Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement

The Mussar movement, the formal study and program of ethical improvement, was developed in the mid-nineteenth century by Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883, his family name was Lipkin but he is known as Salanter in honor of the many years he studied in Salant, Lithuania).

Throughout his years of study, Rabbi Salanter felt that there was far too much cold intellectualism in the Jewish community and too little emphasis on ethics and self-improvement. While some Mussar texts already existed, such as the writings of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, Rabbi Salanter developed the study and practice of ethics into a true school of thought. The focus of the Mussar movement was the communal study of these existing texts, incorporated with constant self-examination of one's actions.

After serving as the head of the Vilna Yeshiva, Rabbi Lipkin moved to Kovno in the 1840s in order to open his own yeshiva. At the same time he also ran a special center dedicated to the study of ethical works and a kollel (an advanced study institute) for married men. After leaving Kovno in 1856, Rabbi Salanter took positions in several towns of Germany and France.

The most renowned work of Rabbi Salanter is Iggeret ha-Mussar (The Ethical Letter), which was first published in 1858.

While the Mussar movement was successful within the world of the scholars, it was not generally a popular movement. (After all, how popular could it be to sit for an hour each day and criticize yourself?!) Following Rabbi Salanter's death on 25 Shevat in 1883, his disciples worked diligently to integrate Mussar into mainstream traditional education. Eventually it became part of the curriculum in most Lithuanian schools, where students would not only study Mussar, but would regularly hear Mussar Shmoozin (Mussar talks) from the school's mashgiach ruchani (moral supervisor).

This Treat was last posted on February 9, 2010. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek Opportunities to Improve Character

One of the most valuable endeavors is to devote time to character building and improvement.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jewish Law on the Breakdown Lane

The Torah records two similar verses, one of which can be found in this week’s parasha, Mishpatim, regarding helping travelers with animals and burdens. In parashat Mishpatim (Exodus (23:5), it proclaims, “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving it with him, you shall help him to lift it up.” Later on, (Deuteronomy 22:4), we read: “You shall not watch your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down by the way, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him to lift them up again.”

Maimonides (Laws of Murderers and Maintaining Safety 13:1-2) delineates two different laws based on the two above-mentioned verses. First, if one encounters his friend on the way whose animal is struggling with its cargo, whether it was carrying a load appropriate for it, or too heavy for it, one fulfils a mitzvah by unloading the animal and relieving it of its load (Exodus). However, it is not enough to simply unload the burden from the animal. One must also help re-pack the burden on the animal (Deuteronomy).

While some could view these laws as statutes that are intended to protect the dignity of animals and avoid undue pain to all creatures, known in Hebrew as tzaar ba’alei chayim, based on the placement of these laws, Maimonides views these mandates as responsibilities to one’s fellow human. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a leading halachic decisor, derives from the juxtaposition of these verses in Maimonides, the obligation that if one sees another person on a road unable to move his or her automobile, he or she is required to stop and help them. An earlier halakhist, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, writes similarly in his legal code Aruch Hashulchan, that if one sees someone traveling in a horse-and-buggy with a broken wheel, one must help in any way possible until the buggy is ready to continue its journey.

While the Torah often involves itself with areas of ritual, the focus of parashat Mishpatim, addresses our responsibilities to one another. These too were revolutionary at the time the Torah was given.

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Be a Good Samaritan

Looking out for one’s fellow is not merely a nice thing to do. Judaism considers it obligatory.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Brother Against Brother

The origins of sibling rivalry, brother against brother violence and even, God forbid, fratricide, can be traced back to the first family in human history, when Cain killed his brother Abel. Generations later, the Torah describes, in detail, the tension between Joseph and his brothers, and how the brothers almost murdered Joseph, but instead cast him into a pit instead, and then sold him into slavery. Additionally, while the Children of Israel were in the Sinai wilderness, Korach led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, his first cousins.

The first, and perhaps worst, actual civil war among the Jewish people, took place during the period of the Judges (1200-1000 BCE) and was waged against the Tribe of Benjamin. This tragic incident, told in Judges chapters 19 and 20, occurred before there was any unified governance of the Jewish people, prior to the establishment of a Jewish monarchy, when each tribe governed itself.

A man from the mountains of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah. The woman was unfaithful and returned to the home of her parents. After four months, the husband traveled to the home of his concubine to attempt to convince her to return to him. After several days, the man succeeded and began his trek home with his concubine. They stopped over in Giv’ah, a city that was in the tribal jurisdiction of Benjamin, where an elderly man was the only one to invite the man and his concubine in. The citizens surrounded the elderly man’s home, and to save the guest, the concubine was offered to the crowd. She was violated all night by the local Benjaminites and, despite being left for dead in the morning, she was able to make her way to the doorstep of the host, where she died. The husband returned home with the deceased concubine and to demonstrate the evil done to his concubine, chopped up her body and sent a portion to each of the tribes of Israel. Those who received the remains understood how egregious and heinous the act of the Benjaminites had been.

An army of 400,000 men was assembled from all the tribes of Israel on the 23rd of Shevat and a demand was issued that the tribe of Benjamin arrest the perpetrators. The Benjaminites refused and gathered its own army of 26,700 men. While Benjamin won the first two days of battle, the tribe of Benjamin was entirely vanquished on the third day, with only 600 soldiers surviving. The victorious tribes were so aggrieved that they took an oath not to allow their daughters to marry into the tribe of Benjamin. Eventually this edict was lifted many years later on the 15th of Av, which is one of the reasons that the 15th of Av, known as Tu B’av, is known as the “happiest of days” on the Jewish calendar (Talmud Ta’anit 30b).

