Category Archives: 5769

Dynastic Soul-Searching

Dynastic Soul-Searching

For a fourteen year old South American student, the cold and cheerless halls of Yeshiva University High School were often a lonely place. However, there was one prominent face I could always count on for a warm smile and a friendly word: Rabbi Yosef Blau, the mashgiach (counselor) of the Yeshiva.

In the dark, gothic building in Washington Heights, NY, Rabbi Blau’s friendship was a beacon of light.

Many years later, at a lecture, I had the pleasure of hearing Rabbi Blau introduce his son Yitzie, a Torah Scholar in his own right, who is also a friend and neighbor of mine.  Rabbi Yosef Blau claimed that Yitzie’s achievements and successes were wholly based on his own hard work and continuous efforts and not as a simple result of his illustrious parentage.

I believe the claim.

In preparation for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana (September 18 & 19 this year), there is a tradition of soul-searching. We stand before God, contemplating our actions, begging for Divine compassion and praying for another chance to do the right thing in the coming year.

One of the prominent themes in the Rosh Hashana liturgy is that we depend on the “merit of our forefathers” (“zechut avot”) in our pleas for mercy.

However, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno is not satisfied with this theological crutch. He demands much more of us.

Deuteronomy 30:8-9 declares:

“You shall return and listen to the voice of Hashem, and perform all His commandments that I command you today. Hashem will make you abundant in all your handiwork – in the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your animals, and the fruit of your Land – for good, when Hashem will return to rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your forefathers.”

Based on these verses, Sforno claims that if we repent from our misguided notions and ways (‘tis the season…), if we wholeheartedly embrace God’s path, to the best of our understanding and capabilities, then several things will happen:

  1. Our sins will be forgiven.
  2. Not only will our sins be forgiven, the sins will be considered as merits.
  3. God will be very happy with us and bestow on us great good.
  4. God will bestow on us the greatest good we have ever experienced.
  5. Our place in the world and in the scheme of things will be based on our own efforts and merit and not on that of our forefathers.

I’ve been privileged to know a dynasty where each member is a role model in their own right. May they always continue to be so, and may we always have opportunity to learn from them.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova U’metukah,



To Rabbi Yitzie (Yitzchak) Blau. A gentleman and a scholar.

Congratulations on the release this week of his first book,”Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine: Ethics & Wisdom of the Aggada”. Based on many articles of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading, I’m sure this book will be both uniquely enlightening and highly captivating.

For details visit:

Footprints in Eternity

I wrote the below poem in the summer of 2009 in honor of my mother’s art exhibit of Jerusalem paintings that was displayed in the Jerusalem Theater. Inspired by the famous “Footprints in the Sand” account. You can see my mother’s artwork at


Footprints in Eternity


Footprints in the Sand, deep, immediate, tangible.

Salt and sand and sea, envelope with a warm caress.

Ephemeral, fleeting, a transient journey,

The impression is washed away like a dream.


Footprints in the Stone, light, imperceptible, negligible.

Skin and leather on rock, bounce on the cool surface.

Ephemeral, fleeting, a transient journey,

The mark is ingrained forever.


Footprints in the Golden City, chaotic, historic, revolutionary.

Babylonians, Greeks, Crusaders, Byzantines,

Ephemeral, fleeting, a transient journey,

The empires are but a memory.


Footprints in our Soul, loving, cherished, unforgettable.

Parents, children, friends, soul mates,

Ephemeral, fleeting, a transient journey,

Their love is eternal.

The Shlemiel Seeks the Nameless One

Deuteronomy Fiction: Ki Tavo

The Shlemiel Seeks the Nameless One

The central square of Bet Lehem was filled to capacity on the early summer morning. Muted browns of farmer’s garments and animals were flecked with explosions of purples, greens and reds from the spring harvest. The sight of so many Temple pilgrims walking to Jerusalem frightened Nahum. The noise was overwhelming. The braying of dozens of animals and the even louder discussions of hundreds of pilgrims set Nahum’s teeth on edge.

Nahum was accustomed to the quiet of his father’s farm in the south. Though man-size, in his eighteen years Nahum had never gotten used to crowds. Donkeys, bulls, horses, goats, sheep and even some camels were penned on the western side of the plaza. With animals he was comfortable; with people less so.

Nahum was accompanied by his uncle, his cousins, his second cousins and most able-bodied members of his Simeon clan. They were all descendents of the notorious Shlemiel, though they did not discuss it publicly. Nahum’s father, the leader of their clan, rode on horseback. Nahum walked close enough to his father to be called upon, but not close enough for conversation. Hundreds of Judeans and Simeons prepared in Bet Lehem for the half-day journey to Jerusalem. To Solomon’s Temple.

