Want more? Introducing: Aleph Beta Advanced!

Genesis-UnveiledSome people come to Aleph Beta for our parsha videos, for a little taste to prepare for Shabbat. Others know us as the website to get inspiration before the big holidays in the Jewish calendar. And after watching a few videos, many of you email us – I love your stuff on parsha and holidays – where can I get more? Do you have anything else?

And guess what? We do! We have so. much. content. But, until now, we haven’t had a great way to showcase it – a clear place on our website where you can check out all the options in our Aleph Beta buffet.

But…no more! Introducing: Aleph Beta Advanced!

Aleph Beta Advanced is for those of you who are ready for that deep dive. You crave more than parsha and holiday videos, you want a deeper look at the stories and characters that make up our Bible. How can I understand Amalek – that nation we’re supposed to destroy? And those first ten chapters of Genesis, aren’t they odd? And, wow, God is so cruel – look at how he treats Job, and how he tests Abraham with the Binding of Isaac.

With Aleph Beta Advanced, you’ll see all of our material, categorized neatly. We worked really hard at making it clear and available – but we’ll continue to make it better, based on your suggestions. We WANT to hear from you – so email us at info@alephbeta.org.

Rivky

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Never miss an email again!

Do you feel like you’re not getting enough emails from us or that you’re getting too many?

Do you want to get the latest updates on our website changes from Aleph Beta?

We’re excited to announce that we’ve released custom email notifications.

You can now customize your email settings by visiting your account profile page.

Instructions:
1. Go to https://www.alephbeta.org/subscription/emailnotifications
2. Select the emails you’d like to receive!

Please let us know what you think!

Daniel
Ps. This feature is only available to Aleph Beta Members, Premium subscribers, and Educators. To upgrade, please visit: AlephBeta.org/pricing

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Passover Haggadah Guide

Welcome to the Aleph Beta Study Guide on the Passover Haggadah! (Print version)

We invite you to begin this journey tonight with the Passover Haggadah, but we will not be staying there – we will be traveling across many chapters in the Bible, from the beginning of Israelite history, to today, and back. It is our hope that this guide will challenge you to ask important questions about the Maggid section of the Haggadah, and will lead you to discover new and exciting answers.

This guide is full of discussion topics, questions to consider, passages to analyze, and thoughts to ponder. It was designed for careful thought and reflection at each “Ponder this” or “Look inside” section. Some reflection should take you a minute to consider, and others will lead to more exciting and engaging discussion. Resist the urge to rush through; take the time to think and discuss. Feel free to wander from this guide and spend more or less time at any of our destinations. This adventure is your own.

 

We’re often asked the following questions:

Is this guide for self-study, or should I study it with others?

Either works! You can gather a small group of friends to explore it together, share it with a chevruta (learning partner), or go through it by yourself.

Is this guide for the Seder night itself, or is this Seder “prep”?

Again, either works! You might want to use this guide as a way to prepare for the Seder in advance, so you have discussion topics ready to go — but you can also bring it to the Seder, sight unseen, and read through it together with your friends and family.

Can I share this with my friends or synagogue?

Absolutely! Nothing would make us happier than for you to share this Passover Guide with your friends. We believe that learning with others is extremely valuable! Please tag us on Facebook (@Aleph Beta) when you share. And, your synagogue has any questions they can contact daniel@alephbeta.org

Happy Learning and Happy Passover!

Daniel

Check out the guide here

Contact: daniel@alephbeta.org

 

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US Service Members Can Tune Into A New TV Show… About Passover

A new partnership is announced between the military and the“Netflix of Torah.”

Hewlett, NY, March 27, 2015: Did you ever wonder how you can prepare for Passover on an U.S. Army base in Afghanistan or a Navy air craft carrier in the Pacific? Starting in April, the answer is: ‘Turn on your television.’ The American Forces Network (AFN), which broadcasts the best of American TV into the homes of U.S. servicemen and women stationed abroad, will be airing “Passover: The Exodus That Could Have Been,” an hour-long animated holiday special. Members of the military, the Department of Defense, and their families can gather round the television and learn about the wickedness of Pharaoh, the travail of the Israelites, and the miracles performed by God at the Red Sea. And that’s just the beginning. Starting in May, service people will be able to tune in weekly to learn about the week’s Torah portion.

