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Hanna's Dvar Torah

A fish outside the water - Bechukotai

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What kind of reward would we expect a religion to promise? You would probably answer the paradise, some transcendent experience or other spiritual things.

This week’s Parasha, Bechukotai, gives us a different answer. “If you keep My Commandments and study My Torah” says G-d, “I will reward you. You will have rain, good harvests, abundance, peace, health…” and more material blessings that the Torah describes in great detail.

Why does the Torah give so much emphasis to the material reward?

This is because the Torah is part of our lives in this material world.

When the Romans ruled in Israel, they forbade the study of the Torah. Yet Rabbi Akiva continued to study and teach Torah. When asked why he continued despite the danger, he explained: “Just as the fish cannot leave the water, Jews cannot disconnect from the Torah”. Torah is part of our existence.

This is the reason that the reward is not only spiritual bur also material. Since Torah is about our lives, the reward needs to be expressed in the material and physical parts of our lives. Like a real joy which does not stay only in our hearts but reaches our feet, which start to dance.  

Let’s think about how we can express Torah in our physicals lives this week. For instance, refrain from eating dairy with meat, say the Shema Israel before going to sleep, obey quickly to our parents etc.

Shabbat Shalom,


The wrong order - Behar

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In this week’s Parasha Behar, we read about the Mitsva of Shmita: The farmers in Israel cultivate their fields for 6 years and the 7th year is a sabbatical year, where they leave their fields uncultivated and spend their time studying Torah and generally being more spiritual. But what do they eat, since the fields remain uncultivated?

G-d promises that whoever keeps the Mitsvah of Shmita will have a special blessing in their fields during the 6th year and there will be enough harvest for 3 years (6th, 7th and 8th, cince one year will be needed to harvest whatever was planted in the beginning of the 8th year)

In your opinion, in which order should this commandment be written? I would say, for instance: when you come to the land of Israel, you will cultivate the land for 6 years and on the 7th you will do the Shmita. In other words, in chronological order.

The Torah though write in differently. It starts with the 7th year, Shmita and only then does it mention the 6 years of agriculture activity. Why? In order to remind us of something very important.

The goal of every Jew is not the agriculture work, and generally any work. We did not come to this world in order to earn as much money as we can… We have a spiritual mission, to make this world a better place. A place where we can feel the presence of G-d, through the study of Torah and the practice of Mitsvot.

Thus, in order to clarify the right priorities, the Torah chooses this order. The work is necessary, but the real goal is to get to the 7th year, where we will be busy exclusively with G-d and spirituality. When we have this in mind, the 6 years take on a new dimension and even the worldly activities become spiritual.

Most of us are not farmers. But we have our own small Shmita, the weekly Shabbat. On the 7th day, we do not work and dedicate our time to our mission. We light the Shabbat candles, we make Kiddush, we eat a festive meal, we pray, we rest and, most importantly, we remember that we did not come to this world in order to earn money. We have an important mission, and when we fulfill it, we will bring Mashiach now!

Think about what you can do this Shabbat in order to make the world a better place.

Shabbat Shalom,


Three types of students - Emor

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As you may know, I study pedagogy, specializing in children with special needs. When we do practical training, we meet children with learning disabilities and challenging behaviors… We put great effort in teaching them and thank G-d, we usually succeed in helping them improve. This is not easy, whether we are dealing with learning disabilities or challenges with comportment and faith. Are there children for which nothing that can be done?

This week’s Parasha is called Emor, which means “tell”. According to our sages, this refers to three commandments that the adults must teach the children: 1) The prohibition against eating insects 2) The prohibition against consuming blood 3) The laws of sanctity (for instance the prohibition for Kohanim (priests) to be in contact with dead or cemeteries etc.)

What is so special about those three Mitzvot (commandments) that they require a specific injunction to the adults to teach it to the children? These three Mitzvot have characteristics that could discourage an educator from trying to teach them to the students. But the Torah reassures us that this type of education is possible.

The prohibition against eating insects doesn’t seem very difficult to observe, especially in the Western world. Most of the people do not even have an urge to eat them. It is disgusting to some. They get repulsed by the mere existence of an insect near them… even more so by the thought of eating them.

