Jewlarious Jokes 9/23/2023





What is the most distinguished aliyah at the Torah reading?

I have news for you: the most important aliyah is Hagbah.

Every shul-going Jew is familiar with the custom of exposing three columns in the Torah scroll after the reading and then lifting it for the entire congregation to view while they stand respectfully. The lifter first turns right, then left, then returns to the center as the entire congregation chants “V’zos hatorah”: “this is the Torah that Moses placed before the Children of Israel”, after which the scroll is returned to the table and rolled closed.

The story is told of a Jew once granted the honor of performing Hagbah. He struggled to lift the Torah scroll and felt embarrassed in front of the crowd. But after Shabbos, he started working out extensively—so that the next time he would be called upon for Hagbah he’d be much stronger and capable of lifting the Torah easily.

Several months later, the gabbai called him to the Torah. Feeling self-confident, he stepped up right away and lifted the scroll properly. Afterward, he turned to the gabbai and asked: “Nu? How was it this time?” And the gabbai answered him: “You did a great job! The only thing is, I didn’t call you up for Hagbah—I had given you an aliyah…”

Why is Hagbah considered valuable? The commentators explain that in addition to hearing the Torah reading, there is another mitzvah for all shul-goers, men and women alike, to physically see the Torah scroll’s writing. Thus, at each reading’s end, the scroll is held up before everyone’s eyes.

The Jerusalem Talmud cites a basis for this in the Torah portion of Ki Savo (Deuteronomy 27:26), where the verse states: “Cursed is the one who fulfills not the words of this Torah.” And the Jerusalem Talmud comments: “Rabbi Shimon ben Yakim says, ‘This [verse’s reference] is the chazan who doesn’t hold up the Torah scroll for the congregation to display its writing.’”

There are those who explain the reason for this, saying that when we recite “And this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel,” we are in effect testifying that this is the very Torah that Moshe gave the Jews—and with every testimony, there needs to be visual witnessing. Hearing is not enough. Therefore, when we testify about the Torah, it’s not enough to merely hear the reading of the Torah, but one also must physically see it with his or her eyes to sufficiently testify.

The Talmud tells us that this mitzvah is quite important, being that the Torah lifter is the one who effectively ends the Torah reading. Thus the Talmud says, in Tractate Beitzah 32a, that “the Torah roller,” meaning the person who rolls the Torah open so as to lift it, “collects the merits of all of them,” meaning the merits of all those called up to the Torah earlier. This is also the case with all mitzvos—whoever completes it collects its merit.

There are those who think that getting an aliyah is an important mitzvah, and they are prepared to spend a lot of money on it. There are even those who want to become Kohanim so as to be able to get a lot of aliyos! But along the Talmud comes, saying that lifting the Torah scroll at the reading’s conclusion is a greater mitzvah than all the aliyos combined, which, by the way, is why the Polish Chasidic custom is to give their Rebbe the honor of Hagbah.

But what is so great about completing a mitzvah? The following example will make it understood.

If one patronizes a restaurant and is served undercooked chicken, he immediately protests, the owner comes running to apologize profusely, and the patron ultimately gets a free meal. But if you think about it, the question arises: what’s the big deal? The chicken was slaughtered, salted and cleaned by halachic standards, and it was cooked with all the necessary flavors and spices. So much work was put into it—all that was missing was that last five minutes of cooking.

Now that’s why Hagbah “collects the merit of them all.”

The Arizal writes that when the Torah is lifted, one must carefully scrutinize the actual letters, since “a great light” is drawn down through them. While we are talking about the Torah, it is only right to mention that one ought not only study the Torah’s contents, or its sacred language of Hebrew, but its very letters too. The image and form of the letters give us a path, and lessons, in the service of G-d. Each letter has a specific message to the Jewish nation, and when we contemplate the letters, we ought to contemplate the message G-d wants to communicate to us through each.

For example, let’s take the first letter: Aleph. Looking at this letter reveals that it actually consists of three letters. The upper right consists of the letter Yud. The lower left consists of a second Yud, although upside down. And the middle section consists of the letter Vav, at an angle.

