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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



January 28 2022    6 Shvat 5783
Torah: Exodus 10:1-13:16  
 Triennial 10:1-11:13
Haftorah: Jeremiah 46:13-29

D'var Torah:  The Eye of The Earth


Bex Stern-Rosenblatt

Was the earth created for us? Were we created for the earth? Is there a necessary order of primacy for us and the earth? Genesis 1 seems to suggest that humans are meant to rule over all the earth. We read, “fill the earth and conquer it.” Genesis 2 seems to suggest that humans are meant to be the caretakers of the earth. We read, “God took the human and set him down in the garden of Eden to till it and watch it.” 

These questions play out in the plague narrative. As has often been discussed, the plagues can be read as an undoing of creation. There is death where there once was the breath of life and darkness in place of light. The fiery hail reverses the separation of water from water. The Nile becoming blood makes this separation even more murky. Plant life is destroyed instead of created. Animals - the frogs, lice, and insects - have dominion over humans. 

Creation leads to destruction which leads to a new creation. We see this repeatedly in the opening of Genesis with Seth in place of Cain, the flood and the new world, and the babbling of languages. Here it plays out again - the old Egypt is destroyed in order to create the new nation of Israel. Destruction means destruction of people, animals, plants, and the earth itself. The creation of Israel, however, at first means only the creation of the people, the forming of the nation. The distinctive ways of existence for animals and plants of Israel are not mentioned until we get to the laws of sacrifice. Most strikingly, the earth, the land of Israel, will not be created, be brought from word and idea to physical reality until after the Torah finishes. 

In this reading, humans seem to be created for the earth. We are to be the caretakers of the Land of Israel. We have strict instructions to follow, given to us as the Torah, so that we know how to do a good job. When we do a bad job, the land will vomit us out. However, there are still remnants of Genesis 1, still remnants of the earth being created for us. In the description Moses gives to the Reubenites and the Gadites about their responsibilities to help the Israelites out before settling across the Jordan, Moses talks of the land being “conquered,” using the same word as we saw in Genesis 1. By taking possession of the land, the Israelites are conquering it, subduing it. The land is there for us to take, to use. It was created for us. 

A reading of the eighth plague helps to unify these perspectives. Moses tells Pharaoh of the locusts to come, explaining that they will cover the “eye of the earth.” This is a very weird term. Rashi explains that it means the ability to see the earth. The earth will be obscured from view because the locusts will have covered it. Thus, the eye of the earth is something external to earth, above the earth, that normally can view it but cannot when the earth is covered by locusts. This idea brings up the existential question about a tree falling in the forest. If the earth cannot be seen, is it still there? Ibn Ezra offers an alternative reading, explaining that the locusts actually covered the eyes of the inhabitants, the people. The earth’s eye is then the eyes of all people. Humans give reality to the earth by viewing it. Targum Onkelos offers a third reading, explaining that the eye of the earth is the sun. The locusts swarmed so thickly that there was no longer any light. This reading returns us to Genesis 1, the creation of the heavens and the earth. Here, the eye of the earth itself is in the heavens. 

In each reading, the earth is obscured as a punishment for the Egyptians. The earth is used in order to teach people, suggesting that that is its purpose. However, the eye of the earth is also inextricable from the people, from the heavens, and from God. In the neverending flow from creation to destruction to creation again, the boundaries might not be as firmly established as we had thought. The chaos of before creation is evident even in creation. It is impossible to declare that humans have primacy over the earth or vice versa. After all, from the dust we were taken and to the dust we will return.

D'Var Haftorah:  When Egypt Falls Do We Rejoice?


Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Modern Jews can afford to love to hate ancient Egypt.  It was clearly an evil place, enslaving our ancestors and killing our babies.  It is less clear that our biblical ancestors shared our clear and unambiguous view of the empire to the south.

The navi (prophet) Jeremiah speaks harshly against Egypt in this week’s haftarah, predicting a disastrous defeat by the hands of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. While Nebuchadnezzar tried to conquer Egypt, it is not known whether he ever succeeded in doing so (based on the knowledge that exists today from the Babylonian Chronicles.) He did succeed in defeating the Egyptians in 605 BCE at Carcamish on the Euphrates River in a battle that settled Babylon as the controlling empire of the region.

The time was that of King Jehoiakim of Judah. Jehoiakim had been appointed by the Egyptians who had removed his pro-Babylonian brother Jehoahaz from the throne in 609 BCE.. The global turmoil did not leave Judah indifferent.  In the beginning of the chapter (in the verses that were not included in the haftarah) Jeremiah predicts the failure of Pharaoh at Carcamish.  Some Judeans cheered the failure, others still pegged their hopes on Egypt.

