Torah for Everyone

By Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

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It is Torah written with everyone in mind!

September 27, 2023

Our Responsibility

Fifteen-year-old Davey came home from school and found his mother in bed.  He asked if she was sick. "As a matter of fact, I don’t feel too well,” she said.  

Well,” Davey replied, “don’t worry a bit about dinner, Mom.  I’ll be happy to carry you down to the stove.”

Responsibility for others is a core principle in any moral society. Two prominent figures in human history, Noah, and Abraham, each faced a test in this department. The way in which these two virtuous men reacted offers valuable lessons to those who fear that society is in a state of moral decline and feel powerless to stem the tide.  By way of example, A Gallup Poll conducted last year cites that 78% of respondents say that morals are getting worse in the U.S. Further, respondents cite that “lack of consideration for others” is the top problem by over a 2:1 margin.

The Torah (Bible) tells us that ten generations after Adam, G-d said to Noah, “I’ve decided to put an end to humanity, for the earth is filled with robbery because of them, and I am destroying them from the earth. Make for yourself an ark…”

Noah did everything just as G-d commanded him” (Genesis 6:13-14, 22).  With not a body of water in sight, Noah spent the next 120 years building a 440-foot-long “super ark.” Why did G-d give him a task that took so long?  One of His purposes was to elicit curiosity from passersby. When they would ask Noah about his ark, he would warn them that G-d planned to destroy the world, but there was still time to repent. Notably, no one took him up on his offer. 

Although Noah diligently followed G-d’s directions to the letter, he focused on the safety of himself and his loved ones.  If the rest of humanity was beyond redemption, he thought he needn’t take any responsibility for them. But G-d actually wanted Noah to intercede on their behalf, which could explain why the prophet Isaiah alludes to the deluge as "the waters of Noah." Noah’s lack of interest in his fellow men resulted in him sharing some responsibility for their demise.

Fast forward ten generations to the time of Abraham. G-d told him, “The outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.  If it is, I will destroy them…” (Genesis 18:20-21). Unlike Noah, Abraham who felt a deep personal responsibility for others, says to G-d, “Will you even destroy the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city; will you destroy it and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people who are in it?” He then goes on to negotiate with the Almighty getting G-d to agree that if even ten righteous people could be found, he would spare the entire population. We might see Abraham here as pleading for the lives of the righteous, but in fact, he was also hoping to save the wicked along with them.

Sodom and Gomorrah's inhabitants were notoriously cruel. Hostility toward visitors, sexual assault, murder, theft, adultery, idolatry, power abuses were considered normal behavior. Nonetheless, Abraham harbored a deep sense of personal responsibility for these individuals, and his persistent attempts, though unsuccessful, were ultimately rewarded by G-d. As stated in Genesis 18:18-19, “all nations on earth will be blessed through him” for following the path of G-d and doing charity and justice.”

While both Noah and Abraham stand as acclaimed figures in world history, Abraham’s approach was favored by G-d. Considering this contrast, what, then, might be an effective approach today to help the growing number of people who suffer from loneliness, family issues, psychological struggles, addiction, and so forth. Who couldn’t benefit from your compassion, support, and moral clarity at a time in history where morality is becoming untethered from the one G-d, and is fast becoming relative concept based on convenience or social agreement? 

Carrying on Abraham’s legacy is possible for everyone by serving as an ambassador of light. Seize the opportunity to suspend judgements and connect with each person you encounter based on the fact that they are also created in G-d’s image and thus deserve your causeless love and kindness. So, if Davey’s mother ever takes ill again, hopefully Davey reads this column and will serve his mom breakfast in bed! 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this week’s column.  Please email me at

Wishing you G-d’s abundant blessings,

Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

September 20, 2023

Go to Yourself!

Abraham, the first patriarch of the Torah (Bible) and founder of ethical monotheism, was the progenitor of the Jewish people and is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Interestingly, Abraham’s father was not only an idolater but was actually in the idol-making business and trained his son in the worship of the many gods they sold. But at a young age, Abraham grew skeptical of all the deities and deduced that there must be a singular force that runs through and transcends all existence., at great risk of life and limb, he fought t against the paganism of his time, standing up against his upbringing and education. 

A pivotal event occurred when Abraham was 75, which not only redefined his own journey but continues to shape our lives today. G-d called upon Abraham to "Go forth to yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The Sages of the Talmud explained that "your land" refers to one's natural desires, "your birthplace" to the influence of the surrounding culture, and "your father's home" to the mindset and behaviors shaped within one's family. 

To make Avraham into a great nation (Israel) and bless him (12:2), G-d wanted Avraham to “go forth to yourself.” The phrase "go forth to yourself" implies that even if someone has reached their highest potential through self-work, only G-d can connect them with their essence – a place beyond education, culture, and family. 

By conventional standards, anyone who has developed their potential and acquired vast knowledge through discipline and hard work is considered to have attained the ultimate level in human achievement. However, even at this elevated level, one remains limited – influenced by their education, upbringing, family environment, ego, and prejudices.