“Nahum,” a young brown-haired woman waved at him as he approached the main well. Nahum tripped over a pebble at her unexpected gesture. He regained his balance, almost knocking over a wicker basket brimming with grapes. What’s her name? Nahum thought. I don’t remember her name.

“Hello,” Nahum murmured and looked at his feet.

“It is good to see you again,” the young woman said. “You’ve grown since the last time we met. You’ve just arrived?”

“Yes.” Nahum spoke into his semi-clenched fist.

“We’re about to leave,” the woman said, gesturing at a caravan leaving for Jerusalem, “but I would like to see you again.”

Nahum’s eyes shone and he glanced at the young woman for a moment. Talia? Is that her name? A tight smile spread over his face. “That would be nice,” he said.

“Meet me at noon at the southeast corner outside the Temple,” she smiled. “Don’t be late.”

The young woman joined the procession of farmers heading north to Jerusalem.

“Who was that pretty girl?” asked Eldad, Nahum’s uncle, from behind.

“She’s a girl I know that I keep meeting on our pilgrimages. I think she’s Judean, from Tekoa.”

“What’s her name?”

“I don’t remember. I never asked.”

“Nahum! You’re truly a descendent of Shlemiel. How can you not ask her name? How are you going to find her or find out about her?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t think about it.”

“You’re hopeless.”

“I’ll find her. We agreed on a meeting place.”

“Where?” Eldad asked.

“The southeast corner outside the Temple.”

“That’s good.”


“Because only serious couples meet there.”

“What does that mean?”

“Men and women meet there for serious discussions. The north side is for the frolickers.”

“How do you know all this?” Nahum asked, eyes widening.

“Some matters,” Eldad coughed into his hand, “are better left unsaid. In any case, you’ve been sheltered too long and now you’re of marriageable age. You must consider your prospects wisely.”

“Isn’t that for father to decide?”

“Typically. But if you bring forward a suitable girl that you like, then everyone is better off. Anyway, stop standing around like a buffoon and start watering the animals. The day’s not getting any younger and the crowd’s not getting any thinner.”

Nahum obediently watered their clan’s half dozen animals: two donkeys, the stallion that his father rode, a goat, a young lamb and a large bull. He lined them up facing northward out of Bet Lehem.

The road to Jerusalem was congested. Caravans of clans from all over Judea and Simeon traveled northward. Nahum started to sweat as people walked closer to him. He was thankful that at least everyone was traveling in the same direction. It would have been impossible to move if anyone had tried to travel south.

The convoy of pilgrims moved at an easy pace. The elderly rode on donkeys or rickety carts. Richly dressed pilgrims rode horses. Children ran around the slow-moving procession snatching grapes from the open baskets and throwing ripe figs at each other. The more talented children were rewarded with a satisfying ‘splat’ with fig seeds oozing down their friends’ faces. Parents yelled at them for abusing the First fruits.

Nahum tried to figure out the girl’s name. Mali? Did I hear someone call her that? Maybe it was Elia? How am I going to call her? How can I ask what her name is after all this time? What did Uncle mean about meeting on the northern side? That sounds like it could be fun.

The long line of pilgrims oscillated up and down the Judean hills. On either side of the dusty road were green vineyards surrounded by rows of stout olive trees.

Nahum spotted the Temple in the distance. The rising sun glinted off the tall structure. Other roads joined the one from Bet Lehem. The road grew wider and the crowd thicker and louder. Nahum and his clan approached the walls of Jerusalem. Someone started a merry tune on a flute. A large bull at the front of the Simeon procession marched proudly. His horns were covered with a layer of beaten gold, and a wreath of olive branches adorned his head. The pilgrims organized the fruit displays, stacking the figs into neat pyramids in their baskets and laying out the grapes on large wicker trays.

Colorfully dressed merchants and townsfolk lined the outer wall of Jerusalem.

“Our brothers from Simeon,” they chanted. “Come in peace.”

Nahum and his family entered the wide gates of Jerusalem. They passed the large palace of Solomon on their right. The royal residence was three stories high made of stone and cedar. Elaborate porches hung from the sides of the palace with long purple-flowered morning-glory vines covering the face of the wall. On the other side of the street was a row of stores selling spices, ground flour, and dried fruits. Further up the road was the smithy of a blacksmith next to the stall of a scribe. The dark towering blacksmith was an odd counterpoint to the small pale scribe. Past the palace were smaller yet elegant homes. Up the road was the majestic structure of the Temple shining in the sun.