At this time Jeremiah speaks out against Egypt, predicting doom and exile. It is not clear that the Egyptians ever heard his prophecy. It might not have been intended for their ears, but rather for the ears of those in Judah who believed that in the end the still-fledging Babylonian empire would collapse and Egypt would come back to rule. For them, Egypt was not about the memories of the enslavement and birth pangs of the nation of Israel. For them Egypt was an empire whose control and culture were felt through the region.  It was a natural ally against the foreign Mesopotamian invader. 

In Jeremiah’s description “Egypt is a fairest-fair heifer; But the gadfly out of the north is come, it is come.” (Jer. 46:20). The image brings to mind the well-fed cows of Pharaoh’s dreams which Joseph understood to mean seven years of plenty before the gadfly of seven years of famine.  Egypt was a land that evoked images of plenty, a land its neighbors dreamt about at times of deprivation. It is to this land that Jeremiah says, “Prepare for yourself captivity furnishings, dweller of the towns of Egypt; For Noph shall become a desolation, And shall be laid waste, without inhabitant” (46:19.)

Some who heard Jeremiah probably cheered, others saw it as a calamity for all the surrounding nations. The choice of this chapter as the haftarah should leave us wondering about the reaction of the Israelites in Egypt to all that the Egyptians suffered.  While they may have had many hard feelings against Egypt, it was also the culture they knew and place they had grown up in, making leaving it difficult. Ambivalence, rather than hatred, might be the dominating emotion among the Israelites towards Egypt both on the eve of the Exodus and on the eve of the destruction of Jerusalem.



Pre-Pesach Pepperoni Pizza

Ilana Kurshan
Adventures in Mishna with my kids

Pesach is still a long way off, but my twins and I have begun working our way through tractate Pesachim. Now into the second chapter, we are learning about the difference between the status of hametz that belongs to a Jew and the status of hametz that belongs to a non-Jew once the holiday of Pesach is over. We already know that it is forbidden to own hametz on Pesach, as explained in the biblical injunction that “Nothing leavened may be found among you” (Exodus 13:7). As a result, it is common today for Jews to symbolically “sell” any remaining hametz in their homes to non-Jews just prior to the Passover holiday, and then to symbolically buy it back once the holiday is over. If the hametz was in the possession of a non-Jew over the course of the holiday, then a Jew may eat it once the holiday is over.

We are learning this mishnah over a dinner of homemade pizza, which is most certainly hametz. The mishnah considers the case of a non-Jew who lends money to a Jew shortly before Pesach. “If I lend something to you,” I explain to the twins, “I want to be sure that you’re going to pay me back. And so I can take something of yours and tell you that I will return it only once you pay me back. That’s called a mashkon – collateral.” 

I reach over to Liav’s table setting and snatch her plate of pizza. “So let’s say you borrow money from me, and I don’t completely trust you to pay me back. So I take your pizza, and I tell you I’m going to keep it until you pay me back. But then Pesach comes, and your pizza is in my house the whole holiday. At the end of the holiday, when you pay me back and I give you back your pizza, are you allowed to eat it?”

“No,” Liav answers correctly. “Because it was in your house on Pesach, and you’re Jewish.”

“Exactly,” I tell her. “So long as the hametz is in a Jew’s property on Pesach, it is forbidden to benefit from it after Pesach.” 

For the next example, I turn to Tagel. “Tagel, pretend you’re not Jewish.” 

Tagel looks down at her pizza. “I’m not Jewish? Can I have some pepperoni?”

I recently explained to the twins about pepperoni when it came up in a novel I was reading to them. They know it’s something non-kosher that many non-Jews like to put on their pizza. I guess Tagel was trying to impress me with her newfound knowledge.

“OK, here’s some pepperoni,” I say, passing her the salt shaker. She pretends to salt her pizza generously, though the lid is still on.  

“OK, now let’s say Liav lends you money, and she takes your pizza until you pay her back. After Pesach is over, Liav pays you back, and you give her back her pizza. Is she allowed to eat it?”

“No, because I put pepperoni on it.”

“Oh… right,” I say. “OK, we have to forget the pepperoni. Let’s say you didn’t put any pepperoni on it. You thought you were adding pepperoni, but it was just salt.”

“OK, so yeah, I guess she could eat it, because it wasn’t in her house on Pesach. It was in my house, and I’m not Jewish.”

“Right,” I tell her. “You got it.” 

“But Ima, what actually is pepperoni?” To be honest, I’m not exactly sure. I have to consult Wikipedia before I can answer her. “It’s a kind of spicy pig meat,” I tell her. 