The first Yud represents G-d, because the letter Yud is the first letter of the Name of G-d. This is seen in the fact that when a Yud is written alone, it is automatically understood to be referring to G-d. But Yud has more significance: the words “Yisrael” and “Yehudi”, meaning “Israel” and “Jew”, also begin with Yud.

In the middle of the Aleph is the line that connects both Yuds. The upper Yud is G-d. The lower Yud is the Jew. And what is the line? What does it consist of?

In our Parshah, we read, “For His nation is G-d’s portion; Jacob, the rope of His inheritance”—the song of Haazinu describes the bond between G-d and the Jews as a “line,” or “rope.” But why is this bond compared to a rope?

In the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi states that the soul is a rope. One end originates in G-d Himself and the other end is found in the Jew’s body. And just as a rope’s purpose is to bind together two different things, in like manner is the Jew in this physical world bound to G-d.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman continues to explain that just as when one pulls one end of a rope, he drags along the other end of a rope, so too when a Jew does a physical mitzvah he spiritually tugs the other end of his or her rope, “pulling” along G-d Himself, so to speak. And the converse is true too—should a Jew do undesirable things, he drags the entire rope down and, so to speak, drags G-d into undesirable places.

But he or she cannot claim, “This is my personal issue. I want to live my life the way I want, and no one can mix in to my private life.” One must know that one’s actions affect G-d Himself.

It’s like a newlywed couple. The husband cannot tell his wife: “What I do is my business! Don’t mix into my life.” If he says that, her reaction is quite predictable: “What do you mean, ‘Your business?’ We’re connected to each other! If you go down, I go down with you. What you do directly affects me!” In like manner is the connection between Jew and G-d.

There is a reassuring and reinvigorating lesson here: It doesn’t matter what a Jew does—his connection with G-d is so strong and deep that he can never disconnect from G-d. Practically speaking, this is the entire idea of teshuvah, repentance: No Jew is ever lost, but rather, is always bound from above no matter how far he runs. He will always remain bound to G-d by his spiritual “umbilical cord.”

Let us conclude with the story of Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, an early Chasidic leader. His custom was to immerse in a river each morning—and to get to the river, he had to walk up one side of a slippery hill and down the other side. When he was asked how he never slipped and fell on the hill, he replied: “If you’re bound above, you won’t fall below.


Jewlarious Jokes 9/15/2023





Throughout this High Holiday season, every synagogue makes a special effort to get a good cantor. Of course, the wealthier the shul, the better the chazzan will be. Afterwards Jews will be asking each other, “Nu, how was your chazzan?” Many Jews even come to Shul on High Holidays only because of the chazzan. Some congregations even add choirs to accompany their cantor’s performance. In such places the High Holiday prayers are like a concert.

When did this all begin? Who came up with the idea of that you need a chazzan to lead the prayers and that prayers must be full of songs and melodies? Why couldn’t we just say the prayers and go home? What’s the point of all this music?

The style of our prayers is founded upon the service in the Holy Temple. I always wondered what draw there was in the Temple that brought the Jewish people back to it three times every year. True, it is a mitzvah to visit the Temple on holidays, and true those who came witnessed miracles. Still, even miracles become commonplace after you see them enough times and people don’t run to see something commonplace.

The draw was the Levites’ musical performance.

It was the Kohen’s job to bring the sacrifices upon the altar, the Levites were not allowed to do this. Instead, they were charged with two jobs. They were the guards at the gate (not for security, G-d protects His own house, but out of respect) and they sang and played music while the service was being performed.

Obviously, a Levi who wasn’t musically inclined was given guard duty. But every single talented Levi was sent to perform, either in the choir or in the orchestra. And every time a sacrifice was brought onto the Altar, especially on holidays, they’d strike up the music.

Picture this, hundreds of men singing, hundreds of instruments playing… It’s described a little in the last chapter of Psalms, “Praise Him with a shofar blast, with harp and lyre, timbres and dance, stringed instruments and flute, resounding cymbals…” It must have been magnificent! Jews who came to the Temple were treated to the biggest concert of the age.

