Friday, December 19, 2014

Text message Miketz

Parashat Miketz (At the end of two years)

Pharaoh dreams two dreams. Easy to interpret, but none of his magicians were right in the interpretation.
Then comes Joseph, who has the correct interpretation. Pharaoh says: That is the right one.
How did Pharaoh know that was "the one"?
One nice explanation is that when Pharaoh dreamed, together with the dream he got the explanation of the dream. When he woke up he only remembered the dreams but not the explanations.
Joseph's explanation coincided with the explanation Pharaoh already knew but forgot.
Sometimes reminders are as good as new explanations.
We need to be thankful with those who teach us and to those who refresh our memory, too.
In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Text message Vayeshev

Parashat Vayeshev (and he sat down)

Jacob gives Joseph a wonderful garment, a Ktenonet pasim.
Many interpretations were given to that word. A tunic with stripes, a tunic with long sleeves, a colorful tunic.
Was this what Joseph needed?
Jacob's family was a family of cowboys. They had cattle; therefore, the tunic was not really appropriate to working in the field. And, in fact, Joseph ends up dreaming about stalks of grain and not about cattle.
Jacob's intention was, probably, to "help" Joseph to become the firstborn without suffering as he did.
Sometimes we have to understand that what we want is not what our kids need...

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, December 5, 2014

Vayishlach Text message

Parahsat Vayishlach (and Jacob sent)
The Torah speaks about a character who will only appear in this section and will not appear again.
Dvorah was the wet-nurse of Rivkah.
The Torah tells us that she died and was buried in a place called Alon Bachut, the oak of weeping. That is all the information we have.
Why do you think the Torah is telling us this?
Great question, because most of the commentators do not have a good answer.
Dvorah was important when Rivkah was a little girl and Rivkah didn’t forget. Imagine what a wet nurse could have done in those days after she got old? Probably nothing.
The verse that speaks about Dvorah teaches us we never have to forget those who helped us in our life.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, November 28, 2014

Vayetze Text Message

Parashat Vayetze (And Jacob left)

Jacob leaves Beer Sheva in order to go to Haran. He sleeps on the ground, and Hashem speaks to him and says: " I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying."
A simple reading of the text will mean that Jacob and his descendants will receive the land of Israel.
I strongly believe there is a deeper message. Jacob will be receiving 6 square feet of land like everybody else. We will all receive the same piece of "land."
The difference is what we can accomplish in life so those who come after us will be able to remember the person who rests in that piece of land.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, November 21, 2014

Text message Parashat Toldot

Parashat Toldot (Generations)

"And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father. For the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham. And he called their names after the names by which his father had called them."
Many people will read this verse and interpret that Isaac only repeated what others did. His only virtue is to do again what Abraham did. No creativity, just repetitiveness.
I see that verse in a completely different way. Only through Isaac can we learn about Abraham digging many wells (in plural); otherwise, there is no mention in the Torah about that.  If Isaac didn't dig the same wells, we would have completely missed that story.
Learning through you what others did has double merit, educating and honoring others as well.
In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chayei Sarah Text message

Parashat Chayei Sarah (the lives of Sarah)

How old was Rebecca when she married Isaac?
If you ask a yeshiva student, the answer immediately will be 3 (three!!!) years old.
If you ask a Talmud scholar, the answer will be 14 (fourteen!!!) years old.
If you ask me, the answer will be... I have no idea...
The Torah does not tell us how old she was, but the Torah tells us about her strength, diligence, respect, and sense of help.
Even further... The Torah (in a very delicate way) tells that in some aspects she is better than Isaac. 
Genesis 24:63-64 "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide. And he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and she saw Isaac."
Same distance... he sees camels; she sees people...
It is not about age, gender, profession or social class... It is about our virtues and how we can help others.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, November 7, 2014

Text message Vayera

Parashat Vayera (Hashem appeared)

Among the commentators of the Torah, there were many arguments. Each of them had their point of view and their interpretations were influenced by many different circumstances.
One of the most known discrepancies between Rambam (Maimonides) and Ramban (Nachmanides) takes place in this parasha.
"And he (Abraham) lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him."
Were they men or angels? Maimonides denies that Avraham could possibly have seen angels, since, according to the Rambam, angels, who are immaterial, cannot be seen. He states that the entire story was a prophetic vision of Abraham's, but not an actual event in the real world.
Nachmanides said, on the contrary, it is possible to see and talk with angels.
If we follow Rambam's opinion, we may offend Ramban, and vice versa!!!
So what do we do? Were they angels, or just people?
If we start treating people like angels... We may get the answer.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, October 31, 2014

Lech Lecha Text message

Parashat Lech lecha (Go for yourself)

Abraham was skeptical. He didn't know how he was going to become a big nation as G-d promised.
G-d answers:  "Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them so shall thy seed be."
Whenever I think of a picture or a drawing of Abraham, I have that image, Abraham looking up at the stars.
And, to be honest, I think there is a deeper message in that image. Whenever you are skeptical, whenever you do not have answers, look up.
Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: From whence shall my help come?
My help comes from Hashem, Who made heaven and earth.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, October 24, 2014