The congestion on the Jerusalem road was almost impenetrable.

“When do you need to meet the girl?” Eldad shouted at Nahum.

“At noon.”

“You’re not going to make it.”

“But I can see the corner of the Temple. It is just a short distance away.”

“Nahum, it will take you as long to get from here to there as it took us to get from Bet Lehem to Jerusalem. Unless you can fly over the heads of all these pilgrims. And you would also need to take leave of your father – he may not agree.” They both looked at his father.

“I can’t be late. She told me.”

“Move quickly.”

Nahum turned his head to either side. A river of people extended from the gate of Jerusalem until the entrance to the Temple. Thousands of pilgrims were on a road normally traveled by dozens of people at a time. He noticed Israelites from all the tribes. Benjaminites from north of Jerusalem with their swords on their right side. Asherites from the Galilee carrying large vessels with their distinctive oil. Even Gadites from across the Jordan with their long braided hair. They all bore their fruit offerings. He was surprised to see Egyptians in their white cotton robes and even Phoenician sailors in their short leather tunics.

Nahum did not enjoy the confluence of tribes and visitors. He felt his heart palpitating as the crowd pressed in. They moved forward an inch at a time. At this rate he would never find her. Yael? Yafa? What was her name? If I only knew her name I could get a message to her. Nahum looked up at his father riding above the crowd. He moved up to his horse and tugged lightly on his father’s robe.

“What is the matter, Nahum?”

“Father, I must go ahead.”

“What for?”

“I need to meet someone at the corner of the Temple at noon.”

His father looked at the crowd, at the sun, and at the distance. “You will not make it. Who are you meeting? Why have you not told me of this before?”

“I’m meeting a young woman. We arranged it in Bet Lehem.”

“I see. Who is she? What is her name? Which side are you meeting on?”

“She is a girl I’ve met before on our pilgrimages. I think she is a Judean from Tekoa. I’m not sure of her name. We’re meeting on the southeastern side. Please father, I don’t want to lose her.”

“You don’t know her name?” his father looked at him in surprise. After a moment he nodded lightly. “Very well, Nahum. Go with my blessing. Good luck. Meet us by the east side of the Temple entrance when you’re done.”

Nahum attempted to force his way through the crowd. The harder he pushed, the greater the resistance. He thought he would faint from all the bodies pressing against him.

This is no good! I can’t move and I can’t see what’s ahead.

Nahum started jumping in place. With each jump he got a glance of the movement ahead. Pockets of space. Wagons moving slowly. Animals braying among the pilgrims. Merchants offering their wares to the ongoing traffic.

Space formed around him. People moved away from the strange jumping man. Nahum jumped and moved forward. Pilgrims made way for Nahum.

If I can keep this up I might make it.

A wagon stood in front of Nahum. He slipped on fig as he landed behind the wagon. He fell on his stomach and stared at empty space under the wagon. Nahum shimmied on his elbows and knees under the wagon. He continued to crawl under the legs of the horse in front, careful not to knock the hooves. The horse brayed at the sudden interloper but decided to ignore Nahum.

This is fantastic! I’m making great time crawling underneath. Dina? Bracha? I’m coming.

Nahum crawled under four more wagons, a trio of horses and a pair of camels. He ignored the dirt, feces and squashed fruit his garment accumulated. He knew he had made a mistake when he tried to squeeze under a cow. Its udder was low. The cow wailed mournfully as Nahum pushed his way underneath. As Nahum’s back rubbed against the udder, Nahum felt warm milk soaking his already soiled clothing. Nahum held his breath until he escaped the confines of the cow and breathed the fresh air of masses of merely smelly feet around his head.

Nahum glimpsed a promising wagon a few feet away, when a shepherd dog barked madly at Nahum’s intrusion of his airspace. Nahum scrambled away from the dog and turned towards the storefronts. Remains of grapes and raisins fell off Nahum’s garment. The dog was close on Nahum’s heels. The crowd parted for the reeking man and mad dog. Nahum climbed up the side of one of the stores and found himself on a low roof. The shepherd dog continued to bark and then gave up and joined the river of pilgrims.

Nahum could see the city clearly. He was halfway to the Temple. The road approached the Temple from the western side. A large sundial stood on the plaza of the western corner outside the Temple. A few minutes to noon. Nahum walked along the roof of the store and saw it was a short jump to the next roof. He ran along jumping from one rooftop to another.

