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Hanna's Dvar Torah

Who is the best Jew? - Sukkot

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There is a special Mitzvah on Sukkot: hold together and shake the 4 Species: The Etrog (citrus fruit), the Lulav (palm frond), the Hadasim (myrtle branches) and the Aravot (willow branches). Each one of those has different characteristics: one has a good smell (myrtle), the other has a good taste (date, the fruit of the palm), the third has both taste and smell (citrus) while the last one has neither smell nor taste (willow). Yet, to fulfill the Mitsvah, we need all four species, none can be missing.

Our Sages explain that the 4 Species symbolize the Jewish people. There are those who learn Torah, and nurture themselves with its wisdom, thus, they have a “good taste”. There are those who do good deeds, thus they have a “good smell” and everyone wants to be near them. Some have both qualities, and some have none: not the study nor the good deeds. We could think that the last ones are not good and significant Jews, and that we can ignore them. But this Mitzvah teaches us that even those are part of the Jewish people and that each one is needed.  

This is one of the unique characteristics of the Jewish people which I appreciate a lot.

Whether you are a Jewish journalist, taxi driver, employee, minister, merchant, or tailor, you are not worth any less that the most important rabbi. Everyone needs to study the Torah, observe the Mitzvot and pray to G-d. Everyone needs to get married, have children, and have a positive influence on the world. Of course, G-d’s expectations depends on the different qualities of each person and his or her lifestyle. If you have more intelligence, free time, patience, or other talents, you need to do even more than others. G-d wants us to utilize all the talents He has given us for a good purpose. But generally, the basic requirements are the same for everyone.

This gives a different perspective to many subjects, such as the prayer or the synagogue. Every one is able to pray to G-d from wherever he or she is located. The communal prayer has even more power than the individual prayer, this is why certain prayers can only be said in the presence of a Minyan (10 Jewish men), for instance, reading from the Sefer Torah or reciting the Kaddish. These gatherings for prayers usually happen in the synagogue but it is not required. I have assisted to prayers in someone’s living-room, in a stadium, in a parking lot and even in the kitchen of a plane (with the permission of the staff). Especially now with the COVID-19, we see even more prayers happening in various outdoors locations. The person leading the prayer, the Chazan, may be a Rabbi, but it is not required. Any Jew that knows the prayer can lead it. In other words, going to the synagogue is not like assisting to a show where you come to hear a cantor pray without doing anything yourself. G-d is waiting to hear everyone’s prayer, according to their knowledge, in Hebrew or in translation, in the words of our Sages or in their own words.

The center of our religion is not the synagogue nor the rabbi, but each Jewish person and his or her home. The rabbi teaches us, guides us so we can do things in the right way, he inspires and encourages us but this cannot be a substitute for our own study, our own Mitzvot and our own relationship with G-d.

Even if it seems difficult this year, let us try this Sukkot to shake the 4 Species ourselves*. As we shake them, let us remember that each Jew is significant and that no one is superfluous. G-d awaits each and every one of us.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Hanna

* Whoever does not have his own set of the 4 Species can contact Chabad of Greece. As we explained above, the rabbi is here to help and will come to visit you so you can perform this Mitzvah.

The Haggada inside the Sukka?!!!

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Imagine your family inside the Sukka reading the Haggadah… The father makes Kiddush and before drinking the first cup of wine, he looks at the green roof, the s'chach… does it sound strange? How did Pesach and Sukkot get mixed up? The truth is that both holidays celebrate the same event. On Pesach we commemorate our Exodus from Egypt and on Sukkot we commemorate the Clouds of Glory that protected us during our errands in the desert, under the burning sun, for 40 years until we entered the land of Israel.

Why then do we celebrate Sukkot half a year later? It would have been more correct to have Sukkot immediately after, or even at the same time as Pesach, when it all started.

Pesach is at the beginning of the spring and summer. Many people go out to sit outside anyway, because of the weather… If they see the Jews in shadowy huts, they may think that the reason they do it is for their comfort, not because it is a commandment of G-d. To make it cleat that Sukkot is only for the sake of the Mitzvah, we celebrate it in autumn, when it is cold and sometimes rains. Devotion to G-d.

There lies an important message. Even when things are difficult and dark, this is exactly the time to do more actions to light up the world. We are not afraid of the darkness, the cold and the winter! We will do many Mitsvot and bring Mashiach now!

Chag Sameach!

Hanna

Chana and Rosh Hashana

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Did you know that my name appears during the service of Rosh Hashana?

As in every Shabbat and Holiday, after reading the Parashah from the Five Books of Moses, we read the Haftarah, an excerpt from the Prophets that is connected to the content of the Parashah. On Rosh Hashana, we read about Hanna.

