Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Build Your Own Sukkah (Tabernacle)

Webster's Dictionary defines a tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, which is why the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah, however, is a lot more specific than simply a temporary dwelling--which is often taken to mean something like a tent or a recreational vehicle.

THE WALLS of the sukkah may be made out of any material--wood, plastic, even canvas--as long as they can withstand normal gusts of wind without swaying noticeably. A sukkah must have a minimum of 2 ½ walls and have a doorway. The sukkah walls may actually be walls from a pre-existing structure. The sages set the minimum length and width of a sukkah at seven handbreadths (approx 28”) and the minimum height at 10 handbreadths (approx 40”) tall. The maximum height is 20 amot (approx 30’).

THE ROOF of the sukkah, known as s’chach, is a critical factor in determining the sukkah’s halachic acceptability. S’chach is defined as anything of plant origin that is now detached from the ground but has not undergone any manufacturing process nor had a previous use (such as a wooden post designed to hold up a sapling) nor may it be edible. Additionally, the s’chach pieces should be less than four handbreadths wide.

For the sukkah to be “kosher,” there must be enough s’chach so that there is more shadow than sunlight. It may not, however, be so dense that one is unable to see the larger stars at night or that the rain cannot penetrate.

PLACEMENT of the sukkah is important because to meet the s’chach requirements, the area above the sukkah must be clear (no building overhangs or branches from a tree).

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Friday night at sunset.

For previous Jewish Treats on Sukkot, click here.
To learn more about the holiday of Sukkot in general, visit
National Jewish Outreach Program’s Sukkot Pages.

Find A Sukkah

For those not interested in building their own sukkah, ask a friend or find a community sukkah (at a synagogue or Jewish community center) in which you can eat during the holiday.

(Check out this online listing of local sukkahs.)

The Morning Blessings: Mah Tovu / Good Tents

While this beautiful verse was initially stated by Balaam, a fierce enemy of the Jewish people, the sages saw it as the greatest praise.

Mah tovu, o’ha’lehcha Ya’akov, mish’k’no’techa Yisrael.

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Take A Sabbatical

It is interesting that the two most common professions which offer sabbatical leaves are academia and clergy. These two professions are fields in which practitioners devote a great deal of time to research and study.

The idea of the sabbatical rest is Biblical in origin. “For six years you will sow your field, and for six years you will prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But the seventh year will be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to God; you will neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard”(Leviticus 25:3-4).

The merits of an agricultural sabbatical year are obvious. A field lying fallow is able to renew its spent nutrients. From the theological point of view, a sabbatical year from working the fields was an active demonstration of the people’s faith that God would take care of them.

At the same time, however, the sabbatical year was also a gift to the farmers. In Jewish life there was nothing more important than the study of Torah. For those who were involved in agriculture, however, finding time to devote to Torah study, whether neophyte or advanced, was quite difficult. During the sabbatical year, however, farmers, and all those involved secondarily in agricultural trade, were able to learn at the feet of the scholars (as most learning was oral at the time).

Like Shabbat, the Sabbatical year (known as Shmittah) was an extended opportunity for the Jewish people to recharge their “spiritual batteries.”

Internal Support

If your spouse or roommate has an extra big project at work, cheerfully and voluntarily take over some of their household responsibilities, and let them know you are there to support them so they won't be stressed.

The Blessings Over Food: Wine/Grape Juice

Ha’gafen is the blessing recited over wine and grape juice.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam bo’ray p’ree ha’gafen.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Food of Yom Kippur

Food on Yom Kippur? Isn’t Yom Kippur the most famous fast day on the Jewish calendar?

“One who eats and drinks on the ninth, is considered by the Torah to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth” (Talmud Yoma 81b).

This principle is derived from a strange allusion to afflicting one’s self on the ninth of the month in Leviticus 23:32: (“... and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month in the evening ...”) even though only 5 verses before the Torah commanded that we must afflict ourselves on the tenth (Leviticus 23:27).

As on all holidays and on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to eat festive meals. Yom Kippur is also a holiday. Since one may not eat on Yom Kippur, the festival meals are advanced to the preceding day. The first meal should be eaten early in the afternoon so that one may later have the special seudah hamafseket, the final meal before the fast.

