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Shemos

Wednesday, 15th January 2020

Picture the scenario: Moshe has been in exile for many years for having killed the wicked Egyptian taskmaster and now he receives a Divine message that it is safe for him to return. "All the men that were seeking your life are dead" (Exodus 4:19). Moshe is certainly excited to be able to return to his brethren. He makes the return trip, and on the first day back he runs into the two individuals who squealed on him to Pharaoh and were seeking his downfall in the first place Datan and Aviram. "I thought you gentlemen passed away," Moshe thinks to himself. Then he takes a second look, sees their tattered clothes, and then thinks, "That’s it, they’re so poor, they are like dead and therefore won’t have any influence with Pharaoh to cause me harm."

The Talmud (Nedarim 64b) informs us that there are actually four categories of people that are considered as if they are dead. The first is the poor person, the second is the one afflicted with leprosy, the third is a blind person, and the final category is an individual who has no children.

What did the sages mean to convey by stating that these four are considered as if they are dead? Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, explains that life is about giving. The more that one gives, the more one is alive. The common denominator in these four categories is that they have very limited ability to give to others. A poor person constantly relies on the financial support of others to survive and can only give a limited amount of charity himself; a leper must remain separate from others and therefore cannot be a giver; a blind person generally needs assistance to accomplish most daily tasks; and a childless person, though obviously has the ability to help a spouse and others, cannot fulfill that almost constant role of meeting the needs of a child.

In the land of Israel there are two main bodies of water besides the Mediterranean. The Sea of Galilee in the north, which is also known as the sea of life and the Yam HaMelach, also known as the Dead Sea.

The Sea of Galilee is supplied with its water source from the melting snow in the mountains to the north. However, it not only receives water, it also knows how to give, the Jordan River continues to flow out from it to the south. It continues southward until it reaches the Dead Sea and there the flow ends. The sea has no outlet. Indeed it is dead because it does not have the attribute of being a giver.

When confronted with opportunities to help others we often feel overwhelmed with all of our other responsibilities. Do I really have the time, the patience, or the money to assist this person? Perhaps when these feelings enter our mind, we should rephrase the question to ourselves: Do I have the desire to be more alive?

Vayechi

Thursday, 9th January 2020

Verse 48:20 contains the famous blessing Yaakov gave to Yosef’s sons - a blessing that many people have the custom to give to their children on Friday night; ‘yesimcha Elokim k’Efrayim u’chiMenashe (May G-d make you like Efraim and Menashe).

'Why do we give these blessings to our children - why do we not bless our children that they should be like the Avos (Patriarchs) or like any of the other tribes?'

One idea is that Efraim and Menashe were unique in that they had shalom (peace) between them. Every one of the Avos had to live through some form of sibling rivalry and ‘family issues’ - Avraham with his idolatrous father, Terach, and then with Lot his nephew. Similarly, Yitzchak (Isaac)had to deal with Yishma’el (Ishmael), and Yaakov (Jacob) had to worry about Eisav (Esob) and then Lavan. Moreover, Yaakov’s sons sold Yosef (Joseph) into slavery. Therefore, Efraim and Menashe were the first generation to have serenity and peace at home. This is what we bless our children with - that they should live with constant shalom and without any family feuds or bickering.
 
Another idea here is that Efrayim and Menashe grew from being ‘mere sons of Yosef’ to being tribes in their own right. Thus, we bless our children that they should grow into being more than is expected of them - that they should (spiritually) grow out of proportion!

Vayigash

Wednesday, 1st January 2020

In this weeks Sedra (Torah portion), Yaakov (Jacob) meets Pharaoh, the king of Egypt and the most powerful man in the world. What would they have likely discussed? The meaning of life? The famine? No. 

Instead, the Torah records that meeting as having to do with something quite mundane. Age. Yet that discussion had severe ramifications for Yaakov.

The Torah relates how Yoseph (Joseph) presents his father to Pharaoh. "Pharaoh asked Yaakov, 'How old are you?' Yaakov answered, 'the years of my sojourns are one hundred thirty; few and bad ones; they have not reached the days of my forefathers in their sojourns.' "

There is a Midrash (interpretation of and commentary on the written scriptures) that notes the bitterness of Yaakov's response and makes the following amazing calculation. Yaakov lived to the age of 147 years, yet his father lived 'till 180. There is a difference of 33 years. Yaakov lost 33 years of his life due to the 33 words that were used as he cursed his life's struggles.

The Midrash needs explanation. Yaakov did not use 33 words to curse his fate? That number is only arrived at if the original question of  "How old are you," and the words "and Pharaoh asked Yaakov," are also counted. We can understand that Yaakov was punished for the words that he spoke, but why should he be punished for a question posed to him, even if the response was improper? Why count the words that Pharaoh used, and even more difficult, why count the words, "Pharaoh asked Yaakov," which are obviously the Torah's addition?  At most, Yaakov should only be punished for the 25 words that he actually used.

