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Good Shabbos Sydenham

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Identity Crisis

By Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Amnesia is a frightening illness. Imagine forgetting who you are - no family, no history, and no identity.

It can happen to an individual and it can happen to a people. There have been times in our history when we seemed to forget who we were and where we came from. And all too often, we seem uncertain about where we are going.

In the opening chapters of Leviticus, we read the expression Nefesh ki techeta – when a person will sin. The Torah goes on to describe the various atonement offerings necessary to absolve one from their trespasses. The famous Kabbalistic classic, the holy Zohar, renders this phrase both literally and spiritually. Nefesh is interpreted as not merely a person but a soul, and the verse is punctuated by a question mark. In other words, the Torah is asking Nefesh ki techeta – shall a soul sin? Can a Jewish soul, a yiddishe neshama, a spark of divinity, really and truly stoop to commit a lowly sin? How is that possible?

Indeed, the only way it can happen is when we forget who we are, when we are no longer in touch with our true spiritual identity, when we start to suffer from spiritual amnesia.

Sadly, it does happen. In fact, it’s not really that difficult. After all, we live in a secular society. The old ghetto walls are no longer there to insulate us. We are exposed to the big wide world with all its seemingly tantalizing diversions. Even if we do marry within the faith, we become culturally assimilated. Slowly but surely, then, even a nefesh – a Jewish soul starts forgetting who she is and can fall into the web of sin.

Remember the “wise man” from Chelm and his “problem?” He worried that when he went to the public bathhouse where everyone is unclothed, he wouldn’t know who he was. Without his own personal set of clothing to distinguish him from others, he might suffer an identity crisis. So he devised a plan. He tied a red string around his big toe so that even in the bathhouse he would stand out from everyone else. Sadly, when he was in the shower, the water and soapsuds loosened the red string, and it slipped off his big toe. To make matters worse, the red string floated along to the next cubicle and twirled around the big toe of the fellow under the next shower.

Suddenly, our Chelmer Chochom discovered that his string was gone. He started panicking. This really was a serious identity crisis. Then he saw that the fellow next door was sporting his red string. Whereupon, he ran over to him and shouted, “I know who you are, but who am I?”

Who are you? You are a Jew! You are a son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a daughter of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. You are a member of the “kingdom of priests and holy nation.” You were freed from Egypt and stood at Sinai. You have survived countless attempts on your life and your faith. You emerged from the ashes of Auschwitz only to live again. And you ask, ‘who am I?’ This is a serious case of national amnesia. 

So the holy Zohar reminds us that we are not only “persons who may sin” but we are a

soul and shall a soul sin? A neshama is by definition part and parcel of the Divine. And for the G-dly soul within us, distancing ourselves from our very source is unthinkable. 

How then can we explain the phenomenon that after 70 years of Communist atheism, Jews in the Former Soviet Union are today fervently embracing the faith of their forefathers? Or that after decades of apathy, American Jews of all ages are desperately seeking spirituality? Or that the renaissance of Jewish life has become a reality around the globe, with our own community in the vanguard of the movement? Yes, there are good people out there igniting sparks and fanning them into a fiery faith. But the sparks would not take if there was not a burning ember inside every Jewish soul, an ember that remains inextinguishable no matter what.

So if you ever have doubts about who you are, remember the Zohar. You are a soul. And a soul never dies.

The Small Aleph

By Rabbi Aharon Loschak 

One of my favourite teachers in yeshivah was a wiry old man whom we called “Reb Yisroel.” He was an old-world scholar, a brilliant mind from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, a man who knew the Talmud like the back of his hand, and whose searing wit would leave you panting in its wake.

But what was it that was so profound about his teaching methodology (at least for me)?

I’ll be honest with you. While attending his official lectures, I wasn’t tuned in. They were completely over my head, and I didn’t appreciate them.