Parashat Noach Text message

Parashat Noach

This section starts with the words "Ele Toldot Noach".  Geneis 6:9 "These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations..."
The beginning of the verse sounds familiar to us... Later in Genesis, in parashat Toldot (descendants), we find: "Ve ele Toldot Itzchak"(25:15)  "And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac."
These are the descendants of Noach and these are the descendants of Isaac...
So, why isn't it the section we find later called Isaac instead of Toldot? If the first one was called Noach, the second one should follow the same criteria and be called Isaac, right?
The descendants of Noach that matter are Noach himself... The descendants of Isaac that matter are all of us.
When we work not just for today but for the future, when we think of the future generations and not just of us, we are giving a clear message and great example to others.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Yizkor. In memory of my mother Z"L

In memory of my mother Z"L
I'd like to start this time of Yizkor sharing with you a very short explanation about a custom. In our traditions there are two opinions about Yizkor. The most common opinion is that we do not say Yizkor for a relative or a friend before the first year of the death. A minority will say Yizkor before the first yahrtzeit. In this case I am going to follow the majority and I will not be saying Yizkor for my mother this year.
That doesn't put off my desire to share with you some words about her in this special moment.
My mother was a great person. I do not have enough words to thank her for all she gave us, so let me share with you a type of ritual we had every Friday afternoon. She called or we called her and we wished each other Shabbat Shalom. We of course talked a lot during the week on the phone but before Shabbes it was that phone call that made the difference.
My mother had the stroke that ended her life on a Saturday night so the last time we talked was on Friday before Shabbat.
Unfortunately this were my last words to her: "Mom I am in a rush, sorry, Shabbat Shalom. I send you a kiss."
Sometimes we rush too much. We often live in a rush.
Among all the things my mother taught me, I believe there is one I appreciate the most. She taught me how to caress.
She spent long times caressing us.
She did it softly, gently, without any rush. We put our heads on her lap and she caressed our heads with love, with pure love.
Yizkor is the caress we can give to our souls on this holy day.
Yizkor is the time we can bring back to life the love we received and continue to give love.
Dear friends,
Please take the time to say Yizkor for those we love. Please do not rush.
Take your time to touch the souls of those who are no longer with us so you can continue caressing those who are by our side today.

