Friday, March 26, 2010

Radical Vegetable Therapy - by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
What is the meaning behind the Karpas - the vegetable dipped in salt water at the beginning of the Seder? There seems to be no explanation to it at all, we just eat it!

The Karpas is perhaps the most enigmatic part of the Seder. But its message is the most vital one for the entire Pesach experience. It comes right at the beginning of the evening, for without it you can't even start the Seder.

The Haggadah instructs us to take a vegetable, dip it in salt water, make the blessing "Blessed are You G-d...Creator of the fruit of the ground," and eat it.

Any vegetable can be used for Karpas, as long as it fits the following two criteria:

1. It must be a "fruit of the ground", as opposed to fruit of the tree.
2. It must not a bitter herb, such as the those eaten later on at the Seder for Maror

If we understand the inner meaning of these two requirements, we will grasp the secret of the Karpas.

A tree is a plant that remains standing year after year. You pick this year's fruits, and next year the very same tree bears new fruit, on the same old branches that grow from the same old trunk.

Not so with vegetables. When you pick potatoes, celery or onions, that stalk is gone forever. The next vegetable will have to grow from the ground, another entirely new stalk has to grow from the roots. This year's potatoes are a completely new plant, they didn't grow on the same stalk as last year's. The old has gone and made way for the new.

Karpas must be a fruit of the ground, because it sets the tone for the entire Seder night. Pesach is all about new beginnings, taking the first step toward spiritual freedom, experiencing the exodus of the soul from the slavery of bad habits. To achieve this freedom the human, like the fruit of the ground, needs to renew and rejuvenate, to grow, develop, refresh and reinvent itself from the ground up.

Indeed, the very first man was named Adam because he too was created from the dust of the ground - Adamah. And so the Karpas' message of renewal is more than just a nice concept, it is an integral part of being human. We too have the power of self-reinvention. We are not stuck in the self of our past. We are not bound by our previous mistakes or past failures. We can start again. We just need a bit of vegetable therapy.

This does not mean being callous or dismissive of our past mistakes. We must take responsibility for them and be truly regretful. We may even shed a tear for our wrongdoings, represented by the salt water. That's fine. Tears are healthy, when they are an expression of sincere emotion. But now, at the opening of the Seder, is not the time to focus too much on our difficult past. We will do that later, when we eat the Maror. But we can't eat bitter herbs for Karpas. If we want to renew ourselves, we need to start with being open and positive, not bitter and resentful.

And so we sit at the Seder, read the same Haggadah, sing the same songs and eat the same Matzah. But before all that we eat the Karpas, to remind us that while things may seem the same they actually aren't. Tonight you are opening a fresh chapter, turning a new page. It is a new you reading the Haggadah from today's perspective, not last year's. So let the story of freedom speak to you this year with freshness and originality, like never before. Let the Seder night be the launching pad for a new you.

Good Shabbos and a happy, kosher and uplifting Pesach!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Courage to be Free – Special Pre-Passover Web-Event

Just twenty four years ago, a refusenik, jailed by the Soviet communist regime for proudly representing Judaism in a country where Jewish activity was a crime, Natan Sharansky was barred from communicating with his concerned Jewish brothers around the globe. This Sunday (March 21), at 3pm EST, Natan Sharansky, now a powerful figure in Israeli politics and chairman of The Jewish Agency, will address world Jewry in a live pre-Passover webcast entitled “The Courage to be Free.” The event is sponsored by The Jewish Learning Institute and will be hosted on

» Watch the broadcast by Clicking Here!

Are Jews a Nation Divided? by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
I am Ashkenazi (Jew of Eastern European descent), and my wife is Sefardi (an Oriental Jew). She grew up eating rice on Pesach, which my family custom would never allow. Every Pesach we have the same discussion: how can it be that one group of Jews can eat rice on Pesach and another group can't? Aren't we all the same religion? Isn't this an example of how the Torah can be interpreted in so many ways, and there is no one true Judaism?

Actually, when you compare the way Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews celebrate Pesach, you will be astounded not by the differences, but by the similarities. The discrepancies are so minor and external that they just prove the rule - we are one people with one Torah.