But what I did appreciate—and very much so!—were his one-on-one study sessions. You see, in the yeshivah-style setting, the preferred pedagogical method is for the young students to study much of the material in pairs in a large, cavernous hall. Only twice, or perhaps three times, a week, does the teacher collect his charges and school them in an official lecture. But the bulk of time is spent in that hall, sitting opposite a study partner, doing your best to hack at the study material.

"Reb Yisroel" - Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, long- time Rosh Yeshiva of Oholei Torah.

During this time, Reb Yisroel would call upon study pairs and invite them to his table to learn with him. Individually. No distractions.

I was privileged to experience this more than once, and it was absolutely mind-blowing.

Now, you would think that over the course of the study session we’d be opening many books and foraying into all sorts of expansive areas of Talmudic academia.

Nope. Not at all.

What struck me, and deeply so, was that throughout the entire hour-long session, we didn’t venture into a single text save for the Talmudic tome in front of us. Whatever was printed on that page—that’s what we explored. Nothing else.

He would attack every word. He challenged us to explain it. Every. Single. Word. Nothing was trivial. If we couldn’t translate, explain, and justify every tiny wrinkle of logic on the page, we were toast. He would drill down and demand meaning from every nuance.

He taught me to treasure every detail no matter how small, to never overlook the profundity that lies right in front of you. You need not run to distant texts and introduce “other” opinions to achieve depth. Nope. It’s right there on the page. All you have to do is to care, be humble before the page, and look for it.

Moses, our nation’s original teacher, was of like mind.

A Small Aleph

The third book of the Torah, which the Romans liked to call “Leviticus,” is called Vayikra in Hebrew, after the opening verse: “And He called to Moses, and G‑d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting …” The words “And He called” are the translation of Vayikra.

Beyond the meaning of the actual word, there’s a curious anomaly regarding how it’s written in the actual Torah scroll. According to tradition, the last letter, the aleph, is smaller than all the other letters, and indeed, the entire Torah.

What is the significance of this anomaly?

The question is raised by many of the classic Torah commentaries, and there is a similar theme to their answers. For example, one medieval scholar writes, “Out of his great humility, Moses distanced himself from any sort of prestige. He avoided from the limelight to the extent that G‑d had to actively call out to him. Thus, the aleph of the word Vayikra—and He called—is small.”

But there’s more to the small aleph.

There’s No Such Thing as a “Small Matter”

In addition to being a simple letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the word aleph is an independent word with its own meaning. In fact, it has two meanings: “teaching/studying” as well as “general/minister.”

With this dual meaning, we emerge with a new understanding of what Moses’ humility drove him to do: to approach every Torah idea (“teaching”) as if it was a big deal (“general/minister”).

This is what humility does. When you’re arrogant, or lulled into a sense of self-confidence, then you lack the wonder and the appreciation of a child. You learn new things, you study ancient texts and apply yourself to new sciences, yet you fail to completely apply yourself to the tiny details and subtle nuances that seem unimportant. “Oh, I know that already, I don’t need to spend too much time figuring it out,” you tell yourself. And so you gloss it over, not taking the time to properly appreciate and plumb its depths.

The humble man like Moses doesn’t have such deficiencies. His complete lack of self, the absence of all “me,” frees him to approach every study with the wonder and fascination of a small child. “I don’t know anything; let me discover new things today and cherish them,” he says.

In this mindset, there is nothing too small, too trivial, too stupid, or too familiar with which to waste my time. No! In this mindset, in this humility time zone, I don’t know anything, and everything is just so downright wondrous. As such, I treasure everything I learn. I revel in it, turn it over, back and forth, mining it for whatever it's worth (and more!), and emerge with unprecedented goods.

Treasure Everything You Learn

This is what Reb Yisroel taught me, and it’s what Moses taught each one of us: be humble in your study! You don’t know everything, and so you should learn to appreciate every detail.

It’s certainly true when it comes to Torah study, and it’s true in life. If you maintain the tenuous position that you’ve achieved peak knowledge (consciously or not), then you will miss all the treasures that lie right there on the page in front of you.