“Ew, that sounds disgusting!” Tagel exclaims, and Liav wrinkles her nose in disgust. “Pig pizza? Yuck!”

“Well, you think it’s disgusting, but do you think a dog would like it?”

We’ve already learned that in order to qualify as hametz, the food item has to be something that a dog would want to eat. If the food is so spoiled or rotten that no dog would ever want to go near it, then it doesn’t count as Hametz. The girls decide that pepperoni pizza would probably be rather appetizing for a dog, and hence it’s still hametz. I turn to the last part of the mishnah.

“What happens if a huge avalanche of rocks landed on your pizza, and you knew it was under there somewhere, but you couldn’t find it. Would you have to dig it out when you search your house for hametz?”

“That would be really smushed, flat pizza,” Liav says. 

“But I think a dog would eat smushed, flat pizza anyway,” says Tagel.

I explain to the girls that according to the Mishnah, as long as a dog would not be able to sniff out the pizza from under the avalanche, then there’s no need to dig it out and burn it. “So we can hide a pizza under a giant pile of rocks and leave it in our house all through Pesach?”

“I guess so,” I tell them. “But if you’re going to have flat pizza anyway, why not just have matzah pizza?” 

The girls look down at the pizza on their plates. Maybe next time we’ll make pizza from the leftover matzah we still have in our pantry. Hold the pepperoni, please.

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!  

BO  5783: American jews or jewish americans?

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

January 27, 2023
Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

GOOD MORNING! About twenty years ago I accompanied a very close friend on his first real trip to Israel. I say “real trip” because I do not believe being taken to Israel as a child and having some vague memories of making the requisite stop at the Wailing Wall, climbing Masada at dawn, and visiting the beach in Eilat qualify as a proper Israel experience.

For the most part, a typical trip to Israel is usually one that is designed for tourists, one that checks off all the “attractions” in the Land of Israel (and there are many). But the Holy Land also offers a much more meaningful experience; the potential for a deep dive exploration into three thousand years of Jewish history that can transform how an individual relates to his own Judaism. You will probably not be surprised to learn that I planned the latter sort of trip for my friend, not the former.

I felt confident in my tour guide credentials: Having lived in Jerusalem until the age of nine my first spoken language is Hebrew and my accent is pretty legit – as long as the conversation doesn’t require words that aren’t commonly found in a nine year old’s vocabulary. Though, to be perfectly honest, speaking Hebrew as an Israeli only has a few benefits – the most prominent being that you don’t “get taken for a ride” by taxi drivers.

Much more importantly, my parents had imbued in me a deep love for the history and spirituality of the Holy Land. Growing up there I felt deeply connected to Israel and it was this unique view that I wished to put on display for my friend. I hoped that by gaining a new perspective on the history and depth of Judaism he would become more connected with his faith. 

My friend invited along Mark, a very successful business associate of his who identified as a Jew in name only and had never been to Israel.

We spent about a week exploring the Holy Land: celebrating Shabbat in the Old City of Jerusalem, attending a Hasidic master’s gathering of thousands of adherents singing in an absolutely pitch dark hall, praying at sunrise services at the Wailing Wall, exploring the ruins of the Holy Temple, visiting the tombs of the Patriarchs, and traveling to the cities where our sages from Talmudic times lived (and are buried) – it was quite a trip.

At one point, I was sitting next to Mark in a cab riding on a highway somewhere between the mystical city of Safed and the remains of the ancient village of Katzrin. Mark looked at me and said, “Rabbi can I ask you a question?” I nodded.

"So, you grew up here in Israel and Judaism is clearly imbedded in your soul.” I nodded again.

"But you spent the vast majority of your life in America and most of your family lives there. In fact, as you mentioned, your family has actually been there for four generations following the horrific pogroms of late 19th century Russia.”

"So tell me, where do your loyalties truly lie – with the State of Israel, because you grew up here and are a committed Jew, or with America, a country that has given you and your family a home, a safe haven, and an opportunity to make a life for yourselves?”

His question stunned me speechless (an occurrence that my wife of many decades is still pining to experience). His thoughtful (and quite difficult) question suddenly brought to the fore something that I had never really considered.

After a few moments of internal deliberation, I answered, “I have incredible gratitude to America – to the point that if I was called upon to defend her with my life I would wholeheartedly do so. I feel that being willing to give your life for your country is a sign of true loyalty.” 