Kol Nidre. U (you) turn

U (you) turn
I am going to start my sermon with a joke. I am telling you this because: I want you to know it is joke so please be gentle and laugh at the end.
This is the story of a person who enters in his house and all of the sudden finds a cat on his couch.
He is not very cat-friendly so he grabs the cat and very gently opens the door and places the cat outside.
When he closes the door, he goes to the restroom to wash his hands. To his surprise, when he is out the bathroom, the cat is sitting again on the couch.
He grabs the cat again, goes across the street to a park and leaves the cat there. When he returns home, the cat is sitting on the couch.
Now instead of grabbing the cat, he grabs the phone and calls a good friend for advice.
The friend tells him to put the cat in the car and dive the cat two miles away. After that the cat will get lost. He drives the cat in his car three miles away, just in case... Of course when he returns home, the cat is sitting on the couch...
It's getting dark, and he starts to get nervous, so he calls his friend and asks for more advice.
The friends tells him. Put the cat in your trunk. Drive 25 miles north, When you arrive at the bridge cross the bridge and turn right. Drive 500 yards and make a U turn. Then drive 5.2 miles and turn left. After you turn left, drive 3 more miles, cross the railroad tracks and turn right. There, there is a lake, go around the lake and go up the hill. Once you are on top of the hill, there is a group of trees. There you can leave the cat.
The man follows his friend's instruction and leaves the cat. When he is back home, the phone rings, it is his friend. The friend asks: so, how did it go? Did you get rid of the cat?
Are you kidding me? If it weren't for the cat, I would have had no idea how to get back home...
Of course the joke made sense 20 years ago. Things have changed since then.
In some ways we are worse nowadays. For example I just saw a sign in a nearby Church that read:
"20 years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs. Please don't let Kevin Bacon die"
On another hand we are doing much better. For example we have GPS. It is easier to return home with a GPS. And it is more difficult to get lost, too.
Man’s definition of a GPS is that it is a Global Positioning System, but I believe that today, the most sacred day of the year, we can change it for God Positioning Spirit.
This sacred night we get together at 920 Franklin Road to pay attention once again to the first dialogue between G-d and man in the Torah. That first dialogue between G-d and man starts with a question: Aieka. Where are you?
That is the first question the GPS will try to figure out: where are you?
And then the second question is: where do you want to go?
For a GPS to do you any good you have to be on the move, going somewhere. After all, why would I want to know what my position is if all I’m doing is sitting on my backside in a rocking chair? Something has to be programmed into the GPS or it just sits there and has little use. All of the information that it can give, and all of the directions that are stored there to help you along the journey, don’t do one bit of good until a journey is begun.
So let's begin the journey together.
This journey we will do it together so nobody is offended, we are all included and you do not have to feel it is just you who got lost and made mistakes.
Early childhood or elementary school. Some of us were not very careful of the way we treated our classmates, and we bullied. We called names, we grouped together leaving others out, we tattle taled. Well... maybe all kids make mistakes...
Let's see about the teenage years. Some of us were rebels, or responded badly to our parents and even worse we ignored their advice. We started arguing with them even about our clothing.
Then came High school. Some of us got drunk for first time, some of us tried our first cigars or started to smoke. Some of us misused our hormones, some of us abused them and then abused our own bodies. Some of us started to use inappropriate words and some of us were violent.
And then college. Some of us found it funny and cool to have a tattoo or to smoke a joint or use other drugs. Pills, Marihuana... Some of us lost so many beer ping pong games that we cannot remember who beat us. Some of us didn't take advantage of the possibility of being educated, and we partied too much.
Then we got married and with the marriage we acquired a new family. The family in law. Some of us didn't want to even talk to them or to respect them. Some of us forgot to call our parents home frequently enough. We forgot our home still was our home.
And then some of us became parents. Some struggled to get pregnant and suffered when we heard others were pregnant. Some got pregnant without wanting it. Some loved the babies they carried some hated them.
Some of us put too much pressure on our kids, some let them be completely free.
Some of us overprotected our kids.
And then some of us got divorced. Some of us cheated our soul mates. Some of us still cheat them.
As we grew older some of us dedicated more time to our jobs than to our families.
Some of us lost our parents and discovered we didn't say enough times I love you mom, I love you dad.
What was really important was a good car, or a nice trip or great cigars or the last cell phone model. Family not that much.
Then some of us retired and discovered we were empty without our jobs because that is all we did in our lives. Some others retired and discovered a new career and regretted they didn't do it before...
Some of us got sick and blamed everybody else. Some of us got sick and thought everyone else should be taking care of his or her sickness.
Some of us forgot the best prize we get in life is family, friends and love.
In every moment of our lives, in every corner, in every mile stone, we knew there was and there is a GPS. Every once in a while we missed a turn, but God’s GPS kept talking, kept re-routing our course, to get us back on track.
We always had in the back of our minds the presence of G-d. G-d was always willing to help us return.
On Yom Kippur the most important thing we need to learn is that G-d permits U Turns. And that is what Teshuvah is. Teshuvah is a U turn, in which a person who has been living the wrong way decides to turn around, and live differently in the new year.
Look back and see how many U turns we made.
Look back and see how we have been able to change.
Even this year we made several U turns.
When we decided to support Israel instead of being tempted to listen to the hostile media, we made a U turn.
When we decided that kosher in our life is important and supported a kosher truck to Roanoke, VA, we made a U turn.
When we decided to say sorry and forgive, we made a U turn.
When we decided that c'omforting the mourners is important and gave up one hour of our job to attend a miniyan we made a U turn.
When we decided to teach our kids that attending to Hebrew School is more important than swimming lessons, we made a U turn.
Even if we made a wrong turn, even if we made twenty wrong turns, the GPS will recalculate and bring us to our destination.
God permits U turns: These holy days are an opportunity for all of us to look at our lives, and to decide if this is really the way we want to live and if not, these are the days that enable us to change, and to resolve to live a different way in the new year.
Yom Kippur and its rituals give us the opportunity to make U turns.
Among all the rituals that took place when the Temple was built there is one that always fascinated me.
This ritual represented the apogee in the human effort to come close to G d—an event that brought together the holiest day of the year, the holiest human being on earth, and the holiest place in the universe: on Yom Kippur the kohen gadol (high priest) would enter the innermost chamber of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies, to offer ketoret to G d. To offer the holy incense to G-d.
The offering of the ketoret was the most prestigious and sacred of the services in the Holy Temple. The ketoret was a special blend of herbs and balms whose precise ingredients and manner of preparation were commanded by G d to Moses. The formula had to be precise. Twice a day, ketoret was burned on the golden altar that stood in the Temple. On Yom Kippur, in addition to the regular ketoret offerings, the kohen gadol would enter the Holy of Holies with a pan of smoldering coals in his right hand, and a ladle filled with ketoret in his left; there, he would scoop the ketoret into his hands, place it over the coals, wait for the chamber to fill with the fragrant smoke of the burning incense, and swiftly back out of the room. That moment marked the climax of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple.
Interestingly, one of the spices, the chelbonah, galbanum, had a foul aroma. Apparently it smelled really bad...
Our sages derived from this that when the community gathers to pray, the sinners must be included in their communal prayer. Just as the chelbonah was included together with the other spices, so, too, should those, whose spiritual aroma is lacking, be included in the greater community. Everyone -- the righteous as well as those who are not yet righteous - all have a share in serving the Almighty.
I'd like to suggest another reason of why the Chelbonah, that smelled horribly should be included. Maybe because the chelbonah represents those moments when we were lost. The moments when we lost our way. The times in life when we knew we needed a U turn. The moments in life when things didn't smell very good.
Our lives would not be complete without those moments that made us grow. Our achievements would not make sense without our failures. Our journey would not be completed without getting lost here and there.
Dear friends,
Today the GPS is recalculating.
If you know where you are, if you know where you are going the GPS, Gods positioning spirit will show you the way.
In this holy day, we need to know U turns are permitted.
May we all be sealed in the book of life.