But if you take a cue from Moses, then you will discover so much depth, so many teaching moments, your mind will be blown. Constantly.


By Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

No one will make schmaltz for me anymore.

When I was a kid, one of the highlights of the eighth day of Passover was smearing schmaltz and gribbenes on matzah. Crispy pieces of deep-fried chicken skin swimming in rendered fat and sprinkled with salt—it was instant gastronomic delight.She says it’s not healthy

I don’t like to kvetch, but even on Passover, when many people prefer fat rendered at home to factory-processed oil, my dear wife refuses to make schmaltz. She says it’s not healthy. You would think my mother might be more of a stickler for tradition, but she gave it up, too. As for my bubbe, oy, better you shouldn’t even ask.

I tried to explain to them that eating traditional foods strengthens and builds up the walls of your arteries, but they’re not interested in listening to reason. They’re prejudiced against animal fat. They trim their beef, skin their chickens and skim the soup. It’s still food, of course, but it’s not the same.

It wasn’t always this way. Until relatively recently, fat was considered a delicacy. People would scrape the drippings out of the pan, and fight over who would be served the helzel (neck) in the chicken soup. Cooking with schmaltz was a way of life.

However, there were some fats that Jews would never eat. In the book of Leviticus we read, “All cheilev belongs to the L‑rd.” In a kosher animal there are certain fatty deposits, referred to as cheilev, that we may not eat. During 

Temple times, these fats were burned on the altar in the Beit Hamikdash.

The cheilev was considered the most delicious part of the animal, and rather than indulge our own desires, we offered it to the Creator.

The Rebbe suggests that the mitzvah of surrendering the cheilev to G‑d is a lesson in how to live. Putting on weight is generally a sign that one has been indulging too much in the pleasures of this earth—eating fatty foods makes you fat. When we say, “All cheilev belongs to the L‑rd,” we’re declaring that true pleasure is spiritual pleasure. Studying Torah, praying, and performing mitzvahs—that’s where the real geshmak is. The more corporeal indulgences can take a back seat.

Maybe my wife is right after all. Maybe it’s time for me to stop pining for the schmaltz and gribbenes of my youth and start pursuing a more refined form of gratification. Maybe it’s time for me to stop asking what the world can do for me and start asking what I can do for the world. With a slimmed-down personality and a more svelte perspective on life, maybe I could bring some pleasure to my G‑d, my family and my community.

When Erev Pesach Is Shabbat

Guidelines for Passover 2021, which begins on Saturday night

By Rabbi Menachem Posner

Approximately once every nine years, Pesach begins on Saturday night. This means that erev Pesach, the day before Pesach 2021, coincides with Shabbat, bringing with it a number of unique laws and guidelines. Let’s address them chronologically.

Fast of the Firstborn

It is an ancient tradition for the firstborns to fast on the day before Pesach. Since we (generally) do not fast on Shabbat, which is a day of feasting, or on Friday which may interfere with our Shabbat joy, this fast is observed on Thursday, 12 Nissan. The widespread custom is for firstborns to participate in a siyum or another celebratory event that overrides the fast and allows them to eat for the remainder of the day. This, too, is done on Thursday.

Search for Chametz

On the night before Pesach we search for chametz (which we are forbidden to own or eat on Passover) by candlelight. Since this cannot be done on Friday night, which is Shabbat, we do it after nightfall on Thursday.

Destroying Chametz

The last bits of chametz must be burned the day before Passover, before the fifth halachic hour of the day. Since this cannot be done on Shabbat, the burning of the chametz takes place at the same time on Friday, even though we keep just enough chametz to eat at the Friday night and Shabbat morning meals.

The Sale of Chametz

All chametz that we wish to save for use after Passover must be sold to a non-Jew and then repurchased after the holiday has passed. This sale typically takes place on the morning before Pesach. Since buying and selling are forbidden on Shabbat, the sale is transacted (by the community rabbi or Beth Din on behalf of his community) on Friday.

