131109 – Parshat VaYeitzei

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Leah and Rachelrebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VAYEITZEI

Bereishit (Genesis) 28:10 – 31:3

Haftarah – Hosea 12:13 – 14:10

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In last week’s Parsha some commentators discussed the concept that both Ya’akov and Eisav were meant to continue and become the third generation of patriarchs. We continue with that theme in this week’s Parsha’s discussion of Ya’akov marrying the two sisters, Rachel and Layah. Rabbis Mendel Kessin and Azri’el Tauber both do an extensive analysis of this interesting chapter in the birth and future of the B’nei Yisra’el.

Rabbi Kessin teaches that in the original plan for mankind, the divine purpose for man was to bring holiness into the world. This is called in Hebrew HitPashtut HaKedushah (the spreading of holiness). However, when the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, was eaten, the Yetzer Hara – Evil Inclination entered into our beings and became part of us. Because of that act, an additional purpose was given to mankind, K’Fiyat Hara (the destruction of Evil). After both the generations of No’ach and Babel failed to fulfill these purposes, Avraham and his children were chosen to bring about these two objectives.

Avraham spread holiness in the world by going out and teaching the ways of HaShem, through his own example. Yitzchak was a solitary man who endeavored to perfect himself and thereby, destroy evil.

Remember that Eisav was a man of the field, and Ya’akov, a dweller of tents. If Eisav had been true to his fate, he would have conquered the physical and material world (Eisav was a man of the field), and accomplish the spreading of holiness by making the mundane holy. Ya’akov, like his father, tried to perfect his entire being, and disallow any evil to exist in his proximity (a dweller of tents).

Rabbi Azri’el Tauber gives us a parable to better understand Eisav. Imagine that a person was born into the home of a powerful Mafioso. The negative influence and pressure on this child would be tremendous. Nevertheless, if he grew up to be a good wholesome person, it would only be because of exerting colossal efforts of self-discipline. Rabbi Tauber says that Eisav was born with enormous impediments to holiness, a strong inclination to materialism, and powerful lusts that needed conquering, consequently – the challenge. Had he channeled and redirected those feelings, Eisav could have become a powerful spiritual force. Instead succumbed to the temptations of the material world and instead of spreading holiness; he spread evil itself. Because of his display of evil, his brother Ya’akov then attempted to take on Eisav’s duties (of HitPashtut HaKedushah) in addition to his own (K’Fiyat Hara).

Now Lavan had two daughters; the name of the older was Layah and the name of the younger was Rachel. Layah’s eyes were tender (Rakot), while Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance” (Bereishit 29:16, 17). RaShI cites a Midrash (Rabba 70:15) that explains that Layah’s eyes were tender (from weeping during prayer) because it was decreed that she marry the now evil Eisav. “People used to say that Rivkah had two sons and Lavan had two daughters, the elder daughter would be married to the elder son, while the younger daughter was destined to marry the younger son.” When Layah heard of Eisav’s downfall, she wept in prayer, because instead of marrying a Tzaddik (a righteous man), she would have to marry a Rasha (an evil man). Layah prayed for an annulment of the decree (and her prayers were answered).

But the manner in which her prayers were answered is most interesting. Ya’akov made an arrangement to marry Rachel after he completed seven years of servitude for his uncle Lavan. Distrusting Lavan, he gave Rachel signals to use under the Chupah (the marriage canopy); so that he would know that the veiled bride was, in fact, Rachel. When Lavan substituted Layah for Rachel, Rachel gave her sister Ya’akov’s signals so that Layah would not be embarrassed. When Ya’akov discovered that he was married to Layah, he protested: “…So he said to Lavan, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?’ Lavan said, ‘Such is not done in our place, to give the younger before the elder. Complete the week of this one (seven days of Sheva Berachot) and we will give you the other one too, for the work that you will perform for me yet another seven years” (Bereishit 29:25-27).

The Lekutei Basar Lekutei brings a ChaZaL (a rabbinical teaching) that explains that when Ya’akov said to Lavan, “Why have you deceived me?” Layah replied; “But didn’t you deceive your father when you said, ‘I am Eisav your firstborn?’ ”

The Lekutei Basar Lekutei found it very strange that Layah would defend Eisav, whom she despised. Rather, her words should be understood this way: if your claim to the birth right is true, then Eisav’s claim for me, as his wife, has also been claimed by you. Do not deceive yourself, your father, or me, by taking only part of his birthright.