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Take a Stand

There are times when a moral stand must be taken, to stand up for righteousness, despite deleterious consequences.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Lego on Shabbat

One of the most recognizable toys in the world is Lego. As a matter of fact, in February 2015, Lego was determined to be the “World’s most powerful brand,” replacing the Ferrari automobile. Today, the Lego brand consists of movies, games, competitions, six Legoland amusement parks and over 600 billion Lego pieces that have been created. The modern Lego brick design was patented on January 28, 1958.

The Lego Group, a private company based in Bullund, Denmark, began marketing and creating Lego in 1949, but the company was born in the workshop of Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, who began selling wooden toys in 1932. Lego derives from the Danish “leg godt” which means play well.

Given the popularity of Lego all over the world, including in observant Jewish homes, the question arose whether one can play with Lego on Shabbat. One of the prohibited productive acts of Shabbat (m’lachot) is boneh, building, which is generally understood as being accomplished through creating a roof, and assembling various items together in a permanent way. Would playing with Lego bricks constitute boneh? Others have noted that by using smaller Lego bricks, one could actually sculpt, which falls under the forbidden category of writing.

When discussing the prohibited productive acts of Shabbat, an important factor to be considered is whether the resulting structure is intended to be permanent or temporary. This, of course, is a factor in using Lego. Most would argue that the normal use of Lego is to build and then to disassemble what was built in order to use the Lego blocks to build something else.

Most rabbis argue that connecting Lego bricks without any type of glue, nails or screws, and knowing that what was built is not meant to be permanent, does not fall under the category of boneh (building) and is permissible on Shabbat. Many feel, however, that games such as Lego, while technically permitted, should be avoided by adults and should be reserved for children.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with issues of halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pop Culture and Jewish Tradition

Jewish tradition, wisdom and law should have voices in all sectors of life, including pop culture. Seek out the contemporary situations and apply ancient wisdom to modernity.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Dancing on Ice

Competing for artistic and athletic mastery on ice has been part of the fun of winter long before the Winter Olympics, and Jews have often taken part in the joy of ice skating. In fact, Louis Rubenstein, called “The Father of Canadian Figure Skating,” was one of the first to incorporate dance-like movements to the act of making figures on ice. Today’s Jewish Treat presents a brief glimpse at some early Jewish figure skating champions.

According to many commentaries, the winner of the 1908 Olympic gold might have been Lily Kronberger (1890-1974), had she competed. Although she did not compete in the Olympics, the Budapest born skater had an incredible career. She won bronze in 1906, at the first World Championship to include women, and again in 1907. In 1908, although not in the Olympics, she not only became the official Hungarian champion, but claimed the first of four successive Gold Medals at the World Championship. Kronberger is also noted for being the first competitive skater in figure skating history to choreograph her routine to music (she brought her own brass band) and to express emotion.

Other great Jewish skaters were Laszlo Szollas (1907 - 1980) and Emilia Rotter (1906 - 2003) who, at both the 1932 and 1936 Winter Olympics, were awarded the Bronze Medal for pairs skating. The Hungarian skaters were also World Champions in 1931, 1933, 1934 and 1935 (with silver in 1932).

Little is known about the fate of Lily Kronberger and Emilia Rotter during World War II other than that they survived. Szollas entered the military and fought against the Soviet Union. He was captured and spent four years in Siberia as a Prisoner of War. Szollas went on to attend medical school and became a Sports Medicine Doctor.

Lily Kronberger was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1983, as was Emilia Rotter in 1995.

The first Winter Olympics games opened in Chamonix, France, on January 25, 1924.

This Treat was last posted on February 21, 2018. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Get Thee Outdoors

Despite the cold wintry weather in many parts of the United States, take advantage of the many outdoor recreational activities that are healthy and fun, while, of course, wearing proper warm clothing.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Where in the World is Moses?

The centerpiece of Parashat Yitro is the Decalogue, the Revelation at Sinai, where the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Utterances (also known as the Ten Commandments) were declared. But you may need some Dramamine if you try to identify Moses’ location during this most seminal moment in human history.

Chapter 19 of Exodus describes the preparations for Revelation as the Children of Israel arrived in the Sinai wilderness. Verse 3 informs us that Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive a message from God for the Children of Israel, describing their chosenness and the miracles God performed on their behalf. Verse 14 states that Moses descended the mountain.

On the day of Revelation, the Children of Israel saw lightning, heard claps of thunder and the enduring sound of the shofar, and the nation of Israel trembled. In the midst of these tremendous natural phenomena, God descends upon Mount Sinai (verse 20) and summons Moses to the top of the mountain. In the very next verse (verse 21), God commands Moses to “go down to the people” and enforce the Divine imperative not to approach the mountain. In verse 24, once again, God commands Moses to, “Go, get you down, and you shall come up, you, and Aaron with you; but let not the priests and the people break through, to come up to the Lord…” The next verse states: “So Moses went down to the people, and spoke to them.” Immediately thereafter (Exodus 20:1), God spoke the words of the Decalogue, the “Ten Commandments.”

Why does God ask Moses to ascend and descend Mount Sinai so many times prior to Revelation?

