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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 54:11-55:5

AUGUST 14-15, 2009 25 AB 5769

Rosh Hodesh Elul will be celebrated on Thursday & Friday, August 20 & 21.

Pop Quiz: What three animals chew their cud but don't have split hooves?


"If your brother tries to incite you in secret saying, 'Let us go worship strange gods,' you shall surely kill him" (Debarim 13:7-10)

One who attempts to lead Jews astray and worship idols is considered a dangerous threat. He is punished with stoning, which is the most severe form of capital punishment. Rabenu Bahya explains that all the commands of the Torah are completely merciful. If the Torah commands us to kill him it cannot be out of revenge or retribution, but it must be because we have mercy on the rest of the people so they shouldn't fall prey to him. If we would execute him with revenge it would influence us and turn us into cruel people.

How much cruelty could there be in this act of stoning an idolatrous missionary? He was trying to convert innocent Jews, and destroy their souls in the World to Come, a crime worse than murder. Additionally, even if we can pinpoint some iota of cruelty, how can this "accustom" one to develop a cruel nature? A court didn't execute more than once in seventy years. So this event can probably happen once in a lifetime. Is there a danger of a one time event habituating a person to cruelty?

Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz learns from this an important lesson. We see how incredibly delicate and sensitive is the human psyche! Even a sincere righteous Jew in the rare act of meting out the Torah-prescribed penalty for such a heinous crime - with the sole intention of punishing the wrongdoer and without any feelings of malice - would be affected on some level and may develop a cruel nature. On the other hand, if the executioner's intention was to save the Jewish nation from further corruption, there will be no negative impact upon his soul. Every event has an impact, and even the smallest influence pushes us in a certain direction.

When we must punish our children or students we are hopefully considering the effect it will have on the child. But are we aware of how it might affect us? We must have the proper motivations of compassion and mercy, and the desire to help our children and students grow and avoid mistakes in the future. This way we can help them and ourselves be true servants of Hashem. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"[If your Hebrew slave] says to you, 'I shall not go out from you' because he loves you and your house because he fares well with you" (Debarim 15:16)

The Gemara teaches that the owner of a Hebrew slave must treat him and view him as an equal in every respect, and he sometimes even has to treat him as a superior! However, the Gemara also teaches that if two Jews are in dire need of water, and only one of them has a jug of water, his own life takes precedence, and he is not obligated to give the water to the other person. Why is this case different than the case of the slave who must be treated at least as an equal, if not better?

A poor man and a rich man can live in harmony with one another, even though the poor man can't satisfy his physical needs like the rich man. Still yet, he does not feel inferior in any way to his friend as a human being. The slave, on the other hand, is always reminded of his bitter status as a mere servant of another man. Therefore the Torah goes out of its way to demand special treatment for him.

There is a very important lesson to be learned from this. We must understand that different people have different sensitivities. We must recognize each person's uniqueness, and treat him in a way that we will not hurt his feelings or make him self-conscious of his station in life. Let's take it upon ourselves now, as we approach the selihot season, to treat our fellow man with the proper respect, and to make amends with those to whom we may have shown disservice to in the past. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


Things are not always as they appear.

At one time or another, most people have played with view-altering devices. Some are sophisticated instruments such as a microscope, which can magnify thousands of times, or a telescope, which can make small heavenly images bold and clear. Children like to peer through drinking glasses which, depending on the curve in the bottom, can magnify or shrink their friends into out-of-shape semblances of their true selves. Looking through a colored glass can change the hue of a dull scene into a panorama of beautiful colors. Remove the glass, and the real color becomes visible again.

One thing is clear: things are not always the way they seem.

When you observe others, you may make inaccurate assumptions about their behavior. It is not uncommon for people to superimpose their own feelings and attitudes onto the actions of others, without really knowing what they are thinking. Liability and guilt may be attributed to someone who, in fact, might be totally innocent of any wrongdoing.

The Torah demands that we judge one another favorable. When we see a friend, neighbor, or even an enemy doing something that seems suspicious, we are required to overlay the scene with a beautiful colored glass of innocence. As difficult as it might be, we must try to make excuses that will turn seemingly negative behavior into a positive - or, at least, excusable - act. Logic does not always rule; we may have to really stretch into the realm of the fantastic to absolve a peer - but wouldn't we want others to do the same for us if the tables were turned and we, not they, were under the microscope?

When you see an action that can be interpreted as "bad," and most signs justify your negative assessment, change your perspective. Ask yourself: what excuse would you come up with if the perpetrator were you?

It only takes a minute to convict, and the same moment can be used to acquit. Remember, things are not always as they appear. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

Answer to Pop Quiz: The camel, hare (shafan) and hyrax (arnebet).

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

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