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Congregation Brothers of Israel

L'dor Vador—From Generation to Generation since 1883
לדור ודור


Chaired by Dr. Ellier Russ with Rabbi Gaber. This committee coordinates programs and classes to engage members in lifelong learning. Events include our yearly Scholar in Residence program, Talmud Study, and more. Guest speakers, online webinars and Shabbat morning discussions additionally provide congregants with opportunities to expand their knowledge of Judaism and living a Jewish life.


 In fulfilling the following commandments one enjoys the yield in this world while the principal remains for all eternity honoring father and mother, performing deeds of loving kindness, punctually attending the house of study morning and evening, showing hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick, helping the needy bride, attending dead, praying .with devotion, and making peace between individuals. And the merit of Torah study is equal to all of these. Talmud Shabbat in 12e





June 3, 2023    10 Sivan 5783
Torah (Outside Israel):  Numbers 4:21-7:89
Trienniel: Numbers 4:21-5:10   Haftorah: Judges 13:2-25
Torah (Israel): Numbers 8:1-12:16 Haftorah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7


D'var Torah:  What's Yours Is Mine


Bex Stern-Rosenblatt

For a people wandering through the wilderness, we have quite the assortment of stuff. There are a lot of us and each of us has brought along all sorts of goodies. Much as the Book of Numbers began with an attempt to organize us, to count and sort the people, our parashah ends with an attempt to catalog and redistribute the luggage we have been dragging with us. 

As we’ve already heard, the Levites are responsible for carrying the Tabernacle and the objects within it. But it isn’t until the end of our parashah that they are given the means to do this. Each of the twelve tribes gathers up its goodies and brings them as an offering before God, placing them in front of the Tabernacle. But before we hear of what the goodies brought were, we hear of how they were brought. The tribes used wagons and oxen to transport their goods. Immediately, God has Moses take these means of transport and give them to the Levites, according to the Levites' need to carry the Tabernacle.  

A wagon is such a big investment that these wagons will be repurposed in order to carry the Tabernacle. These wagons have likely come all the way from Egypt. After all, the only place we have seen wagons before in the Torah is when Pharaoh has Joseph send wagons to fetch his father, Jacob, and bring him down into Egypt. It is the sight of these wagons that will revive the spirit of Jacob, finally convincing him that Joseph is alive and well. In a beautiful reversal, just as wagons once carried the twelve sons of Israel down into Egypt, now the twelve tribes of Israel donate their wagons to carry God out of Egypt. 

The Levites need a total of six wagons in order to fulfill their role as carriers of the Tabernacle. Accordingly, when the twelve tribes come to donate their goods, only six wagons are used. This means that the tribes shared wagons, that there was one wagon for every two tribes. This ability to share is remarkable. There is no report of squabbling over ownership of wagons or disagreement over which tribe is contributing what. In fact, even though we are told that two tribes shared each wagon, we are not told about the groupings. We do not know what tribes went together. Moreover, the entire event (likely) took twelve days with a different tribe presenting each subsequent day. It is nice to imagine that the tribes who shared wagons were present, celebrating their fellow tribe on the day of their presentation. As commentator Sforno notes, there is something brotherly here. There is an exceptional ability to trust, an ability to share resources and believe in the fundamental goodness of the other party. We’ve come a long way from the pettiness of Joseph’s brothers, conspiring to kill him over a pretty coat. It is appropriate that, on the occasion of the dedication of the altar, we are united, finally acting as family.

D'Var Haftorah:  Tailoring A Message


Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Even among the many miraculous births in the Bible, the birth of Samson stands out.  Not only was he born to a mother who could not give birth, his birth was preceded by a clear message by an angel. There is no mistaking the wonder of his birth. 