A Midrash (Sh’mot Rabbah 28:3) advances the notion that had Moses been atop Mount Sinai during the Revelation, the Israelites may have been unclear if the statements emanated from God or from Moses. Moses was therefore dispatched to be with the people so there would be no ambiguity. Why then all the instructions from God for Moses to ascend and descend Mount Sinai, despite being 80 years old and in great shape? Rabbi Shmuel Goldin suggests in his Unlocking the Torah Text that his sorties up and down Mount Sinai were meant to teach Moses a lesson about leadership: Ultimately, the leader is the representative of the people that he or she represents. During the greatest moment in human history, consummating God and the Children of Israel’s relationship, Moses needed to be with those whom he represented and for whom he cared. God wanted Moses to learn this lesson on his own, by going up and down Mount Sinai.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prioritize Those You Lead

Whether a parent, a boss at work, or a good friend--try to always “be there” for those who need you, look up to, and gain inspiration from you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Learning the Truth of Your Heritage at Age 59: The Amazing Story of Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright broke a glass ceiling when she became the first woman U.S. Secretary of State on January 23, 1997. A few weeks later, at age 59, Madeleine learned that her parents, Josef and Anna (nee Spegelova) Korbelov, were Jews who converted to Catholicism in 1941, and lived and raised their family in the Catholic tradition. They never spoke of their Jewishness. 

Born on May 15, 1937 as Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Secretary Albright's family moved to Great Britain in March, 1939, ten days after the Nazis invaded their home country. After World War II, the Korbel famly moved to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where Josef, her father, served as the Czech ambassador to Yugoslavia. In order to avoid communist indoctrination in Belgrade, Marie was sent to finishing school in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she changed her name to Madeleine. On November 11, 1948, the Korbel family arrived in the United States, where Josef assumed a position with the recently-established United Nations. The Korbels then moved to Denver, CO, when Josef became a political science professor at the University of Denver, CO. (Among his students there was future second female U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.)

After attending Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, on a full scholarship, Madeleine married Joseph Albright and balanced caring for her growing family and attending Columbia University, in New York City, where she received her doctorate in 1975. Prior to serving as Secretary of State, Madeleine taught in various universities, served on the National Security Council, and became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

Although Secretary Albright began to hear rumors of alleged Jewishness for years, she definitively became aware of her Jewish heritage when Washington Post reporters researched her background soon after she was nominated as Secretary of State. The shocking news also revealed that over a dozen relatives, including three grandparents, an uncle, an aunt and a cousin, died in Auschwitz and Terezin. The Washington Post research included Josef Korbel's birth certificate, found in the Czech Foreign Ministry archives, in which he was identified as Jewish. Ironically, the first mention of Madeleine's alleged Jewish roots, came in Arab newspapers citing anonymous sources. They used Madeleine's "Jewishness" as a basis to attack her nomination as Secretary of State. Years later, Secretary Albright returned to Prague and wrote extensively about these revelations in her 2012 book, "Prague Winter."

Secretary Albright became Episcopalian upon her marriage in 1959, decades before learning about her Jewish heritage. One of Secretary Albright's daughters, who considered herself Episcopalian until the 1997 revelations, married a Jewish man, and is raising Jewish children.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate, Celebrate and Transmit Your Family’s Jewish Heritage

Every person should proudly transmit family history to the next generation. For Jews this is both a calling and an imperative.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Happy National Hugging Day

On January 21, 1986, Kevin Zaborney of Clio, Michigan, created “National Hugging Day”. It is observed annually on January 21st. Zaborney felt that “American society is embarrassed to show feelings in public” and felt that his new hugging holiday would change that.

The root of the Hebrew word for hugging is (ch.b.k). A brief perusal of uses of this root throughout the Jewish Scriptures can be instructive and insightful about hugging.

The Torah’s first two huggers are infamous characters, for whom the sages read negative ulterior motives into their hugs. When Rebecca became aware that her son Esau desired to kill her favored son Jacob, she sent Jacob away to the far-away home of her brother Laban. Soon after arriving in Haran, Jacob encountered his future wife Rachel and fell in love with her at first sight. Rachel ran home to inform her father, Laban, about Jacob’s arrival. The Torah records that Laban “kissed Jacob, brought him into his home, and hugged him” (Genesis 29:13.) The rabbis interpreted Laban’s outward display of affection as a way of checking whether Jacob had traveled with hidden valuables in his pockets.

After residing for several decades with Laban, Jacob finally returned home and immediately learned that his long-estranged brother, Esau, was marching toward him with an army of 400 men. The impending confrontation was a source of great anxiety for Jacob. Eventually, when the rendezvous took place, Esau “ran towards him, hugged him, fell on his neck, kissed him and both men wept” (Genesis 33:4). Here too the sages are reluctant to view Esau’s emotional metamorphosis as legitimate, and ascribe ulterior motives, some even suggesting that Esau attempted to kill Jacob.

Yet the very same verb is employed to describe Jacob’s embrace of the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe, as he blessed his two grandsons (Genesis 48:10). No ulterior motives are attributed to Jacob in this context. A similar usage is found regarding the prophet Elisha (Kings II 4:16) where he promises a barren woman that within one year, she will be “hugging” a son. The Zohar identifies that very boy as the prophet Habakuk, whose name is based on the aforementioned Hebrew root ch.b.k.

So, on this “National Hugging Day,” know that the Torah seems to tell us that a hug, when legitimate, can serve as a wonderful expression of one’s love, and is a very effective and desired way to display affection. But beware of those who use hugs to feign love and respect by simply embracing another person while harboring evil thoughts in their hearts.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Hug Your Loved Ones

A hug conveys esteem, fraternity and love. Use hugs wisely and often!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Tu B'Shevat is Coming

While it may seem as if winter has just begun, it may be time to look beyond the turbulent weather and see that spring is just around the corner. You might wonder how one can possibly think of spring at the present time, but, according to Jewish wisdom, now is precisely the time because Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for trees.

