Sharing Torah Insights

What’s your goal on Seder night?

What are we actually trying to do on Seder night? What is the goal of the Haggadah and the seder in general?

You can say “to teach my kids about leaving Egypt”, but what about people who don’t have kids? Or their kids fall asleep? And even if you have kids, it should be transformational for the parents as well! In fact, the Haggadah goes out of its way to say that this is an experience incumbent on everyone, even a Talmid Chacham having Seder alone.

One of the main principles of the seder is מתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח – start with disgrace and end with praise. There’s a debate about what exact point of גנות we want to start with, but the main structure of the Haggadah is built around this.

As we look through the structure of the seder, we start by revisiting how bad things were in Egypt. In order to appreciate how good we have it, we have to first realize how bad it could be.

We then start counting all the good things that God did for us during the Exodus, and start looking for opportunities to find even more things to appreciate. (There were 10 plagues and 50 at the sea. No – there were 40 plagues and 200 at the sea. No – 50 and 250!)

And then comes Dayeinu, showing that we know how to say thanks for all the steps along the way. It’s important to appreciate all the good things, even if we haven’t attained the ultimate goal yet.

LefichachThe next step is to personalize it. It’s not just something that happened in the past, but something that each of us has to appreciate in our own lives. And when Maggid reaches its peak, we end off with לפיכך אנחנו חייבים להודות – therefore, we are obligated to say thanks.

I suggest that the entire point of the Seder is to teach us gratitude.

The seder teaches us how to find things to be grateful for, how to look for additional opportunities to say thanks, and how (through Hallel and Shulchan Orech – singing, rejoicing and feasting with friends) to say thanks. And all this even though we haven’t yet achieved everything we want.

This is why we end with לשנה הבאה בירושלים – Next year in Jerusalem. We learn that saying thank you doesn’t have to mean being content with what you have. But you don’t have to wait to be content until you say thank you either.

And if the whole point of the Haggadah is to know how to say thanks, this might explain why the text of the hagaddah comes from Devarim and not Shemot. We take the text from the section of Bikkurim – a mitzvah whose focus is on saying Thank You for things we have now, and remembering to also say Thank You for everything it took to get us here.

May we all merit to internalize our own gratitude and instill thankfulness it in our children.

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You Matter


In Parshat Bamidbar, we see that Moshe counted each of the people in Bnei Yisrael “בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת” – by their names. Our rabbi in shul touched on the idea that in this counting each person needed to feel as if they personally mattered.

This made me think about a new understanding of the mishna in Pirkei Avot (4:1):

בן זומא אומר:איזהו חכם? הלומד מכל אדם… איזהו גבור? הכובש את יצרו… איזהו עשיר? השמח בחלקו… איזהו מכֻבד? המכבד את הבריות…

Ben Zoma says: Who is the wise one? He who learns from all men… Who is the mighty one? He who conquers his desires… Who is the rich one? He who is happy with his lot… Who is honored? He who honors the created beings..

Who is wise?

He who realizes there is something he can learn from everyone. Everyone has their own unique perspective and experience we can learn from.

Who is mighty?

When someone learns from someone else, they might then think “I wish I was like so-and-so. They are so this and so that. I wish I was them.” The mighty is the one who conquers this jealousy and realizes that man’s ideal is to be himself.

Who is wealthy?

When someone fully accomplishes conquering the desire to be someone else, and becomes happy with who they personally are – this is obtaining the greatest riches.

Who is honored?

When someone feels fully actualized, it’s easy to look down on others who aren’t as good/smart/friendly/rich/etc.. The honored person is the one who realizes that everyone else is also being their best self, and is able to honor others for being themselves.

The story is told of Zusha, the great Chassidic master, who lay crying on his deathbed. His students asked him, “Rebbe, why are you so sad? After all the mitzvahs and good deeds you have done, you will surely get a great reward in heaven!”

