Friday, December 30, 2011

Parshas Vayigash - Make Even That Small Move in the Right Direction

The two future leaders of the Jewish People square off in this week's Parsha and show why they and their descendants were destined to lead the Jewish People for all time.
Interestingly, Yosef showed his leadership as he ruled from a more secular venue as Viceroy of Egypt, staying true to his Torah values, and Yehuda lead from within his family and stood up to Yosef.
That trend continued throughout history.
Yehuda also comes into his own as "Vayigahs Ailav Yehuda" as he moves away from the pack and steps up on his own and comes close to Yosef.
This is where he finally rose to his status as Family leader and set the DNA for his future generations.
A "small" move, a huge statement.
Let's look out for those "small" moves which could have huge impact for us and our future generations.
Sometimes the small moves take the most strength.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Meikaitz - Chanuka - Haftorah

Parshas Meikaitz always falls out as Shabbos Chanuka. So I was trying to find a connection and not only did I find one to the Parsha, I found a connection with the Haftorah as well.
In keeping with the theme of my last post, I see the same thread appearing. I believe this message is one especially for us as we maybe start our own (Chanuka) re-dedication.
In the Parsha we read of the success of Yosef. But we must remember what he went through to get there.
He was a very talented and brilliant leader but had a hard time finding his calling. A lesser person may have given up long before. As a young man of 17 he meant well with his brothers but they took it wrong and betrayed him horribly. He was given up for dead. He gets a job and is successful but again is betrayed and sent to jail. In all he meant well and never wanted to do wrong. And the same in jail, although he is respected and good, when he tries to rely on the butler after he is kind to him, he is again forgotten. All of this through no fault of his own. He even says this to the butler, “I was kidnapped from the land of the Ivrim and also here I didn’t do anything wrong for them to put me in this jail.” But after 13 years, at age 30, he persevered and eventually saw great honor, success and accomplishment. This is the same message of Chanuka, of not giving up even though it seems hopeless.
Similarly, in the Haftorah, Yehoshua The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and Zerubavel return to Israel to rebuild it and the Temple. Only it doesn’t go as planned and they are ready to give up. Yehoshua feels unworthy and “stands still” doesn’t move forward with the seemingly impossible project. Hashem tells him “to take off those unclean garments” forget those feelings of unworthiness. Repent and look to the future. Make for yourself a future of “pure garments” of good deeds, free from sin, and move ahead and you will be successful. Zerubavel thinks the task is a mountain in his path and Hashem tells him that what you think is a mountain is really a plain. And he tells him the famous words, “Lo b’chail v’lo b’koach ki im b’ruchie amar hasem tzvaos”, success is not from the might of weapons or physical strength but from my spirit says G-d, who commands the forces of creation.
And that must be how Yehuda Macabbi felt and nonetheless continued on to demolish the huge forces against him. And that is how we may feel in our mission in life.
Fittingly, Rabbi Hirsch in his commentary on the Haftorah ends with these words, on the above verse:
“Therefore, as it is not material but rather spiritual and moral forces which are called upon to be used for the completion of this building, no material or physical obstacle can hinder that completion.
Even the most powerful enemy forces, as well as the “mountain high” difficulties which may seem to tower before it, will dwindle to nothing against the spiritual-moral, the Divine power.”
May it be His will.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Chanuka Message

Chanuka is probably the most powerful of all the holidays. Although it is only from the Rabbis, it has an energy and longevity that many of the other holidays don’t. Although many Jews have never heard of Shavuot and a good number don’t know what a Sukkah is, almost everyone knows what Chanuka is.
The story of the Macabees, of the few standing up for their principles against seemingly insurmountable odds, resonates well with every person no matter what their denomination.
And the story of the little jug of a day’s worth of oil lasting for 8 days appeals to all of our magical minds.
But there is a lot more. There is another reason that Chanuka remained the most celebrated holiday during the course of this long exile. Because the message of Chanuka always hit home the most in the past and is needed more than ever for us now in these very trying and uncertain times.
The message is of the little light in the blackest darkness. Chanuka always falls out during the darkest part of the year, during the shortest days and longest nights (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). Although one may feel that there is no end to the darkness, in a couple of weeks the days start to get longer and then it’s summer again when the days are real long.
We are living in very volatile times and it looks like there is no natural solution to the world’s problems. And maybe there is no natural solution but Chanuka teaches us that miracles CAN happen. Just follow the directive of Yehuda Macabee “Mi la Hashem Ailay”, “who that is for Hashem come with me!”
Stay true to your Torah principles
Don’t give up even though the odds don’t look good
And do that good deed, light that light, even if you think it can’t accomplish too much in face of the great darkness. Because Chanuka teaches us that even the smallest action can accomplish, “Me’at min ha’or doche harbe min ha’choshech”, “A very little bit of light can push away a lot of the darkness”.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Parshas Vayaishev - The ends do NOT justify the means