Tu B'Shevat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the official (halachic) start of spring in Israel, even though the weather is still cold. According to Jewish tradition, this is the day on which the long dormant sap in the trees begins to flow again.

Why is Tu B'Shevat celebrated as a holiday and elevated to the status of being one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar? In Judaism, a holiday usually marks a day on which there is a unique connection between the spiritual and physical worlds and signals an event from which we can learn and grow.

Because of Tu B'Shevat, Jews around the world are given a moment to stop and think about the trees and the greenery around them. Spiritually, there is much that one can learn from a tree. For instance, almost every person goes through a “spiritual winter,” a time in which it is hard to connect to God or to follow religious beliefs. According to tradition, deep within each Jew there is a pintele yid (Yiddish for a "little bit of Jewish spirit"). Like the frozen sap that is thawed by the coming of spring and brings new life to the tree, the pintele yid can be ignited by a spark of inspiration and revitalize the Jewish soul.

Some people follow the custom of eating special Israeli foods and conduct a special Tu B'Shevat Seder. For more information on Tu B'Shevat or for an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, please visit

This Treat is posted annually in honor of Tu B'Shevat.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Tu B’Shevat

Although Tu B’Shevat is technically a demarcation point in order to identify the age of trees, many celebrate it by planting or supporting the planting of trees in Israel, and eating some of the fruits of Israel.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Scud War

On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, a region they have historically claimed as theirs. U.S. President George H.W. Bush assembled a vast international coalition to force Iraq’s military out of Kuwait. The Coalition established a January 15th deadline. Saddam Hussein warned that if Coalition forces were to attack, the Iraqi military would launch Scud missiles at Israel. Since Iraq possessed chemical weapons in its arsenal, the threat to Israel’s entire population was very real and terrifying. Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzchak Shamir, the leader of Israel’s right wing Likud party and one of its founding fathers during Israel’s battle for independence, had to suppress every instinct to agree to President Bush’s plea to avoid retaliation against such an offensive attack and to keep Israel’s military grounded.

The United States government sent Patriot anti-ballistic missile batteries to Israel along with troops to man them. The Israeli government provided gas masks to Israel’s population and counseled how “sealed rooms” should be prepared, which would shield people from the potentially noxious weapons. The Israeli people, pawns in this larger international war, felt tremendous anxiety. Images of helpless Jews from fifty years earlier traumatized the Survivor community and beyond.

At 3:00 am on January 18, 1991, sirens wailed through Northern and Central Israel as up to eight Scud missiles rained down upon greater Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, and Haifa, Israel’s chief port. That missile attack became the first time Tel Aviv had been targeted and attacked in Israel’s history. Thank God, the initial reporting that one of the missiles contained a chemical warhead, was erroneous.

After the initial attack, Israel’s security cabinet met to determine Israel’s response to this blatant attack on its sovereignty. They knew a response might break up the Bush anti-Iraq Coalition, which included Arab nations uninterested in allying with Israel. In the end, Israel maintained that it reserved the right at any time to retaliate. Coalition forces dispatched 2,000 sorties a day against Iraqi targets, many of which targeted the Scud missile launchers. The Coalition forces initiated a ground war on February 24th. The overwhelming force of the Coalition forces resulted in a fairly immediate Iraqi retreat. President Bush declared victory on February 28th.

Despite 39 missiles falling upon Israel in 19 missile attacks over a month during what is now known as the First Gulf War, casualties were in the single digits. Many in the religious community noted that Divine intervention is the only plausible explanation for this incredibly low casualty rate in the wake of such an attack, and was nothing short of a Divine miracle.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Military Strategy

Sometimes holding fire can be more effective strategically than taking offensive action.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Jewish Boy Goes to Hollywood

Joshua Charles Malina, a prominent Jewish American actor, was born January 17, 1966 in New York City. His father, an investment banker and Broadway producer, and mother, moved to Westchester County, New York, where they were among the founding members of the Young Israel of Scarsdale. The last name Malina means raspberry in Polish, and is often confused with the Latino surname Molina.

Malina attended Westchester Day School, and graduated high school at the Horace Mann School. He attended Yale University, where he received a B.A. in theater. Malina made his acting debut in Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of his movie, “A Few Good Men.” In addition to the Malina family connections to Sorkin, Malina, known for his quick wit and prolific practical jokes, noted that he once performed the Heimlich maneuver on Sorkin at a cast bowling match when the famed director and producer began choking. Malina has appeared in many Aaron Sorkin projects. He portrayed the on-screen assistant to Annette Benning’s character, Sydney Ellen Wade, in Sorkin’s “An American President,” Jeremy Goodwin on Sorkin’s “Sports Night” and speech-writer Will Bailey on Sorkin’s acclaimed “The West Wing.” Malina has also appeared in the ABC series “Scandal” and has a recurring role on the CBS hit, “The Big Bang Theory.”

Malina’s wit, charisma, humor and strong opinions come through on his ubiquitous social media presence, in media interviews and on his podcast for fans of “The West Wing.” Malina wears his Jewish pride on his sleeve; Judaism plays a central role in the life of his family. He participated in a Jewish celebrity campaign encouraging financial support of Jewish Federations, along with Greg Grunberg, Marlee Matlin, Kevin Weisman and Jonathan Silverman. He also starred along with Jewish actress Lisa Edelstein in a “Get Out the Vote” campaign for Hillel International.