To be considered a festive meal, challah (or bread) must be served. Many people serve kreplach, dumplings, because the hidden bits of meat in dough are symbolic of our desire that God will hide our sins.

The seudah hamafseket, is usually eaten after the afternoon service, closer to evening, but while it is yet daytime. It is recommended that one eat only light foods which are not too salty (therefore it is customary not to eat fish at this meal) and to avoid intoxicating beverages.

Different families have their own customs how to best celebrate the successful conclusion of Yom Kippur with a festive meal and “break fast.” Many Ashkenazi families have dairy meals, while Sephardi families will eat a meat meal.

An Interesting Recipe: Pepitada is a traditional Sephardi post-fast drink made by steeping crushed melon seeds in cold water, straining them and adding a little sugar and perhaps a few drops of orange flower essence, rosewater or honey.

Jewish Treats and the National Jewish Outreach Program wish you and yours a meaningful and easy fast. The Fast of Yom Kippur begins at sunset on Sunday and ends after nightfall on Monday. Jewish Treats will return on Tuesday.

The Shabbat Before

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuva. How you celebrate this Shabbat is a reflection of your love of Shabbat throughout the year that passed, so go ahead and do a little something more!

The Candle Lighting Blessing

Before reciting this blessing on Friday evening, light the Shabbat candles and then cover your eyes with your hands.

Ba’ruch ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu l’hahd’leek nayr shel Shabbat.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Sabbath light.

To learn more about Shabbat candle lighting and for the private prayer that follows candle lighting, please see NJOP’s Spirituality At Your Fingertips: Shabbat Candle Lighting.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Four Steps of Repentance

In order to fully understand Yom Kippur, it is important to look deeper at the Jewish concept of teshuva, “repentance.”

Teshuva is actually a process of self-evaluation and self-improvement. The Rambam enumerates four primary steps to the teshuva process:

1. Recognize and discontinue the improper action.

2. Verbally confess the action, thus giving the action a concrete form in your own mind.

3. Regret the action. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on yourself or on others.

4. Determine never to repeat the action. Picture a better way to handle it. There are two different types of transgressions: those between a person and God and those between one person and another.

Teshuva for a sin between a person and God: When one has transgressed a mitzvah that does not affect another person, the teshuva is purely between the person and God; and the four steps listed above are all that are necessary for the repentance process.

Teshuva for a sin between one person and another: When one has caused harm to others, whether by stealing from them, embarrassing them or anything else, then teshuva requires that restitution and reconciliation be arranged between the parties involved. The damaged party must forgive the perpetrator before Divine forgiveness is granted.

However, a person is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for that action, as he/she has proven their true regret. The person who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness, however, is guilty of bearing a grudge.

*This Treat was originally published on Tuesday, October 7, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the High Holidays.

In Your Words

Start the teshuva process by verbally expressing regret over an error you have made.

In The Merit Of Our Ancestors

The nineteen blessings of the Amidah make up the core of the Jewish prayer service. The first blessing reflects God’s promise to protect the descendants of Abraham.

Blessed are You, Lord our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob; the great, mighty and awesome God, God Most High, who bestows acts of loving-kindness and creates all, who remembers the loving-kindness of the fathers and will bring a Redeemer to their children’s children for the sake of His name, in love. King, Helper, Savior, Shield:

Blessed are You, Lord, Shield of Abraham.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai magen Avraham.
(Only the concluding blessing is included in transliteration.)

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur

"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

How does one “afflict one's soul”? The oral law enumerates the following five restrictions:

Fasting (No Eating or Drinking) - From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, it is forbidden to eat or drink. However, those who are ill, as well as pregnant and nursing women, should and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur, as decided by their rabbi in consultation with their doctor,. In such cases the rabbi should also be consulted about specific details of eating on Yom Kippur. Additionally, girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 are not required to fast.

Washing - During the fast, one may not wash for pleasure, but one may wash to get rid of dirt or when preparing food (e.g. for children). One may also bathe a baby.

Anointing - It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil. Thus, the use of perfumes, liquid or cream make-up, suntan lotion, and other such items is prohibited.

Wearing Leather Shoes - During the fast it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. Some people wear only socks, but others wear shoes of canvas or other non-leather materials (i.e. crocs).

Marital Relations - It is forbidden to have marital relations.

It may seem that refraining from the above actions would make one focus on the body, due to hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of not washing. However such discomforts are temporary and, in fact, turn one’s attention back to the importance of the day and the fact that we can transcend physical discomfort in order to connect with the spirit of the day.

Check Your Shoes

Prepare early for Yom Kippur by making certain you have leather-free footwear.

Modeh Ani / I Give Thanks

Modeh Ani is recited upon waking, to acknowledge the miracle of being alive every day.

Mo’deh ani li’fa’nech’ah melech chai v’kayam, she’heh’cheh’zarta bee nishmatee b’chemla--raba emuna’tehcha.

I give thanks before You, living and eternal King, Who has returned my soul to me with compassion--abundant is Your faithfulness!

For a musical version of Modeh Ani, click here

--Translation reproduced with permission from The Koren Sacks Siddur, © Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Inside Prayer

Jewish prayer is a complex, multi-layered activity. The sages refer to prayer as avodah, service, the same term used to describe the sacrificial service in the Holy Temple. However, since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., prayer has become our primary means of “connecting” with God.

But avodah also means work--giving something of ourselves to God. But what benefit could God derive from our prayers? How do our prayers serve the Divine? The Hebrew word l’hitpallel means to pray. The root word is pallel, which actually means to judge, clarify, differentiate or decide. In the reflexive tense of the word--l’hitpallel, the subject acts upon him/herself. Prayer, therefore, is about self-definition and establishing some level of personal inner clarity. During prayer, one is able to clarify his/her relationship with God and with the world, thus opening a clearer channel of communication with the Divine.

The prayers that the sages chose to make up the daily service were selected because they were considered to be the most effective means of focusing a person’s thoughts to create the proper relationship with God.

This is all the more so with regard to the prayers that make up the liturgy of the High Holidays. Yom Kippur is unique in that there are five separate prayer services (instead of the usual four on Shabbat and Yom Tov), and while some of the prayers repeat themselves, each repetition provides us with an opportunity to discover new understanding in the meaning of that prayer.

Check It Out: Jewish Treats is proud to present our new prayer section that is found below the Action of the Day. This section will introduce and briefly explain some of the most common prayers in the Jewish liturgy. Mondays will continue to feature the Shema--the ultimate expression of the Jewish faith. Tuesdays will feature blessings over foods. Wednesdays will highlight some of the morning blessings. On Thursdays the prayers of the silent Amidah (Shemoneh Esrei) will be explained. Finally, Fridays will review prayers from the Shabbat evening service. Enjoy, and please feel free to share your feedback with us.

Focused Prayer

Choose one prayer and spend a few moments thinking about the literal meaning of the words, how they relate to you and how they relate to the Jewish people in general.


The ha’mo’tzee blessing is recited before one eats bread. Since bread is considered the staple of the meal, no other blessings need to be recited since the ha’mo’tzee blessing covers all the other foods that are eaten at that meal.

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam ha’mo’tzee lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Fast Of Gedaliah (Tzom Gedaliah)

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed to commemorate the murder of Gedaliah the son of Achikam, which is described in the last chapter of the Second Book of Kings. This murder resulted in the exile of the Jews that remained in Judea after the Babylonian conquest.

After the first Holy Temple was destroyed and the Babylonians had exiled the majority of the Jewish people, a small minority were permitted to remain in the Land of Israel. Also, Jews who had fled during the war returned and began to work the land.

Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, appointed Gedaliah to be the Jewish governor over the remaining population. The King of the neighboring country Ammon, who was vying with the Babylonians for control of the Land of Israel, commissioned Yishmael the son of Netanyah to remove Gedaliah.

Yishmael, who was a descendant of King David, came to the town of Mitzpeh and murdered Gedaliah and all those that were with him. Fearing retribution for the murder of the appointed governor, the remaining Jews fled the Land of Israel, thus completing the exile.

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed on the third day of Tishrei, the day after Rosh Hashana. The fast begins at dawn and ends at nightfall.*

* Some people rise before dawn to have an early morning breakfast (but this is only permitted if a decision to do so was verbally expressed the night before).

Bury The Hatchet

Make amends with someone with whom you have been at odds.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Remembering the Akeidah

In neither of the two Torah references to the holiday of Rosh Hashana (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1), is there a specific mention of the shofar, the ram's horn. Only the Teruah, the sound made by the shofar, is noted. So why do we only use the shofar on Rosh Hashana when the same sound can be made on another instrument?

In the Talmudic discussion, Rabbi Abahu (ca. 279-320 C.E., Caeseria, Israel) responded to this question by referring to the oral tradition that God wanted the Jewish people to use a ram's horn to remind Him of the offering of Isaac (known as the Akeidah), which culminated in a ram being offered as a sacrifice in Isaac's stead. The shofar represents that ram.

Why is it important to God that the Jewish people remind Him of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashana? On a simple level, the oral tradition states that the Akeidah took place on the first of Tishrei, which is Rosh Hashana. More importantly, however, is the fact that the Akeidah reminds God of the Jewish people's commitment to the ways of its ancestors.

On Rosh Hashana, humanity is judged...and far too often it is the negative side of the scale that is weighed down. However, when God sees the Jewish people recalling the patriarachs' and matriarchs' devotion and commitment, and demonstrating that we, ourselves, strive toward that devotion, His attribute of mercy can override His attribute of judgment and enable Him to judge us favorably for a good year to come.

Jewish Treats and the National Jewish Outreach Program would like to wish all of our readers and supporters a Shana Tova u'Metukah, a Happy and Sweet New Year.

How To Judge

Judge the actions of others, be they bad drivers or inconsiderate co-workers, favorably ... as you would want another person to judge you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Symbolic Foods

Since Rosh Hashana is the day of judgement, it is customary to eat simanim,* foods with symbolic meanings that invoke God's blessing. We also recite a short prayer before eating them. While apple with honey is a universal custom, other symbolic items eaten depend on family custom. Here are some examples:

Apple and Honey: A slice of apple is dipped in honey. After reciting the blessing for apples (Boray p'ree ha’eitz) and taking a bite of the apple and honey, the following brief prayer is recited:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.

Beets: The Hebrew word for beets is selek, related to the Hebrew word l’salek, "to remove."

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our enemies be removed.

Pomegranate: It is said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments of the Torah:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.

Head of a Sheep or a Fish: The head of the sheep or fish can be eaten or can be left on the table as a visual symbol. The customary prayer is as follows:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that we be like the head (to lead) and not like the tail (to follow).

There is one type of food that is actually avoided on Rosh Hashana: Nuts. They are not eaten since the numeric value of the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, is equivalent to the numeric value for the Hebrew word for sin, chayt.

This is just a sampling of the simanim. For more foods and their associated prayers, click here.

*The simanim are eaten before the evening meals.

Does your family have a special food they eat on Rosh Hashana? Tell us about it.


Purchase a fruit you haven’t eaten this past season to eat as a “new fruit” on the second night of Rosh Hashana.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Five Names For Rosh Hashana

In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashana has several names that can help us understand the importance and power of this holiday.

Rosh Hashana literally means "Head of the Year" because Rosh Hashana marks the point when we begin the new calendar year (e.g. from 5769 to 5770).

Yom Harat Olam means "The Birthday of the World."

Yom Hazikaron means "The Day of Remembering."

Yom Hadin means "The Day of Judgment."

Yom Teruah means "The Day of Sounding (the Shofar)." This is the actual name that the holiday is called in the Torah.

Ok, so there are five different names for the holiday. What is the significance of that? How do these different themes relate to each other?

The Teruah is the staccato sound blown on the shofar. Yom Teruah serves as a call to attention because this day is Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and it is imperative that one be cognizant of the importance of the day.

It is the Day of Judgment because it is Yom Hazikaron, the day on which God looks back and "remembers" our deeds, individually, collectively and historically (a record of over 4,000 years of Jewish history).

