Rabbi Jay Kelman's blog

Pesachim 7: Let the Dough Rise

One of the requirements our Talmudic Sages set for the receiving of semicha, rabbinic ordination, was the ability to speak clearly (Sanhedrin 5b). We are all familiar with brilliant people who are very poor teachers, unable to clearly explain complex matters to their students. While they may make great contributions to their respective fields, they are not the ones meant to teach others. Torah is no different. It is much more important to have as a rabbi one who can explain things clearly than a greater Torah scholar whose teachings are hard to follow.

Vayezei: Making One Pray

"And G-d saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb" (Breisheet 29:31). Apparently, Leah—as was the case with Sarah, Rivka, and Rachel—was meant to have difficulty conceiving, but as "compensation" for being hated, G-d granted her easy conception.

The inability to have children when one desperately wants to can be a source of great sadness and suffering. How one reacts to such a predicament can be quite revealing. Our matriarchs present us with varied reactions to their infertility. 

An Introduction to Masechet Pesachim

The task of editing involves critical decision-making. Beyond questions of language and syntax, an editor must decide what to include and what to exclude, and how much prominence to give to any particular story. This is doubly true when editing an anthology of material from multiple sources spanning hundreds of years, the task that lay before Rebbe Yehuda Hanassi, the final editor of the Mishna.

Toldot: A Wonderful Sin!

"When Eisav heard his father’s words he let out a most loud and bitter scream" (27:34). Our Sages sensitive to even minor failings of our Biblical heroes, coupled with their keen textual analysis saw a parallel between this verse and one appearing well over a thousand years later. "And he [Mordechai] let out a loud and bitter scream" (Esther 4:1). The pain and suffering caused to Eisav by Yaakov would cause his descendants under Persian rule to bear great pain and suffering. Our actions, for better or worse, do ultimately bear consequences.

Eiruvin 100: Cats and Ants

Imagine if the Torah had not been given. While for many, such a thought is unthinkable—“for they are our life and the length of our days, and on them we will meditate day and night”—for many, actually, most Jews, such is the reality. Raised with little connection to Judaism, with little or no Jewish education, and part of the 70% of Jews who do not attend synagogue on Yom Kippur[1], the Torah, for all intents and purposes, was not given. 

Chayei Sarah: Bring Her Home

“Yitzchak then brought her [Rivka] into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rivka as his wife. Yitzchak loved her, and Yitzchak found comfort after his mother’s death” (Breisheet 24:67). Yitzchak’s marriage to Rivka brought not only brought love to his life, it also offered comfort on the passing of his mother.

VaYera: Family Ties

“Take your son, your only son, the one you love, v'lech lecha, and go for yourself to the land of Moriah” (Breisheet 22:2). So begins the command of G-d demanding the sacrifice of Yitzchak. After waiting so long to have a child with Sarah, Avraham was commanded to take his child and return him to G-d. In the face of such a command Avraham was silent—or shall we say speechless?—unable to comprehend the Divine will even as he arose early to carry it out.

For the Sake of Heaven

I often ask my high school students what they consider the most difficult mitzvah to observe. The two most common answers I receive are keeping Shabbat and keeping kosher. Considering that I teach in a communal high school where the overwhelming majority of the students are not shomer Shabbat and few are strictly kosher, this is pretty much what one would expect to hear. From the outside looking in, these mitzvot do appear most difficult—and for one not brought up keeping these mitzvot, they are.


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