Rosh Hashanah Selfie

I can hear the whispers beginning already: “The Rabbi has flipped!” “Why’s he taking a selfie with a cell phone?” “Hey, it’s Rosh Hashanah, get serious up there. Don’t take this lightly. Sock it to us. Turn on the guilt. Make us feel shame. Chide us for not showing up often enough during the year. Mention something about indiscretions. Tell us about how to raise children. Rock us about relationships. Rebuke us for showing up only during High holidays. Talk about prayer and ritual – turn up the heat. Plead for money. Hey, Rabbi, get into the spirit of the day; get with the program!” C'mon rabbi get with the program!!!
Well... this is part of the program.
You know me well enough and I am sure you know this is a toy and not a real phone. You know I would never take a picture on a Holiday...
But this little toy gave me the possibility to talk about something many of you have done or seen last year... no, no, no... I am not talking about cheating...
I am talking about the word of the year...
This past year the word of the year was... correct... SELFIE.
I bet many of you took one or posted one or commented one in Facebook right?
I bet many of you saw the most retweeted picture during the Oscars ceremony, with Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Strep, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Angelina, Kevin Spacey and more.
That is a selfie... a picture you take mainly of yourself, and it may include others or not...
I strongly believe the selfie represents more than a picture. It represents our culture. It represents what we have done with our tradition and why not so with our lives.
But before I continue with the selfies let me get to the phones. Without phones there are no selfies. That is where I should have started, with the phones. Oh my Lord phones...
How different are our phones right now...
Remember when we remembered by heart phone numbers? How many do you remember by heart today? 3, 4, 10 numbers? I still remember 4 or 5 elementary school friends' phone numbers. Things have changed...
No one is certain who invented the telephone. Although the U.S. p'atent belongs to the Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell, many believe he stole it away from an American inventor named Elisha Gray. Others maintain that an Italian named Manzetti or a Frenchman named Bourseul or a German named Reis or another Italian named Meucci deserves credit.
What few dispute is that all these men, working in the mid-nineteenth century, explored the idea of transmitting vocal vibrations from one place to another. But the very first telephone conversation, between Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson, standing in separate rooms, contained these words: Come here. I want to see you.
In the uncountable human phone conversations since then, that concept has never been far from our lips. Come here. I want to see you. Impatient lovers. Long-distance friends. Grandparents talking to grandchildren. The telephone voice is but a seduction, a bread crumb to an appetite. Come here. I want to see you.
We came back today, to this place, at this specific time because we heard that voice, we heard the call: Come here. I want to see you.
That is the call that every Jewish person should be hearing not just today but every day: Come here. I want to see you.
And I guess I do not need to tell you the answer we should hear, because it is the most famous word we read in torah during these days...
The answer is Hineni, here I am!!!!
That was our Patriarchs answer, that was their answer, hineni. When Hashem talks to Moses, his first answer is Hineni, here I am.
That should be our answer as Jews. We Jews answer, Hineni
Do you know what is the meaning of the word Jew?
The biblical word for a Jew, Yehudi, means “one who is grateful.” It comes from the biblical story of the birth of Jacob’s fourth son. His mother calls him Yehudah, saying “for this, I will thank G-d.”
Here is where everything starts. When Hashem tells us Come here. I want to see you.
Our answer is here I am and I am grateful to you Hashem. I am a good Jew so I am here to thank you.
Woody Allen once said: “90% of life is just showing up.”
When was the last time we “showed up” to thank to Hashem?
When was the last time we were grateful?
I can share with you an episode from last year in our congregation.
Unfortunately there was a death of a Jewish person who had no family, no friends, nobody. He lived in Rocky Mount and left everything organized to have a Jewish burial. He only needed a miniyan, which he could not arrange in advance. So many of you showed up to honor a person you didn't know. We had a moving ceremony.
I imagine many of you came also to thank Hashem for what you do have, family, friends, love, companion, a congregation.
That day I felt we answered hineni when we heard Come here. I want to see you.
But I still want to ask: When was the last time we answered hineni when we heard Come here. I want to see you.
If it is becoming difficult to answer this question I think I know the reason...
Lately you've been taking too many selfies...
Only a couple of people fit in a selfie... but mostly you.
On the other hand our tradition needs you, but mostly all those who are with you. It is not recommended to live your Judaism in solitude, we need company. We need to be with other people who are looking for the same sense of community you have. And the place to find it is here at Beth Israel.
In a selfie, you do it by yourself. You do not need extra help.
In our tradition the first thing you need is help. It was not good for Adam to be alone, he needed help, ezer kenegdo. Moses asked G-d for help to lead the people. Abraham asked his servant to help him get a bride for Isaac. Jacob called out to Hashem for help. We all need help and we all know the place where you always find helpers is here at Beth Israel.
In a selfie you need to pose, you need to presume and you need to look good. Our tradition accepts you as you are. No special faces, no special clothing, no need to pose.
In a selfie, in order to enjoy it you share your result with others. In our tradition all the gain is yours. The more Torah you study the bigger your benefit. The more you grow spiritually, the better person you become.
So why did we decide to make our tradition into a selfie?
Why did we forget that the center of Jewish life is the Synagogue and not just one person?
Another story from last year moved me a lot. I made some phone calls and letters to invite teenagers to come and celebrate the anniversary of their bar mitzvah. One teenager not only decided to come but also called friends and invited them to come. That teenager didn't want to transform the anniversary into a selfie.
So let me continue asking questions.
Who said it is not cool anymore to meet at the Synagogue?
When was the moment we changed our priorities?
When was the moment we decided that from now on we will focus on me, me, and me and not on others?
When was that particular moment we started to take selfies and become selfish?
When we answer Hineni to the voice that says: Come here I want to see you, we need to do it not for our benefit but for the benefit of the Jewish people. I do not answer hineni for me, but for you.
When we answer hineni we are not selfish any more.
This reminds me of another story. This is about an episode in a mental health institution. The patients were very bored of the routine. Every day the same schedule, same habits, they were really bored. One of them said to the others: hey guys why don't we go out and play some soccer?
Great idea they answered, but one of them said: we do not have a ball?
Let's go out and let's imagine we have a ball. Everybody was happy. They went outside made two teams and started to play soccer with an imaginary ball. They score goals, kicked the ball hit it with their heads. Another patient heard some of his roommates were having fun so he went outside and asked them if he could join them.
They stopped the game and told him: you know the teams are already formed we are even, 11 against 11. We cannot let you play.
This guy became very upset bent over and made a movement like he was grabbing something and then told his friends: Ok, not a problem, if I cannot play so I am taking the ball with me.
The story is funny. And we may think being selfish may be funny too.
Well... let me tell you that the fun ends when you hear that in April 2014, a man who was diagnosed with a mental disorder recounted spending ten hours a day attempting to take the "right" selfie. He attempted suicide after failing to produce what he perceived to be the perfect selfie.
Dear friends,
The perfect selfie happens when we all fit in the picture.
The perfect selfie happens when we take these days for reflection, for Teshuva, for change.
The perfect selfie happens when we take advantage of every inch of our tradition and we live it in community.
The perfect selfie happens when we stop being selfish and we start thinking of others.
The perfect selfie happens when we pay more attention to the sound and vibrations of the shofar than to the sound and vibrations of our cell phones.
The perfect selfie happens when decide again to take group pictures and not selfies.
In this new year that is starting, may we will take the best pictures ever.
Pictures of good health, thankfulness and happiness.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Haazinu- Shana Tova Text Message