Why is this the Day of Remembrance? Because it is the anniversary of the creation of the world (Yom Harat Olam). Since the annual cycle is closing, it is the perfect time for reflection and judgment. This new beginning allows us to enter the new year with a clean slate.

And since the old year and the new year are seamless, this day is also Rosh Hashana, the head of the year.

Rosh Hashana Place

Know someone who is looking for a new Rosh Hashana experience? Maybe one of these Beginner Services is just what they need: Beginner Service Locations

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Three Ts

On Rosh Hashana we declare: “Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree!” In Hebrew, these constitute the 3 Ts: Teshuva, Tefilah and Tzedaka.

Teshuva (repentance) a central theme of the High Holidays, means more than just saying “sorry.” Teshuva means recognizing one’s errors and making an effort not to repeat them. In many ways, teshuva is a private act because one must be introspective in order to recognize one’s own mistakes.

Tefilah (prayer) is the acknowledgment of God as the King and Ruler of the universe. Tefilah is almost private, but not quite. It is a conversation between the person and God.

Tzedaka (charity) is a critical step necessary to reverse an evil decree simply because it constitutes an action. The performance of this mitzvah affects the person giving, the person receiving, and its benefits often extend to others as well. Tzedaka is reaching out beyond one’s self, and is thus a public act.

Everything that a person does affects the world in multiple ways. It affects the person’s relationship with him/herself, their relationship with the Divine and their relationship with their fellow human beings. The path to reversing the evil of the decree must therefore involve the private, the spiritual and the public spheres of our lives.

*This Treat was originally published on September 23, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

A crucial part of preparing for a "new you" in a new year is recognizing your misdeeds and being man or woman enough to say “I'm sorry” to the person you’ve wronged. Between now and Yom Kippur (Sept 28th) we’ll be using our Facebook fan page and Twitter to share "sorrys."

Sorry you forgot to feed the cat? That’s a good start. Sorry you weren’t there for a friend during a rough time? Say so. Share your sorry in 140 characters on Twitter or in a short message on our Facebook Fan Page and inspire all of us to begin evaluating our actions and to strive to be better in the new year.

So please join us in adding the hashtag #forgiveme to your tweets and/or posting your words here to help motivate us all to contemplate our actions as we prepare for a new year.

One T at a Time

Focus on one type of action for which you need to do teshuva, such as gossiping, and dedicate 30 minutes a day for one week on making sure not to transgress.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Birthday of the World

According to Jewish tradition, this Saturday, Rosh Hashana, the world will be 5770 years old. This claim easily stirs up sharp debate. How, it is often asked, can one say that the world is only 5770 years old when carbon dating “proves” that certain fossils are millions of years old? Science and religion often seem in conflict with one another, but only at first glance.

While Rosh Hashana is considered the first day of the year, it is actually only the beginning of the counting of the years of the world. The Bible recounts that it took “six days” to create the world, and on the sixth day God created Adam. According to the midrash, until Adam was formed, the world was static. Only after Adam was created and prayed for rain, did the world come to life.

Think of it like conception and birth. The world was conceived six days before Rosh Hashana, which was “Day One” of Creation. The next five days were a gestational period, when the world was formed and developed. Birth, the completion of the world, only occurred on the sixth day with the introduction of Adam.

More that just the world "came to life" with the creation of Adam, the world acquired time then as well. Prior to Adam, no one noted when the sun rose or set, or the moon waxed and waned or whether there were seasons. No one can say with certainty how long the days of creation were because there were no human beings to mark the beginning and end of a day.

Good Morning Sunshine

Say “good evening” or “good morning” to the doorman, crossing guard, mailman, etc....all of the people who make your life easier but whom we sometimes overlook.

Friday, September 11, 2009


In addition to the unique prayer services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays are known for one other service: selichot. A collection of religious poems and verses, selichot are penitential prayers that help one focus on the mood of the season.