Jews are forbidden by the Torah to eat or even own leavened products on Pesach. This means any product made from the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye, oats), other than Matzah, cannot be eaten or in your possession for the eight days of Passover. The Jews of Eastern Europe took on an extra stringency, and forbade rice and several other foods on Pesach. Although rice is not one of the five grains, it was often grown together with wheat, and the two could become intermingled. Also, rice can be ground into flour and then confused with wheat flour. For these reasons rice was not eaten on Pesach by European Jews.

The Jews of the Orient however did not take on this custom. Perhaps the conditions of growing and storing those products in their lands did not warrant this extra precaution. This means that the Seder menu of a Jewish family from Morocco or Yemen will vastly differ from the fare served at a table of German or Hungarian Jews. The former will eat rice, peas, beans and corn, the latter will not.

But that's just the menu. If you look at every other aspect of the Seder, they are almost identical from one community to another. To illustrate this, imagine the following mind experiment:

Take a 9th century Persian Jew, and transport him through time and space to 19th century Poland. After traversing the globe and jumping a thousand years forward, he arrives in a time and a land that are totally foreign to him. He walks the streets in a daze, completely lost and out of place.

But take him to a Seder, and he would feel completely at home. His host family may look different in colour and dress to his own, they may eat Ashkenazi foods that are unfamiliar to his Sefardi palate, but the Seder itself would be exactly the same as his family Seder back home. He would hear the children ask the same four questions that his own children ask him. He would eat the same Matzah and bitter herbs, drink the same four cups of wine, read the same prayers and biblical quotes. Even the songs, while sung to different tunes, would have the same Hebrew lyrics.

Most importantly, he would hear the exact same story, the story every Jewish family has told every year for over three thousand years, the story of our common ancestors who were slaves in Egypt until G-d set them free.

This is nothing short of amazing. Two thousand years of exile has not weakened our inner connection. Dispersal across the globe has not loosened our bonds of shared history and united destiny. With all the fragmentation and factionalism that we all complain about, we are still one people. This is felt at Pesach more than ever.

Rather than focusing on the superficial disparities between communities, look at our internal connection. We are all telling the same story. G-d took us out of Egypt to make us one nation, united by the Torah, our common history and our common goal. Some eat rice, some don't, and it matters not. We are one family, the children of Israel.

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Friday, March 12, 2010

JLI Mission to Israel Update

After a busy week in Northern Israel, Yerushalayim and Chevron, participants in the second JLI Land and Spirit Mission to Israel will welcome Shabbos at the Kossel this evening.

An inspirational and uplifting program is planned for Shabbos when the group will be based in the luxurious David Citadel Hotel just outside the old city walls of Yerushalaim.

On Sunday evening, a gala banquet is planned with an impressive list of guest speakers including Chief Rabbis Metzger and Amar, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky and former Minister and Head of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky. The banquet program also includes seventh term Knesset Member, Uzi Landau who is the Minister of National Infrastructure and formerly the Minister of Internal Security.

See regular pictures and updates at

Natan Sharansky to Deliver Pre-Pesach Web Address

In honor of Yud Aleph Nissan, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's birthday, the Jewish Learning Institute's online division, Torah Cafe, is pleased to present a special pre-Pesach web address by Natan Sharansky on The Courage to Be Free.

The program is scheduled for Sunday, 6 Nissan/March 21st at 3:00 pm EST. The talk will last approximately thirty minutes.

The program will be available on the Torah Cafe home page,

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Can I Keep My Maiden Name? by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
What does Jewish law say about a woman taking a man's surname after marriage? Some girls nowadays refuse to change their name to the man's. Not sure if the man really cares, or if he has a say, but I wanted the Jewish take on it.

Family names are a recent thing for Jews. For most of our history we used first names only. You were called by your own name, the son or daughter of your father's or mother's name, like Rachel the daughter of David.

Surnames were formally forced upon us in Europe about 200 years ago. And so the tailor's family name became Schneider, which means tailor, and the short guy took on the name Klein, and David's children became the Davidovitzes.

For the most part Jewish law did not utilise these names, and so the question of keeping a maiden name after marriage was never discussed by the rabbis. This was a question of secular law, not Jewish. But even where there is no Jewish law, there is a Jewish attitude.

