Saturday 30 May 2020

Mussar: Ikkar Hab'ri'ah

 originally posted Mar. 8, 2014

"The Essential Creation was by means of Wisdom [Hochmah], as it is written "Kullam b'Chochmah Aseeta" .... and this Manifests itself in the individual in that the Essence of a person's Diving Service [is]

where he strives to attain good character traits and to perform Good Deeds
by means of Guarding the Wisdom that is in his Heart.

Kitzur Likkutei Moharan 49:2
BRI edition p. 432

Kol Tuv,

Monday 25 May 2020

New RBH shiur on Koshertube: Shavuot and Torah She'B'al Peh

There is no mention in the Written Torah of Shavuot as the holiday that marks and therefore celebrates the giving of the Torah. The only way we, in fact, know that Shavuot is the historical anniversary of Kabbalat HaTorah is through Torah She'B'al Peh. This fact may actually be of great significance in our gaining a true understanding of the nature of Torah.

In this regard, we invite you to view Shavuot and Torah She'B'al Peh at

Sunday 24 May 2020

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn? Post 5

Please see
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 1

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 2

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 3
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 4

What we seem to be seeing in our world today, somewhat in response to this pandemic, is a myriad of opinions on a variety of matters. It seems that almost everyone affected by this situation, each in his/her own way, is involved in some type of investigation of what all this means and has an opinion on how one now should proceed with life. Should I wear a mask or not? Should I promote a law demanding everyone to wear a mask? Is such a law, though, a negation of liberty which I should rather support? There seems to be much consideration and re-consideration on various issues within life. The reality is simply affecting people's thoughts and ideas in a variety of different ways, including, often, yielding contradictory results. Some with which we may personally agree; some with which we may not. 

The point is that this pandemic is also causing people in general, each in their own way, to further consider their own lives and existence specifically and in general. It is causing people to think about different issues within life, even matters they, possibly, may have never considered before.  We may now thus ask; what are we to learn from this increase in questioning in response to this pandemic? What are we to then learn from these thoughts and perspectives people are developing in response to this situation? Individuals are strongly voicing opinions and acting upon them in response to the present reality. How are we to consider all this and respond ourselves? What are we to learn from this human reaction in thought to this pandemic?

Of course, on a basic level, it would seem to be generally good that people are thinking more. Pursuant to Torah thought, it would seem to be clear that God values human beings thinking about reality. The results of such investigations are usually more positive than the conclusions reached without any true thought. As T.B. Sotah 3a states, sin is, on some level, a product of foolishness. It is clear, according to many midrashim, that Avraham Avinu found God because he asked the right questions and would not shy away from the intellectual and thoughtful undertakings necessary to find the correct answers to those questions. In a certain way, this is also the basis upon which our pursuit within this series is based. We have a problem we are facing within this world. What are we to learn from this? It would seem that this is also a reflection of the basic question which is bothering most people -- and that would seem to be good.

The problem is that even as someone may ask the right questions, the answers reached may not necessarily be positive or proper. Avraham was not the first to ask the questions he asked. There were obviously many people who were bothered by the questions our forefather asked about reality. He was, though, specifically the first who arrived at the correct answer. This was, in part, because he would not settle for the incomplete answers that others were accepting. Idolatry was, for example, the accepted response in explaining the nature of the world -- although it obviously still contained many difficulties in properly explaining reality. People, though, wanted to accept it. It may be that they were too lazy or too confused to truly pursue the issue. It may be that they were satisfied with the answers they reached because they served their self-interests. Maybe many individuals were absorbed and/or overwhelmed by the basic ordinary demands of existence. Thinking is good but then one also has to accept the further and demanding challenge of thinking coherently.

Something within the present reality is causing individuals to question and think - and on issues they would normally set aside. As part of our learning experience, we may then wish to further examine this response, with all its variances, to this extended stimulus of thought. What are we to learn from not just peoples' actions in response to this pandemic but also from these thought processes which are resulting in these actions? Given this variance in responses, there may actually be many different insights into humanity which we may be able to learn from this event. The first significant factor which we may want to consider, though, is actually this very fact, that there is such a spectrum of responses. Why is there such diversity -- even such conflict -- in the responses to this reality?

