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Shemos

Thursday, 27th December 2018

In this week’s Sedra (Torah portion), Moshe (Moses) is found in a basket by Basya. Miriam who is standing nearby asks Basya if she should go and get a Jewish wet nurse for the baby.

Rashi mentions the Medrash, that first Basya attempted to feed Moshe from Egyptian wet nurses, but Moshe refused their milk. Moshe’s refusal was due to the fact that he was destined to speak with Hashem (G-d), and it was more befitting that the mouth that was going to speak “mouth to mouth” with Hashem should be nursed from a Jew. 

The Shulchan Aruch brings down the Halachah (ruling) that even though it is not forbidden for a Jewish baby to be nursed by a non-Jew it is better to refrain from doing so. The Vilna Goan links the source of this Halachah with the aforementioned Rashi in this week’s Sedra.

Asks Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, how can this be the source of the Halachah? Surely the reason that applied to Moshe does not apply to every one of us; we aren’t going to be speaking to Hashem as directly as Moshe did? 

Rabbi Yaakov answers, that herein lies a fundamental lesson in chinuch (education). Every parent has to know that his child has HUGE potential for greatness; he has the potential to be a Moshe! Therefore every Jewish child should not feed from a non Jew because he has the same potential that Moshe had. We have to educate every child with the knowledge that he can become something great.

Even if he might not end up speaking to Hashem direct, but if he fulfils his potential then he has achieved greatness akin to that of Moshe. It’s not how you measure up against everyone around you; it’s what you do in relation to YOUR unique potential.

Rabbi Chaim Kaufman used to say if you have great aspirations, you won’t fall that much short. When one shoots an arrow towards a target, you have to aim slightly above the bulls’ eye in order to hit it! Similarly Rabbi Sholom Schwadron would say, “if you have big goals then you will score more!”

Vayechi

Thursday, 20th December 2018

"Then Jacob called for his sons and said, "Gather yourselves and I will tell you what will be in the End of Days."(49:1)

Before Jacob was to pass away, he wished to reveal to his sons the time when the Messiah will arrive. The SHALA Hakodesh ( Rabbi Isaiha Horowitz,ZS"L) writes, that when Jacob used the language of "Gather yourselves", it is to teach us that in order for the "End of Days " to occur all hatred must be eradicated from the tribes of Israel. The nation of Israel must be one unified unit. This is hinted to in the very words of "Gather yourselves" into one brotherly unit, devoid of hatred and animosity.

A very fundamental question can be asked, How can we ourselves eradicate hatred , and thus actively bring about the Messiah?

The total eradication of hatred from our hearts begins primarily in how we perceive another person and ourselves. By realizing that every soul is beloved by G-d and uniquely created to fulfil its individual purpose , a person can begin to understand the foolishness in baseless jealousy and animosity; If your friend is unique and you're unique, so why be jealous? This can be further explained by an original MOSHAL (parable) as follows:

There once existed a poor village boy who was very curious about how things work, especially clocks. One day he decided to take a clock apart and examine its parts to further his understanding of the clocks mechanics. After much study and observation, he felt it was time to put it back together. However, he soon discovered that some of the parts were left over and not placed in the clock. But since at first glance the clock seemed to work, perhaps he thought that these parts were extra and unnecessary. After a few days, the village boy soon realized that the clock was off by a few minutes and that these minutes will turn into hours over time. This village boy realized the importance and value of every individual part that makes up the entire clock. It's is important to realize that G-d has a purpose, and that every Jew has a part in the realization of this purpose. Just like every part of the clock is important in order for the proper functioning of the clock, so too every Jew is equally vital in the fulfilment of G-d’s purpose.

Vayigash

Thursday, 13th December 2018

Rashi (46:26) cites the commentary which comments that in referring to the Bnei Yaakov (the sons of Jacob), the verse describes them as 'one nefesh (person),' whilst when discussing Bnei Eisav (the sons of Esaub) it calls them many people (nefashos). Why? 

Answers Rashi that Yaakov's (Jacob's) descendents serve one G-D and so they are described in the singular, whilst Eisav's kids served many gods and so are described in the plural. But why does this make sense - the Torah is talking about the people, not how many powers they served? 

The answer is that there is a fundamental difference between someone who serves one G-D and someone who serves many gods. Someone who serves one G-D realises that this G-D is supreme, and so is ready to subjugate and nullify himself & his ego before this G-D. But someone who serves many gods just wants the goods that these gods provide, and so is really only interested in his needs and his ego. Now it is only someone who nullifies his ego who can bond together in unity with other people, someone who is too interested in himself and his own wants will never form a proper team. 

Thus, when the Torah describes Bnei Yaakov it calls them one person, for it is because they serve one G-D and so have nullified their egos that they can bond together (like one man with one heart). But Bnei Eisav serve many gods and are only interested in their own needs, wants, and egos, and so cannot bond together. Thus, they are referred to in the plural.  

As Rabbi Krohn said, 'THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UNITE AND UNTIE IS WHERE YOU PUT THE I.'

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis

Thursday, 6th December 2018

 

Thought for the day - Radio 4

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Click the image below to listen

Chanukah

Wednesday, 28th November 2018

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

Friday, 23rd November 2018

This weeks Torah portion ends with an account of the genealogy of Esav.  We are told of the birth of Amalek, the progenitor of the nation that would constantly strive to destroy Klal Yisroel (the nation of Israel).

“And Timna was a concubine to Eliphaz and Eliphaz gave birth to Amalek.”