Eating Chametz on Shabbat

Since the house cannot be cleaned on Shabbat, all the cleaning must be finished on Friday. Yet it is a mitzvah to eat bread at the Friday night and Shabbat morning meals.

It is also forbidden to eat matzah at this time, in order that we enjoy it on Passover eve with gusto. (It is possible to eat kosher-for-Passover egg matzah, since one may not use this matzah for the seder. According to Ashkenazi custom, all healthy people must finish eating egg matzah before the latest time to eat chametz, like bread.

In practice, we retain a small quantity of chametz, carefully kept away from our food and utensils, all of which are strictly kosher for Passover by this time.

On Shabbat morning, services are held early so that the Shabbat meal, which requires two challah loaves (which are chametz), can be concluded before the deadline.

On a practical note, it is advisable to prepare small rolls, one per meal for each participant, which can be distributed and eaten without the use of a knife.

Make sure that you eat all the chametz that has been left for Shabbat before the deadline, as chametz cannot be sold, burned, or taken out to the street on Shabbat. Any remaining challah pieces and crumbs should be flushed down the toilet. At this point, we say the second Kol Chamira declaration, disowning any leftover chametz.

Shabbat Hagadol

The Shabbat before Passover is known as Shabbat Hagadol, “the Great Shabbat.”

Like every Shabbat Hagadol, after the Minchah services on Shabbat afternoon, it is customary to read a selection of texts from the Haggadah, beginning from the words, avadim hayinu, “We were slaves…”

Preparing for the Seder

Shabbat is a day of rest, and we may not start preparing on Shabbat for after Shabbat. As such, setting the table, cooking, and preparing can only be done once night has fallen on Saturday night. Before these tasks may be commenced, one should say bah-rookh hah-mahv-deel bayn koh-desh leh-koh-desh, “Blessed is He Who divides between the sacred (Shabbat) and the sacred (holiday).”

Even though cooking is allowed on yom tov (with certain caveats), it is forbidden to kindle a fire from scratch. So if you wish to have your oven and/or stove on over yom tov, be sure to make sure the fire is on before Shabbat, even though no cooking is allowed on Shabbat itself.


Live & Laugh

Business failure

Benny was talking to his best friend Harry. "You know Harry, I can't understand why you failed in business. You had such good ideas."

"Too much advertising was the main reason for my failure," replied Harry.

"But I can't remember you spending a penny on advertising all your life," said Benny.

"You're correct there," said Harry, "but all my competitors did."

The interview

Harry went for a job interview. It seemed to go well because before he left, he was told, "We would like you to work for us. We'll give you $10 an hour starting today and in three months’ time we'll increase it to $15 an hour. So when would you like to start?"

Harry replies, "In about 3 months from now."


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You can download any of the Good Shabbos Sydenham by clicking on the link below:

Parshas Chukas-Balak 4 July 2020 / 12 Tammuz 5780

Parshas Korach 27 June 2020 / 5 Tammuz 5780

Parshas Shelach 20 June 2020 / 28 Sivan 5780

Parshas Beha'Alosecha 13 June 2020 / 21 Sivan 5780

Parshas Naso 6 June 2020 / 12 Sivan 5780

Good Yom Tov Shavuot 29 May 2020 / 6 Sivan 5780

Parshas Bamidbar 23 May 2020 / 29 Iyar 5780

Parshas Behat-Bechukosai 16 May 2020 / 22 Iyar 5780

Parshas Emor 9 May 2020 / 15 Iyar 5780

Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim  2 May 2020 / 8 Iyar 5780