“I’m afraid!” said Zusha. “Because when I get to heaven, I know God’s not going to ask me ‘Why weren’t you more like Moses?’ or ‘Why weren’t you more like King David?’ But I’m afraid that God will ask ‘Zusha, why weren’t you more like Zusha?’ And then what will I say?!”

(Story copied from

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Who supports whom?

soldierHareidi In parshat v’Zot HaBeracha, Moshe Rabbeinu blesses each of the Shevatim of the Jewish people (except Shimon). Each tribe gets, their own blessing, but for some reason, the blessings of the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun are bundled up together into one bracha.

וְלִזְבוּלֻן אָמַר, שְׂמַח זְבוּלֻן בְּצֵאתֶךָ; וְיִשָּׂשכָר, בְּאֹהָלֶיךָ

And of Zevulun he said: Rejoice, Zevulun, in your going out, and, Yissachar, in your tents. – Devarim 33:18

Rashi, as well as most of the commentators, presents the well-known symbiotic relationship between Yissachar and Zevulun. Yissachar and Zevulun made a partnership, whereby the tribe of Yissachar would spend all of its time learning, and Zevulun would go out and engage in commerce, in order to provide for themselves as well as to support the tribe of Yissachar. This support was so fundamental, that Zevulun was mentioned first in the Bracha, even though Yissachar is the older of the two.

(Rabbeinu Bachaya brings a nice side point, that usually people don’t rejoice so much when they start their business, but are more joyful when they return, having succeeded at making the money they had set out to make. Yet the Bracha here says that Zevulun are rejoicing in their “going out”. He answers by saying that since Zevulun were going out on a holy mission, to provide food not just for themselves but also for Yissachar, they were certain even from the very beginning that they would be successful, and rejoiced even then.)

The Netziv in HaEmek Davar, brings a radically different, and yet very similar answer to the question of why the brachot are bundled together. He says that usually, the term “בְּצֵאתֶךָ”, “going out”, refers to going out to war. We see in many places (for example Parshat Matot with the war with Midian), that whenever the Jewish people would go to war they would appoint soldiers to fight and an equivalent number of people to pray and learn for the welfare and success of those soldiers. The Daveners would go out to the military encampment near the soldiers, and provide the spiritual support that the soldiers needed in order to win the battle.

The Netziv says that Zevulun were the warriors, not the businessmen Rashi explained above, and Yissachar were their spiritual support. This is why it says “וְיִשָּׂשכָר, בְּאֹהָלֶיךָ”, “and, Yissachar, in your tents.” Yissachar was not sitting in the comfort of their homes while learning. When Zevulun went to war, Yissachar accompanied them, going to the battlefield to provide the religious support that their symbiotic partners needed, through prayer and learning.

May we reach a point soon where we are all able to care for and provide the spiritual and physical needs of each other, and may it not be necessary to do so through the framework of war.

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humilityIn Parshat Behaalotcha we encounter the story of Miriam and Aharon, Moshe’s siblings, speaking Lashon Hara about him. They find out that Moshe is no longer able to be intimate with his wife because of his need to be constantly ready to receive prophecy, and they question whether this is correct, because they too are prophets and don’t have the same restrictions.

In the middle of this whole episode, there is a very strange verse. After presenting Miriam and Aharon’s claim against Moshe, and before presenting the answer from God that Moshe’s prophecy is fundamentally different from theirs, the Torah says:

 וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה, עָנָו מְאֹד–מִכֹּל, הָאָדָם, אֲשֶׁר, עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. בְּמִדְבַּר 12:3

And the man Moses was very humble — more than every man upon the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3

What does Moshe’s humility have to do with anything in this story?

Different commentators answer this question in different ways. Some say that Moshe was so humble that he wouldn’t defend himself, and God Himself had to come to his defense. Others say that Moshe, in his humility, would have never considered his level of prophecy to be superior to anyone else’s.

I would like to suggest a different approach.