Parashat Haazinu (Listen)            
The year ends and a new one starts.
The first section on the year is a song. What a deep message of our tradition. No matter how the last year was, we need to continue singing.
Calling heaven and earth as witnesses, Moses exhorts the people, “Remember the days of old / Consider the years of many generations / Ask your father, and he will recount it to you / Your elders, and they will tell you"
How nice it was when we were able to sing together...
There are some who still remember how nice it was... This year remember to ask them about it.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, September 19, 2014

Parashiot Nitzavim-Vayelech Text Message

We read a very interesting verse in the first portion this week.

Deuteronomy 29:14-15:  "It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant,  but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our G-d, and with whoever is not here with us today".
One of the most important, if not the most important, differences between Judaism and other monotheistic religions is that G-d's revelation happened to an entire nation, not just to one person.
There is a beautiful story about a Hippie in the 60's who was walking in Central Park. He met a Hassidic person and he smiled at the Hasid and greeted him with a Shalom. The Chasid answered: Shalom, do we know each other? The Hippie smiled and said: I guess so. The Chasid smiled back and said: Oh yes, we know each other from Sinai... It was very crowded there but now I think I remember you.

The covenant with the Jewish people happened in Sinai and we all were there.    
In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ki tavo text message

Parashat Ki Tavo (When you enter in the land)            

This week we read the famous paragraph that was chosen by our sages to be included in the Hagada to describe the history of the people of Israel.
"My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people..."
We suffered in Egypt like in nowhere else and what was our answer to suffering?
"Then we cried out to the LORD, the G-d of our ancestors, and the LORD heard our voice..."
When we try to solve a spiritual problem with a material solution we fail...
But when we realize where the solution to the problems are, we can overcome even the worst slavery...
In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ki tetze text message

Parashat Ki Tetze (When you go out)

This section of the Torah has several rules. Towards the end of the Parasha, we find the following statement:
You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have.
I remember as a kid going with my parents to the convenience store to buy groceries. I always admired and watched the person who sliced at the deli. He always knew exactly how many slices it took for each half pound of every different meat. He was a master.
I asked my dad: How does he know with that precision? How is he so exact? I remember my dad's answer: That is his job...
Our job this time of the year is to put things on a scale, be honest with ourselves, and do a Cheshvon hanefesh, a real balance of our actions, a balance of our spirits. Mistakes can be big or small. Our job is to be fair.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak

Friday, August 29, 2014

Text message Shoftim

Parashat Shoftim (Judges)

The Torah tells us: You shall not move your boundary which marked the early ones.
Clearly the torah is warning us from stealing property, any kind of property, including intellectual ones.
The main reason for this verse is to keep people refrained from abusing power and the tribes and families conserving their lands.
But I'd like to read it in a different way, too. You shall not cross the barrier that your ancestors established. In our lives, there are many barriers that should not be crossed in order to respect and honor those who came before us.
Each person, each family has their own rules, limits and systems. Preserving them is a way to honor those who are no longer able to change them anymore.
In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak

Friday, August 22, 2014

Parashat Ree

Parashat Re'eh (see)

It is in front of you, says Moses. You can choose. You have the possibility to choose between a blessing and a curse.
Most of us most of the time will choose the blessing. But what happens when things do not work out the way we want?
What happens when the outcome is not what we expected ? Or when there is a tragedy?
It is difficult to see the blessing in the darkness.
When you lose someone you love, our tradition teaches that we must say Hashem has given and Hashem has taken, praised be the name of Hashem.
We need to see the blessing in our loss, too. It is difficult but not impossible.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, July 25, 2014

Text Message Parashat Masei

Parashat Masei                

This parasha starts with 42 names of cities, villages or small places where the Israelites stopped during their journey in the desert.
Many of these names are "hapaxlegomenon" words that appear in the Bible just once. We know nothing about them, not even where they are located, but for sure those places were meaningful stations for the Israelites.
I spent the last couple of days listening to the IDF radio. Every time there is a siren anywhere in Israel, they stop the show and call the name of the places that are under threat.
To be honest, I have no idea where many of the places are, even though I lived in Israel. But they are as meaningful as those names in the Torah.