But if we have a student which is at the level of eating insects, we must not despair. We can and ought to teach them to do the correct thing.

The second prohibition, against consuming blood, was very difficult to observe when it was given, since it was the norm at the time to do so.

Many people think that when a person has already formed a habit and possesses it for a long time, it can not be broken. Is it really so? The Torah explains that with proper education and guidance, even a long-time habit can be changed.   

The third commandment that adults must teach the children concerns the laws of sanctity. These laws are neither logical nor understandable. Why are these actions forbidden? We cannot grasp it. We observe these laws purely out of faith in our Creator.

Are we capable of transmitting such abstract, elusive, supranatural concepts to our students? Many think that we can teach only what is comprehendible with our mind. The Torah tells us otherwise. Even those concepts can be taught.

In other words, there is never a reason to despair in matters of education, either regarding the subjects can be taught, the level of our students or even ourselves. Even if the behavior is immoral, has become a habit or regards matters of suprarational faith.  

Let us not be dejected. There is always room for learning, education and improving. We can make the difference.

Shabbat Shalom,


My friends from Southern Israel - Kedoshim

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When our people go through difficult times, it’s very easy to feel the love and the care we have one for each other, even for someone that is not our friend.

At the beginning of the week, during the violent bombardments of Southern Israel, the hearts of all of us were with the inhabitants there. This year, I feel it even stronger. Studying with me are girls from the South, who had to run with their families to the bomb shelters dozens of times in middle of the night instead of sleeping in their beds and continue their everyday lives on the next day. Now, it’s not only “inhabitants of Southern Israel”, it’s my friends.

According to this week’s Parasha Kedoshim, we always need to love our fellow Jews as ourselves. (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself” Leviticus 19:18). Even if we don’t know them personally. Even if we do know them very well and think that they don’t deserve our love. How can we keep this commandment? It sounds unrealistic…

All of us, who know ourselves, know that we are not perfect. We don’t always act in the right way. We still do love ourselves. Somehow, we manage to focus more on our qualities than on our defaults. If we acted improperly, we tell ourselves: “It happens, it’s not terrible. Next time, I will try to do better”.

This is the secret to be able to love the other. If s/he acted improperly, we should say for him/her as well: “It happens, it’s not terrible.” Let’s think and remind ourselves about all the positive things they have inside them. We will certainly find some.

If we start to think about others in the same way we think about ourselves, we will succeed in really loving the other, and not only in difficult times.

Love and brotherhood amongst us will bring Mashiach very soon!

Shabbat Shalom,


The egoistic prayer - Acharei

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A new couple was dividing the responsibilities between them: “I”, said the groom, “will decide for all the important matters: who will be the new president of Israel, if the US should invade Irak and what should be done about the famine in Africa. You will decide about the unimportant stuff: where we will live, which school our kids will attend, what we will buy etc.”

The holiest place in the Temple was the Kodesh Hakodashim (The Holies of Holies). It was so holy that no was allowed it to enter it, except for the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. When he was inside, he would pray for “himself, his family and all his people”.

Yet he was the High Priest of the entire people, who had responsibility for all the Jews. How could he mix in personal requests and pray for himself? Should he not be entirely focused on the people?

The right leader is someone who cares about all the details. S/he does not neglect important values for the sake of leadership. S/he does not believe that the important work s/he does for the society and the community can replace his/her basic personal responsibilities.

All of us wear different “hats”. We are ourselves, we are workers, we are parents, we are spouses, we are sons and daughters, we are friends and we are members of our community and society. There are so many that we need to take care of, but we need to remember the correct order.

First comes our own self. We can not neglect self-care. We need to progress, to grow, to study and always improve our relationship with G-d.

Next comes our family. We need to be good children to our parents, good spouses and good parents.

Finally comes the community. We need to help those who are in need, be involved in Jewish organizations etc.

We need to remember that no role can replace another. Following the example of the High Priest, we need to take care of all three domains without it coming on the expense of another one.  

As in the prayer of the Kohen Gadol: “For ourselves, our family and all our people”.

Shabbat Shalom,


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