Moshe was a prophet entirely unparalleled in history. He received prophecy while he was awake and spoke to Hashem “face to face,” while all other prophets received prophecy asleep, through dreams and riddles.

And yet, Miriam and Aharon, Moshe’s own siblings, had no idea! They assumed he was a prophet just like them and as such, should have behaved differently towards his wife.

Moshe’s humility was not that he thought he was a lowly nothing, and not that he didn’t know how to stand up for principles he believed in. On the contrary. He knew exactly who he was and what his connection to God was. And he was never afraid to take a stand for what he knew was right.

Moshe’s humility was that he did all of this without acting in a way that anyone else – not even his siblings – could tell quite how special and different he really was.

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Why We Drink

In Parshat Shemini, after Nadav and Avihu are killed, Aharon is instructed by Hashem not to drink wine when serving in the Beit HaMikdash. Some commentators even say that Nadav and Avihu’s sin was that they were inebriated while bringing their sacrifice.

When that commandment is given to Aharon, a reason is also provided:

.וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר . יַיִן וְשֵׁכָר אַל-תֵּשְׁתְּ אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ, בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד–וְלֹא תָמֻתוּ: חֻקַּת עוֹלָם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם .וּלְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַקֹּדֶשׁ וּבֵין הַחֹל, וּבֵין הַטָּמֵא, וּבֵין הַטָּהוֹר .וּלְהוֹרֹת, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–אֵת, כָּל-הַחֻקִּים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אֲלֵיהֶם, בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה

And HaShem spoke to Aaron, saying: ‘Drink no wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, so you don’t die; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. [In order] that you may distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which HaShem told them through the hand of Moshe.’

In other words, the reason why Kohanim are prohibited to drink wine before serving in the Beit HaMikdash is because the wine will impair their ability to distinguish between pure and impure and between holy and mundane.

However, this is very strange because almost every time we use wine in Judaism is in order to make a distinction. We use wine to sanctify Shabbat and Yom Tov and to make Havdalah as we separate from Shabbat back into the week ahead. We have wine at a Brit Mila and at a wedding, both events that fundamentally change the status of a person.

If wine is something that impairs our ability to make distinctions, then why do we use wine to distinguish things?

I think that the answer can be understood from Purim. On Purim, we drink “עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי – until one can’t distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”. This doesn’t mean that we simply get smashed. It means that we have to drink until we realize that there really isn’t a difference between Haman and Mordechai. At the end of the day, they were both playing the roles that Hashem gave them. As Mordechai told Esther:

אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת–רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר

If you stay silent at this time, salvation will come to the Jews from another place.

Haman and Mordechai both had the free will to choose if they were going to be the individual to play the role, but if it hadn’t been Haman, it would have been someone else. And if it hadn’t been Mordechai and Esther, Hashem would have saved the Jews through a different means.

So how does this answer the original question?

Generally, when keeping Halacha, and in particular with the Avodah in the Beit Hamikdash, we have to be very careful to do things just right. Losing our discretion can be the difference between doing something right and doing something grievously wrong.

When we make Kiddish, we make the distinction between Shabbat and the week that preceded it. But then we drink, reminding ourselves that really the distinction isn’t as great as we think. Friday is fundamentally different from Shabbat, but Friday is also a holy day meant to be used in service of Hashem. And when we make Havdalah, we remind ourselves that Sunday and the rest of the week are also days to grow spiritually. When we do a Brit Mila, we celebrate the fact that we are the chosen people, and remember that all people are created in the image of Hashem. And when we get married, we look forward to the life we are going to build together, and remember that someone who is single is also capable of great things.

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What if Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Life first?

In this past week’s parsha, Bereishit, we read about Adam and Chava’s sin in eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. After listing the punishments of Adam, Chava and the snake, the Torah portion describes their expulsion from the Garden of Eden:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ, לָדַעַת, טוֹב וָרָע; וְעַתָּה פֶּן-יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ, וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים, וְאָכַל, וָחַי לְעֹלָם

And the LORD God said: ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat, and live for ever.’ (Gen 3:22)

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden was not a punishment; it was just a preventative measure to make sure Adam and Chava didn’t also eat from the Tree of Life.

