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The Ten Commandments – Part 1/2

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 27, 2017

Based on the teachings of Rabbi David Fohrman

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The Chassidic Movement – The Tzaddik/Rebbe

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 27, 2017

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Laws of Yichud (text-based) #2

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 27, 2017

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Laws of Yichud (Text-based) #1

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 27, 2017

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Kedushas Levi on the Parsha – Tazria 1

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 27, 2017

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Laws of Shabbos #64

By: Rivkah Merville | April 27, 2017

One may not pour salt onto vegetables that are typically pickled such as onions, radishes, garlic, or cucumbers. However, one may dip a slice of any of the above into salt if it will be eaten right away. Additionally, if one first pours oil or vinegar over the vegetable then one can pour salt over it.

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Laws of Shabbos #63

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 26, 2017

The Gemara in Shabbos states that it is forbidden to put salt on radish. However, if it is only one piece of radish and it will be eaten immediately it is permitted. It is also clear from the Gemara that it is not limited to radish but rather includes other similar types of vegetables.

There is debate as to the nature of the prohibition. Some suggest that it is similar to working on animal hides where a process similar to slating was used to toughen the hide. Others suggest that placing salt on these vegetables is a form of pickling which is similar to cooking.

We will discuss the practical ramifications in the days to come.

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Positive Extremism Yizkor Pesach

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 25, 2017

Growing up we had some pretty extreme customs around Pesach time. We never did the cover-the-house-in-tin-foil-thing. (We probably would have but we’re Hungarian, and it just didn’t look right.) However, we would go through every single book on the bookshelf and clean it out from any crumbs – my father by the way had a tremendous book collection, and somehow this thankless task was usually mine. My family would not eat gebrochts which means that we did not have Matzal ball soup on Pesach? Imagine that! And, growing up, the OU was not a good enough kosher-symbol for Pesach and so in my family, we only purchased items from a rather limited group of Kosher-agencies that my father trusted.

I’m embarrassed to say that I dropped some of those customs. I still keep a good few of them from my youth. We line our dish cabinets so that the utensils don’t touch the floor of the cabinet even though there is absolutely no need to do so. And, we still buy hand Shmura Matza. Do you know how much this box over here costs? $26! Okay, that is $2.60 for a Matza. And in a few hours, the Matza will be worth nothing!! And this year, we bought gluten free Shmura hand Matza for some of our guests. You’re not going to believe how much it costs – $10 a Matza!! I kid you not! Unbelievable!

But whether you have such customs or not, whether you buy box matza, or have Matza ball soup, I think we could all agree that Pesach is a holiday of extremism. And I mean that in a good way; good old positive-extremism. Whether it’s the extremely stringent Ashkenazi custom of not eating legumes on Pesach; kitniyot, whether it’s the extreme measures we take to ensure that every single person in our family is with us at our Seder, or whether it’s the extremely time-consuming and mind-numbing preparations that everyone here put in to make their Pesach a beautiful one. Pesach is intense and it’s extreme.

And that’s why I spent the last week talking about the Chassidic movement. The Chassidic movement was a movement of extremism. Whether it was Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev who loved every Jew to the extreme, seeing value in even the most evil and despised men, whether it was the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was consumed with matters of the intellect, whether it was the Kotzker who was obsessed with honesty or Rav Nachman of Breslove who did everything in the extreme. The Chassidic movement was a movement of fanaticism, of extreme extremism.

And I’m sure some of you here were scratching your heads wondering – Chassidim, with their long beards, white socks, and over-the-top-stringencies, do not belong in our shul! Am I trying to convert this Modern Orthodox synagogue into a Chassidic Shtiebel? Am I trying to change you and make you ultra-Orthodox?

Well, the truth is that I am. I would love for everyone here to become Chassidic, and I would love nothing more than everyone here to become an ultra-ultra-ultra-extremist, a fanatic!

Now before you walk out the door, allow me to explain myself. I want to share with you what it really means to be a Chassid, or at least what the word Chassid means to me. Literally, a Chassid means one who is devout. But that doesn’t really capture its inner meaning. And so I’ll share with you some stories about a chassid I knew. Many of you, at Yizkor today will be recalling a loved one. Thank G-d, my immediate family is intact and so on Yizkor days I try to think about my grandfathers who have passed away and I would like to speak about one of my grandfather’s today.

