Planetary Design



 It’s a good thing that when God created the rainbow he didn’t consult a decorator or he would still be picking colors. -Samuel Levenson


The Torah uses very broad brush strokes to describe the creation of the universe. In just one paragraph we are told about the setting of order within chaos, light within darkness, and life within an existential vacuum. How God went about determining the laws and the infinite details of nature are largely a mystery. Why does gravity work the way it does? Why does water have the magical properties that it does? Why are we at exactly the perfect distance from the sun to maintain comfortable conditions for life? Why are animals born with the instincts that they have? Why does our planet have the form and variety that it possesses?

There is an ancient Kabbalistic belief that the Torah was actually created before the creation of the physical universe (whatever that means). The Sfat Emet on Genesis 1, in his commentary for the year 5634 (1874) expands on this concept and explains that the world was actually created based on the Torah; that the Torah in some fashion was the blueprint for the physical world and therefore, one can find something of the Torah in all of creation. Every aspect of creation will contain secrets and lessons of the Torah, which is God’s instruction manual for us.

The more one understands both Torah and creation, the more one can decode the hidden messages God left in His world and in the instruction manual. King Solomon, 3,000 years ago, already noted lessons from the animal kingdom that we can take as values: the hard work of the ant, the cleanliness of the cat and so forth. In our day and age, as we have begun to unlock some of the basic forces and sciences of our world, chemistry, physics, biology, subatomic particles, genetic engineering and so much more, shouldn’t we be a bit wiser about understanding God’s directions?

May we appreciate the divine creation that is our universe and pay closer attention to its beauty, mystery and lessons.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Hope. Hope for our world. We can’t let the darkness and the death and the terror bring us down. We need to hope, plan and work for a better day, despite the enemies, obstacles and challenges.



Pre-Incarnated Unity



 The soul gives unity to what it looks at with love. -Thomas Carlyle


At what was perhaps the most transcendent moment in human history, God reveals Himself to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments are uttered and God gives the remainder of the Written and Oral Torah to Moses. Every single one of the Children of Israel who was alive at that time, shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, hears and senses God at prophetic levels.

There follows a question as to how this bond, this covenant that was formed at Sinai can continue through the long generations and millennia since that singular event. What connects, what unites the descendants of those who stood at Sinai with the ancestors who witnessed the barely filtered presence of God?

Amongst many answers, a popular one is that the soul of every Jew was at Sinai, even if he hadn’t been born yet. Somehow, at this defining event for the Jewish people, every Jewish soul, alive as well as unborn, through all the generations, was present for the receipt of the Torah, for the establishment of the everlasting covenant with God.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 33:3 adds another facet to this well known explanation. He elaborates that not only was the soul of every future Jew in history present at Sinai, but that even the souls of future converts were present at the encounter. That the truth is that their souls were there as well, and heard and received the Torah. When they convert, they are merely reconnecting and reclaiming that spiritual heritage that was rightfully theirs from so long ago, where we all accepted the divine mission as one united people.

May our souls re-accept the Torah on a regular basis.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To the unifying Sukah of the Lefler family.

Forging the Eternal Inheritance


A man cannot leave a better legacy to the world than a well-educated family. -Thomas Scott

grandfatherReadingIt is my sober duty to bury the dead and console the living. It gives one ample opportunities to ponder the legacy people leave behind. The family matriarch who lived to see great-grandchildren following in her footsteps of kindness. The grandfather who was a well-known joke-teller with grandchildren who continue with the same entertaining sense of humor. Or those who died before they lived to see successive generations but left behind memories of strength and joy. Or those who left behind money and property to then be squabbled over by the children.

From a multi-generation, decades long perspective, it is sobering to consider what a parent should inculcate in their children, what they should hope to see in their grandchildren, what are the greatest gifts one can bestow on their progeny that will have a positive and lasting impact on ones descendants and on the world.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 32:7 sets the goal of Torah scholarship as the pinnacle of what a parent can hope for. He explains that if a family merits to see three successive generations of Torah scholars, that gift, that accomplishment becomes an eternal inheritance, for the family and for the wider nation of Israel.

One of the great scholars of the past was once asked, how many years did it take him to accumulate the vast knowledge of Torah that was at his fingertips. He answered: “Five minutes.” The questioner looked at the scholar in confusion. The scholar explained: “Whenever I was at a bus stop, whenever I was standing on line, whenever I had five minutes free, I would learn. Those five minutes added up.”