Getting married means creating a oneness out of two people. Having a family means extending that oneness to our children. The Torah says that husband and wife become one flesh, and our children are the tangible expression of that oneness.

It would seem apt that this unity should be reflected in the family name. If the husband has one surname, the wife another, and then the kids perhaps a third, this does not reflect the togetherness and unity that a family structure is supposed to represent.

Of course one option is to hyphenate. But for the next generation this will lead to absurdity: if Joseph Cohen-Brown marries Josephine Jones-Levy, will they become the Cohen-Brown-Jones-Levys?

Keeping a uniform system is the best way to avoid conflict. And so there is reason to say that the husband's name should be taken. In Jewish law, soul identity follows the mother, but tribal affiliation follows the male line. A surname, which identifies which clan you belong to, would logically go after the male.

For someone to give up their name can be challenging. It can feel like giving up a part of their identity. But if that's what it takes to create a sense of family unity, it is a small ask. After all, starting a family will require many more selfless sacrifices for the greater good of others. That's the challenge of family life, and that's its beauty.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beyond Never Again: How the Holocaust Speaks to Us Today

Critically Acclaimed Series Explores Moral Paradox, Intense Realm of Meaning

March 2010 – Worldwide Holocaust Educational Initiative: Timed to coincide with Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day, Beyond Never Again, a six-part course about the Holocaust, will premiere in more than 300 locations worldwide, including Winnipeg. Created by the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), the world’s largest network of adult education, Beyond Never Again has won support from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, and more than 100 centers and institutes devoted to studying the Holocaust around the world.

Envisioned as a journey into the intense realm of meaning, Beyond Never Again examines the universal themes that the Holocaust forces us to confront, such as the nature of good and evil, and how empathy and conscience may be nurtured. The course is formulated as a series of facilitated discussions that will enable participants to articulate their personal responses to the Holocaust, and provides relevant angles on some of life’s most difficult questions pertaining to faith and suffering.

Starting on Tuesday, April 27 at the Chabad Torah Centre, Beyond Never Again will run for six consecutive Tuesdays, and is expected to draw more than fifty local students to its dynamic text-based and audio-visual classes. The course will be taught by Rabbi Shmuly Altein, Director of Chabad’s JLI chapter.

Beyond Never Again, like all JLI’s courses, is designed for people at all levels of Jewish knowledge. Participants without any prior experience or background in Jewish learning can attend and enjoy this course. All JLI courses are open to the public, and attendees need not to be a member of any particular synagogue or temple. Potential students are welcome to call (204) 414-5624 or visit for more information.

JLI is the first international educational institution to present traditional Judaism in a professional, innovative, academically challenging yet accessible format. The JLI was created to address the needs of Jews for in-depth Jewish knowledge. Authorities on each subject have organized the curriculum and teaching materials for each course.

“At the heart of Jewish culture there has always been Jewish learning, an engaged and vibrant meeting of minds,” explains Rabbi Shmuly Altein, the local JLI instructor. “We’re excited to be able to bring this open and interactive learning environment to our community.”

The program began with SoulQuest in November, continued with Portraits in Leadership in February and will conclude with Beyond Never Again in April. This sequence is designed to provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jewish thought, heritage, and tradition, and enables students to achieve basic Jewish literacy as well as an understanding of cardinal Jewish beliefs and observances.

The Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) is the adult education arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. JLI’s classes and programs are offered at over 300 locations in more than 250 cities nationwide and internationally (including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela). Over 100,000 people have attended JLI classes since its founding in 1998. Every course offered by JLI is taught concurrently in all locations. This unique feature has helped create a truly global learning community.

JLI courses are presented in Winnipeg, MB under the auspices of Lubavitch Centre.

Review of Lesson Six (Portraits in Leadership)

Dear Students:

Thank you for joining us for our sixth and final lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living, in which we profiled Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, called Rebbi. Born on the day of Rabbi Akiva’s execution, his mother hid his circumcision by exchanging him with a Roman baby who would later become a lifelong friend, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

From his early years, Rebbi studied with many teachers – at least four of Rabbi Akiva’s five major students – though his stature remained unassuming, asking for no special privilege in the academy. As a nasi, Rebbi was incredibly wealthy, though he didn’t use his wealth and position for personal benefit. Rather he used it to garner respect and influence from the Roman notables of his time – and many stories are told of Rebbi’s friendship with Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

For fourteen centuries, there had been a strict prohibition against recording the oral tradition, which relied heavily on memory for transmission through the generations. Yet due to persecution, it was often in danger of being forgotten, as we have seen throughout this course. Rebbi therefore decided to take advantage of a period of relative tranquility for undertaking the monumental task of recording the oral tradition. He convened gatherings to collect and transcribe the student’s body of knowledge, to clarify any points of disagreement, and to organize the knowledge into tractates. As a leader, Rebbi excelled in both spiritual and political arenas. Despite his stature, he was humble and willing to accept the opinions of others. He was greatly mourned upon his death.

The six leaders that we profiled in this course each made a unique contribution to the survival of our people through a time of great upheaval. The key to our survival as a people is the Torah. Though we must not neglect political and practical means of protecting our people, these efforts can only succeed when they are preceded by the vision provided in the Torah, which gives purpose to our survival—Rebbi understood this well and exemplified this synthesis.

Thank you for joining us for this journey, and I hope you’ll sign up for JLI’s spring course, Beyond Never Again: How the Holocaust Speaks to us Today. Our first session will be held at the Chabad Torah Centre on Tuesday, April 27th at 7:30pm. For more information on registration, please visit

Rabbi Shmuly Altein

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Mini Site for Beyond Never Again

JLI's Marketing Department is pleased to unveil a new mini-site in connection with the upcoming spring course, Beyond Never Again. In addition to providing information on the course and a link to register, the site is a living memorial to victims of the holocaust.

Go to the site, to learn more about an innovative program that will encourage individuals to increase in Mitzvos and garner interest in the upcoming course at the same time. In this unique project, visitors to the site choose to memorialize someone who perished in the holocaust by taking on a resolution to do a Mitzvah to perpetuate their life.

JLI Mission to Israel Begins Today!

Representatives from communities across the USA, Canada, Brazil, England, South Africa, Australia and Ukraine embarked today on the second JLI Land and Spirit Mission to Israel.

Close to 200 participants and Shluchim began with an exploration of Caesaria, Har HaCarmel and other points of interest in Israel’s coastal region. Headed by Mission Coordinator, Rabbi Schneur Wineberg, the trip will take them to the holy cities of Tiveria and Tsfas and to the Golan Heights in the north before moving its base to Yerushalayim. They will learn firsthand Chabad’s role in bolstering the beleaguered communities of Chevron and Sderot and bring messages of solidarity from their home communities to the people there as well as to the soldiers at an active army base.

Throughout the trip they will be addressed by influential dignitaries including Chief Rabbis Metzger and Amar and Ministers and Knesset Members Uzi Landau, Benny Begin, Yoel Chasson and Tzachi Hanegbi. The Mayors of Yerushalayim, Nir Barkat and Tiveria, Zohar Oved will also greet them as will Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, former Minister and Head of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, Ambassador Yehuda Avner, Professor Jonathan Sarna and Jerusalem Post Correspondent Gil Hoffman.

Brand New: JLI Facebook Community

Access our page at I strongly encourage you all to become a fan of this page. This will help you stay informed about our upcoming courses.

In addition to gaining access to supplemental readings related to the current lesson, you will also be able to read, contribute and share in discussions about current courses with fellow students from around the world. Don't miss out.

Spread the word with your own network of relatives, friends and acquaintances.

Rebbi's Maid - Women of the Talmud

Rebbi's Maid - Women of the Talmud Portraits in Leadership from on Vimeo.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Do I Know You From Somewhere? by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
If I ever want to find a wife, I think I have to leave town. I know all the Jewish girls here from school days, and none of them interest me. I don't go to synagogue to meet people, because I was never very into Judaism. But I do go to parties, and see the same old faces every time. What can I do if I already know everyone?

You remind me of the guy who was walking down the street and saw a familiar face. "You're Mark, aren't you? Remember me? We went to kindergarten together!"

"My name isn't Mark", was the response.

"Listen, I haven't seen you in thirty years, but you look exactly the same. Are you sure you're not Mark?"

"I don't know you."

