Monday, December 31, 2007


The Quality of Anger

By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

A very strange thing happened with the second plague in Egypt, the frog. Actually, if we go according to Rashi's interpretation, we see that the Egyptians themselves brought that plague upon themselves.

Regarding the plague of the frog, it is written: "And the frog came up and covered the land of Egypt" (Shemot, 8:2). We would expect to read "and the frogs came up". Why does the word "frog" appear in the singular?

According to Rashi: "There was (only) one frog and (when) they struck at it, it would split apart into various teeming swarms. That is its midrashic explanation".

Let us focus on the moral in this source. A huge frog might be an attraction in a city zoo, but not necessarily a plague. What caused the plague? The Egyptians brought it on upon themselves! They began to strike the frog and saw that it gave birth to two, then four, then eight and so on.

They certainly perceived what was happening. Yet they didn't succeed in conquering their anger and so billions of frogs covered all of the land of Egypt.

Rabbi Ya'akov Kanievsky states in his book "Birkhat Peretz" :

"The more the frog spawned more frogs, the more their wrath inflamed them and they continued to strike at it until the land of Egypt was covered with frogs. This is to teach you that it is better for man to conquer his nature, to hear the scorn and not to reply and thus slowly, slowly the disagreement will settle down, rather than to return war and even add boiling oil to the flames of the division".

A personal story:

When I was eighteen years old, I was far from being a Rabbi. I had completed 12th grade in Argentina and was confused. I didn't know in which direction to continue…

After a few months of deliberation, I reached the conclusion that it was my calling to be a Graphics Designer. I shared my decision with my parents. It raised strong opposition in my family. My parents didn't agree that it was my life's calling. It wasn't -so they claimed- the right career for me. And to earn a living -so they informed me- wouldn't be simple.

I entered the university, and to be honest, wasn't exactly enthralled with my studies. But the important thing was to continue in order to show them that I wasn't wrong, that I would be the one to decide my life's agenda and not them, and that their opposition would get them nowhere...

During my second year of studies, the pressure lessened. I don't know whether they backed down as a strategic measure or out of despair, but that same year I left my studies.

An important rule that the frog plague teaches us is that of the quality of anger. Exaggerated anger only brings about the strengthening of the opposition and returns to us as a boomerang. It is very possible that if my parents hadn't lessened the pressure on me, a different Rabbi would be writing this commentary on Parashat Vaera.

This occurs in various areas. Sometimes a minor phenomenon in society receives a great deal of publicity and commentary in the media, resulting in the strengthening of the phenomenon instead of containing it.

Exaggerated anger spawns frogs.

So, the next time you see something infuriating, take a moment and thing about the frogs and only then decide: either learn to restrain yourself or spawn frogs everywhere…

Previous Drashot

Vaera 5766 – A hard-of-hearing people

Monday, December 17, 2007


It's Cold Outside
By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
A question that often bothers parents is: How can we bridge between the differences in the education and values within the family to that of the society around us.

And not only in regard to the Jewish aspects...This question is also relevant on subjects such as smoking, alcohol, drugs. How much influence does a parent's preaching actually have on a child's education? How much are they influenced by their peers?

In this week's portion we find such tension.

Jacob our father knows his days are numbered, and he calls upon his 12 sons, to pass down to them their blessings and spiritual inheritance.

But first, he blesses his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manashe. "And he blessed them that day, saying: 'By thee shall Israel bless, saying: May G-d make thee as Ephraim and as Manashe". (Genesis 48, 20).

We recognize this dialogue from the "Birkat Habanim", the blessing that parents say over their children on Shabat and on Yom Kippur. The question is why were Ephraim and Manashe rewarded with this honorary position in Jewish tradition. Why not bless: "May G-d make thee as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob", just as girls are blessed "May G-d make thee as Sarah, Rebbekah, Rachel and Leah".

