Rabbi Fabián Werbin

Change your toothbrush for Passover

If you enter my office there is something you will immediately notice. Lots of books.

I have passion and love for books and I still prefer physical books over electronic versions of the same text, especially on Shabbat. I bought a big part of my book collection when I was a student in a Yeshiva in Israel more than 20 years ago and those books hold a special place in my heart.

The yeshivot (house of study) are usually closed during the month of Nissan and students go back to their homes, visit their parents and take that beautiful time of the year to attend to personal business. I used the days before Pesach to earn some money and buy some books. I spent the days leading up to Pesach by cleaning several homes in Jerusalem. These are among the days I remember most fondly. I made some handmade signs advertising my “pop up business,” provided my phone number, and hung the signs on electric poles in Jerusalem. Before long, I was receiving calls hiring me for the job of preparing homes in advance of Pesach. I worked very hard and used my earnings to take advantage of the book sales that always take place after Pesach.

What I remember the most were the signs that were hanging on the same poles where my sign was posted: “Deep tooth cleaning for Pesach- Remove all the chametz from your mouth.”

It was the first time I felt we may have gone too far… Continue reading →

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Why I’ve never ever been drunk

-Rabbi, you must be kidding.

No, seriously. I don’t like drinking, I don’t enjoy it and why should I drink something, I don’t enjoy it too much.

-But you are form Argentina, Malbec!

Yes! Soccer (futbol), BBQ (asado), ice cream (helado) and so many other good things, but I don’t drink

– So how do you do in Purim?  Aren’t you supposed to get drunk? Continue reading →

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The front and the back

I once heard a story of a person who returned a couch he had bought because the back part of it did not have the same quality and finishing as the front. The vendor could not believe what the buyer was saying. –“Nobody sees the back part of a couch!”

–“Maybe”, answered the buyer. –“But to me the front and the back are equally important.

There is a holy item in our tradition that teaches that the front and the back are equally important. The mezuzah.

When we affix a mezuzah on our doors (a mezuzah must be affixed to the entrance of every home and to the door of every living room of a house, excluding storerooms, stables, and bathrooms) we should pay attention to the front and the back part of the parchment.

The front is the part that includes the Shema, V’ahabta and Vehaya em Shamoa (the Shema and its two first paragraphs, Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21) where we are commanded to affix a mezuzah, “And ye shall write them (the words of God) upon the mezuzot of thy house and in thy gates”.

The back part of the parchment includes two inscriptions. One on the top, the name of God שַדּי (“Almighty,” but also the initial letters of שוֹמֵר דְּלָתוֹת יִשְָׂראֵל “Guardian of the doors of Israel”).

And another on the bottom where there is an enigmatic inscription, כוזו במוכסז כוזו. In Hebrew this combination of letters does not make sense. Continue reading →

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Amen

One of the words we repeat the most during religious services is Amen. Amen is translated as: “it is true” or “may it become true” or “so be it.” Amen is found in the Torah only 15 times (11of them in chapter 27 of Deuteronomy) and no more than 30 in the entire Bible. Amen shares its root with the word Emmunah (faith) and its letters (alef, mem, nun) form the acronym אל מלך נאמן (’El melekh ne’eman, “God, trustworthy King)

Even though it has become a very common word, our sages taught that there are five different types of amen. Unbelievable! Continue reading →

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Yasher Koach (Yishar Koach)

The most common way to congratulate somebody after a simcha (a happy moment) in that person’s life is “Mazal Tov.” A Bar/Bat mitzvah, the birth of a child or grandchild, a wedding or any other special moment deserves the good wishes of Mazal tov. Sometimes we even joke and say Mazal tov when something breaks in the kitchen (a plate or a cup, etc.), perhaps because the noise evokes the sound of a groom breaking the glass under the chuppah (the wedding canopy).

 

There are events in our lives that are more frequent and (maybe) less relevant than a birth or a marriage like leading a service, saying a D’var Torah or receiving an aliyah. We have two different options to congratulate those who have had these kinds of honors: The Ashkenazi custom is to say: Yasher Koach (should be pronounced Yishar Koach) (יישר כוח) that means literally “may your strength be firm.” The answer to this blessing should be Baruch Tiyihe (ברוך תהיה), may you be blessed. The Sephardic custom is to say Chazak u Baruch (חזק וברוך) that means literally “strong and blessed.” The answer to this blessing is Chazak vEmatz (חזק ואמץ), strong and courageous. Continue reading →

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Why Jews

Why Jews?