But what if they had eaten from the Tree of Life before eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Before eating from the Eitz HaDaat, eating from the Eitz HaChaim was permitted!

The Or HaChaim answers this question by saying that HaShem didn’t need to prevent Adam and Chava from eating from the Eitz HaChaim. Firstly, before eating from the Tree of Knowledge, they had no desire for the eternal physical life the Tree of Life would have provided. Secondly, HaShem realized that if He had forbidden consumption from both the Eitz HaDaat and the Eitz HaChaim, the snake would likely have convinced Adam and Chava to eat from both trees. By only forbidding the Tree of Knowledge, HaShem ensured that they wouldn’t end up tempted to eat from both.

The Radak gives a different answer. He says that the Tree of Life does not grant immediate immortality. Rather, whenever one eats from the tree, it makes them live a little longer. So continually eating from the Tree of Life would extend their lives indefinitely. Since the punishment from eating from the Tree of Knowledge was death, Adam and Chava had to be kicked out of the garden to prevent them from continually eating from the Tree of Life and avoiding the punishment. However, before they sinned, there was no problem with them eating from the Tree of Life and slightly extending their lives.

I would like to suggest two more answers.

Whenever we read from the Torah, we say:

עֵץ חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר

It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and those who draw near it are fortunate. (Prov. 3:18)

The Tree of Life is not a regular tree – it is the Torah. If Adam and Chava had first “eaten” from the Tree of Life, and fully internalized all of the Torah’s messages, it would have been impossible for them to sin.

Perhaps we could even say that had Adam and Chava first “eaten” from the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil wouldn’t have been forbidden at all. If they had first internalized the messages of the Torah, and then eaten from the Eitz HaDaat, they would have understood the differences between good and evil through the lens of the Torah. After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, however, they would have instead learned the Torah through their own understanding of good and bad, which could end up in a corruption of the ultimate truth the Torah contains. This is why Adam and Chava had to leave the Garden of Eden after eating from the Eitz HaDaat.

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Trumah- Giving and Taking

“And take for me Truma”

The parsha opens by God asking the Jewish People to donate materials for the building of the Mishkan. It occured to me that unlike modern day projects which often is funded by grants or a single donor or perhaps the government, the Mishkan was actually donated (mostly) by the Jewish People. The corally might or should be that a building donated entirely by fellow Jews evokes a more visceral meaning for visitors than a sanctuary built by an outside source.

The language of the pasuk is famously questioned as it seemingly would make more sense to say- “give me a Truma”.

Rav Leib Chasman in Ohr Yahel gives a parable to answer this question. An infant often refuses to eat what his or her mother wants it to. Eventually, though, the child gives in and opens its mouth for the food. The child might think that it has done a wonderful service for the mother, as she is now finally relieved. However, in actuality the child is one who is recieveing nourishment it needs.

The same is true in our relationship with God. I have often pondered what it means to be called an “eved Hashem, a servant of God”. Does God require our services?

Rather, as the Mesilas Yesharim famously posits, God, as a Giver, created us as a gift of kindness. Life is an opportunity for us to emulate and attain closeness to God by performing mitzvos and studying the Torah. Therefore, we are really taking

Practically, this can relate to being a guest in some one’s home. Unless things are extremely hectic, the host is very glad to have the guest and wants to service him or her. The host might feel that they are being a burden by asking for things, but in reality the host feels a great sense of pride and accomplishment when they can help out their guest. To avoid asking for what one needs would perhaps irritate the host as the host may then feel inadequate to fulfill the guests’s needs.

So sometimes we should be takers, which in a sense may be giving to the host. The flip side is also true, at times. When we give to others, we are really taking a sense of accomplishment from the situation.

