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FINE DIFFERENCES by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"[If your Hebrew slave] says to you, 'I shall not go out from you' because he loves you and your house because he fares well with you" (Debarim 15:16)

The Gemara teaches that the owner of a Hebrew slave must treat him and view him as an equal in every respect, and he sometimes even has to treat him as a superior! However, the Gemara also teaches that if two Jews are in dire need of water, and only one of them has a jug of water, his own life takes precedence, and he is not obligated to give the water to the other person. Why is this case different than the case of the slave who must be treated at least as an equal, if not better?

A poor man and a rich man can live in harmony with one another, even though the poor man can't satisfy his physical needs like the rich man. Still yet, he does not feel inferior in any way to his friend as a human being. The slave, on the other hand, is always reminded of his bitter status as a mere servant of another man. Therefore the Torah goes out of its way to demand special treatment for him.

There is a very important lesson to be learned from this. We must understand that different people have different sensitivities. We must recognize each person's uniqueness, and treat him in a way that we will not hurt his feelings or make him self-conscious of his station in life. Let's take it upon ourselves now, as we approach the selihot season, to treat our fellow man with the proper respect, and to make amends with those to whom we may have shown disservice to in the past. Shabbat Shalom.

Last Sunday, Rabbi Semah's shul held grand opening ceremonies for the opening of their new shul building. The following dvar Torah was directed primarily to the community members, but the message is universal.

CAN WE TALK? by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"This is a day that Hashem made. May we rejoice and be happy." (Tehillim 118:24)

Sunday, August 24, was a day that will be remembered by me and by all of our members for many years to come. The emotions ran high, especially when we danced all of our sifrei Torah into our new hechal. This was dedication day of Congregation Magen Abraham. I know it was a great day simply by the outpouring of love for each other, the feeling of a team in victory - a day that only Hashem can make. At this time, we are all anxious to pray in our new shul and midrash, to learn Torah in the holy rooms that have been dedicated for these purposes. What does our holy Torah want us to do at this time? The name of our shul is Magen Abraham. Magen Abraham is also the name of an important commentary on the Shulhan Aruch. His words, many times, determine the halachah in our community. In chapter 151, the Shulhan Aruch rules that we should not talk in the shul non-essential talk, even if not during prayers, implying that no talk at all should be done during prayers. The Magen Abraham adds that if there is no talking during prayers, this will cause that shul to stand for many years to come. What a wonderful opportunity to preserve the great feeling of holiness we feel now in our new shul by remaining silent during prayers. May Hashem bless and preserve our new shul along with all of the shuls in our nation, Amen.


"See! I set before you this day a blessing and a curse." (Debarim 11:26)

The usual way for a person to act with his friends, or for a government to treat its citizens is to reward them for good deeds while punishing them for bad actions. However, it is not found that people are rewarded for refraining from evil or punished for not doing good. For example, while society would punish a thief or a killer, it would not reward somebody for not stealing or killing. In the Torah, though, we see that a person is either rewarded for doing a misvah or punished for not doing it, and punished for committing a sin or rewarded for avoiding it. Why is this so?

We do see one situation which is similar to the Torah in this respect - a father's actions towards his son. When a father tells his son to do something for him, he may promise him a reward for listening, but if the son doesn't listen he will be punished.

There are two types of reward and punishment - for the past and for the future. For example, if a person were to find a robber in his basement, he may run over and start hitting and beating him. Obviously, his intention is not to teach him not to steal in the future, but to punish the thief for trying to steal from him. The same would apply for a reward that someone may give to one who returned his lost wallet. His aim is to thank the person for his kindness, and not simply to encourage him to do it again in the future.

The case of the father and son differs in that the father's goal is to teach his son how to act in the future. If, for example, he punishes his son for not going to shul, his main purpose is to train his son to fear him and obey him in the future. When a father gives presents to his son, it is not merely to reward him for the past, but to encourage him to continue his good ways.

We can understand Hashem's intentions if we view reward and punishment in this light. Rewards and punishments are not given because they are "deserved" but rather their purpose is to guide us on the proper path. (Lekah Tob)

Pop quiz:What is the punishment for trying to entice another person to worship idols?
Answer to pop quiz:Death by stoning.

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