Where do we get the name “Jew”? What is the origin?

In this week’s parasha we will read about the beginning of the Jewish nation. Jacob will have twelve sons and one daughter and with them come the first steps of our people. But, why “Jews”?

Later in history the twelve tribes will be divided in two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The northern tribes will disappear and basically we are all descendants of the tribe of Judah (Cohanim and Leviim are the exception; they are descendants of the tribe of Levi but that is for another post).

We are called Jews (Yehudim) since we descend from Judah (Yehudah). Continue reading →

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Make your own list

checklist.jpgSometimes we get so immersed in our routine, our daily life, and the many things that occupy our minds, that we lose sight of the blessings that surround us. When we drive our cars, it is difficult to look up and enjoy the beauty of the sky, appreciate the blue jays and the cardinals or just observe how the trees dance with the wind.

As we transition into the fall and the trees around us start to change their colors, I wanted to take a minute and reflect about the beauty of the place we live in.

When it’s time for me to think deeply, the Talmud is always one of my first resources. Through its statements, teachings and anecdotes, we can discover what was essential to our ancestors almost 2,000 years ago.

We read in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 17B)

“It has been taught: A scholar should not reside in a city where the following ten things are not found: Continue reading →

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Sukkah and bubblegum

I know English pronunciation is not my area of expertise. It is good to know one’s limitations. I’ve done so in the past but I ask you one more time to forgive me, to give me a pass with pronunciation. An “S” or a “Z” does not make a big difference in this post. Not for me, and I hope not for my readers either.

As I recall my childhood days, many were the challenges I faced. Looking at kid’s challenges from an adult perspective can be an unfair act. I remember how difficult it was for me to do the monkey bars… No I can walk under them but I couldn’t climb them!

I remember how difficult it was for me to open my eyes under water. I still don’t do it very well.

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a kid was to blow bubble gum. I still remember the day I was able to accomplish that first “balloon” as we called it in Argentina. I felt I was about to take off the ground. I could feel how that balloon elevated me. It was such a big accomplishment; I felt such happiness. I didn’t envy other kids who blew bubble gum anymore. I was relieved from the shame because I now longer felt that I was the only one in the world who did not know how to blow bubble gum.  Freedom was knocking on my own doors.

Since that moment and until today, I cannot stop making a connection between Sukkot and bubble gum. Continue reading →

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Visiting the Sick

There is a passage of the Talmud (Sota 14a) that always caught my attention and I am happy to share its beginning and end with you.

“R. Chama b. R. Chanina said: What is the meaning of the verse, “You shall walk after HaShem your God” (Deut. 13,5).  Is it possible for one to walk after the Presence?  Is it not written, “HaShem your God is a devouring fire” (Deut. 4,24)?  Rather, it means, follow in God’s ways:

Just as Hashem clothes the naked, as is it is written, “HaShem God made for Adam and his wife coats of skins and clothed them” (Gen. 4:21) – so you too clothe the naked;

God buried the dead, as it is written, “He buried him in the valley (Deut. 34:6) – so you too bury the dead.”

This explanation by Rabbi Chama describes the beginning and the end of the Torah. At the beginning, God acted with Chesed, loving-kindness, by clothing Adam and Eve. At the end of the Torah,  God acts with Chesed again by burying Moses.

Guess what other example is brought in this passage? Continue reading →

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Home

Being home… Nothing like being home.

As I return from 20 days away in Argentina, I feel so blessed to be back in my home. Yes, being a tourist in the country you were born, enjoying the extended family, the traditional foods, the old and new friends, a good asado (BBQ), hugging my dad, playing with my nephews and nieces, seeing my kids enjoying them as well and doing it all with an amazing group of Beth El families! All that is great, but nothing compares to the excitement I saw in my kids (and myself as well) when we arrived home. Their smiles, their running to get there as soon as possible, their feeling when their saw their beds, their things that made it home.

It is not a surprise then, that many (if not most) of the synagogues I know of have the word bait, home, in their name.

Why is this so? Continue reading →

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