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D'var Torah by Dr. Kalman Stein, Head of School

Dr. Kalman Stein, Head of School

Dear Hebrew Academy Community:

As we complete our second week of school—time goes by so quickly-- I should like to direct your attention to two messages which I hope will characterize the religious life of Hebrew Academy and our wonderful students throughout the coming year.

This week’s Parasha, Parashat Ki Tavo, includes a brief description of the covenant between God and the Jewish People (26:17-19):

את ה" האמרת היום להיות לך לאלקים וללכת בדרכיו ולשמר חקיו

ומצותיו ומשפטיו ולשמוע בקולו וה" האמירך היום להיות לו לעם

סגולה כאשר דבר לך ולשמור כל מצותיו ולתתך עליון על כל הגוים

אשר עשה לתהילה ולשם ולתפארת ולהיותך עם קדש לה" אלוקיך

כאשר דבר—Today you—Israel—have designated Hashem to be your God, to follow in His ways, to observe His statutes, commandments and ordinances, and to hearken unto His voice. And today Hashem has set you—Israel—apart to be His treasured nation, as he promised you, and that you shall observe all of the commandments. And to make you high above all nations that He has made, in praise, and in name, and in glory, and that you may be a holy nation as He has spoken.

The Jewish People designate and glorify Hashem by accepting Him as our God and by pledging to act justly, to perform acts of Chessed, and to obey His laws. Hashem, on His part, designates and raises us up amongst the nations by choosing us as His People.

The first anomaly in this text is the use of the word היום-- today—in the opening of each of the first two verses. The covenant between Hashem and Am Yisrael was not entered into “today,” during the fortieth year in the desert; it had been struck years earlier at Har Sinai. Rashi, faced with a similar question in another Pasuk, explained that the use of the word “today” is to remind us that the words of Torah should always seem brand new and exciting even more than two millennia after the Jewish People first heard them. 

Our task as parents and educators is to do whatever we can to make the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot exciting, new, and fresh, to help our children feel the dynamism and warmth of a life based on our Mesorah.

At first glance the repetition of the phrase “to observe His commandments” also seems puzzling. It makes sense that we, the Jewish People, designate Hashem as our God by pledging to obey the Mitzvot. But how does that phrase make sense in the context of Hashem’s commitment and promise to us? Rabbi Chaim Sabbato explains that, yes, we accept observing the Mitzvot as an obligation but, at the same time, we are to see this not as a burden but as Hashem’s gift, as תפארת and תהילה, as the crowning glory and great privilege that God has granted us. Let us all work together in word and deed, through education and living example, to show our children that rather than accepting the old Yiddish saying that “It’s hard to be a Jew,” we sincerely believe that Torah and Mitzvot are not a yoke upon our necks but shining crowns which we wear with pride and joy.

Dr. Kalman Stein
Head of School

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