There exists a higher realm beyond these limitations – a spark of Divinity at the core of the human soul, breathed into man when he was created in G-d's image. G-d's message beckons not only to leave behind one's nature, habits, and rational self but also to transcend these boundaries. Through His guidance given to Abraham, G-d invites each individual to experience that which supersedes all limits and definitions: Himself.

To begin this journey toward Divine connection, one must first "go to yourself." Moving away from the finite self allows for the discovery of the "you" that only G-d can reveal – the "you" that is one with Him.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this week’s column.  Please email me at

Wishing you G-d’s abundant blessings,

Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

September 13, 2023

Rebuilding Humanity

Who doesn’t know the story of Noah, the famous ark builder? We read in the book of Genesis (6:9-11:32) how humanity had sunk into an abyss of moral depravity. 

The one notable exception was Noah (“perfect in his generations” 6:9) who was tasked by G-d to build an ark to save his family as well as every species of animal from the coming deluge. 

 What you may not know is that even after G-d decided to flood the Earth, he gave everyone ample opportunity to change their ways and live. The sages tell us that even after the downpour started people could have transformed the destructive storms into rains of blessing, but they remained hard-hearted.  

When they left the ark, Noah and his family were charged with re-building humanity based on G-d’s original plan for Adam and Eve. They were provided with a set of ethical laws for all human society, for all time. These laws established universal codes of decency including the acceptance of and accountability to a single Creator who cares about what human beings are doing; the establishment of the family framework; the enforcement of law and order; and prohibitions against murder, theft, and cruelty. These G-d given laws are compatible with every belief system and religion and provide a blueprint for how all of humanity can dwell together as brothers.  

The Sages of the Torah point out that there are destructive rains in every generation representing various anti-spiritual influences. These rains may appear harmless, even beneficial, at first but ultimately can destroy the very fabric of society. This is why each person, each family, each community must make sure that their ark is watertight, by embracing G-d’s wisdom as established in these laws.

But it’s not enough to keep darkness out. Each one must encourage the light within to shine outward and transform the surrounding darkness into G-dly light.  All that’s missing is to embrace the common ground found in G-d’s message of humanity’s purpose.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this week’s column. Please email me at

Wishing you G-d’s abundant blessings,

Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

September 6, 2023

Push Forward

The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) begins next month on the evening of Friday, September 15th. While it is a Jewish holiday, it actually commemorates the anniversary of the creation of the first man and woman, Adam, and Eve.  So, this is a good time to examine one’s thoughts, speech, and actions over the past year to see if any of them fall short of one’s best self, and then to resolve to do better in the coming year. It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t benefit from such an exercise. 

The process of self-examination and the commitment to do better is known in Hebrew as “Teshuvah,” a concept similar to “Repentance”. The word actually means “return,” as in returning to the right path.  The prototype for repentance occurs in the aftermath of Cain’s brutal slaying of his brother Abel and can be found in the Book of Genesis (4:3-17). 

While not a hero by any stretch of the imagination, Cain did ultimately acknowledge to G-d, “My sin is too great to bear”. Second, Cain was sent by G-d to “dwell in the land of the wanderers”. The sages of the Torah teach that solitude generates a spirit of humility within a person, aiding him in his soul-searching. Third, Cain understood he could never undo his mistake and could not bring his brother back to life, but that didn’t deter him. Rather, he used his sin as an impetus to build an entire city, rather than wallow in depression. He knew he would have to actively repent for the rest of his life, but at least he could repair in some measure the world that he damaged.  

Sin breeds depression, and depression breeds sin. Nobody is exempt from this cycle. The question is what to do after the sin.  

Initially, Cain played dumb with G-d by asking the infamous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper”? But once he admitted his guilt and set out to repent, he was able to successfully dedicate his life to something greater than himself. So even if one is responsible for terrible mistakes and disastrous consequences, one must strive to make a positive difference in the world. The lesson from Cain is that no matter what happened, or because of what happened, one must push forward. 

Repentance in Judaism is focused on restoring one’s connection and relationship with the Almighty.  It is not based on the mere desire for self-improvement, but on finding the best way to serve the Creator.  Committing oneself to a relationship with G-d will ensure that the resolution to be a servant of G-d will endure.   

I would love to hear your thoughts on this week’s column. Please email me at

Wishing you G-d’s abundant blessings,

Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

August 30, 2023

Adam's Legacy

In perhaps the best-known story from the book of Genesis (2:25-3:24) G-d banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for eating from “the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” against His direct command.  Prior to that G-d had provided Adam & Eve with everything they needed and desired, with no effort required on their part. His only condition was simply to not eat the fruit from one particular tree. 

What is less well known is that the “sin” occurred at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, and Adam knew that if he held out another three hours until the Sabbath, he would have been allowed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. And as for Adam himself, he was the perfect human specimen; his soul was blown into his nostrils by none other than the Divine Creator. So here was human perfection with a very minimal instruction from G-d to carry out, for a mere three hours. Come on! Couldn’t he control his desires? Something bigger is going on here.

