Friday, January 18, 2019

It's Up To You

After finally escaping generations of slavery and abuse at the hands of the Egyptians, the Jewish people find themselves in a very precarious position.  After only a few days travel into the desert, they are trapped between the Sea of Reeds and the approaching army of Egypt.  

Fearing for their lives, the people cried out to Hashem for his salvation.  They entreated Moshe to pray on their behalf, asking that the miracles of the Exodus until this point not be for naught.

Hashem responds to Moshe’s prayers in a very uncharacteristic tone; 

מה תצעק אלי דבר אל בני ישראל ויסעו
(Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the B’nei Yisroel and let them 
journey [forth into the sea]).

Rabbi Chaim of Volozin explains the intent of Hashem’s response.  Understand that your rescue will not be my autonomous act.  I am certainly prepared to help you.  In fact, I have saved my most powerful miracle yet for just this occasion.  But I will not be the one to act first.  You must be the catalyst that will bring about this miracle.  It is up to the people themselves to declare their true faith in Hashem.  Let them journey forth into the sea and then their trust and faith in Hashem will merit them this miracle.

Hashem is always prepared to offer us the guidance and assistance that we need.  He is ready to respond, but he is waiting for us to initiate the conversation.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Power of Positive Thinking

As the plagues against Egypt build in their intensity and as the plague of the firstborn draws near, the Jewish Nation prepares for the Exodus.  Our release from the bondage of Egypt is one of the most significant occurrences for our people.  It is no surprise, therefore, that a number of Mitzvot would be enacted to serve as a remembrance of this momentous occasion.
On Rosh Chodesh Nisan, Moshe gathers the people and instructs them in the performance of the Mitzvot that would soon follow.  These included the Mitzvah of blessing the new month, the count of months and, of course, the Korban Pesach (Pascal Lamb), with all its laws.  Once all of the information is disseminated the verse concludes, 
וילכו ויעשו בני ישראל
(And the children of Israel went and did [as Hashem commanded]).

Rashi wonders how it is possible to say that the people performed these actions if some of them would not apply for several weeks. Quoting the Mechilta, Rashi explains that once the Jewish people accepted upon themselves to follow the word of Hashem, the Torah credits them with the actual performance.  
The Yad Yechezkel explains further that we are not always able to control circumstances, and although we may intend a particular course of action, happenstance may not allow for the follow-through.  Therefore, we are rewarded even for our good intentions.
To take this idea one step further, if we commit ourselves to a particular goal it is far easier to circumvent obstacles that may appear in our way.  Thus, it is our own strength and commitment to our ideals that bring our goals within reach.
As many of us are just returning from extended breaks, this is a very appropriate lesson for our new beginning.  Let us commit now to grow in our every endeavor and, with Hashem’s help, we will realize our goals. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, December 21, 2018


This week we will conclude the book of Bereishit. As always, the entire
congregation will exclaim the familiar refrain, חזק חזק ונתחזק, (Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened). Many reasons are offered as to why this request is appropriate at the conclusion of a sefer of the Torah. 
One explanation provides us with a very timely message. 
Often, when we struggle to reach a goal and succeed, our nature allows that we plateau in our efforts to push further. We use the excuse of accomplishment to allow our enthusiasm and work ethic to wane. It is for this very reason that, as we reach a great level of achievement, such as the completion of a book of the Torah, that we steel ourselves with the motivational message of Chazak! We use this feat as a springboard to greater accomplishments and not as an impediment.
Similarly, as we come to the close of a very successful school term (as many schools have now done), we should not allow ourselves the luxury of languor. We take a break to give ourselves the energy and enthusiasm to come back to school well-rested and charged to learn. But we must always use these opportunities to reach further and further towards our goals.  
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Topsy Turvy

After teaching us of the emotional reunion of Yosef and his family, the Torah returns to the subject of the worldwide famine. In great detail the verses describe the implementation of Yosef’s master plan. At first, the citizens of Egypt and her neighbours would come to purchase grain. Once they had exhausted their money, the people traded their livestock for food. As the famine wore on and intensified the people of Egypt were forced to sell their land and, eventually, their freedom, as they became slaves to Pharaoh in exchange for the food that would sustain them.

The Torah concludes by telling us that Yosef “moved [the people] to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt to the other end,” essentially uprooting every citizen of Mitzrayim. Rashi explains that Yosef’s motivation was to remind them that they no longer owned the land and, as well, to remove any sense of shame that his brothers might feel as being seen as ‘displaced’ from their homeland.  Now, everyone was new in town!

Rabbi Shlomo Pacht, Rosh Yeshiva of the Texas Torah Institute (and…he just happens to be my brother), extrapolates a very powerful lesson from this Rashi, which should cause us to think twice in our dealings with others.

We are to take the example of Yosef HaTzaddick, who displayed unbelievable compassion for his brothers, quite literally turning the world end-for-end, just to help alleviate the emotional pain that they felt. In particular, in a situation such as this, the discomfort would be minimal. After all, the sons of Yaakov were superior in every way and would have little to be ashamed of before Egypt.  Additionally, it was not Yosef who caused their pain, yet he endeavored to help them.

Yosef’s behavior stands is stark contrast to what is (unfortunately) commonplace in our society, where the feelings of others are trampled in each individuals effort stake a claim.

Yosef’s example teaches us how proactive we must be in protecting the feelings of others, even when the threat is not through our own hands.  How much more so must we be watchful of another’s feelings when it may very well be our own inattentiveness that causes the hurt.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, December 7, 2018

Why Is This Night Different?

