Monday, December 15, 2014

Parshat Vayeshev "Dreams Can Take You Far"


פרשת וישב

This weeks Parsha, Parashat Vayeshev (he dwelled), focuses on Jacob and his sons, and in particular, on Joseph and his compelling journey with his eleven brothers. The Parsha begins with Jacob settling in the land of Canaan-

The Parsha comments, These are the generations of Jacob (37:2) and then immediately begins telling the story of Joseph and his relationship with his family. In other words, the description of Jacobs heritage begins with a description of Jacobs son, Joseph, and the boys actions at the age of seventeen.

The Torah describes Joseph as a young shepherd who would bring back negative reports to his father regarding certain brothers. The Torah also tells us that Jacob, now called Israel, loved Joseph more than the rest of his sons, because Joseph was born in Israels old age and Israel made Joseph an intricate wool coat, And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him (37:4).

At this time, Joseph dreams a dream and shares it with his brothers. In the dream, Joseph dreams that he and his brother are binding sheaves in field. Suddenly, Josephs sheaf rises and stands upright and all the sheaves of his brothers gather around his sheaf and bows down to it. Upon hearing the content of his dream, the brothers ask him-

You rule over us like a king and govern us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words (37:8).

Joseph dreams yet another dream and relates it to his father and to his brothers. In this second dream, Joseph dreams that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. When Joseph relates the content of this second dream, Israel rebukes Joseph saying,

What is this dream you have dreamt? Will I, your mother and your brothers bow to the floor to you? And his brothers envied him but his father kept the thing in mind (37:10-11).

Josephs brothers then go to Shechem to feed their fathers flock of sheep. Israel sends Joseph to Shechem to check on his brothers and on the sheep and to return with word. Joseph finds a man straying in the field and the man asks him what he is searching (Rashi comments that this was the angel, Gabriel). Joseph inquires as to the whereabouts of his brothers and the man tells him that he overheard them saying they should travel to Dothan.

The brothers spot Joseph from afar and plot to kill him. They plan to throw him into a pit and claim that a wild beast has devoured him,-

And we will see what becomes of his dream (37:20). 

Reuben overhears their plan and urges them not to spill any blood, but instead to put him into a specific pit and not cause him harm, so that he could return later, retrieve Joseph from the pit and return him to their father.

When Joseph reaches his brothers, they strip his fine wool coat from him, take and throw him to a pit, and the pit was empty, there was no water in it (37:24).

The brothers then sit down to eat, and they see a caravan of Ishmaelites approaching from Gilead, on the way to Egypt, with camels laden with spices and balm and ladanum.

Judah says to his brothers, What is our gain to kill our brother and cover it up? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh (37:27). The brothers agree and lift Joseph from the pit and sell him to passing Midianites for twenty silver coins. When Reuben returns to the pit and finds Joseph missing, he rips his garments in mourning and tells his brothers, The boy is gone. And where shall I go?

The brothers take Josephs coat, slaughter a goat and dip the goat in the kid goats blood. They bring the coat to their father and ask him to acknowledge that it is Josephs. And he knew it, and said,

It is my sons coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph has been torn to pieces (37:33). 

Jacob tears his garments, puts sackcloth on his loins, and mourns for his son many days (37:34). Although his family attempt to console him, Jacob refuses to be comforted, saying, No, but I will descend to the grave mourning my son (37:35). Meanwhile, the Midianites had sold Joseph into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaohs, the captain of the guard.

The Parsha then relates the story of Tamar and Judah. Judah marries Shua, a Canaanite woman, and they bear three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er marries Tamar and Er was wicked in the sight of the L-rd; and the L-rd slew him (38:7). Onan refuses to marry Tamar and perform the duty of a husbands brother unto her (38:8) and the thing which he did was evil in the sight of the L-rd; and He slew him also (38:10). Judah tells his daughter-in-law to stay as a widow in her fathers house until his youngest son is old enough to marry her and Tamar went and lived in her fathers house. Judahs wife passes away, and Judah was comforted and went up unto his sheep-shearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite (38:12). Tamar hears that her father-in-law was going up to Timnah and she disguises herself and waits for Judah at the entrance of Enaim, for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she was not given to him as a wife (38:14).

Judah does not recognize his daughter-in-law and mistakes her for a harlot. Disguised, Tamar asks Judah to give her his seal, his cord and his staff as a pledge and he comes to her and she conceives. Tamar then leaves and Judah sends his friend to retrieve his belongings from the harlot, but the people of the place tell him, There has been no harlot here (38: 21).

Three months later, when Judah hears that Tamar is pregnant, he demands that she be executed for prostitution. When she is brought out, however, Tamar sends a message to Judah asking him to identify his belongings, saying, I am pregnant by the man who owns these (38:25). Judah is forced to acknowledge his possessions, and admits, She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her Shelah my son. (38:26). Tamar gives birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah.

The Parsha then returns to the story of Joseph and his experience in Egypt. G-d is with Joseph and Joseph becomes very successful. Potiphar realizes that God is with Joseph in all his doings, and Joseph finds favor in Potiphars eyes. Potiphar appoints Joseph over his household and all that was his and from the time Joseph is appointed, G-d blesses the whole house of Potiphar on behalf on Joseph. Joseph is described as handsome in form and an in appearance. Potiphars wife casts her eyes upon Joseph and she says to him, Lie with me (39:8) but Joseph refuses, saying How can I commit this evil act and sin against my G-d? (39:9)

Potiphars wife continues speaking to Joseph day after day, but Joseph refuses to listen and to be with her. One day, Joseph enters the house to work and finds no one in the house. It is then that Potiphars wife catches hold of his garment, and urges him again, Lie with me (39:12). Joseph flees from her clutches, leaving his garment in her hand. Potiphars wife sees this and uses the opportunity to call to to the people of her house, telling them Look, this Hebrew man was brought to make a mockery of us, he came to lie with me, but I cried out with a loud voice. When he heard that I raised my voice, he left his garment with me and he ran away outside. (39:14-39:15) She tells Potiphar a similar account and Potiphar flares up in anger, and puts Joseph in the jail where the kings prisoners were held.

G-d is with Joseph even in jail, and Joseph finds favor in the wardens eyes. The warden places everything in Josephs hand, and whatever Joseph does, he is successful.

It so happened that at that time, the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker for the king offend the king and he places them in the same jail as Joseph. Each of the two men dream a separate dream on the same night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were bound in the prison (40:5). In the morning, the two appear troubled and Joseph asks them why. They reply that they dreamt a dream but they do not have an interpreter to interpret it. Joseph replies to them, Do interpretations not belong to God? (40:8) and asks them to relate the dream to him.

The butler explains his dream first, describing, There is a grapevine in front of me, and on this vine were three branches, and as it was budding, its clusters then grew into ripe grapes. And Pharaohs cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaohs cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaohs hand (40:9-11).

Joseph tells the butler that the three branches represent three days, and that in three days, Pharaoh will life up the butlers head and return him to his old post and the butler will give Pharaohs cup into his hand, just as he used to do before he was placed in jail. Joseph then tells the butler to remember him and to mention him to Pharaoh so he can leave jail, For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon (40:15).

When the baker saw that Joseph had interpreted the butlers dream correctly, and the baker tells Joseph his dream: Three wicker baskets were on my head, In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head. (40:16-17).

Joseph replies that the three baskets represent three days, and that in three days, Pharaoh will lift his head up from off of him and will hang him on a tree, and the birds will eat the flesh from him.

On the third day, which was Pharaohs birthday, Pharaoh makes a feast for all his servants. He restores the butler to his original post and the butler places the cup on Pharaohs palm. And the baker he hangs, just as Joseph had interpreted. And the butler does not remember Joseph, he forgets.

And Reuben said unto them: Shed no blood; cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him--that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father (37:22).

What were Reubens motives here?

Reuben was the true first born, the first son of Leah and Israel. His plan was to rescue Joseph and return him peacefully to his father, thereby winning over his fathers love. Just as Israel and Esau fought over the birthright, so did Reuben and Joseph struggle to capture their fathers love.

ישראל /Israel 

The word ישראל (Israel in Hebrew) contains all the first initials of our forefathers and mothers:

י (Yud): Yitzchak, Yaakov

ש (Shin): Sara

ר (Reish): Rachel

א (Alef): Abraham

ל (Lamed): Leah

וילכו אחיו לרעות את צאן אביהם בשכם

And his brothers went to feed their fathers flock in Shechem (37:12)

Which brothers wanted to kill Joseph?

It was Simeon and Levi because they were prone to violence after dealing with Shechem and his violation of Dinah. Because they were in the same city, the same feelings arose.

והבור רק אין בו מים

And the pit was empty, there was no water in it (37:24).

Rashi ask the question: Why was it necessary for the Torah to write there was no water in it. If the pit was empty, of course there was no water in it!

Rashi answers that there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it.

ויקחו את כתנת יוסף וישחטו שעיר עזים ויטבלו את הכתנת בדם

And they took Josephs coat, and killed a he-goat, and dipped the coat in the blood(37:31)

Just like Jacob tricked his father, Isaac, with animal skins when disguising himself as Esau, the brothers trick Israel with animal skin.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Frum Girl In the City: Parshat Vayishlach - Recognizing Ones Self-worth

Frum Girl In the City: Parshat Vayishlach - Recognizing Ones Self-worth: Jacob returns to the Holy Land after a 20-year stay in  Charan , and sends angel-emissaries to Esau in hope of a reconciliatio...

Parshat Vayishlach - Recognizing Ones Self-worth

Jacob returns to the Holy Land after a 20-year stay in Charan, and sends angel-emissaries to Esau in hope of a reconciliation, but his messengers report that his brother is on the warpath with 400 armed men. Jacob prepares for war, prays, and sends Esau a large gift (consisting of hundreds of heads of livestock) to appease him.
That night, Jacob ferries his family and possessions across the Jabbok River; he, however, remains behind and encounters the angel that embodies the spirit of Esau, with whom he wrestles until daybreak. Jacob suffers a dislocated hip but vanquishes the supernal creature, who bestows on him the name Israel, which means “he who prevails over the divine.”
Jacob and Esau meet, embrace and kiss, but part ways. Jacob purchases a plot of land near Shechem, whose crown prince—also called Shechem—abducts and rapes Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi avenge the deed by killing all male inhabitants of the city, after rendering them vulnerable by convincing them to circumcise themselves.
Jacob journeys on. Rachel dies while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, and is buried in a roadside grave near Bethlehem. Reuben loses the birthright because he interferes with his father’s marital life. Jacob arrives in Hebron, to his father Isaac, who later dies at age 180. (Rebecca has passed away before Jacob’s arrival.)
Our Parshah concludes with a detailed account of Esau’s wives, children and grandchildren; the family histories of the people of Seir, among whom Esau settled; and a list of the eight kings who ruled Edom, the land of Esau’s and Seir’s descendants.