Malina has been married to his wife Melissa since 1996, and they have two children, Isabel and Avi. Yom Huledet Sameyach (Happy Birthday) Joshua!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Use Your Fame to Benefit Judaism

Utilize every opportunity to help Judaism and Jews, especially exerting any influence you may have.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Arc in the Sea

God’s incredible miracle splitting the Red Sea and saving the Israelite people from the oncoming Egyptian army, was one of the greatest miracles and moments the world has ever experienced. As depicted in Parashat B’shalach, this week’s Torah portion, the act saved the Jews from imprisonment or death, provided yet another reason for the former Israelite slaves to have unbridled faith in God, and at its conclusion, enabled the Israelites to see their former taskmasters dead before them on the beaches. The Song of the Sea followed as an ode of gratitude to the Almighty for saving the Hebrews and removing the concern of future enslavement from their minds.

“Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. And Israel saw the great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians; and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31).

While many assume that the splitting of the sea served as a bridge to enable the Israelites to arrive to the other side of a body of water, several Biblical commentaries reject that assumption. The Tosafists (Erechin 15a) point out that the most direct path toward the land of Canaan did not include crossing the sea. They claim that the Israelite journey in the sea was merely a semi-circular “arc” route that began at one point of the bank of the sea and ended at another point on the same bank of the sea. Nowhere does the text indicate that they actually crossed the sea. The Tosafist commentary even includes an illustration. Chizkuni, (Rabbi Chizkiya the son of Manoach, 13th century France), another Biblical commentary, suggests that the whole purpose of entering the sea was to bait the Egyptian forces into the water so God could drown them in front of the eyes of the Israelites. He claims that Eitam is both the name of the location where the Jews entered the water (Exodus 13:20) and exited (Numbers 33:8) the sea.

The main takeaway from the awesome splitting of the Red Sea was to imbue the Israelites with a sense of faith in God, and God’s commitment to protect the Children of Israel.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study the Torah Closely

There are unlimited ways to understand and read the Torah. The mystics have described 70 paths to interpret the Torah. Perhaps you will discover one of those tracks!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Rabbi Eliezer Silver

Historians have noted the seemingly underwhelming response of the American Jewish community to the Holocaust as it unfolded in Europe. Among the few who were prominent activists was Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968).

Born in Lithuania, Rabbi Silver came to the United States in 1907, shortly after receiving rabbinic ordination. After a brief period in New York, the Silvers moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Rabbi Silver accepted a rabbinical position.

An early political activist, Rabbi Silver helped circulate a petition against a U.S. treaty with Russia (as a protest against persecution of the Jews) and was active in World War I relief efforts. Between the two World Wars, Rabbi Silver first took a position in Springfield, Massachusetts, and then Cincinnati, Ohio, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In the 1930s, Rabbi Silver started the first American branch of the Agudath Israel, a non-Zionist, Orthodox political organization founded in 1912 in Europe. Agudath Israel became the organization through which Rabbi Silver attempted to organize rescue efforts for European Jewry. In 1939, he formed the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee). The Vaad Hatzalah raised over $5 million for rescue efforts and organized synagogues to secure 2,000 contracts for rabbinic positions, resulting in numerous emergency visas being issued. The Vaad Hatzalah used all means (preferably legal but if necessary, illegal) to rescue Jews.

One poignant story frequently repeated about Rabbi Silver describes how he and Dayan Grunfeld of England came to a Christian orphanage in Europe after the war looking for hidden Jewish children. The head priest denied knowing whether any of the children were actually Jewish. The rabbis decided to return at bedtime, and, when all the children were gathered together to recite their bedtime prayers, the rabbis loudly recited the Shema in front of the children. Remembering the prayer that had once been part of their bedtime ritual, many children in the room started crying and calling out for their mothers.

Rabbi Silver passed away on February 7, 1968, corresponding to the 9th of Shevat.

This Treat was last posted on February 2, 2012. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

American Response during and after the Holocaust

There were a handful of heroes who gave their all to save Jews during the Holocaust and provided aid and solace to the survivors after the war. Learn about them.

Monday, January 14, 2019

An Eight or Nine Day Week?

Practically all civilized humanity has agreed on some basic common measures to mark time. A day consisting of 24 hours follows the natural rotation of the earth on its axis. The lunar calendar uses the waxing and waning of the moon to note the passing of a month. A year passes when the earth completes a lap on its track around the sun.

What does not fall neatly into nature, but is nonetheless universally accepted, is the seven-day week. There is no natural phenomenon which parallels the seven day cycle. Seven, a prime number, does not neatly fold into a month, or a year.

What then, is the source of the seven day week? The billions-strong human religious community acknowledges that the seven day week finds its source in the biblical story of God’s Creation of the Universe, as described in the first two chapters of Genesis. However, there have been attempts through the years, to alter the seven-day week, to fit more neatly into our method of marking time.

The Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar, but the Gregorian calendar has its own flaws. In 1923, the League of Nations considered updating the calendar. They very much wanted each month and day to fall on the same day of the week each year. In order to accomplish this, they suggested creating a 364 day year (which is divisible by 7). Their plan was to insert a “blank day” every year, where Monday would not follow Sunday that year, but would come a day later. During Leap Years, two blank days would be added. The idea had financial backers, most notably the now defunct Eastman Kodak company.

This, of course, would cause bedlam for Sabbath observers world-wide. The day after Sunday is Monday, and five days after that is the Sabbath. It does not matter what the world calls it. According to the Ramban, Jews fulfill daily the mandate to “Remember the Sabbath,” by announcing in morning prayers the relationship of each day to the Sabbath. Sunday is the first day of the Sabbatical week; Monday is the second day of the Sabbatical week, etc…

Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz (1872-1946,) Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, known to many as the editor and author of the once-ubiquitous “Hertz Chumash” containing his Bible translation and commentary, partnered with religious leaders across many faiths, to lead the successful battle to defeat “Calendar Reform,” also known as “The World Calendar.”

