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A Bisl Torah

I Am Now Taking Questions


Every year I wonder what it is that someone should learn at the Passover seder. One might suggest that participants understand the entirety Passover story. Another might think that that every symbol be explained and the Haggadah deconstructed verse by verse. These are perfectly fine answers. But I am struck by Maimonides’ “take away” of seder night. He writes, “And it is required to make changes during the night for the children to notice and they will ask, ‘How is this night different from all other nights’ until you answer them by saying, ‘This and this happened.’ What changes should…

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See No Evil


How often do we see wrongdoing and do nothing about it? Examples abound: standing idle as others gossip about a friend, embarrassingly watching a waiter or waitress belittled by a patron or witnessing some kind of abuse and shrugging one’s shoulders. These kinds of acts happen every day, and we assume something is wrong with the perpetrator. We seldom infer that something is wrong with us. The fifth chapter of Leviticus explains that if a person witnesses someone else involved in a sinful matter and the person says nothing, the witness should be punished. The Baal Shem Tov adds, “If…

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A Little Restraint


Sometimes restraint is the biggest gift one can offer another. In this week’s Torah portion, the children of Israel contribute gifts to the building of the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary in the desert. Overwhelmed with the abundance of giving, the builders let Moses know that the people should stop. That at this point, the children of Israel must practice restraint. The Alshich, a 16th century Biblical commentator elucidates, that it is just as important that when commanded, to stop doing a mitzvah as it is to do a mitzvah. That sometimes the intent of our act is overridden when performed…

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The Power of the Pause


We all lead incredibly busy lives. From appointment to appointment, errand to errand, this world exists with people racing from one moment to the next. I remember living in New York City, feeling overwhelmed by the tenor of real urban life. Everyone walked quickly, eyes turned downward, people talking on their phones or tuned out to the voices around them. When I return to California, I would look up at the blue sky and just breathe. It felt acceptable to pause. Many moments feel like New York City—moving, moving, moving, unable to experience the majesty of this exceptional world. But…

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Do You Need Recognition?


Do you need recognition? Are you being recognized for who you are and what you need? Tetzaveh, this week’s Torah portion, is the only parashah in the Torah since Moses’ birth in which his name does not appear. Commentators note the variation in the text and praise Moses in this demonstration of leadership. It is obvious that Moses is the leader of the children of Israel. Does he really need name recognition for his many deeds and actions throughout the Torah?  I value Moses’ modeling of behavior. While it is important to receive a pat on the back for decent…

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We Must Never Stop Praying


It is with deep horror and sadness that our country mourns the deaths of children and teachers in Parkland, Florida, gunned down by a disturbed and mentally ill young man. People around the globe are left with no words and feel paralyzed, wondering how and if this cycle of violence will ever end. Our houses of faith serve as reminders that while prayers alone are not enough to heal this shattered world, we must never stop praying. The brokenhearted fall into our arms and the bereaved look to God for comfort and solace. It is our responsibility to hold out…

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Women without a Name, Women without a Voice


The opening stories of Genesis and Exodus include famous Biblical women. We learn the names of Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. We meet Miriam and witness her pivotal role in our saga to freedom. However, this week the Torah makes a dramatic turn. We meet women without names, women who are defined by the journey of life, not by the journey they wish to tell. Exodus 21:22 introduces us to the woman that suffers a miscarriage. “When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible…

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Can You Really Do It All?


Gary Keller, author of the best-selling book “What’s Your One Thing?” says we shouldn’t focus on achieving more than one task at a time. Multitasking just means that we are probably not giving 100% to each task we are managing. It is hard advice for many of us. In attempting to wear several hats, how does one not multitask? Rather, he says, concentrate on one thing at a time and give that “one thing” your very all. Your undivided attention. Complete focus and care. It’s an important lesson for all of us. Yes, we may be able to answer emails…

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Winter Blues


In just a few days, we will celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the holiday that is considered the “New Year” for the trees. The 15th of Shevat was meant to separate the year in terms of agricultural cycles. Even in California, the air is crisp. It is hard to imagine celebrating the abundance of nature in a time in which the ground is frigid and little green is seen across the country. Wouldn’t it seem better to commemorate this holiday in spring, when the scenery is lush? Rashi explains that as most of the seasonal rain has come, this is the exact…

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Check Your Ego at the Door


One of my favorite lines in the Torah is offered this week. On behalf of God, Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh and implore, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” Rashi explains that the word “humble” relates in Hebrew to the word “poor”. Meaning, Pharaoh cannot conceive of being perceived as lowly or destitute before the Great Almighty. Humility and vulnerability are qualities worse than death itself. In some ways, I think many of us understand the conundrum. How much easier should it be to admit our mistakes, wrongdoing, and faults? Why is it so difficult to relent and…

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