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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.


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!


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.


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".


Lech Lecha

Tuesday, 16th October 2018

The first Posuk (verse) in this weeks sedra (Torah portion) starts with Hashem (G-d) telling Avram (Abraham) to leave his homeland, his neighbours and his father's house. Hashem then says "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name famous, and be a blessing." What is the BIG test??

If Hashem came to you and said leave London, leave Golders Green and leave your home and go to Israel and I will make you wealthy and famous worldwide, would you not go??

The commentaries say that the test was whether or not Avram would go for the reward or go because Hashem wanted him to go.

That is why it such an enormous test. With all that reward staring you in the face its extremely hard to go “because Hashem told you to go” and not think about the reward. Similarly we know that some of the mitzvos (commandments) we perform, carry with them a reward. There are certain mitzvos that guarantee Olam Haba (Heaven in the next world) if we perform them, Kibud Av v'Em (Honouring one’s parents) and Talmud (the study of) Torah etc. It is up to us to see beyond the reward and do them because G-d wants us to instead of doing them because we know the reward!!

And that is the message we see in Pirkei Avos 1:3 "Antignus...used to say don't be like servants who are serving their master in order to receive reward, rather they should be like servants that serve their master not on condition of receiving reward"


Thursday, 11th October 2018



We are told of how Noach (Noah) emerged from the Ark and brought sacrifices to G-d. Then Noach set out to plant a vineyard. From its grapes he made wine, drank and became drunk. He was found by his son Chom (Ham) in his tent, undressed, and in an embarassing state. Instead of taking action, Cham left Noach in his drunken state and reported the incident to his brothers, Shem, and Yefes. Shem and Yefes immediately set out to cover their father and minimize his embarrassment. They took a blanket, and walking backwards they draped the blanket over their father without staring at him in his low state. When Noach awoke, and found out what happened, he blessed Shem and Yefes, and cursed the descendants of Chom. (See Genesis 9:18-29)

The lesson and and focus of this story is what Shem and Yefes did. Unlike Chom who publicized the shame of his father, Shem and Yefes sought to hide it. Shem and Yefes showed their father consideration, and attempted to restore his dignity.

In the book "Reaching the Stars" by Ruchoma Shain, the following story is told:

Mrs. Shain was a general studies teacher in a Jewish school, teaching 1st grade. There was a child named Ruthie in her class whose parents were immigrants from Hungary. Ruthie's father, a bricklayer, had fallen off of a scaffold and injured his spine. He was confined to a wheelchair. Her mother with the burden of caring for the family singlehandedly, suffered a breakdown and was hospitalized. The children were shunted between relatives and friend, their lives falling apart in front of them. This young child, suffering and confused, came to school every day, but never spoke a word. Every attempt to coax the child out of her shell met with failure. Toward the spring Ruthie still had not uttered a word in class. During a game, the children were sitting on the floor near the radiator. Mrs. Shain noticed a puddle growing under Ruthie, and she knew what would happen to Ruthie if the other girls became aware that she had had an accident. The embarrassment would be a death blow to the child. The children were absorbed in their game and had not yet discovered what had occured. Mrs. Shain rapped on her desk with her ruler, and got everyone back to their seats. "The radiator is leaking badly and causing a puddle on the floor, and so you should get ready for dismissal." Mrs Shain never lied to her students, but in this case she made an exception. Another few minutes and the children were gone. The door opened and there stood Ruthie. "Uh... Uh... Mrs. Shain," she whispered. Those were her only words. Then Ruthie took Mrs Shain's hand, kissed it, and fled from the room.

The student of Torah takes an important lesson from the events of this week's parsha (portion). We must always try to understand others; not to seek their faults, and to try to bring out the good which is in everyone. When the opportunity presents itself, we should even try to prevent others from becoming aware of other's mistakes, shortcomings, and personality flaws.



Wednesday, 3rd October 2018

“And dust shall you eat all the days of your life” (3:14)

Dust is readily available, so this seems to be more like a blessing than a curse. However, in truth a trouble-free existence is not the type of life Hashem intends for us.

Rabbi Sternbuch recalls a bochur (young student) asked the Rosh Yeshiva (Dean), Rabbi Schneider, for a brocho (blessing) before his wedding. Rabbi Schneider asked him what blessing he wanted, and the young man replied: “that everything should go smoothly in life”.  Rabbi Schneider responded that that was no brocho, and he blessed him instead that when he would be faced with difficulties, he would overcome them successfully.

Something attained effortlessly has little value, and it is only by surmounting difficulties that a person becomes elevated and realizes his potential.

A Dvar Torah by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Thursday, 27th September 2018


A Dvar Torah by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Click here to watch the video


Thursday, 20th September 2018

We have special brochos (blessings) for so many mitzvos(commandments), why not for building a sukkah? The Classic Commentaries bring a multitude of answers to this question.

The Imrei Shaul tells us that the brocho (blessing) is actually hinted at in the very mitzvah itself. For when one builds a "complete" sukkah, it is composed of four walls (d'fanos - singular dofan) with s'chach (material used as a roof for a sukkah) on top. If one adds up the numerical value (gematriya) of the Hebrew word dofen (singular for wall), multiply it by four, and then add the gematriya of the word s'chach, one comes up with the same gematriya as the words "Baruch Atah Hashem" [ a total of 660]. The brocho is hidden in the very sukkah itself!


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