This is the meaning of the pasuk. By giving a donation ‘to God’ and our fellow Jews, we really take the experience of that Mitzva, the reward of the Mitzva and the opportunity of being part of something greater.

Have a great Shabbos,


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Mishpatim- An Eye for an Eye

“An Eye for an eye…”

Rashi explains that if one impales another person’s eye, one must pay that person the worth of his eye. [The worth one must pay depends on the worth of the injured person (with his eye) if he were sold in the marketplace.]

So why does the Torah employ the literal phraseology of “an eye for an eye” when it could have said “And you shall pay him (the worth of the eye)” -?

The Chazon Ish explains that the point of the Torah’s punishments lie not always in their actual form but rather in its message. The Gemara says that a “murderous court” is one that puts someone to death every 7 years, or alternatively, every 70 years. With all the laws discussed in the Gemara about the 4 types of capital punishment, one would think that a court would employ them regularly. However, in actuality there are several stipulations for putting someone to death making it highly unlikely that it should happen often. The message of the Torah though still remains- the severity of killing someone else and the subsequent possible punishments for doing so should dissuade the would be murderer from carrying forth his crime.

So too here, the Torah wants to show that really this person that impaled another should have to give up his own eye. That is how serious his crime was.

The Rav explained similarly but added a point. He said that if the Torah said “money for the eye” or the “worth of an eye” it would have diminished the true worth of an eye. An eye is not something that can be monetarily replaced- it is not truly worth $500 or $2000, etc- a notion that one might have took from the phrasing of “money for an eye”.. Therefore it writes that one person’s eye can really only be valued at the worth of his fellow man’s eye.

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Yisro- To Warn the Parents About the Children

Decided to explore a Halachik topic from the Parsha this week…From the Sefer KMotze Shalal Rav

Do not do Melacha/”work” (on Shabbos) : You, your son, your daughter, etc.

Rashi comments: The simple explination is that this verse refers to minors being warned not to do work on Shabbos. Or [you might claim that it refers] only to adults-!? You must admit that they (the adults) have already been commanded. Thus this [command] comes only to warn adults regarding the Shabbos rest of the minors. This is the implication of that which we learned: A minor who offers to extinguish a fire is not to be listened to (i.e., we do not allow it) because [the responsibility for] his Shabbos rest is upon you.

Asks Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, why do we need a special pasuk by Shabbos to tell us that parents should not allow their children to do work? The Gemara in Yevamos (114) already quotes a teaching that the pasuk: “Do not eat bugs”- refers to not feeding children bugs (either). If that teaching can be generalized to all cases of warning the parents to disallow their children to sin (to the best of their ability) which it seemingly is, then why do we need a separate pasuk here by Shabbos?

[The basic assumption of the question (based on the Gemara) is that by bugs the prohibition is to be generalized, but by shabbos it is simply a specific one.]

One answer from the Imrei Bina is that by Shabbos we have the concept of “Meleches Mashsheves Assra Torah”- The Torah only prohibited acts on shabbos which are contemplative [meaning having in mind to actually do the sin as opposed havig in mind to do something else, but the sin still happening to occur- a basic understanding of very large sugya as everyone knows] as opposed to acts done unknowingly. Halachically, a minor does not have “knowledge”, as opposed to adults. Therefore, had the Torah not specified that even by Shabbos, a minor will be held responsible for a Melchaa that he does if the parent does nothing to stop it- we would not have known from the pasuk by the bugs that this is so. This is because the case of the bugs one is held responsible even for non-contemplative acts.

Rav Chaim Ozer disagrees with the premise of the Imrei Bina and states that Halachikcally a minor does accomplish contemplative acts. [Many Mishnayos tell us that a child is not considered a “Bar Daas” – e.g. if a child reads the Megila for the shul, no one has fulfilled their obligation, because presumably a child cannot be considered able to keep other people in mind. This might have to do with the “theory of mind” concept I am learning about in my Experimental Psychology, but I digress. So it seems that Rav Chaim Ozer and the Imrei Bina are disagreeing about whether a child has he capability for “Meleches Machsheves” which is unrelated to this concept of Katan Lav Bar Daas-?]