My father’s father was a Chassid. Not in the typical sense. He didn’t have a beard, he dressed like everyone else, and he worked in a factory. But he was a Chassid nonetheless.

He was born in Hungary and like so many Hungarians, spent part of World War Two in Auschwitz. Right before Rosh Hashana, my father and his brother-in-law somehow managed to get their hands on a shofar. On Rosh Hashana morning, my father and his brother-in-law went to one of the barracks that they thought was out of hearing range of the Nazis, and they blew a Shofar in Auschwitz.

A few days later, the crematorium did not have room for 100 young girls who were going to be burned. They were put into a holding area until the crematoria was empty. My grandfather heard their cries, broke open the fence, and at least twenty of them were able to escape.

Later in his life, after losing his youngest son, my grandfather decided to open a library of Jewish books in his son’s memory. He never had a lot of money, but he successfully built it up and today that library is one of the largest in Israel.

Now my grandfather did not have an obligation to do any of those things. You don’t have to risk your life to save others, you certainly don’t have to risk your life to listen to the Shofar, and you don’t have to spend all your money to purchase books of Torah. But Sabba, my grandfather was a fanatic, he was an extremist; he was a Chassid, not in looks, but in spirit.

Because you see another way of looking at all of this fanaticism that we’ve been discussing is by understanding that not all fanaticism is evil. Yes, there is certainly an ugly, a very ugly side of fanaticism that exists not only in other faiths but in ours as well. But not all extremism is dangerous. On the contrary, there is a fanaticism that I would actively promote. It is a fanaticism that is driven by love because love is by definition extreme.

My grandfather loved Judaism and so he risked his life to keep its laws, my grandfather loved people and so he risked his life to save them. My grandfather loved Torah and so he spent so much of his resources on buying books so other could people could study Torah.

And that’s what the Chassidic movement is really all about, or at least what it is supposed to be about. Their dedication to a fellow Jew, their dedication to Jewish law, their dedication to Torah study – You could call it extremism if you’d like, you can call it fanaticism, but I would prefer to call it love.

And we have a whole lot to learn from the Chassidim in this respect. All of us are generous – until it impacts our lifestyle. All of us are kind to others – until we feel uncomfortable. All of us do Mitzvos – until they become cumbersome and inconvenient.

We could all use a good dose of Chassidic fanaticism in our lives.

And it’s not only good for our souls, four spiritual growth, we will enjoy ourselves more! We will get more out of life! And I’ll prove it to you –

The Pesach customs that we maintain from our past, the extreme measures and the expensive bills, we may sigh deeply, we may gripe about them from time to time, but I think if we were to be really honest with ourselves, we love it. We love connecting to our family, even the family members that get on our nerves. We love connecting to our traditions, even the ones we question. Despite all the anguish, we love it!

That’s what love does to us; it makes us do extreme and crazy things. All of you are in this room because someone loved you! It doesn’t make sense to have a child! It is the most irrational thing man has ever done. Think about the bills, the sleepless nights, the grief, need I go on? But there were crazy, fanatical, extremist people who came before you and said, I’d love to have a child. And then when they did have a child, they showered you with love!

In the past decade there has been an explosion of books about child-rearing. Check-lists – make sure you say this to your child, you say that to your child. They’re great, don’t get me wrong. But what guided your parents or your grandparents? There was no check-list, there was love.

Some of you today will be remembering a spouse – what is more fanatical than the love between two strangers? What is more irrational than a love that transcends beauty, health, and hard times? The love of marriage is the most irrational and extreme of all.

I want to read to you an article, one of the most well-read articles in the New York Times this past year, titled, You May Want to Marry My Husband. It speaks to the extreme measures, the wild places that love can take us. And I quote:

“Want to hear a sick joke? A husband and wife walk into the emergency room in the late evening on Sept. 5, 2015. A few hours and tests later, the doctor clarifies that the unusual pain the wife is feeling on her right side isn’t the no-biggie appendicitis they suspected but rather ovarian cancer.”

