Keep Shabbat or Die???!!!

We have a saying…

“More than the Jewish People have kept the Shabbat,
the Shabbat has kept the Jews…”

Every week, in an unbroken chain for over 3,300 years, Torah Observant Jews around the world have been keeping Shabbat.

It is a beautiful experience to take a day off, and sanctify the Shabbat by reciting Kiddush over wine and then break bread over two loaves of Challah with family and friends.

But Shabbat is much more than taking a day off work, as we learn in this week’s Torah portion, VaYachel-Pekudei.

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַיקוָ֑ק כׇּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃


On six days, work (melacha) may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to HaShem; whoever does any work (melacha) on it shall be put to death. (Exodus 35:2)

That is SERIOUS business.

I can’t go into the details of how this might be implemented (it is almost impossible to happen even when we have an active Sanhedrin).

But, if this is so serious, it would be important to know what constitutes the kind of “work” that would warrant a death penalty!

What is “work?”

Many people think not working refers to not going to their “job” – place of employment. But what about a lawyer who doesn’t go to the office on Saturday but reviews some briefs at home?

How about a Doctor who performs life saving surgery on Saturday? He’s doing his job. Put him to death?

What about a professional chef who cooks his own meal at home on Saturday? After all, cooking is his work. Or a person in the Landscape Business… can they putter around their own garden on Saturday?

Is Shabbat Just for the Jews or for all Humanity?

If Shabbat was just a “memorial” that God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2) then it would make sense that each person could determine his or her own way of observing it.

But if a Court can issue a “Death Penalty” for “working” on Shabbat, there better be some detailed explanations of what constitutes “working!” If not, the Torah would be unjust.

MELACHA is not WORK as we understand it.

In fact, the Hebrew word translated as “work” above is “melacha.”  It doesn’t mean work in the English sense, there are other Hebrew words like Avoda and Peula that are closer to what we understand as “work.”

The term melacha is used when God creates the world, when the Torah discusses observing Shabbat and when the Tabernacle is built as in this week’s Torah portion.  You wouldn’t notice that from reading an English translations.

For a full description of melacha as it relates to Shabbat, CLICK HERE

Shmuel teaching Torah

Shmuel Teaching Torah

For me, this verse above which decrees a death penalty for doing “melacha” on Shabbat proves there must be an Oral Torah that we received simultaneously with the Written Torah. Otherwise God and His Torah would be cruel.

There is no detailed description in the Written Torah of what constitutes “melacha” other than references related to building the Tabernacle.

If we want to really “Keep” the Sabbath, we need to learn how to do it from the Oral Torah –. which is what Torah Observant Jews have been doing for the last 3,300 years.

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom.

PS. If you have any questions or comments, you can simply hit reply to this email and it comes straight to my inbox. I love hearing


An Eye for and Eye? Really?

Misunderstanding and its Consequences

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-124:18) has one of the most often quoted yet misunderstood verses in the Torah.

And this misunderstanding has had serious consequences about how non-Jews view the “Old Testament” and Orthodox Judaism.

Here is the verse…

“… thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
Exodus 21:23 (KJV)

Most people (Including MLK, and Pope Francis) seem to think that the strict justice of the Jewish Old Testament means that if Reuven pokes out Shimon’s eye, the courts will have Reuven’s eye poked out as a punishment in order to serve justice.

However, every teenager studying in Yeshiva knows that this cannot be, and it is not the Torah Law.

If Reuven is a blind telemarketer and Shimon is an airline pilot, how is justice served if blind Reuven has his eye poked out as his punishment for destroying Shimon’s career as a pilot?!

Reuven gets to keep working and making money and Shimon can never work as a pilot again! How is that just?

This is also obvious from a careful reading of the Hebrew text and studying these verses in context.

What does the Hebrew say?

עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן – Ayin TACHAT Ayin – Literally means “an eye UNDER (i.e. in the place of) an eye.” The implication is that the aggressor Reuven must ‘replace’ Shimon’s eye.

That means if Shimon can no longer work as a pilot, his lost eye could be potentially worth millions in lost income awarded by the court. However Shimon was a telemarketer, the value of his lost eye would be a lot less in damages imposed by the court.