Rav Chaim Ozer gives an alternative answer. By the case of eating the bug and the generalizable concept of this, the father is prohibited from feeding his son a bug, but perhaps if the child took the bug and ate it (and the father was not around or the child was not made aware of the fact that eating a bug is prohibitive) the father (and of course son) is not liable. However, by Shabbos there is a concept laid forth by the pesukimof Shivas Avdo. We cannot let our servants do a Melcha if we . Therefore by Shabbos, we need a specific pasuk to tell us that even if a child does a Melcha on his own (without the father telling him to do so) but with the “daas of his parents” then the parents are liable.

[The big question is what does Rav Chaim Ozer mean by “Daas of the father”/ with the father’s knowledge- the father has to warn his children beforehand about all the possible infractions of shabbos or does this simply mean the father did not step in when he saw his little son or daughter was doing melecha on shabbos– ?

Good shabbos from the Upper West Side of Manhattan (thanks to my wife for encouraging us and arranging for us to forage out of the Heights)


(I used parents and father interchangeably- I believe there is a sugya about a mother’s involvement on the chinuch of the children beyond the scope here)

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Va’era- Separate, but Equal

There is much written regarding the Four references to Redemption used by God in our Parsha- And I will take you out, And I will save you, I will redeem you, and I will take you as a nation. There is also a fifth reference to God bringing us to the Land of Israel.

I do not understand the order of the first two references: “I will take you out from their burden” and then: “I will save you from their service”. Aren’t they very similar?

The Yerushalmi in Pesachim as explained by the commentators tells us that Seder night we drink 4 cups of wine corresponding to these 4 references to redemption.

Why wine? Why not some other drink or some other food?

There are many possible answers. The Meshech Chachma explains that wine not only symbolizes comfort and freedom, but to the Jewish People in particular, wine symbolizes our separation somewhat from the other nations. Wine, in particular, carries with it strict laws in terms of who prepares the wine. Wine made by a non-Jew is rendered non-kosher. A rationale is that wine is a drink that usually accompanies parties, social events. The Rabbis were worried that wining and dining with non Jews could lead to intermarriage as well as possible abandonment of our faith. Symbolically, having certain items serve to keep Jews too themselves allows for closer, unadulterated relationship with God. (I defer to the Rabbis among us for clarification, but I believe that while we are not allowed to eat cooked sole by a non-Jew, once a Jew takes a minimal part in the cooking process, a non-Jew can do the rest and the food is kosher. I am not sure if the same arrangement can be made with regard to wine.)

Achashverush in the Purim story knew this and therefore the Gemara explains that he made strictly kosher wine available to the Jews so that they would join their fellow countrymen in the celebrations. Ironically, it seems the Jews inculcated only the letter of the Law in terms of kosher wine, but not the spirit of the Law, the reason that it was instituted in the first place.

And so we raise our glasses Seder night and proclaim “And this has stood by our ancestors as well as us….”. There are many explanations for what “And this” refers to. The Meshech Chachma offers that we are proclaiming that the wine which we hold- kosher and separate from non-Jews- is what kept us afloat in the tumultuous ‘waters of Egypt”. Indeed, this is echoed in the teaching that what kept Jews standing was that Jews kept their names, language, and modes of dress in Egypt.

Robert Frost wrote: “The best things and best people rise out of their separateness; I’m against a homogenized society because I want the cream to rise.” When no one can focus on studying and living their own particular beliefs and faiths, then greatness eludes us.

This should not be misconstrued as bigotry, rather an expression of Judaism’s wish to keep certain things private. Just as spouses and famalies keep certain things under wraps, so too in our relationship with God, we should also keep things private and ‘holy’. Of course, in most other aspects we are adjured to show all of mankind the utmost respect.

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