Audio Classes on Chanuka online

Hello friends,

I hope you all had a meaningful Chanukah. And I wish you all an easy and meaningful fast this Thursday, Asara B’Teves.

The fact that this fast day takes place just one week or so after Chanukah, during a time of year considered festive by others, makes one think. A few years ago, I addressed the confluence of these days on our calendar in a series of three classes I called “Chanukah – The War you didn’t know” or “Chanuka, Asara B’Teves, and Christianity”.

The classes are on the shul’s website and can be accessed here:

They can also be accessed individually here:
Class one:
Class two:
Class three:

(Other recordings can be found on the site as well.)

I invite you all to listen.

Stay warm
Rabbi Davidovich


Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers, they’re everywhere. When I came to Ner Israel, the pay phones (What are those? Ask your mother.) said they belonged to an organization called C & P Telephone. It wasn’t long before Bell Atlantic was the name of the payphone owning company. Bell Atlantic owned them for a while at least, until GTE merged with them, and the merged entity took the much cooler superhero-like name of Verizon.

Do you remember Maryland National Bank? I don’t. Their business cards make excellent bookmarks. The Bank was bought out by NationsBank, which was bought out by Etcetera Bank which was bought out by the Bank of America. Or was it NationsBank that bought Bank of America? I can’t remember.

Cities are merging in a lot of places as well. A few years back the Government of Ontario decided to merge Toronto and its suburbs into a “Mega-City.” The same thing occurred in Montreal, with a backlash that led some suburbs to reclaim their “independence”.

Mergers happen because it makes sense to merge. Merging saves a ton of money in overhead costs and needless duplication of all sorts of jobs. Two companies that merge into one have the same amount of assets but need fewer vice-presidents. , and don’t need to spend as much to outsell the competition. This brings more profits and happier shareholders. This hurts smaller stores. The mom-and-pop drug store is undercut by Walmart-like giants. The unemployment lines are longer and some families suffer in the short term, but that’s neither here nor there…

Ethnic groups and countries find it convenient to merge for similar reasons. The United Kingdom is a merger of Great Britain, itself comprised of England, Wales and Scotland; and Northern Ireland. England is an amalgamation of the Angles, the Saxons, Normans and other forgotten tribes. When they all got together, they did so for obvious advantages of not having to constantly kill one another and maintaining enough peace and harmony to live normal lives. Tribes are formed of clans, or large families, that band together with other clans for mutual benefit at the expense of some autonomy. They are trying to pull this off in Europe now, where the powers that be have selected a President of Europe, a former Prime Minister of Belgium which is itself is the story of a merger in which two or three ethnic groups got together to form a buffer zone between France and Germany.

Merging is a macrocosm of, and as natural, as building a family. All of us make decisions in the course of our lives about who to merge with and how much to merge.

This of course is the theme of Parshas Vayishlach. Allow me to summarize: Yaakov sends a delegation to Esav in Seir. The purpose of the delegation seems to be good will. Yaakov sends a major gift to his estranged brother. Yaakov then spends the night alone, wrestles with an “Ish” all night and starts his morning with a limp. He and Esav embrace and engage in some small talk. Esav attempts to refuse the earlier gift. Yaakov won’t hear of it. He insists that his brother accept this gift of good will. Esav follows up with “Brother, do you want to travel together?” Yaakov responds, “No, I’m waaay too busy. The kids still walk slowly and those sheep are awful on mileage.” Esav, who can only wonder at the sudden change in tone, follows that with “I can have some of my men assist you in your travels.” Yaakov responds by saying “Why bother? Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”

How rude! And how strange. Imagine a man giving a well-to-do classmate a new tie. The classmate accepts the gift and then asks his generous gift giver if he wants to be his friend, only to be rebuffed and treated like a stranger.

This is how I see it: After twenty years, Yaakov is returning to the land of his birth to start the next stage of nation building. His father Yitzchak envisioned Klal Yisroel being founded by both his sons. How should Yaakov proceed? Should he incorporate with Esav and his growing family? Yaakov must struggle with this issue – He must WRESTLE with this idea on the eve of his encounter with the most obvious first choice in clan building. He starts a new day, resolved to go it alone. Klal Yisroel is physically damaged by the choice – but only for a short while. Yaakov tells Esav to “march on ahead” (read: Take a hike), and lives alone. Esav moves on. WE can now understand the very end of the Parsha, in which Esav’s family is described as having merged with the Clan of Seir HaChori.