Many of the songs the Levites sang were included in Psalms. Chapters that begin with “To the choirmaster” or “A song” were definitely among them. All of the chapters we know as “The Songs of the Day” were among them. Some say that the tune of Kol Nidre dates back to the days of the Temple.

The music was very important to the service. Its purpose was to inspire the person who came to seek atonement and awaken the feeling of repentance in his heart.

Shazar, the former president of Israel tells a story about the power of music.

He was born to a Chabad family but moved to Israel and left his heritage behind. At the end of his life he reconnected to Judaism and to the Rebbe. He writes that it was a certain melody, the Alter Rebbe’s niggun was his rope and helped pull him back to his roots.

Before leaving Russia, he visited his grandfather one last time. As his grandfather escorted him out, he said, “You know the Alter Rebbe’s niggun very well. If you are ever in doubt whether or not your life is on the right track, try to bring this niggun to mind. If you can’t, it’s a sign that you must change your ways for you have strayed and become lost.”

This song stayed with Shazar his whole life. However, on the fateful day when the UN was voting on Israel’s right to statehood Shazar was on Israel’s representing committee and he had a bad feeling. As he sat, caught between hope and fear, he tried to bring this niggun to mind. He couldn’t remember it. His fears were now cemented; the day would surely end badly.

Looking around, desperate for a ray of hope, Shazar saw a man who looked Jewish. He scribbled the following note to him, “Ana Hashem Hoshia Na,” which means, “Please, G-d, please save us.” A few moments later a note came back, “Ana Hashem Hatzlicha Na,” meaning, “Please, G-d, please grant us success.” Suddenly that illusive niggun was playing in his head, allaying his fears.

See the power of music. One Chassidic melody brought hope and strength to a Jew throughout his life and eventually brought him back to Judaism.

In this week’s Parsha, as well as in the past two portions, the Torah is referred to as a song. “Moses came and spoke all the words of this song.”

Why does Torah call itself a song?

Torah is not simply a rule book, to be read dryly as a lawyer might read a book of laws. Torah is meant to move the reader the way a song does. The Torah’s song is meant to lift you up to a higher plane.

Also, music never gets old. No matter how many times you hear some songs you’re always willing to hear them again. You never want to hear the same speech twice. You’ll never hear, “Encore! Encore!” after a speech.

This is why the Torah is read in a tune. This way it will never get boring and we’ll read it again and again, because this song must never end.


Jewlarious Jokes 9/8/2023





This week we read the very last mitzvah in the Torah: every Jew must write a Sefer Torah.

Were you ever in a Sephardic Synagogue? Have you ever seen a Sephardic Torah scroll? It looks very different from the one we have in our Shul. Our Torahs are wrapped around wooden poles and covered with a soft velvet mantle while Sephardim keep their Torahs in hard ornamented cases.

This is not the only difference in how we treat our Torahs. When we read from the Torah, during the service, we, Ashkenazim, lay the Torah down on the bimah and read from it. The Sephardim, on the other hand, read from the Torah while it is standing upright on the bimah.

The interesting thing about this difference is that the original argument was not between a Sephardi and an Ashkenazi, it was between two Ashkenazim: Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam.

Why do Torah scholars argue this point, what is the difference how the Torah is positioned?

When it comes to the Torah’s honor we treat the Torah like an honorable person. We dress it nicely and we place a crown on its head. We carry it on our arms and we never leave it alone. We dance with it, we kiss it and we rise to our feet when it enters the room. So the question is, is it more respectful for an honorable person to stand or sit?

Even in our own experience we’ve seen both practices in action. The President stands during an address and his audience sits. On the other hand the Rebbe would sit when he spoke to us and we would stand and listen. Both are out of respect.

Of course there are scholars upholding each side of the argument. But at their heads, Rashi was of the opinion that the Torah scroll must always be kept in an upright position, both during reading and while in the Ark, standing is more dignified. Rabeinu Tam, (Rashi’s grandson and arch dissident) argued that the Torah should always be lying down, both for reading and in its place in the Ark, for to make the Torah stand is not respectful at all.

