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Can we really be holy?

As you well know, the Torah does not have any vowels or punctuation. Oral tradition is therefore imperative to determining how the text is intended to be understood.

In this week’s Parshah (the second of the double header), G-d says “Kedoshim Tihiyu – you shall be holy, Ki Kadosh Ani – for I am holy.” At least that is the most obvious understanding of the verse…

However, the commentators discuss two ways to punctuate the verse. One is with a question mark – as a question that is then strengthened with the follow up? This would be loosely read as, “Can you really be holy as I am?” The other is with a period – as a statement, with an explanation. This would be loosely read as, “You can be holy because I am.”

The Chassidic masters explain that these are not contradictory interpretations, but rather two stages in the development of a person into a holy being.

To achieve holiness a person must first question the ability of a human being to be “like G-d.” How can a finite being aspire to the level of the infinite? If holy means being like G-d, then it seems beyond human reach. Once the big question mark is in place then we can begin resolving the challenge with stage two. How can we be holy? Because G-d is holy. And He imparted some of that holiness to us.

Where do we see that this is the case? Let us examine the text of the blessing we recite before performing a Mitzvah. After the standard introductory “Blessed are You…” we then recite, “Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvotav – who has made us holy with His commandments.” In Tanya this word Kidishanu is associated with the act of marriage which is called Kiddushin. It is as if Hashem imparts to us an element of Self, of His infiniteness, by giving us the Mitzvah. When we do the Mitzvah we are Mekudeshet (consecrated, married, united).

Now that person has been endowed with the infinite power of a Mitzvah, indeed it is clear that “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” For we are now (in a micro sense) just like Him. Now the task that remains is to guard and maintain that holiness and G-dliness. For that we have all of the instructions in the Parshah of how to live a life of holiness.

Mazel Tov to Dr. David and Nechama Kaufmann upon the birth of a granddaughter, Rosa Malka, to Yosef and Chani Kaufmann.

Mazel Tov to Dr. Charles and Sandra Brum upon the birth of a grandson to Yaakov and Chaya Brum.

Our condolences to Chezky Binkowitz upon the sudden passing of his mother, Donna Griffin Binkowitz.

Please see below about the amazing work of Chabad in Nepal in the aftermath of the horrific earthquake. Take a moment to support those efforts at

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


An Ode to Tzahal

Gratitude to the soldiers of the IDF is appropriate all the time. But there are times designated specifically for that purpose. Every year around this time fallen soldiers are remembered and those currently serving, as well as veterans, should be acknowledged and thanked.

Why should I, an American citizen living in this country be thankful to soldiers protecting another land? The answer, I believe, lies in the uniqueness of the IDF as differentiated from every other army in the world.

Tzahal stands for Tzva Haganah L’Yisrael or Israel Defense Forces. Who or what are they defending? Israel of course. What is Israel? Is it a land? Is it a state? Is it a people?

To explain this one must first appreciate the origins of the name (the land of) Israel or (Eretz) Yisrael. Often a group of people are called by a name that is associated with the land in which they live. Sometimes a land is named for the people that inhabit it. In the case of Israel the name of the people and the name of the land is identical. The people are named Israel because of our Patriarch Jacob who was given the name Israel (Yisrael) by G-d. Subsequently the Jewish nation is usually referred to as Bnei Yisrael, Am Yisrael or just Yisrael. Therefore the land that was promised and then inhabited by Bnei Yisrael is called Eretz Yisrael.

To bring this back to the IDF. The defenders of Israel are not just defending the land or state but also, and most importantly, the people. As such that includes anyone that is a part of Bnei Yisrael or Am Yisrael. So even a Jew living outside of Eretz Yisrael (like myself) benefits from the defense of those soldiers. (Certainly this goes hand in hand with having a secure land of Israel, which is in the interest of Am Yisrael as well.)

The Rebbe always pointed out the defense of Yisrael must be two-pronged. Defending the physical security and defending the spiritual security. Having a spiritual focus and element to IDF service is also a morale booster to the soldiers themselves. To quote a letter from the Rebbe to an IDF officer, “This is the secret of our nation’s survival: although numerically we are “the least among the nations,” yet because we are G‑d’s chosen people, the people of the Book and the spirit, steadfast in our Jewishness, no physical force on earth can threaten our eternity. This is the secret of the might and power of the IDF—in the words of the Psalmist, “Israel, trust in G‑d; [and they are guaranteed that] He is their savior and protector.” Although one must of course do all that is necessary by natural means, ultimately it is the faith in the Almighty and in our uniqueness as His nation which brings victory, to the point that “a fear and terror shall befall them, by the greatness of Your arm they shall fall still as a stone”: none will dare to “lift hand or foot” against us, “for the fear of the Jews befell them”—the fear of those who are bound to their Jewishness.”