Rina. Devorah. Whatever your name is. Here I come.

The stores suddenly ended. Nahum climbed down and faced a wall of people. They were all that stood between him and his girl on the eastern side. The wall they formed was thick and strong. From a few feet away he could see that any time there was an open space, it was quickly filled with a body trying to enter the Temple gates. Nahum noticed the fresh garments and bathed skins of the pilgrims. All had made use of the ritual baths and were wearing their best holiday clothes. Nahum was shamed to even approach them in his grimy state. He had dried fig seeds on his hands.

The sundial showed two minutes to noon. Nahum, shaking like olive leaves in the wind, approached the crowd. Lo and behold, the crowd parted. Like Moses at the Sea of Reeds a wall of pilgrims formed to his right and to his left. No one wanted to be touched by Nahum. Nahum kept walking. Movement into the Temple came to a standstill. Those closest to the entrance wanted to ensure they did not come in contact with Nahum. They turned their backs to the Temple entrance until Nahum safely passed. Those to the right of Nahum formed an impenetrable wall holding back the sea of pilgrims from washing over him.

Nahum made it to the other side. There were dozens of couples talking earnestly in front of the southeast corner of the Temple. The girl from the well was standing wide eyed, staring at Nahum as he approached.

“I made it.” Nahum looked at his scratched legs.

“You’re filthy,” the young woman exclaimed.

“I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that there was such a crowd, and I didn’t think I would make it, and I didn’t know if I would find you, and I didn’t remember your name, and then there was this cow and then a dog and then the crowd again…”

“Shush. I know. I saw the whole thing from here. It was incredible. I can’t believe someone would do that to see me.”

Nahum’s cheeks turned the color of pomegranate. “Well, you told me not to be late.”

“I did. But you’re a mess now. Go to the ritual baths, bring your First offerings with your family and then we can meet again afterwards. I’ll be waiting here for you.”

“Great. I’ll go now. But I’ll be back,” Nahum mumbled. “One other thing. I… what…”

“My name is yours, silly,” the girl smiled.

“What do you mean?”

“My name is Nehama. I am the daughter of Zuriel, a clan leader in Judea, from the city of Tekoa. Hurry now, it won’t do for a perspective bridegroom to walk around so dirty.”

“Nehama,” Nahum said in a trance. “Nehama. That’s who I’ve been looking for.”

“Go on, Nahum we don’t have all day.”

Nahum turned around and walked back towards the crowd. He tripped on a pebble, fell on his knees, and picked himself right up again.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and dost possess it, and dwell therein; that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there. And thou shalt come unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him: ‘I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the land which the Lord swore unto our fathers to give us.’ And the priest shall take the basket out of thy hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God.” Deuteronomy 26:1-4

Secondary Sources:

Tractate Bikkurim Chapter 3. Provides details as to the organization and annual procession of those bringing the First fruits offering.


Shlemiel or more fully “Shlumiel” was the name of a prince of the tribe of Simeon. The sages are disparaging of him as they identify him as none other than Zimri who sinned by having relations with Kozbi and who were then summarily executed by Pinhas. In classical Yiddish, Shlemiel is a klutz, an unlucky clumsy person. A great quote differentiating between a Shlemiel and a Shlemazl: “A shlemiel is somebody who often spills his soup; a shlemazl is the person the soup lands on.”

Nahum and Nehama are male and female versions of “consolation” or “comforting”

A Litigious People

A Litigious People

The dream of many a Jewish mother is to proudly proclaim “My Son, The Lawyer” (after “My Son, The Doctor”).  Why a profession that is so hated by the masses should receive such motherly esteem is a mystery. However, its usefulness is a matter of historical record.

One form or another of public advocacy has apparently existed since pre-history. For centuries, in both Ancient Greece and Rome there existed an illegal cadre of advocates who were paid under the table by clients to represent them. Finally, around the year 40 CE, Emperor Claudius legalized paid advocacy in the Roman Empire. Thus the formal attorney profession was born and became a fixture of judicial systems henceforth.

The Jewish judicial system did not adopt lawyers or advocates until much later in history; however this did not make the system any less active.

Moses complains about this in a worrying line in Deuteronomy (1:12):

“How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?”

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno clarifies that “quarrels” refers to lawsuits and monetary claims, and that Moses is rebuking the Jewish nation.

Moses had just informed the Children of Israel they were about to enter and conquer the land of Canaan. The upcoming campaign would be one of greater honor and reward than any of their minor and petty issues in the desert. Nonetheless, Sforno explains, this did not deter the Jews from fighting with each other. Litigiousness was so rampant, that a private judge was required for every ten Israelites.