And this argument doesn’t stop here. These opposing views apply to how the parchment should be positioned inside the Tefillin boxes. Rashi says that the parchment should be placed vertically in the Tefillin. Rabeinu Tam, on the other hand believed that the parchments should lay horizontally. (Today everyone follows Rashi’s view regarding Tefillin—even inside the Rabeinu Tam Tefillins). However it is interesting to note that among the archeological findings in Israel they did find some Tefillin in which the parchments are set horizontally, in accordance with Rabeinu Tam’s view.

The same argument is about the Mezuzah. There are differing opinions whether we should put the Mezuzah horizontally or vertically. The Sephardic custom is to put their mezuzahs upright. We, in this case, take the middle road and put the mezuzah on slant.

The truth is that we kind of make the same compromise for the Torah scroll. You may have noticed that the bimah isn’t flat, it’s on a slant. This isn’t just for convenience. We actually want to follow both opinions to the best of our ability. In this way, when the Torah is on the Bima, it’s not standing upright, and it’s not lying flat either. The Torah is kept on a slant inside the ark as well, partly by default and partly for sake of following both opinions.

Although, as the Jewish saying goes: “M’ken nisht tanzten oif aleh chasenes,” lit. “You can’t dance at every wedding,” we certainly try.

This is not the only case where we try to follow two dissenting views.

Before reciting the blessing over the Challah on Shabbat we make a little scratch on the loaf we’re going to cut. This is because on the one hand it’s best to recite the blessing over a whole loaf. On the other hand it is best not to wait at all between reciting the blessing and eating the food, which means that the bread should already be cut.

So we do both. We leave the loaf whole for the blessing but we make a little cut on the bread before the blessing to show that we have begun the process of the cutting.

What drives this Jewish tendency to follow two dissenting views?

I would compare it to a person who is fighting an illness. He will visit many doctors to find a cure. And any doctor will agree that the more types of treatment/therapies that you try, the better are your chances of achieving a complete recovery. And since your health is very important to you of course you would try to follow as many as possible!

The same rule applies in Yiddishkeit. Since Torah is very important to us we try to follow as many (valid) opinions as possible, just to better our chances of doing each mitzvah in the best possible way.

So go ahead, dance at every wedding!



In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Savo, Moses tells the Jewish people that they are making a covenant with G-d to observe the commandments of the Torah. This would be in addition to the covenant that was sealed at Mount Sinai.

Then Moses says: “You have designated G-d today to be your G-d, and G-d has designated you today, to be his chosen nation” (Tavo 26:17). This was the contract between us—we choose G-d and G-d chooses us.

Regarding this verse, the Talmud tells a story about two students who came to visit Rabbi Yehoshua in the town of Peki’in. 

When they arrived at his home, Rabbi Yehoshua asked them, “What novel ideas were presented in the study hall?”

“We are your students,” they responded, “and we came to drink from your waters.” They had come to hear from him, not to teach.

But Rabbi Yehoshua insisted, “Nonetheless, it’s impossible that nothing novel was presented in the study hall…”

“Whose Shabbat was it,” he asked. During that period, two people served together as nasi—leader of the Jewish people: Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah. Rabban Gamliel was the elder of the two, and he usually was the one to speak on Shabbat, but once a month the honor was given to the young rabbi, Rabbi Elazar. Therefore, Rabbi Yehoshua asked, “Whose Shabbat was it?”

“This week,” they replied, “Rabbi Elazar spoke.”

“What did he say?”

“He spoke about the commandment of Hakhel,” the students told him, and proceeded to repeat the content of his speech.

Seeing that Rabbi Yehoshua was enjoying their presentation, they mentioned that Rabbi Elazar had presented another teaching as well. He had spoken about the verse that we mentioned earlier, “You have designated G-d today to be your G-d, and G-d has designated you today…”

Rabbi Elazar had said, “G-d said to the Jewish people: You have made Me a single entity in the world, [as you singled Me out as separate and unique]. And therefore I will make you a single entity in the world, [as you will be a treasured nation, chosen by G-d]. You have made Me a single entity in the world, as it is written: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.’ And therefore I will make you a single entity in the world, as it is stated: ‘And who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the land?’ (I Chronicles 17:21).”

