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Parshat Chayei Sarah

11/29/2019 09:11:54 AM

Nov29

Rabbi Ahud Sela

Parshat Chayei Sarah: Consistent Kindness  

 

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A D'var Torah for Parshat Toldot titled "Evolved Eating"

11/29/2019 09:03:53 AM

Nov29

Rabbi Ahud Sela

 

Parshat Toldot

Evolved Eating

I remember once learning that the Chinese used chopsticks to eat, instead of a knife and fork, because Confucius, a vegetarian, thought that forks and knives evoke violence and are a reminder of the slaughtering on animals.  Chopsticks existed at the same time as knives and forks, but they became the dominant utensil as more and more Chinese saw them as the more evolved way to eat.  As we read in this week’s parsha about the twin brothers, Ya’akov and Eisav, the Torah immediately distinguishes between the two.  Eisav is called a hunter, a man of the field, while Ya’akov is described as simple or pure, dwelling in tents.  Many commentators understand this description of Ya’akov as working with domesticated animals, as opposed to his brother who hunted for wild animals.  Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, known as the Nodeh BeYehuda, wrote in his book of responsa, that while it is permitted to hunt if necessary, and certainly to trap game at any time, that in a time of wide domestication of animals, we have evolved past the need to hunt and trap.  He goes on to say, just like Ya’akov came out second, after Eisav, we have evolved past hunting.  While eating animals is permissible in Jewish tradition, as long as we follow the rules of Kashrut, today we know the dangers of factory farming and the perils to our environment that the overconsumption of animal products is causing.  While something may be permitted in general, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily good.  You can keep kosher and still be very unhealthy.  Most of us are not struggling on a daily basis to find enough food to eat.  The question for us is what to eat.  We want something tasty, healthy, filling, not too expensive.  Can we also ask the question, is this the most evolved way to eat, where we are not causing undo harm to animals or the environment?  That is our legacy as the descendants of Ya’akov, to evolve in each generation, striving for holier ways of living. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rav Sela

A D'var Torah for Parshat Chayei Sarah titled, Manners Matter

11/22/2019 09:53:51 AM

Nov22

Rabbi Ahud Sela

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Manners Matter

As I was sitting in my car at a red light I noticed the green arrow for a left turn go on, but the car to my left in the turn lane didn’t move.  A second or two goes by, nothing, no movement.  I am expecting to hear a chorus of car horns as I see a line of at least four cars waiting behind it, but there is nary a peep.  Finally, after four agonizing seconds, the person noticed the green arrow and started driving, but by then there was time for only two cars to make it through, and the other cars would have to wait for the next green arrow.  I thought to myself, if I were back in NY, or Israel, within half a second of the light turning green, if the car hadn’t moved, there would have been a symphony of angry car horns.  What does it take to be polite?  In this week’s parsha we read about the death of Sarah and how Avraham purchases a burial cave for her.  He must negotiate the purchase with the locals, the Hittites.  At the end of the negotiation it says that Avraham stood up and then bowed to them before departing.  Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Charlap comments that Avraham was in a state of grief and mourning for his wife, yet he did not dispense with social norms.  If he had acted rudely we might have excused his behavior because of his emotional state, but Rabbi Charlap teaches that this shows Avraham’s greatness.  Despite his distress, he still was polite.  And he adds, if someone can be polite even when emotionally distressed, how much the more should we expect people to have manners when things are going normally.  What does it take to be polite?  Usually just an extra second or two or patience and a small gesture. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Sela 

Parshat Vayera

11/22/2019 09:15:13 AM

Nov22

Rabbi Ahud Sela

Parshat Vayera: Sharing Values  

 

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A D'var Torah for Parshat Vayera titled, "Flour and Torah"