Sforno continues by stating that the source of the litigation was none other than a mean-spirited motivation.

May any legal proceedings we undertake be for good purposes – and may God grant us success in these matters.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the attorneys I have the privilege of knowing and working with. They are an honor to their profession and belie the bad reputation many lawyers have (though that doesn’t stop us from teasing them…)

Future Israeli Gold Rush

Future Israeli Gold Rush

They came by boat. They came by wagon. They traversed oceans and jungles and deserts. They died by the hundreds before ever seeing their destination. By 1849 (hence “forty-niners”), tens of thousands of people from every single continent made their way to California in search of gold.

Before the advent of the American trans-continental railway, the journey from the East Coast of the U.S. to the West Coast took many months and was dangerous and uncertain. They sailed around the tip of South America; or they sailed to Panama, crossed the jungle and took another boat on the other side; or they took their chances with wagons across the entire continent.

Those who survived the journey dug the ground and sifted the streams. The fortunate early arrivals did indeed make handsome profits. The late-comers often spent more than they ever made.

In the poetic swansong of Moses, at the very end of his biblical narrative, he blesses the tribes:

“Of Zevulun he said: Rejoice, O Zevulun, in your excursions, and Yissachar in your tents. The tribes will assemble at the mount; there they will offer offerings of righteousness, for by the riches of the sea they will be nourished, and by the treasures concealed in the sand.”

Deuteronomy 33:18-19

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno predicts a future rush to the tribal territory of Zevulun and Yissachar.

Sforno claims that in the future, all the nations of the world will come to Israel for the unique and precious items that only the tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar will possess. Sforno explains that these will be items drawn from their waters and found in their sands.

While there may be many theories as to what these treasures may be, I suspect that we have yet to discover, create or successfully market that truly exclusive and highly prized commodity that the world will rush to us for.

In the meantime, may we all continue searching, exploring, creating and developing the unique treasures we can each bring forth to the world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To Rabbi Ovadia Sforno. He has guided me and inspired me in my studying of the Torah this year. His words have been as precious as hidden treasure. Goodbye Sforno. We shall return to you.

Water for Growth

Water for Growth

In the rare song from Moses – ‘Haazinu’, he uses the metaphor of water as Torah, coming down and being absorbed by various audiences:

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teachings drop like the rain, may my utterance flow like the dew;

like storm winds upon vegetation and like raindrops upon blades of grass.”

Deuteronomy 32:1-2.

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno explains that the same Torah and the same instruction is valuable, though different, for a spectrum of people:

1. “Rain”: for those with ‘understanding’ who will absorb the ‘essence’ of Wisdom.

2. “Dew”: for the ‘simple’ person. Even a little bit (like dew for vegetation) is very good and provides Knowledge.

3. “Storm winds”: for the ‘insightful’ – they will perceive Wonders.

4. “Raindrops”: again for the ‘simple’ person (I guess extended exposure), will give them Understanding of their Creator (which I presume then brings one up to the level of ‘understanding’.)

The order of ascendancy according to Sforno seems to be (see table below also):

A. Dew (2)

B. Raindrops (4)

C. Rain (1)

D. Storm winds (3)


Though Moses presents it in an alternating structure; my theory is that it is a repetitive (like the rains) and constantly ascending formation. Meaning, once one has reached the highest rung (Insightful) of a certain level, he moves up to the lowest rung (Simple) of an even higher level (see figure below). This would result in continuous growth (hopefully) by extended exposure and involvement with Torah.


May we take and make the opportunities this year to grow in all areas: physical, educational, social, financial and spiritual.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatima Tovah,



To both the physical and spiritual gardeners of Yeshivat Har Etzion. As I spend more time in the Yeshiva at this time of the year, I appreciate both the beautiful grounds keeping as well as the spiritual tending that occurs at the Yeshiva.

The Diamond in the Cesspool

The Diamond in the Cesspool

The Egypt of our ancestors was apparently one of great moral depravity. Egyptian culture was submerged in a superficial, materialistic, hedonistic, idol worshipping, incestuous reality. A by-product of such a society was many unwanted births and a cheapening of life.

In the beginning of the Book of Exodus, the Children of Israel have evolved from honored guests and royal protégés, to feared enemies and eventually downtrodden slaves. The low point of this progression is perhaps the draconian edict to kill all newborn Jewish boys.

Into this environment Moses is born. Fearing for his life, the mother of Moses takes the desperate measure of placing the three-month old into a basket to float on the river. Moses’ sister, not without hope, keeps an eye on the basket (Exodus 2).