Layah became the mother of six son’s/tribes and a daughter Deena; and through her maidservant Zilpah, she was accredited with another two sons/tribes. Rachel, on the other hand, became the mother of only sons/two tribes; and through her maidservant Bilhah, with another two sons/tribes. Layah’s prayers were answered; she married a Tzaddik and become a significant partner in the birth of the nation of Israel.

Our Parsha began with Ya’akov leaving Eretz Yisra’el to find a wife. It ends after he becomes the father of a nation and returns home with two wives. Rachel and Layah also became the foundation of this future nation blending their strengths into the spiritual DNA of the B’nei Yisra’el in order to fulfill their true destiny.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

131019 – Parshat VaYera

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Yerushalayim 01

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VA’YERA

Bereishit (Genesis) 18:1-22:24

Haftorah – II Kings 40:1-37

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This week we read about some incidents in the life of Avraham and Sarah. The Parsha begins with three messengers (angels, each with a specific task) who visited our patriarch Avraham after his painful circumcision. The three messengers were: Micha’el – who informed Avraham and Sarah that they would have a son; Gavri’el whose task was to destroy the provinces of Sodom and Gomorrah; and Refa’el – whose purpose was to heal Avraham after his circumcision (and to save his nephew Lot). Lot is an interesting character, full of contradictions, very much like us and is never included among all the great Jewish heroes and role models.

We talk about the loving-kindness of Avraham; we name our children after him. Yet, don’t we most resemble Lot? In the great travels of our Patriarch and his family, we find that when Avram came to Canaan from Haran, the Torah says: “And Avram took his wife Sarai, and Lot his brother’s son and all the wealth that he had amassed…­” (Bereishit 12:5). And, when Avram returned to Canaan from Egypt after the famine, the Torah says 13:1: “So Avram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that was his and Lot with him…” ­Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z”l (Zichrona LiVracha – may she be remembered for a blessing), teaches that in this second verse, Lot is mentioned after all the possessions. The wealth and materialism of Egypt had so affected Lot that he was a changed man. For Lot, possessions meant more than people.

When the family returns from Egypt, Lot, the materialistic nephew, chooses to live in Sodom, where the living is high and the morality low. Avraham comes to Canaan for a new life; Lot comes for profit. Avraham wants a better way of life, but Lot wants a better standard of living. Avraham wants a society based upon what would become Torah‘s values; but Sodom fulfills Lot’s purposes.

Last week’s Parsha described a war between four kings and five kings, during which Lot was taken captive and his possessions were confiscated. Avraham was obligated to rescue his kinsman and nephew Lot, which he did. Did Lot learn from his loss and his rescue? No. He went back to Sodom, and the evil people of Sodom once again affected him. As misguided as Lot appears to us, HaShem thought that Lot should be saved. HaShem sent a messenger (an angel) in the guise of a traveler to save Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom. Lot trying to be virtuous offers his daughters to the Sodomites so that they would be distracted and not take away his guests.

Another episode in this Parsha deals with Avraham passing through the territory of AviMelech, king of Gerar. Once again, Avraham and Sarah find themselves in hostile territory. Avraham was aware of AviMelech’s strange practice. Like Pharaoh in Egypt, AviMelech, king of Gerar, sought beautiful women for himself. But, just as Pharaoh would never consider taking another man’s wife, AviMelech would have the husband murdered and then force his affections on the widow.

HaShem intervened and Sarah was saved from dishonor. But like Pharaoh, AviMelech is repulsed by Avraham’s cowardly behavior when he lied and pretended to be Sarah’s brother. “Therefore AviMelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears; and the men were very afraid: Then AviMelech called Avraham, and said to him, What have you done to us? And in what have I offended you that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done: And AviMelech said to Avraham, What did you see, that you have done this thing: And Avraham said, Because I thought, surely the fear of HaShem is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake” (Bereishit 20:8-12).

AviMelech, a civilized man (according to his standards) wanted to know how Avraham could have done such a thing to him. He was angry, HaShem had rebuked him and he lost honor among his people. Avraham replied: “Because I thought, surely the fear of HaShem is not in this place.” Neither Sodom nor Gerar were places that were conducive to the moral lifestyle that Avraham wanted for his family.

The wrong friends sometimes influence us; we choose neighborhoods, schools and choose our priorities as responses to the wrong signals. At times, we exploit our relationships with others, even though we might have great role models who teach us otherwise. Even if we don’t have someone like Avraham as a role-model, we still have many Torah leaders who are living role models in our time. Do we exemplify their lives, or do we choose the values of those living around us?