11/15/2019 09:25:46 AM

Nov15

Rabbi Ahud Sela

Parshat Vayera

Flour and Torah

What comes first, the chicken or the egg, or from this week’s parsha, the flour or the Torah?  When Avraham welcomes in the three guests to his tent, he instructs his wife Sarah to take three measures of four and make them into cakes.  Why is that detail necessary?  Rabbi Meir Hakohen Schiff explains that it was necessary because without the flour we would never have been given the Torah.  How does this connect to that?  There is a midrash on a verse from the Book of Exodus where it says that Moshe went up to God to receive the Torah.  However, the midrash goes on that the angels initially did not want to release it from Heaven, so God made Moshe look like Avraham, and God said to them, Isn’t that the man who welcomed you into his home and fed you?  With that the angels felt ashamed that they had never repaid Avraham’s kindness, and they released the Torah.  Thus, Rabbi Schiff explains, we have the teaching in Pirkei Avot, If there is no flour, there is no Torah.  If Avraham hadn’t provided the angels with flour cakes the Jewish people would never have received the Torah.  But the end of the teaching in Pirkei Avot says, and if there is no Torah, there is no flour.  How does he explain that?  Well, Avraham offered the angels flour cakes not in order to receive the Torah, but in order to fulfill the Torah, to fulfill the mitzvah of welcoming guests.  If he had not tried to fulfill the Torah he would not have offered them food, so if there is no Torah there is no flour.  So, which came first, the flour or the Torah?  I’ll let you decide.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Sela

Parshat Lech Lecha

11/15/2019 09:15:40 AM

Nov15

Rabbi Ahud Sela

Parshat Lech Lecha - A Burden to Elevate  

 

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A D'var Torah for Parshat  Lech L'cha titled, "Self-serving or God-serving"

11/08/2019 10:52:09 AM

Nov8

Rabbi Ahud Sela

 
Parshat Lech Lecha

Self-serving or God-serving

It is easy to listen to our inner voice when its dictates are self-serving. Whether we think of that voice as God speaking to us or as our inner moral compass, when it says to do something that benefits us at the expense of others we should pause and think if that is truly what God wants. In this week’s parsha we read that there is a conflict between Avram and his nephew Lot’s shepherds. Their flocks have become so numerous that we might think that this is simply a problem of lack of resources, but Rashi comments that Lot’s shepherds were grazing their sheep in other people’s fields, and Avram’s shepherds rebuked them for doing so. Lot’s shepherds argued that God had given the entire land to Avram and his descendants and since, at that moment, Avram had no children that the land would pass to Lot, so it was really his land. Avram’s shepherds replied that the land had not been given yet, so until that time they were only entitled to land that had been rightfully purchased. Were Lot’s shepherds misguided, or just really faithful in God’s promise? Aside from being faithful there was obviously a self-serving motivation for their claim. Imagine if God had instead instructed Avraham to give away all of his flocks to the poor. Would Lot’s shepherds have been so faithful as to say, Well Avraham owns the land and is head of our master’s clan, so everything belongs to him so we should give away our sheep as well? It is harder to be faithfully devoted to God’s word when it goes against our self-interest. But indeed, most of the time, that is what God desires and lays out in the mitzvot. The Torah does not say that God wants us to be poor or, God forbid, to suffer, but there are many mitzvot that include giving up something that is ours to benefit someone else. Because in reality, a truly faithful person believes that everything belongs to God, and that we are merely stewards who serve God’s interests, not our own.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Sela

Noach

11/08/2019 10:15:55 AM

Nov8

Rabbi Ahud Sela

Parshat Noach - Better to be a Jew  

 

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A D'var Torah for Parshat Noach titled, "Illumination"

11/01/2019 10:02:32 AM

Nov1

Rabbi Ahud Sela

Illumination

As a Rabbi I think a lot about the words that I use. I love Mark Twain’s saying, “Better to keep silent and have people think you a fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” No matter the size of our foot, or our mouth, we often find interesting and creative ways to stick our foot in our mouths when we don’t speak carefully. Yet, when we do choose our words carefully they can have tremendous power. In this week’s parsha we read about Noach and the Flood. When God instructs Noach to build the Ark God gives him many details about its construction, but one word sticks out, Tzohar. Noach is told to put a Tzohar in the Ark, but that word is only used once in the Torah so its meaning is mysterious. Most commentaries understand it to be a window, something to let light in. The Ba’al Shem Tov takes it a little further and says that it simply means illuminating. Then he plays with the word for Ark, Teivah, which also means word, and translates the whole phrase, not as “Make a window in the Ark”, but rather as “Illuminate the word”. When we choose our words carefully we can truly illuminate a concept for someone, giving them understanding that they did not have before. When we choose gentle, kind, and complimentary words we can brighten someone’s day, or remove a burden that was like a black cloud hanging over them. It doesn’t take much, a compliment, a quick call, even a text message, to give someone a ray of sunshine. Try it, illuminate your words and see the power that they have to illuminate the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Sela

Bereishit

11/01/2019 09:20:32 AM

Nov1

Rabbi Ahud Sela

Bereishit - Rest on Shabbat   Bereishit - Believing vs Knowing  

 

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Tue, January 21 2020 24 Tevet 5780