat and enjoy them (ch 14 v 26,
5– You should invite the poor and rejoice on the festival of Shavuot (ch 16 v11),
6- We are commanded to rejoice on the festival of Succot (v 14),
7- And finally in v 15 we are told to be utterly happy on the festival of Succot.

Why do we have so many mentions to be happy especially when it comes to eating?.

The Torah is trying to impress upon us that Hashem want us to be happy. We need to comprehensively crush the common 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 mitzvoth together. A mitzvoh done in happiness is worth so much more than a mitzoh 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) which is a famous Jewish book written by R Moshe Chaim Lussatto an Italian born Rabbi, he poses the following question;-
What is the task of every person in this world? In what should he occupy himself?
He answers the following- ‘To rejoice over G-d and to benefit from his closeness’.
So 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 (ch 27 v 44)
‘Because you did not serve Hashem with HAPPINESS and A GOOD HEART’ we don’t need it spelled out any clearer than that.

Also in the Haftorah (Issiah 55 V 2) the prophet Issiah is telling the Jews
‘Listen to me, eat what is good and let your souls delight in abundance’
It is clear from here that Hashem wants us to enjoy life and rejoice in doing the Mitzvot.

This is a very important lesson as we enter the Jewish month of Ellul. We are a month away from the high holidays. It is serious time, a time for thought and reflection. So this is the time we should endeavor to add more happiness and alacrity to our Torah observance.

Parshas Ekev – Be greateful

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. It then digresses to warn against complacency.

Moshe Rabeinu then relates the story of the sin of making the ‘Egel’ golden calf.
He describes how he had to beseech Hashem not to destroy the Jewish people.
The Sedra finishes like it started with the promise of good rewards if we keep the Torah.

Why when warning against complacency does the Torah tell us of G-d’s miracles? (ch 8 v 14)
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.

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 good 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 or children of 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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