Balak in a Nutshell


Numbers 22:2–25:9

Balak, the king of Moab, summons the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. On the way, Balaam is berated by his donkey, who sees, before Balaam does, the angel that G‑d sends to block their way. Three times, from three different vantage points, Balaam attempts to pronounce his curses; each time, blessings issue forth instead. Balaam also prophesies on the end of the days and the coming of Moshiach.

The people fall prey to the charms of the daughters of Moab, and are enticed to worship the idol Peor. When a high-ranking Israelite official publicly takes a Midianite princess into a tent, Pinchas kills them both, stopping the plague raging among the people.

Terumah in a Nutshell Exodus 25:1–27:19


The people of Israel are called upon to contribute thirteen materials—gold, silver and copper; blue-, purple- and red-dyed wool; flax, goat hair, animal skins, wood, olive oil, spices and gems—out of which, G‑d says to Moshe, “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell amidst them.”

In the Sanctuary’s inner chamber, behind an artistically woven curtain, was the ark containing the tablets of testimony engraved with the Ten Commandments; on the ark’s cover stood two winged cherubim hammered out of pure gold. In the outer chamber stood the seven-branched menorah, and the table upon which the “showbread” was arranged.

The Sanctuary’s three walls were fitted together from 48 upright wooden boards, each of which was overlaid with gold and held up by a pair of silver foundation sockets. The roof was formed of three layers of coverings: (a) tapestries of multi-coloured wool and linen; (b) a covering made of goat hair; (c) a covering of ram and tachash skins. Across the front of the Sanctuary was an embroidered screen held up by five posts.

Surrounding the Sanctuary and the copper-plated altar which fronted it was an enclosure of linen hangings, supported by 60 wooden posts with silver hooks and trimmings, and reinforced by copper stakes.


The Mystery of 1964

The year was 1964.

The World’s Fair opened in Flushing Park. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” by some long-haired kids from Liverpool, was #1. Some far-out location called Vietnam dominated the news. The Mets played their first game at Shea Stadium.

Life was good, I recall. Lots of friends, loving parents, Leave it to Beaver, and an older brother to show me the ropes. What could be bad?

I suppose that in my own naive way, I was decidedly unaware that there was anything special or distinctive about being a child of Holocaust survivors. Everything seemed so very normal. In fact, it was.

As it turns out, many of my baby boomer friends were of similar ilk. Their parents had also either spent years in concentration camps or had barely escaped the clutches of catastrophe on more than one occasion, and lived to tell about it. But looking back, I find it odd that we were all so oblivious to our unique lineage. And I guess that’s how our folks really wanted it to be. Despite having spent over 3 years in the torture cavities of Puskow, Mielec, Wieliczka, Flossenberg, Leitmeritz, Dachau, and Kaufering, my father, of blessed memory, never ever uttered a single word to us about the butchery and carnage he witnessed there daily. It was as if life on this planet somehow began in 1947 — when he arrived on Ellis Island.

It’s not like we didn’t know that “something” dreadful had happened. We saw the “KL” that had been eternalized on his wrist, we knew about the huge bump he carried beneath his black, shiny yarmulke, and we cried when we were awoken by his terrifying nocturnal screams and tremors. Oh, we knew. But the horror was just too ghastly to verbalize. The “pink elephant” could not be spoken about. The children had to be protected.

Until the summer of 1964. Like every year, I was safely ensconced at summer camp when I received a letter from home. This itself was a rather common occurrence in the pre-email decade of the 60’s. After the usual maternal exhortations to wear a sweater at night and eat my veggies, Daddy would customarily add a few obligatory greetings in his loving, broken English. But this letter was different. No message from Daddy. He would never say very much anyway, but I always looked for his unfinished, yet ever so sincere message of missing me and loving me. It wasn’t there. At 12 years old, that struck a chord.

When I couldn’t speak to Daddy on my weekly call home, an explanation had to be tendered. “Oh,” Mom stumbled, “he went to Israel to attend your cousin’s wedding.”

Plausible enough. But not for 1964…I knew it didn’t smell right, but hey, I was only 12. So it remained a minor mystery tempered somewhat by Daddy’s return home two weeks later, armed with wedding pictures, a silver candelabra for Mommy and Jerusalem trinkets for the boys. Perhaps I was wrong.

Fast forward nearly 40 years. Daddy is with us but in spirit and memory now, and big brother Izzy has grown fascinated with Daddy’s earlier years. And he found answers. The “research” is ongoing and more answers may be forthcoming, but the mystery of 1964 is no longer. A short time ago he received a correspondence from the Provincial Court of Bochum, Germany. In it was a transcript dated July 21, 1964. It was Daddy’s verbatim testimony at a trial for Nazi War Criminals.

“In April of 1942 I was arrested by the Jewish police. The police had a list of about 100 names, and I was one of them.”

Daddy then identified Nazis, unfamiliar to most: Johann, Labitzke, Rouenhoff, Bornhold, Brock. It seems that all of them must have been on trial. I trembled as I read on. I can hear his gentle voice speaking.