HaShem redeemed Lot because HaShem knew that with all his foibles, Lot was redeemable. Despite his mistakes and misdeeds, his pride and selfishness, he was basically a decent fellow. He lived in Sodom, he was becoming part of Sodom, but he wasn’t really happy about it. His redeeming grace was that he knew something was wrong. As warped a community as Sodom was, Avraham always remained an uncle and role-model for Lot.

We don’t have an uncle like Avraham, but we do have something even better – the Torah. It is a reminder to us every day of how we should behave and how we should react to outside influences.

We learn from Avraham pleading with HaShem to save Sodom (18: 20-33) that without a Minyan (a quorum of 10 a minimum group necessary to establish a Torah society), Lot could not survive the moral Galut (exile) of Sodom. But we, who have Shuls (synagogues), communities, and the ability to connect to holiness and to purity, sometimes like Lot, choose the wrong society. The Torah tells us that like Lot we too ARE worthy of redemption. But when we are told to leave Sodom and its ways, do we listen? We can read the message; but do we believe the words? We know the story; but do we react as we should react?

In Yeshiva high School I had a Rebbe asked: “If the Torah contains the laws of the Jewish people, then why are there so many stories?” He answered that often we learn more from the stories because they provide us with an example on how to live a life of Torah.

With G-d’s help, may we muster the strength to improve our lot, just like Lot did.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

131012 – Parshat Lech Lecha

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Lech LechaReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT LECH LECHA

Bereishit (Genesis) 12:1-17:27

Haftarah – Isaiah 40:27-41:16

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The call and its message were direct and clear. A people and a land were chosen simultaneously. Avraham’s was to become the founder of “a great nation” which is to be a blessing for “all the families of the earth.” This was to take place in a particular land, to which HaShem would now direct him.

Looking at HaShem’s command to Avraham, we see that, while going to the land is certainly its goal, it contains more than just one purpose. There are two distinct but intrinsic parts to the command, each conveying an important purpose. One without the other just cannot work.

Normally, when a person leaves for abroad, he first walks out of his home, then bids farewell to his family and only lastly leaves the country. The instructions given to Avraham for his departure are in the reverse order. The reason seems to be that Torah is not referring merely to the act of physically moving from where he had lived. The Torah’s message moves us to a different rung on the existential ladder, for when one detaches oneself mentally and spiritually from one’s regular habitat, it is the “old country” that one leaves first, then one distances oneself from family and friends, and only last is one estranged from the home in which one has grown up.

This act of detachment is seen as the main focus of Avraham’s next step, embarking on the road to the land which HaShem promised to show him. The moving from and the moving to are actually one single drama, but they are carried out in two acts of equal importance.

Translations of the Bible usually skip over one small word in the Hebrew original, where the command to Avram starts with the words Lech Lecha. It is true that, grammatically, those two words together can have the simple connotation of the single word Lech, “Go!” or “Go forth,” which is how they appear in most translations (also see Nachmanides’ commentary). However, RaShI and many other commentators, including the rabbis in the Midrash, are not ready to dismiss the extra word. Lech means “Go!” Lech Lecha is more than that, and ought to be translated (as some translators do) “You shall go,” or more correctly: “Go to yourself”!

Leaving the “old country,” his clan and his father’s home was, accordingly, a step towards Avraham’s going “to himself,” prior to assuming the role of nation–founder, smasher of idols, proclaimer of a new great faith and the one who is entrusted with the task of being a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”

A great Chassidic master of the 19th century, Reb Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Rebbe of Gur (1837–1895), who is known as the Sefat Emet, maintains that every human being is commanded daily to engage in the experience of Lech Lecha, to “get thee out” of his country, his family and his home, to move away from the negative influences which surround him, to go to himself by getting away from himself. The commanding voice is thus directed to all of us. But it was only Avraham who first heard and followed this command. Lech Lecha, then, is more than just an instruction to Avraham, but it is a charge and a challenge which we can all share – to free ourselves of those influences that confine us and confound our personal, spiritual development, and it is thus an invitation to a whole and integrated human encounter in the process of individualization and self-actualization.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130914 – Yom Kippur

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Yom Kippur 01rebyosil@gmail.com

YOM KIPPUR

Shacharit – Morning Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 16:1-34

BaMidbar (Numbers) 29:7-11

Haftarah ‑ Isaiah 57:14-58:14,

Mincha – Afternoon Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 18:1-30

Haftarah ‑ Book of Jonah and

Micah 7:18-20

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 “For this day shall be an atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be cleansed before HaShem. It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths (a Sabbath of complete rest) for you, and you should afflict yourselves; an eternal decree” (VaYikra 16:30-31).