People are arguing over who is responsible for this pandemic. They are arguing over how to respond. They are battling over values. In many ways, we may say that this is not new. What does stand out, though, from my perception, is the intensity that is being expressed. Everything is seen as so tied to life and one's and one's own family's personal well-being. that every viewpoint which a person may adopt is given significant status. The further problem, though, is that the issue is actually most complex. The answers are thus not easy. Precisely because the issue is most serious and answers are demanded, such complexity only presents a further problem; it means that an answer is not easily forthcoming. It can thus cause people to accept simple answers which don't reflect the true complexity of the matter and, thus, are inherently problematic. This leads to the bottom-line argument -- I'm right; no, I'm right -- and is that not what we are also seeing in many of the responses to this pandemic?

God clearly wants us to think -- but he wants us to think properly and to then recognize that even what we determine to be the best possible answer may still contain challenges. A conclusion based on serious thought is still, however, much better than all the alternative simple answers which ignore the true complexity of the matter. Avraham Avinu's answer of monotheism still contained the most difficult question found within Torah -- why do good things happen to evil people and bad things to good people? Idolatry -- especially, for example, in the form of Zoroastrianism -- was supported by the theory that such conflicts in reality emerged from the divergent 'godly' forces some of which were good and some bad. That argument, however, was inherently simplistic and Avraham easily refuted it and thus arrived at the true answer of One God. His answer, though, was still complex and did not erase all the human questions. That is the reality of thought and the challenge of thinking.

In many ways, this is an idea which is truly being played out in our world today and something we must learn and continue to learn. There are people voicing opinions strongly advocating for one course of action or another. The question is whether they are considering the whole picture, evaluating all the facts most studiously and arriving at their conclusions most industriously. It still may be that there are legitimate reasons for differences in opinion and this is to be properly noted. It may also be that such divergence in opinion, however, simply reflects weakness in analysis and thought in many ways. 

From this pandemic, people are actually learning that there is a need to think, to consider their lives and how to best live. The further matter we are to learn, though, is how to do so properly, considering the complexity of life and the influence of our own selves in our answers. Honestly being aware of this challenge is also a matter we can and must learn from experiencing this virus with proper considerations.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Mussar: But WE Stood at Sinai!

originally published on July 21, 2012

Courtesy of Derech Emet..

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky (born 1891/2/28, died 1986/3/10) was asked if it is permitted to lie in order to receive benefits from a government program.

His answer was an emphatic: NO!!

Then the questioner said: But many Gentiles do it!

The Rabbi explained:
They did not stand at Mount Sinai when the Torah was revealed!

SOURCE: page XXI of Chofetz Chaim Lessons in Truth
by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, published by ArtScroll
in September 2001