Rabbi Hertz passed away on January 14, 1946, corresponding to the 12th of Shevat. May his memory be a blessing.

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Appreciate Every Shabbat

There is an innate need to rest every seventh day, after a productive six days. Make sure to reinvigorate every Shabbat.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Inside or Outside?

Seder night is an event pregnant with tradition and ritual. As the Hagaddah instructs, “we are obligated to see ourselves as if we ourselves were slaves in Egypt.” So much of the Seder night reenacts the exodus and the final night that the children of Israel experienced in Egypt.

The sages identified two prototypical seders: the seder on the eve of emancipation while still in Egypt, (Pesach Mitzraim, Passover in Egypt), and the seder in every subsequent year afterwards (Pesach l’dorot, Passover in subsequent generations).

One component of the former category, the first Seder while still in Egypt, which has never been repeated, is detailed in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bo. “And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, in which they shall eat it” (Exodus 12:7). One may assume that the blood was painted on the outside of the lintel and doorposts of the doors of the Israelites. After all, a few verses later (verse 13), we read about the need to see the blood: “And the blood shall be to you for a sign upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” On the other hand, the Torah teaches that the “blood shall be to you for a sign,” which may imply that the blood was smeared indoors.

The Midrash (M’chilta Bo, 6) records both opinions, based on both sources above. The Midrash then cites Rabbi Yitzchak’s opinion who argues that the blood was smeared on the outside, to intimidate the Egyptians. Others ask why would God need a sign. Does not God know which houses were Egyptian and which were not?

The Torah provides textual verses that can serve as sources for the ritual blood being painted both on the outside and the inside. Perhaps the best message we can learn from this important debate is that in those moments on that night in Egypt when the Children of Israel became a nation and experienced liberation from servitude, they had to distinguish themselves from those outside. That separateness must be appreciated by both Jew and non-Jew alike.

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Celebrate Judaism’s Distinctness

As Jews who live in exile, we must never forget those critically important components of our religious personalities that are distinctly Jewish.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Baba Sali - Praying Father

Although it is not uncommon for Jewish sages to be known by a pseudonym, such names are most often either abbreviations of their full names (e.g. RaMBaM, an acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) or the names of their most popular writing (e.g. Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan). Rabbi Israel Abuhatzeira (1890-1984), on the other hand, is most often referred to as the Baba Sali (the Praying Father).

The Baba Sali came from a long line of scholars. He was born on Rosh Hashana in 1890 in Tafelatetch, Morocco, where his father was the head of the Jewish court. He grew up immersed in Torah study and, as soon as he passed bar mitzvah age, joined the yeshiva housed on his family’s estate.

For years, the Baba Sali threw himself into a rigorous schedule of Torah study. With the coming of World War I, however, his world was upended. When the French moved into North Africa, many Moroccans in his region rebelled. The rebels not only fought the French, but harassed the Jews as well. When Rabbi David Abuhatzeira, the rabbi of the community and the Baba Sali’s older brother, was murdered, the Jews of Tafelatetch fled to Badniv, where they asked the Baba Sali to assume his brother’s position. The Baba Sali initially refused and, instead, went to Jerusalem to publish his late brother’s writings. One year later, however, he returned and accepted the position. In time, he (reluctantly) agreed to serve as the Chief Rabbi of Morocco.

In 1950, the Baba Sali moved to Israel and eventually settled in the southern town of Netivot. Soon Jews, both those from Morocco and elsewhere, were flocking to Netivot to receive blessings from the Baba Sali. There are many credible stories of miracles that occurred through the prayers of the holy Baba Sali.

He passed away on 4 Shevat 1984.

This Treat was last posted on January 15, 2013. 

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Seek Guidance from Rabbis

Thousands seek spiritual direction from rabbinic mentors. Building a relationship with a spiritual leader can inspire, uplift and enable great improvements.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In a South American City

On January 18, 1535, the city of Lima, Peru, was founded to serve as the capital of the Peruvian Viceroyalty. The region’s mining riches drew, among others, a large number of Crypto-Jews (Conversos, Jews who lived as Christians in public) who lived in relative peace until January 9, 1570, corresponding to the 3rd of Shevat, when King Phillip II of Spain ordered the establishment of the Inquisition in Lima.

Please see

Early Peruvian Jewish history is not a happy one. The first auto-da-fe occurred in December 1595. These grim trials of pre-determined guilt were repeated in 1600 and 1605. In 1639, the largest auto-da-fe (ever) occurred in Lima. Over 60 people, accused of being part of La Complicidad Grande (The Great Congregation), were tried for practicing and/or preaching Judaism.

The end of the Inquisition in Lima in 1806 meant Jews could come to Peru and live openly. 
Moroccan Jews came as trappers and traders in the early nineteenth century. In the 1870s, there was an influx of Jews from Alsace, France. While they assimilated into the general populace, they established the Sociedad de Beneficenci Israelita, which still exists today. Around this same time there was a boom in the demand for rubber, drawing adventurous businessmen into the interior of the country. A smaller Jewish community developed in the interior region in Iquitos, and while that community was not sustained, it left a mark on the region such that a surprising number of their descendants have come forward today looking to rejoin the Jewish people.

World War I brought Jews from the fallen Ottoman Empire - from Turkey, Syria and North Africa. It is interesting to note that there are particular references to the immigration to Lima and other South American cities of a large group of Jews from the town of Novoselitsa on the Romanian border.