The author of the article, a writer, is speaking about herself. Listen as she shares how she dealt with earth-shattering news of her imminent death.

“As the couple head home in the early morning of Sept. 6, somehow through the foggy shock of it all, they make the connection that today, the day they learned what had been festering, is also the day they would have officially kicked off their empty-nestering. The youngest of their three children had just left for college.

So many plans instantly went poof.

No trip with my husband and parents to South Africa. No reason, now, to apply for the Harvard Loeb Fellowship. No dream tour of Asia with my mother. No writers’ residencies at those wonderful schools in India, Vancouver, Jakarta.

No wonder the word cancer and cancel look so similar.

This is when we entered what I came to think of as Plan “Be,” existing only in the present. As for the future, allow me to introduce you to the gentleman of this article, Jason Brian Rosenthal.

He is an easy man to fall in love with.

First, the basics: He is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and hazel eyes.

He is a sharp dresser. Our young adult sons, Justin and Miles, often borrow his clothes… If our home could speak, it would add that Jason is uncannily handy. On the subject of food — man, can he cook… Jason loves listening to live music; it’s our favorite thing to do together. I should also add that our 19-year-old daughter, Paris, would rather go to a concert with him than anyone else.

Jason paints. I love his artwork. I would call him an artist except for the law degree that keeps him at his downtown office most days from 9 to 5. Or at least it did before I got sick…

Wait. Did I mention that he is incredibly handsome? I’m going to miss looking at that face of his.

If he sounds like a prince and our relationship seems like a fairy tale, it’s not too far off, except for all of the regular stuff that comes from two and a half decades of playing house together. And the part about me getting cancer. Blech.

I want more time with Jason. I want more time with my children. I want more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday nights. But that is not going to happen. I probably have only a few days left being a person on this planet. So why I am doing this?”

And she concludes, “I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”


The author of this touching article, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, died ten days after this letter was published.

That’s love in all its irrational glory. Love is not a contract, it’s not even ‘to death do us part!’ Too many people see their marriage as a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. I did this, why can’t you do that? But that’s not love! Love is not a transaction; love is a feeling that transcends life itself!

And so yes, I would love nothing more than for all us to become ultra-ultra-extremists! Ultra-lovers of our children, extremely-affectionate to our spouses, fanatically-caring for our parents, and wildly-positive about the people we are surrounded by. Don’t just do what you have to do, that’s boring. Be a fanatic! Be extreme! Go beyond the call of duty! Be a Chassid.

I’d like to conclude with an appeal. It’s an appeal to something that is beyond the call of duty. It’s not something you have to do, but it’s Pesach and today we are speaking of things that lovers do.

We are writing a Sefer Torah. A Torah scroll is a book that has been loved in an almost fanatical fashion by those who came before us. If that wouldn’t be the case, you wouldn’t be here in shul today.

You don’t have to give anything, you really don’t. But Pesach is a time to be a little extreme, and on Yizkor we remember those who were extreme for our sake, and give charity in their memory. So on this day of love, may we give charity in honor or in memory of those we love, to an institution that I know I love and I hope you love too. And if I could ask you, in the spirit of this sermon, to be just a little extreme in your giving and give a little more than you would otherwise.

With G-d’s help, may we be extreme in our charity, extreme in our connection to G-d, extreme in our love to our family and extreme in our love for one another.







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Laws of Shabbos #62

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 25, 2017

Making items smooth is prohibited on Shabbos (more on this in the weeks/ months to come). According to most Halachic authorities this prohibition does not apply to food. Therefore, one may make dips (chummus, etc.) flat at the top although it is preferable not to. Similarly, spreading a spread on bread is permitted but one should ideally not try to make the spread very smooth.

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Laws of Shabbos #61

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 24, 2017

Changing the color of an item is prohibited on Shabbos. Food, however, is not included in this prohibition according to most authorities. Therefore, if for example one would like to change the appearance of a white cup of wine and make it red by adding some grape juice, this would be permitted.

However, if the item that one is coloring is not something one plans on eating it is forbidden to do so. For example, a toilet bowl flush cleaner that colors the water should not be used on Shabbos. One may place the cleaner in the tank as this will cause the coloring but not do so directly.

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