Pharaoh’s daughter spots Moses’ basket while bathing in the Nile. She investigates and is surprised to find baby Moses within.

At this point Rabbi Ovadia Sforno asks as to why Pharaoh’s daughter would claim Moses. Sforno explains that it was apparently common practice for Egyptians to discard unwanted children into the river, and there would be a plethora of abandoned children to be claimed.

Sforno answers that the “goodness” of Moses was “shinning” and was clearly visible for anyone to see. Pharaoh’s daughter said to herself: “This is not some bastard or unwanted child. This is a beautiful Israelite child. He is so stunningly gorgeous that I must claim him for myself.”

Sforno continues to explain that Moses was visibly outstanding because of the “ingredients” put into him. Following is a translation of Sforno’s comment regarding the reaction to the birth of Moses by his mother, that “he was good”:

“She noted that he was more beautiful than normal, and thought that this was for an intended purpose from his Creator, for the beauty of the form indicates the quality of the ingredients and the complete power of the Designer.”

As we all know, Moses was indeed intended for supreme greatness, even amidst the decadence and immorality of Egyptian culture.

May we all transcend the negative environments around us, and like Moses, take the great ingredients that are a part of us – and shine.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the recovery of 2nd Lieutenant Aharon Karov of the IDF Paratrooper Brigade. Aharon is from the community of Karnei Shomron. He left to Gaza the morning after his wedding to lead his soldiers. He was critically injured from a blast within a booby trapped home in Northern Gaza. Please pray for him – Aharon Yehoshua ben Chaya Shoshana. May our soldiers be safe, may the wounded recover and may the mourners be comforted.

Unfamiliar terms?

Drawn from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Nile is a major north-flowing river in Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world.[1]

The northern section of the river flows almost entirely through desert, from Sudan into Egypt, a country whose civilization has depended on the river since ancient times. Most of the population of Egypt and all of its cities, with the exception of those near the coast, lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan; and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along the banks of the river. The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile (iteru in Ancient Egyptian) was the lifeline of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with most of the population and all of the cities of Egypt resting along those parts of the Nile valley lying north of Aswan. The Nile has been the lifeline for Egyptian culture since the Stone Age. Climate change, or perhaps overgrazing, desiccated the pastoral lands of Egypt to form the Sahara desert, possibly as long ago as 8000 BC, and the inhabitants then presumably migrated to the river, where they developed a settled agricultural economy and a more centralized society.

Sustenance played a crucial role in the founding of Egyptian civilization. The Nile is an unending source of sustenance. The Nile made the land surrounding it extremely fertile when it flooded or was inundated annually. The Egyptians were able to cultivate wheat and crops around the Nile, providing food for the general population. Also, the Nile’s water attracted game such as water buffalo; and after the Persians introduced them in the 7th century BC, camels. These animals could be killed for meat, or could be captured, tamed and used for ploughing – or in the camels’ case, travelling. Water was vital to both people and livestock. The Nile was also a convenient and efficient way of transportation for people and goods.

The structure of Egypt’s society made it one of the most stable in history. In fact, it might easily have surpassed many modern societies. This stability was an immediate result of the Nile’s fertility. The Nile also provided flax for trade. Wheat was also traded, a crucial crop in the Middle East where famine was very common. This trading system secured the diplomatic relationship Egypt had with other countries, and often contributed to Egypt’s economic stability. Also, the Nile provided the resources such as food or money, to quickly and efficiently raise an army for offensive or defensive roles.

The Nile played a major role in politics and social life. The pharaoh would supposedly flood the Nile, and in return for the life-giving water and crops, the peasants would cultivate the fertile soil and send a portion of the resources they had reaped to the Pharaoh. He or she would in turn use it for the well-being of Egyptian society.

The Nile was a source of spiritual dimension. The Nile was so significant to the lifestyle of the Egyptians, that they created a god dedicated to the welfare of the Nile’s annual inundation. The god’s name was Hapy, and both he and the pharaoh were thought to control the flooding of the Nile River. Also, the Nile was considered as a causeway from life to death and afterlife. The east was thought of as a place of birth and growth, and the west was considered the place of death, as the god Ra, the sun, underwent birth, death, and resurrection each time he crossed the sky. Thus, all tombs were located west of the Nile, because the Egyptians believed that in order to enter the afterlife, they must be buried on the side that symbolized death.

