Dew-ey Wins!: Tal, Explained

While ancients waxed poetic about dew, most of us city folk only think about it when it fogs our windshields early in the morning. That changes, of course, on the first day of Pesach when we sing its praises in Tefilas Tal and ask HKBH that it should always descend as a blessing.

Determining what that blessing is, however, can be challenging. If you thought that dew – the condensation of water vapor on cooler surfaces – provides plants with water in much the same way as rain does, think again – at least according to contemporary authorities. Tanach and the siddur had much more positive things to say about dew than today’s botanists. The customary wisdom for many years was that dew might provide potable water for survivalists, but did nothing for plants. To the contrary, they claimed. Plants did not and could not assimilate the dew-moisture, while it did promote the growth of plant diseases! In the familiar refrain le-brachah v’lo le-kelalah, we had the latter part figured out, but were clueless about the former.

The Torah, of course, makes no mistakes. There has to be a berachah in tal, even if we don’t understand it. … Read More >>

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Askanim For Hire?

We need look no further than the parshah we just read to find evidence of the potential for abuse of power. The Netziv takes note of the pasuk (Vayikra 4:22) dealing with the chet of the Nasi. He asks why the word beshgagah / unintentionally is left dangling till the end. Should it not have immediately modified the action of the Nasi? He concludes that the pasuk can/should be read as: When a ruler sins and commits one of the sins that ordinarily we would not expect to be done by anyone even unintentionally….

Such is the power of leadership and authority. Where there is too little, there is anarchy and too much room for the reign of personal subjectivity. Where there is a surfeit of authority, there is room for abuse.

Such abuse can be intentional, but it can be just as potent when unintentional – or someplace in between. For various reasons, parts of the Torah world moved in recent decades to a preference for tighter control by a smaller number of people, often at a great distance from their geographical location, and hence lacking a hands-on awareness of their special circumstances. Some found comfort in this, … Read More >>

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Yosef Huttler, z”l

Rabbi Yosef Huttler, Cross-Currents’ poet laureate, took his artistry to a more discriminating audience when he entered the Yeshiva Shel Maaloh a few days ago.

I knew Yossi over a long period of time, beginning with the time he learned Yoreh Deah in our beis medrash. I saw him develop the different facets of his personality: rov, attorney, husband, father, and, in the last few years, long-suffering patient. I saw and appreciated his keen discernment, his understated genius, and his enormous emunah.

I loved his poetry, which would have been sufficient reason to publish it. Yet, there was more to it than that. Rav Herzog, zt”l, explained why the Torah sees itself as shirah, song (Devarim 31:19). Generally, only a physicist can appreciated an esoteric presentation of cutting-edge physics. A dentist might enjoy a good chidush in dentistry; a zookeeper can catch the interest of another zookeeper. People outside particular disciplines will not ordinarily get excited about conversation in those fields.

Music, R. Herzog observed, is different. It speaks a universal language; it has instant appeal to everyone. So does Torah, he said. Everyone can enjoy it, without special preparation.

Interestingly, the word shirah does not only … Read More >>

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Pesach Shiur Now Available

A bit more somber than usual. We live in somber times. May Hashem soon bring the geulah we so desperately long for.

Some thoughts on magid from R. Hutner, RSRH, R. Soloveitchik, and the new Beis Shaar.

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Annual Pre-Pesach Shiur For Women

My annual shiur for women on aspects of the treatment of the baalei machshavah of the Haggadah will take place BEH this Wednesday at noon on the third floor of the headquarters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. For security reasons, potential participants need to pre-register if they are thinking of attending. Email mkochba@aol.com. No charge.

As in the past, I hope to post it online later that day.

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Who Won?

Before you dismiss this as naive, ask yourself whether you wouldn’t prefer that more people would write and think this way than what you witnessed during the election.

And whether the accolades to the “Nation” are not in fact consistent with both the thought of Chazal – and recent history.