Rabbi Shmuel Hominer Z"L gives us an answer in his book "Eved HaMelech":

From all the Tribes, Ephrayim and Menashe were the only ones who were born and raised in Egypt, deep in its defilement. They hosted all the State's Ministers and Wise men at their home as it was customary to do as Second to the King. They lived for many years there, in a foreign land, away from the Holy land and away from their ancestors. Not like the ten Tribes that were raised at the Home of Jacob our father. With Jacob's spirit as their inspiration, and even, when they came to Eretz Israel from Haran, they were lucky to be with Isaac.

When Jacob arrived in Egypt he realized that Ephraim and Manasseh were not attracted by the Egyptian defilement. They were not impressed by it and learned nothing of the nation's traditions or manners. On the contrary, he saw that they were raised by Joseph, in the righteous ways of the Torah and God fearing, so much so that they were found worthy of being included in the Twelve Tribes.

Rabbi Shmuel Hominer's words are very relevant; he points out that these children had the largest potential to choose a different path. How long will family values be able to stand up before threatening surroundings of defilement?

"God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh" is not an insurance policy...It is a prayer from the depth of our hearts that our children will follow in our footsteps, because it gets cold out side.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Miketz - Hannuka

Body and Spirit

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

In Genesis Chapter 10, we are told about Noah's sons who were the ancestors of all the nations of the world. The first son was Shem. We all know the meaning of the word "Shem" (Name). Name is the essence of man, the world of the spirit. Our forefather Abraham was a descendant of Shem so that, in effect, all of us, as Jews, are descendants of Shem.

The name of Ham, the second son, derives from the word "hom", meaning "heat". The word suggests the world of natural drives, the physical, instinctive and sometimes even primitive world. The Canaanites were the descendants of Ham.

The third son was Yaphet, from the word "yofi", meaning "beauty". He is the archetype of the material world -art, sport and aesthetics. It is not by chance that the Torah tells us that Yaphet begat Yavan (Greece), the empire that has been unsurpassed in human history in the fields of art, sport and aesthetics.

To understand the deeper meaning of the Hannuka festival, we should think of the essential nature of Noah and his sons. The Hasmonean war was not only a war to ensure the physical survival of the Jewish people, but also a war to ensure its spiritual survival. It was a war between the values embodied in Yaphet and Shem.

I do not mean that the Jewish people are against aesthetics, art and sport. Jewish tradition did not object to taking care of the body or to external beauty, but never allowed the body to take precedence over the spirit. "Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised" (Proverbs 31, verse 30) does not deny the value of charm and beauty but states that without spiritual beauty they are worthless.

Joseph, whom we read about in the portion of the week, was also "well-favoured", but the sages never refer to him as "the handsome Joseph" but only as "the righteous Joseph", clear proof that Joseph succeeded in overcoming the temptations of Potiphar's wife.

If you ask me what the reason is for the survival of the Jewish people for so many generations after pogroms, blood and Holocaust, there is only one answer: we were never, as a people, enslaved to the material world; not to buildings, not to land, and not even to the tablets of the Ten Commandments. We succeeded in rebuilding our community after the destruction of the Temple. We succeeded in growing as a nation even in the hard times of exile. We knew how to write books after the loss of the tablets. On the other hand, peoples who saw the body and the material world as their purpose appear today in history books, for it is possible to destroy the body, but never the spirit.

We can understand this idea in the story of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon, one of the ten martyrs under Roman rule. When the Romans took him to be executed, they wrapped him in a Torah scroll and set it alight. While he was on fire, his students asked him,"Rabbi, what do you see?" He answered, "I see sheets of parchment burning and the letters on them soaring on high" (T.B. Avoda Zara 18a).

It is possible to burn the scroll itself but impossible to lose the spirit of its words. The Hannuka candles testify to the triumph of our spiritual values, not just to the physical survival of our people, because no power in the world can destroy our spirit and our essential nature.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Yamim Noraim

The Flight of Renewal

by Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

In the description of the mystical journey of the Prophet Yechezkel, it says that the prophet saw four different figures surrounding the bottom of the chariot (G-d’s throne): the figure of an eagle, a bull, a lion and that of a man.