 

The programs are created by Aleph Beta, a Jewish organization based in New York that wants to help people struggle with some of life’s biggest questions – and believes that meaningful and satisfying answers can be found in Torah study. To that end, Aleph Beta produces high-quality animated videos and podcasts about the weekly Torah portion, Jewish holidays and more. Over 25,000 users visit AlephBeta.org each month to enjoy highly unique content from founder and CEO Rabbi David Fohrman, ranging from short videos on “Why Did God Destroy the World With a Flood?” and “What Does It Mean To Have Faith?” to the 76-part series “Genesis Unveiled,” an epic sweep of the first book of the Torah. The videos are entertaining, humorous, and deceptively deep. Aleph Beta is providing its content to AFN free of charge, as a service to the men and women of the armed forces.

 

Says Rabbi Fohrman: “It’s a patriotic duty to support and give strength to those who are fighting on our behalf. There’s a grand tradition for entertainers to go overseas and perform for our troops — and internet and television make it possible to do that virtually. To be able to entertain and educate members of the armed forces, Jewish or otherwise, who feel connected in some way to the Bible, and to help the text come alive for them in a way that’s meaningful — it’s a privilege.”

 

It won’t be just Jews who are tuning in to Aleph Beta’s programming on the American Forces Network (AFN). The programs are handpicked to appeal to the military audience – most of whom are between the ages of 18 and 30 and who hail from a diversity of faith backgrounds. When choosing religious programs, AFN turns to the Director of Religious Programming at the Broadcast Center, Chaplain Allen Vaughan, guided by policy set forth by the Armed Forces Chaplains Board.  Chaplain Vaughan is excited about Aleph Beta’s videos because they are highly creative and inclusive in appeal. Although Rabbi David Fohrman approaches the story of Passover from a Jewish perspective, his teachings have proven to be of interest to a larger, pluralistic audience. Aleph Beta has been surprised by the strong following of Christians that it has attracted over the past few years, who regularly express their enthusiasm at the opportunity to see the Bible “through new eyes.” “I believe this is the first time in AFN history that we have aired weekly Jewish religious programming,” Chaplain Vaughan shared excitedly.

 

So if you’re one of many US service members or their families celebrating Passover on a military base overseas or a Navy ship, make sure to tune in to AFN Prime on April 9th to get ready for Seder night.

 

Whether your Seder will be in Afghanistan, in the middle of the Pacific, or around your dining room table in the good old U.S. of A — “next year in Jerusalem!”

 


 

For more information:

1) Aleph Beta

2) American Forces Network (AFN)

 

Contacts:

1) Beth Lesch (author of this press release)

Writer, Aleph Beta

beth@alephbeta.org

 

2) Chaplain Allen Vaughan

Director, Religious Programming at the American Forces Network (AFN) – Broadcast Center

(951) 413-2380 (business)

bruce.a.vaughan8.mil@mail.mil

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Why I Love What I Do

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Hi Folks, David Fohrman here.

I wanted to send you a little drawing. I attached it to this letter. I received it one morning in my office in a handwritten envelope. It came from a nine-year old girl by the name of Faith, who has been watching Aleph Beta videos.

As I unfurled the letter, the bars filled in with different colored markers looked at first like a child’s drawing. But then, a few seconds later, I realized what it was. Faith had found an extraordinary chiastic structure — an ‘at-bash’ structure — in the heart of the Book of Genesis. She had learned about chiasms in Aleph Beta videos — and now, she had herself discovered one.

I looked at it carefully and pulled out my copy of Genesis. Lo and behold, Faith was right. The structure was really there. What does it mean? What secrets can we glean from it. I’ve been thinking about that — and one of these days, hope to put together an Aleph Beta video on it. But in the meantime, I wanted to share it with you.

I wanted to share it with you, because this kind of thing makes my heart go aflutter, as they say. Sometimes when you sit alone in your office and write, or put out videos — it’s not always easy to see the impact they have. But then you get something like Faith’s hand-drawn letter, and you begin to understand. The work that we are doing here at Aleph Beta is changing lives. And it is helping to foster a kind of democratization in Torah study, seeding a new generation of budding Torah scholars — from nine-year olds, and up — whose eyes have been opened as to the richness and relevance inherent in our sacred texts.