In order to understand the Midrash,  Ramban (Nachmanides) notes: World leaders do not normally greet each other with mundane questions such as, "how old are you?" Yet those are the only recorded words of the conversation that ensued between Yaakov and Pharaoh. "Obviously," explains the Ramban, "Yaakov looked so terrible and so aged that Pharaoh could not comprehend. He therefore dispensed with diplomatic etiquette and asked the discourteous query. Yaakov's response explained why his appearance overbore his numeric age.

Rabbi Shmuelevitz, explains why the Midrash is upset with Yaakov. Had Yaakov worn his suffering with more cheer, at least on the outside, he would not have looked as old as he did. Pharaoh would not have been astonished and would never have asked the undiplomatic question, "how old are you?" Yaakov was punished for prompting a query that resulted in open discontent of the fate he endured. That was the reason why an entire portion of the Torah was added - 33 words - Yaakov therefore lost 33 years of his life.

The Torah teaches us a great lesson.  No matter what life serves you, do not let the experience dwindle your spirit.

 

Chanukah

Tuesday, 24th December 2019

The Beis Yosef asks a very famous question and below are a couple of his answers. 

He asks why is Chanukah eight days long?  If there was enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day, then the miracle of the oil lasting for was really only a miracle for the latter seven of the eight days. Yet, we know that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days! What is the reason behind the eight day celebration that we have?  

The Beis Yosef answers:  Those who were preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained.  They therefore divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would be lit every day, albeit not for the entire day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted an entire day. Hence, there was a miracle on the first day as well.

Another answer by the Beis Yosef is: On the first night, the entire contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for an entire day. When the Menorah was checked on in the morning, it was discovered that none of the oil burned up, and the Menorah was still full, although the flame was lit. This miracle occurred for each of the days. Hence, the first day when the oil did not burn up was miraculous as well.

Chanukah

Friday, 20th December 2019

The Beis Yosef asks a very famous question and below are a couple of his answers.

He asks why is Chanukah eight days long? If there was enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day, then the miracle of the oil lasting for was really only a miracle for the latter seven of the eight days. Yet, we know that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days! What is the reason behind the eight day celebration that we have?

The Beis Yosef answers: Those who were preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained. They therefore divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would be lit every day, albeit not for the entire day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted an entire day. Hence, there was a miracle on the first day as well.

Another answer by the Beis Yosef is: On the first night, the entire contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for an entire day. When the Menorah was checked on in the morning, it was discovered that none of the oil burned up, and the Menorah was still full, although the flame was lit. This miracle occurred for each of the days. Hence, the first day when the oil did not burn up was miraculous as well.

Vayishlach

Thursday, 12th December 2019

Yaakov's (Jacob's) parent's told him to go to the house of Lavan and find a wife.  He did that, but only after a 14 year detour to the Yeshiva (college) of Sheim and Eiver.  Why did he stop over for 14 years instead of going direct and getting the job done that he set out to do?

Rabbi Elyashiv (Divrei Aggada) says that Yaakov had big plans and intended to carry on the legacy of his forefathers.  He wanted to go to Charan, a city of Avodah Zara (idol worship), and do what Avrohom (Abraham) did.  He had planned to call out in G-d's name and convince the people to become Baalei Tshuva (to return to Judaism).  

However, on his way, he was robbed by Elifaz and was left penniless.  Yaakov understood that to be successful in kiruv (winning people over), you need money.  Avrohom won people over with his very successful hotel and hospitality.  After wining and dining the people, he turned them towards G-d.  Without the financial clout, Yaakov knew he didn't stand a chance in Charan.

Yaakov had to forge a new path of kiruv and decided that he would bring people close to G-d through Torah.  To succeed using this method one has to be very well versed in the Torah. 
 
He did not yet feel that he was well enough equipped to even stand up to Lavan, let alone having the capability of being able to convince others.  To accomplish this he needed new training in the form of Torah learning without stopping even to sleep, for 14 years. Only then was he able to continue his journey and carry out the original job that he had set out to do and look for a wife for himself.

Vayeitze

Thursday, 5th December 2019

"...And he [Yaakov - Jacob] loved Rochel (Rachel) more that Leah ... and Hashem (G-d) saw that Leah was hated ..." (29:30-31)

From the fact that Yaakov loved Rochel, does that mean that his other wife Leah should be hated? And is this the attitude of Yaakov our Forefather - to hate his wife?

Rabbi Pam, speaking particularly to parents and teachers, suggests that the lesson we should take from this is that when we show extra love towards one person, even one of our own children, the others will feel hated even if it is not the case.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky however takes a more severe approach from this verse. He explains that there is no such thing as 'a middle road' when it comes to love, any lacking in the Mitzvah (commandment) of "loving a fellow Jew" is the equivalent of hating him; even if he loves him 70%, the remaining 30% is within the boundary of hatred.  This verse is therefore telling us that Yaakov did love Leah very much, but perhaps it was only 99.99%, therefore Leah was in fact hated.