From Rav Aviner, question as to who won:

The answer is simple: The Nation, because all of the political parties are good. They all love the Nation of Israel. They all love the Land of Israel. They all love the State of Israel. And they all love the spirit of Israel. But no one possesses all of the truth, all of the justice and all of the integrity. Hashem, in His kindness for His Nation, spread the talents and good qualities among the entire Nation of Israel and among all of the political parties. Everyone is required to find which party has the most positives and the least negatives. No one can claim that his party has it all. And if someone thinks that his party does have it all, he is dangerously close to “Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred.” “Sinat Chinam” is hating for no reason. Then why … Read More >>

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Election Inversion

Here in the US, we’ve come to expect an escalation of dirty campaigning and inattention to facts as campaigns drag on. Ironically, as we get closer to the Israeli election, some truths have emerged in the UTJ (“Gimmel”) election material. A number of commercials were quite good. My favorite:

The subtlety in the contrast between the kollel man and the working man is impressive – as well as the upbeat message that they are united by a common respect for the authority of Torah leadership. More impressive is the takeaway, which would seem to include the tacit message that “working charedi” is not an oxymoron. The fact that UTJ has taken to both YouTube and Facebook to troll for votes is also a concession of sorts. In the desperate hunt for votes, some images of the campaign will be impossible to completely erase after the last ballot box is stuffed – including the likelihood of an increasing role for women in the future.

Of course, the message is a mixed one from its inception. Just a short while ago MK Moshe Gafni insisted that he does not represent working charedim, who are not properly charedi.[Postscript – There is … Read More >>

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Friends, Foes, and Charvona

When the afterglow fades, we will still be left with plenty to daven for on Purim. Why, then, do we act so stupidly when help is proffered?

Many of us, this writer included, thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress was moving, inspiring, and effectively spoke to American hearts as much as to Jewish ones. (Apparently some Arab and Iranian ones as well.) We hope that, BEH, he may have had some impact, although the initial reactions lined up according to predictable political and ideological positions. However optimistic we may be, at the end of the day we are still somewhat short of an appearance by Moshiach.

Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing. Jews are leaving Europe in droves, caught between a resurgent right and a steady torrent of Jew-hatred piously chanted in thousands of mosques and madrassas and spread through television and social media . BDS campaigns poison the minds of a next generation of leadership. Jihadists urge the faithful to exterminate the Jews, and we are told to take comfort in the Pew finding that only 22% of the Muslim world supports them. (That is more than the total population of the Axis powers before WWII.) Iran … Read More >>

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The Chofetz Chaim Video: The Rosetta Stone

At long last, Hollywood has finally contributed something to Torah. A collection of Fox Movietone newsreels from the silent film days is preserved and housed at the University of South Carolina. One item dating to 1923 preserves footage of Torah personalities attending the first Agudah Knessia Gedolah in Vienna. Remarkably, it includes footage of the Chofetz Chaim himself (of whom photos are rare), as well as other Torah personalities, the sight of which should quicken the heart of any Torah Jew.

Several of those shown perished before the War. Some survived. At least four were martyred by the Nazis.

A century makes a huge difference. Five of the eighteen personalities held doctorates. A good number were Germans, who still constituted a strong, distinct group within Agudah. One of those (Rabbi Leo Jung) was at one point a candidate for the presidency of Yeshiva University.

At least among the non-Chassidim, the couture stands out. Most look quite spiffy and dapper. (As one of my sons remarked, “and that was before Charles Tyrwhitt.”)

The Chofetz Chaim seems uncomfortable with the camera, and Hashgacha helped out. His facial features remain indistinct. Someone tries to cover the lens … Read More >>

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ISIS and Jewish Experience: A Reaction to Atlantic

You don’t need me to tell you that Graeme Wood’s 10,000 word treatment of ISIS in the March Atlantic may prove to be a game-changer. Hard-hitting, detailed, well-researched, it is going to be a lightning rod for commentary and debate. And frum Jews will comprehend it a bit better than most.