Chana was married for many years, but she did not have children. On Rosh Hashana, she went with her husband to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and started to pray silently, begging G-d to give her children. The High Priest Eli, who saw her praying, thought she was drunk and reprimanded her. Chana answered that she was not drunk, but that she was praying with all her heart. Eli recognized it and blessed her. The child who was born the next year became the prophet Shmuel (Samuel), an important personality in Jewish history.

But things are not that simple. We need to remember that Eli was not a regular person. He was a High Priest and his blessings were powerful. How could he confuse Hanna’s wholehearted prayer with the behavior of a drunk person?

Rosh Hashana is the day where we crown again G-d as our King. It is a great and significant day. Yet, the Rosh Hashana prayers include requests for our personal needs: health, material affairs etc. How is it possible to focus on such selfish concerns on such an important and spiritual day?  

This was Eli’s reprimand to Chana. A drunk person thinks that the whole world revolves around him… He thinks that everything about him and he does not care about others. When Eli scolded Chana about her drunkenness, he meant that she was being selfish. A woman of such spiritual stature (Chana was a prophetess) should focus on spiritual matters on this important day, not on her personal needs…

Chana explained to him that she was not drunk. Her request for children was not only a personal wish, but that she wanted to raise these children as Jews who will serve G-d.  

This is the message that appears again and again in this blog. Judaism does not require us to abandon the material world and deal only with spiritual matters. We need to use all what is found in the world, but with the correct intentions and with the purpose of serving G-d.

Let us think about it this Rosh Hashana. Let us dedicate time for prayer, introspection, and a wholehearted conversation with G-d, in our own words. We will crown Him as our King and decide to please Him with our actions this coming year. We will ask Him for all that we need and want in order to be able to serve Him with ease and joy.

Shana Tova Umetuka and Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

The footsteps - Nitsavim-Vayelech

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A famous story tells about a man who turned to G-d with a question: “You promised me that you will walk along with me throughout my journey in life, but looking at the path, I see only one set of footprints… Where were You during all the difficult moments?” G-d answered him: “The footsteps you see are Mine. I was carrying you on my shoulders during the entire journey”.

In this week’s Parasha Nitsavim-Vayelech, we learn about the end of our exile (whoever does not feel we are in exile should open a newspaper in order to be reminded…). The expression the Torah uses is “G-d will return all the Jewish people”. In Hebrew, we use one word when someone himself comes back and another one when someone returns something. The word the Torah uses is the first one: in the final Redemption, G-d will also return, G-d will also be redeemed. Because in the most difficult moments, He is there, with us.

Let us remember this in the difficult moments and not despair. G-d is here, our pain is also His, and He cares for us. Let us make one step towards Him and we will all merit the Redemption. G-d is awaiting us,

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

Are you the spontaneous or the organized type? - Ki Tavo

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Which type of character are you? Spontaneous or organized?

Which help is more valuable? The spontaneous help when we see someone in trouble while walking in the street and stop to help him? Or the scheduled help when we plan to devote time especially for helping?

Which “Thank you” is more special, the spontaneous “Thank you” with the shining eyes immediately after receiving something, or the organized “Thank you” with details, a letter and a small gift?

In this week’s Parasha Ki Tavo, we read about the Bikurim. When the fruits grow and our heart fills up with joy and gratitude, we remember to Whom we owe all this goodness and we bring the first fruits to Jerusalem, to G-d. Those first fruits are called Bikurim, which comes from the Hebrew word Bechor, firstborn. This Mitzvah is performed only with fruits from the land of Israel and only when the Temple existed. But the spiritual message of the Bikurim apply to every time and every place.  

The process of conquering and dividing the Land of Israel among the Jews took 14 years. Our Sages disagree as to when the Mitzvah of Bikurim started to apply: from the moment they entered the land of Israel and started to enjoy its fruits, or only after the conquest was finished and each tribe was installed in its portion of land? When should we say “Thank you”? Spontaneously and immediately, or scheduled and organized?

Every day, we have two kind of “Thank you” for G-d. One is a spontaneous, as soon as we wake up. Before getting out of bed, before we even start to think and prepare, we say “Mode Ani”, a sentence of spontaneous thanks to G-d for giving us life for another day.

Later, after waking up completely, getting dressed and organized, comes the prayer. During the time of prayer, we meditate more about the greatness of G-d and how much He provides for us. The “Thank you” of the prayer comes from our entire being, with all our heart.

Which “Thank you” is more important? Each one has a quality that the other doesn’t have. On the one hand, the spontaneity, which comes from deep inside us, doesn’t include thoughts and feelings and it is not certain that it will later influence our actions. On the other hand, the organized “Thank you”, which is indeed less spontaneous and immediate, but has an effect on all our personality.

Ultimately, we need both kinds of “Thank you”. Which kind of “Thank you” speaks to you more? The more spontaneous ones should try to say Mode Ani every day of the coming week as they wake up. The more organized ones should say “Shema Israel” after having mediated on G-d and His kindness to us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

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