Based on this description, a Midrash tells us that four proud creatures were created in the world: The proudest among all the creatures that G-d created –according to the sages– is man. The proudest of the birds, the eagle. The proudest of the beasts, the bull. The proudest of the animal, the lion.

They all received greatness, and they all were placed under G-d’s chariot…so that none would take pride in the universe, and would know that the King of Heaven is above them… (Shemot Rabbah 23:13).

The Midrash says that G-d placed the figures of these four creatures beneath his chariot so that they would know that He is the King.

This is the point of the Days of Awe. The king of creatures, man - taking pride of the entire world, having conquered the land already in the days of Bereshit, descended upon the fish of the sea, upon the birds of the skies and upon all of the creatures that walk upon the land – clears his place on center stage and anoints the King of kings with the sound of the Shofar, through prayer and in hymns.

Only yesterday we were the kings of creation, but the liturgy of the Days of Awe presents us as slaves begging for mercy and compassion.

How can we deal with such a dramatic change?

Perhaps we can learn from one of our partners in pride, one of the figures located beneath G-d’s chariot, the eagle.

The life expectancy of the eagle can be very long, as much as seventy years. However, in order to reach this age, he must make a very important decision upon reaching the age of forty, a decision will permit him to live out his full life’s potential as nature grants him.

At this age, the talons which all these years had been flexible, can no longer successfully hold the pieces of meat from which he gains his sustenance. His sharp curved beak is too bent and weak. He has difficulty flying because his feathers are too thick, his wings too heavy, and he lacks the strength to spread his wings to their fullest length and breadth.

At this age, the eagle faces two alternatives: to deteriorate until death, or to choose a process of renewal, during which he faces with courage the painful process which will allow him to create himself anew. He flies to find himself a safe haven between the high and isolated cliffs. When he finds himself a secure place, he begins to smash his beak with great force on the wall, time after time until his beak is torn off at the base. Then he waits until a new beak grows in its place, and with it pulls out his old talons.

When his talons are regrown, he uses them to pluck out his old, heavy feathers. In this fashion, after one hundred and fifty days, he will take renewed flight.

The Days of Awe represent our own flight of renewal.
We need them, not G-d.

This flight of renewal places our lives into proportion, because only creatures that view themselves as mortal require stations along the way.

We know that most of the parameters that caused us to stop will repeat themselves in the coming year…

Our feathers will again thicken and our wings will become heavy, but thank G-d, we won’t have to wait forty years; in another twelve months we will receive the wonderful gift that is called “The Days of Awe”.

I feel that a good example to help us understand this principle is that of a car wash. Washing a car doesn’t pay – we wash our car and within a couple of days it is dirty once again.

If this is so, why do people stubbornly repeat the same mistake time after time? Have you ever washed a car after two years of not washing it?

It is impossible to do. The dirt has been absorbed into the paint and washing it has become too difficult a task.

We don’t wash our car in order to prevent future dirt. We wash it so that it will look like new for a certain period of time and so that in the future it will be possible to wash it more easily.

The Days of Awe do not promise us eternal purification, rather a necessary process of renewal in order that we will appear for a certain period of time as pure creatures and so that we can, in another year – G-d willing – return to the same place at the same hour to renew our flight.

Oh Lord, bring us back and we will return unto you, renew our days as of yore. May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life!

Ketivah and Chatimah Tovah!

Previous Drashot

Yamim Noraim 5767 - Ascent for the sake of descent

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Be-Har - Be-Chukotai

Theology and Meteorology

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Parashat Be-Chukotai, one of the portions that we read this week, contains the curses and punishments which will be inflicted upon those who do not obey G-d's commandments.

If in My statutes ye walk, and if my commandments ye keep, and do them: Then will I give you rains in their due season, and the earth shall yield her products, and the tree of the field shall yield its fruit (Leviticus 26. 3-4).