No one outdoes the President in misunderstanding ISIS. He did it again today at a high-level three day conference on global terrorism. The folks at ISIS “are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists,” he said. Nothing, says Wood, could be further from the truth. ISIS is all about religion, and a religious leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who has assumed a role not seen in many centuries.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

In other words, the language, aspirations, traditions of Islam saturate the soil over which the blood of those executed daily flows. Westerners don’t get, not just because they are into Pollyanna … Read More >>

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Creativity Restored: the Mesoras HaRav Chumash

R. Yisroel Salanter, it is said, decried the fact that derush had turned the corpus of Chazal from an instructional form into a plaything for rhetoricians. Every rov found pesukim and midrashim to be infinitely pliable, capable of taking whatever shape he wanted. They became springboards ready to launch any thought that met his fancy. But if Torah texts could mean anything, R. Yisroel lamented, then they effectively meant nothing. If you didn’t like what a rov said about some passage, just saunter down the street and a different rov would likely assure you that the words meant the polar opposite. Whatever lesson – or lessons – HKBH and Chazal had in mind when they wrote what they did were lost to the surrounding static.

Perhaps the conservatism, the cautiousness we observe in new works on Chumash and Chazal are part of a corrective to R. Yisroel’s observation. Perhaps people reasoned that it was more important to showcase the words of the Sages themselves than their own verbal pyrotechnics. Maybe that is why we see lots of works citing lots of other, earlier works, but not very much genuine creativity.

Or so it seems. While studying Netziv, … Read More >>

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Klal Perspectives – The Next Issue

Readers are always weighing in on ideas for future issues of KP. The editors take them very seriously. In the last few weeks in particular, a number of people contacted me offline with ideas that I thought had considerable merit. I encouraged them to put them in an email, and I would forward them to the full board. I have no recollection of who they were.

I don’t think anyone did! And here we are, ready to decide on our next issue. If you were one of those people, now is the time!

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Klal Perspectives: New Issue on the Ben-Torah Baal-HaBayis

It wasn’t so long ago that when people spoke about the issues bnei Torah faced in the workplace, they meant how to deal with the power lunch at a treif restaurant, and the hand proffered by a female executive.

Things have changed, and not for the better. We had the vocabulary to deal with the old issues. Various positions emerged; none of them upset existing protocols or deeply-held beliefs.

Not so today. The angst faced by working bnei Torah has no easy antidote. Baalei batim struggle to keep afloat financially, attempting to satisfy the demands of an Orthodox household that far exceed the earning power of most couples. At the same time, the self-image of the ben Torah which had been so inextricably bound up in earlier years with the quantity and quality of learning takes a merciless beating as there just isn’t enough time to go around between responsibilities of earner, husband, father, and community member.

Nothing could work, short of changing the way we have been taught to think for many years. But we are suspicious of such change – rightfully so. We understand the human capacity for rationalization, for developing intellectual castles in … Read More >>

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Something To Laugh At

Unless you are Yair Lapid, looking back at the failure of your overreach.

Many people, even inside the charedi world, secretly hoped that Yair Lapid’s insistence upon addressing the issue of charedi un- and under-employment would provide the impetus that was not coming from within. Those hopes quickly soured when he demonstrated too much naked hostility to the community, and too little understanding of what could and could not work (no pun intended).

Some apologists for Israeli charedim argued that change, albeit slow, was already upon the community, with more and more people looking for vocational and academic training to support their families. They pointed to the programs and institutions sprouting all over the charedi landscape. Those, they said, would flourish, unless the community would perceive an organized attack on its principles, in which case it would unite in resistance and backlash. While much of Lapid’s program was positive and provided positive and healthy impetus for change, he went too far by pushing for criminalization of draft offenses. He also made some statements that went beyond the goal of getting charedim into the work place, but spoke of integrating charedim within the rest of society by changing … Read More >>

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Cross-Currents Enters World Politics

Which is the last thing I wanted or expected. I have avoided commenting on purely political issues, whether domestic or global. I’ve tried to be true to Cross-Current’s original self-imposed mandate of focusing on such issues only insofar as they illuminate Torah life, or where Torah thought can illuminate them. I do plenty of the pure politics and advocacy at my day job, and I try not to mix office and home.

So when I wrote a short while ago about Egyptian President Al-Sisi’s extraordinary remarks at Al-Azhar, my intention was only to draw a parallel between his concern for the image of his faith with what should be our parallel concern. And there I left it.

The message from David Benkof, a frum writer for The Daily Caller was therefore quite surprising to me. He had noticed the piece, and the editors were a bit miffed that Western press had ignored what to us seemed like an extremely important statement. Would I, they ask, tweak the piece for publication at The Daily Caller? And could I do it in about an hour or so?