(ויותר יעקב לבדוויאבק איש עמו עד השחר (לב: כה
Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak (32:25).
Why did Jacob remain alone on one side of the river in the middle of night?
Rashi explains that Jacob had forgotten small jars and he had returned to retrieve them.
This teaches us that that we should not ignore the little things in life, that the little things can be as important as the great things, and that the value of a seemingly small Mitzvah can be as important as as a great mitzvah. (See Ethics of Our Fathers 2:1)
One can also interpret the verse in the opposite manner: that sometimes in life, we have to know when to let go of the little things, and not to be attached to the material objects we possess, for if we do so, we will find ourselves wrestling with opposing forces.

Vayishlach(Genesis 32:4-36:43)

Timna and Amalek: The Rejects

The nation of Amalek is well-known as the epitome of evil and enmity towards the Jewish people. The Torah tells us that the Amalekites attacked us whilst were in the desert, and consequently we are commanded to totally wipe out this wicked people. Far less is known about the father of this nation, the individual named Amalek who taught his descendants to fight the Jewish people with all their might. How did this man develop such an intense hatred for people who genetically were his cousins?!
It seems that two incidents involving the parents of Amalek contributed in generating such a virulent loathing. In Vayishlach the Torah writes about the descendants of Esau. It tells us about Esau's son Eliphaz and his many immoral relationships: "And Timna was a concubine to Eliphaz and Eliphaz gave birth to Amalek." (1) The Gemara in Sanhedrin informs us of the background to this fateful occurrence. "Timna was a Princess, but she wanted to convert. She came to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [to convert] but they would not accept her. She then became a concubine to Eliphaz the son of Esau. She said that it was better to be a maidservant to this nation rather than to be a powerful woman in another nation. [As a result] Amalek, who would cause Israel great pain, was born from her... " (2) It was this rejection of Timna that resulted in her turning to Eliphaz and giving birth to the ultimate source of evil, Amalek.
Rav Zev Leff discusses how this factor played a significant role in generating Amalek's seemingly irrational hatred of the Jewish nation. He explains that when a person is rejected by someone else he is very likely to develop a great dislike for that person. This is because the feeling of rejection is very painful and it can cause one to feel insignificant and worthless. One of the ways (but certainly not a healthy method) of removing this feeling of rejection is by delegitimizing the source of that rejection. By viewing the 'rejecter' as being unimportant himself, the person can then eliminate his own feelings of worthlessness because the cause of this feeling is of no value himself!
Thus, Amalek obviously knew of the rejection that his mother endured by the Patriarchs; the way that he could counter this rejection was by rejecting the Patriarchs and what they stood for themselves; by showing that the descendants of the Patriarchs were insignificant Amalek could assert his own feelings of self-importance. Of course, there are far more healthy ways of asserting one's self-importance in the face of rejection, such as recognizing one's own intrinsic self-worth as being created in the Image of God, Perhaps it would have been possible for Amalek to take this healthy approach if not for the second defining incident:
The Medrash tells us: "[Amalek] asked [his father Eliphaz], 'Father, who will inherit This World and the World to Come?' 'The Children of Israel,' replied [Eliphaz]. 'Go out and dig wells for them and fix roads for them. If you do so, your share will be with the lowly among them and you will enter the World to Come.' When he heard this he became the enemy and pursuer of Israel.' (3)
Had Amalek listened to his father's advice of subjugating himself to the Jewish people then he could have attained the World to Come. Instead, Eliphaz' words had exactly the opposite effect and caused him to hate the Jewish people and strive to destroy them. It would seem that Eliphaz' point that Amalek would have to humble himself exacerbated the feelings of rejection that he already had as a result of Timna's rejection by the Patriarchs. The two factors combined to cause him to feel that the only way he could assert his superiority would be to totally eliminate the Jewish nation with total disregard to the miracles that would accompany them in their history. This explains why the nation of Amalek attacked the Jewish people in the desert despite the fact that they had experienced open Divine Providence and it was highly dangerous to attack them. Indeed the Amalekites were greatly weakened in this battle but that did nothing to stem their intense desire to wipe out the Jewish people.
We have seen how the cause of Amalek's deep hatred for the Jewish people is not based on deep philosophical differences; rather its root is the fact that the rejection of Timna and the advice of Eliphaz created a bitter person who, instead of improving himself, sought to destroy who he perceived to be the cause of his insignificance. On a far lesser scale, each person faces the challenge that Amalek failed so badly. We all experience occasions when we feel rejected by someone. We learn from here that we should not waste our time and energy in trying to avenge that person. Rather, we should develop our own feelings of self-worth and recognize that we are intrinsically valuable as God's creations.
1. Vayishlach, 36:12.
2. Sanhedrin, 99b.

3. Tana D'bei Eliyahu, Ch.24, Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach, 268.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Parshat Vayetzei

 פרשת ויצא

Genesis: (28:10-32:3)

This weeks Parasha, Parashat Vayetzei, tells a story of building and enlightenment. The Parasha is filled with formative stories about Jacob, Throughout the Parasha, Yaakov builds his relationship with Hashem and creates a foundation for his enlightenment.