An integral part of the selichot service is the repetition of the "Thirteen Attributes of God” (Exodus 34:5-7). After the incident with the Golden Calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai and assuaged God’s anger at the Israelites. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b), God, appearing as a prayer leader wrapped in a prayer shawl, instructed Moses that the Jewish people should recite the following “13 Attributes of God” and they would be granted forgiveness:

Hashem: He is merciful (to one before he/she sins).
Hashem: He is merciful (to the sinner who repents).
Ayl: He is powerful.
Rachum: He is compassionate.
V’chanun: He grants even undeserved favors.
Erech Apayim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment.
V’rav Chesed : He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency.
V’emet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.
Notzer Chesed La’alafim: He maintains lovingkindness for thousands of generations.
Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation.
Va’fesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him.
V’chata’ah: He forgives sins committed carelessly or unknowingly.
V’nakay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.*

In Sephardi communities, the recitation of selichot begins after Rosh Chodesh Elul and continues through Yom Kippur. In Ashkenzi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana (unless Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, in which case it begins the previous Saturday night). The first communal recitation of selichot in the Ashkenazi community usually takes place after midnight. On all other days until Yom Kippur, selichot are recited prior to the morning service.

(*Explanations of the 13 Attributes are from The Companion Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Service by Moshe Sorscher, printed by Judaica Press.)

Pardon Me

FInd out if there is a selichot service in your neighborhood on Saturday night.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Project Forgiveness

A crucial part of preparing for a new you in a new year is recognizing your misdeeds and being man or woman enough to say “I'm sorry” to the person you’ve wronged. Between now and Yom Kippur (Sept 28th) we’ll be using our Facebook fan page and Twitter to share "sorrys."

Sorry you forgot to feed the cat? That’s a good start. Sorry you weren’t there for a friend during a rough time? Say so. Share your sorry in 140 characters on Twitter or in a short message on our Facebook Fan Page and inspire all of us to begin evaluating our actions and striving to be better in the new year.

So please join us in adding the hashtag #forgiveme to your tweets and/or posting your words here to help motivate us all to contemplate our actions as we prepare for a new year.

The Incomplete Repentance

“Repentance” sounds like a grand and powerful word. In truth, the most important adjective that must be attached to the act of repentance is the word “sincere.”

At one time or another, we all experience insincere apologies, and it doesn’t make anyone feel better to receive one. Since an apology is critical to the repentance process, an insincere apology does not bode well for true repentance.

One particular story in the Bible highlights the tragedy brought about by an insincere apology: King Saul, the first King of Israel, was commanded by God through both the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) and the words of the prophet Samuel, to completely wipe out the Amalekites, ancient enemies of the Jewish people. While he was victorious over them, “Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, oxen ... and lambs, and all that was good...”(I Samuel 15:9).

When confronted the next morning by the Samuel (to whom God had already expressed his anger over Saul’s disobedience), King Saul’s response was to declare that he had listened to the Divine command, capturing King Agag alive and destroying the Amelekites. He then added, “the people took of the spoils, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things” (I Samuel 15:21) to sacrifice to God. Finally, Saul admits his wrong-doing, but still does not take responsibility: “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of God, and your words; because I feared the people, and hearkened to their voice” (I Samuel 15:24).

By blaming the people, Saul voided his apology. Perhaps, if he had immediately recognized his mistake, admitted it and apologized sincerely , the dynastic line of kingship would not have been removed from his family and given to David.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

And You Shall Teach

Do you know the phone numbers of all of your siblings and your three closest friends? Since the advent of the PDA (personal digital assistant), and perhaps even since the beginning of speed dial, people have experienced a decrease in their ability to remember basic information.

It is therefore hard to imagine what life was like in the age before printed books were common, when most knowledge was passed orally from teacher to student. For the majority of human existence, however, oral transmission was the basis of education. (After all, movable type printing was only introduced to Western civilization in the 1400s.)

To memorize and understand great tracts of text and law takes both discipline and diligence. Those same qualities are required of those who teach. Studying the Torah is a great mitzvah...but so is teaching it. (As it says in Deuteronomy 31:19 - "And you shall teach it to the children of Israel.")