Contrary to the common saying, in Torah the ends definitely DO NOT justify the means. Even though one wants to save ones own life you do not have the right to embarrass another person. Tamar did not embarrass Yehuda in order to save her life. She got the message across to Yehuda in a subtle way.

The daughter of Potifar wanted to be "connected" to Yosef and thought that to be able to accomplish it in the end, will justify the means of going about doing it. It wasn't the case she lost all credibility and any chances for her goal. And it was her daughter instead who became Yosef's wife.

A person's actions do not "balance out" in the end. You are not allowed to do 2 wrong things if you will do 2 right things to even it out. You will be rewarded for the good and punished for the bad.

The Torah is full of examples of how one's EVERY action must be accounted for regardless of what good was done as a result. And especially when it comes to a person's feelings. If someone else's feeling are hurt due to what you did, you will have to answer for it.

So be careful, especially when you are "helping" or "correcting" another.


Last week's Haftora was the whole book of Ovadia. It's actually the shortest book of the Prophets, it's only one chapter but so fundamental. It's no wonder that it is a book by itself because it packs in the one chapter the whole history and future of the Jew among the nations. What has and will happen and what we can do about it.

It talks about Edom (Eisav) and prophecies about Rome. And the similarities or rather, exact mirror, to what we are now seeing in the US and Europe is striking.
The moral breakdown of Edom, Rome and now the Western World (all in the name of humaneness, mind you) was the cause of their downfall. Along with their arrogance and disregard for their allies and citizens.

But the main message and opportunity for us is the necessity for us to rise up to our responsibility and ability to be a proper example of Torah and moral values.
(It’s not an accident that this message and that of Chanuka is so similar)

What may seem to be a horrible thing may just be our opportunity.

Toward the end of the Haftorah is the famous verse, 18, "And the House of Jacob shall become a fire and the House of Joseph a flame (which will come out of the fire), and the House of Eisav will be straw. And they (the flame from the fire) will light up the straw and consume it. And there will be no remnant of Eisav."
Rav SR Hirsch points out that the House of Joseph always refers to the part of the Jewish Nation which is more assimilated and not so connected to the Torah. And yet it is their "flame" which will go out and light up Eisav.

Rav Hirsch says ," Does it mean to say here that even those descendants of Jacob that have assimilated and been estranged from Judaism still have a strong enough "fire" alive within them with a spirit of justice, humaneness and love that even in the midst of the Eisav world they will be able to prove themselves to be the "flame"?
Never discount anyone, never belittle anyone's "observance" or passion. Least of all your own.

Anyone can be that "flame" to rise up and accomplish to overpower the corrupt Edomite or Roman principles that govern.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Belated Parsha Thought - Toldos

A Gutte Voch and a Gutten Chodesh
Even though it's after Shabbos here I still want to write something about the Parsha. Time got away from me Erev Shabbos and besides it's still Shabbos in Chicago and west.
In these Parshios the challenge isn't so much what to say as what not.
In this Parsha there is so much to discuss, perhaps we should have a class.
But I'd like to highlight the story of the wells. Yitzchok was in the land of the Pilishtim and was digging up his father's old wells that the Pilishtim stopped up. The age-old battle for water rights.
The first 2 he dug they argued with him about and he abandoned them. The third one he dug up unchallenged.
The commentaries ask that of all the stories of Yitzchok's life what insight to his character is so important here to mention this story instead of others?
The Ramban therefore says that this story is hinting to us about the Jewish temples (Beit Hamikdosh) in the future. The first 2 were "challenged" and destroyed but the 3rd will go unchallenged when Moshiach comes.
I think, though, that this does show the very essence of his character. Everyone of our forefathers had a specific character trait.
Avrohom - Chesed, kindness
Yaakov - Emes, truth and Yitzchok was Gvurah, strength.
To walk away from a fight is not weakness but the ultimate in strength, self - control.
All too often we are ready to fight and battle for our rights, honor, etc. when we should rather continue and find another way which is unchallenged.
Yitzchok had the rights to that water, it was stolen from his father. But he kept on going until he found the way to get his water without argument.
We too should rather find the way to our goals or what is rightfully ours, without fighting if possible.
That's a very important lesson for our lives.
Yonatan in the Haftora shows that same strength of character in his loyal friendship with Dovid, his rival (and brother-in-law).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beautiful Thank you note from Pie in the Sky Bakery in PV, Mexico

