Friday, June 17, 2011

The First Mitzvah of the Torah

The first Mitzvah of the Torah and the first blessing given by God to Adam and Eve, is the commandment to (marry and) have children. Bereshit 1: 28 says: "And God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and God said to them, reproduce and multiply".

The Rabbis of the Mishna, discussed the Mitvza of having children is considered fulfilled.

Bet-Shamai said that the Mitzvah is fulfilled by having at least two boys: same as Adam and Eve, who at the beginning brought two boys to the world: Cain and Abel.

Bet-Hillel, however, says that the Mitzvah is not considered fulfilled until one has at least a boy and a girl. Because this is how God created human civilization: with one man and one woman. The matter was settled like Bet-Hillel.

There is an additional reason for this opinion: if you read carefully the words of the Torah, a husband and a wife must first "reproduce" themselves, in other words, have a replica of themselves (a man and a woman) leaving in this world the same number and kind of lives that one day will be taken away.

One more thing: although the Mitzvah is fulfilled by having one boy and one girl, the rabbis explained that it is a great merit to have as many children as one can. They deduced this guidance from the second word of God's commandment: "reproduce and multiply"."Reproduce" means bringing to the world a replica of yourselves. "Multiply" means "bring into this world more souls than yourselves".

Of course, this Mitzvah does not depend exclusively on our good will: its uniqueness consists that to fulfill this Mitzvah the spouses need to be granted God's blessing, as the Pasuk says: the blessing of having children.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

THE JEWISH WEDDING: The Seven Days of Celebration

The week following the wedding is a period dedicated to celebration and marked by specific Laws and customs. These seven days (shib'at yeme hamishte) are meant to making the newlywed couple happy.

The bride and the groom refrain from performing labor during the week following their wedding. This is not the same prohibition as Shabbat or festive days (Yom tob). Rather the couple should avoid activities that will distract them from rejoicing. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions where the couple would be allowed to perform certain works (a time-sensitive business, a public service, etc).

During these days they should wear festive clothing and hold festive meals. It is a very old custom for relatives and friends to prepare the meals for the couple and host them in different locations. In the times of the Talmud the families and friends of the bride and groom would come to celebrate at the new couple's home (bet chatanim).

The couple is not formally obligated to make from every meal during this week a festive celebration, they are permitted to eat normal, quiet meals as well. Indeed, there is no obligation to hold even one festive meal per day. But when the couple attends a meal which satisfies certain conditions (as we will explain later on) then the Sheba' Berakhot (the seven blessing of the bride and groom) should be recited at the end of Bircat haMazon (Grace after a meal).

(From: "The marriage covenant" by Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl)

Click HERE to watch:

"Inoculations. Love comes in many guises" an inspiring short film by Charlie Harary.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rabbi Isaac Abohab De Fonseca (1605-1693)

Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (February 1, 1605 - April 4, 1693) was a rabbi, scholar, Kabbalist and writer. In 1656, he was one of several elders within the Spanish-Portuguese community in the Netherlands who excommunicated Baruch Spinoza for the statements this philosopher made concerning God.
Isaac Aboab da Fonseca was born in Portugal. His parents were Marranos Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. When Isaac was seven, the family moved to Amsterdam. From that moment on, the family "reconverted" back to Judaism.

At the age of eighteen, the prodigious Isaac was appointed rabbi (chacham) for Beth Israel, one of three Sephardic communities which existed at that point in Amsterdam.

In 1642, Aboab da Fonseca was appointed rabbi at Tzur Israel congregation, in the Dutch colony of Pernambuco (Recife), Brazil. Most of the white inhabitants of Recife were Sephardic Jews from Portugal who had been banned by the Portuguese Inquisition. In 1624, Recife was occupied by the Dutch. When installed as the rabbi of that community, Aboab da Fonseca became the first appointed rabbi of the Americas. The community had a synagogue, a Mikveh and a Yeshiba as well. However, during the time he was rabbi in Pernambuco, the Portuguese re-occupied the place again in 1654, after a struggle of nine years. Aboab da Fonseca managed to return to Amsterdam after the occupation of the Portuguese. Members of his community immigrated to North America and were among the founders of New York City.

Back in Amsterdam, Aboab da Fonseca was appointed chief rabbi for the Sephardic community. During his term, the community flourished. On April 4, 1693, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca died at the age of eighty-eight in Amsterdam.


A short Holocaust film, Grand Prize Winner of the Philips "Tell It Your Way" competition.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The 18th Berakha: MODIM ANACHNU LAKH (Part 2)

Today is 12 of Sivan 5771

Modim (=Gratitude) is the longest blessing of the Amida and the second in importance, after Magen Abraham (First berakha). It starts with the words Modim Anachnu Lakh (We thank You...) and ends with "...haTob Shimkha ulkha na-e lehodot". "You, God, are known as The Good [One], and to You we should convey our gratitude".

We have previously explained the first part of this blessing (see HERE). Now let's explore what is considered the be the core of this berakha.

"We shall thank You and recite Your praises -

For our lives which are entrusted in Your hands,

and our souls which are deposited with You,

and for Your miracles which are every day with us,

and for your wonders and goodness at every time,

evening, morning, and afternoon".

This text consist in our existential realization. In other words, in regaining consciousness that we are alive solely by the will of haShem.

One of the main barriers which prevent our spiritual growth is taking everything for granted. Beginning with the very fact that we are alive. We must appreciate the privilege of being alive, and the multitude of miracles that need to happen to warrant our existence.

Right now, we are not enumerating the miracles that God performed to our forefathers in Egypt or in the past, rather, we are focusing on the daily miracles and gifts which God constantly grants us individually: our lives, our health, our food.

This blessing opens our eyes to appreciate. Appreciation is the prerequisite for gratitude, in Hebrew "Hoda-a", which is the name of this berakha.

Click HERE to read: "SKELETON KEY, Gratitude opens every door" By Sara Yoheved Rigler

Monday, June 13, 2011

BERIT MILA: Sephardic Customs and traditions

There are many traditions and customs practiced in our community and in most Sephardic communities at the time of the Berit Milah.

Among them:

The father of the baby and the Sandak (the person honored to hold the baby as, the Mohel performs the circumcision), both wear a Talit for the ceremony.

After the Berit, all guests are welcome to come to the Sandak and receive a personal blessing from him. The Sandak should prepare himself for this special moment, bearing the merit and responsibly involved in blessing properly each individual.

The family of the baby brings red apples and distributes them among the male guests, after the Berit.
Some families in our community have the custom to do the Berit Itzchak, the night before the Berit Mila. This ceremony takes place after Arbit. In preparation for the Berit Mila the attendees read some texts from the Torah, the Talmud and excerpts from the Zohar. These texts refer to the importance of the Berit Milah, beginning of course, with Abraham Abinu. At the end of the ceremony, the attendees bless the baby and wish him and his family HaShem's blessings.

In some Ashkenazi communities, the night before the circumcision, young children come to the home of the newborn baby and recite Torah verses. This ceremony is called vacht nacht in Yiddish, "night of watching.

The morning of the Berit, the father should make every effort to attend services (Shacharit) before the Berit.

Our community custom is that, when somebody in the community has a Berit Mila, even if he himself is not present there, we skip the recitation of ANA (Viduy-confession) in all of the community Minyanim (for Shacharit only!).