My colleague and mentor Rabbi Abraham Cooper and I then scrambled to … Read More >>

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Interesting Dialogue in Dialogue

Sometimes, you just have to use strong words.

I imagine that was the intention of Rav Aharon Feldman, shlit”a, in a critical conversation that he had with someone described as “the president of one of the largest secular Jewish organizations in America, as he relates the encounter in the new issue of Dialogue. Some gvir told Rav Feldman that the poor bloke (whom we shall refer to as SF, for secular fellow) was in free-fall in the aftermath of Gaza, and needed “urgently to talk to a Rabbi.”

How could it be, asked SF, that a bunch of primitive terrorists could send thousands of rockets into Israel, thwart the full effectiveness of one of the most capable military machines in the world, and then get the world to label Israel as the aggressor for simply attempting to defend herself?

Rav Feldman’s answer must have been devastating to SF’s world view. He cited Devarim 32:21 הם קנאוני בלא אל כעסוני בהבליהם ואני אקניאם בלא עם / They angered Me by believing in a non-god; I will anger them through a non-nation. “Israel is founded on belief in a non-god,” Rav Feldman told him, by which he explains … Read More >>

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Sisi’s Remarkable Statement

We knew that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has it in for the Muslim Brotherhood, and has taken strong steps to suppress it. We did not expect the president of the most populous Arab country to call for a religious revolution against Muslim extremism, and back it up with specific programs through his religious ministry.

Western media ignored the statement in droves. We shouldn’t.

Speaking before Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, in connection with Mohamed’s upcoming birthday, Sisi said:

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] … Read More >>

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A Bit of Clarity on State Conversions

When R Avrohom Sherman issued a long psak in 2008 questioning the procedures of Israel’s “special beis din” for conversion, he set off a heated debate that has not gone away. Can a beis din undo a conversion years after it supposedly went into effect? If it could, would converts ever have closure, or would they live in fear that some new court would one day decide that they weren’t really Jewish? You can draw a straight line between the arguments of those days and recent attempts by Americans associated with Orthodox far-left/neo-Conservative groups to undo the Rabbanut’s control of giyur, even in the pages of the New York Times.

One victim of pitched debate is the truth. Just how good or how bad were the procedures of the special court? Eventually, some of the truth emerges. We now have a pithy, simple summary of the seriousness of the candidates of that court by someone who is no believer in halachic process, from a recent article in the Jerusalem Post:

Hiddush director and Reform rabbi Uri Regev said it would require “extreme detachment from reality not to know that the majority of converts from the immigrant community from … Read More >>

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How G-d Relates to Non-Jews

The challenge by a reader to what I wrote earlier deserves more prominent attention than a comment to his comment:

Your article really encompasses the larger question of how a Jew is to understand God’s relationship with non-Jews. A traditional belief you and I are both familiar with has it that God relates to Jews on an individual level (hashgacha pratis) but to non-Jews on a general level. Really? How are we to square that, then, with the numerous statements of Christian writers down through the centuries in which they described feeling God at their side? That, at certain great moments in their life, they knew God was with them? These statements – and I’ve heard them often, simply from Christian friends and acquaintances – put the lie to the belief that God only intervenes personally with Jews.

I believe that this “traditional belief” is inaccurately understood. There are classic sources that speak of Hashem relating to Jews with hashgacha pratis, unlike his relationship with non-Jews. This cannot (or may not) mean what you imply it means.

Can there be prayer without hashgacha pratis? Isn’t tefillah – at least petitionary tefillah – a request that Hashem intervene directly … Read More >>

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A Chanukah Message From the LAPD

Letters from the LAPD that come personally addressed, rather than to “Occupant” will rarely precipitate shows of glee in the recipient. But every rule has its exception. The envelope I received just before Chanukah is too good not to share. We will excuse the spelling errors, and cherish the thought that went into this card. Yet another demonstration of what a bracha this country is to those of us still stuck in galus. (Michael Downing is just behind the Chief of Police in the LAPD hierarchy.)