We just kashered a Bakery in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, called "Pie in the Sky". Our Mashgiach, Yossi, had just spent quite a few hours kashering everything. After which the owner, Susan, sent us this moving thank you note:

I want to thank you for helping us here at the bakery become Kosher. It was hard work, Yossi was great, and I felt like I had accomplished something very important to me and my family and my family who is no longer with me. Oddly enough, I felt something spiritual, something I couldn't put my finger on, maybe a rebirth of the memory of my childhood, joy and happiness, Sunday School, Hebrew School, the Synagogue and all that goes with my being Jewish. It feels good!

Thank You and Yossi
Susan Drexler

Friday, November 18, 2011

Parsha Thought - Chayai Sara - פרשת חיי שרה

I wanted to write a thought about the Parsha and I welcome comments and questions.
This week's story is about Eliezer going to find a wife for his master's son Yitzchok.
BUT, I believe, there is so much misinformation and misuse of this story.
Yitzchok doesn't choose his own wife and doesn't even have a chance to get to known her well before they are wed. The Possuk (verse) tells us that after he married her he loved her.
So many use this as proof that "there is no such thing as love before marriage" and that it is the best when the Parents choose the spouse for their child (arranged marriage)...
HOWEVER, they conveniently forget that in just a couple more Parshiot is the VERY romantic story of Yaakov falling in LOVE with Rochel, Yaakov is told by his parents to find himself a wife and he falls in love with Rochel. Also Moshe chooses his own wife, Tziporah. And many other in Tanaach choose their own.
So at best both ways are valid. BUT there is NO proof from Yitzchok at all because there was no choice for him to choose his own wife since he couldn't leave Canaan and he was forbidden to marry a Canaanite woman.
Unfortunately, many of our Jewish youth are told, "there is no love before marriage".
How sad. That's like saying, "there is no taste and smell to food".

Sunday, October 23, 2011

From Portugal

I know it's been a while. But I was very busy and didn't always have internet access.
I have been in Portugal setting up a Jewish Community in the Algarve, South Portugal.
It's been a thrill and very rewarding.
(Don't worry our establishments are being well tended to by our Mashgichim)
There is so much to tell and I will little by little as I can.
Just to start we had a Minyanim (with a Sefer Torah) for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succos, with a Sukkah and Lulav and Esrog here where there hasn't been for almost 100 years and maybe more.
It was emotional and fulfilling.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

On the Parsha (a few weeks late)

On Parshas Tezaveh, a few weeks ago, I actually meant to mention that for me the quintessential source for the extent of privacy in Jewish life is the Gemarah in Pesachim 112a on the posuk "V'nishma kolo b'vo'o el hakodesh" that the bells on the M'eel (jacket) of the Kohen Gadol (High Preist) would announce his coming into the Haichal (Great Hall of the Temple). The Gemara says that we see from here "a person shouldn't enter even his own house suddenly (without knocking) etc." . The Kohen Gadol was "boss" in the BH'M and still had the bells to announce himself. A person who is the "boss" of his own home must knock to announce his presence. We are not meant to know everything that goes on behind our backs. We are not meant to "catch" those in our households but rather instill in them the morality and decency to do what's right on their own.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


We are VERY pleased to announce we now certify SWEET & SARA VEGAN MARSHMALLOWS !!
they contain NO gelatin (hence they're Vegan) and they are truly delicious. You won't miss the gelatin at all.
AND they are available all over the country at the locations on the following link: