Friday, June 21, 2019

To Each His Own

Our Parsha continues on the theme that we began last week, teaching of the inauguration of the Mishkan. The roles of Aharon, his sons and the various Levite families are recounted in great detail. Rashi notes that strangely, throughout this entire narrative that singles out specific families for worthy tasks, the Torah continually makes reference to the B’nei Yisroel(The children of Israel). Rashi goes so far as to point out that in one instance the phrase is repeated five times in one verse! 
The reason, Rashi provides, is to emphasize Hashem’s love for Klal Yisroel (The Jewish People). 
In explanation of Rashi, the Gerrer Rebbe describes how a cursory reading of these chapters might give one the impression that the families of Kohanim and Leviim, with their unique assignments in the Temple service, are given an advantage over the masses in their relationship with Hashem. The Torah therefore makes continual mention of the B’nei Yisroel to teach us that Hashem loves each and every member of our nation dearly, and we all have an equal opportunity to strengthen and build upon that relationship. 
It is our reciprocal love for Hashem and our study of Torah and adherence to its Mitzvot, not a birthright, that earn us each a unique role in the infrastructure of the Jewish Nation. 
As schools wrap-up another year, it is so meaningful to be able to look back and see how much we have each grown in our Torah and Middot. We have each used this time to maximize our special relationship with Hashem. The summer break allows us an opportunity to recharge as we prepare to return in the Fall, once again, ready to learn and grow. 
Wishing you a wonderful and restful summer. 
Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Don Pacht 

Friday, June 14, 2019

Potential Energy

One of several topics mentioned in this week’s parasha, is that of the Nazir. The Nazir is an individual who makes a vow to abstain from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and who may not become tamei (impure) by coming into contact with a dead person.  

The Torah says of a person who chooses to become a Nazir, 
”כל ימי נזרו קדש הוא לה”, 
(All the days of his status as a Nazir he is holy to Hashem).  

The commentators question how one can passively become more holy.  It would be expected that to elevate one’s spiritual standing, they would be required to actively pursue holiness.  

Rabbi Yissochor Dov Rubin suggests that this level of holiness is not new-found.  Rather, as Jews we are inherently holy.  It is the material aspect of our daily lives and our involvement in the mundane that masks that inherent holiness that is inside each and every one of us.  

When an individual makes the commitment to scale back on their involvement in these material areas (as is the case for a Nazir), it transforms that potential spirituality into realized holiness.  

With the Yom Tov of Shavuot just passed, with its special connection to the source of our spirituality, Hashem and his Torah, now is the time to access our potential.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, June 7, 2019


The Mishnah in Avot lists the 48 different middot (traits) through which Torah is acquired. High on this list of attributes is the Middah of Simcha, Joy. For one to open his heart to the truth and beauty of Torah, he must enjoy and delight in its study. 
This concept rings true on the very practical level, (that one must enjoy the task in which they are engaged), but also on a spiritual plane. When an individual feels connected to Hashem and his Torah, the study and performance of Mitzvot become second nature. 
Rabbi Avraham Pam z”l adds an additional layer to the intent of the Mishnah. He explains that it is not just the student who must be emotionally invested, but the teacher as well. The joy and enthusiasm of the teacher is essential. The teacher’s joy becomes contagious and the student instinctively associates Torah with the Middah of Simcha. 
This idea is a valuable lesson, not just for professional educators, but for all parents. Parents are the primary teachers of their children, (after all they have them for 16 hours each day, not just 8). 
As we enter into the Chag of Shavuot, and we reaffirm our commitment to the study and observance of Torah, let us all do so with the joy and enthusiasm that will help us to ensure the proper chinuch (education) of our children. 
Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Don Pacht 

Friday, May 31, 2019

Positive Reinforcement

This week we will conclude the book of Vayikra. The final passages of the Sefer speak of the various tithes and gifts to the Beit Hamikdash. Among them is the concept of Ma’aser Beheima, one tenth of one’s annual yield of new livestock. 

Our sages describe the process of allowing the cattle to pass under a raised staff and marking the tenth in each series. The designated animals would then be brought as a gift to the Temple. 

The Talmud teaches us that although each of these animals has been selected as the tithe, one is obligated to declare verbally “Kodesh”, (it is holy). It certainly seems strange to impose such a requirement, especially in light of the fact that the tithe is inherently holy and, in fact, that holiness cannot be transferred or removed. 