One of the anomalies of Yom Kippur is the status it carries as Shabbat Shabbaton (the Sabbath of Sabbaths). Most of us who observe Shabbat know that to observe one must follow certain Halachik (legal) guidelines: We must dress appropriately; we must eat festive meals; we must read special sections from the Torah; etc. It appears somewhat incongruous that on a day that might be described as a super-Shabbat not only do we not eat our usual three festive Shabbat meals, but we are forbidden to eat or drink any food at all. Why?

The verse says: “you should afflict yourselves,” which is understood as not eating or drinking. The RaMBaM (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon [Maimonides], 1135-1204, Egypt) the great codifier and philosopher maintains that the root of the word Shabbat means to cease; we are obligated to cease or rest from eating and drinking. In fact, the RaMBaM brings the law (Laws of Yom Kippur 1:4-5): “There is a further positive commandment on Yom Kippur. It is to rest from eating and drinking. It is [also] forbidden to bathe, to apply lotion to the body, to wear [leather] shoes, or to cohabitate. It is a positive commandment to rest from all these just as it is to rest from eating.” The RaMBaM saw the cessation from eating and drinking as a form of rest. HaShem frees the Jews from certain physical activities on that one day allowing us, to strive for something much higher.

The Pirke de Rebbe Eliezer chapter 46 (a Midrash composed by the school of Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, circa 100 C.E.) elaborates even further: Sama’el (Satan, the Angel of Death, the Evil Inclination, the Accuser or Prosecutor) saw that sin was not found among [Israel] on Yom Kippur. He said to HaShem: ‘You have a unique nation, which is like the ministering angels in heaven. Just as the angels have bare feet, so the Jews have bare feet (by not wearing shoes) on Yom Kippur. Just as angels neither eat nor drink, so the Jews neither eat nor drink on Yom Kippur…’ ”

On Yom Kippur, we give the impression of being angels. We not only refrain from the five prohibitions cited by the RaMBaM, we also dress in white, the color of the angels – the color of purity. This status is fascinating for us to explore in order to understand it better.

Three days after Avraham our Patriarch was circumcised, he sat at the entrance of his tent looking for a way to do his special Mitzvah – hospitality to strangers. HaShem came to him and was Mivaker Choleh (visited the infirm); during that visit, Avraham saw three figures approaching from the desert. HaShem appeared to him in the pains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! He perceived that three men were approaching him, so he ran toward them from the tent entrance and bowed to the ground” (Bereishit [Genesis] 18:1-2).

RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 ‑ 1105) on the words “three men were approaching” cites an amazing Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 50:2) that claims the three were angels: “One to bring tidings (of the birth of Yitzchak) to Sarah; one to destroy Sodom; and one to heal Avraham. For one angel does not perform two missions.”

Angels are similar to robots; they serve only one purpose or function. Though HaShem has hosts of angels, each is programed for a specific function: Raphael is the healer; Gavriel is the forceful one; Satan is the Accuser, etc.

If Israel is likened to angels on Yom Kippur, then maybe the above mentioned Pirke de Rebbe Eliezer is telling us that our function on Yom Kippur is to focus our lives to our one and only function: to spread holiness in the world through the fulfillment of HaShem’s Torah.

We have to some extent lost track of our true objective. We think that we were created in order to heal the sick, or to fight for the rights of the downtrodden, to compose beautiful music, or to produce great movies, or just to make a living. But that is not so. Our true purpose is to spread HaShem’s holiness in the world; perhaps we can accomplish this by being doctors, musicians, social workers, poets, housewives or rabbis. However, at times we get sidetracked and we focus on how much “I” get out of my efforts rather than how we can fulfill His directives. Yom Kippur is the one day of the year when we attempt to get back on track, look at our faults and rectify them through Teshuvah (repentance or better – a return to His priorities).

And so, one day a year, we are likened to angels who do not need food or drink, or bathing, or applying lotions to our bodies, or wear the hides of animals on our feet, or even cohabit with our spouses. All of these needs distract us from His directives.

Angels do not need to satisfy any physical, emotional or spiritual needs; they are pure energy whose sole purpose is to serve their Creator, though their service is robot-like. since angels do not have the ability to make choices. Human beings on the other hand have souls that are spiritual but are imprisoned in a physical shell, always needing to be fed, clothed, pleasured and nurtured. Yet this imprisonment is also the glory of humanity. Unlike the angels, we can rise above our limitations and serve our Creator by blending both our physical and our spiritual natures. For this reason the Torah was given to human beings rather than to the angels.