May we see the day when there will be peace even in the places we have no idea exist.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Matot Text message

Parashat Matot (heads of the tribes)

The Israelites are about to cross the Jordan River. 2.5 tribes ask Moses: Do you mind if we stay here? It may not be the promised land, but it is good for our cattle.
Moses has two answers: 1) Your brothers and sisters will be in war and you will sit comfortable here? 2) Your actions may motivate the rest of the people not to want to enter the land of Israel too!!!
Moses' first answer made me think of my family in Israel, myself and the famous phrase: "Any similarity with reality is pure coincidence"...

Moses' second answer made me think of how much impact our actions may affect others.  Very much.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Parashat Pinchas

In this section we find a most peculiar verse (Bamidbar 26:46): “And Asher’s daughter’s name was Serah.” Among the list of all the names that are listed, we find this lady.
One story about her when she was young tells us that when Moses looked for Joseph's bones to bring them back to Israel, she was the only one who remembered where they were buried.
Another story tells us she lived a long life and even advised King David.
Whether these stories are true or not, we can learn a lesson from them.
No matter how much the memory of our grandparents will last, their advice is always beneficial and wise.

Think of your grandparents and you will see I am right this time...  :) 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Text Message Chukat

Parashat Chukat (The laws of the red heifer)

It was said of Reb Simcha Bunem that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket.
On one he wrote: Bishvili nivra ha-olam—“for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote: V’anokhi afar v’efer”—“I am but dust and ashes.”
In this parasha we meet with a weird ritual. If someone was impure, he would have to become pure after being sprinkled with a formula based on the ashes of the red heifer together with cedar wood, hyssop, and a crimson worm.
Why these animals? Why such a formula?
The "magic" formula that helped a person to return to "normal life" included the biggest animal available (red heifer), the smallest one (worm), the biggest tree (cedar), and the smallest vegetable (hyssop).
The formula combined the biggest and the smallest types of life in nature.
Life is a combination of great and tiny moments.

In the happiest ones, we need to look at the paper that says “I am but dust and ashes." In the difficult ones, we need to take a look at the paper that says “for my sake the world was created.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cover your head...

There is a simple act that most of the Jews do when they enter a synagogue, they wear a kippah, or a yarmulke.

Were does the word yarmulke come from?
What is a yarmulke?
What is the minimal size of a yarmulke?
Why don’t we say a blessing when we cover our heads?
These are questions that a non-Jewish visitor may ask when he or she,  enters a synagogue, for the first time.  And these are questions that we should be able to answer.

Yarmulke is a Jewish word derived from the Aramaic term, ‘yareh malka’, that means “awe of the king.”  The word “kippah” is usually translated to mean “a cover” but Aramaic like many other languages can change meaning when it is translated. For example in Spanish “kippah” is translated as “solideo” which means that only G-d is above us.
The Talmud (Kidushin 31A) states that that Rabbi Hunah the son of Rabbi Yehoshua never walked 4 cubits (approximately 7 feet) with his head uncovered. The reason he gave is that “The divine presence is always resting over my head.” In reverence of the Divine presence and to acknowledge G-D’s presence we wear a yarmulke and the yarmulke is a constant reminder of G-D’s presence.

There is also a reference in Tractate Shabbat (156B): “cover your head in order that fear of heaven be upon you”. Yet another reference to Kippot in Tractate Berachot states that the blessing that we say in the morning prayers “he who crowns Israel with splendor” refers to the Yarmulke. 

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 2:6) states as a ruling that one may not walk 4 cubits without a head covering.
The reason we don’t say a blessing when we put on a yarmulke it is that it is not a commandment to wear a yarmulke, it’s just a common custom. Yet even though this is a custom many Jews accept it as a rule and wear a yarmula at all times.

The minimum size of the kippah is approximately 2.5 inches because according to Jewish law the kippah should be seen from every side of the head.

Rabbi Isaac Klein states in his book Guide to Jewish Religious Practice that a Conservative Jew should cover his head when in the synagogue, at prayer or sacred study, when engaging in a ritual act, and when eating.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Parashat Korach Text Message

How easy it is to criticize leaders when they stumble.
How easy it is to say "I know he or she was not capable" after they fail.
Moses was in a weak position. We read how the mission of the spies failed and, as a result, the people of Israel will not enter into their land.
Now he is questioned? Why didn't Korach question Moses during the 10 plagues? Why didn't Korach question him when they crossed the sea or when they received the Torah?
Korach was not only rebelling  against Moses; he was taking advantage of his situation. That was probably his biggest mistake.
We need to remember that leaders have a responsibility, and they deserve to be trusted but also respected.
Respecting the leaders for what they did, honoring their accomplishments, acknowledging  their performance.

So when they fail, we do not forget all the good they did for us.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, June 13, 2014

Parashat Schlach Text Message

Parashat Schlach Lecha (Send messengers)

The logo of the ministry of Tourism of Israel is two people carrying a pole with grapes. The logo is based on this parasha story.
Moses sends spies to the land of Israel and he asks them to bring fruits from the land.
What did they do? They brought the branches and the fruits. Not just the fruits as Moses asked but something else.
And we all know that 10 out of 12 spies spoke poorly of the land of Israel and the people were punished to wander 40 years in the desert.
The spies were too ambitious. They took more than they had to. That was a big mistake.
When you are on a trip (especially on vacation), you cannot take back everything. Just the fruits. Trying to take more than that (living on vacation mode all year round) can be very harmful.
We need to learn to take the fruits and not all that we want. And we also need to remember that life is like a trip... We cannot take everything with us... 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Text message Beaalotcha

Parashat Beaalotcha (When you kindle the lamps)                          

My daughter Catalina likes to ask questions. She sometimes gets surprised and upset when I answer: " I don't know."
How is that possible, she asks; you are a rabbi...
My answer is:  You know what? Even Moses, the greatest rabbi, didn't know everything and he asked G-d several times.
This parasha deals with the first of ten times Moses asked G-d for an answer.
A group of people were impure and could not eat the Passover sacrifice. Moses didn't know what to do with them. He consulted G-d, and Pesach sheni (a "second Passover") was instituted.

Sometimes the greatest wisdom is not knowing everything. More important is to know when to say "I do not know" and recognizing the source of all knowledge.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Parashat Nasso (Count)

This is the longest parasha of the whole Torah. A great part of its length is due to the repetition of the offerings and gifts of the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel at the dedication of the Mishkan.
It includes among its topics the rules for the Nazir, the Nazarite.
The most famous Nazarite in our history is Samson. We will read his story in this Shabbat Haftorah.
Growing up, we all have the impression that Samson's strength comes from his hair. In fact, we see in the Book of Judges that when Delilah cuts his hair, he loses his strength.
With time we grow and we discover that it was not "just" his hair; it was his belief in G-d that gave him strength.
We may think our abilities, our families, our wealth, our knowledge are the source of our strength and success...
Sooner or later, we will discover the real source of it.

As the Psalmist says in Psalm 121: "I will lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Animal planet

Careful reading of the Torah is important to avoid making big mistakes. One of these mistakes is the belief that Adam named all the animals in one day.

Many people say he couldn’t name every animal in the world in just one day. They are right!!! Because the Torah doesn’t say Adam named all the animals. It says he named three groups — the ‘livestock’ (Hebrew behemah), the ‘birds of the air’ (Hebrew oph hashamayim) and all the ‘beasts of the field’ (Hebrew chayyat hassadeh).  Adam could have accomplished this task for the following reasons:

Because Adam did not have to go out and round up or track any of these animals. Genesis 2:19 clearly states that G-d brought the animals to Adam.
There is no sign that Adam named the fishes, or any other marine organisms, nor any of the insects, beetles or arachnids. In fact, of the two million known species, 98% are invertebrates, which include a variety of animals, from sponges, worms and jellyfish to mollusks and insects. The remaining 2% are vertebrates and number approximately 40,000 species. This number is further reduced when the 25,000 marine vertebrates and 4,000 amphibians are discounted, since they clearly do not fit into any of the categories of animals listed in Genesis 2:20.
(See this interesting article
From these reasons we can learn that Adam could have named the animals the Torah mentions in one day.  What is also clear is that Adam did not name all the animals.  I would like to reinforce this idea.

There’s a popular belief about a very particular animal.  When people from the West explored a new land, they were amazed to see a unique animal with incredibly huge feet and a long tail.   The animal moved everywhere by jumping only. The explorers asked the native people what they called this kind of animal.

The native people replied with the words Kan Ghu Ru (“I don’t understand” in the native language) meaning that they did not understand what the Western people said.  Instead, the Westerners thought those words were the name of the animal and starting calling it Kan Ghu Ru. The name was slightly distorted to Kangaroo shortly afterward.   This is another proof that Adam could not have named “all” the animals.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Text message Bamidvar

Parashat Bamidvar (In the desert)

This parasha opens the book of Numbers. In fact, the word "numbers" refers to the censuses that take place in this book and not to the literal translation of the word Bamidvar.
Hashem commands Moses to count the people of Israel and then the Torah  describes the position of each tribe in the camp.  
The 12 tribes were divided into four: N, S, W and E. Every tribe had a flag.
What is the purpose of the flag? Why should the tribes have a flag in the camp?
The most logical explanation is if anybody wanted to return to his or her own tribe, they would look up, see the flag, get oriented, and then return.

This may teach us two things: 1) the importance of having a sense of belonging. We always need to remember the flag we defend, the nation we belong to; 2) We always need to know that when we are lost, the only way to return is looking up. When we look up, not just to the flag but to our G-d in heaven, we will find our way back.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Text Message parashat Bechukotai

Parashar Bechukotai (If you follow my rules)      

The parasha deals with the rewards and punishments that may come upon us if we follow or do not follow the rules.
It is interesting to note that the Torah dedicates only 10 verses to the blessings and more than 30 to the curses.
Not fair, right?
I think the message is hidden in the Torah. If we take a close look, we will see that the blessings start with the letter א (Aleph) and end with the letter ת (Tav).
The curses start with the letter ו (Vav) and end with the letter ה (Hei).
The way we should conduct our lives is hidden in these letters.
The blessings should take over everything in our lives. (From א (Aleph) ת(Tav), the whole Aleph-Bet.)
And if we have curses, they need to be minimized and reversed. [From ו (Vav) to ה (Hei), there is only one difference and in reverse order.]
What matters is not how small or big the curses and blessings are but how we are going to relate to them.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Sneezing is something that happens to every human being and also some animals. A mysterious and fascinating thing happens when we sneeze; we close our eyes.  Nobody can sneeze without closing the eyes. But even more interesting is that if someone hears us sneeze, he or she automatically will say, “Bless you.” Many people have become accustomed to saying “bless you” or “gesundheit” when someone sneezes.  In Hebrew the term we use is “libriut” לבריאות (good health).