I believe this gives the additional context we need to understand the next story in the Parsha, the story of the City and man both named Shechem. Yaakov comes to the city of Shechem in a state the Torah describes as Shalem- Whole – and sets up shop, gracing the city with his economic presence. His daughter Dina sets out to make some friends. The tragedy of the story is that it is the first attempt by an outside group to attempt a hostile takeover of Yaakov’s family. It should be pointed out that Shechem’s attempt at a merger is nothing new or unusual in history. The legendary history of ancient Rome contains a story very similar to that of Shechem and Dina, with one big difference. In the Roman story, the two sides make up and merge. Look up “Sabine Women” in an encyclopedia to see a story that is eerily similar to that of Dina, with an alternate ending. Shechem and his father Chamor could not fathom that the sons of Yaakov would object to such a fair arrangement. Shimon and Levi let the whole world know:”Thanks but no thanks”. We’re not interested. If there will be a hostile takeover, we will be doing the taking over. They set the terms of any future mergers.

We have struggled with this issue for centuries. We often fare poorly. Our prices are often not competitive and our selection is relatively meager. There were four million Jews in the USA in 1920. Ninety years later, the USA has about six million Jews. From a demographic perspective, that’s pathetic. We limp along, knowing that like the corner store with higher prices than Target, we can’t offer quantity or security- so we will have to content ourselves with the quality and Eternal Lifetime warranty of our product – the Torah. Our intransigence will prove worth it when “The Saviors will ascend Mount Tzion and judge Esav’s Mountain, and the Kingdom will belong to Hashem.”

#BlogElul Day 29: Return

There are two tendencies: one to run away and not look back;
and one to want to look back, turn around, and return.

The American World is currently in that first tendency. I think it has been in that has been its MO since the first colonizations, Jamestown, then Plymouth Rock; and certainly since 1776. It results in a tremendous degree of accomplishment and advancement. This unprecedented degree of liberty has been very good for the Jews in many respects.

Yet it has almost killed the second tendency. The desire to return, to revert to a connection that is not related to profit and fourth-quarter growth. Notice how we and our employers all freak out about taking a few days off work in the fall.

Technology is defined in halacha by an entity called a “Kli”, sometimes translated as “vessel”, like a cup or bowl, but which also includes any finished man-made object; a ball, a shirt, a pen etc.

A “Kli” is “mekabeil Tumah”, it has the potential to become impure. It’s important to note that it isn’t impure. It just has the capacity to become impure.

Most of this means nothing nowadays. We don’t live with those concerns in the absence of a Temple.

The part that’s important for us is that the definition of impure is that it distances us from a full Relationship. That’s what man-made objects do, in all their sophistication and convenience.

On Shabbos, and on Yom-Tov, we can use these things, but only in ways that do not turn us into creators, which has the potential to make us forget our Creator.

So for a couple of days, on Rosh Hashana, we can return to only some of that tendency-two.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו לאלתר לחיים טובים ולשלום

#BlogElul Day 28: Give

U’Teshuva U’Tefilla U’Tzedaka Maavirin Es Ro’a Hagezeira.

And returning and prayer and Charity remove the Evil Decree.

How does Tzedaka do that?

Tzedaka is the expression of the idea that our task in life is to be Other-directed.

That’s what bugs me about a number of speakers, including some frum ones, who make Judaism sound like one mega-exercise in self-improvement, making yourself better, giving yourself more reward etc. It’s just Randian Rational Self-Interest applied to the spirit.

Now of course, there is no question that learning Torah and performing Mitzvos does improve a person. But the focus should be on helping outward.

This of course has always been part of the original intent; as God didn’t do anything truly for Himself, as He is Perfect by defintion. Even when the Navi says that He created it, formed it, and made it for His Honor, it’s all about the creating and giving to others.

#BlogElul Day 27: Bless

The Talmud (Berachos 7a) teaches that the human beings may bless even Hashem:

Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, a Cohen Gadol, relates how “one time [on Yom Kippur] while offering incense in the Holy of Holies, I saw God, wearing His Crown, the Lord of Hosts, sitting on a high and exalted throne. He told me, ‘Yshmael my son, bless Me.’ I said, ‘May it be Your will from before You that Your mercy overcome strict justice and may You act mercifully with Your children. Behave with Your children with the trait of kindness and go with them beyond the line (letter) of the law. He nodded His head in agreement [as if to answer amen to Rabbi Yishmael’s blessing, Rashi]”.

Our Sages derived from this story that even the blessing of a simpleton should not be insignificant in our eyes. The Torah offers examples of how blessings from holy people are certainly (more) impactful. But a blessing from anyone is meaningful.

