Rabbi Jay Kelman's blog

Rosh Hashanah: Time for Change

Man has a tremendous capacity for self-deception. We easily see faults in others; somehow, we miss them in ourselves. Teshuva, repentance, can begin only when we are honest with ourselves and admit that we have made mistakes. While we often can admit to certain "minor" errors, like being late or failing to say “good morning” to somebody, we have tremendous difficulty admitting to mistakes that can only be corrected by a change of lifestyle.

Some Thoughts on This Year's Yamim Noraim

The Yamim Noraim of the year 70 must have been quite traumatic. The Temple had been destroyed less than two months earlier and thousands lay dead, with many others exiled. Never in anyone’s lifetime had there been such a disruption to the normal routine of life. Could Judaism survive, and if so, in what form? “The house of prayer for all nations” lay in ruins, and surely there was no way to observe Yom Kippur. How could there be with no goat to carry away the sins of the Jewish people nor high priest to effect atonement?

Vayelech: Naming Rights

We tend to think that the names of the weekly parshiot have little intrinsic meaning; they are just taken from the opening word or two of the parsha. Thus, breisheet, being the first word of the Bible, becomes the name for both the first book and the weekly parsha. Upon closer examination we begin to realize that it might not be quite that simple. For example, two of the parshiot in sefer Breisheet begin eleh toldot Noach and eleh toldot Yitzchak, these are the generations of Noach and Yitzchak.

Ki Tavo: Language Barriers

Those of us living in Canada are especially sensitive to the importance of language to the fabric of a country. The language that one speaks is, more often than not, indicative of cultural norms and attitudes. It is thus no surprise that on many an issue, the views of the people of Quebec differ sharply from those residing in the rest of the country. While it may seem strange to us today, the modern-day Zionist movement debated the question of which official language the nascent state would recognize.

Ki-Teze: Let's Make a Deal

"All of man's earnings are decreed on Rosh Hashanah, except for expenses regarding Shabbat and Yom Tov and expenses relating to Jewish education" (Beitzah 16a). The more we spend in the latter two areas, the more G-d will graciously grant us. Though the above is hard to prove, it reflects the fundamental notion that while we are required to work for our sustenance, ultimately it is only through the blessings of G-d that our endeavours are met with success. 

Shoftim: Words are Not Enough

"The hand of the witnesses should be against him first to put him to death, and the hand of the nation at the end" (Devarim 17:7). Giving testimony in a court of law, especially in capital cases, is an awesome responsibility. The Talmud describes the harsh tone and even accusatory statements directed at the witnesses, warning them of the dire consequences of false testimony: "You are responsible for their blood and the blood of their descendants until the end of time" (Sanhedrin 37a). 

Eiruvin 2: A Holy Home

The focus of masechet Shabbat is the definition of the parameters of the 39 prohibited melachot, creative activities prohibited on Shabbat. Of the 39 melachot, it is that of carrying that, by a large margin, takes up more Talmudic discussion than any other. There may even be more discussion on this melacha than the other 38 melachot combined. The other 38 melachot are also creative activities that must cease on Shabbat, thereby acknowledging G-d as the ultimate Creator.

Re'eh: Please Join Us

One of the most vexing issues we face today is how to deal with those who violate, wilfully or not, the precepts of the Torah. Whether our approach should be one of rejection, reaching out, turning a blind eye, or even acceptance to some extent is one that has engendered much debate, and continues to do so. Such debate may be reflected in an ancient Talmudic debate regarding our relationship with G-d. 

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