Bond...James Bond. Double-oh-seven. Perhaps the most famous spy on earth, fierce, courageous, bold, brave, fearless. You name it, he has it all.


When we think of the classic spy, the one we would all choose for our nation's espionage program, we might envision someone similar to the famous 007. So why, at the moment of truth--prime time, when we need to bring our best game to the table--does Hashem allow this group to take on the job? Ten of the twelve spies completely fail in their mission. As they return from their tour of the Holy Land, they are everything but fearless and courageous. They are shivering in fear at the sight of nations that are a mere fraction of the strength of the great Egypt, last seen drowning in the Red Sea at the hand of Hashem.


What is going on here, then?


It is safe to assume that Hashem knew of this possible outcome, in which the majority of the spies might try to bring down the entire operation. Hashem may even have allowed for this tragic development of events because He knew of this possibility. Hashem may have wished to use this incident to teach us a very important lesson.


It may well occur, at many points in one's life, that the majority of opinions around us conflict with what we think or believe to be true. There may be times when we choose to abandon our sense of what's right and lose confidence in our ability to see; but there are times we follow our inner truth. We refuse to ignore our Neshama, our soul that is crying out as a light from Hashem, telling us to do the right thing.


The Meraglim, spies, were destined to bring the true light of Eretz Israel to the entire nation. Two of them succeeded while the others did not, and those two revealed the true point of Eretz Israel and Am Israel.


The entire world once thought that Eretz Yisrael was a wasteland (even the British gave up on it). But lo and behold, once the Nation of Israel returned to the land that had been reduced to swamps and desert, within less than 60 years, that wasteland had become one of the most flourishing places on Earth. The nation that was the underdog for 2000 years has taken its place among the other nations and is now in the forefront of civilization, leading the world in fields like biotechnology, education, innovation, and more.


The same lesson applies to us. May we have the merit of finding our inner true self, and be able to listen and follow the voice of our true Neshama, given to us as a gift, a part of the great Hashem!


Shabbat shalom,


Yifat Asulin, Department of Judaic Studies
Atlanta Jewish Academy

When we want to get close to someone, we usually buy them a gift, something that they need or would love to have. A husband sends his wife a bouquet of flowers; a grandmother buys a new toy for her grandson; a wife orders a new electronic gadget for her husband on their anniversary.


But how do we give a gift to G-d? Does He need anything from us?


The Almighty created the heavens and the earth, and all the billions of creatures that ever lived. How can putting on tefillin, lighting Shabbat candles, or any of the other simple actions we do for G-d please Him? Do our "presents" bring us closer to Him?


The Midrash Rabbah teaches the following:


G-d commanded the Israelites to light the Menorah in the Temple daily. Why would He want us to light a lamp for Him?


!גם חושך לא יחשיך ממך ולילה כיום יאיר
Even darkness can't hide anything from You, and the night is as bright as the day!


It is like the story about the king who said to one of his closest friends, a simple man, "What I'd like best is to dine at your home."


The friend, wishing to please him, made the king a very special dinner; but even with the simple man cooking dishes that were as elaborate as he could make them, the dinner was still of a much lower standard than what the king was used to at home in the palace.


When the king's entourage appeared at the simple man's doorstep, bringing with them beautiful golden candlesticks for the king's pleasure, the king's friend--seeing the magnificent ornaments--was ashamed, and hid the meal that he had prepared.


"Why haven't you prepared for my arrival?" asked the king. "I told you I was coming to eat at your home."


"I prepared everything, and I was ready," his friend replied. "But when I saw the magnificent candlesticks you brought with you, I was ashamed of the simple food I prepared...and I hid everything."


"If this is the case," said the king, "I will not use my candlesticks, but only what you have prepared for me!"


So it is with the Almighty. He has plenty of light in His universe; even the sun is His! Yet he chose not to use His light for the Temple, but to ask His children, the Israelites, to light the Menorah there.


May each of us merit the opportunity to shine a little light for Hashem. Do something nice for a friend, help your family, say a bracha, or do any other mitzvah that may be close to your heart.


Shabbat shalom,


Revital Amir, Department of Judaic Studies
Atlanta Jewish Academy

...according to the number of names.... (Shemot 1:3)


Chazal refer to the fourth book of the Torah as Sefer HaPekudim, the Book Of Counting. Presumably this is because of the census found in this week's parsha. However, this is not the first census B'nei YisroeI took; we find a similar census in Sefer Shemot. What is so unique about this census that would lead Chazal to define an entire sefer by it?


Counting can be used for two purposes: to combine individual elements into a group, or to give each of the different elements within a group its own identity, causing the individual to feel that he or she "counts." This latter counting is accomplished by focusing on each individual separately, rather than on the group as a whole.


The purpose of the counting found in Sefer Shemot is to unify the Jews as a nation following the Exodus from Egypt. In Sefer Bamidbar, we find the expression bemispar shaymot, "they were counted according to their names." The reason for this is that the purpose of this counting is to emphasize the individuality of each person within the group. Identifying a person by his name is a way of focusing upon his individuality. This expression does not appear in Sefer Shemot; if the function of the counting is to unify the people as a nation, there is no need to identify individuals by name.