The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote that ‘Egypt was the gift of the Nile’, and in a sense that is correct. Without the waters of the Nile River for irrigation, Egyptian civilization would probably have been short-lived. The Nile provided the elements that make a vigorous civilization, and contributed much to its lasting three thousand years.

A Blessing on Your Head

A Blessing on Your Head

Joseph enters with his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, to visit with the bed-ridden patriarch, Jacob (Genesis 48). Jacob inquires as to who is accompanying Joseph. Joseph responds that it his two sons, and then Jacob asks that they come closer so he may bless them.

Before continuing with the blessing, the Biblical narrative seems to go out of its way to mention that Jacob had trouble seeing. Jacob proceeds to kiss and hug his grandchildren and then in what sounds like somewhat elaborate maneuvering, Joseph extricates his sons from Grandpa Jacob’s embrace, so that they may now bow down to receive the formal blessing.

Biblical commentators give a range of interpretations to the above actions. Rabbi Ovadia Sforno however, takes the narrative at face value. Jacob had trouble with his vision, Sforno explains. In order to properly bless the boys, he had to see them; hence, his request to bring them closer.  The loving Patriarch kisses and hugs them, which Sforno says was so “his soul may attach to them and his blessing to them should come to pass”.

Jacob then gives them blessings that are included in the blessings many traditional Jews pronounce to their children to this day on Friday nights (“May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe. May God bless you and safeguard you. May God illuminate His face for you and be gracious to you. May God turn His face to you and establish peace for you.”)

Sforno then provides other examples of vision being a critical component of blessings, such as Moses viewing the entire land of Israel.

However, just a few verses later, after having just given his thesis as to the need to see in order to bless, Sforno makes an about-face. In the same visit Jacob blesses Joseph as well. Sforno, who understands that Joseph is not close enough for Jacob to really see, states that Jacob blesses and can bless Joseph without having to touch him, be near him or even see him.

Sforno seems to be implying that while the common way to bless is to see the person or object one is blessing, people have the power to also bless at a distance without even seeing the party being blessed. Perhaps it was the strong and loving nature of the Jacob-Joseph relationship that enabled this more powerful connection, bypassing the common method.

May we always be both recipients and deliverers of blessings – and may they all come true!

Shabbat Shalom,



To our friends, neighbors and relatives; sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who are fighting in Gaza (and now to the North as well). May God keep them safe and return them home whole and uninjured.

Unfamiliar terms?

Drawn from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Priestly Blessing, (translit. Birkat Kohanim), also known in Hebrew as Nesiat Kapayim, (lit. Raising of the Hands), is a Jewish prayer recited by Kohanim during certain Jewish services. It is based on a scriptural verse: “They shall place My name upon the children of Israel, and I Myself shall bless them.”[1] It consists of the following Biblical verses (Numbers 6:24-26):

May the Lord bless you and guard you –
May the Lord shine His countenance toward you and be gracious to you –
May the Lord lift up His countenance toward you and give you peace –

This is the oldest known Biblical text that has been found; amulets with these verses written on them have been found in graves in dating from the First Temple Period, and are now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

In the mid-1960s, actor Leonard Nimoy, who was raised in a traditional Jewish home, used a single-handed version of this gesture to create the Vulcan Hand Salute for his character, Mr. Spock, on Star Trek. He has explained that while attending Orthodox services as a child, he peeked from under his father’s tallit and saw the gesture; many years later, when introducing the character of Mr. Spock, he and series creator Gene Roddenberry thought a physical component should accompany the verbal “Live long and prosper” greeting. The Jewish priestly gesture looked sufficiently alien and mysterious, and thus was television & science fiction history made.



In perhaps one of the most emotional and dramatic scenes in the Bible, the unrecognized Joseph, regent of Egypt, orders the enslavement of his younger and only full sibling, Benjamin. Judah, the half-brother originally responsible for the sale of Joseph into slavery, confronts the regent and pleads for mercy (Genesis 44:18).

Judah gives a long and moving monologue, explaining the special relationship Benjamin has with father Jacob, of the fatal effects if they are not reunited, and how Judah himself is willing to become a slave in Benjamin’s place.

The irony of the situation is acute. The brothers who were so eager to sell Joseph into slavery are now going to extreme lengths to prevent the same fate from occurring to the last son of Jacob. They appear to be repenting from their previous attitude of brotherly enslavement.

Joseph can no longer handle the display of fraternal loyalty and maintain his charade. He shouts for every person except the brothers to leave his presence, and then in a cry that reverberates throughout Egypt, reveals himself: “I am Joseph!” (Genesis 45:3)

The very next words that Joseph speaks are difficult to understand: “Is my father still alive?” Of course his father is still alive! One of Judah’s arguments for sparring Benjamin was to keep Jakob alive. Rabbi Ovadia Sforno wonders as to this question of Joseph, the very first words he utters to his brothers as his revealed self.