Samson stands out among the leaders in the book of Judges as the only one that we meet even before conception.  His barren mother receives a visit from an angel with a message: 

“Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, and not to eat anything impure.  For you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:3-5)

The (nameless) woman told her husband Manoach all about it. Almost. The biblical narrator could limit the retelling to a brief “she told him all that transpired”. However, the author of Judges shares her retelling, an indication to the reader to find the differences.  A careful review of her account highlights that she omits three things and adds one: She does not mention the opening statement “you are barren”, nor the prohibition to cut the child’s hair, and she does not share the purpose of all this: “he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” 

The omissions are undoubtedly intentional. The deletion of any mention of her barrenness could be understandable. Who likes to discuss what truly hurts? The promise she received that it will be fixed has not happened yet. The discussion of the child’s haircuts seems trivial before the child has even been conceived, it could wait until later. The difficult one to explain is her withholding from her husband the role this child will play in the nation’s history.

The wife of Manoach (as she is known) adjusts the message to her husband’s ability and willingness to comprehend. He cannot fathom that an angel would speak to his wife, so she transforms the angel to “a man of God” when talking to Manoach. If we have any doubts about her own comprehension, the angel confirms her solid grip on the situation when he returns again at Manoach’s request to tell them what to do: “Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful.” (v.13). Accepting that his child would carry a national role could be beyond what Manoach is able to internalize. His wife trims the message to a content that Manoach could cope with.

There is one addition that Manoach’s wife adds: the child will be a nazirite “to the day of his death” (v.7). It seems to merely put a logical terminating point to his involuntary nazirite vow, but even the wise wife of Manoach does not understand all that she says. Her words become a foreshadowing of events to come (in Judges 16.)


Herod and Hands: Hiding and Revealing God's Glory

Joshua Kulp
The Halakhah in the Parashah

The Temple in Jerusalem, at least as it was built by Herod in the first century C.E., was a spectacular site; today even its ruins are a feast for the eyes. Hazal say (Bava Batra 4a): “One who has not seen Herod’s building has never seen a beautiful building in his life. With what did he build it? Rabbah said: With stones of white and green marble. There are those who say that he built it with stones of blue, white, and green marble. …He considered covering it with gold, but the Rabbis said to him: Leave it, and do not cover it, since it is more beautiful this way, as it looks like the waves of the sea.” 

Today, on Shabbat and hagim, I daven in the gym of a local school. I might say, “one who has never seen this local gym, has never seen a shabby gym in his life.” But maybe, in some way, this shabby gym is a more Jewish space than Herod’s Temple. Maybe.

Our parashah contains one of the most famous liturgies in all of Judaism, the priestly blessing. Originally, this blessing was a Temple ritual, and is alluded to in Leviticus 9:22, “Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he stepped down after offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well-being.” But with the destruction of the Temple, this blessing was brought out of the Temple and became part of the daily Amidah (see Mishnah Sotah 7:7). In Israel, this blessing is recited by kohanim every day of the year, but outside of Israel, in Ashkenazi custom, the blessing is recited only during Musaf of the festivals (see the words of the Rema in Shulkhan Arukh, YD, 128:44). 

The birkat kohanim can be a spectacle. Imagine thousands of priests gathering together, lifting their hands over their heads and blessing the people of Israel. If you google “priestly blessing at kotel” you will see impressive looking videos and pictures of this event. But, at least during tefillot themselves, this is not what is supposed to occur. Shulkah Arukh 128:23, warns both the kohanim and the other Jews being blessed that this is not what birkat kohanim is about. R. Yosef Karo writes: “The congregation should be attentive to the blessing, and their faces should face the kohanim, but they should not stare at them.” The people should not look at the kohanim while the blessing is being recited. To this, R. Moshe Isserles (the Rema) adds, “And the Kohanim should also not stare at their own hands; therefore, it is customary for them to wrap their tallis on their faces and keep their hands outside the tallis. And there are some places where they have the custom that their hands are kept within the tallis, so that the congregation does not stare at them.” As an additional precaution, today some members of the congregation cover their heads with a tallis as well, all to protect them from seeing the hands of the kohanim, which cannot be seen anyways because they too are already covered with a tallis. 