In an oral society, as the repository of knowledge, the teacher assumed great responsibility. Rabbi Eliezer, one of the great sages of the Talmud, believed that a teacher is obligated to teach a student the same lesson four times. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, insisted that a teacher must teach the same material to a student many times until the student masters the material! (Talmud Eruvin 54b)

Whether education is oral, as in the past, or written, as in the present, there is a great lesson to be learned. Each student must be taught according to his/her ability and needs. Some students pick up information as soon as it is taught, but others need it repeated, two, four, ten, or even 100 times. And that’s okay too.

Getting Started

When you need a birthday present for a Jewish child in your life, buy him/her a Jewish book.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Workers' Rights

Are workers’ rights a modern invention born out of the trials and tribulations of the industrial revolution? Everyone’s heard of the horrors of the sweatshops, child labor abuses and other workplace issues that, sadly, sometimes still take place today.

It should be known, however, that workers’ rights were a concern long before sweatshops, and that workers' rights were addressed in many different ways by the Torah. One of the classic examples of workers’ rights in the Torah is with regard to the payment of wages. First mentioned in Leviticus 19:13, the Torah states: “...the wages of a hired servant shall not abide with you all night until the morning.” When a person hires a day laborer, the worker must be paid, without delay, before the beginning of the next day.

While this seems obvious–a man is hired to build a shed, he finishes the job and you pay him--there are many cases and situations in which a person might not be so careful. What about the teenage babysitter for whom you have forgotten to have cash on hand? It’s happened to all of us. This rule also applies to artisans...a customer is responsible for paying a worker upon receipt of the work he/she was to have done (for instance when a tailor delivers a new suit).

Often, a casual employer doesn’t realize how much a delayed payment can effect an employee. Perhaps the employee has debts that are due or a babysitter that must be paid. Perhaps it is simply that the employee had intended to use the money to make a particular purchase that evening.

The Torah’s views on workers' rights serve to remind us of the compassion one must always feel for human beings.

Responsble Boss

Keep a stash of cash in the house so that you will not be put in the uncomfortable position of not being able to pay immediately when someone completes an "odd job" for you.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Zmirot (Songs of Shabbat)

Singing zmirot, songs of Shabbat, on Friday night not only expresses joy for the gift of Shabbat, but also offers praise to God. While many of the zmirot specifically speak of the beauty of Shabbat, others are focused on God, His relationship with the Children of Israel and the future coming of the Messiah.

For instance:

Yah Ribohn Olam is a very popular Shabbat song in Jewish communities around the world. Written in Aramaic by Rabbi Israel Najara (Syria, 16th century). Yah Ribohn Olam describes the wonders of God's creation and concludes with hope for the redemption of the Children of Israel and the restoration of Jerusalem. Its chorus is: Yah ribohn olam v’ahlma’ya, ahnt hoo malka melech malchaya - O Creator, Master of this world and all worlds, You are the King who reigns over Kings.

Tzur Mishelo, attributed by some to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (2nd century sage), parallels the contents of the Grace After Meals. It includes a reference to God sustaining mankind, the Land of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The “Dover Shalom” suggests that the song’s theme is based on the Midrash Bereshit. When passersby would visit Abraham, they would extol his kindness after they ate and drank their fill. “Don’t thank me,” Abraham would say, “extol the virtues of the One Who really sustained you.”

Learning to sing the Shabbat zmirot can be a challenging, yet satisfying, accomplishment. Those lyrics not written in poetic Hebrew are written in Aramaic (a language similar to Hebrew that was common at the time of the Talmud). Additionally, most zmirot (songs) have a variety of melodies to which they are sung.

To download some of the Shabbat zmirot visit:

For further information on zmirot, click here.

Shabbat Children's Choir

If you are sharing a Shabbat meal with children, find some easy songs to sing with them to help them experience the joys of Shabbat. (Here are some cute ideas.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

“And Now Let Us Say Amen...”

The word “Amen” seems to be one of those words associated with prayer throughout the Judeo-Christian culture, but what does it mean?

The response Amen at the end of an oath or a prayer is mentioned at least twice in the Torah (Numbers 5:22 and Deuteronomy 27:26). While the first usage is a confirmation of the validity of an oath, the second is an expression of commitment, “And all the people shall say: ‘Amen’” (Deuteronomy 27:26). This response is to follow a long list of blessings and curses to be recited at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, and is meant to serve as a reminder of the ethical commitment to be taken on by the Jewish people. By responding “Amen,” the people acknowledge their commitment to follow the way of the Torah.