If our fathers were not great scholars, it does not exempt us from striving, nor from setting an example for our children and grandchildren. It just takes five minutes.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukot Sameach,



To the Chok Le’Israel. A book the provides really bite-size daily servings of the spectrum of Torah. Very highly recommended.

Yom Kipppur Message: Jew versus Judaism

Yom Kipppur Message

Jew versus Judaism

magen davidTo be a Jew is simple. To practice Judaism is complex.

To be a Jew one simply needs to be born a Jew. Nothing else is required. Just the fact of having been born to a Jewish mother is enough to bestow upon a person membership into the tribe of Jews. One does not need to practice Judaism; one doesn’t need to celebrate its holidays, keep its strictures or follow its traditions; one doesn’t even need to be aware of their Jewish ancestry, to be Jewish.

To practice Judaism is another matter entirely. There are a lot of laws. There are thousands of years worth of tradition. There are strictures and customs and liturgy and sacred books enough to keep a person occupied for the rest of their lives. Judaism is the faith, the way of life, the legal framework, the fount of wisdom, the moral compass, the educational womb, the warm home that has nurtured and guided the Jewish people for millennia. It is something that most of its adherents believe is the best, sanest, healthiest, most meaningful way to live ones life.

For historical reasons, the chain of transmission was disrupted. War, genocide, persecution, dislocation, emancipation, poverty, assimilation and more all contributed to Judaism struggling to survive the last few generations. But survive it has, and in many places it is flourishing, while in others the light of both Judaism and Jewish communities is being extinguished.

For someone who did not grow up in a home that practices the full extent of the laws of Judaism, the long list of requirements can seem alien, bizarre, archaic, illogical and totally out of synch with modern life and sensibilities. For generations of Jews who grew up disconnected from their ancient roots, full Judaism is foreign and makes little sense.

Many Jewish families have crumbs of Judaism. Pieces, shadows and diluted forms of the most popular traditions. Some people believe or are comfortable believing that participating in these superficial and tangential aspects of Judaism is the “full” Jewish experience, or at the very least “sufficient”. Other people believe that Judaism is a “feeling” and that merely to “feel” Jewish is sufficient to stake a claim to the extent of Judaism, with no further action or effort required.

To “feel” Jewish is certainly a value. To participate in any aspect of Judaism is valuable, no matter how minor or diluted. But let us not delude ourselves into thinking that this is the full experience of Judaism.

The full experience of Judaism includes a heightened sensitivity to interpersonal relationships, guarding what we say and how we speak, how we act, being honest in our dealings, caring for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the needy, the disenfranchised.

The full experience of Judaism includes a sense of modesty in our speech, in our actions and in our appearance.

The full experience of Judaism includes faith in an active, benevolent God, who accompanies us, who has an interest in our lives and whom we can connect to.

The full experience of Judaism includes faith in God, the God of our forefathers, who liberated our ancestors from the bondage of Egypt and revealed himself to all of our people at Mount Sinai, where he gave us the Torah, our guide to life in this world.

The full experience of Judaism includes respecting the Sabbath in all its stringencies.

The full experience of Judaism includes a strictly Kosher diet.

The full experience of Judaism includes daily prayer in community.

The full experience of Judaism includes celebration of all the Holidays, not just Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the Seder of Pesach, but also Sukot, Simchat Torah, the full week of Pesach, Shavuot, Purim, Hanukah and more, with all of their accompanying laws.

Let us not confuse being Jewish with practicing Judaism. Let us be honest with ourselves. I do not question the biological reality of anyone who is Jewish. But membership in the club of Jews does not automatically make someone a practitioner of Judaism.

Judaism takes work.

Judaism takes study.

Judaism takes commitment.

Judaism takes sacrifice.

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish people reaches out to God in part to reconnect, to rediscover, to reinforce, to reenergize, to renew their Judaism.

Make your Judaism more than superficial. Make your Judaism more than tangential. Don’t believe that merely “feeling” Jewish is in any way sufficient. In our days of internet, Wikipedia, and smartphones there is no longer any excuse for ignorance. Any ignorance we currently have of our traditions is self-inflicted. If you don’t know about the extent of full Judaism it is because you choose not to know.

On Yom Kippur, it is said that the soul reaches its highest consciousness of the year. The soul pines to express itself, to escape the boundaries of the physicality of our bodies, our urges, our habits.

Yom Kippur is the day to peel away the layers of dross that have covered our soul.

Yom Kippur is the day to listen to our souls, to our innermost hopes and dreams, beyond anything material.

Yom Kippur is the day to reconnect with our life mission and purpose.

Yom Kippur is the day that our soul, that divine spark, seeks to reconnect with its source, its origin, God Himself.