Parshas Tazria-Metzora  25 April 2020 / 1 Iyar 5780

Parshas Shemini  18 April 2020 / 24 Nissan 5780

Parshas 2nd Days Pesach  15/16 April 2020 / 21/22 Nissan 5780

Parshas 1st Days Pesach  9/10 April 2020 / 15/16 Nissan 5780

Parshas Tzav  4 April 2020 / 10 Nissan 5780

Parshas Vayikra  28 March 2020 / 3 Nissan 5780

Parshas Vayakhel-Pikudei  21 March 2020 / 25 Adar 5780

Parshas Ki Sasa/Parah  14 March 2020 / 18 Adar 5780

Parshas Yeyzaveh/Zachor  7 March 2020 / 11 Adar 5780

Parshas Terumah  29 February 2020 / 4 Adar 5780

Parshas Mishpatim  22 February 2020 / 27 Shevat 5780

Parshas Yisro  15 February 2020 / 20 Shevat 5780

Parshas Beshalach  7 February 2020 / 13 Shevat 5780

Parshas Bo  1 February 2020 / 6 Shevat 5780

Parshas Vaeira 25 January 2020 / 28 Teves 5780

Parshas Shemos 18 January 2020 / 21 Teves 5780

Parshas Vayechi 11 January 2020 / 14 Teves 5780

Parshas Vayigash 4 January 2020 / 7 Teves 5780

Parshas Mikeitz 28 December 2019 / 30 Kislev 5780

Parshas Vayeishev 21 December 2019 / 23 Kislev 5780

Parshas Vayishlach 14 December 2019 / 16 Kislev 5780

Parshas Veyetzei 7 December 2019 / 9 Kislev 5780

Parshas Toldos 30 November 2019 / 2 Kislev 5780

Parshas Chayei Sara 23 November 2019 / 25 Mar Cheshvan 5780

Parshas Vayera 16 November 2019 / 18 Mar Cheshvan 5780

Parshas Lech Lecha 9 November 2019 / 11 Mar Cheshvan 5780

Parshas Noach 2 November 2019 / 4 Mar Cheshvan 5780

Parshas Bereishit 26 October 2019 / 27 Tishrei 5780

Parshas Chol Hamoed Succos 19 October 2019 / 20 Tishrei 5780

Parshas Haázinu 12 October 2019 / 13 Tishrei 5780

Parshas Vayeilach 5 October 2019 / 6 Tishrei 5780

Parshas Nitzavim 28 September 2019 / 28 Elul 5779

Parshas Ki Tavo 21 September 2019 / 21 Elul 5779

Parshas Ki Teitzei 14 September 2019 / 14 Elul 5779

Parshas Shoftim 7 September 2019 / 7 Elul 5779

Parshas Reéh 31 August 2019 / 30 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Eikev 24 August 2019 / 23 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Va'eschanan17 August 2019 / 16 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Devarim 10 August 2019 / 9 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Matos - Massai 3 August 2019 / 2 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Pinchas 27 July 2019 / 24 Tamuz 5779