“The prison cell was so overcrowded that we had no room to stretch out at night.

…I saw these SS people from Puskow approach the sick Jews and stand near them. Then I heard Hamann calling out “fire,” and the SS men fired. The 8 to 10 sick Jews were shot to death.”

…”I am the only survivor of those sent to the Puskow Labor Camp.”

And with that, Daddy’s testimony ended.

My understanding is that these Gestapo thugs all received sentences of life imprisonment. Whether they actually served them full term is unknown to me.

Daddy, I have spent many adult years wondering what really happened to you before 1947. But looking back now, and knowing that I am now privy to but a speck of the terror you lived through, I say thank you. Your loving shield was a blanket of normalcy for two little boys who love you now, even more than we ever did.

Life was good, I recall.

You made it that way.

Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

thanks to

The Greatest Memorial By Shimon Posner

“And (the sons of Aaron) died, and Aaron remained silent,” the Parsha.

It was a Reader’s Digest article I must have read twenty-five years ago. About a lady who had just lost her mother, her husband was on his way home from a trip; she alone had to break the news to her little children. People were calling up offering condolences: ending with the expected (awkward?) “don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything.” In the middle of it all the doorbell rang. Her husband’s friend was standing at the door with a rolled newspaper under his arm. I’ve come to shine your shoes, he announced.

“What?” was her dazed reply.

“I’ve come to shine your shoes,” he repeated. “I remember at my mother’s funeral the family was so busy, and the shock and all that we didn’t realize our shoes weren’t shined until we got to the funeral home.”

As he spread the newspaper over the floor and began scraping the soles of everyone’s shoes and polishing the uppers, the woman’s pent up sorrow and shock gratefully gave way to torrents of tears. His simple act had helped her through.

Often when there is a tragedy, friends of the mourners worry about what to say to them. That we have to say something is a given. That we have to say something is a mistake.

Sometimes silence is the most eloquent and heartfelt expression. Your silent presence is a gift that requires no explanation: gold that need not be gilded with distracting words. And the space formed by silence can be filled with simple acts: shoe shining (in a kup-in-galoshin environ) that pave a way from one heart to another, from a Jew to her Torah, from a man to his Creator.

For the mourners themselves: if you can’t express your feelings, if you feel cheated all over again this time because of the emotions sending you on this nightmare, if this all makes no sense — you don’t need to say anything. Silence gives credence to everything going on inside of you. It allows a rebuilding, a renewal inside of you. And that renewal, that rebuilding is the best consolation we have until Moshiach intervenes.

The most eloquent Holocaust Memorial I’ve ever seen? Survivors dancing at their grandchildren’s weddings and great-grandchildren’s bar mitzvahs.

with thanks to

What they didn’t tell you about Dahlia

Funny how none of the articles about the murder of Dahlia Lemkus who was stabbed near Alon Shvut last night speak about Dahlia or her family, how no reporter had the curiosity to find out about her. She was killed in the afternoon so the reporters had all evening to question their contacts in Tekoa.


Instead, they practice a kind of obscurantism, restricting our knowledge of the victim. (Curious that the word obscurantism is derived from a dispute between intellectuals and the German monks who wanted to burn Jewish books, like the Talmud, in the 16th century to obscure Jewish culture and learning.) In the New York Times, the reporter tells you about the terrorist who is from Hebron, how he was in an Israeli jail for five years for a firebombing. The reporter quotes his Facebook page: “I’ll be a thorn in the gullet of the Zionist project to Judaize Jerusalem.” We learn nothing about 26 year old Dahlia, who was just getting started in life after finishing college, studying occupational therapy so that she could have a job where she could help people who were sick or infirm or disabled to live in a fuller way.


They don’t tell you how she loved to bake with her mother, the two of them bringing rich, luscious cakes to parties and the way she spoke English with an accent — but not a Hebrew accent — a South African accent because her parents made Aliyah from there thirty years ago. They don’t tell you how she went to synagogue every Sabbath and smiled at the people in her row before she prayed. And they don’t tell you how she had to hitchhike to get to her job working with children in Kiryat Gat or that she was the main volunteer at Yad Sarah in Tekoa which lends medical equipment like wheelchairs to those who are sick or injured. They don’t tell you how she liked to help brides look beautiful by doing their makeup for them before their weddings.


They don’t care that Dahlia’s father Nachum drives the ambulance in Tekoa. Day and night he is called on to make the drive to Jerusalem, and that Dahlia’s mother cares tenderly for the elderly.


You will never learn from the articles that, when a neighbour had to go to the hospital with a sick child, Dahlia stayed with the other young children all night and insisted that they not pay her. The articles would never tell you that she was the one who cooked the food for her brother Haggai’s bar mitzvah a month ago, fried fish, salad and pancakes.


