Rabbi Fabián Werbin

Pittsburgh and Argentina

Two trips on the horizon.

Pittsburgh and Argentina. So distant, so close

On October 27 – Mitzvah Day –  I will be leading a trip to Pittsburgh, exactly one year after the horrible attack against the Tree of Life Synagogue. A year has passed and I feel I owe that community my support. I have never been to Pittsburgh before, but my heart hurts and my soul still suffers with their loss, with our loss. As if the attack was yesterday. I feel I owe that community a hug, a word of consolation and a moment of silence. I invite you to join me.

This trip will be a chance to bond with fellow Jews and perform an important mitzvah, but we will also make the time together an opportunity to learn. On the bus to Pittsburgh we will welcome a speaker who will be teaching about anti-Semitism and how we should respond. Continue reading →

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The serpent and the firefly

Some years ago I rushed to downtown Roanoke for a picture. I learned that an artist was taking pictures of people and printing them as big posters to be hung all over the city. I wanted to see myself on a big poster I hurried so I could be included in this exciting project.

 

Three weeks ago the United Synagogue calendar arrived at home and again, I was pictured (nicer this time!) in a big poster. My face is included in a high profile way in homes across the country!

How can a person manage his/her ego? How is it possible not to succumb to the temptation of pride or egotism?

Maybe, being “sameach b’chelko”, happy with your own share, helps a bit. It helps at least to reduce jealousy and envy.

I wanted to share with you a story that may help to illustrate this point. Continue reading →

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Outage

Sometimes it is very difficult to cut the umbilical cord. This may be true literally, but in this case, I’m not talking about something physical – though it does feel like a physical separation sometimes. One example of this separation anxiety happens to me when I read or watch the news. I read news from the U.S., and from around the world, but every day I also try to read news from Argentina, Israel, and Colombia – countries that have been my home. And I feel a deep connection with those places even though it has been many years since I’ve lived there.

Something very unusual happened a few weeks ago in South America. Continue reading →

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A Personal Reflection: My Kids’ B’nai Mitzvah

Recently, I’ve been looking at the calendar with different eyes. A month from now, Ariel and Catalina, my oldest son and my oldest daughter will become B’nai mitzvah, G-d willing. Day to day, the calendar moves slowly. But, the years have passed in the blink of an eye.

While my two older children are 15 months apart in age, they are preparing to celebrate their milestone together. Some of you may have already seen some pictures of Ari on Facebook, wrapping tefillin. The day on the Jewish calendar he became 13 years old, he took the responsibility of mitzvoth and therefore he is trying to fulfill all the mitzvoth an adult is commanded.

On the day of their B’nai Mitzvah, both will be called to the Torah. That act will be the public manifestation, in front of their family, friends and community that they are committed to a life of mitzvoth. Continue reading →

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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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