The Gemara (Talmud) in Sanhedrin informs us of the background to this terrible occurrence.   Timna was a Princess, but she wanted to convert to Judaism.  She came to Avrohom (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob) to convert but they would not accept her .   She then became a concubine to Eliphaz, the son of Esav.  She said that it was better to be a maidservant to this nation - Israel - rather than be a powerful woman in another nation.  As a result, Amalek, who would cause Israel great pain, was born from her.  What is the reason that this incident caused Amalek to be born from her?   Because the Avos (Patriarchs) should not have distanced her.   Rashi explains that the Gemara means that they should have allowed her to convert .

It seems clear that the Avos had sufficient reason to reject Timna’s efforts to join their nation.  They were aware of the evil within Timna’s nature .  Consequently, they refused to allow her to join the Jewish people.   So, why were they punished so harshly for their seemingly correct decision?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that we learn from here that no matter how bad a person is, they should not be totally rejected.   As long as there remains any hope that the person will improve their ways it is forbidden to distance them and thereby remove any chance of their doing teshuva (repentance).   Evidently, there was enough hidden potential within Timna that justified allowing her to join Klal Yisroel.

We learn from the incident with Timna that rejecting a person as a hopeless cause is a very serious matter.  If Chazal (our Sages) tell us that Timna, the person who produced Amalek, was deserving of a chance to join Klal Yisroel, all the more so, a person who is struggling with his Yiddishkeit (Judaism), deserves the opportunity to improve himself. Showing faith in a person is a tremendous way of helping him change his ways.

This does not only apply with regard to people drifting from Torah, it also applies to our children, students and people around us.  The Gemara in Sotah tells us that we should push away with our left hand and bring in with our right.   The right hand is stronger than the left, thus the Gemara is telling us that we should always give precedence to positive reinforcement over criticism.

Vayeitze

Wednesday, 14th November 2018

"...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!

Toldos

Thursday, 8th November 2018

We can learn an amazing lesson from that of Yitzchok (Isaac). As mentioned in this weeks parsha, he re-dug the wells that were filled in by the Philistines after Avrohom (Abraham) had dug them.

No sooner had he re-dug the first well, others claimed it belonged to them. Yitzchok did not get despondent, he moved on and re-dug the next well. This too was claimed by others to be their well.

This is where many would give up, but Yitzchok continued working to dig up the wells until he succeeded.

There was a story told about the great escape artist "Harry Houdini" (Harry Houdini was born as Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, on March 24, 1874. His parents were Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weisz (1829–1892) and his wife, Cecelia (née Steiner; 1841–1913). Houdini was one of seven children). He had the ability to escape from the most confining locks and cells. 

Once a prison warden boasted that he had a cell that even the great "Houdini" couldn't unlock. Houdini promptly accepted the challenge. 

Once left in the cell, Houdini began working on opening the lock. To his astonishment, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't throw open the bolt. He worked more carefully, but still without success. Finally, in his exhaustion, he leaned against the door, which swung right open. It was never locked. Even the great "Houdini" cannot open a lock that wasn't locked.

There is a common problem that many of us have, we get depressed too easily and give up. One of the reasons this happens is because we have an unrealistic expectation of what life is supposed to be like, just as Houdini in our story assumed that the door was locked.

Treatment can be effective only when there is an abnormality that needs to be fixed, locks can only be opened if they are locked. Giving up is not an ailment that can be treated, one can only be motivated to try and try again until eventually successful.

 

Chayei Sarah

Thursday, 1st November 2018

The Torah this week portrays a character named Efron the Chiti. He was the owner of the famous burial place in Hebron - the Me'oras (Cave of) HaMachpelah.   Avraham came to him requesting to purchase this cave.  "For full payment he'll give it to me ... for a burial place" (Genesis 23:9).  

Efron answered Avraham.  "The field and the cave in it - I've given to you (for free), go and bury your dead." 

Avraham politely refused, but Efron persisted:  

"What's a 400 silver shekel field between you and I?  (Take the field for free) and go bury your dead."  

Generally when giving something as a gift we wouldn't mention the price, unless we wanted a gift in return of similar value. Since Efron told him the price, Avraham understood that this was hinting to Avraham that he wanted the 400 Shekels "as a gift" from Avraham in return for his "gift" of the field.  

The Alter of Kelm takes note of Efron's change of heart. How could he so quickly go from insisting that Avraham take the cave for free, to accepting a huge sum of silver for it - way above the field’s worth?   Efron grabbed it without further protest.  Rashi comments: "he said much, and he didn't even do a little (of what he promised). 

There was once a debate which is famed to have taken place between Maimonides and the philosophers of his day. The philosophers maintained that the nature of an animal can be changed, and it can be transformed into a refined creature.  Maimonides maintained that it could not be intrinsically changed. Challenges were made, and the training began. When the day came, a huge gathering was eagerly waiting to witness this historical event.  Everyone was astounded to see a cat appear as a waiter, holding a pitcher of wine ready to be poured. Apparently the philosophers had proven their point and won the argument. Maimonides brought out a little box containing a live mouse, and it was soon scurrying across the floor. Down went the pitcher of wine, and off went the waiter after its prey to the disappointment of all. 

Efron was like the cat.  He was able to act generously, but the "smell" of a large sum of money overwhelmed him, and out went "Mr. Generous."  Imagine if Efron had known that his deeds would be forever read by generations, and lessons of "how not to be" would be learned from him?  Especially when compared to Avrohom.  What would he have done differently?  As we "write the story" of our own lives we would do well to learn from the different character traits of Efron and Avrohom.

Vayeiro

Tuesday, 23rd October 2018

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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