No, they don’t want you to know what a kind, giving, loving young woman she was on the cusp of her adult life, looking towards marriage and creating her own family. Instead the newspapers show a photo of the terrorist and tell us that the Palestinian leadership says that it is normal and natural to run over a young woman and then stab her to death so that her blood runs like a red cape into the street. Normal and natural. An act of resistance. When the Palestinian leadership calls for their people to take a knife and find Jews to murder, and calls it natural and normal, we have entered the realm of unadulterated evil. Dahlia embodied its opposite and that fact shouldn’t be obscured from the world.


by Sherri Mandell

Toldot in a Nutshell Genesis 25:19-28:9

Yitzchak and Rivka endure twenty childless years, until their prayers are answered and Rivka conceives. She experiences a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her”; G‑d tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder. Esav emerges first; Yakov is born clutching Esav’s heel. Esav grows up to be “a cunning hunter, a man of the field”; Yacov is “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents of learning. Isaac favours Esav; Rivka loves Yacov. Returning exhausted and hungry from the hunt one day, Esav sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Yacov for a pot of red lentil stew. In Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, Isaac presents Rivka as his sister, out of fear that he will be killed by someone coveting her beauty. He farms the land, reopens the wells dug by his father Abraham, and digs a series of his own wells: over the first two there is strife with the Philistines, but the waters of the third well are enjoyed in tranquility. Esav marries two Hittite women. Isaac grows old and blind, and expresses his desire to bless Esav before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father’s favourite food, Rivka dresses Yacov in Esav’s clothes, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father. Yacov receives his father’s blessings for “the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land” and mastery over his brother. When Esav returns and the deception is revealed, all Yitzchak can do for his weeping son is to predict that he will live by his sword, and that when Yacov falters, the younger brother will forfeit his supremacy over the elder. Yacov leaves home for Charan to flee Esav’s wrath and to find a wife in the family of his mother’s brother, Laban. Esav marries a third wife—Machalath, the daughter of Ishmael.

Parsha Thoughts – Toldot

And one people shall be stronger than the other (Gen. 25:23)

Rashi comments: When one rises, the other falls. Jacob and Esau symbolize the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul, between a person’s good and evil inclinations. When a Jew’s G-dly soul is dominant and exerts itself, there is no need to combat the animal soul – it “falls” by itself. Light does not have to fight darkness to illuminate – as soon as it appears, the darkness vanishes. So too, does the light of holiness dispel all evil.

What Makes a Criminal? Toldot

In recently read a report which focused on the nature of evil. The report stated that, for the most part, those guilty of the most heinous violent crimes tend to fit an otherwise “average” description. Time and again, the neighbours of a mass murderer were shocked to find that the “nice guy who lived next door” had committed such despicable acts. The article reported that they generally acted like “good” people, and it was their evil activity which was the exception!

The report concluded that all of us combine good and bad traits, and while certain circumstances may cause individuals to go beyond the bounds of normal behaviour, there is no basis to assert that these people are “totally evil.”

Indeed, as comfortable as it may be to categorize certain people as monstrous, cruel villains, the Torah does not paint such a reality. Even the worst evildoers can be portrayed as capable of doing much good. Perhaps the most striking example can be found in this week’s Torah portion, Toldot.

Much of the Parsha describes the struggle between Jacob and his twin brother Esav. Esav is described as a violent “man of the field,” who heads a cruel gang of 400 men. He murders many people – and even plans to murder his brother Jacob (after Jacob received their father’s blessing). In addition, Esav is portrayed as “playing the field” – i.e. dallying in all forms of sexual licentiousness. Given all these factors, it is no surprise that Jewish tradition sees Esav as a “rasha,” an evil person.

But Jewish tradition also sees Esav in another light. The famous Talmudic sage, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, was known for the great care he took in fulfilling the Mitzvah of honouring one’s parents. Yet he stated: “I served my father faithfully all my life, yet I did not even reach the smallest level of honour with which Esav served his father Isaac.”

In fact, Jewish tradition states that perhaps no one in history was more scrupulous in tending to his parents’ needs than Esav. The Midrash notes how quick and eager Esav was to fulfill all his father’s requests, even wearing a set of royal clothing whenever going to help his father. Apparently the care with which Esav took in honouring his parents – one of the Ten Commandments – was a key reason for Isaac to believe that Esav, not Jacob, should be the heir to Jewish leadership.

Jacob recognizes this greatness in his brother Esav as well. After fleeing from Esav (who is intent on murdering him), Jacob stays in Syria for almost two decades. He is afraid to return to Israel to face Esav. Why is Jacob so afraid? Not only because of the physical danger posed by Esav’s murderous gang, but also because of the spiritual elevation that Esav possessed due to the mitzvah of honouring parents!

Yet despite this, Jewish tradition still refers to Esav as “the Evil One.” His murderous deeds and sexual dalliances cannot be excused just because he excels in one particular Mitzvah. On the other hand, the Torah clearly wants us to recognize that ultimately, people do not fit into neat, black-or-white categories.

Rabbi Yehuda Appel

with thanks to

Parsha in a Nutshell

Mazeltovs: Martin & Helen Blinder

Condolences: Elen Grande