He couldn't believe someone could look so much like Mark but not be Mark. Then it dawned on him. If that was Mark, he would have grown up too...

People change. The fact that you knew someone ten years ago has little relevance to today. You are not the same person today as you were when you were sixteen, and you wouldn't appreciate people seeing you now as you were then. Well, everyone else has grown up too.

And you can't always rely on your views from back then either. As you develop, you may find the friends of your youth have little in common with you, while you may have become more aligned with the very people you used to avoid. The things that excited you ten years ago are not the things that still excite you now. Otherwise we would all be firemen and ballet dancers.

Just as we mature, so must our view of the world around us. We have to be ready to drop outdated opinions, and take a fresh look around us.

Another example of this is our view of Judaism. There are many people who hold on to a negative view of Judaism developed in their youth. This may have been based on bad experiences - a boring Hebrew teacher, a hypocritical rabbi, or a mean religious relative. Or we may simply have not enjoyed studying Torah and going to shule, it just didn't grab us, or it felt like a burden forced upon us by our parents when other kids were having fun. So at some point we opted out of Jewish life. That may have seemed like the right reaction at the time. But that doesn't mean it is still right.

As a mature person, we can re-engage with Judaism from a whole new angle. We can come to realise that bad experiences of the past can be left in the past, and individuals don't necessarily represent the whole. What seemed irrelevant and uninteresting then may be inspiring and uplifting now. The view of Judaism we developed at age twelve is probably due for a review. As a mature person, we may realise there really is something there for us.

So when you see an old face, don't forget that they grew up too. Meet them as the person they are now, not the way you remember them. And approach Judaism in the same way. You can revisit it, like an old acquaintance that you never really appreciated. Who knows, you might just fall in love.

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Dear Students:
Our final lesson profiles Rabbi Yahudah Hanasi. Rich, respected, wise, and loved, he had everything he could possibly need and desire, and enjoyed an era of peace and political calm.

Yet Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi was not content to simply enjoy the prosperity and well-being that was his good fortune. He envisioned a goal bigger and bolder than any of the other leaders we have studied. The other sages preserved the tradition for their generation. He resolved to come up with a plan to save it for all time.

Join us for our final lesson as we examine the lasting legacy of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi.

Portraits in Leadership - Judah the Prince

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Review of Lesson Five (Portraits in Leadership)

Thank you for joining us for our fifth lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. This lesson focused on Rabbi Meir, descendent of the Roman general Niron, who fled and converted to Judaism rather than destroy the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. A student of Rabbi Akiva, he was one of the five secretly ordained by Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava in defiance of Roman law. Rabbi Meir was a brilliant sage and is the one most often cited in the Mishnah, but is also frequently misunderstood. He endured great suffering with grace and optimism.

Rabbi Meir’s wife Beruria was the daughter of the scholar Rabbi Chanina ben Teradyon and a noted Torah scholar in her own right. When her husband was vexed by wicked neighbors, she taught him to pray for the sin to be removed, but not for the punishment of the sinners. When her children died suddenly one Shabbat, she gently asked her husband whether she must return a borrowed object to the owner who had come to collect it. After he answered in the affirmative, she told him about their sons. At Beruria’s behest, Rabbi Meir rescued her sister from a brothel and as a result was forced to flee from the Romans.

Elisha was a noted scholar who had dabbled in the Greek philosophy of the day and had a crisis of faith. He responded to this crisis and terrible suffering around him by betraying his community, informing on them to the Roman authorities, undermining the scholars and their young students, and even causing many deaths. Elisha seems to have been somewhat torn about his betrayal, longing to return while convinced that he had done so much evil that rehabilitation was impossible. While most of the sages responded by shunning Elisha, Rabbi Meir continued to seek him out, asking him questions about the Torah he had learned and trying to convince him to repent his evil ways.

Rabbi Meir was convinced that Elisha was capable of repentance – and indeed on his deathbed, he repented. On a deeper level, Rabbi Meir viewed Elisha – and all Israel – as children of G-d, possessing an innate goodness and an unconditional bond. In doing so, he revealed a deeper justification for retaining a connection to Elisha. Ultimately, this perspective was vindicated, and the children of Elisha were able to be brought back into the fold.

I look forward to seeing you next week for our last portrait, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi.