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Hanna's Dvar Torah

Who needs the carrot?

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The other day, I saw a sign for a lost dog. It said that whoever found it and returned it would receive a reward. I wondered: Returning lost property is the right thing to do, why do we need the promise of reward?

This week in Israel was dedicated to road safety. Respecting the speed limit, wait for the green light and wear seats belts. These are all regulations that protect our lives. Then, why do we need to be threatened with a fine in case we disobey them?

When I asked my class (I teach 8th grade in Israel) why do we observe the Mitzvot, one student answered that we need to do it, otherwise we will get punished. Numerous people observe the Mitzvot for this reason: to receive the reward and not get the punishment. Indeed, our actions have consequences, and it is true that there is reward and punishment. But keeping the Mitzvot for this reason is a beginners’ level.

Antignos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He would say: Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you. (Ethics of our Fathers, 1:3)

The ideal way to do the right thing is to do it because it’s right. Because we love G-d and want to fulfill His will. Because we love Him and we do not want anything to disrupt our relationship.

Let us do something extra this week, not for the reward that we will receive, but because it is the right thing to do.

Good luck to us!

Hanna

The 3 pillars of the world and me

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What does the world stand on? What was it created for? What role do we play?

“Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness.” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:2)

G-d created a world where He is not revealed, so that we reveal Him. So that we influence it and make it a place where G-d feels comfortable, “at home”.

How do we do it? There is no need for bombastic actions. We need to strengthen the three things on which the world relies:

1. Torah – study and teach it G-d’s wisdom.

2. Worship of G-d – there are many things that are included in this category, but it usually means prayer. Our personal relationship and communication with G-d.

3. Chesed, acts of kindness – solidarity and help to our friends but also to anyone in need.

It is customary in various gatherings, birthday parties, family or friends’ reunions to utilize the opportunity to strengthen these foundations of the world. Share an interesting thought about the Torah, say a short prayer and helping someone else, for instance, by putting a few coins in a Tzedakah box. It is not difficult, but it will strengthen our world and will make our gathering more meaningful and spiritual.

Good luck to us!

Hanna 

3 guidelines for teachers and not only - Avot 1:1

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Is it better to have a few select students or many students from various backgrounds? Do we need to censure the Torah in order to teach it to the masses?

“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1)

What does a safety fence mean? Just as a fence stops us before we get to the edge of the cliff, our Sages added various rules to help us avoid transgressing the laws of the Torah. We can call it “spiritual safety” which is just as important as physical safety. For instance, it is forbidden to write on Shabbat. In order to help us avoid writing something by mistake and desecrate the Holy Shabbat, the Sages forbade moving around a pen without a reason.

This Mishna includes three different guidelines, which are given together because there is a connection between them. They all give us important advice regarding the education of pupils. Naturally, advice for teachers also concerns parents, as well as anyone with some influence on someone else – that is every one of us.

First, we need to remember the responsibility we hold in our hands. Each of our decisions regarding the children needs to be weighted carefully, patiently, and seriously. Since it is so complicated and demanding, maybe it would be best to only have a few students?

The Mishna though continues by telling us we owe to have many students. We cannot leave anyone out. All deserve an education. Quality should not supersede quantity; both are equally important.

Thus, a teacher must have many students. This means that not all students will have the same level of knowledge and they will all come from different backgrounds. Some will keep all the Mitzvot, but others will not understand why it is necessary to do so. Then, maybe it’s best to “censure” some of the Mitzvot? To teach only half-truths?

No. We need to teach the whole Torah without hiding anything. We need to teach even the prohibitions of our Sages, not only the basics. But since we cannot start to keep everything at once, we start slowly-slowly, adding one Mitzvah at a time, one more detail at a time.

Thus, the Mishna teaches us to combine quality with quantity, not limit the number of our students, and educate our children ethically and responsibly.  

Good luck to us!

Hanna

I'm starting something new!!!

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When we speak about the Torah, what exactly do we mean?

G-d gave us the Torah in 2 forms: the Written and the Oral Torah.

The written Torah includes the Bible (Torah-Pentateuch, Neviim-Prophets, Ketuvim-Scriptures, in abbreviation Tanach), and was transmitted from generation to generation in written form. As for the oral Torah, it was forbidden to write it down. It was transmitted from teacher to student, from parent to child. It includes explanations about the written Torah and rules about how one should study it in order to reach new conclusions.

Forty generations later, Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi saw that the oral Torah was in great danger of being forgotten. Israel was under foreign rule and many Jews were in exile in various places. Thus, he decided to write it down in order to ensure its survival.

But why not write it from the beginning? There are a few explanations. One reason is that the Torah must be something alive and relevant to our lives. We need to study it, speak about it and be busy with it. Thus, in the oral way, discussing with our teachers we understand the Torah in a different level, with all the nuances that cannot be transmitted in writing. When it is written, there is the danger that the Torah will stay on the shelf, since we believe that when we need it, the book will always be there…

Even though the oral Torah has been written down, let us give it the proper respect. Let us live with it, let us study and discuss it and not leave it on the shelf to gather dust…

Until now, we have analyzed together the Pentateuch, the written Torah (according to the explanations of the oral Torah, since it is not possible otherwise).

This year, we will study a part of the oral Torah, a book of the Mishnah which is called Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers. While the other parts of the Mishnah deal with the laws of the Torah, this book is different. It teaches us how to behave properly, with ethics and values beyond the letter of the law.

In the next posts, we will study and discover together its messages and how they relate to our everyday lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

Where are you, man? - Bereshit

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In this week's Parasha Bereshit, we read about Adam who did not resist the temptation to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, which G-d had forbidden him to do. After his sin, he Adam went to hide, and G-d called to him: “Ayeka?” “Where are you?”.

The first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Liadi, once met with an educated minister who asked him the classic question: “Why did G-d ask Adam where he was? Didn’t G-d know?”. The minister was not satisfied with the classic answer that this was a way for G-d to start a conversation with Adam. The minister wanted a deeper answer. The Rebbe became serious and explained to him that the question “Ayeka” was not about the physical place of Adam but had to do with his spiritual situation. G-d asks Adam and each one of us “Where are you?”. Are you doing your duties? Are you using the talents and strengths that you were given? Are you fulfilling you mission for which I sent you to this world?

If we start each of our days with the question “Ayeka?”, “Where are you?”, it is certain that our days and our years will be more productive. One step at a time, one more Mitsva (for instance, for Shabbat candles click here, for Tefilin click here), and then we will be closer to the fulfilling of our mission.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Hanna 

Until the last minute - Bereshit

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In this week’s Parasha Bereshit, we read that G-d created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. But if we read the text closely, we remark that G-d completed the Creation on the 7th day, on Shabbat! (Genesis 2:2). Is it possible that G-d worked on the holy day of the Shabbat?

Our Sages explain that in reality, G-d did not work on Shabbat. He continued to work until the last second on Friday, something that to us humans, seemed like He worked on Shabbat, since we do not know exactly the moment that one day finishes and the next day begins.

But again, why did G-d act in this way? Couldn't he organize Himself better and finish the work a little earlier? :)

The answer is that G-d, through this action, wanted to teach us the value of time and the importance of utilizing it to its fullest potential. Even if we have worked all day long and only one second is left, we need to utilize this one too to illuminate the world!

Shabbat Shalom!

Hanna Hendel

 

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