Very often, when a person is part of a large group, he senses a loss of his individuality and self-expression. To compensate for this, he has a tendency to break away from the group. The message of the counting in Sefer Bamidbar is that there is room for individuality and self-expression within the confines of the group. Indeed, interpersonal relationships within the group can enhance individuality and offer the opportunity for self-expression.


This explains why the division of tribes and their banners are mentioned in the census of Bamidbar, and not in that of Shemot. The ability to identify oneself in connection with a particular tribe under a unique banner further enhances a person's sense of individuality.


As we move into the holiday of Shavuot, when the entire nation camped together כאיש אחד בלב אחד, as one man with one heart, we recognize the group while not forgetting everyone's individuality.


Throughout the summer months, many students take the opportunity to focus on their individual passions and pursuits--art, drama, sports, or whatever interests them at the moment. We are looking forward to their return in August, ready to share what they've done and enrich our collective with their individual and unique achievements.


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,


Debbie Bornstein, Director of Judaic Studies EC-8
Atlanta Jewish Academy


 

The man who grew up to become perhaps the second-greatest prophet of all time, Shmuel HaNavi, was born miraculously as a result of the power of pure prayer before Hashem, as told in the first chapter of the Book of Samuel. But our sages complete the picture of this event with a phenomenal story about a dialogue that Shmuel's mother had with G-d. The story involves the mysterious process of the exoneration of the sota (someone suspected of adultery) found in this week's parsha. An innocent suspect is given the merit to bring a new child into the world. 

 

Thus, Chana, the future mother of Shmuel and a barren woman, came to the Mishkan in Shiloh and presented Hashem with an ultimatum: either the Almighty would graciously give her a child, or she would act to create suspicion that she was a sota. Then she would appear before the kohen to drink the holy water and, through the ceremony, be guaranteed pregnancy by virtue of her innocence, as promised in the Torah.

 

Between the lines of this magnificent story we learn something very important, the idea of limud zechut, literally, "learning to credit." Limud zechut is applied in suspicious circumstances, with or without collaborating evidence of some sort, when one's guilt or innocence has not been thoroughly proven. These days, society tends to judge and offer a verdict very speedily; yet our sages teach us that we must try to find ways to think the best of people. 

 

Chana, who came before G-d in prayer, was mistakenly thought by Eli, the High Priest, to be drunk. It is told that one of the reasons Eli thought she was drunk was because he had received a signal from heaven in the shape of the letters ה-כ-ר-ש, which he thought indicated that she was שכרה, meaning "drunk." But these letters were meant to be put together by Eli in a different way to read כשרה, which means "righteous." The signal from heaven was intended to clear her name, not the other way around--but even the greatest of us may sometimes be mistaken.

 

This is why we must learn limud zechut and apply it to our daily lives. Your brother never picked you up after soccer practice? Perhaps he is on a rush call to the vet with your dog. Someone brought a cake to class and forgot to leave you a piece? Perhaps they were convinced you were on a strict diet. Mommy got everyone new clothes but you? Perhaps there's a special trip to the mall planned just for you. You never know, so try limud zechut!

 

Shabbat shalom,

 

Rabbi Elad Asulin, Department of Judaic Studies

Atlanta Jewish Academy

 

Since Pesach, I have been careful to remember to count the Omer each and every night. Today is the 41st day in the Omer, and if I don't forget to count for one more week, I will have completed counting the Omer for the first time.

Why do we have a mitzvah to count every night from Pesach until Shavuot, 49 days?

The Sefer Hachinuch is a book that was written in the 16th century. The author wrote it to explain the reasons behind all 613 of the mitzvot to his son. His explanation for why we count the Omer leading up to Shavuot is this:

"We count because counting [towards a certain date] shows a person's desire and longing to reach that time."

So counting shows that we are excited for something to come. By counting the Omer, we are showing our excitement for accepting the Torah once again on Shavuot. I understand this idea well because I have been counting the weeks and days until my Bat Mitzvah with great excitement.

A Bat Mitzvah is very similar to Shavuot. On Shavuot, B'nei Yisrael joyously accepted the Torah with all of its mitzvot. At my Bat Mitzvah, I am accepting the responsibility to live my life according to the mitzvot of the Torah. Just as there were many new mitzvot that B'nei Yisrael learned they would have to do, so, too, there are more mitzvot that I now have to do. In many ways, my Bat Mitzvah is my personal Shavuot. I accept the challenge to do my best to keep the mitzvot, the ones I have always done and the ones that are new for me, like leading a mezuman. And just as B'nei Yisrael accepted the Torah with celebration, I, too, celebrate this moment in my life.

A Bat Mitzvah is my Kabbalat HaTorah, acceptance of the Torah. It is as if I am standing at Har Sinai to accept the Torah for myself, just as the Jewish people did so long ago. I do so with pride and joy.

Shabbat shalom,


Kiki Starr, Grade 6
Atlanta Jewish Academy