Shalom and Regards,

Thursday 21 May 2020

Biography of Yigael Yadin

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
                            Yigael Yadin: Archaeologist, Military Man, Politician
        I was always perplexed by references to Yigael Yadin. He had so many roles in the history of Israel but I never knew how to put them together. Finally, I read a short summary of his life in a 2019 book by archaeologist Jody Magness (Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth). This summary weaved all the details together, and I will try to present this summary briefly here (supplemented a bit by other sources).
         Yadin was born in Jerusalem in 1917 with the name Yigael Sukenik. His father Eleazar was an archaeologist. Yigael became a student of archaeology, but also joined the Haganah in 1933.  
        In 1939, he became the personal aide to Yaacov  “Dan” Dostrovsky, the Haganah’s chief of staff. Because the Haganah was outlawed by the British, its members used code names. Sukenik chose the name “Yadin” because he liked the allusion at Gen. 49:16: “Dan yadin amo.”          
        In 1945, Sukenik resigned from the Haganah and returned to his studies. But just before Israel declared its independence, Ben-Gurion recalled him to the military. He was head of Military Operations during the 1947-49 War, making many of the decisions that led to Israel’s victory.
         On Nov. 29 1947, just hours before the U.N. vote, with war about to break out, his father risked his life and traveled to Bethlehem to negotiate a deal for the first three Dead Sea Scrolls. Of course Yigael was torn. As an archaeologist, he knew the importance of these documents. But as a son and as head of Military Operations for the Haganah, Yigael told his father that it was too risky for him to travel to Bethlehem at this tense time. His father ignored him, and was able to obtain these scrolls. (I will tell this story more completely in a separate column. I will also address Yigael’s own role in obtaining the next four Dead Sea Scrolls.)
        In 1949, Ben-Gurion appointed Yigael chief of staff of the IDF (=the successor to the Haganah).  Around this time, Ben-Gurion required high government officials to adopt Hebrew names. From that point on, Yigael Sukenik became Yigael Yadin, adopting his previous code name.
           Yadin resigned his military position in 1952 and resumed his academic career, doing his PHD on the War Scroll from Qumran. In 1955, he received his PHD and was appointed lecturer in archaeology at  Hebrew Univ. He received the Israel Prize in Jewish Studies in 1956 for his PHD study. In 1955, he undertook the first of four seasons of excavations at Hazor. In 1970, he became the head of the university’s Institute of Archaeology.
            The Israel Exploration Society mounted a campaign in the early 1960’s to explore caves in canyons along the southwest shore of the Dead Sea.  Yadin was assigned to the Nahal Hever cave and did his work there in 1960-61. It turned out to yield spectacular finds. As Magness explains: He “excavated caves occupied by Jewish refugees from Ein Gedi at the time of the Bar-Kokhba revolt (132-135 CE). The caves had been discovered by Roman troops, and the besieged refugees, trapped and unable to escape, starved to death. Their physical remains and personal belongings including documents remained inside the caves until their discovery by Yadin. Among the documents are letters written by the leader of the revolt himself...”
          Yadin’s crowning archaeological achievement was the excavations at Masada, which he directed from 1963-65. Thousands of volunteers from Israel and around the world participated in the excavations in two-week rotations. One year after the excavations ended, Yadin published a popular book on Masada, which became a best seller.
       Within a year of the publication of this book, he was recalled to public service as tensions escalated with Israel’s Arab neighbors. Shortly before June 1967, he accepted an appointment as Prime Minister Eshkol’s special advisor on security affairs. Magness writes: “He played a central role in planning a military offensive which led to Israel’s stunning victory…” He also ensured that Israeli forces secured the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, where most of the Dead Sea Scrolls were stored. On Yadin’s initiative, a special museum in Jerusalem, “Heikhal Ha-Sefer,” was built for the Scrolls.
             After the war ended, Yadin returned to academic life, teaching and working on the publication of the Dead Sea text known as the “Temple Scroll.” Magness writes: “His position as the foremost archaeologist in Israel was enshrined in James Michener’s 1965 novel, The Source…The pipe-smoking Israeli archaeologist, Ilan Eliav, was modeled after Yadin.”
              One of the many books he published was “Tefillin from Qumran” (1969).
               After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he returned to public service as a member of the commission charged with investigating the Israeli government’s failure to anticipate the war’s outbreak. The report issued by the commission led to the resignation of Prime Minister Golda Meir.
                 In 1974, he returned to academic life. But in 1976, he returned to public life and was the head of a new political party called “Dosh,” an acronym for the “Democratic Movement for Change.” This party advertised itself as an alternative to the long dominant Labor Zionist party. The party won 15 seats, but this came at the expense of the Labor party, and enabled Begin’s Likud party to obtain the  largest number of seats and form a coalition without Labor or Dosh. Eventually, Dosh ended up joining Begin’s government. Yadin was appointed deputy Prime Minister, a position he served in until 1981.                    He spent his final years engaged in archaeology and academic life. He died in 1984.
                   Magness was his student between the years 1974-76 and tells the following story from July 1976.   She took a course with him that spanned 2 years: “Introduction to the Archaeology of the Land of Israel.” The entire grade for the course was based on the final exam.  She remembers Yadin as charismatic but intimidating. He was always “Professor Yadin,” unlike the other faculty members with whom the students were on a first name basis. All the students had been studying frantically for the final exam. But then they heard the news about the Entebbe rescue. As a result, the whole country was walking around with big grins on their faces, and the students entering the classroom for their final exam were as well. She writes: “It was then that Yadin entered the room and strode (as always) to the front. Sternly he asked, “What happened? Why are you all smiling?”- and then he broke into a big grin himself. It is the only time I remember seeing Yadin smile like that.”       
     P.S. Wikipedia has the following story: He was sometimes forced to deal with thefts of important artifacts, occasionally by prominent figures. In one instance, the thefts were attributed by others to Moshe Dayan. Yadin remarked: “I know who did it, and I am not going to say who it is, but if I catch him, I’ll poke out his other eye, too!”        
Like Yadin, Mitchell First leads a multifaceted life, alternating between law and Jewish scholarship. (But without any military achievements.) He can be reached at For more of his articles, visit his website at

