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Hanna's Dvar Torah

Before you eat, do this - Ekev

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The teacher asked the pupil what prayer do they say before the meal? Little Moshe answered that he doesn’t say any prayer, there is no need, because his mother is a good cook!

Seriously now, why do we need to bless G-d when we eat? G-d is so High, why does He need our blessings?

The truth is that we need the blessings more than G-d needs them. We need to notice the blessings that we receive. We need to remember Who gives them to us and thank Him. And why does He send all of that to us? For us to utilize them to make the world a better place.

Today is a good opportunity to discuss the blessings over the food, since in this week’s Parasha Ekev, we read G-d’s commandment: “And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the Lord, your G-d” (Deuteronomy 8:10).

How do we do it?

First, before eating, we say a blessing, where we remind ourselves that the world belongs to G-d and we ask Him for permission to use it. We have six groups of food with different blessings: a) bread b) everything that is made of flour except bread c) wine d) fruits e) vegetables and f) the rest of the food.

Then, after we are sated, we say the respective blessing and thank G-d.

Let us try this week to say the blessing before the vegetables that we will eat:

“Baruch Ata Ado-nai Elo-enou melech aolam, bore peri haadama.”

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the earth.

Copy it on a small note of paper and hang it on the fridge. It does not take a long time, but it makes such a difference!

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna 

Your money or your life? - Vaetchanan

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The most famous Jewish prayer, the Shema, is found in this week’s Parasha Vaetchanan. G-d commands us to love Him with "בכל נפשך" (bechol levavecha), with all our heart, בכל" נפשך" (bechol nafshecha), with all our should and "בכל מאודך"(bechol meodecha). The last words bechol meodecha have two meanings: with all our might, or with all our fortune. Since G-d told us to devote ourselves to Him with all our soul, which means that we should be ready to die for Him, we should be willing to give Him all our possessions. Is this not self-understood? Is it possible that someone should be ready to give his life for G-d, but not his money?

It is odd, but we do know such people. People who ignore the risk simply to earn more money. People who are so immersed in their work and their quest for money that they forget to devote time to their families.

The prayer of Shema Israel reminds us to have our priority list in the right order, with our lives being above our possessions, and G-d above the rest.  

This is the explanation of the ceremony of the Redeeming of the Firstborn. During this ceremony, the Kohen asks the father of the child what does he prefer, five coins of silver or his son? It seems like a silly and superfluous question: Why ask this question at all, is there any parent that will prefer the money?

The question here is deeper and is related, as we mentioned before, to our priority list. How will you educate this child? Will you show him with your example that money is more important than anything? Or will there be in the family values, study, and kindness?

Let us set our priorities in the correct order.

Let us devote time to our families, without being constantly immersed in our work. No one regretted in his last moments of lives not to have spent more time at the office.

Let us love G-d with our money as well. Even though the Jewish school is costly, Kosher meat more expensive, and the Mezuzot on our doors are an expense as well, let us express our love for G-d with our money.

Thus, we love G-d, and G-d loves us back.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

*Redeeming of the Firstborn: In the beginning, all the firstborn Jews were destined to be the priests in the Temple. But because of the sin of the Golden Calf, this honorary position was given to the tribe of Levi who did not sin. But the firstborn of the rest of the Tribes have a special holiness, as they belong to G-d, and they need to have this ceremony through which the parents “redeem” their child.

Based on an article of Rabbi Yossy Goldman 

Lost in translation - Devarim

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When my family came to Greece, 20 years ago, my parents did not know Greek. There are a few funny stories that happened then but one of my favorite ones is about a translation mishap. They wanted to write that Yom Kippur is a “fast day”, i.e., a day where we do not eat or drink, but the translator wrote that Yom Kippur is a…. “quick day”! We certainly hope that the Fast of Yom Kippur passes quickly! 😉

The 5th Book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, which we begin this week, recounts the words of Moses to the Jewish people during the last days of his life. An important work Moses did during this time was to translate the Torah in the 70 languages that existed then. Since Moses did it, the act of translation is something positive, isn’t it?

Years later, the Hellenistic king of Egypt Ptolemy ordered to translate the Torah in Greek. He closed 72 sages in 72 different rooms so that each one does his own translation without being able to discuss or coordinate with the others. It was a miracle that all the translations were identical, including identical changes in 13 places (where they each sage felt that a literal translation would constitute a corruption of the Torah's true meaning).

Was this translation something positive? Our Sages said that the day this translation was done was as difficult for the Jewish people as the day of the sin of the Golden Calf! Then, Moses had ascended to the heavens for 40 days to be taught the Torah by G-d. But the Jews miscalculated the amount of days Moses was to be absent. They thought Moses had to be back before the 40 days had actually been completed. Since Moses did not come back, they believed he was lost and that they needed another channel to communicate with G-d instead of Moses. So, they made the Golden Calf, which turned out to be one of the most severe sins of the entire Jewish history.