(The term for literally taking an eye for an eye would be עַיִן בְּעַיִן which is used in Deuteronomy 19:21)

It’s about payment for damages…

Note that the verses preceding the “eye for an eye” statement are talking about the aggressor taking responsibility for financial damages..

Exodus 21:25 – When [two or more] parties fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact, the payment to be based on reckoning [by the court].

But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be [the reckoned value of a] life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

To further make the point, the very next verse talks about a master who strikes the eye of his slave. The master’s eye is not taken out. Instead he must make recompense for the eye (the word TACHAT – in place of the eye is used). What is given in place of the eye? The slave is set free.

וְכִֽי־יַכֶּ֨ה אִ֜ישׁ אֶת־עֵ֥ין עַבְדּ֛וֹ אֽוֹ־אֶת־עֵ֥ין אֲמָת֖וֹ וְשִֽׁחֲתָ֑הּ לַֽחׇפְשִׁ֥י יְשַׁלְּחֶ֖נּוּ תַּ֥חַת עֵינֽוֹ׃

Exodus 21:26 When a slave-owning party strikes the eye of a slave, male or female, and destroys it, that person shall let the slave go free on account of (TACHAT – in recompense for) the eye.


Right now Israeli society is in a turmoil because the Netanyanu Government wants to institute legislation to reform the Supreme Court.

Shmuel teaching Torah

Shmuel Teaching Torah

The details of the argument between the Right and the Left in Israel about this issue are beyond the scope of this newsletter.

However the shrill cries from the Left of “This is the end of democracy in Israel and will result in economic devastation!” and the response of the Right saying “our changes will bring us in line with other democracies” are complete opposites.

The source of the uncivil discourse comes from each side assuming (wrongly) what the other means. It is time to start listening to each other and asking questions instead of telling our foes what their positions and intentions are.

With blessings from the Galilee for peace and harmony among brothers!

PS. If you have any questions or comments, you can simply hit reply to this email and it comes straight to my inbox. I love hearing from you!

A Phone Call from the President

Many years ago, at a talk given during Elul at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, the Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt’l posed the following challenge:

Over and over again throughout the Rosh Hashanah prayer service we ask God that He rule over the entire world and that all humanity should recognize His Kingship. We know that this is what mankind needs to straighten itself out. Now, if this is what we really want, we have to mean what we say. How do we know if we really want God to be our King?”

Before we answer Rabbi Weinberg’s question, I’d like to share with you a story that happened to me a couple of weeks before he asked that question. Continue reading

When 50 percent is 100 percent

The Jewish people are asked to contribute a “half-shekel” toward building the sanctuary in this week’s Torah portion Ki Tisa. There are a number of explanations of why a “half” shekel was mandated by God and not a full shekel. I’d like to suggest an answer based on an event that happened this past Shabbat.

We celebrated the completion of Tractate Yoma as part of the Daf Yomi cycle at the third meal in our local Shul. A fellow congregant asked me if I was one of the celebrants who had completed the tractate. I smiled and said, “Yes, but with some gaps.” Out of the 88 pages, I had missed about 10 that I hadn’t made up yet. Life happens.

My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Noah Weinberg Zt’l taught us that Judaism and Torah are not “all or nothing.” Of course we are obligated to keep all of the 613 commandmants, and that is our goal. But we have to remember that Torah and Mitzvot are tools to build a relationship with the Almighty. And just like our human relationships are not “all or nothing.” The same is true of our relationship with God. I may forget to buy a gift for my wife on our anniversary, but that doesn’t negate all the times I called her on the phone just to say I was thinking of her. God cherishes every act we do for the sake of our relationship with Him even if we sometimes mess up.

The yetzer hara tries to trip us up by telling us Torah and Judaism are all or nothing. “If you can’t commit to being at Daf Yomi every night for SEVEN YEARS, why bother starting?” If I would have given in to that logic, I would have ended up with zero pages of Talmud, rather than the 78 pages of Yoma that I can keep with me for eternity.

Perhaps that’s what the Almighty is hinting at by telling us, “just bring HALF a shekel.” Sometimes 50% can mean as much to our relationship with God as 100%. And by taking pleasure in the things that we do accomplish, it will motivate us to strive for accomplishing even more.