Selected Sermon/Article
2009-07-31 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Va'eschanan
Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Va'eschanan July 31, 2009

Beyond Twelve Gates              Parshas Va'eschanan        July 31, 2009


Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates


Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates. I trust that each of you had a meaningful Tisha B'Av -- and to those who fasted, an easy fast.  I also hope you enjoy the remaining leisurely days of summer before the month of Elul and the High Holidays are upon us.


Tisha B'Av is a challenging day -- but then again, a challenge is just another rung on the ladder of success.  Everyone knows that you can't get to the top of the ladder if you never step on the bottom rungs.   Here's a list of excuses people might have for not climbing a ladder. You can also read these as reasons why more people don't climb the ladder of success.


1. I'm so clumsy I might fall

2. The ladder doesn't look very safe

3. I'm afraid of heights

4. There's no one to hold the ladder for me while I climb

5. Everyone else is using the ladder right now, so there's no room for me

6. The roof doesn't really need fixing anyway


This Week's Torah Portion:  Va'eschanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11)


     Moses continues his final speech to the Children of Israel (the rabbis always talk about the 'Children of Israel' -- where were all the adults?).  He tells them how he entreated G-d to allow him to enter the land of Israel, but his request was denied.  Moses was allowed, however, to see the Promised Land from the peak of Mount Pisgah.


     Moses appeals to the people to keep the Torah and its commandments..  In this way, they would be recognized by other peoples as a great nation.   Moses repeats the Ten Commandments (as opposed to the 'Ten Suggestions', given by Moses' cousin Shmeryl), the foundation of G-d's covenant with Israel.  Did you ever wonder where the 'Shema' comes from?  It's in this week's Torah portion.  It expresses our belief that G-d is one and states our commitment to love and serve Him.  The Shema exhorts us to transmit Torah to the next generation, and its laws should be remembered by a 'sign' upon ones hand and forehead (the Tefillin) and written on the doorposts of ones home (Mezuzah).


     Finally, Moses encourages the people to trust in G-d and remain faithful to the Torah, and to beware the pitfalls of prosperity and success.



Rabbinic Ruminations


     How would you describe the difference between 'integrity' and 'honesty'?   Someone once suggested that 'integrity' is telling ourselves the truth.  'Honesty' is telling the truth to other people.  Accepting this distinction, it means that the genuinely honest person can't simply be honest as a 'policy' (as Shakespeare said), but that honesty must flow from an inner conviction of what is true and right.


    The subjects of integrity and honesty come to mind in light of the most recent monetary scandal in the news.  Who amongst us didn't cringe at the sight of rabbis being led away in handcuffs?  Milken. Abramoff.  Agriprocessors. Madoff.  Now, the alleged money laundering scheme in New Jersey. 


    For most of our history, the word 'Jew' has been synonymous with morality and ethical behavior.  The nations of the world expect Jews to live to a higher standard of morality -- and I believe such an expectation is justified.  If our mission as a 'Light Unto the Nations' and carrying G-d's name ('Israel' contains the name of G-d within it) doesn't result in honest behavior, what is, ultimately, the point of our religious observances?


   It's time to get back to the basics; not even 'honesty', but first, a focus on personal integrity.



Quote of the Week


The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be  -- Socrates



Joke of the Week


When young David was asked by his father to say the evening prayer, he realized he didn't have his head he asked his little brother Josh to rest a hand on his head until prayers were over.

Josh grew impatient after a few minutes and removed his hand.
 The father said, "Josh, this is important...put your hand back on his head!" ,  to which Josh exclaimed, "What, am I my brother's kipah?" 


Shabbat Shalom!




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