Yom Kippur is the day to break free from the materiality, the superficiality that rules our lives.

Yom Kippur is the day to find meaning and direction once again.

Yom Kippur is the day when a Jew can return to Judaism.

Afterlife Conversations

Baal Haturim Deuteromony: Vayelech

Afterlife Conversations

We talk about heaven being so far away. It is within speaking distance to those who belong there. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. -Dwight L. Moody


For good reason, there is great uncertainty about the afterlife. I have yet to meet someone who has been there and back, who could give a personal account of what it was like. Some doubt its existence as there is no scientific proof. Others may believe in various Hollywood versions, inspired in part from classical poets like Dante and Milton.

The Jewish tradition has much to say about the next world. What’s its purpose, who gets there and who doesn’t, what do we do there, how long we’re there for, and much more.

The Baal Haturim points out an interesting capability we will retain in the afterlife. In his commentary on Deuteronomy 31:1, he cites a conversation between Moses and the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), whereby Moses informs them that God has fulfilled his centuries-old promise to them, that their descendents, the Children of Israel, have finally inherited the Land of Israel. The Baal Haturim explains that the above account is the source that the dead talk to each other in the next world.

May our patriarchs and ancestors have good things to say about us, especially as we approach the Day of Judgement.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova,



To the Chazan, Shaul Hochberger, on his divine conversations leading our prayers.

Instant Global Cure

Instant Global Cure

To reform a world, to reform a nation, no wise man will undertake; and all but foolish men know, that the only solid, though a far slower reformation, is what each begins and perfects on himself. -Thomas Carlyle

We are drowning in a sea of strife and pain. Wherever we look, whatever we read, we cannot avoid the disrespect, the insensitivity, the cruelty, and the mayhem of one human being to another.

One common reaction is to sigh a breath of resignation. I am too far away. I am too small. I am too insignificant to affect this fight. Another reaction is to complain. To curse the powers that be and all those who stand aside, as evils are committed uncontested.

There is a third, slower path, one that doesn’t necessarily fix the suffering staring us in the face, not completely nor immediately. But it is a step. That path is called repentance.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 30:8 talks about repentance. We must first find what is wrong in us and fix it. If there is disrespect, insensitivity or cruelty in us, we must address it before we can presume to lecture others. However, the Baal Haturim states something surprising. He explains that if we can achieve complete repentance we shall see and experience immediate redemption.

May we strive for full repentance on a personal, familiar, communal and global basis.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,



To Rabbi Asher Weiss, a wise man.

Rosh Hashana message 5776: The Eternal Optimists

The Eternal Optimists

  The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.  -Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Einstein sardonically stated that to attempt the same thing over and over again and expect different results is the definition of insanity. Then perhaps we are an insane people. Here we are celebrating the New Year yet again. It’s not a big surprise. The rituals are exactly the same. The prayers haven’t changed in hundreds of years. The shofar is the same type and form which has been used for over 3,000 years. Yet how many of us can state that there was some significant difference in our lives after Rosh Hashana? What does all the praying, moaning and bellyaching actually do? I can understand the food and the festive meals. That’s always fun and I’ll accept any excuse to celebrate. But what are we doing yet again in the synagogue?

I think that the secret is none other than an intrinsic, divinely inspired type of insanity that is nothing less than pure optimism. In the face of years and years of failure, disappointment, heartache, loneliness, illness and all the other maladies that are the human condition, we stand in front of God and we say: “We want better.”

And perhaps the madness is that we expect an answer. We expect God to listen to our pleas. We expect God to serve us our cure, our success, our comfort, our prize on a silver platter. On rare occasions He does, though we are often so distracted or clueless that we fail to note or appreciate the divine intervention. On many occasions the answer is a brutal no. No, you will not get better. No, your loved one will not survive. No, you will not find a job. No, you will not find the love of your life. No. No. No. The constant failure, the constant silent rejection of our innermost pleas is devastating.

Yet we come back again. We plead again. We pray again. We hope again. This is the definition of insanity.

But our sages, our traditions, instruct us to continue with this insanity. They command us never to give up hope. While there is breath in our bodies we look to God to deliver us. At the same time our traditions guide us to deal with our reality, to accept present circumstances, yet always hoping, praying, working for a better future.

That is the secret of Rosh Hashana. That is why we return every year to meet our Creator. That is the unquenchable optimism, which states that no matter how bad things are, no matter how many times we’ve been down the same road, we are allowed, we are enjoined, we are commanded to seek better. We must never give up. We must never tire. We must never quit.

Perhaps this Rosh Hashana will be different.