"But," I continued, “I am a Jew, and ultimately my loyalties lie with the Jewish people and our destiny. The ultimate destiny of the Jewish people is inextricably tied to the Holy Land as it is the only true ancestral and future home of our people.” This sudden recognition of how I self-defined who I was and what I ultimately cared about was an illuminating experience for me.

In this week's Torah portion we see a very similar struggle raging within the hearts and minds of a very young Jewish nation.

“[…] at midnight the Almighty struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon” (12:29).

The great medieval Biblical commentator Rashi (ad loc) wonders why the firstborn sons of the captives were also killed. After all, they weren’t even citizens of Egypt and had nothing to do with the enslavement of the Jewish people.

Rashi offers two approaches, one of which is that the captives rejoiced that the Jews were being enslaved and abused and they would have happily participated had they been given an opportunity. This is akin to the Nazi soldiers who claimed to only be “following orders,” but in many pictures they can be seen laughing and jeering while terrorizing and abusing the German and Polish Jewish populace.

The fact that Rashi has to explain why the first born children of the captives were included in the plague indicates that otherwise the first born children of the captives would not have died.

This is difficult to understand. Moses specifically instructed the Jewish people to put the blood of the Paschal lamb on the door posts of their homes so that they would be protected and not fall victim to the tenth plague. Moses is therefore informing them that the first born sons of the Jewish nation would also die unless there was blood on the door posts. 

How is it possible that Jews would be more susceptible to the plague than the children of the captives being held in the Egyptian dungeons?

There seems to be only one possible explanation: there was no decree of death from the plague on foreigners – the tenth plague was only a decree on the Egyptians. That is why the children of the captives would have been excluded. But still, why were the children of the Jewish nation susceptible to this last plague?

From here we can learn a remarkable lesson about human nature and gain insight into the quandary of self-definition facing the newly formed Jewish nation.

The tenth plague culminated a year in which the Jewish people were relieved of their enslavement (slavery ended once the plagues began) and, according to our sages, they had even started to accumulate wealth. Because they weren’t affected by the plagues, the Jewish people had new economic opportunities: they sold water during the plague of blood, their livestock were not affected by the pestilence, their crops were not destroyed by the hail, etc. They were no longer perceived as the downtrodden class; rather, they became a critical element in Egyptian socio-economics. Their circumstances changed dramatically for the better.

Suddenly, many Jews began to feel like privileged Egyptian citizens and they were faced with the quandary of self-definition – are we Jews living in Egypt or rather Egyptians of Jewish descent?

According to our sages, up to 80% of the Jews died during the plague of darkness (see Rashi 13:18), seemingly because they wouldn’t have left Egypt even if given the opportunity to do so. In a very short time, the Jewish people began to feel that they had finally “made it” and were now members of the upper echelons of Egyptian society. Many preferred to self-identify as Egyptians, albeit of Jewish descent.

This is why the Jewish people were included in the tenth plague – it was a plague 

decreed on the Egyptian people and many Jews were vacillating between whether they considered themselves Jews first or Egyptians first. The tenth plague came to differentiate between the Jews and the Egyptians. Those Jews who felt they were Egyptian citizens first were judged as Egyptians.

Moses gave the people the sign of how to define themselves: If you’re an Egyptian Jew put the blood of the Paschal lamb on the doorpost and proudly declare “I am a Jew.” Those who were merely Jewish Egyptians met the same fate as the Egyptians. It is no coincidence, of course, that we place mezuzahs on the same place (as the blood of the Paschal lamb) to declare that the home is inhabited by Jews who are proud to be members of the Jewish nation.

Unfortunately, nowadays the percentage of Jews who would choose to stay in America, given similar circumstances, might be even higher. If history has taught the Jewish people anything at all it should have taught us that, try as we might to blend into a host nation, they will always consider us Jews first and citizens of the state second. From ancient civilizations all the way to 20th century Europe – they have made their opinion of us very clear. We must internalize this message and understand who we really are and where our allegiances must ultimately lie.

Torah Portion of the Week

BO, Exodus 10:1-13:16

This week we conclude the ten plagues with the plagues of locusts, darkness, and the death of the first-born. The laws of Passover are presented, followed by the commandment to wear tefillin, consecrate the first-born animal, and redeem one’s first born son. The Torah tells us that, at some time in the future, your son will ask you about these commandments and you will answer: “With a show of power, God brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us leave, God killed all the first-born in Egypt, man and beast alike. I, therefore, offer to God all male first-born (animals) and redeem all the first-born of sons. And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes (tefillin), for with a strong hand the Almighty removed us from Egypt” (Exodus 13:15).

Quote of the Week
Change the way you see things, and the things you see will change.
— Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

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, January 27 2023 5 Shevat 5783