Each year on Chanukah we celebrate our military and spiritual victory over our oppressors and we commemorate the miracle of the small jar of oil that lasted for a full eight days.

There is a question that many authorities grapple with, that cuts right to the very essence of this wonderful Yom Tov.  The Mishnah in Avot tells us that each day there were a number of miracles that took place in the Bait HaMikdash.  For example, the special show bread stayed warm all week long.  In addition to the daily miracles, there were a number of miracles that took place once or twice each year.  On Erev Pesach, the courtyard of the Bait HaMikdash miraculously expanded to allow entrance to all of the people gathered to offer the special sacrifice of the day. 

The question then is; if so many miracles happened with such regularity in Temple times, why then is the miracle of the oil so significant that it is worthy of an eight-day holiday?  None of the other miracles are celebrated each and every year!

Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua Falk, author of the P’nei Yehoshua offers one of several answers to this question.  He explains the small jar of oil that lasted for a full eight days was more than just a break with the rules of nature, but it was a special sign. It was Hashem’s way of letting the Jewish people know that he was once again in their midst.

Throughout the years of turmoil and war, many people had strayed far from their heritage.  The study and practice of the Torah had fallen by the wayside.  Still, when the Jewish people were ready to return and to re-dedicate the holy Temple, and themselves, to the service of Hashem, he was waiting with open arms.

This year, as we light the menorah, it is encouraging to remember that although we are in exile and so far from our homeland, Hashem is still waiting with open arms.

Shabbat Shalom 

V’Chanukah Sameach

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, November 30, 2018

An Attitude of Gratitude

From the very beginning of our Parsha, we begin to see the seeds of the growing sibling rivalry between Yosef and his brothers.  What started with the perceived favouritism of their father Yaakov in gifting Yosef the coat of many colours, later intensify as Yosef reports his dreams of the brothers (in the forms of sheaves of wheat, or stars in the sky) bowing down to him.

To make matters worse, an immature Yosef would bring evil reports of the brothers’ activities back to Yaakov.  All of this caused the brothers to foment hatred towards Yosef that continued to grow. In fact, the brothers saw Yosef as a direct threat to them and to the legacy of their great-grandfather Avraham, that they were destined to fulfill.
One fateful day, as they were far from home and they saw Yosef approaching, the brothers conspired to kill him and put an end to the threat he posed.  Only Reuven, the oldest of the brothers stood in opposition.  He suggested that the brothers themselves not get blood on their hands, but throw Yosef into a pit and let him die there. The Torah testifies, however, that it was Reuven’s intention to return later, lift Yosef from the pit and escort him back home.

One must wonder why Reuven chose to break ranks.  Surely, he saw the same behaviours as the other brothers and understood the high stakes involved?  Why would he save Yosef?

The Medrash explains that Reuven felt gratitude towards Yosef.  While Yosef’s dreams may have been received as antagonistic to most of the brothers, they brought comfort to Reuven as they confirmed that he was still viewed as part of the family in the eyes of Hashem.  This, in spite of his crime against Yaakov in upsetting his bed after Rachel’s death.  Until now, he had feared he was to be excluded from the family.  Yosef’s dream however, confirmed that the brothers still numbered twelve.

This sense of gratitude caused Reuven to re-examine the situation and come to a different (the correct) conclusion, that Yosef was not a real threat and that it would be wrong to execute him.

It is this sense of gratitude that allows us to see beyond our own narrow view of the world and to respect and understand the varying perspectives and needs of those around us.
In a world that fosters such a strong focus on the individual, it behooves us to appreciate and recognize all that has been done for us by others (parents, teachers, etc.), and the debt of gratitude that it creates.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, November 23, 2018

Worth Fighting For

After more than thirty years, Yaakov is finally on his way home. On the way he prepares for what is sure to be an awkward reunion with his brother Esav. After all, it was due to Esav’s threats on his life that caused Yaakov to flee his homeland so many years ago. Would Esav remember? Will he still be so angry? Will Yaakov be forced into an all-out war to defend himself and his family? 
As part of his strategy, Yaakov sends emissaries and gifts to his brother. The message, recounting some of what Yaakov has been through, begins, “עם לבן גרתי” (I have been dwelling with [our uncle] Lavan). 
The Medrash points out that the word גרתי(I have been dwelling) has a numerical value of 613, the total number of Mitzvot in the Torah. The Medrash explains that Yaakov wished to inform Esav, that although he was with the rasha (evil), Lavan for all these years, he still upheld all of the Torah’s ideals. 
Many Meforshim (commentators), question why it was that Yaakov wished to convey this message to his brother, knowing that Torah observance was of little value to Esav. 
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein offers the following answer: Yaakov wished to avoid a full-scale war with his brother. He understood that achieving peace would likely require concessions on his part, and he was prepared to do so. 
However, before any negotiations were to begin, he wanted to make it very clear to Esav, in no uncertain terms, that he was not willing to compromise his Torah values. He would readily offer money or material possessions, but he would never agree to forsake the ways of Hashem. Peace is an admirable goal, but it cannot come at any price. 
As we approach the Holiday of Chanukah, which reconnects us to the era of the valiant Maccabees, who took up arms to reclaim the Temple and the freedom to practice as Jews, we are reminded that while peace is always preferred...some things are worth fighting for! 
Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Don Pacht