In Hebrew, we might ask about all this, כל כך למה לי? Why do we go to such extraordinary lengths to avoid seeing the hands of the kohanim? This is explained in Yerushalmi Megillah 4:8. R. Yose, in response to a mishnah which prohibits kohanim with either deformed or painted hands from offering the blessing, states that it is prohibited to look at the hands of the kohanim while they are blessing. R. Hagay responds that this is due to the distraction, but he has enough self-control to avoid distraction, so he can look. The rest of us, who are not so good at avoiding distractions, are not allowed to look. As the Rema explains, the custom of putting the tallit over the face or hands is to avoid seeing the hands, which can be distracting. In the end, the tallit itself can still be a distraction, and thus the custom for the congregation to look down during this blessing. But what are we worried about becoming distracted from? 

Contemplating this question can offer us two clues towards understanding Jewish prayer. The first is that prayer is an introspective activity, one that occurs mostly in what ancient people would say is the heart and we would say is the mind. During the regular hours of the day, we might, and indeed we should, admire the magnificence of God’s creation, but during prayer, we turn inwards. We do not look outward, we examine our inner selves. The gym in which I daven is not a beautiful cathedral, but God can be found in the gym of a school just as easily, and perhaps more authentically, then in the grandest of cathedrals. 

And the second point flows from this–God’s blessing pours out from the hands of the kohanim, but the kohanim are merely a vessel and should not be confused with the source of the blessing. Indeed, the tosafist Rabbenu Yitzchak does not understand why a non-kohen cannot offer the blessing (see Tosafot Shabbat 118b). The blessing is also recited by Jews on other occasions, and not just by kohanim. The rabbis inherited a world in which the Temple was central, and with it the kohanim. But that is not the world we inhabit. The priestly blessing is a vestige of this world, but ultimately we are to understand that blessing comes from God, not from other human beings. 

Herod’s building was indeed beautiful and remains impressive to this day, even in its destruction. But this can all be a distraction, and so when the kohanim offer their blessings, we hear and listen with intent, but we do not look.

Connecting Heaven and Earth

Vav – a special letter
You probably know that there is a correspondence between Hebrew letters and numbers. Number 6 corresponds to the letter “vav”. “Vav” is shaped like a hook holding two things together (ו); normally, “Vav” is translated as “and”. This letter is also referred to as “vav of connection” therefore, “the Sixth Day”—Yom HaShishi (Yom Vav)—connects the spiritual and physical; heaven and earth, six days of Creation and Shabbat. 

The day of connection
We can see a wonderful confirmation in today’s Jewish life. Anyone who has experienced Shabbat in Israel knows that Friday, Yom Shishi, is a really special day of the week, since it is the beginning of Shabbat. As such, it connects and holds together the six days of the week and the most important day of the Jewish week, Shabbat (Saturday). 

Discover the nuances of the Bible
The importance of this day is clearly emphasized in Judaism: the day we celebrate as the Jewish New Year, is not actually the anniversary of Creation, it is the anniversary of the sixth day of Creation—Yom Hashishi. According to Jewish understanding, Creation became meaningful when man was created: the Sixth Day connected heaven and earth, and God was proclaimed King! Enroll in our live online Biblical Hebrew course and Hebrew will reveal the nuances of the Scripture!  


by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

June 2, 2023
Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

GOOD MORNING! Last week I read a story about a man who brought his son shopping, but as soon as they walked in the store the young child began to throw a temper tantrum. As they went down each aisle the child would yell, throw items in and out of the cart, and was an overall annoyance. Despite the scene his son was causing, the father was calm, cool, and collected; slowly and soothingly alternating between, “Don’t worry Donald, it’ll be alright,” “Control yourself Donald, we’re almost finished,” and “We’ll be home soon Donald.”

The same mother was very impressed with the father’s self-control and wanted to express her admiration for such calm parenting. “Sir, I’m amazed that you are able to be so calm! It’s not every day I see such patient and gracious parenting.” She bent down and continued, “Now Donald, what seems to be the problem little guy?”

