Friday, December 29, 2017

Parhsat Vayechi - Friends and forgiveness

This week marked the start for the theme of "Friends" in the lower school. I spoke to the 1st thru 3rd graders at the shabbat assembly about the power of forgiving. As friends we sometimes say things or do things to one another that hurt feelings. Sometime we act to quickly without thinking.

If a person realizes and makes a real apology we should forgive and forget. I shared that Yosef and his brothers had a difficult relationship. Once Yosef saw that his brothers were sorry for how they treated him, Yosef revealed himself to them. He took care of them and saved them.

There was a story in the paper this week about a person who did somethings that was really not nice to a group of people. He was arrested for his actions. Given time to reflect he acknowledged that he had made a very poor choice. He wrote a warm and heartfelt apology letter to this group. Guess what? This group wrote a forgiveness letter to him. Even more a few days ago, this person received another letter from this group and it had a check in it. This group knew that this person was having a difficult time getting back in his feet and wanted to help a "friend".

Our situations are hopefully not as serious as this story, but look how far this group went in their forgiveness. We should learn an important lesson of friendship, and kindness from this story

(Here is the link to the story as it appeared in the NY Times this week. I changed the details in retelling it to the students but the message is the same.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

chanukah 5778 Night 1

On Chanukah we remember all of the incredible miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people. From the victory of the war, to finding the pitcher of oil that lasted 8 nights. We also remember that the Greeks prohibited us from doing many mitzvot, including learning Torah. 

On Chanukah as we enjoy the lights and the presents we also need to celebrate the ability to learn Torah and do Mitzvot.  Each night we will share with you a short Dvar Torah. Listen to it after you light the Chanukah candles. There is a question posted at the end of each video. Click below to submit your answer or bring it into school on a piece of paper and give it to your morning teacher. We will select a raffle winner from all the correct answers each day of Chanukah.
Join with us as we light the night with Torah!!

Click here for Google Form to submit raffle answer 

Friday, December 23, 2016

דבר תורה פרשת וישב

דבר תורה פרשת וישב

There are so many times in this week's Parsha that Yosef finds himself in trouble situations. Each time, he somehow comes out in an okay position.  First, Yosef is thrown into the pit by his brothers to die, and then by chance a merchant caravan travels by and saves him. Next, while Yosef is working in the palace of Potiphar, Potiphar's wife accuses him of some wrongdoing, and he is then banished to jail. Another fall. In jail, somehow he meets some other prisoners, and he is brought out of jail to serve in the palace again.
Some people might call this luck or coincidence, but I am going to call it a נס, a miracle, or God guiding our lives from above.  Why נס?
נס in hebrew is translated literally as a banner or a sail. These two items are things that lead people. The sail is there to give a boat direction and a banner tells people which way to go.  The נס for Yosef was God directing his life to success. 

Even the word נס in Hebrew alludes to the combination of fall in the direction and going back . נס is spelled Nun Samech (נ ס).  The Nun (נ) as we see in the Talmud refers to the word נפל - falling down. The Samech (ס) reference is to סמח which is to support and pick up, give direction. So the word implies both falling, and getting up or supporting. 

This is exactly what happened with Yosef. Each time that he was put in a tough situation, each time he fell, he was brought back up, was supported. This was not a coincidence - this must have been a נס - a miracle - from Hashem, who supports each and every one of us when he fall. 

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Steven Penn

Friday, December 9, 2016

דבר תורה פרשת ויצא

דבר תורה פרשת ויצא

Yaakov comes a long journey, and reaches Eretz Bnei Kedem, right near Charan. He arrives to the well outside of the city to see that there are some flocks of sheep along with three shepherds waiting to drink. There is a big rock on top of the well, and Yaakov asks, "Why don't you take the rock off of the well, so that your sheep can drink?" They respond that they CAN NOT remove it until all of the other shepherds come. It is too heavy to be removed with just three shepherds! Each day, they have a meeting time for all of the shepherds to come together to take the rock off of the well, and at that time they all give their sheep something to drink. 

Right then, Rachel was coming to the well. When Yaakov sees Rachel coming, he goes to the well and removes the rock so that he could give water to her sheep. 

How was he able to remove the rock all by himself, wasn't the rock too heavy?

Rabbi Norman Lamm says that he was able to do this because he put his mind to it. The shepherds did not believe that they could do it, so they were not able to. If you put your mind to something, and it is important enough to you, you will be able to do it. Yaakov shows us this. 

Later on, in Parshat Vayishlach, when Yaakov is fighting with the angel, at one point, it says that the angel realizes that he COULD NOT beat him. This shows us again, how Yaakov is triumphant when he has an attitude that he CAN do it. 

If we believe that we CAN do things, anything is possible. Progress is made able by attitude. We should take a lesson from Yaakov Avinu and realize that we are capable of anything that we set our mind to. 