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains that such is the nature of Kedushah, holiness. While the sanctity may lie within, it is up to us to cultivate and foster that precious spark to build it into an eternal flame. Every Jewish child is created with an inner Kedushah and the capacity for spiritual greatness. It is our responsibility to inspire, encourage and fan the flame. 

As we approach the Chag of Shavuot, where we celebrate the receiving of the Torah and recommit ourselves to its study and adherence, it is a most appropriate time to remind ourselves of the most effective way of reaching and teaching our children. We must not superimpose our wants and desires upon our children, but rather, help them to reach deep within themselves and bring out the Holiness that lies within. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Don Pacht 

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Sixth Sense

Our Parsha presents a number of interrelated Mitzvot.  One of these Mitzvot states, 

וְכִי יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָוּ מָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ

And if your brother has become poor, and his hand falters near you, then you shall strengthen him.

While this may appear to be just another exhortation to be charitable, as the Torah offers in so many ways, it differs in one considerable approach.  
Rashi explains that inherent in the commandment is that you “shall not allow him to decline, when it will then be difficult to raise him up.  Rather you shall strengthen him from the time that his hand falters.”

Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach explains that one of the best ways we can address another’s need is to prevent that need!  Consider how much more appreciative one would be if they maintain the dignity of not having to ask.

However, this gives rise to a very obvious problem.  How are we able to help if we do not know of the need, and how can we possibly know of the need before the need exists?  

Inherent in Rashi’s comment therefore, is the understanding that we must endeavor to make ourselves more aware of the unspoken words that might indicate, not a severe hardship, but a course or path that needs to be addressed before it becomes a larger issue.  We always hear of the “big problems,” but just consider how many of these could have been prevented if we had only taken note of the “little problems.”


What our sages are teaching us is that the Sixth Sense is not a mystical power but the “sense-itivity”to open our eyes and our hearts to the plight of our fellow and to be prepared to answer even before we are asked. 


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, May 17, 2019

Over the Top

The parsha begins with an exhortation to the Kohanim (Priests), Aharon and his descendants who were designated as the spiritual leaders of the people.  The Torah details the special laws that they must follow as part of their unique role amongst the B’nei Yisroel (Children of Israel).  After listing several laws the Torah introduces an overriding concept applied to the Kohanim, 
"קדשים יהיו לאלקיהם"

(and they shall be Holy unto their G-d).  This is mentioned in a context that appears to set this theme as a prerequisite for their service in the Mishkan.
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (known as the NETZI”V) explains this statement, its context, and the specific wording of the commandment. For the Kohanim to fulfill their role, they are certainly required to maintain a very high standard of Kedusha (holiness).  However, this status is not measured against the people, but rather before Hashem.  It is Hashem alone who will view this role. If the Kohanim see themselves as above, and holier, than the people then they will not be affective emissaries.
Viewed as the paradigm of leadership, this verse instructs us all on the role and station of leaders within our community.  If an individual, based on an elevated status, holds himself/herself above others, that person has negated their ability to lead and represent the people.  
While Kedusha and spirituality are clear goals for us all, we must remember that it is Hashem who we should aim to impress and not to satisfy our own hubris.
Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Soft Touch

In Parshas Kedoshim we read what is likely one of the most mystifying, and perhaps misunderstood, Mitzvot.  The verse states, “הוכך תוכיח את עמיתך” (You shall surely reprove your fellow).  The Torah commands that we, as individuals, endeavor to correct the shortcomings and misdeeds of others.  On the surface it would seem that the Torah allows for vigilante justice and puts the weighty responsibility of spiritual leadership on the average layperson.

Although there are possible scenarios in which such an approach might be called for, the general consensus amongst commentators is that one who takes a “harsh rebuke/tough as nails” approach will almost inevitably overstep the bounds of this Mitzvah.  In fact, the Talmud explains, the last part of the verse, “ולא תשא עליו חטא, (and you shall not bear a sin because of him), as referring to a person who - through harsh rebuke incites the anger of another, or brings another to shame.  This, the Talmud explains, brings sin upon the very person who sought to right what was wrong.

Rather, one should be most careful in such matters and use a pleasant and caring tone, so as not to be counterproductive.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler offers what he reasons to be the ideal approach.  It is certainly not necessary to be harsh, and there may not even be a need for a “pleasant” tone, but by merely acting and behaving as we should we can set an example for others to follow.  

When we strive to be living examples of the truths and ideals of the Torah, we provide a guiding light for others to follow along the proper path.  Without a word being spoken, and certainly without causing ill will, we have performed this Mitzvah it its purest form.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht