Selected Sermon/Article
2009-07-24 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Devarim
Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Devarim July 24, 2009

Beyond Twelve Gates                  Parshas Devarim                       July 24, 2009


     Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates.  We find ourselves in an introspective period of time known as 'The 9 Days'.  It is during these days, culminating in Tisha B'Av (see Rabbinic Ruminations below) that we minimize joy and laughter.  I recall a time when I studied in yeshiva hearing a rabbi say, 'That reminds me of a joke; but since it's the 9 Days, I'm not going to tell it.'    I think of that rabbi often, and remember him fondly as a person who exemplified the true spirit of  Torah and Judaism -- not simply one who unthinkingly observed 'rituals & traditions.'  He rejoiced and was b'simcha during Purim, Shabbos, and on other festive occasions.  And though he had to go a bit against his natural good cheer and sunny disposition, he was somber during the 9 Days.  The mitzvahs and obligations we observe with our bodies certainly are important; however, it is the 'Duties of the Heart' that may matter most of all.


    In deference to the 9 Days and Tisha B'Av  light-hearted comments and jokes - usually a part of Beyond Twelve Gates --  will resume next week.


This Week's Torah Portion:    Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:11)


This week we begin the fifth and final book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy).  Its contents were spoken by Moses to the Jewish people during the final 5 weeks of his life as the people prepared to enter the land of Israel.


It begins with Moses' veiled rebuke in which he makes reference to the many sins and rebellions of the past forty years. Moses spends significant  time discussing the failed mission of the spies;  Ten of the twelve men sent to scout out the land returned with a bad report, resulting in the entire nation wandering in the desert for forty years. Moses later discusses the Children of Israel's conquest on the eastern bank of the Jordan River.  This Torah portion concludes with words of encouragement for Moses' successor, Joshua.


Rabbinic Ruminations


     On Wednesday evening of this coming week (July 29) begins Tisha B'Av, the Jewish National Day of Mourning. Tisha B'Av is a full 24 hour fast, similar in that respect to Yom Kippur.  Although Tisha B'Av is certainly the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, many are surprised to learn that our tradition teaches that the messiah (mashiach) is or will be born on Tisha B'Av  Why would the individual most responsible for the ultimate redemption have his origins in the day that represents our darkest hour?


    The difference between success and failure is often the ability to persevere despite having stumbled and fallen.   A tzadik (righteous person) isn't a person who has never erred; rather, a tzadik is one who gets up after having fallen.   Do we have the spiritual strength to get up and keep going even after we've made one mistake after another?  It may very well be that the seeds of our success are sown in how we respond to the low points of our lives.


    The tragedies of Jewish history contain the potential for national regeneration.  Thus, our rabbis tell us, the messiah's birthday is on Tisha B'Av.  Our greatest communal and personal successes may come forth from our most challenging times.



Quote of the Week


"Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light."   -- Albert Schweitzer


Joke of the Week


Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman was a pioneer of the growing Jewish religious community in New York City in the early 1900's.  His daughter Rebbitzen Ruchama Shain (in her excellent book titled 'All For the Boss')  related  something unusual her father did at her sister's wedding.  To constantly remember the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples, Jewish law states that one should minimize the number of courses served at festive occasions such as weddings.  At her sister's wedding, guests were quite surprised to find a menu that listed several delicious items -- with a note immediately following saying that 'due to our obligation to remember the destruction of the Temples, these items will not be served.'


Taking a lesson, then, from Rabbi Herman:  I have a great Joke of the Week .... but I'll save it for after Tisha B'Av.


Good Shabbos!



Thanks for reading 'Beyond Twelve Gates'.  Comments, questions, requests to be added to our email list or better jokes can be sent to or   Care to know more about Nusach Hari Bnai Zion Congregation?  Check us out at  If you enjoyed Beyond Twelve Gates, please share with a friend. Thanks to Alan Haber for his assistance in distributing BTG