I think that one of the most central questions in the Torah is how we read these portions which talk about reward and punishment and particularly about blessings of rain. Rabbi Harold Kushner once said that this statement has a theological and not a meteorological meaning. It can definitely be said that if the people of Israel do not retain some measure of morality, such as that described in the book of Leviticus, they will not survive even if the rains do fall at the correct time.

Although the people of Israel are the target of this Reproach (tochachah), there are various examples in the Torah (like the Flood and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah) which show that this message is just as relevant to the other nations of the world.

The British historian Arnold Toynbee describes in his book "A Study of History" the rise and fall of 21 great ancient civilizations and proved that the reason for their downfall was an internal and not an external one. Those cultures were destroyed not because of the arrival of an external enemy and a military defeat, but because they themselves had become their own worst enemy. And it was a slow and destructive process.

The modern reader reads this passage: "If in My statutes ye walk…Then will I give you rains in their due season" and might consider this a primitive viewpoint. But even historians are convinced that such a statement was relevant from the outset of human existence until the present: a nation which does not behave righteously is doomed to pay the price.

A few days ago, I received a very nice e-mail describing the difference between wealthy and poor countries in the world. And in fact, our portion also deals with rain blessings, seasonal rains, crop yields and fruits of the trees…

And so, how does one define the difference between wealthy and poor countries?

Poor and rich countries cannot be differentiated in terms of their age. This can be seen if we compare countries like India and Egypt, which are poor despite being in existence for thousands of years, with countries like Australia and New Zealand, which were relatively unknown 150 years ago, yet are thriving and highly developed today.Perhaps the difference between poor and rich countries lies in the availability of their natural resources? Not so. Japan, for example, has limited, mountainous territories which are totally unsuited to agriculture or cattle farming, but is nevertheless the second largest financial power in the world today.

Switzerland is a similar case in point. The lack of access to the sea has not prevented this country from developing a large navy. It does not grow cocoa, but manufactures the best chocolate in the world. This rather small country somehow manages to raise sheep, and also to plant crops, even though this is limited to the four months of the year which are not cold and wintry. Despite all of these handicaps, the country still produces the best dairy products in Europe. And like Japan, which also lacks natural resources, Switzerland also exports products of a quality which is difficult to compete with.

Intelligence is also not a factor differentiating poor from rich countries. This is proved by all those students who have emigrated from poor countries to wealthier countries and managed to achieve excellence in their fields.

Finally, neither is race a factor which differentiates between poor and rich countries. In Central Europe, North Africa and North America we can observe how the various different ethnic groups actually form the productive power in these countries.

Then what factors do make a difference? It is people's attitudes which make all the difference. The wealthier and more successful countries all embrace the following values:-

1. The primary and basic principle – Morality

2. Order and cleanliness
3. Integrity
4. Punctuality
5. Responsibility
6. The desire for progress
7. Respect for the rights of others
8. A work ethic
9. An effort to economize
10. Humility

In poor countries, only a minority (almost none) of the population fulfill these basic principles in their daily lives.

The abundant blessings described in our portion are bestowed according to our attitude towards observing the laws of the Torah and following the paths of righteousness. This is the "recipe for wealth" offered by the Torah.

Previous Drashot

Be-Har – Be-Chukotai 5766 – A True Blessing

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Created TO DO

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

The commandment of circumcision (Brit Milah) that Abraham Avinu fulfilled in Parashat Lech lecha, appears for the second time in Parashat Tazri'a. But the context is completely different to that of Parashat Lech Lecha. The circumcision mitzvah is mentioned in relation to the impurity of the parturient (Tumat Ha-Yoledet).

"And G-d spoke unto Moses, saying:
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Leviticus 12:1-3).

There is a well known dialogue between the wicked Turnusrufus and Rabbi Akiva which will help us in understanding the deep meaning of the commandment of Brit Milah:

"Whose deeds are more pleasant -asked Turnusrufus to Rabbi Akiva- those of G-d or those of flesh-and- blood?'.