Saturday 16 May 2020

Mussar: True Story at NCSY National Convention, Circa 1970

originally posted Mar. 22, 2014


"Don't Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life."

You might even save a life!

don Miguel Ruiz

NCSY National Convention Circa 1970

R Meyer Krentzman was regional director of the Eastern Canadian region of NCSY. Mr. "Harvey Kahn" [Iif I recall his name correctly] was slated to be honoured by the National convention but his name had been [apparently] bypassed.

Meyer got up and left the hall. Nearly the entire region got up to leave in protest - due to the slight towards their beloved Harvey Kahn.

Well it turns out that:
1. For some reason the order was different that year. And while 90% of his region was absent, he was honoured with hardly any to cheer.

2. Meyer Krentzman indeed had left. He had left simply to answer "a call to nature." The interpretation that he was in fact protesting the slight was merely an erroneous rush to judgment, largely due to failing to clarify Meyer's motives.

Mussar Heskel:
Maybe Yitzchak Rabin and Trayvon Martin could still be alive today, if only some reasonable clarifications took place first.

Kol Tuv,

Thursday 14 May 2020

New RBH shiur on Koshertube: Mutuality-On Relating

Many believe that the highest ethic emerges when one places the other above oneself, that selfishness is always a problem. The problem is that, from a Torah perspective, the call of the verse would seem to be 'to love your neighbour like yourself.' This would seem to imply that there is also a most important value in loving oneself, in also being concerned about self. In this shiur, Rabbi Hecht opens up a discussion on this important topic.

We invite you to view Mutuality-On Relating at

Monday 11 May 2020


From RRW
Guest Blogger: Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth

Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth

Pesach Sheni is a very unique mitzvah in the Torah. The common principle is ‘avar zemano – batel korbano’ = once the time has passed, the korban is canceled. Why specifically on Pesach are we granted a second chance? Why this is not an option in any other chag or korban?  

There is a special element in the mitzvah of Pesach that does not exist in any chag or korban. The Korban Pesach is one of the only two positive commandments for which omission is punishable by karet, a punishment of total disconnection and detachment from Am Israel and its eternity: "If a man who is clean and not on a journey refrains from offering the Korban Pesach, that person shall be cut off from his kin" (Bamidbar 9:13). The Korban Pesach is the first act that we performed as a people and therefore it was a declaration of allegiance to Am Israel, Torat Israel, and Netzach Israel. Pesach, together with Brit Milah, are the two key mitzvot that demonstrate our affiliation with Am Israel, so whoever does not observe them is destined to be rejected, distanced and cut off.

That is why we are granted another opportunity to bring the Korban Pesach, to teach us that there will always be a way back, and even the most distant person can return and be part of Klal Israel. It is precisely through the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni that the Torah teaches us that there are second chances, and one must not despair!