As the end of the year rolls around, I want to ask you to contribute to our work here at Aleph Beta. Claim a share in our work, and give what you can. Join our family. Faith’s hand-drawn chiasm wasn’t just a product of nine-year old scholarship, it was also a product of love. For thousands of viewers, we’ve helped kindle one of most precious things I think life has to offer: A lifelong romance with the Book of Books; a love of Torah that is not just a cliche, but a reality. If you’ve felt a little bit of that spark, help us kindle it in others. Watch our videos. Share them with friends. Gift a subscription. Send a donation — or send a note. Find your way to join what we do.

May the New Year be a wonderful one for you and your family.

Yours,

David Fohrman

Donate Now

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Our new and exciting projects: The Parsha Experiment and so much more!

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Hi, Rabbi David Fohrman here.

With the completion of our Parsha video on V’zot Habracha, I have now finished two full cycles of the weekly Torah portion with you here at Aleph Beta. This year, I will be hard at work preparing more videos for you, touching on some fascinating things that are not necessarily Parsha related. I’ve got big plans, and can’t wait to share this new stuff with you. Some of the things I’m working on: more material on the Book of Psalms, a series on the inner meaning of Grace after meals, a Biblical critique of terrorism, and another on the inner unity of Pirkei Avot. We will be releasing the first of this new wave of my work in just a few weeks from now.

In the meantime, I want to introduce you to another new and exciting project that we are working on. We are calling it: The Parsha Experiment. It’s going to be hosted by Rabbi David Block and Imu Shalev, two of the wonderful folks who work with me here at Aleph Beta. For those of you who’ve been around the block with us a little bit, you may recognize David from some guest appearances in last year’s Parsha videos. He has been fantastic. And Imu has been the very talented Executive Producer of these last two rounds of Parsha videos. Both have been wonderful students of the methodology I’ve been working with over the last few years and I think you are going to love hearing from them.

The Parsha Experiment will have a bit of a different focus then the last two rounds of Parsha videos I put together. It’s going to be looking in particular at the question of sequence. What I mean by that is: many of us treat the stories in the Torah like they’re isolated episodes and vignettes. But maybe these stories weren’t meant to be learned in isolation — maybe they’re meant to tell a grand tale. We are going to be taking you on a weekly journey into the overall story of the Torah – how these disparate stories and laws come together to form a larger, more elegant whole.

Like any experiment, the Parsha Experiment is… well, experimental. Its new territory for us, and we’re pretty excited about it. As you might imagine, the video creation process here takes an incredible amount of work and time from our staff – and we will be pressing hard this year to bring you my new materials as well as the new weekly Parsha Experiment. In the meantime, please dig in and enjoy!

Best,
David Fohrman

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An Inside Look At The Aleph Beta Production Team!

Hi everyone! My name is Rivky Stern, I’m the content and production manager here at Aleph Beta, and I wanted to give you a bit of a run-through about what this week looked like in the production department. (Come visit our office to see what it’s really like.)

What a week it’s been at Aleph Beta! The workweek actually started on Sunday, Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av is always one of the most emotionally and physically taxing days of the year for many of us, but in addition to fasting all day, we were working from home – rushing to fix bugs on the website, helping any users who were having trouble, and generally making sure that all of the Aleph Beta material was available for everyone, especially with the heavy traffic on Tisha B’Av. Thank God, everything went smoothly. ☺

On Monday, we got right back to business. In the production department here at Aleph Beta, we have a mantra – “6 weeks and 1 holiday!” This means that we always try to be that length of time ahead in video production; at any given moment, we want to be finished with the weekly Torah portion videos six weeks before we read it in synagogue, and the next longer series (like holidays) should already be finished! Of course, it rarely happens that way, because, things get a little crazy. Common culprits include – we realize that something wasn’t recorded quite right the first time, a video editor gets pulled off a video because of immediate website issues, video sequences take long to create, or (most likely) we spent wayyyy longer than allotted time in the pre-production process, making sure that the material is absolutely perfect before beginning to record.

That having been said, this week, we finished three videos, Eikev, Re’eh and Shoftim! Woo! Considering we only have one animator and one video editor right now, that’s quite a feat. (Shoutout to Charles and Shoshana, taking up the task while our video editor, Lisa is on maternity leave with baby Lyla… the newest and cutest member of the Aleph Beta family!)

We also prepped a bunch of audios for video– only four videos left until we finish our second round of Parsha!!

And, of course, we’re working hard on the research and development of the Rosh Hashanah course for this coming year. The first two audios are ready to go, and we’re going strong getting the rest ready for video for you all.

We had trouble narrowing down all the fascinating directions Rabbi Fohrman wanted to take about Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe – at different points, we were focused on the idea of kingship, the Binding of Isaac story, and others, but I thinkkkk we’ve narrowed it down – stay tuned ;)

That’s all, everyone! Want to stay updated about the goings on at Aleph Beta? Like our Facebook page, follow our Instagram account, Twitter, etc. (Especially Instagram, not trying to show off or anything, but I’m in several of the pictures, what up.)

Shabbat Shalom!

Rivky

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Some personal reflections on Eichah

Hi Folks. It’s Rabbi Fohrman here. Hope you are having a meaningful fast and are enjoying our videos.
I wanted to pass along some personal musings I put together after coming back from reading Eichah last night. I had a strange experience trying to read my designated chapter aloud – and, at least for me, those difficulties helped me see much of Eichah in a new light.My reflections are about six pages or so – kind of hot off the press – and I thought I’d send it out to you for your perusal. There are implications here, I think, for some pretty big questions – especially: is it Kosher to be upset with God? With the Holocaust not too far behind us, that question always seems to be an “elephant in the room” lurking just at the edges of our consciousness, every Tisha Bav. Perhaps Jeremiah provides a model here. Curious to hear your thoughts if you get a chance to read the piece. Meanwhile, be sure to enjoy our Tisha Bav videos (you can find them here). We at Aleph Beta put a lot of love into them.
 
Here’s the article: Eichah Reflections
Yours,
Rabbi Fohrman
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The Brilliant Ten-Year-Old Who Inspired Us All

For those of you who don’t know Rabbi Fohrman personally, allow me to  paint you a picture….

Rabbi Fohrman is never more excited than when he feels he truly made an impact in someone’s life. He could see that thousands of people watched his Parsha video, and he’ll be happy, of course, but those are just numbers. When an actual person gets matched with one of those numbers, when he can tangibly recognize the human factor, that is what truly gets him going.

 

On May 15th we received a letter in the mail. It simply said as follows:

“Dear Rabbi Fohrman,

Thank you for your input into my ten year old daughter’s life!

Shalom, John Williams”

 

With it, he had attached his daughter’s incredibly elaborate chiasm (a literary technique that Rabbi Forhman is particularly fond of using in his teachings) with her note: “I was reading my Scriptures one morning and I found this chiasm.” Discovering chiastic structure in the Bible is an impressive feat for a learner of any age, but for a ten-year-old? He was blown away.

 

The chiasm [see image below] focuses on Genesis 27, the story of Rebecca and Jacob tricking Isaac for Esau’s blessing. Rabbi Fohrman had never noticed it before and quickly went to the text to see for himself. He was awestruck, inspired, and so deeply impressed to find that the chiasm was completely accurate.

 

Immediately afterwards, Rabbi Fohrman flew out of his office, noticeably very excited, and told us to quickly gather round. He went on to show us the letter and the color-coded chiasm, and started talking about producing a video based on Ms. Williams’s findings. (Unfortunately Ms. Williams did not sign her first name!)

 

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how uplifting this was for all of us at Aleph Beta.

 

Everyone at Aleph Beta is passionate about conveying Torah in an honest way; and in our dream of dreams, we hope Aleph Beta learners will receive the tools they need from us to interpret and analyze a text for themselves.

 

But we, like everyone else, can get a little burnt out. We fall prey to the distractions- the minutiae of our day-to-day routines- that we lose sight of this glorious goal.

 

But then you uplift us. It’s people like you and Ms. Williams who remind us of why we do what we do, and give us the encouragement we need to keep going.

 

We’re all in it together, and we truly couldn’t do it without you.

 

Tamar

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P.S. The Williams family has given us permission to share their letter with you, so without further ado….

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Bites of Freedom

Wine, Matzah and Tchaikovsky

By David Fohrman

 

This year, as you sit down to the Seder table, ask yourself the following question: Exactly what should I be thinking about as I take that first bite of matzah or first drink of wine? What kind of experience do the authors of the Haggadah want me to have?

We all know that Passover is a holiday of symbols. From Matzah to Marror, from wine to charoses; everything we eat at the Seder represents something; nothing is “just food.”

The themes of these symbols are familiar to us:  Matzah represents the bread that baked on our forefathers’ backs; wine is the drink of free men. But their deeper meaning seems oddly vague.

Early in the Seder, the Haggadah instructs us to declare: “This is poor man’s bread; the bread our forefathers ate when they were  enslaved in Egypt….”  Slaves don’t have time to allow bread to rise; they are constantly on the run, and therefore, the bread they bake is flat. Moreover, the poor and the enslaved eat only the simplest of things. In eating this most essential of breads – just flour and water, nothing else — we are reminded of the “flatness” of slavery. We remember what it means to be destitute; to be stripped, like this bread, of all possible frills, left with nothing but the absolute basics of life.

But is it really so simple? Read on. Later in the Seder, the Haggadah tells us: “This matzah, why do we eat it?  Because the Holy One redeemed our forefathers [from Egypt] before their dough could rise.” That is, the redemption occurred with such lightning speed, that the hastily packing Israelites didn’t even have time to let their bread rise properly before quitting Egypt for good. Here,  the picture seems to have flipped. It is now a happy picture; a picture of a split second redemption. We remember with joy and zest those moments when, as a kid, our parents told us that this morning, we weren’t going to school; instead, pack up quickly: We’re taking a day off to go skiing! There’s nothing like the joy of hauling that hastily packed suitcase out to the car. Who cares if we forgot to pack our comb; and, who cares if the bread didn’t have time to rise? Its all part of the excitement!

 

So stand back and ask yourself: What, then, is the “real” meaning of this matzah that we eat? It is slavery or freedom? Is it poor man’s bread, the bread of affliction; or is it the “flat-bread” of split-second redemption. What mental picture are we meant to conjure as we eat this food?

 

Curiously, the same paradox asserts itself in another fixture of the Seder: The drinking of wine. We know that the four cups of wine commemorate the four verbs God used when committing Himself to redeem the Jews. When God tells Moses what he aims to do with the enslaved Israelites, He declares that he will “take then out” of servitude; that he will “save” them from their backbreaking labor; that he will “redeem” them with miracles; and finally, that he will “take” them as his People, and be their God (Exodus 6:6-7). In evoking these four action words of redemption, the wine seems clearly to symbolize freedom. Yet the picture is not so simple. For commentators also suggest that the wine has a more haunting significance as well. It commemorates the blood of Jewish children cast in the Nile-  one of the most painful moments of our slavery.

So what, then, does this mean? As we take that bite of matzah or sip of wine, what should go through our minds? Seemingly, we are asked to somehow experience slavery and freedom together. But is this really possible? And even if it is what, would be the point of such a muddled mental game?

 

Perhaps the idea can be illuminated with an analogy.

 

Most of us have, at one point or another, heard a tape or performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. This classic work was commissioned by the Czar to commemorate Russia’s victory over France in the war of 1812. It tells the story of historical battles through the medium of music, and so it’s not inaccurate to call the piece one long musical symbol.

 

Now, one might wonder: What makes this piece a classic? It actually contains almost no original music whatsoever. Tchaikovsky simply took two national anthems — the French and the Russian — and some Russian folk tunes, and spliced everything together. Where is the genius here?

 

The genius, it seems, is all in the arrangement. Near the beginning of the overture, we hear the bold notes of the French national anthem mixed with Russian folk songs: The French have invaded the Russian villages. The folk songs are played in minor keys, as the music conveys the pain and bitterness of defeat. For a while, the French continue their musical charge; but shortly thereafter they are met by the Czarist National Anthem. The Czar’s music gathers strength, and in a final clash, the Russian theme prevails; the Russians have been victorious over the French. At the end, we hear the same Russian folk songs once again  but this time, they are played triumphantly, in major keys.

 

What is the cumulative effect? The message of the music, I think, is that one can’t truly appreciate victory if one has never experienced defeat. Indeed, it is only through defeat that freedom gains its full meaning. The final flurry of folk songs conveys the exultation of the villagers — but it is an exultation laced with the painful memories of past suffering. As we hear the folk songs played joyously, we are reminded of how, earlier, they were played mournfully.

The victory is more meaningful because it contains within it the memories of loss.

 

And so it is with the symbols of the Seder. The matzah and wine are living, breathing symbols. For in the same bite that they offer us freedom, they also let us taste the faint memories of abject slavery. Our joy is three dimensional, rich and alive: We know what it means to be free because at the same time, we remember what it means to be slaves. Indeed, the words we say in the Haggadah teach this lesson to our minds. But through the foods we eat on that night, we learn it with our senses as well.

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