He replied: "Those of mortals".

Asked Turnusrufus: "What about heaven and earth? Can man create the likes of those?".

"Said R' Akiva: 'Don't tell me things that are beyond the capacity of mankind, things they are incapable of. Give me an example that they can accomplish as mortals".

"He asked: 'Why do you circumcise yourselves?'.

"I knew you would ask that. That's why I started off by saying that man's actions are better than G-d's.' He then brought some wheat stalks and some pastries and said: "These are the products of G-d and those are manmade products. Aren't those [cakes] better than these stalks?".

"Said Turnusrufus: 'But if He desired circumcision, why doesn't the newborn emerge from the womb already circumcised?".

"Said R' Akiva: '…This is because G-d specifically provided us with commandments in order to purify us through them…" (Tanchuma Tazria).

What does the Midrash want to teach us?

Turnusrufus represents the opinion of all those who believe that in nature all is perfect and as such no amendments should be carried out. If the Creator is perfect – suggests Turnusrufus – also the Creation should be perfect and there is no sense that mankind will come and fix something that does not need any fixing as it is perfect!

The RaMbaM says at the beginning of Hilchot Avodat Kochavim (1, 1):

"In the days of Enosh, the people fell into gross error, and the counsel of the wise men of the generation became foolish. Enosh himself was among those who erred. Their error was as follows: ‘Since, God,’ they said, ‘created these stars and spheres to guide the world, set them on high and allotted to them honor, and since they are ministers who minister before Him, they deserve to be praised and glorified, and honor should be rendered them; and it is the will of G-d, blessed be He.

Enosh saw that the world was doing OK and this led him to the wrong conclusion that nature (and in his case the stars) are worth worshiping.

Enosh's mistake was similar to Turnusrufus' and their opinion seems to be a pagan concept: "If G-d is perfect so the world must be perfect as well".

Abraham Avinu, says the Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1, 3), saw the same things that Enosh saw but he reached a different conclusion: he understood that the nature phenomena has a leader and only the leader (and not nature!) is worthy worshiping.

Natural things not necessarily are perfect. Rabi Akiva thinks that there is a place for mankind to intervene in nature.


When we read about the Creation it is said: ."And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it He rested from all his work which he created TO DO" (Genesis 2:3).

Why it is written TO DO?

Because the Creation needs mankind intervention. G-d created the world in order TO DO so that we will be able to complete its creation…because the world is not perfect.

Previous Drashot
Tazria-Metzora 5766 - Man and the Mosquito

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


This Devar Torah is dedicated Le-Ilui Nishmat Zehava bat Mina Ve-Asher Gofriti Z'L

Purity and Impurity

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

In addition to the long list of forbidden foods, Parashat Shemini gives us a grave warning lest we touch carcasses and become impure. "And for these you shall be unclean; whoever touches the carcass of them shall be unclean until evening." (Leviticus 11:24)

Why is it that we must be so careful about impurity that the Torah even warns us against touching impure things?

We also find permitted food in this Parashah. Don't permitted foods have the power to "neutralize" the impurities of the forbidden foods?

Generally speaking, there is something interesting about the laws of purity.

When something pure comes in contact with something impure, impurity and not purity is the active factor, and thus the pure becomes defiled and we cannot say that the impure is purified.


Let me give you a trivial example.

If I enter a pool of mud, I will get dirty, but if I enter a pool of soap ….. I won't come out clean unless I scrub myself.

And why not?

Because cleanliness requires much more of an effort than uncleanliness. A man can become dirty within a minute, but a "real" bath, takes half an hour.

A similar thing happens with clothes.

A piece of clothing can get dirty without our even noticing, but a serious laundry takes at least a half an hour.

The explanation: uncleanliness is a given while cleanliness is a process.

A similar thing happens with purity and impurity (even though there is no connection between impurity and dirt).

Purification is a long process. We are speaking of a process that requires a lot of effort on man's part, and it is a process with difficulties and even momentary failures. Permitted foods do not have the power to "neutralize" the impure, for a man is not purified as a result of eating ritually slaughtered beef or kosher chicken.

It doesn't work that way. (It is not written even once in the Torah "whoever touches pure food, becomes pure himself").

Avoiding the eating and touching of forbidden foods is an essential step towards a pure life of holiness.

And thus it is written towards the end of the Parashah following the long list of forbidden foods: " shall therefore sanctify yourselves, for I am Holy; neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing on the earth" (Leviticus 11:44).

Holiness is not a given.
Holiness is a project.
Holiness is a challenge.

Previous Drashot

Shemini 5766 – The Stork's Flaw

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ki Tissa (Parah)

Lechayim! (To Life)

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

In the tractate Yoma, the Gemarah discusses one of the more relevant issues in the Jewish tradition and the question is whether saving a life takes precedence over the Sabbath. A number of sages deal with this issue. One of the approaches is closely connected with our Parashah, Parashat Ki Tissa.

In Parashat Ki Tissa we read the "Ve-Shamru" (Thou shall keep), verses that we all know from the Sabbath prayers. "Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout the generations, for a perpetual covenant." (Exodus 31:16) Rabbi Shimon Ben Menasiah said, "And the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath" – "One may profain one Sabbath in order to observe many Sabbaths". (Yoma 85b)

The Torah commands us to observe the Sabbath and thus we must make sure that more Jews do indeed observe it. Thus, if you see a Jew in mortal danger, you must profain the Sabbath so that in the future, that Jew will be able to observe many Sabbaths.

We are speaking here about an ultimate value that determines the order of precedence in our religious tradition. The sages guarded this principle so carefully that they even decided that "any doubt of mortal danger takes precedence over the Sabbath". (Yoma 83a)

The Gemara says, "Don't make calculations". "Don't request an ultra-sound or a C.T. in order to know if it is permitted to break the Sabbath in order to save a life".

The decision that saving a life takes precedence not only over the Sabbath but over all of the things forbidden in the Torah (with the exception of pagan worship, incest and murder) is one of the most effective barriers against religious fanaticism.

Take the story about Rabbi Haim from Tsanz who fell ill at the start of Passover and the doctors recommended that he not eat Maror (bitter herbs) n the night of the Seder.

Inspite of this, Rabbi Haim demanded that a generous helping of Maror be prepared for him.

And when the time to eat the bitter herbs came, he took them in his hand and said with enthusiasm "Blessed are Thou…who sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to take care of ourselves (Baruch ata…asher kidshanu be-mitzvotav vetzivanu ve-nishmartem meod le-nafshoteichem) and immediately put the Maror back on to the Seder plate.

"You shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments which if a man do he shall live in them, I am the Lord." (Leviticus 18:5). We shall "live in them" and not "die in them" (Yoma 85 a), as Shmuel the Amorai said.

"Be fanatics!" say the sages, but fanatics for life! Only this kind of fanaticism is praiseworthy.

Previous Drashot

Ki Tissa 5766 - Decisions with many consequences

Thursday, February 22, 2007


The Instructor and the Builder

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Parashat Terumah along with the remaining significant chapters of Sefer Shemot is dedicated to the commandment of the building of the Tabernacle.

After reading the Parashah the impression is that Moses built the Mishkan with his own hands. Almost all the commandments are directed at him ("And thou shall make a table of Ocacia" (Exodus 25, 23), "And thou shall make a pure gold Menorah" (25, 31), "And thou shall make the boards for the Mishkan" (26, 16).

But when reaching Parashat Ki Tissa we will see that Moses was not the one who actually built the Mishkan.

"And G-d spoke to Moses saying: Look, I called by his name Bezalel Ben Uri Ben Hur of Yehuda Tribe...and I gave, along with him Oholiav Ben Achisamach of Dan Tribe and I gave wisdom to the clever ones and they shall do all I have instructed you (Exodus 31 2-6).