This, explains Rabbi Kanievsky is the depth and the severity of the Mitzvah of Loving our fellow Jew (Veohavto Lereacho Komoycho) and how hard we need to work on it!

Toldot

Thursday, 28th November 2019

"So Esov (Esau) went to Yishmoel (Ismael) and took Mochlas (Mochalot), the daughter of Yishmoel son of Avrohom (Abraham), sister of Nevoyos (Neboath), in addition to his wives, as a wife for himself." (28:9)

After Yitzchok (Isaac) instructed his son Yaacov (Jacob) not to marry a Canaanite woman Esov realized his father's displeasure with him having married a Cannanite woman, so he then married from the house of Avrohom, the daughter of Yishmoel.  However, the verse clearly states that Esov didn't divorce any of his Cannanite wives.

What did Esov therefore gain by listening to Yitzchok and marrying a non-Canaanite?

We find a very interesting quote in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) (Nedarim 3:8), as follows: "Rabbi Acha says in the name of Rabbi Huna: In the future, the evil Esov will don his tallis and go sit among the righteous in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), and G-d will drag him out of there."

Esov wanted to please his father so he married Yishmoel's daughter, yet he didn't divorce his Canaanite wives. Esov entered Gan Eden wearing his Tallis (prayer shaul) demonstrating that he had fullfilled his father's wishes by marrying a descendant of Avrohom, yet G-d drags him out because at the same time he is still married to Canaanite woman.

Esov wanted it all, righteousness and material pleasure, but to G-d this is unacceptable.  Esov is dragged from Gan Eden because he is like the person who immerses himself in a Mikva (ritual bath) to purify himself, while is still holding on to an unclean object.

We must realize that to do honest Tshuva (repentance), we must be willing to let go of the sin, otherwise it is meaningless.

Chayei Sarah

Thursday, 21st November 2019

“And G-d blessed Avrohom (Abraham) with all.” (Bereishis 24:1)

What is the meaning of “all”? If G-d blessed him without specifying a particular area, surely that means that he was blessed with all?

The true tzadik (righteous person) is, by definition, a model of selflessness. His main concern is what G-d wants of him, and what other people want and need. His own material substance, beyond maintaining his health and strength to serve G-d, is of little concern to him.

Therefore, when the tzadik prays, he doesn’t pray to G-d only for himself, he prays for the welfare of the whole community. Even if his prayers are answered, and G-d blesses him, it’s not a blessing in his eyes if others are not included.

Therefore, if G-d wants to really bless the tzadik, He will bless the whole community, as well. That’s the meaning of the verse, “And G-d blessed Avrohom with all.” G-d acceded to Avrohom’s wishes, and blessed all the people, not just him. 

Vayerah

Thursday, 14th November 2019

The parsha (Torah portion) this week begins with G-d appearing to a ninety-nine year old Avrohom (Abraham) sitting in front of his tent suffering from his recent circumcision. Chazal (the Rabbis) teach us that he was waiting for guests to pass by, so he could invite them in, and he was upset that there were no guests.

Suddenly, Avrohom looks up and notices three men approaching. He ran over to meet them, saying: "Please don't pass on from your servant. Let a little water be brought...and you'll rest under the tree. I'll bring a morsel of bread and you'll satisfy your appetite. Then you'll continue on your way." (Genesis 18:14-15)

Avrohom excitedly ran to his wife Soroh (Sarah). "Quickly knead bread and make cakes!" Then again he ran to his herd to choose a good tender calf for his guests to eat, and hurries the lad to prepare it.
Avrohom went to such great effort to satisfy his guests, yet he only offered "a little water"? Why of all things was the water limited when he offered an abundance of everything else?

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter (1810–1883) was once travelling with a close friend of his when it was time for afternoon prayers. The two entered a small synagogue to pray. As is customary, they both washed their hands before praying. First, the Rabbi's friend washed with a liberal amount of water from a basin which was filled for this purpose, then Rabbi Yisroel followed suit, using only a minimal amount of water. "Aren't you accustomed to wash with a liberal amount Reb Yisroel?" "Yes, in fact, I am. But this is a small synagogue with a small group who comes here on a daily basis. I'm concerned that the Shamash (sexton) only fills the basin with enough water for those who usually come here to pray. If I wash liberally I may leave a noticeable deficiency in the basin. Imagine if the President sees the lack of water and feels that the Shamash is not carrying out his responsibilities correctly, it can cost him his livelihood."

When it comes to the work of having guests which Avrohom and Soroh committed themselves to, and which they personally undertook, they can offer their guests as much as they like. However, in the case of the water, which someone else was bringing, Avrohom did not offer that in abundance at the expense of those who were going to have to carry it, hence "a little water".

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