The Jewish population of Lima has never been large. Today there are still several active synagogues and the Leon Pinelo school to serve that community of a little more than 2,500 members.

By Reproducción (Museo de la Inquisición (Lima)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This Treat was last posted on January 18, 2018. 

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Learn the Jewish History of Your Travel Destinations

Due to the extensive Jewish diaspora, most spots on earth have a history of Jewish communal life. Before traveling, be sure to learn the local history.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Sadducee King Yannai

Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai or Y’honatan in Hebrew) served as the second Hasmonean king of Judea from 103 BCE until his death in 76 BCE. The third son of John Hyrcanus, he succeeded his older brother Aristobulus I, and married his late brother’s wife, Shlomtzion, as she had not yet borne any children. They had two children together, Aristobulus II, who served as High Priest from 66-62 BCE, and Hyrcanus II, who succeeded his brother in 62 BCE. While Alexander Yannai identified with the Sadducee fringe, his wife Shlomtzion supported the Pharisees, the more traditional rabbis, as her brother, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, was a leading Pharisee. As descendants of the Hasmoneans, Alexander Yannai claimed to be a member of the priestly caste, and served as the High Priest, as did his father. The rabbis opposed having one individual serve both as king (who was supposed to descend from the tribe of Judah) and High Priest (tracing lineage to Aaron, the brother of Moses, who were from the tribe of Levi).

Alexander Yannai’s reign is most remembered for the wars he waged, both to expand his kingdom and the brutal civil war that ensued.

One year during Sukkot, Alexander Yannai, acting as High Priest, refused to follow the Mosaic tradition of pouring a water libation in to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem’s altar, and instead, poured the water on his feet. This rebellious act so incensed those traditionalists gathered at the temple to witness the water libation, they pelted the High Priest/King with their etrogim (citrus fruits Jews take on the festival of Sukkot). Alexander Yannai ordered his troops to kill those responsible for the insult. 6,000 Jewish pilgrims were massacred in the Holy Temple’s courtyard. This incident greatly inflamed the Jews, and was one of the prime causes of the Judean Civil War that began during Alexander Yannai’s tenure. The rebels sided with the Greek Selucids, who defeated Alexander Yannai and his mercenaries in Shechem. Eventually Alexander Yannai rebounded and had 800 Jewish rebels, mostly Pharisees, crucified in Jerusalem. Prior to their brutal executions, he executed their wives and children in front of them while he and his concubines dined.

Alexander Yannai died on the 2nd of Shevat, 76 BCE. Megillat Ta’anit, an ancient listing of important dates on the Jewish calendar, classifies the day of Alexander Yannai’s death as a Jewish holiday.

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Study Jewish History

Studying Jewish history, especially its low points, will aid us in improving our lot going forward.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Is Today Rosh Hashana?

A quick perusal of the Jewish calendar will note that today, the first of the Hebrew month of Shevat, always falls two weeks prior to Tu B’Shevat, the beginning of the end of the winter, one of the four “New Years” on the Jewish calendar. However, according to one of the greatest rabbis of the Mishnah, today, the first of Shevat, is the New Year for trees, not the 15th of Shevat.

“On the first of Shevat, [we observe] the new year for trees, according to the opinion of the Academy of Shammai. The Academy of Hillel state on the fifteenth of it [Shevat]” (Mishna Rosh Hashana 1:1).

Hillel and Shammai, and later their eponymous schools, often disagree in the pages in the Mishna. There are many celebrated disputes between these two rabbinic titans. In practically all cases, including the aforementioned debate, normative Jewish thought follows the opinion of Hillel. The Talmud (Eruvin 13b) records in the name of Rabbi Abba, citing Samuel: “For three years there was a dispute between the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel, the former asserting, ‘the halacha is in agreement with our views’ and the latter contending, ‘the halacha is in agreement with our views.’ Then a heavenly voice issued announcing that [the utterances of] both are the words of the living God, but the final halachic ruling is in agreement with the ruling of the Academy of Hillel. If both are the words of the living God, why do we follow the opinions of the Academy of Hillel? Because they are easy-going and modest, and when discussing their own rulings, they consider Bet Shammai’s opinions too. And that’s not all, but they would first discuss Bet Shammai’s views and only then formulate their own position… This comes to teach that if a person humbles himself, the Holy One, blessed is He, raises him up; and if anyone elevates himself, the Holy One, blessed be He, humbles him. Whoever seeks greatness, greatness runs away from him…”

The Jewish New Year for trees is thus observed two weeks hence. Let’s remember the reason we follow the Academy of Hillel.

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Learn How to Argue!

Increase civility by expressing opinions, while simultaneously showing respect for those with different opinions.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Fire and Ice

A news story in June, 2017, reported that a combination of ice and fire doomed the Titanic and caused its sinking on April 14, 1912. Photos of the ship prior to its departure from Belfast shipyard identified 30-foot long black marks along the hull, in the area where the icebergs would later cut through the ship. The report conjectures that coal fires in the shipyard during construction weakened the hull, which enabled the iceberg to penetrate the ocean liner. The fire attained the temperature of 1,000 degrees and even a 12-man crew was unable to extinguish it twice. It was contained and continued to rage only in coal bunker six, according to testimony from a stoker who survived the shipwreck. This stoker testified that the largest hole in the hull was torn adjacent to coal bunker six.

The Medrash recorded in Parashat Va’era claims that the plague of hail has was unique, that melon-sized hail contained fire inside of it, a miracle from God as fire and water cannot co-exist in nature. What is the significance of this supernatural act found in the seventh plague?