The intention of the Jews was a good one. Essentially, this was also the purpose of the Holy Temple, to constitute a material place through which G-d would reveal Himself to the world. But they did a critical mistake. When G-d defines a means of communication with us, it is clear that this is only a means. Not something with its own powers. But when we decide what will connect us to G-d, then we are in danger of falling into idolatry.  

It is the same with the translation. When G-d ordered Moses to translate the Torah, it was clear that it would be a holy endeavor and that there would be no misunderstandings because of this translation. But when the translation was a human idea, there was the danger of mistakes happenings and translation having unfortunate consequences.

Finally, the translation of the Torah in Greek did not have negative consequences. On the contrary, the light of the Torah reached more people, even Gentiles. Also, since then, the only language in which it is allowed to write a Sefer Torah besides for Hebrew is Greek. In practice, we do not do it, since we do not have the original translation of the 72 Sages (later versions that carry the name “Septuagint” are not believed to be true to the originals).

Let us remember that good intentions are not enough. When we do something that we were not ordered to, we need to be careful it should not end up turning something negative.

Also, let us remember that the Torah exists also in Greek and other languages (even if the translation is not completely accurate). We do not need to wait to learn Hebrew to study the world of G-d.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna 

When the branch becomes a rod - Matot-Masei

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Most parents, when they send for the first time their child to the kindergarten, feel some anxiety. Will the child manage without them? Nevertheless, they prefer sending him to the kindergarten over keeping him at home, since this is how s/he will mature, develop, and socialize.   

This week, we read 2 Torah portions: Matot and Masei. Matot means rods, sticks and it refers to the 12 Tribes of Israel, the 12 rods of Israel. The more usual name for the tribes is Shevet, which means branch. Why are there two names and what do they symbolize?

The branch and the rods are basically the same thing at a different stage: when it is united with the tree, it is a branch, when it is disconnected from the tree and hardens it becomes a rod.

These two stages correspond to how revealed the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d is. When the relationship is revealed, we are called branches, which are united with the tree. When the relationship is hidden, we are called rods.

Generally, before the birth, someone is like a branch. His relationship with G-d is revealed. But when he comes to the material world, with all its problems, the relationship with G-d becomes more concealed. It is not self-understood, we do not feel it at every moment. Even though it exists, it is not revealed.

Then, why should we come to this world? Why descend to such a low level?

Because when the brand leaves the tree, it toughens and becomes a strong rod. Through the challenges that we go through, we discover the great strength we have inside us. Thus, our relationship with G-d becomes even stronger.

Like the child in the kindergarten, who matures and develops there.

Let us not despair when facing the difficulties of life. Let is uncover the hidden powers we have and become stronger!

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna 

Would you dare? - Pinchas

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Imagine yourself in the following situation.

You are in a hall full of important leaders, professors, parliament members and judges. Suddenly an important personality comes in and does something completely forbidden. All the honorable people stay silent. Would you intervene to stop it?

In this week’s Parasha Pinchas, something similar happens. In presence of Moses, the High Priest Aharon and the Sages, all the important people of the time, one leader from one of the 12 Tribes makes a very severe sin. Everybody stayed silent. Only Pinchas, who was the youngest there, stood up and stopped him. His action was right and thanks to it Pinchas became a Priest in the Temple*.

But why did the rest of the people stay silent? Was Pinchas the only one who knew what needed to be done? According to the Midrash, G-d arranged the events in such a way for Pinchas to have a chance to be rewarded and become a Priest.

The same applies to us as well. Sometimes, we notice an issue that needs change, but no one is doing anything to improve it. This does not mean that it is not important. It could simply mean that it is waiting for us to do something about it.

Rabbi Nissan Mangel recounts that when he was a young student in a yeshiva in Montreal, he had an audience with the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked him if he was going every Shabbat to other synagogues in the city to share the things he had learned during the week. He answered in the negative. The Rebbe asked him “Why not?”. He answered that there were older students with more knowledge than him and since they did not go to speak in other synagogues, he thought that he did not have to do it either. The Rebbe then asked him: “Tell me Nissan, if you saw $1000 on the street and no one was picking them up, would you not pick it up?”

Let us dare to be the first to do something right and good. Even if the esteemed people around us do not do it. Do not let the opportunity pass.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

*The Priests were all descendants of Aharon. How could Pinchas suddenly become a Priest? Pinchas was a grandson of Aharon. But his case was different. He was a baby when the Priests underwent the ceremony to become Priests, ceremony after which all the newborn babies would automatically become Priests. But Pinchas was already born, yet not old enough at the time to go through the ceremony. This is why Pinchas was not a Priest until this story.

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