In other words, we make G-d special in the fact that we believe in Him and only in Him, and therefore, G-d makes us special as well and chooses us as his nation.

My friends, we all designate G-d as our single, special G-d when we recite the verse of Shema Yisrael. But there were those who made that same designation not by their words, but by their actions. By sacrificing their lives to live Jewishly in the most difficult circumstances—even in the miserable expanses of Siberia. They lived with the reality that there was only one G-d—even in a terrible Soviet labor camp.

We are now approaching holiday season. To our luck, all the holidays this year are in the middle of the week. Rosh Hashanah is on Monday and Tuesday, Yom Kippur is Tuesday night and Wednesday, and the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are both on Mondays and Tuesdays as well. Everybody’s worried—a full month of work will go to waste as we jump from Shabbat to holiday and from holiday to Shabbat.

This is our opportunity to show that Shema Yisrael is a commitment not only in words, but also in action. We don’t just say it; it’s actually a way of life. Our ‘sacrifice’ will be to take these days off, keep the kids home from school, and celebrate the holidays together joyfully. 

Let’s demonstrate to ourselves and to our families that Judaism is the most important thing in our lives. 


Jewlarious Jokes 9/1/2023




Jewlarious Jokes 8/25/2023





On a visit to Israel, an old Chassidic Rebbe from America was asked to describe what kind of Chassidim he had in the US. This was in the early days of Jewish life in the US, when it was difficult to find observant Jews even in Chassidic-style communities. So, he responded with a story: 

“A man once came to me asking for a blessing to have a child. I told him that I’d give him my blessing if he agreed to keep the mitzvah of Teffilin. The man agreed. We spoke a while longer and at the end of our conversation I added, ‘Perhaps you’d agree to take upon yourself the mitzvah of Shabbat as well.’ This time the man replied, ‘Rebbe, zeit nit kein chazer – don’t be a pig!’” 

So, you see, restraint can apply to mitzvos too. 

On a serious note, it really does apply to holy things. In the Holy Temple the Show Bread was changed every Friday afternoon. The bread that had lain on the Show Table miraculously remained as fresh as the moment it came out of the oven. It would have been a shame to waste it, so the Kohanim on duty at the time would divide the twelve loaves amongst themselves. But the Talmud tells us, “The modest ones would withdraw their hands from it and only the gluttonous would grab [their portion] from it.” 

To partake of the Show Bread was a great opportunity, a chance Kohanim got only once a year (each shift served only one week a year). Still, the scrupulous wouldn’t take any and those who did take were considered gluttons. 

In fact, the previous Rebbe said, “It’s okay if one is less scrupulous in the performance of mitzvos that involve physical pleasure.” 

That means that although it’s a mitzvah to eat meat on Shabbat you don’t have to finish the whole pot of cholent! And although sleeping on Shabbat is encouraged, you don’t have to spend all day in bed! As the Rebbe once pointed out, “One should not invest his whole heart and soul in mitzvos that involve physical pleasure. For pleasure is a slippery slope. Mitzvah pleasure is closely followed by plain (permissible) pleasure and that is closely followed by forbidden pleasure.” 

The Talmud accuses Kohanim who were meticulous in collecting their rightful portion of “Matnas Kehuna” (the tithes for the Kohen) of being gluttonous. In fact Abaye, a leading Talmudist, would abstain from accepting any of this tax. Once a year, on the day before Yom Kippur, he would accept his portion, just so it should not be forgotten that he was a Kohen. 


This law also has a unique aspect that could teach us a powerful lesson.

Sometimes, the Talmud refers to the word “friend” as G-d, so we can translate the command of “When you enter your friend’s vineyard…” as G-d’s vineyard. We are the employees in His giant ‘vineyard’; so as long as we are doing His work, we are permitted to partake of and enjoy His product, the world around us. Still we must remember not to be a Chazer – don’t overindulge. Instead, we must work hard and stay honest and eventually move up in the job. And who knows, maybe one day, you’ll make partner! 

Which, by the way, is the goal of Judaism; G-d created the world. It is now every Jew’s mission to make himself G-d’s partner.