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Steven Penn 

Friday, November 18, 2016

דבר תורה פרשת וירא

דבר תורה פרשת וירא

In the beginning of Parshat Vayeira, we have the famous story of 3 visitors that come to the tent of Avraham. At quick glance it looks like there are 3 different parts to this story. First, God appears to Avraham. Then, Abraham meets and serves these men (angels). Lastly, Avraham speaks to God, begging him not to destroy Sodom. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that there is another way to look at these pasukim. Look at them as if they come together to make one story. God appears to Avaraham, and before He can start talking to Avraham, these men enter the scene. Avraham serves these men and after they leave, God speaks with Avraham.  

If you take a close look at Pasuk Bet, that might be what Avraham is saying to God. " My lord, if I please you, do not go on past your servant (me, avraham) until I have given these people food and drink." Avraham then turns to the men and offers to get them something to drink. 

How can that be? How can avraham out interrupt God and say "Hey, wait a minute while I take care of these people." This seems disrespectful.

Rabbi Sacks points out that this is the exact point of the story. The order of the psukim is specifically this drastic to show us that offering hospitality to human beings is very important.  The Talmud Shabbat 127a quotes this pasuk when it states, "Greater is hospitality than the divine presence." 

When Avraham asks God to wait for him, he was showing us, by example, how we need to treat other human beings. We are the only creation that was created in the image of God. By showing respect and kavod to others we are in turn showing respect of God.

These are the messages that we are trying to convey to our students over the course of this year with our monthly themes. Each month, we are working on treating each other better and showing respect and kindness to all. 

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Steven Penn

Friday, November 11, 2016

דבר תורה פרשת לך לך

דבר תורה פרשת לך לך

In parshat Lech Lecha, Avraham is told to leave his homeland and his birthplace. He is asked to make changes from what was happening in the past. There is the obvious physical change of location - moving to a new place, and there is also the bigger change in human responsibility.  

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that Avraham is the first character in the Torah to take personal and communal responsibility.  Adam denied this sort of responsibility when he blamed Eve for his sin. Cain evaded responsibility by killing his brother. Noah claimed responsibility for himself but not for the larger community. 
Avaraham shows that he has accepted this responsibility over and over. He first takes this responsibility on when he listens to the command of God to leave his home. This is something that is not natural or easy, but he knew he should do it. Then, he accepts responsibility for his nephew when he is taken captive by Sodom. After that, Avraham shows this amazing communal responsibility again as he prays to save the lives of the people of Sodom. He knows that they are mostly bad, but that there are some good people who should not get punished. 

With the introduction of Avraham in this Parsha, we have a new role model for human kind. One that takes responsibility for his own actions, feels responsible toward the greater community, and is responsibility toward God.

Taking responsibility for our actions is something that sets human beings apart from the animal kingdom. We might fail  at times or make mistakes, but we need to recognise it and take it. We should all follow in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu and take on our responsibilities toward our family, friends and community. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Steven Penn

Friday, November 4, 2016

דבר תורה פרשת נח

דבר תורה פרשת נח

The opening Psukim of Parshat Noach speak about how the world has become corrupt. It is filled with robbery and moral decay. Hashem tells Noach, the tzadik of the his time, that He plans to bring a flood to destroy the world. Noach is given the chance to build an ark to save himself, his family and the animals. In the the description of the corruption of the world, the Torah says that not only were the people stealing and cheating from each other, but even the animals were disgusting to Hashem.

In pasuk 6:12
  • "כִּי-הִשְׁחִית כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֶת-דַּרְכּוֹ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ"
Rashi explains this pasuk to mean that animals of different  species mated with other. The immorality was so widespread that it had reached the animal kingdom.  The Beis Halevi   asked - how is this possible? Animals do not have a free will, they act on instinct. How could it be that a lion would want to mate with a bear?  The Beis Halevi answers with a Midrash quoted by Rashi and tells us that when mankind becomes so wicked or mean, we affect our surroundings. We have a negative influence on our entire world, including the animals.

Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam points out that the Beis Halavi’s answer gives us a powerful insight into how our actions as human beings influence everything around us. When we act in ways that are contrary to the moral code of society and Torah, we bring down the people around us, our children, our friends, our co- workers, our students. When our society goes down this path, there is a feeling in the air that things are not right, a feeling that all is permitted.  

On the same note, doing good deeds and doing the right things can affect our society in a very positive way. People who do this make their community stronger and kadosh. At Yavneh, last month’s theme was “Acts of Kindness - Big or Small Kindness to All.” Over the Sukkot break, our students kept charts of the acts of chesed that they did. They were asked to do one act a day for the 10 days. Over 250 students completed the chart. These acts, big and small, are ways that we strengthen our community.

Try doing something good for someone else today and know that by doing that good deed, you are setting our community and society on the right path.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Steven Penn