The Rambam, in his commentary to the Mishna, explains that the Korban Pesach is a unique korban: “The fourth kind is a personal korban which is like a communal korban. This includes the Korban Pesach, which each person slaughters on the fourteenth of Nisan” (Introduction to Zevachim). Although it is a personal korban, it has the status of a korban tzibbur. Rav Kook (Olat Reiyah I, pp. 178-179) explains that this is the reason why the meat of the Korban Pesach must be roasted and cannot be cooked. Cooking causes meat to expand, but roasting causes the meat to shrink. This korban symbolizes, more than anything else, the unity and togetherness of Am Israel, as it is said: “The whole community of Israel shall offer it” (Shemot 12:47). For that reason, there will always be a second chance to experience that unity, which is the very foundation of the Jewish people, as Rabbi Elazar HaKappar said: “‘Peace is so important, that even if the Jews practice Avodah Zara, but do it in one fellowship, the attribute of strict justice will not harm them” (Derech Eretz Zuta 9:2).

During the times of COVID-19, many of us have experienced quarantine and isolation, but at the very same time we have encountered a tremendous degree of unity, solidarity, and tolerance. Before the pandemic began, the world and Jewish society had experienced an extreme level of divisiveness and hatred. Public discourse became disrespectful and violent, and people tended to attack anyone who disagreed with their views. This tiny virus – the joint enemy of all of humanity – has forced us all to let go of these divisive elements, realizing how much we are all dependent on each other. Demonstrations of solidarity in Jewish society have crossed the boundaries between all sectors and denominations. There were even voices within American Jewry expressing the need for support from the State of Israel. Perhaps this is a second chance given by Hashem, a second chance for unity, for solidarity, for respect, for Makhloket L’Shem Shamayim. It is very symbolic that during the week of Pesach Sheni, a united government will finally be formed in Israel after three very divisive election campaigns, a unity which will help to heal our society from the deep wounds of divisiveness and hatred.

Let us hope and pray that we can find the courage and strength to continue this solidary on the day after COVID-19, to form a better society based on kindness and mutual respect.

Thursday 7 May 2020

Insights into the word Cohein (priest)