The father interrupted her, “You don’t understand; my son’s name is Henry. My name is Donald.”

This week's Torah portion has some remarkable lessons on self-control and controlling personalities. We find a few seemingly distinct and unrelated laws next to one another, which our sages tell us are, in fact, directly connected. The Torah begins with the obligation of giving terumah to members of the priestly caste; “All the sacred gifts that the Israelites present to the Cohen shall become his property. The gifts remain the property of the owner until he gives them to the Cohen. Once they are given to the Cohen they become his property” (Numbers 5:9-10).

The great medieval commentator Rashi (ad loc) explains that while the gifts ultimately belong to the Cohanim (plural for Cohen) – unlike the IRS – they are not entitled to seize their gifts; they must wait until the owner gives it to them.

The very next section in the Torah reading relates the laws of a sotah – a suspected adulteress (see Numbers 5:11-30). There are some general misconceptions regarding these laws so I will give it some elaboration. The entire concept of a sotah begins when a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful and cautions her in front of witnesses to not go into a situation of seclusion with her suspected paramour.

If it is established through witnesses that she ignored his exhortation and went into seclusion with this person then she may become subject to a ritual that involves her drinking the “waters of a sotah” (a concoction of water prepared by a Cohen from a bit of dirt from the Temple compound, a bitter herb, and the rubbed-off dried ink of the text of the Torah’s description of the sotah ritual, which also includes God’s ineffable name).

If the woman denies that she was unfaithful in seclusion she may voluntarily participate in the sotah ritual and drink the waters. If she is in fact guilty of being unfaithful, she and her paramour will suffer a very public and very gruesome death – a punishment meted out by heaven. (If she is innocent, she will be blessed with healthy children.)

However, instead of initiating the sotah ritual she may, of course, simply choose to dissolve her marriage and forfeit the financial support promised her. The husband is compelled to grant her a divorce and she suffers no other penalty.

Thus, the sotah ritual is not intended to punish the woman if she is guilty. Rather, its real purpose is to absolve her if she is innocent, and preserve love and trust in her marriage. In other words, the entire point of the sotah ritual is to restore her relationship with her a husband – who has every reason to be suspicious of his wife’s fidelity since she secluded herself with another man even after being cautioned not to do so.

The sotah ritual, even if she is innocent, can be publicly demeaning. Her willingness to go through the process to prove her fidelity is a sign of true love and commitment to her husband. After her exoneration, her husband’s jealousy will dissipate and he will see what she was willing to endure to be with him. This entire process allows him and his wife to resume their marriage in trust and love and renewed commitment to one another.

The Talmudic maxim associated with the sotah law is, “So high is the value of peace between a man and his wife that the Torah commands that the ineffable name of the Almighty may be written and erased into the [sotah] water.”

Rashi (in his commentary on 5:12) quotes the sages who ask; why was the section of sotah laws juxtaposed to the laws of giving the terumah to a Cohen? To teach us that someone who withholds the gifts he rightfully owes to the Cohen will ultimately be compelled to turn to the Cohen to perform the sotah ritual on his wife.

Rabbi Judah Loew (1526-1609), also known as the maharal, in his well-known work Gur Aryeh (which is primarily a commentary on Rashi) asks two fascinating questions:
1. There are any number of reasons why a person may find himself in the position of needing a Cohen (e.g. the laws of tzora’at require a Cohen’s active involvement); why are the sotah laws specifically appended to the laws withholding priestly gifts?
2. Why does the Torah introduce the laws of sotah with the words; “If any man’s wife goes astray”? Why doesn’t the Torah simply begin with “when a married woman goes astray.” Why bother to introduce the husband at all?

A careful reading of Rashi illuminates the reasoning: Rashi doesn’t say that the man refuses to give the Cohen the priestly gifts, rather Rashi says that the man withholds the gifts from the Cohen. This is a critical point. Essentially, a landowner has the obligation to distribute the priestly gifts to the Cohen. Thus, someone who withholds them is trying to exert a measure of influence over the Cohen; to make him come and beg for something that, in reality, he is entitled to receive and it is something for which he should not have to beg. Why would someone behave in such a manner?