Sforno answers that Joseph was accusing the brothers.

Joseph is asking: How is my father still alive after my own disappearance? Why weren’t you concerned for his well-being when you sent me into a long and indefinite bondage? It’s so nice that all of a sudden you are so caring for Benjamin, but how could you have betrayed me and our father with my slavery and silence all these years?

The next words of the same verse state: “and the brothers were not able to answer him, for they were fearful of him.”

The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Chagigah 4b) explains that the shock and shame of the brothers at this moment was so intense that they were literally left speechless with no defense they could provide for their crimes. The same Talmud continues that if the reaction to the reprimand of a man of flesh and blood is so bad; imagine how severe God’s reprimand will be for our own personal crimes and misdemeanors.

Nonetheless, after Joseph’s initial revelation and accusation, he becomes conciliatory, forgiving them and explaining his view that his sale into slavery was really part of a divine plan to save the entire family of Jacob.

Jacob’s family is then finally reunited and united, and the brotherly rivalry is set aside — for a least a number of centuries.

May we always strive for brotherly bonds, within our families, our communities and throughout our people.


To my brother Kalman, living in Tifrach in the Negev, which has now become the front line of a very real battle. May God continue to protect him, his family and all the residents around Gaza.


Unfamiliar terms?

J’accuse (“I accuse”) was an open letter published on January 13, 1898, in the newspaper L’Aurore by the influential writer Émile Zola.

The letter was addressed to President of France Félix Faure, and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French General Staff officer sentenced to penal servitude for life for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the first page of the newspaper, and caused a stir in France and abroad. Zola was prosecuted and found guilty of libel on February 23, 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England, returning home in June 1899.

Other pamphlets proclaiming Dreyfus’s innocence include Bernard Lazare‘s A Miscarriage of Justice: The Truth about the Dreyfus Affair (November 1896).

As a result of the popularity of the letter, even in the English-speaking world, J’accuse! has become a common generic expression of outrage and accusation against a powerful person.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph’s Egyptian Management

Joseph’s Egyptian Management

Joseph has successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dream regarding the upcoming years of plenty and years of famine, to the amazement and delight of all those present (Genesis 41). Joseph then recommends that Pharaoh appoints and empowers an overseer for the entire operation of organizing and saving the produce from the feast for the famine (verse 33).

Pharaoh and all his ministers are so impressed with Joseph that they realize there is no better candidate for the position than Joseph himself. Joseph’s subsequent and immediate rise from slave and prisoner to regent of the Egyptian empire is spectacular.

However, before Joseph finished giving his advice, there is a verse where Joseph goes beyond detailing the job of the overseer. In verse 34 Joseph adds that Pharaoh should also hire the second level of management.

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno wonders at this level of detail that Joseph provides and asks why Pharaoh has to hire the second level of management. Why can’t Pharaoh leave that task to whoever the overseer will be?

Sforno answers that perhaps contrary to modern corporate practice, where managers prefer to bring in “their own people”, it is more advantageous for the organization if the hires are made from the “top”. Sforno explains that by Pharaoh appointing the people to work under Joseph, they will take both the job and Joseph more seriously, and will better function as a cohesive unit. They are beholden to Pharaoh, but answerable to Joseph on the day-to-day business implementation.

This probably goes against many modern day organizations. However in the Egyptian culture and business environment at least it seemed to have been highly successful. Joseph, together with his Egyptian management, was able to save more produce than they were able to count with their numbering system at the time. This successful management team lead to the survival and prosperity of Egypt during a regional famine and made the Egyptian empire the dominant power of the ancient world.

May we learn from Joseph’s success; may we not be afraid to go against conventional wisdom; may we form strong teams and partnerships, and not only survive, but flourish in all our efforts.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,



To the memory of Yaakov ben Yosef Matityahu Tocker, my wife’s grandfather, who passed away this week at the age of 93 in his home in Washington Heights, NY.

He was a humble and hardworking man, a carpenter by trade, who built not only beautiful wooden masterpieces, but built a home, a family, a community, and merited to see his third generation growing and thriving, like his namesake, Yaakov Avinu.

It is symbolic that his father’s name (and his son’s), Yosef Matityahu is connected with both the current parasha, and Chanuka. May God comfort Safta Raba, my father-in-law, Sammy, and the entire family amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.