The Parasha begins with Jacobs departure from his parents house, as it is written, And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran (28:10). 

The sun is set and Jacob stops to lodge for the night. Jacob dreams and in his dream, he sees a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it (28:12). G-d then stands beside him and speaks to him, saying,

אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֶךָ

I am the L-rd, the G-d of Abraham your father, and the G-d of Isaac. The land on which you lie, to you will I give it, and to your descendants (28:13).

G-d promises to make Jacobs descendants as plentiful as the dust of the earth and to bless them. He tells Jacob that He will always be with him wherever he will go.

When Jacob awakes, he is afraid, saying, How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven (28:16). 

He awakes illuminated with the full understanding that Hashem is present with him in all his doings. Jacob rises early in the morning and takes the single stone that he had placed at his head the night before, and he set it up as a monument, and he poured oil on top of its head. He vows, saying-

If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear; And if I return in peace to my fathers house, and the L-rd will be my G-d, then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of God, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You (28:20-22).

Jacob continues on his journey and arrives at the land of the children of the east. He sees a well in the field, and three flocks of sheep lying beside it, waiting to be watered, and a huge rock was upon the mouth of the well. Normally, the shepherd would wait until all the flocks would gather there, and they would roll the rock off the mouth of the well together and water the sheep before returning the rock onto the mouth of the well. However, Rachel, Labans daughter, soon comes to the well with her fathers sheep, and, seeing her,

וַיָּגֶל אֶת-הָאֶבֶן מֵעַל פִּי הַבְּאֵר

Jacob singlehandedly rolls the stone off of the mouth of the well (28:10).

Jacob kisses Rachel, and he raises his voice and weeps (Rashi comments that this was because he saw in a prophetic vision that she would not be buried together with him later.)

Jacob tells Rachel that he is Rebeccas son and she runs to notify her family. Laban, Rebeccas brother and Jacobs uncle, runs out to greet Jacob, hugging him and kissing him.

Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leahs eyes were weak but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon (29:16-17).

Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had for her (29:20). At the end of the seven years, Laban gathers the people of his town and makes a feast. However, instead of passing off Rachel as Jacobs wife, Laban switches Rachel for Leah.

וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וְהִנֵּה הִוא לֵאָה וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל לָבָן מַה זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי הֲלֹא בְרָחֵל עָבַדְתִּי עִמָּךְ וְלָמָּה רִמִּיתָנִי

And it came to pass in the morning that, behold, it was Leah; and he said to Laban: What is this that you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why have you tricked me (29:25).

Laban replies that it is not the custom of their place to marry the younger daughter before the firstborn. Jacob and Laban then agree that Jacob will work yet another seven years in order to marry Labans younger daughter, Rachel. And he does so.

The text notes that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (29:30). G-d sees that Leah is hated, and he opens her womb, and Rachel is barren (29:31).

Leah gives birth to רְאוּבֵן Reuben for she said, Because the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me (29:32).

Leah gives birth to שִׁמְעוֹן Simeon Because the Lord hath heard that I am hated, He hath therefore given me this son also (29:33)

Leah gives birth to לֵוִי Levi Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons (29:34).

Leah gives birth to יְהוּדָה Judah saying, This time will I praise the Lord(29:35).

Rachel envies her sister and tells Jacob to give her children, or else I am dead (30:1).

Jacob becomes angry with Rachel and asks her, Am I in the place of G-d, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?(30:2).

Rachel gives her maidservant, בִּלְהָה Bilhaa to Jacob as a wife and Bilhaa gives birth to דָּן Dan for Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son (30:6).)

Bilhaa also gives birth to נַפְתָּלִי Naphtali With mighty wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed (30:8).)

Leah then gives her maiderservant, זִלְפָּה Zilpah to Yaakov as a wife. זִלְפָּה gives birth to גָּד Gad for Leah said, Fortune has come! (30:11).)

זִלְפָּה also gives birth to אָשֵׁר Asher for Happy am I! for the daughters will call me happy (30:13).)

Leah conceives again and gives birth to her fifth son, יִשָּׂשכָר Issachar for God hath given me my hire, because I gave my handmaid to my husband (30:18).

Leah gives birth to her sixth son, זְבֻלוּן, Zebulun for God hath endowed me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons (30:20).)

Leah also gives birth to a daughter, דִּינָה Dinah.

G-d then remembers Rachel and opens up her womb and she gves birth to her first child, saying God hath taken away my reproach (30:23) and she calls him יוֹסֵף Joseph for she said May G-d add to me another son(30:24). 

After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob requests of Laban to send him away and allow him to return to his home and his land. Jacob and Laban agree that, as a means of payment of Jacobs wages, Jacob will inspect Labans flocks, taking all the sheep and goats that are speckled or spotted, along with all the black sheep, so that, in the future, if any of Jacobs flocks are not speckled, spotted or black, it will be obvious as stolen. However, that day, Laban removes all the goats that were speckled or spotted and all the black sheep, and gives them to his sons. Jacob takes fresh-cut branches from the popular, almond and plane trees and peels white streaks in them. He places the branches in the gutters in the water troughs where the flocks came to drink, And the flocks conceived at the sight of the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted (30:39).

In this way, Jacob soon becomes exceedingly prosperous, with large flocks of sheep and goats, female and male servants, and many camels and donkeys (30:43).

G-d then instructs Jacob to return to the land of his fathers and Jacob calls to Rachel and Leah and explains to them how Laban has mistreated him throughout the years. Without notifying Laban, Jacob rises, sets his sons and wives onto the camels, and carries away all his cattle, and all his substance which he had gathered, the cattle of his getting, which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to Isaac his father to the land of Canaan (31:18).

Laban had gone to shear his sheep and Rachel steals her fathers teraphim תְּרָפִים (idols). After three days, Laban is informed that Jacob has fled. Laban and his kinsmen chase after Jacob, catching up with him after seven days. G-d comes to Laban in a dream and warns him not to harm Jacob. Laban accuses Jacob of stealing his idols and Jacob vows The one with whom you find your gods shall not live for he did not know that Rachel had taken them (31:32).

Laban searches Jacobs tent, Leahs tent and the maidservants tents, but finds nothing. Laban then enters Rachels tent but Rachel had placed the idols into her camels saddle and was sitting on them and Laban did not find them. After Laban finishes searching the tents, Jacob becomes angry and takes him to task, saying, These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. If the G-d of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. G-d saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night(31:41-42).

Jacob then forms a covenant with Laban and Jacob sets up a stone as pillar and a witness between them. Jacob offers a sacrifice to G-d on the mountain and in the morning, Laban departs.

Jacob continues on his way, and the angels of G-d meet him. When he sees them, Jacob says, This is Gods camp. And he called the name of that place Mahanaim (32:10).

ויֵצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה

And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran (28:10)

Why does the verse use the word וַיֵּצֵא or He went out instead of וַיֵּלֶךְ or He went?

Rashi answers that when a righteous person leaves a place, his departure is noted. For when a righteous person is in the city, the city is filled with glory and light, but when a righteous person leaves, the glory and the light cease as well, as it is written with regard to Ruth and Naomi, So she departed from the place where she was (Ruth 1:7).

Another explanation is that the Torah means to emphasize that Jacob was exiting the darkness of his previous life with Esau in order to develop a stronger bond and foundation with Hashem.

וירץ לקראתו ויחבק לו וינשק לוֹ

He ran to meet him, and he embraced him, and he kissed him... (28:11).

Laban runs out to greet Jacob and he hugs him and kisses him. When Jacob meets Rachel after removing the heavy rock from the well, it is written-

וישק יעקב לרחל 

And Jacob kissed Rachel (29:11).

With Rachel, the word for kiss is וישק but with Laban, the word for kiss is וינשק לוֹ.

Why are these two words for kiss different?

In order to show us that Laban had ulterior motives, for the word וינשק contains the word נשק or weapon as its root.

...ויקח מאבני המקום וישם מראשתיו

And he took from the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep (28:11).

וישכם יעקב בבקר ויקח את האבן אשר שם מראשֹׁתיו וישם אתהּ מצבה ויצק שמן על ראשָהּ

And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it (28:18).

Jacob takes from the stones of the place and places it under his head. When he wakes, he then takes the single rock and, setting it up as a monument, and pours oil onto it. The many stones (plural) from the night before converted into a single, large stone.

This miracle is meant to show us that with small rocks or values, we can build and develop a foundation with Hashem. Our rocks are our building blocks. Once we build this foundation, our many values will convert into one strong foundation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Parshat Toldot