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How To Explain Hilchos Geirus To The Skeptic

Thought experiment in three parts: How would you explain the essence of being Jewish, or the Jewish mission, to an interested outsider to the halachic community – Jewish or non-Jewish? After you formulate your answer, try your hand at another question. How would you explain the need for exacting legal detail in the admissions process to the Jewish people, a.k.a geirus. Now, in what may be the hardest exercise, how would you get both of those answers to coexist with each other – in more minds than your own?

Despite both of us quite often disagreeing with each other, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo and I have remained good friends over the years. So I can admit to being jealous of his masterful treatment of the three questions. To be sure, some of us might use slightly different ways of expressing similar thoughts, but we can all gain from the humanity, sensitivity, and effectiveness of his approach.

What follows is his essay, as it appeared on his website. It is republished here with permission.

What makes one a Jew? Being born to a Jewish mother? Converting to Judaism? Not really. It is living by the spiritual order of … Read More >>

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Finding G-d

“Where is G-d?” After stumping his Chassidim, the Kotzker is reported to have answered his own question: “Wherever you will let Him in.” This profound and beautiful approach only works for those who are thoroughly convinced of His existence, and mildly familiar with the methods for inviting Him in. What are others to do? Some thoughts on recent attempts, and a consideration of where we differ. ********************************************************************* What could be better, I thought, than a take-down by Jack Miles of the whole lot of New Atheists – and in the pages of The Atlantic, no less. Jack Miles recently finished editing The Norton Anthology of World Religions, and might therefore know a thing or two about belief. His Atlantic essay, “Why G-d Will Not Die,” is taken from his postscript to that compendium, and is therefore his last word on the state of religion after pondering the rich assortment of faith-systems. Alas, his argument could not knock a one-legged agnostic stork off his perch. It does contain, however, some delectable tidbits and one-liners.

The story begins with a younger author delighting in the words of arch-atheist (and Israel-hater) Bertrand Russell:

That man is the product of causes … Read More >>

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Sometimes, We Get It Right

Kudos to the residents of Itamar. One of the most beautiful gestures I can remember in recent memory. Residents of Har Nof last week found this note and the accompanying gift of a chocolate bar left for them.

[Hat tip (figuratively speaking) to Dovi Adlerstein, Dallas]

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R. Eliyahu Stewart, z”l

Seldom do maspidim capture the essence of a person as well as they did on Thursday when they eulogized Rav Eliyahu Stewart z”l, a home-grown Angelino who was beloved to thousands. In an hour and a half of hespedim, no one needed to exaggerate his accomplishments. They stood proudly on their own. No one needed trivial filler to round out his life story. There was no time for that; the richness of his achievement didn’t allow for it. His rov of many years, and a succession of family members, spoke of someone who loved people, loved learning, and loved presenting Torah to talmidim. The massive number of people who essentially spent their rare holiday afternoon at his levaya was impressive testimony that the love was reciprocated.

Perhaps one element was missing, through no ones fault, from the hespedim – the perspective of a friend. Maybe I am looking for catharsis. Maybe the shock, the grief, the void draws me to the keyboard, but I am driven to share some thoughts as someone who lost a decades-long friend and confidante.

The parallels to the life of Yaakov Avinu would be compelling even if Reb Eliyahu had not died during … Read More >>

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Message From the Har Nof Widows

[loose translation:] We turn to acheinu Bnei Yisrael wherever they may be. Let us all come together to increase the rachamei Shomayim shown to us! Let us all accept upon ourselves that we will increase love and brotherhood – between each person and his fellow, between community and community, between major group and major group.

Our request is that every individual should see to it to accept upon himself on Erev Shabbos Parshas Toldos, to sanctify this coming Shabbos as a day of ahavas chinam. It should be a day that we refrain from all kinds of divisive conversation, lashon hora, and rechilus.

This will be a great uplift to the souls of the heads of our families who were slaughtered for the holiness of His Holy Name.

May Hashem look from above, see our affliction, wipe away our tears, and say, “Enough!” to our sorrow. May we merit to see the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily in our days – Amen, Amen.

Signed with a broken and crushed heart: Chayah Levine and family Breina Goldberg and family Yaakovah Kupinsky and family Bashi Twersky and family

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