Rabbi Jay Kelman's blog

Emor: Religious Secularism

Two of the most dangerous threats to society are religious fanaticism and rampant secularism. The dangers of the former have received more attention in recent years, as people literally fear for their physical safety. Furthermore, violently extremist positions that claim to be divinely based are a desecration of the name of G-d and affect all practitioners of religious faith. When people are convinced G-d is on their side even as they engage in the most heinous of activities, there is little one can do to dissuade them from evil.

Metzora: Home Sweet Home

The home plays a critical—if not the critical—role in the development of Jewish life. The efforts of schools, shuls, camps, Israel trips, and the like are unlikely to have major lasting impact if the messages of Jewish living are not reinforced at home. Passover, the holiday that laid the foundation for Jewish nationhood, is thus centred around the home. It is interesting to note that chapter twelve in Exodus, which describes the lead-up to the Exodus and our formation as a people, contains the word bayit (home) no less than twelve times.

Pesach: Where Is Hallel?

It is the holiday of Pesach that celebrates our becoming a nation and is the cornerstone of Judaism. Remembering the Exodus provides the backdrop to so many of our mitzvoth, whether it is Shabbat or Yom Tov, tefillin, mezuzah, kindness to strangers, or our sexual ethics. On Pesach, we focus on the meaning of freedom; but the mitzvah to remember the Exodus, zechirat yetziat mitzraim, is one that must be fulfilled each and every day, if by nothing more than mentioning it in our davening.

Korach: Honour the Enemy

The name Korach is synonymous with Machloket shelo leshem shamoyim, arguments that are not for the sake of heaven. As we read how Korach and his rebel rousers were killed by G-d, exactly as Moshe had predicted, no doubt many feel gleeful as those "who gathered together against G-d" (16:11) receive their due. Yet Judaism demands a much more nuanced approach. True, we must eradicate evil; but we must never confuse evil with evildoers. All people are created in the image of G-d, and all are deserving of respect; there are no exceptions.

Yom Ha'atzmaut: Redemption and Return

Rav Soloveitchik was asked why our generation was the one to merit witnessing the creation of the State of Israel. After all, there were so many generations much more pious than ours, so much more worthy than us. The Rav answered, simply, that our generation needed it. Previous generations were able to flourish in their Judaism even without the benefit of a state. But after the horrors of the Holocaust, Jewish life simply could not continue, physically or spiritually, without a homeland.

Terumah: The Moving Ark

Just as the Shabbat is the pinnacle of physical creation, the Mishkan is the pinnacle of spiritual creation. The Exodus and the revelation at Sinai find their ultimate expression in the Mishkan, which completes the redemptive process. It is for this reason, the Ramban explains, that the command to build the Mishkan is included in sefer Shemot. While Shabbat serves to remind us that G-d is the ultimate Creator, the Mishkan symbolizes G-d's continuing presence amongst us.

Mikketz: Joseph's Pain

That one has a natural love for one's place of birth is a truism long recognized by our Talmudic sages. Emigration is never an easy prospect, even for those who do so willingly. How much more difficult and traumatic is a forced exile? We are all aware of the great difficulties many Jews fleeing anti-Semitism had in integrating into their new-found countries. How much more difficult and painful is it for those forced to leave at the hands of their brethren?

VaYishlach: Changing Names

Names play a significant role in Jewish thought. A cursory glance at the names given to the twelve tribes signifies the importance of each name. Noach, Moshe, and Yitzchak had their names chosen to commemorate events surrounding their births. And of course, the Torah records many instances where a name was changed, signifying a change in the status of the person. Of our three patriarchs, Abraham and Yaakov both had their names changed by G-d. Only Yitzchak remained Yitzchak his entire life.

VaYetze: Why Leave Home?

It is quite evident that Yitzchak and Rivka had differences of opinion regarding the difficult task of raising their twin boys. Their contradictory assessments of Eisav and Yaakov continued to the end of their days. Rivka sensed that Eisav would not, could not, be rehabilitated from his nefarious ways, whereas Yitzchak never gave up hope that Eisav would ultimately remain a Jew.

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