Yetzer Tov                   Yetzer Hara

פרשת תולדות
Genesis: (25:19-28:9)
Parashat Toldot is the beginning of the conflict between two nations, a conflict that was predestined from the womb and that continues until today. As we read in last weeks Paarsha, Isaac took Rebecca as his wife and loved her. This weeks Parsha begins by telling us that Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebecca and that she was barren. Isaac prays to G-d and Rebecca soon becomes pregnant with twins. However, the children struggled together within her and she said: If it be so, wherefore do I live? And she went to inquire of G-d (25:22).
Rashi comments that one way to interpret this struggle within the womb is that whenever Rebecca would pass by the Torah study houses of Shem and Ever, Jacob would run and struggle to get out, and when she would pass by the houses of idolatry, Esau would run and struggle to get out.
G-d answers Rebecca, saying Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be separated; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger (25:23).
Soon, Rebecca gives birth to the twin boys. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. (25:25)
And After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esaus heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebecca gave birth to them (25:26).
As the boys grow up, they indeed go their separate ways, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents (25:27). The Torah comments that while Isaac loved Esau, Rebecca loved Jacob.
One day, Jacob is cooking red lentil stew and Esau comes in from the field, tired and hungry. Esau begs Jacob to give him some of this red, red stew for I am faint (25:30).
Jacob asks Esau to sell Esaus birthright to him in exchange for the meal, to which Esau replies, Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?
Esau then sells his birthright to Jacob and Jacob feeds him bread and stew. ...Thus Esau despised his birthright (25:34).
There is a famine in the land and Isaac settles in Gerar, which belonged to the Philistine king Abimelech. Like Abraham, Isaac pretends that Rebecca is his sister so that the Philistine men do not kill him and take Rebecca. However, Abimelech soon discovers that Rebecca is his wife and orders all his people not to harm the couple, saying, He that touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death (26:11). 
G-d blesses Isaac and he grew more and more until he became very great. And he had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household; and the Philistines envied him (26:13-14).
Abimelech tells Isaac, Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us (26:16) and Isaac moves to the valley of Gerar.
In Gerar, Isaac digs open the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham, but which the Philistines had filled with earth. Isaacs servants find water in two wells and the shepherds of Gerar and Isaacs shepherds quarrel over the water in both. Isaac moves on and digs another well, over which there is no quarrel, and he names it Rehoboth, saying, For now G-d has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land (26:22).
G-d appears to Isaac in Beer Sheba, telling Isaac not to be afraid, that G-d is with him and will bless him for the sake of Abraham, his servant (26:24). Isaac builds an altar to G-d and then pitches his tent and his servants dig a well.
Abimelech, his friend Ahuzzat, and Pichol, the captain of his military, approach Isaac in Beer Sheba to forge a peace treaty, telling him that We saw plainly that the L-rd was with you...and let us make a covenant with you. that you will do us no harm, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto you nothing but good, and have sent you away in peace; you are now the blessed of the L-rd (26:28-29). Isaac makes a feast for the men and the next morning, they swear to one another to maintain peace between them before Abimelech and his men depart.
At the age of 40, Esau marries Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite and they were a bitterness of spirit unto Isaac and to Rebecca (26:35).
And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son, and said unto him: My son; and he said to him: Here I am. (27:1). Isaac commands Esau to hunt and prepare a meal for him so that Isaac can bless him before Isaac dies. Overhearing their conversation, Rebecca tells Jacob to bring her two kid goats so that she can prepare a meal for Isaac so that he will eat and bless Jacob with the blessing of the firstborn instead of Esau. Rebecca covers Jacobs hands and neck with the skins of the kid goats so that Isaac would believe that Jacob was Esau. Indeed, when Jacob then comes before Isaac with the prepared meal, Isaac wonders aloud, The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau(27:22). However, feeling and smelling the hairy skins with which Rebecca had covered Jacob, Isaac believes that Jacob is Esau and blesses him with the blessing of the firstborn.
Isaac blessing Jacob, So God shall give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fat places of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and let your mothers sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curses you, and blessed be every one that blesses you (27:28-29). 
Soon, Esau returns from the hunt, and realizing, what he had done, Isaac trembles and tells Esau, Your brother came with guile, and has taken away your blessing(27:35).
Esau raises his voice and weeps, and asks his father to bless him as well. Isaac blesses Esau, saying, Behold, of the fat places of the earth shall be your dwelling, and of the dew of heaven from above. And by your sword shall you live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass when you shall break loose, that you shall shake his yoke from off your neck (27:39-40).
And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob (27:41).
Rebecca, fearing for her sons life, sends Jacob to her brother Laban in Haran and orders him to remain there until Esaus wrath subsides. Rebecca tells Isaac that she does not want Jacob to take a wife from the girls of Heth and Isaac orders Jacob to go to to his grandfather, Bethuels house, and take a wife from the daughters of Laban. Isaac blesses Jacob again and sends him to to Padan-Araim, to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacobs and Esaus mother (28:5).
Esau, seeing that Isaac had blessed Jacob and ordered him not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, goes to Yishmael, and marries Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abrahams son, the sister of Nebaioth.

ואלה תולדת יצחק בן אברהם אברהם הוליד את יצחק
These are the descendants of Isaac, son of Abraham. Avraham was the father of Isaac(25:19).
Why does the Torah emphasize that Abraham was the father of Isaac in this verse? We are already told that Isaac was the son of Abraham in the phrase son of Abraham.
Rashi explains that the scoffers of the generations were saying that Sarah conceived Isaac with Abimelech, for she lived with Abraham for many years and did not conceive. Therefore G-d shaped Isaacs face exactly like Abraham so that everyone could testify that it was Abraham, and no else, was the father of Isaac.
Another explanation is that the Torah seeks to emphasize that Isaac wast not influenced by the ways of his brother, Yishmael, but that he followed in his fathers footsteps.
(ויאהב יצחק את עשו כי ציד בפיו ורבקה אהבת את יעקב (כה:כח
One can wonder how come Isaac favored Esau. From here we can see Isaacs greatness. It is easy to love the perfect child, the one without faults. But Isaac understood that Esau needed more attention in order to lead him to the right way, as a famous Chinese proverb states, Give the child love when he least deserves it.
If we read the verse closely, we note that the word verb ויאהב or (he) loved is written in past tense. This is in order to teach us that Isaac favored Esau conditionally, in order to bring him closer to the Torah, but when it came to Rebeccas love for Jacob, the verb is written in the present tense אהבת, for Rebeccas love for Jacob was continuous.

ויקראו שמו עשו
עשו in gematriya (numerical value) is equivalent to that of שלום orpeace because if he did not have that name (to refine him) he would have likely destroyed the world (Baal HaTurim).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Parshat Chaya Sarah