Once when I was in synagogue I remember seeing a needy person approach someone to ask for a few dollars. The man pulled out a five-dollar bill from his pocket and asked if the beggar had change. He nodded in the affirmative and asked him how much change he wanted. The man said, “Give me five singles.” The beggar gave him five singles, at which point the man handed him back two.

I wondered to myself why hadn’t the man just asked for three dollars in change? Why did he need to get five singles back and then hand him two dollars? I then realized that’s how a controlling personality behaves; he wanted to be in control of the entire transaction of giving charity. He wanted to take back his five singles so that he could be the one doing the act of charity. Even though the end result was the same (either way the beggar ended up with two dollars), he needed to feel like a giver by emphasizing that he was giving two dollars and not just receiving three dollars in change.

This is how a person with a controlling personality acts and this is why the landowner is withholding the gifts from the Cohanim even though he is obligated to give it to them. Making the Cohen come to him to ask for what is rightfully his is done to send a clear message about who is in charge. The Torah juxtaposes these two sections to teach us that they are interrelated. A controlling person doesn’t just behave this way in business, he behaves like this in all aspects of his life including his personal life.

The reason a woman would go into seclusion – even after being warned by her husband not to – is a reaction to the controlling personality of her husband. How does she do this? By demonstrating her independence. She is rebelling against his overbearing and controlling personality. In other words, she is communicating to her husband, “You’re not the boss of me!”

This also explains why the Torah begins with “any man’s wife goes astray;” the Torah is explaining the root cause of her disloyalty. Even if she never sinned by being intimate with another man, ignoring her husband’s warning was a message she was intentionally sending to her husband. Obviously, this was already a fractured relationship and one in which each party was vying for some sort of control.

Moses’ brother Aaron was the prototypical Cohen – according to our sages he made it his life’s mission to mend rifts between friends, and in particular between husbands and wives. In fact, when he died the Torah says that all the women mourned him as well (which it doesn’t say when Moses died). The sages teach that it was because Aaron had focused on making sure that there was harmony in the home. This is why a controlling personality needs a Cohen to mend the fissures of the relationship.

Torah Portion of the Week

NASO, Numbers 4:21-7:89

   This week's portion includes further job instructions to the Levites and Moses is instructed to purify the camp in preparation for the dedication of the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary.

   Then four laws relating to the Cohanim are given: 1) Restitution for stolen property where the owner is deceased and has no next of kin goes to the Cohanim. 2) If a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful, he brings her to the Cohanim for the Sotah clarification ceremony. 3) If a person chooses to withdraw from the material world and consecrate himself exclusively to the service of the Almighty by becoming a nazir (vowing not to drink wine or eat grape products, come in contact with dead bodies, or cut his hair), he must come to the Cohen at the completion of the vow. 4) The Cohanim were instructed to bless the people with this Priestly Blessing: “May the Lord bless you and guard over you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His Countenance upon you and give you peace.”

   The Mishkan is erected and dedicated on the first of Nissan in the second year after the Exodus. The leaders of each tribe jointly give wagons and oxen to transport the Mishkan. During each of the twelve days of dedication, successively each tribal prince gives gifts of gold and silver vessels, sacrificial animals, and meal offerings. Every prince gives exactly the same gifts as every other prince.

Quote of the Week

If you’re the one yelling, you’re the one who’s lost control of the conversation.
— Taylor Swift

On-Line Learning

Rabbi Gaber lead several Adult Education programs using ZOOM  "You don’t have to leave the warmth and comfort of your home to hear a discussion on confronting Antisemitism and Hate or the Human Genome or to discuss how to bring Judaism into the 21st century. 

See the CBOI On-line Learning page in Learn Navigation bar to see all the  On Line Zoom Learning sessions.



Fri, June 2 2023 13 Sivan 5783