The root of the word “Amen” are the three Hebrew letters aleph-mem-nun. The word is best translated as “confirmed” or “the words to which I have responded are true.” This affirms that the respondent has faith that what has been said is, or will be, true. The Talmud relates that “Amen” is an acronym for the three Hebrew words that are recited just prior to the Shema: “Ayl Melech Ne’eman,” God is a Faithful King. This response, according to Resh Lakish, the Talmudic sage, is extremely powerful: “He who responds 'Amen' with all his might, has the gates of Paradise opened for him, as it is written, ‘Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps truth may enter in.’ Do not read ‘keeps truth,’ but rather ‘that says Amen’” (Shabbat 119b).

Because Amen is also an affirmation of a vow, its use as a response to a blessing or a prayer is seen as a second recitation of that prayer or vow. Therefore, not only is it important to respond “Amen” when hearing a blessing, but it is also important to recite the blessing (when appropriate) loud enough, so that others may have the opportunity to say “Amen.”

Respectfully Quiet

When someone near you is saying a blessing or a prayer, keep conversation quiet so as not to disrupt him/her.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Ben Ish Chai

When Rabbi Yosef Chaim was 25 years old, his father, Chacham Eliyahu Chaim, leader of the Jewish community in Baghdad, passed away. Although young, Rabbi Yosef Chaim had already achieved great renown as a scholar. In fact, his Torah knowledge was held in such high esteem that, despite his youth, the Baghdad community selected him to assume his father’s role of Chacham (literally wise man, the leading religious authority of the community).

While Chacham Yosef Chaim wrote many books (over 30), his most successful was Ben Ish Chai, "Son of a Living Man." It was so popular, in fact, that the author became known as the Ben Ish Chai, the name of his book. The book itself was a compilation of two year’s worth of homilies on the weekly Torah portion, each of which contained kabbalistic (mystical) insights and halachic (Jewish law) discussions.

The book, Ben Ish Chai, is found on bookshelves in most religious Sephardi homes, and his halachic rulings are respected throughout both the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi communities.

The Ben Ish Chai was also known for his love of the land of Israel. He even traveled to the Holy Land in 1869, where he was asked to remain as the Rishon L’tzion (Chief Rabbi) which he declined.

The Ben Ish Chai served the community of Baghdad for 50 years, answering their questions, inspiring their hearts and delivering a 3 hour Torah lecture every Shabbat afternoon. Sadly, in 1909, on a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel in western Iran, the Ben Ish Chai was taken ill and died on the 13th of Elul.

Only A Few Weeks Left

Begin preparing for the High Holidays by reading about their laws and customs. Visit's holiday pages and stay tuned for upcoming holiday Treats!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Forgiveness: An Elul Treat

Many feel that the three hardest words to say are: “I am sorry.” Yet, we all know how very important those words are. Indeed, saying one is sorry, or at least admitting one’s guilt, is a critical part of the process of teshuvah, repentance.

Equally important, however, is the ability to hear someone else’s apology and to accept it. Even greater is the ability to forgo an apology altogether and simply forgive the person for hurting you.

Jewish tradition teaches that one is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for their misconduct, as he/she has demonstrated true regret. The one who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness is now guilty of bearing a grudge.

What is wrong with bearing a grudge against a person who really hurt you? Beyond the fact that it is a violation of a Torah prohibition (Leviticus 19:18), bearing a grudge affects the bearer psychologically. A person bearing a grudge is, in general, less happy with the world and with other people because he/she cannot get past the feeling that he/she was wronged.

Forgiveness that is rather easy to bestow. And when it is done with sincerity, it is as much a gift to ourselves as it is to the person we forgive.

Take the first step in forgiving someone or asking for forgiveness. Visit

*This Treat was originally published on August 14, 2008. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

Forgiveness At Home

Forgive those closest to you for their mistakes, and ask their forgiveness for your own actions against them.