So I offer my humble gratitude to those who put their lives and safety on the line in defense of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. May we very soon merit the time when “G‑d blesses His people with peace” with the complete and final redemption.

Our condolences to Alex Brown and his family upon the passing of his father, Morton Brown.

Our condolences to Devorah Leah Binkowitz and her family upon the passing of her father.

A new novel authored by Dr. David Kaufmann – Assault in Forgotten Alley – is now available for purchase in print or e-book. For more info

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Road Trip Adventures - Chapter 3

My family’s road trip adventures have been well documented in this forum over the years. See, and,

Before Pesach a few people commented to me how they were looking forward to reading about this year’s adventure. To which I replied, “no thanks, I am hoping for an uneventful trip.” After all, two break downs in two years is enough and we were due for a smooth ride. Or so I thought.

Following the last two encounters our recital of the traveler’s prayer has been with heightened intensity. So there we were cruising for two days with nary a blip. As we approached the end of the Virginia portion of our trip (our longstanding nemesis – see articles above), I began to breathe easy. “The best laid schemes of mice and men…” or as the Yiddish version goes, “a mentch tracht un G-tt lacht.”

2:30 PM, we were just five hours away from NY and we were making good time. All of a sudden I heard a pop. I knew it wasn’t a tire because it came from under the hood. Seconds later we lost the ability to accelerate. Thank G-d the highway was fairly empty and I was able to get into the right lane and coast toward the nearest exit. Once we pulled up to the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp we could not proceed any further. We were somewhere in rural Virginia. I called AAA and they were trying to find an open garage within range. Additionally, we needed a way to transport the family off the side of the road to the garage. We were told it would take 45 minutes. We were also told that the repair could not be done today and that we would need to find a place to stay and a way to get there…

I suppose the most difficult part was not being in control of the situation. We humans are nicely balanced when we (think) we are in control. When the situation slips away from us, the balance can slip away as well. I had to actively contemplate the idea that Hashem runs the world and He has a plan for getting us through this (not necessarily out of it – but through it).  

Being old hands at this, the children handled it relatively calmly. They were reciting Tehillim and Torah passages by heart (see second article above for more on that). In the meantime many nice Southerners stopped to ask if we needed help to make sure that we were safe.

The guy from the garage shows up with his SUV and informs me that the wrecker is on the way. First we get the kids into his vehicle and then we push my car into positon for the tow truck to be able to get it. As soon as he sees it he informs me that it is the transmission and the cost of replacing it is pretty high (more than the car is worth). At that moment I decide to get the car to his place and find another way to get to NY. He graciously drives me to the nearest Enterprise 10 miles away. We get a car (for an arm and a leg) and go back to his place to empty out our car and get on our way to NY. The bad news is we had to leave our car there to be turned over to salvage. The good news is we got a good deal on a nice new car. Now Hashem will continue to implement His plan by hopefully putting us in position to afford it… He has already begun to put those wheels into motion through some wonderful agents.

Lessons learned: Hashem is in control. The sooner we acknowledge that the happier we are. As Psalms 55:23 states, “Cast your burden upon the L-rd, and He will sustain you.” There were so many layers of Divine Providence here. It could have been at night. It could have been far from the exit or on a busy stretch of highway. It could have been a nasty garage owner. It could have been hours away from nearest rental office. It could have been very difficult to get another vehicle in New York. But it wasn’t and for that we must indeed be thankful to Hashem - for all that He does for us.

While we don’t always understand why things must happen, we must seek the positives in them. I don’t know why we had to breakdown and lose our car. But I am sure that Hashem has better things in store for us. If you ask my kids, we have already received the better things - they are loving the new car. Come to think of it, it was nice to drive back home without worrying about the old jalopy breaking down. Thank you Hashem!

Our condolences to Morris, Elliot and Nathan Lew and their families upon the passing of their sister, Rose Resnick.

Our condolences to Gary Remer and the entire Remer family upon the passing of his father, Mr. Natan Remer. I had the good fortune of knowing Mr. Remer from his visits to New Orleans over the years. Back in the good days when he was well, we had pleasant conversations on the long walks from Anshe Sfard toward the uptown neighborhood where we lived. May Hashem comfort the family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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