              Eiyshet Chayil was the famous poem said in Sarah Emeynu’s eulogy by Avraham Avinu. The midrash goes through the entire chapter in Misheli (Proverbs), ascribing each verse to different attributes that Sarah Emeynu represented. “Darshah tzemer ufishtim..(she seeks out wool and linen)” was when Sarah Emeynu separated Yitzchak and Yishmael. Just like wool and linen are polar opposites, unable to be worn together, Sarah Emeynu knew that Yitzchak and Yishmael could not stay together. Sarah Emeynu separated good from bad by sending Yishmael away from her son Yitzchak. Yishmael acquired good and bad attributes. Yishmael, was also the son of Avraham who also had a brit mila at the age of thirteen so therefore there was good in Yishmael. However, there was plenty of evil within him as well. It is not easy to recognize this admixture in another person, and it was Sarah Emeynu who was able to do so. She had the wisdom and perception to see that the evil part of such a person will ultimately corrupt the good in him. When Sarah Emeynu took the intuitive to untangle good and evil she became the tikkun (correction) for Chava- Eve. Rivkah too, continued the tikkun by separating her sons Yaakov and Eisav. We learn from Sarah Emenynu that all women have this power of discernment.  The Torah teaches us, that women in general are more spiritually oriented and less affected by physical passions and drives. Throughout Jewish history, in Egypt, our Chachamim-Sages point out that it is the women who have been the guiding force in pushing towards the positive and steering away from the negative. That is their job: to separate, to detect the evil and the good. This is the nature of a woman, to the extent that the Sages say that a woman has deeper insights into a guest’s character- all the more so, Rabbi Feldman points out, into her husband’s character. That is why there should be openness between husband and wife in all aspects of life, both physical and spiritual; they should work together closely, because the wife has the ability to give her husband tremendous insight into himself. Avraham and Sarah together could rectify the sin of Adam and Chava. Chava introduced the good and evil into the world while Sarah separated between good and evil. Adam listened to Chava who gave him bad advice from eating from the tree, Avraham Avinu was told by Hashem "kol asher tomar eilecha Sarahh shema bekolah"- "everything Sarah will say to you- listen to her." Avraham, listened to Sarah and because of this he benefited of the development of his family. Rabbi Moshe Wolfson mentions that under the chuppah (marriage canopy) we mention Adam Harishon in the blessing "asher yatzar es ha'adam betzalmo" "who created man in His image" because every couple has the ability to rectify the sin of Adam and Chavah by following Avraham Avinu and Sarah Emeynus ways of partnership. We each possess the tools within us. By working together as one, each doing our own unique part, we can help to create a world where there is discernment between good and evil. (Shira Smiles, 2010)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Parshat Vayeira