Parshas Balak 20 July 2019 / 17 Tamuz 5779

Parshas Chukas 13 July 2019 / 10 Tamuz 5779

Parshas Korach 6 July 2019 / 3 Tamuz 5779

Parshas Sh'lach 29 June 2019 / 26 Sivan 5779

Parshas Beha'aloscha 22 June 2019 / 19 Sivan 5779

Parshas Nasso 15 June 2019 / 12 Sivan 5779

Parshas Bamidbar / Good Yom Tov Shavous 8 June 2019 / 5 Sivan 5779

Parshas Bechukosai 1 June 2019 / 27 Iyar 5779

Parshas Behar 25 May 2019 / 20 Iyar 5779

Parshas Emor 18 May 2019 / 13 Iyar 5779

Parshas Kedoshim 11 May 2019 / 6 Iyar 5779

Parshas Acharei  4 May 2019 / 29 Nissan 5779

Good Yom Tov Pesach 26 April 2019 / 21 Nissan 5779

Good Yom Tov Pesach 20 April 2019 / 15 Nissan 5779

Parshas Metzorah 13 April 2019 / 8 Nissan 5779

Parshas Tazria 6 April 2019 / 1 Nissan 5779

Parshas Shmini 30 March 2019 / 23 Adar2 5779

Parshas Tzav 23 March 2019 / 11 Adar2 5779

Parshas Vayikra 16 March 2019 / 9 Adar2 5779

Parshas Pikudei 9 March 2019 / 2 Adar2 5779

Parshas Vayakel 2 March 2019 / 25 Adar1 5779

Parshas Ki Sisa 23 February 2019 / 18 Adar1 5779

Parshas Tetzaveh 16 February 2019 / 11 Adar1 5779

Parshas Terumah 9 February 2019 / 4 Adar1 5779

Parshas Mishpatim 2 February 2019 / 27 Shevat 5779

Parshas Yisro 26 January 2019 / 20 Shevat 5779

Parshas Beshalach 19 January 2019 / 13 Shevat 5779

Parshas Bo 12 January 2019 / 6 Shevat 5779

Parshas Shemos 5 January 2019 / 28 Teves 5779

Parshas Vayechi 22 December 2018 / 14 Teves 5779

Parshas Vayigash 15 December 2018 / 7 Teves 5779

Parshas Miketz 8 December 2018 / 30 Kislev 5779

Parshas Vayeishev 1 December 2018 / 23 Kislev 5779

Parshas Vayishlach 24 November 2018 / 16 Kislev 5779

Parshas Vayeitzei 17 November 2018 / 9 Kislev 5779

Parshas Todos 10 November 2018 / 2 Kislev 5779

Parshas Chayei Sarah 3 November 2018 / 25 Mar Chesvan 5779

Parshas Vayeira 27 October 2018 / 18 Mar Chesvan 5779

Parshas Lech Lecha 20 October 2018 / 11 Mar Chesvan 5779

Parshas Noah 13 October 2018 / 4 Mar Chesvan 5779

Parshas Bereishis 6 October 2018 / 27 Tishrei 5779

Good Yom Tov Sydenham Shmini Atzeret 1 October 2018  22 Tishrei 5779

Chol Hamoed Succost 29 September 2018  20 Tishrei 5779

Good Yom Tov Sydenham Succos 24/25 September 2018  15/16 Tishrei 5779

Parshas Ha'azinu 22 September 2018 / 13 Tishrei 5779

Parshas Vayelech 15 September 2018 / 6 Tishrei 5779

Good YomTov Sydenham Rosh Hashana10 September 2018 / 1 Tishrei 5779

Parshas Nitzavim 8 September 2018 / 28 Elul 5778

Parshas Ki Teitzei 25 August 2018 / 14 Elul 5778

Parshas Shoftim 18 August 2018 / 7 Elul 5778

Parshas Re'eh 11August 2018 / 30 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Eikev 4 August 2018 / 23 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Va'eschanan 28 July 2018 / 16 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Davrim 21 July 2018 / 9 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Matos / Masei  13 July 2018 / 2 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Pinchas  7 July 2018 / 24 Tamuz 5778

Parshas Balak  30 June 2018 / 17 Tamuz 5778

Parshas Chukas  23June 2018 / 10 Tamuz 5778

Parshas Korach  16 June 2018 / 3 Tamuz 5778

Parshas Sh'lach  09 June 2018 / 26 Sivan 5778

Parshas Beha'alosecha 02 June 2018 / 19 Sivan 5778

Parshas Naso 26 May 2018 / 12 Sivan 5778

Shavuos 20 May 2018 / 6 Sivan 5778

Parshas Bamidbar 19 May 2018 / 5 Sivan 5778

Parshas Behar-Bechukosai 12 May 2018 / 27 Iyar 5778

Parshas Emor 5 May 2018 / 20 Iyar 5778

Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim 28 April 2018 / 13 Iyar 5778

Sun, 19 September 2021 13 Tishrei 5782