Why did the Torah mention Moses as the Mishkan builder when we know that other hands did it?

This question appears in Exodus Rabbah on Parashat Trumah (Exodus Rabbah 35, 3):

Did Moses build the Tabernacle? It's written that Bezalel Oholiav and other clever people did it!

Moshe was the one who taught (how to build the Tabernacle) and Bezalel the one who made it. Therefore our Sages said that the reward should go to the person who causes someone to do (good) as well as to person who performs the deed himself. We find that Betzalel built the Tabernacle but the Holy One Blessed be He referred it to Moses' as it is said "God's Tabernacle which Moses made in the desert." (I Chronicles 21:29).

But in this Midrash there is an inner contradiction. If you really have to compensate the instructor in the same way as the builder then the verse in the Midrash does not prove it! On the contrary, it shows that the compensation of the instructor is higher than that of the builder as is says: "God's Tabernacle which Moses made in the desert". It is said "which Moses made" and not "which Moses and Betzalel made"!

This rule appears in the Gemarah in a slightly different version. Rabbi Eleazar says in Babba Batra (9a) "The person who causes someone to do good is greater than the one who performs the deed himself" (Gadol Ha-Measeh Yoter min Ha-Oseh).

One can learn about this rule from the laws of putting on the Tefillin:

Even if it seems that the hand on which the Tefillin is put is the one that fulfilled the Mitzvah, the opposite is correct: The hand that tied is the one who causes the fulfillment of the Mitzvah (Ha-Measeh). The hand that the Tefillin is on, just merited the Mitzvah that was executed by the tying hand!

Gadol Ha-Measeh Yoter min Ha-Oseh...

It is quite possible that Moses did not have the potential to build the Mishkan and the genetics was not at his side when the artistic talents were handed out. But it was he who encouraged the people to give and taught Bezalel the plan. Moshe was the one who suffered sleepless nights until the project was completed.

And even if Bezalel built the Mishkan, Moshe is the one who made it because the person who causes someone to do a good deed is greater than the one who performs the deed himself.

Previous Drashot

Terumah 5766 – Deeds, not Words

Thursday, February 01, 2007


The Horses' Betrayal

by Rabbi Gustavo Suraski

Parashat Beshalach is that of the parting of the Red Sea. I have always asked myself what caused Pharaoh's army to pursue the children of Israel into the divided waters. Didn't they realize that G-d would save his children this time too? They had already witnessed the power of G-d, suffered ten terrible plagues, and still not got the message?!

An interesting and rather nice interpretation appears in the Midrash, according to which the waves of the parted sea appeared to be mares – and Pharaoh's stallions went charging in after them. The Egyptians saw their reaction and remarked to their horses: "Yesterday we wanted to take you to the water to drink but you refused, yet now you are chasing after the water?!!". The stallions replied: "Look what is in the sea! Look at the mares!!" (Shemot Rabbah 23, 14).

What does this midrash teach us? Even if we are aware that stallions tend to chase after mares, it is not my intention to discuss equine fantasies at this point… (nor do I believe that this was the intention of the Midrash).

To me the lesson of the midrash is clear. The strength of the Egyptians lay in their horses. And buried in this strength was also their weakness, and, ultimately, their downfall. This story resembles that of the ram in the story of the attempted sacrifice of Isaac. Its strength was in its horns – its "weapons" – but it was these same horns which ultimately caused it to be trapped in the bushes.

Each feature has both strong and weak elements…

Since the founding of the State, our enemies have taught us that the only way to preserve ourselves is to acquire and manufacture arms and weapons of war. We have become a major military force in the world and Israel's military budget grows from year to year.

This is both important and necessary. There is no other way and we cannot rely on miracles. No one else will defend us if we don't do it ourselves.

But this is only one aspect of reality. It is not only the weapons which will save us as a nation. Not the horses, or the tanks, or the planes. The preservation of our values will also save us, both spiritually and ethically.

"Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit", says the Lord of Hosts" as written by the Prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 4, 6). It is not only our strength which will protect us. For horses, tanks and weapons can also betray us from time to time.

In every characteristic, even military force, there are also weaknesses and vulnerability.

"Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit".

Monday, January 22, 2007


Takers and Givers

by Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

This week’s portion of the Torah talks about the laws of the Passover sacrifice, the lamb that was butchered and eaten at the holiday feast. It is written in the Book of Shemot 12, 4:

"But if the household is too small for a lamb or kid, then he and his neighbor who is near his house shall take according to the number of people”.

This is very interesting. The Torah requests that a family with leftover meat MUST knock at his neighbor’s door and offer it to him. The Torah could have said that the poor man that didn’t have enough money to buy food for the holiday should knock at his neighbor’s door requesting food…

The Torah is the foundation of western cultures and most of the important Justice systems in the world. Even the fundaments of the human rights are found in the Torah…

If we look carefully into the torah, the word “right”, “rights” or “privileges” do not appear often. The Torah isn’t full of “rights” but full of “obligations”.

Obligations of children towards their parents, obligations of kings towards their people, obligations of the people towards the less fortunate, obligations towards strangers, orphans and widows, obligations towards G-D.

Why a beautiful word such as “Right” or “Privilege” doesn’t appear? If it is all the same…

If The Torah is after Social Justice, why not say for instance “I have the RIGHT to ask for and receive support from my fellow people”, instead of “It is my OBLIGATION to take care of and support the needy of my people?”. It is simple, If the Torah spoke of rights instead of obligations, it would “create” a TAKER mankind and not a GIVER one.

The Torah could have said that this Jew has the RIGHT to receive from his rich neighbor his remains from the Passover sacrifice. But the Torah says it is our OBLIGATION to give what is left over… And this is a totally different story.

We can learn this lesson from Abraham Avinu.. Our Sages tell us that Abraham sat at the heat of the day at the opening of his tent, waiting to see who passes by in order to invite them in (Baba Metzia 86b).

Why should he feel sorry? Why should he have to “create” needy and poor where none exist…

Rabbi Yerachmiel Barylka says something nice:

We can prove from Abraham’s behavior that the purpose of this Mitzvah is not only for the benefit of the RECEIVER but also and maybe more so for the GIVER…

The giver benefits more than the receiver as the mitzvah of Tzedakah clean, purifies and improves the spiritual strength of the GIVER.

This was Abraham’s sorrow. Not only was he good hearted towards the needy. But was sad because he didn’t have enough opportunities to improve the feeling in his soul.

We clearly see to which camp Abraham belongs. The same camp the Torah expects us all to belong to: The Camp of the GIVERS.

There is an old tale of a man who was drowning at sea. The lifeguard swam his fastest and reached him within minutes and yelled out “Give me your hand”. The man didn’t respond to the lifeguard’s call and kept yelling “Help, help!!”. Once again the lifeguard called out “Give me your hand, give me your hand”. Once again there was no response and the man finally drowned.

The lifeguard swam back to shore where he met the man’s wife who while crying asked: “Why didn’t you save him?”. “Madam”, he said, “I beg your forgivness, but I yelled out to him to: Give me your hand, Give me your hand, but he didn’t respond”.

“What a shame you didn’t talk to me first”, she said. “You should have said “take my hand and not give me yours as my husband never gave anyone any thing in his
There are many “camps” in the Israeli society either Religious or Secular, Ashkenazis or Sephardies, Left wing or right Settlers, Veterans or Olim Chadashim. But the differences between these groups are irrelevant when we are talking about the future of the state of Israel.
There are only two camps we should consider. The GIVERS and the TAKERS. The Camp of students of Abraham our father, and the camp of people who will not give even to save themselves from drowning.

Previous Drashot

Bo 5766 - With our Young and with our Old