The custom of wishing someone well after they sneeze probably originated thousands of years ago. There was a custom among the Romans to say, “Jupiter preserve you” or “Salve” after sneezing, meaning “good health to you.” The common belief is that the phrase “God bless you” is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 CE), and began literally as a blessing. Sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the bubonic plague. Therefore, the blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.

But, of course, the Jewish people can claim we did it first…

In the Torah we read: “Then the LORD G-d formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:6).

The Midrash explains:
From the day the Heavens and Earth were created, no person became ill. Instead, if he (or she) was on the road or in the marketplace, he would sneeze and his soul would exit from his nostrils, until Jacob our forefather came and requested mercy on the matter, and he said before Hashem, “Master of the Universe, do not take my soul from me until I can bless my sons and the members of my household”, and Hashem granted it to Jacob. — (Adapted Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer chapter 52)

We can also learn from the Talmud:
Until Jacob there was no illness, so Jacob prayed and illness came into existence (Sanhedrin 107b).

We learn that until the days of Jacob, there was no sickness in the world. If somebody sneezed, he or she would die immediately. Then Jacob asked G-d for mercy, but the people were still afraid of sneezing. Therefore, when somebody sneezed, the people who heard it wished that person to be in good health.

There’s nothing better than a Jewish grandmother to teach traditions. Among the Jewish grandmothers, it was customary to say the following: After the first sneeze, say “tzu gezunt” (good health); after the second time, “Tzum leben” (to life), and after the third, “tzu lange yoren” (to long years).

So here’s my advice: If there are more than three sneezes in a row… go see the doctor!!!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Text message Parashat Behar

Parashat Behar (at the mountain)           

Today I want to share with you a personal story. It is the story of my grandfather, Israel Isaac Z"L.
He was a Jewish cowboy. He owned land and cattle and rode a horse until he was 80 years old.
I would like to say he was the most generous person I ever knew. He tried to help everybody.
He heard someone had a problem, he was there. Someone needed help, he was there to help.
I am sure that if he wanted, he could have been a millionaire. He was not interested in being one, because I guess ultimately he knew everything he had didn't belong to him.
This parasha tells us that ultimately we are not the owners of our possessions (in this case, the land).
They belong to G-d and we have the opportunity to do good things with them.
When my grandpa got sick in 1994, he gave me a Siddur that I use every day to pray.

Every time I open that prayer book, I try to become more generous and more thankful to Hashem for what I have.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Yasher Koach

The most common way to congratulate somebody after a simcha (a happy moment) in that person’s life is Mazal tov. A Bar/Bat mitzvah, the birth of a child or grand child, a wedding or any other special moment deserves the good wishes of Mazal tov.
Sometimes we even joke and say Mazal tov when something breaks in the kitchen (a plate or a cup, etc.), perhaps because the noise evokes the sound of a groom breaking the glass under the chuppah (the wedding canopy).
There are events in our lives that are more frequent and (maybe) less relevant than a birth or a marriage like leading a service, saying a D’var Torah or receiving an aliyah. We have two different options to congratulate those who have had these kinds of honors: The Ashkenazi custom is to say: Yasher Koach (יישר כוח) that means literally “may your strength be firm.” The answer to this blessing should be Baruch Tiyihe (ברוך תהיה), may you be blessed. The Sephardic custom is to say Chazak u Baruch (חזק וברוך) that means literally “strong and blessed.” The answer to this blessing is Chazak vEmatz (חזק ואמץ), strong and courageous.
The first mention of this form of congratulation is in the Talmud. It is written that when Moses broke the tablets G-d agreed with him and said: Yasher Koach that you broke them" (Shabbat 87a).
It is not very clear the path that this phrase went through until it became the most used form of congratulation after receiving an aliyah. Probably in ancient times, when few people had their own books, the Torah had to be read while it was standing upright and the text had to be visible to the congregation. People approached the center of the synagogue surrounding the reader. The reader, therefore, had to physically sustain the scroll by taking hold of its posts. Yasher koach became an encouragement to the reader, "May you have strength not to cause the Torah to fall.”
It is very interesting to relate the current usage of the phrase to the original Yasher koach. Today’s usage of this phrase is paradoxically a reversal of the actual usage as G-d reassured Moses by saying: You have done the right thing in showing the strength and bravery to hurl the Torah before a people that has proven itself unworthy of it.

Did you know that? Now you know something more about our tradition, Yasher Koach!!!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Parashat Emor Text Message

Parashat Emor (You shall tell)

In this parasha, we find the commandment of counting the Omer. Between Pesach and Shavuot, we count the days that keep us away from Egypt and closer to Mount Sinai.
It is interesting to see that the commandment says, "Usfartem lachem" (You shall count for you).
This expression reminds us of two more commandments that use the word "lachem" (for you).
1) Ulekachtem lachem. You shall take for you (the four spieces of Sukkot)
2) Hachodesh haze lachem (counting the months)
I do not see that this is a simple coincidence. Most of the things we do every day, we do for others.
I think the Torah is telling us it is great to do for others, but you also have to have a time for you.
Sometimes there are very little, very few moments for ourselves; therefore, we need to count them, enjoy them and, of course, we will see the fruits, the results of these special moments.

If we nurture our souls with those moments for us, we will be more successful in doing for others.