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
                                              Insights Into the Word “Cohein”
      1. We were not alone in using the word “cohein” for a priest or leader. This word had this meaning in other religions and societies as well.  This is evident from many places in Tanach: e.g., Malkitzedek (Gen. 14:18, “chohein le-eil elyon,”), Poti Fera (Gen. 41:45; “cohein on”), Gen. 47:26 referring to Egyptian priests (“admat ha-cohanim”), Yitro (Ex. 3:1, “cohein Midian”), “Matan, cohein ha-Baal” (2 Kings 11:18), and “chohanei Dagon” (serving the Philistine god, 1 Sam. 5:5). There are many more such verses.
      Outside of Tanach, we find the term used for priests in some of the other ancient Semitic languages. Examples are Ugaritic and Phoenician. (Some of these inscriptions refer to c-h-n-t: “priestesses”!)
       2.  Typically in Biblical Hebrew, a verb has three letters and the noun is formed by adding a “mem” (or “tav”) as the first letter. For example, the noun M-K-D-Sh (=temple) is derived from the verb K-D-Sh.
            In the case of the noun C-H-N, if the verb preceded the noun, then we would expect the noun to have taken the form M-C-H-N. Since it did not, this suggests that the noun preceded the verb.  The Tanach does use the verb “le-chahen,” but since it came after the noun, it means merely: “function as a priest.”
            When the noun precedes the verb, the task of determining the root is harder as it is not just a matter of chopping off the initial letter. I will mention a few speculative suggestions before I mention the most widely accepted explanation:
               -C-H-N comes from the root C-H-H (“dim”). The latter was a word used in the leprosy context (see, e.g., Lev. 13:6), and initially priests were involved in medical matters.
               -Another attempt to connect to C-H-H: Even though the Torah commands our priests to often  wear clothing made of white linen (“bad”), perhaps the priests of other ancient religions wore dimmer or darker clothes.  
              -There is an Akkadian word “canu” which means “bow down, worship.”
              -There is a Syriac word “cahhen” which, in addition to meaning “priest,” means “bring abundance, make happy.” (Syriac is a type of Aramaic.)
               But the most likely explanation is that the root of “cohein” was Cav-Vav-Nun. See E. Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, p. 271. This root has meanings like: “set up, prepare, establish, stand.” This fits because the “cohein” was the one who was responsible for setting up and preparing the religious procedures, and standing before God.
             Rav S. R. Hirsch looks to an even a broader meaning of the root Cav-Vav-Nun, preparing the people. Here are his inspiring words at Gen. 14:18:
                 כהן from root כוןכון from which we get הכין, to get a thing ready for a special purpose. נכון, that which is suitable… כהן, that one who (by teaching, example and symbolic procedure) influences people that they become כן, that they correspond to the Will of God, are ready and fixed for godliness. The Jewish priest has not to make God and godliness satisfy human requirements…but to shape men and human matters to satisfy God’s requirements….”               
          3.  A few times in Tanach, people who are merely important advisors (but not actual priests) are referred to with the term “cohein.”  See, e.g., 2 Sam. 8:18, which describes the sons of David as “kohanim.” The parallel passage at I Chr. 18:17 rephrases it: “ha-rishonim le-yad ha-melech.”
              Of course, at Ex. 19:6, the entire Israelite people are referred to as “mamlechet cohanim.” There are surely many interpretations here. I will just offer the one in Daat Mikra: In the Jewish religion, the priests have a closer relationship with God than the Israelites do, have additional obligations, atone for the sins of the nation and teach the nation. So too, compared to the other nations, the Israelites have the Shechinah on them alone, have additional obligations, atone for the sins of the other nations, and are obligated to teach them about God.  A well-known view of the Sages is that the seventy bulls offered on the holiday of Sukkot are to atone for the sins of the seventy nations.
           It was mentioned above that sometimes “cohein” in Tanach can refer to non-Israelite priests. But there is another word in Tanach that is used only for such priests. It appears only three times:  “cemarim.” What is the etymology of this word?
          The root C-M-R has a few meanings in Tanach: 1) to heat/warm (see, e.g., Gen. 43:30); 2) black, darkness (Job 3:5 and Eichah 5:10; since burnt items are black and dark, this meaning may be related to meaning #1); and 3) to cast a net, snare.
          Perhaps “cemarim” is simply a loanword from another language. Akkadian has such a word for a priest, “cumru.” See H. Tawil, An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew, p. 166.
          But can we give it an etymology based on the Hebrew of the Tanach? One possibility is that “cemarim” were called this because of the black clothes they wore. See, e.g., Radak, Sefer Ha-Shorashim. (I am not sure what the source is that “cemarim” wore black clothes.)
          The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon suggests that the “net/snare” meaning is related to a meaning “lay prostrate” and that this is the origin of “cemarim.”
          But there is another approach.  At Gen. 43:30, we are told about Joseph that “nichmeru rachamav” (=his feelings were warmed) towards his brother.  R. Hirsch writes that the “warm” meaning of C-M-R here refers to “a deep emotion being excited.” He continues:
                   “Probably from the same idea, pagan priests are called ‘cemarim’ in contrast to ‘cohanim.’ The Jewish כהן does not depend so much on devoutness, feelings. Jewish Divine Service is not designed to excite dark mysterious feelings. The Jewish Sanctuary makes its appeal primarily to the mind, the intelligence rather than to feelings…One can weep copiously before God in prayer, and get up and be no hair breadth better than one was before. The כמר, the pagan priest reckons on exciting feelings. But the כהן is to be כן to himself, and מכין to others, give them a firm clear basis on which to stand, a direction where to go…”
            Modern scholars partially agree with R. Hirsch. They accept the “warm, excite” meaning of C-M-R as the explanation for the word, but focus the quality on the priest himself. For example, the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon suggests the original meaning of the singular of “cemarim” as “the excited one, the hot one.” Similarly,Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (vol. 7, p. 65) writes that “cemarim” comes from the meaning “be excited,” and cites some evidence from Mari texts that a cumrum was an “ecstatic.” (The Mari texts are from centuries before Tanach, from the area of the modern Iraq-Syria border.)           
         I wish to acknowledge the post of Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein of Dec. 2019, “Holy Priests vs. Unholy Priests,” at his site “What’s in a Word?,” that provided me with some of the references.
Mitchell First is an attorney, a Jewish history scholar and a cohein. He enjoys continually preparing and exciting his readers. He can be reached at For more of his articles, please visit his website