Adam made a fully informed decision to trade paradise for toil, struggle, and certain death, not just for himself and his family, but also for all of humanity. There must be more here than meets the eye!

Let’s go back to the beginning, so to speak.

G-d created a perfect world, inhabited by perfect people, surrounded by pure goodness. Man was also given a choice to make. Did Adam want a perfect life given to him and all of his descendants, or did he want to choose a life earned by the “sweat of his brow” while challenged relentlessly by darkness, lust, and envy?

Maybe Adam knew what he was doing, and he chose wisely.

People endowed with immortality without any challenges could never realize their full potential.  Instead, thanks to Adam, humanity was gifted with a mission to bring heaven down to earth by taking responsibility each for his own corner of the world and transforming G-d’s creation back into a garden. Yes, there are thorns and thistles, struggle, and pain, along the way but also the satisfaction of one’s own efforts on his way to accomplishing ultimate good.  Only with the coming of the Messianic era (speedily in our days) when the world reverts back to the perfection of the Garden of Eden, will we fully appreciate the fruits of our labor. Most definitely a more challenging path, but also incomparably more rewarding.

Wishing you G-d’s abundant blessings,

Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger 

August 23, 2023

Subdue the Earth!

“Pray for the welfare of the government,” a great Jewish sage once said, “for were it not for the fear it inspires, every man would swallow his neighbor alive.” An established justice system is the bedrock of any civilized society. Without it, the world would be chaotic and dangerous.

This week’s Torah (Bible) portion, (Deuteronomy, Chapter 16:18-20:9), includes the commandment, “You shall appoint judges and officials…in all the settlements that the Lord your G-d is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.”

Thus, for example, in a case concerning theft, the court accepts the testimony of the accused if he confesses. In fact, the Talmud (the primary source of Jewish law) says, “admission by a litigant is equivalent to a hundred witnesses.”

Yet, in a case of capital punishment, a confession cannot be accepted by the court. In fact, two witnesses are required to testify against the accused.  So, in the case of one’s possessions, a confession is accepted. But in the case of one’s life, a confession is not accepted. Why is there a distinction?

Unlike material possessions, human bodies are Divine property, on loan to man. The book of Genesis (1:27) states, “And G-d Created man in His image, in the image of G-d.”

“In His image” means people have the intelligence, self-awareness, and the capacity to choose to pursue good or its opposite.  Genesis (1:28) goes on to say that G-d gifted these qualities to mankind to “subdue the earth.” According to the Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch that means people should respect the holiness of their bodies and bring holiness to all their material possessions as well, in fact to the whole world. Then everyone will perceive that all existence, in all its details, expresses the glory of G-d. 

The teaching that humans are created in the Divine Image is a call to action to subdue the world, rather than be subdued by it, not to accept personal challenges as fate, but rather to meet those circumstances and overcome them. Bear in mind, of course, that while humans are created in His image, only G-d is all-powerful.  You may encounter circumstances you cannot control; but you can still exercise freedom to choose your perspective and how you react to challenges. That’s what it means to be created in God’s image.

Wishing you G-d’s abundant blessings, 

Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

August 16, 2023


From the time of Moses, Jewish people around the world have been reading a portion from the Torah (Bible) each week, in sync. We complete the cycle each year and immediately return to the beginning. This week’s portion is from the book of Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17.

There, in Moses’ farewell address to the ancient Israelites, he reminds them that “since you were commanded to go out of the land of Egypt in haste, there was no opportunity for your dough to rise.” When the moment of liberation struck, the Children of Israel didn’t lose a moment, “not even the wink of an eye!” Why did they have to move so quickly?

The Egyptians had just barely survived G-d’s wrath in the form of ten devastating plagues, culminating in the death of all their firstborn. They were happy to see the Children of Israel go. The danger was not that the Egyptians might change their minds. Rather, the it was that some of the ancient Israelites might change their minds, having become accustomed to the Egyptian way of life.

In fact, the sages of the Talmud say that had they missed that auspicious moment, the opportunity for liberation would have been forever lost.

So too, we must guard against complacency. Exodus from Egypt was not a one-time historical event. Rather, the root of the word “Egypt” in Hebrew shares the root of the word for “bondage.” In our everyday lives, we must each contend with our own “inner Egypt,” which is one reason why the Jewish people reference the Exodus in their daily prayers.

Our task is to break free from anything that causes us to be subservient to the ‘animal’ within or our materialistic environment without. We should seize the opportunity to achieve personal liberation and to help others do the same. This means freeing ourselves from undesirable and self-limiting thoughts, feelings, and actions. For one person that could mean making peace with an estranged loved one. For another, it could mean resisting an unhealthy urge. For someone else it could mean celebrating instead of feeling jealous of another’s good fortune.

Let’s not be satisfied with the status quo nor give into the pressure to conform to the prevalent culture around us. At the same time, let us be sensitive to those around us who are enveloped by a state of darkness. One cannot hit darkness with a stick. It’s much more effective to simply turn on the light. Remember and remind that the darkest moment of night is just before the dawn!

Wishing you G-d’s abundant blessings,

Rabbi Yonatan Hambourger

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