And the best blessing one can receive is to be patient and loving towards one’s children.



Google “Avraham Fried Tanya” to hear a very “hartzig” musical composition of this citation, composed by Yossi Green and sung by Avraham Fried.

(Translation of the Gemara taken from

#BlogElul Day 26: Create

Being referred to as an image of God carries certain expectations.

God has done so many things. How am I to decide how I should be His* image?

Before any advanced theories emerge, the one obvious meaning makes itself known. It’s Genesis Chapter One for God’s sake. God is the Creator.

So if at the end of the chapter it says He then makes human beings in His image, then the only thing it can mean at that point is “as creator”.

Well, that’s just great. How am I supposed to do that?!

The piece that is beyond us is the first of forty. That’s why in Halachic language, the full spectrum of human creative capacity is called “Forty minus One”. But the next thirty-nine steps are creative.

Each step takes something pre-existing and turns it into something else, something with a more advanced function.

I think a certain religion took this beautiful concept and took it in a very weird sci-fi direction. The base idea is wonderful.

As animals, living organisms, we are made to survive, replicate, and thrive.

The God’s Image part that is added to the matrix demands that we also create.

Writing is creating.

Taking something from your domain and giving it to the community is creating.

Making food, clothing and shelter is creating.

Taking something that was a primate, and making it more Godly and creative, is creating.

Making yourself in God’s Image is creating.

Doing Teshuva and starting all over is creating.

#BlogElul Day 25: Intend

The value of intention in Halacha is complex. Sometimes, halacha says that intent to perform a mitzvah is part of the essence of the Mitzvah itself. No intention=Meaningless act. Do it over, with a bracha, and intention.

Sometimes, having the intent is an addition praise-worthy component. If you had some good. If you didn’t, don’t worry about it; it’s all good and better luck next time.

Intention is better than no intention. One maamar Chazal (rabbinic expression) has it that if one intended to perform a mitzvah but was impeded by forces truly outside of his control, it counts as an actual deed.

Based on that teaching, the late Chassidic Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizensk advised people to intend to perform the Mitzvah of sacrificing one’s life for God. The fact that the scenario does not present itself is neither here nor there. Because your intent mattered.

At first, this might sound like some silly loophole-shtick. But the way the brainwaves move matter. Constant flexing of one’s Intention muscles enhances mental strength.

#BlogElul Day 24: Hope

For years, when I heard the name “Shprintza”, I thought, “Ech, typical, Yiddish-sounding Fiddler-on-the-Roof nonsensical name.”

Then one day I decided to see if it had any meaning. It turns out that it was the jargonization of the Spanish name “Esperanza”, which means Hope. That sounds rather pretty.

I would imagine that nowadays, any Israeli named for an ancestress named Shprintza would be named Tikva, one of the Hebrew words for Hope.

The Jewish Nation as a community has hope, and a happy ending promised to us. Each individual Jew is not given that hope.

That is why great people (Rav Yisrael Salanter among others) have advised that in order to do our part in securing a good destiny, individuals should bind ourselves to the community.

#BlogElul Day 23: Begin

I have begun many times.

Many notebooks that look so shiny and white in the store are bought, then a few pages into it I lose the oomph.

Beginning is such a great feeling.

I just wish they made notebooks with only eight pages.

This pattern of mine used to upset me. But then I thought that God does this every morning.

A very hopeful line, from Eicha of all places:
(Chapter 3)

כג חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.

23 They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.

#BlogElul Day 22: End

A Land which The eyes of Hashem your God always [oversee], from the beginning of the year to year’s end.

Always includes “from start to finish”. There is no part of always that doesn’t subsume from beginning to end.

Divine Favor is always there, but all the more so at the beginning (Tishrei) and the end. (Elul)

From last year’s post, worth repeating:

There is something special, defining, about how something ENDS.
According to Daniel Kahneman’s research, which appears in his amazing recommendation-worthy book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, it is not the totality of an experience that is maintained in one’s real memory; it is rather an experience’s most intense moment and its conclusion that define how the memory will be formed.

We often focus on making things go well. That’s good. We should also focus, within that attempt, to make something END well in particular. This includes every day, which is why the pre-sleep hour should be planned well. Not having one’s smart phone for the last hour of one’s waking hours would be a great start. Of course, there’s Shema and the entire service of Krias Shema al haMita which works. Etc. You get the point.

This is also true of the end of any event:

* The end of Shacharis
* The end of dinner
* The end of a school day
* The end of a vacation
* The end of Shabbos