Climbing the Fifteen Steps of the Seder 1-3

The Fifteen Steps of the Pesach Seder serve as the framework for our fulfillment of the mitzvah to tell the story of our exodus from Egypt. They have been compared to the 15 Steps leading up to the Beis Hamikdash in that both sets of stairs are used to bring us to a greater level of unity with Hashem. The haggadah has been called the most commented upon work of liturgy. Commentary on the haggadah serves many purposes: it broadens our understanding of the mitzvos of the night; it brings greater appreciation for the miracles Hashem performed for us; and it makes the Seder night and all of Pesach more relevant to us. Join us as we climb the fifteen steps together by presenting a short vort/dvar torah by different bloggers/commenters. Commenters are invited to share their own vort on the particular steps being discussed in the comment thread of that post. Let’s Climb.

Step 1 Kadesh
The Making of Kiddush

To be mekadesh something is to sanctify it. More precisely to be mekadesh something is to set it aside for holiness. If someone were to be makdish something to the Beis Hamikdash, that means that they have set it aside solely for that holy purpose and nothing else. When we make Kiddush we sanctify the day and set it aside as something holy. The cup of wine used for Kiddush is the first of the four cups we are obligated to drink at the seder. It is well know that the four cups correspond to the four different expressions of redemption that Hashem uses. The first one, corresponding to the first cup-the cup of Kiddush-, is V’Hotzesee I will take you out. Hashem took us out from amongst the Egyptians “goy mi’kerev goy” a nation from the midst of another nation. Hashem separated the Bnei Yisrael out from the Mitzrim and set us aside as something holy. With this understanding, we can see how the cup of Kiddush is clearly related to the first expression of Read more Climbing the Fifteen Steps of the Seder 1-3

The Numbers Game

By Charnie

Our family took a vacation to Newport, RI several years ago. Included in our sightseeing was a visit to the historic Touro Synagogue. In the bookshop there I picked up a rather amusing book called Boychiks in the Hood : Travels in the Hasidic Underground: by Robert Eisenberg which opens with a first sentence: “Imagine: It is the year 2075, and the only Jews left in the United States, aside from a few old-timers, are Hasidim and other Orthodox.” Read the first page.

For those of us who are a part of the “BT Phenomena” that doesn’t appear to be a far-fetched idea. The most visible proof is in keeping a family tree. I’m our family genealogist, i.e., “the keeper of the family tree”. There are as many branches in there as I’ve got information on. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to appreciate the fact that the frum branches are blossoming, while the others, for the most part, are wilting. It’s probably a safe guess that among the married participants of this blog, the median family size might be approximately 3-4 children.
Read more The Numbers Game

The Efficiency of the Web and the Korban Pesach

Rabbi Welcher gave his annual Preparing your Kitchen for Pesach shiur last night and within two hours it was available for download for all those who couldn’t attend. You can download it here Part 1 Drasha, Part 2 Halacha A, Part 3 Halacha B.

The Web is a model of efficiency and never has it been faster, easier and cheaper to distribute information to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. But with all of today’s wonderous technology, there are examples of other marvelous efficiencies in the distant past.

We learned recently in Daf Yomi (Art Scroll Pesachim 64b2), that one year there were 1.2 million Korban Pesachs offered in the Beis Hamikdash in about 3 hours. That comes to about 400,000 an hour or about 6,600 a minute or 110 each second. When queried about this recently, Rabbi Welcher said that we have difficulty conceiving of such an efficient human operation.

If anybody has any ideas or has seen anything on how so many Korbanos were offered in such a short time, please leave a comment.

Starting Off on the Right Foot

It seems to me that Borchi Nofshi, Psalm 104, which is said on Rosh Chodesh mornings might just be the most overlooked section of our prayers. By the time we finish Hallel, leining and mussaf (if you are davening ashkenaz) you are probably already late for your train/bus/car pool and Borchi Nofshi often gets short shrift.

Add to that the fact that Nissan is probably the most hectic month of the year (in case you are wondering why, you better start your Pesach cleaning NOW!). Therefore, it just might be that the Borchi Nafshi we say tomorrow may not get the proper attention it deserves.

Read more Starting Off on the Right Foot

Focusing on the Strengths of the Paths Within Judaism

As a people we need a refuah. There seems to be so much infighting and negativity against other valid paths within Judaism. We need a lot more love and achdus and a lot less bashing.

Rabbi Noach Weinberg suggests that Judaism defines love as identifying with the positive qualities of another. The more we see and focus on another person’s positive qualities, the more we will come to love them. And the same can apply to groups within Judaism, the more we focus on the strengths of each group the closer we can come to appreciating and loving them.
Read more Focusing on the Strengths of the Paths Within Judaism

Looking for Suggestions to Breakdown Communication Barriers

Below is an email exchange with my sister. She is two years older than me and has called me “Ugs” since I was 5 years old and she thought I was cute. Lashon sagi nahor, I guess. I have always been very close with her but we don’t see each other often since she still lives in the NY area and I have relocated to Baltimore.

It bothers both of us that we are not able to share in each others lives more. The situation is complicated by the fact that my nephews have severe food allergies. For the last few years she has hosted various Thanksgiving dinners, and birthday parties that we have declined to attend. I wanted to convey (more) clearly to her why we decline. In the past she has said something like “What’s the problem? When my kids go to a birthday party, they know that they cannot eat whatever they want because it might have peanuts etc. So why can’t you just do the same thing with your kids? We’ll bring in some kosher food for you and some other food for everyone else.” Obviously, there are halachic ways to cook kosher in a non-kosher home.

I’d appreciate some feedback as to the emotional / communication element at work.

Read more Looking for Suggestions to Breakdown Communication Barriers

Instant Kiruv

This past Shabbos afternoon, I was asked to speak to a group of college students involved in a phenomenal program for non-religious students.

When I returned from speaking, my six year old daughter was sitting with her friend enjoying their Shabbos party (read: junk). My daughter asked how my speech went (thank G-d, she’s still interested in my life).

I said ” Fine, thanks.”

She then turned to her friend and explained “my father went to speak to people who aren’t frum yet but we want them to be frum”.

Her friend immediately replied: “Nu, did they say yes?”

Achdut at Gate 6

I recently spent two weeks in Israel, due to a family wedding and spring break, and I have always found that one of the most unifying, one-with-the-Jewish-people experiences ever is in the waiting area for the flight to Israel.

There is something to be said about being with a bunch of Jews getting ready to fly to Israel, our homeland. Jews dressed in all sorts of garb, listening to all sorts of music, speaking all sorts of languages – in the end, we are all Jews, and we are, as one, flying to Israel.
Read more Achdut at Gate 6

A Tribute to My First Rabbi

Today is the yahrtzeit of my first rabbi, Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Carlebach zt”l. Many people know of Reb Elya’s famous twin brother, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, zt”l. In fact, I also found Reb Elya through Reb Shlomo’s reputation, but it is Reb Elya who I will always consider my first rabbi.

Reb Elya and Reb Shlomo were born in Vienna in the late 1920’s to a prominent and wealthy rabbinic family. Their father, Rabbi Naftali Carlebach, moved the family to Germany for the sake of his sons’ education, but by the 1930s, they emigrated to America, early enough to have escaped the war. Rabbi Naftali Carlebach established a shul on West 79th Street in Manhattan which is now run by his great-grandson, Reb Elya’s grandson, Rabbi Naftali Citron.
Read more A Tribute to My First Rabbi

Get Your Internet Parsha Sheet Here

With Shabbos only a few hours away and not that many Rashis to go over in this week’s parsha, we thought we’d share with you one of our favorite Shabbos treats – the Internet Parsha Sheet

It’s compiled every week by R’ Chaim Shulman of Teanack and we really admire his taste in Torah.

Pick up your copy at your local printer and have a Great Shabbos!

What Was the Transgression of Those Who Perished in the Darkness

Pesach is coming and it’s time to delve a little deeper into the Hagaddah and Yetzias Mitzrayim.

Rashi quotes a Medrash that only 20% of Klal Yisrael left Egypt, the remainder having perished during the plague of darkness.

What was the specific transgression that caused them to suffer this fate aside from the obvious one of not listening to HaShem and Moshe Rabbeinu?

Jewish Impact Films

We’ve been conversing recently here about topics such as the Internet and Women’s Issues. So we thought we’d share this link to Jewish Impact Films, whose mission is to empower the next generation of young Jewish thinkers to use creative media, specifically short internet-based films, to effectively communicate new messaging about Judaism and Israel.

It looks like the Judaism they are communicating is Torah Observance and some of their material has been featured on Aish. The material on beauty stresses inner beauty over external appearance.

Check it out and let us know what you think.

Teaching Kedusha in the Home

Dear Rabbi Brody,

In case you don’t remember, my wife and I made Tshuva 5 years ago. Then, our daughter was 6. Now she’s 11, and despite our efforts, she isn’t careful about washing her hands in the morning or about saying Krias Shma at night. In your last letter to us, you told us to try and be stronger personal examples and do everything that we demand from her; we’ve implemented your advice, but it still isn’t easy. Could you devote some of your valuable time to strengthening a little girl in Kedusha? Could you please explain to our Debbie the importance of “negel vasser” and Krias shma at night? We’re sure that she’ll listen to you, and we’d be forever grateful.

S and J Ross,

Read more Teaching Kedusha in the Home

Challenges of Caring for Our Elderly Parents

By Chana Sanders

I spent a very interesting Shabbos in a local hospital where my mother was admitted a few hours before candlelighting a few Fridays ago. Since my mother, who is elderly and very ill is not frum, this was a BT experience every step of the way. Yet, it was Shabbos, and the hospital does provide a Shabbos room for overnight guests despite their 99% non-religious or non-Jewish clientele and staff.

So I stayed overnight and tried to take care of my mother, whose thoughts were (rightfully) not on whether I was having Shabbos issues. But every step of the way, from elevators, to electric hospital beds, to straws and silverware in sealed plastic, there were challenges. I know that my Rav can answer all these halachic questions, but there wasn’t time to anticipate them all before this happened.
Read more Challenges of Caring for Our Elderly Parents

Suppression of Jewish Women – a Matter of Perspective

Does traditional Judaism prevent women from being free human beings? Do the laws and customs suppress women, thus rendering them as inferior in status to men, thereby making them unable to enhance their Jewish identity, spirituality, and connection to Hashem? Is traditional halachic theology dogmatic and sexist?

The answer to all these questions is that it depends on one’s perspective. While traditional Judaism seemingly discriminates against women by excluding them from the Rabbinate, from making aliyahs, dancing with the sefer Torah, and from serving as judges in Batei Din, men are no more spiritually powerful than women by virtue of engaging in these public activities.
Read more Suppression of Jewish Women – a Matter of Perspective

Boxing In – Boxing Out

David and I both went to SUNY Albany, although at different times. We were recently shocked to see that the school made it to the NCAA Tournament and were tied with the number 1 team, Connecticut with 6 minutes to go in round 1. They lost the game but I can now segue into a basketball analogy.

Boxing out is the process by which you try to keep a player out of the action when going for a rebound. There are also many defenses that try to keep the key players out of the action, through a boxing strategy.

There is another type of boxing out that goes on – and that is painting someone with whom you have a difference into as small a corner as possible in order to show the small mindedness of their position. Most people don’t fit into nice boxes, but nonetheless, attempts to box people remain, this is also called labelling and stereotyping.

One of our goals here is to undo this boxing, by trying to understand alternative viewpoints – not necessarily accept them, but at least understand them. I think BTs have the most to benefit from this, as the boxes we are painted into are often the smallest.

BT, FFB, and FWE

“I feel like I’m on a treadmill.”

The expression seems to have lost its imagery now that so many have invested thousands of dollars on state-of-the-art, high-tech exercisers or dole out hundreds of dollars a month to join gyms that enable us to go steadily nowhere while sweating off calories. But back before treadmills became the defining symbol of the baby-boomers’ desperate pursuit of eternal youth, the expression “on a treadmill” meant, in the language of Torah, avodas perech — endless toil with no meaningful purpose.

So perhaps we owe the boomers a measure of gratitude for restoring the treadmill to where it belongs in Torah philosophy: as a symbol of the very purpose of our existence.
Read more BT, FFB, and FWE