The plague of hail was meant to demonstrate God’s power. Boils are boils, lice are lice and pestilence is pestilence. But, creating a form of deadly precipitation that in Egypt’s warm climate had never been seen before, was meant to show God’s supremacy and to highlight the futility of resisting the requests of God’s messenger, Moses.

One interpretation tries to keep the hail within the realm of nature, and suggests that the ice contained the fire until it burst forth from the ice and descended like a bomb over Egypt (Moses warned the Egyptians to bring everything and everyone indoors as everything outdoors would be destroyed – see Exodus 9:19). Another opinion suggests that the pelting of Egypt with hail was meant to parallel the experience of the wicked in purgatory, which, according to tradition, are punished simultaneously with both ice and fire.

Rabbi Don Isaac Abrabanel suggests that each plague served as a measure-for-measure punishment to the Egyptians for evil actions they perpetrated upon the Israelite slaves. The Egyptians abused the Israelite slaves with fists, rocks and screams; hail punished the perpetrators by pelting them and their possessions, while deafening and frightening sounds injected fear into the Egyptians.

The only reason Pharaoh did not release the slaves after the hail was due to God hardening his heart. Any other mortal would have capitulated due to the show of force and the massive damage.

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Find Modern Day Applications to Biblical Models

Events in the Bible serve as signposts for future generations. Find meaning in your life from Biblical texts.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Chassidic Rebbe and His Snoopy Tie

On January 3, 2000, the final edition of the “Peanuts” comic strip appeared in the daily edition of newspapers worldwide. For the followers of Charlie Brown and his gang, it was the end of an era. The syndicated daily comic strip began on October 12, 1950 in nine newspapers. In its heyday in the 1960s, the strip was carried in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership approximating 355 million people in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages. The 17,897 Peanuts strips, produced by Charles M. Schultz, Peanuts’ author and illustrator, were described by Syracuse University professor, Robert Thompson, as “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being.”

Among those fans of Charles Schultz’ artistic brilliance was a psychiatrist who happens to also be a Chassidic Rebbe. Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski (born in 1930), is the son of the Hornesteipler Rebbe of Milwaukee, WI, and maternal grandson of the Bobover Rebbe who was martyred in the Holocaust. Rabbi Dr. Twerski became a world-renowned expert on drug and alcohol addiction, and founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Rabbi Twerski enjoyed reading “the funnies” as a child, and as an adult, he enjoyed “light reading” including Peanuts comic strips. One day, Rabbi Dr. Twerski was counseling an addict who rationalized each time he relapsed to alcoholism, continuously denying he was an addict. Rabbi Twerski showed him the famous Peanuts cartoon of Lucy moving the football each time Charlie Brown lined up to kick it, causing Charlie to fall backwards. Yet Charlie irrationally continued to trust Lucy to hold the football for him. The patient immediately understood how he was rationalizing his condition.

Rabbi Twerski began collecting Charles Schultz’ wisdom and displayed relevant ones on a bulletin board titled, “Post-Graduate Education.” Eventually Rabbi Dr. Twerski received permission from United Feature Syndicate, Inc., owners of Peanuts at the time, to use Peanuts artwork in his books on self-esteem and other mental health issues. Rabbi Dr. Twerski suggests that each of the Peanuts characters have issues: Lucy’s bravado masks her low self-esteem, Charlie Brown feels inadequate, Snoopy lives in a fantasy world, Schroeder and Lucy’s relationship describes unrequited love and Linus and his security blanket reflect many aspects of addictive behavior.

Rabbi Dr. Twerski met Charles Schultz four times, including their final meeting just two days before Schultz’ passing. Rabbi Dr. Twerski often wears Snoopy ties as a tribute to Schultz, generally not part of the raiment of a Chassidic Rebbe.

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Learn From Everything

Life lessons and meaningful growth can be culled from almost any source. Seek it out!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Duties of the Heart

The concept of “being spiritual” is often assumed to be a fairly recent one, resulting, perhaps, from the enlightenment’s deconstruction of organized religion.  The idea of spirituality - how to create, live and grow in a relationship with the Divine - is, however, not really new. In fact, it is a question that has often caused Jewish scholars to put pen to paper. Among the most highly regarded of such texts is Chovot Halevavot, most commonly translated as Duties of the Heart.

Chovot Halevavot was written by Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda. Not much is known about Ibn Paquda other than that he was a well-regarded scholar who lived in Muslim Spain (Sargossa) in the eleventh century. His great work was written in Judeo-Arabic (in Hebrew letters) under the title Kitab al-Hidāya ilā Fara'id al-Qulūb. It was given the name Chovot Halevavot by the famed translator Judah ibn Tibbon.

Bachya ibn Paquda, divided his work into 10 chapters:

1. The Gate of Divine Unity
2. The Gate of Reflection
3. The Gate of Serving God
4. The Gate of Trust in God
5. The Gate of Unification of Action
6. The Gate of Humility
7. The Gate of Repentance
8. The Gate of Self-Examination
9. The Gate of Seclusion
10. The Gate of the Love of God

The term gate that is used in each title infers the progressive nature of ibn Paquda’s gates.

The detailed laws of the Torah, both written and oral, are the backbone of Jewish life. Ibn Paquda’s Chovot Halevovot clarifies how they are also the heart and soul of Jewish life and the means of creating an intimate spiritual relationship with the Divine.

The first edition of Chovot Halevavot was published in Mantua, Italy, on January 4, 1559, corresponding to the 25th of Tevet.

This Treat was originally posted on January 7, 2013. 

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