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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shabbos Nachamu Meets the Fifteenth of Av

Av is the month of the Father. For the first two weeks Hashem deals with us a strict father, punishing us when necessary. For the second half of the month G-d draws us closer. As the Mishna records, “there is no happier holiday than the fifteenth of Av”. (Kedushas Levi).


“Nachamu, Nachamu, Ami”. 

Stranded just outside the city limits at 7:56, they welcomed Shabbos as they trudged over the rivers and through the ‘hoods through a town they didn’t know. And at 11:00 this past Friday night they burst into my house in the person of five wet, sweaty, smelly, desperate and singing Yeshiva Boys. 

Their car was broken-down, their possessions abandoned and their muscles aching, but they were able see the comfort in it all as they danced and sang and davened in a way that would have made Shlomo Carlbach and Yirmiyahu Hanavi proud. After Maariv, we welcomed the malachim with Shalom Aleichem and enjoyed a sumptuous seudah punctuated with Divrei Torah and Niggunim. It was well into the morning hours when we took to the streets, armed with pillows and blankets to finalize the boys’ sleeping arrangements. 

The Jews have traveled a long journey through many tough neighborhoods and stormy nights. It’s not always easy, but we’ve learned to dance and sing anyway. 

Is Shabbos a burden? Not if you ask the old man with gold teeth by the tunnel into Norfolk. You see, his mother was Jewish.

Posted on 08/17 at 09:53 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Parshas Va’eschanan: Skinning Cats

Moshe Rabeinu repeated his request to enter Eretz Yisroel in over 550 different ways.

Open-mindedness. We cannot just try once. If one style doesn’t work, another approach might. In dealing with others, we need to remember that just as no two faces are identical, no two minds are exactly the same either. 

My Shabbos table may be perfect for me, but somebody else might have different needs.

My friend Sid made a siyum this morning in honor of his father Allen Bridge, whose Yahrzheit is today. Here is a story Sid wrote about his father on his blog (

The Uncomfortable Guest
By Sid Bridge

It was Friday night at B’nai Israel Congregation. My mother was busy back at our Shabbos apartment preparing dinner for our family, a friend, and a guest of his. The guest arrived at the synagogue and quickly realized no one had told him how to dress. He was wearing a T-shirt and shorts.  The poor guy spent the whole service sweating bullets because everyone around him was wearing suits and ties. 

My father, of course, always dressed a cut above everyone at the Synagogue. He would go out of his way to make sure his cravat was perfectly tucked into his pocket, his tie was just right, and his shirt (usually some color other than white) worked in concert with his entire ensemble. His sense of style went beyond synagogue and even beyond mafioso. 

Our guest kept talking about how uncomfortable he was as he walked with my father and I back to the apartment. We all felt a little bad for him, to say the least. 

As usual, a beautifully set Shabbos table was waiting for us at the apartment, all ready for my father to sit down and make Kiddush. Before he could sit, he excused himself to the bedroom and assured us he’d be right back.

In a move that was no doubt painful for my father, he emerged in a casual shirt and shorts, sat down at the table, and said, "I’m ready to make Kiddush."

From that moment on, our guest’s mood changed. He immediately got comfortable and enjoyed a wonderful meal with us.

Posted on 08/14 at 03:02 PM • Permalink
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Friday, August 08, 2008

Parshas Devarim: Moshe’s Famous Last Words

Moshe’s goal in rebuking the Jewish people was to get them to think. That was enough.

The Jewish people had traveled for forty years in the Desert. They were standing in Arvos Moav, on the banks of the Yarden (present day Jordan) ready to enter the land of Eretz Yisroel. Moshe, who would not be coming with them, rose to speak to the Jewish people for the last time before his death.

Although he would go on to review virtually the entire Torah with the Jewish people, Moshe chose to begin with some words of rebuke. His style of rebuke is quite instructive. Moshe did not tell the Jewish people anything that they did not already know. Rather than teach the Jewish people new philosophical concepts or explain the enormity of their actions, Moshe chose to simply hint to some of the worst sins committed by the Jews in their travels. He began with a list of place names: The desert, the Aravah, the Yam Suf, Paran, Chatzeiros…

These were the locations where the Jewish people had rebelled ungratefully toward Hashem, threatened to return to Egypt, participated in the rebellion of Korach, and listened to the words of the spies. Moshe hinted to these sins and the sin of the golden calf, but he did not elaborate – he left it to the people to draw their own conclusions.

R’ Aharon Kotler and others explain that that this is the essence of Mussar. Mussar (often translated as rebuke), is not about more information and more guilt; Mussar is about examining our actions.
Before we act we need to think: Why am I doing this? Should I be doing this? Is this action rooted in anger, revenge, arrogance, despair, or in the desire to do the will of Hashem?  We need to train ourselves to think before we act and before we speak. And the only chance we have of fixing our mistakes is if we can train ourselves to think after we act. True Mussar is the examination of our own actions.

Moshe’s only goal in rebuking the Jewish people was to get them to rethink and reexamine their actions. That was enough.

The Medrash points out that these words of Moshe are introduced with the words “אלו הדברים” the same words that precede the Ten Commandments. This is to show that self-improvement and Mussar are on the same level as the Ten Commandments.

Shlomo Hamelech writes in Mishlei (4:13): “החזק במוסר אל תרף נצרה כי היא חייך” - “Grab Mussar and do not let go. Guard it – for it is your life”.
The Vilna Gaon writes, “It is our life, because the purpose of our existence is to “break that which we have not yet broken”. We must be on the constant lookout for character flaws that we have not yet conquered. A person must constantly improve himself because if he does not למה לו חיים?  – What is the purpose of living?”

Reb Aharon concludes: We say in Maariv every night “כי הם חיינו” - that the Torah and Mitzvos are our life and yet Shlomo Hamelech insists that it - Mussar - is our life. If Torah on its own were good enough, we could have studied it without coming into this world. In fact we do study the entire Torah before entering this world. Our purpose then, in entering this world is to complete our Torah with Mussar – the constant evaluation and re- evaluation of our real life actions.

Posted on 08/08 at 07:20 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at