פרשת וירא 
(Genesis 18:1-22:24)
Parashat Vayerah begins with the title word Vayerah or He appeared, as it is written-
And the L-rd appeared unto him by the plains of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day (18:1).
Abraham lifts his eyes and sees three men opposite him and runs towards them and bows to the ground. Abraham invites the men to rest and rushes to his tent, telling Sarah, Hurry! Three measures of meal, fine flour! Knead and make cakes! (18:6)
Abraham then prepares a calf, tender and good, and places the calf, cream and milk before the men. The men ask Abraham where his wife Sarah is and he responds that she is in the tent. 
God says, I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold Sarah your wife will have a son (18:10). 
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent, behind him. And Sarah laughed at herself, saying: After I have withered shall I again have delicate skin? And my husband is old! (18:12)
G-d asks Abraham, Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying: Shall I in truth bear a child, though I have aged? Is anything beyond Hashem? At the appointed time I will return to you at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son. (18:13-18:14). 
Sarah denies that she laughed because she was frightened, But Abraham responded, No, you laughed indeed. (18:15)
Hashem then tells Abraham that Because of the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave, I will descend and see: if they act in accordance with its outcry which has come to me- then destruction! And if not, I will know. (18:20-18:21).
The men leave towards Sodom but Abraham came forward and petitions G-d, saying, Will you also stamp out the righteous along with the wicked? What if there should be fifty righteous people in the midst of the city? ...It would be sacrilege to You! Shall the judge of the earth not do justice? (18:23-18:25).
And Hashem said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous people in the midst of the city, then I would spare the entire place on their account (18:26)
Abraham responded, What if fifty righteous people should lack five? (18:28)
Hashem responded, I will not destroy if I find their forty five (18:28)
Abraham continued, What if forty would be found there (18:29)
Hashem responded, I will not act on account of the forty (18:29)
Abraham continued, What if thirty would be found there? (18:30)
Hashem responded, I will not act if I find there thirty (18:30)
Abraham continued, What if twenty would be found there? (18:31)
Hashem responded, I will not destroy on the account of the twenty (18:31)
Abraham continued further, Let not my L-rd be annoyed and I will speak but this once: What if ten would be found there?(18:32)
Hashem then responds, I will not destroy on account of the ten (18:32)
Two angels come to Sodom in the evening when Lot was sitting at the gates of the city. Upon seeing them, Lot stands up and bows down. He requests from the angels to spend the night, wash their feet, wake up early and leave. The angels responded that they would rather sleep in the town square but Lot urges them not to and they come with Lot to his house, where he makes a feast for them. However, before they lay down, the Sodomite townspeople surround the house, from young to old, from every quarter. They call to Lot, saying-
Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them (19:5).
Lot exits the house, shutting the door behind him and responds, I beg you, my brothers, do not act wickedly. See now, I have two daughters who have never known a man. I shall bring them out to you and do to them as you please. But to these men do nothing inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof (19:7-19:8).
The men of Sodom grab Lot and shut the door. The angels then blind the men so that they cannot find the door and the angels order Lot to gather his family and leave the city, for we will destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before G-d and G-d has sent us to destroy it (19:13).
Lot and his family flee to a nearby city named Zoar and Then G-d caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from G-d out of heaven and He overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground (19:24-19:25). 
Lots wife turns around to witness the overthrow of the cities and she is turned into a pillar of salt as a result.
Lot then leaves Zoar and dwells in a mountain cave with his two daughters. Believing that they were the only ones left alive in the world, the two girls make their father drink wine and lie with him. They each conceive a child from their father, the older daughter gives birth to a son, Moab, who becomes the father of the Moabite nation and the younger daughter gives birth to a son, Ben-ammi, who becomes the father of the Ammonite nation.
Abraham then moves to Gerar and when Abraham tells Abimelech, the king of Gerar, that Sarah is his sister, the king takes Sarah. G-d appears to Abimelech in a dream and tells him to return Sarah to Abraham, for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and you shall live and if you dont return her, know that you shall surely die, you, and all that are yours (20:7). Abimelech takes sheep and oxen, and men-servants and women-servants, and gives them to Abraham, and returns Sarah to him. Abimelech invites Abraham to live anywhere on his land, and Abraham prays to G-d and G-d heals Abimelech, his wife and his maid-servants and they bear children for G-d had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abrahams wife (20:18).
G-d then remembers his promise to Sarah and she bears a son, Isaac. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and Sarah notes, God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me, adding, Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age (21:6-21:7).
As Isaac grows up, Sarah notices Yishamel, Hagar and Abrahams son, מְצַחֵק or mocking. She orders Abraham to drive Hagar and her son from their house, which distresses Abraham. G-d tells Abraham to listen to Sarah and assures him that through Isaac will come his descendants and also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is your seed (21:13).
Abraham sends Hagar and Yishmael away the next morning with bread and a bottle of water and the two stray into the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water runs out, Hagar sends Yishmael to sit underneath a shrub and sits at a distance away from him, for she said: Let me not look upon the death of the child (21:16). She begins to cry and G-d opens her eyes and she sees a well of water from which she gives Yishmael to drink. G-d promises Hagar that he will make her son into a great nation (21:18).
And G-d was with Yishmael, and he grew; and he dwelt in the wilderness and became an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took him a wife out the land of Egypt (21:20-21:21).
Abimelech and Pichol, the captain of his military, observing that G-d is with Abraham with everything that he does, approach Abraham and ask him to swear that there will always be peace between them and their descendants. Abraham gives Abimelech seven ewe-lambs as a sign of their treaty, which they pronounce at the place called Beer-Sheba because there they swore both of them (21:31).
The last chapter of this weeks Parsha comprises one of the most famous stories and tests of Abraham, that of the sacrifice of Isaac, as it is written, And it came to pass after these things, that G-d did test Abraham, and He said to him Abraham and Abraham said: Here I am (22:1).
G-d orders Abraham to take Isaac into the land of Moriah and offer him up as a sacrifice. The next morning, Abraham, two of Abrahams young men and Isaac set out for Moriah. On the third day of their travels, Abraham sees the place from afar and orders the two young men to stay with the donkey until Abraham returns. Abraham takes the wood of the burnt-offering, the fire and the knife necessary for the sacrifice, prompting Isaac to ask, Here is the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering? (22:7). When the two arrive at the place that G-d had designated, Abraham builds an alter and lays the wood down, and binds Isaac and lays him down on the altar, on the wood.
When Abraham stretches forth his hand and takes the knife to sacrifice Isaac, an angel of the
 L-rd cries out to him, saying Abraham, Abraham to which Abraham answers, Here I am (22:11). G-d tells Abraham not to harm the child because it is now clear how much of a G-d fearing man Abraham is, that he was willing to sacrifice his own son because G-d commanded him to do so. Abraham lifts his eyes and sees a ram caught by its horns in a nearby thicket and Abraham sacrifices the ram to G-d in place of his son.
G-d promises Abraham that because he did not withhold even his son from Him, G-d will bless Abraham and multiply the number of his descendants as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies (22:17).

(והוא יושב פתח האהל.. (יח:א
And he was sitting at the door of the tent...
Rashi comments that Abraham was sitting at the door of his tent in order to see if there were any people around that he might invite into his house to fulfill the mitzvah of הכנסת אורחים or welcoming guests.
רבי שלום מבלז adds that Abraham was sitting at the entrance of גן עדן (The Garden of Eden), looking for people who had made תשובה (repented) in order to let them inside the Garden.
Another explanation is that Abraham was spreading his love for Torah, praising G-d and His ways with those that passed by his tent .

(ויקח את שני נעריו אתו...(כב:ג
And he took his two young men with him...(22:3)
Rashi explains that these two young men were his son, Yishmael, and his servant, Eliezer.
The בעל שם טוב (Baal Shem Tov) reads the phrase שני נעריו not as two young men but as שנות נעוריו or the years of his youth. For when Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, he did so with the passion and courage of his youth.

Lessons to learn from this weeks parsha:
1. Connecting with Hashem: Avraham's ability to sacrifice his own worldly pleasure and comfort for Hashem in order to have a relationship with Hashem? Hashems not asking you to sacrifice your son/daughter/mother etc. just turn off your worldly distractions and connect with Hashem whether its during Shabbat, davening, one hour a day where you can sit and meditate as to what your true purpose is in this world etc.
2. Bikkur Cholim: visiting the sick- Hashem went to visit Avraham Avinu on the third day of his brit mila.
3. Greeting guests: Avraham Avinu went outside his tent to greet guests regardless of how much pain he was in all he wanted to do was to teach people about Hashem.
Shammai would say: Make your Torah study a permanent fixture of your life. Say little and do much. And receive every man with a pleasant manner (Ethics of the Fathers 1:15).