So the RaMBaM, RaShI and Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and all of our teachers and mentors stress the point that on Yom Kippur we attempt to fool Satan into thinking that we are angels, not centered on the physical but on our divine purpose. “Sama’el …said to HaShem: ‘You have a unique nation, similar to the angels in heaven. Just as the angels have bare feet, so the Jews are bare foot on Yom Kippur. Just as angels neither eat nor drink, so the Jews neither eat nor drink on Yom Kippur…’ ”

Do not see our abstinence from the five pleasures as affliction; rather we view it as a respite from our limitations as humans. Our true objective is to serve HaShem with joy, awe and love, and to attend Him with our entire body, heart and soul. That is spirit of the day; and when achieved, it deludes the angel Sama’el into perceiving that we too are angels.

Tzom Kal – Have an easy fast,

Reb Yosil

130907 – Parshat Hazinu Shabbat Shuva /Rosh HaShanah

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT HAZINU – SHABBAT SHUVAH – ROSH HASHANAH

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftarah – Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27

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Our Parsha begins with the words: “You are standing today, ALL OF YOU, before HaShem, your G-d…to pass into a covenant with Hashem, your G-d…and to establish you as His people, and He as your G-d…Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this obligation, but also with whoever are not [yet] here with us today” (Devarim 29:9-14).

The implication is clear, an everlasting covenant is being made not only with that generation of Israelites about to enter the Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel), but with all future generations of Jews – that Hashem and they will be faithful, committed and conscious of each other.

How appropriate to read this Parsha before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, which begins this coming Wednesday day night.  Many of us believe that Rosh Hashanah is the holiday acknowledging the anniversary of G-d’s creating the universe; however, this is a common mistake.  Rosh Hashanah marks the sixth day of creation – the creation of Man – the day spiritual consciousness came into being.  It is fitting therefore, that we utilize this holy-day to elevate our consciousness to the pursuit of goodness, for that is what Hashem expects of us.

One of the major difficulties in changing our patterns of life is that we basically consider ourselves “good people.”  We are civilized, charitable, loving and kind people.  We don’t see ourselves as evil wagers of war upon G-d and His definitions of good and evil, we are basically generous promoters of our definitions of goodness, so, what is there to change?

We can gain an insight from the Torah’s description of the meeting between our Patriarch Avraham and Avimelech of Gerar.  The Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (B’rayshit [Genesis] 21:1-34) ends with a renewed peace treaty made between Avimelech and Avraham.  But in order for there to be a renewal, we must first understand the original peace treaty made between them.  Let me set the scene for you from B’rayshit 20:1-18, the chapter immediately prior to the reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

Avraham and Sarah were relocating their home after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  They had to travel through Gerar, a province of Philistia, which was known for its “law-abiding” adherence to an upstanding code of civil law, under the jurisdiction of King Avimelech.  Now, Avimelech was known to have an eye for beautiful women, in fact, included in his harem were women who were once married to other men.  Avimelech was not so ghastly as to take a married woman, no, he was a civilized man, and would never consider bedding the woman of another man.  But, somehow that woman’s husband would conveniently lose his life, leaving the door open for Avimelech’s now legitimate advances.

Protocol forced Avraham to pay his respects to Avimelech, and to avoid any threat to his life, he introduced Sarah as his sister.  Avimelech immediately desired Sarah and had her brought (against her will) to his harem.  Before he could do anything with Sarah, Avimelech fell asleep and had a strange dream.  In his dream, G-d came to him and warned him that Avraham was a prophet of great stature, and any abuse to Sara his wife, would of anger G-d.

AviMelech got up from his sleep and with great indignance called for Avraham and Sarah, demanding to know why Avraham lied to him, almost causing him to sin with Sarah.  Avraham answered AviMelech; “And Avraham said: ‘…there is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife‘ ” (Bereishit 20:11).

Avraham came to a civilized part of the world, known for their law-abiding character, these were good people, and yet he eluded the truth about his relationship with Sara because he knew that his life was in jeopardy. “There is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife.”

Being civilized is a wonderful framework to live by, but what happens when there is a conflict with what I want and being civilized?  My desires and not necessarily my morality may win out.  It is the “awe” of G-d that holds man back from his own hungry desires.  Morals based on civilized behavior can change, as we in this generation have seen so often.

I grew up in the sixties, when the call words of my generation were, “make love not war.”  Those words to my parents generation were “prost,” or boorish.  For instance, in my youth, abortions were wrong and practically unheard of for upstanding members of the community.  If one did submit to an abortion, there was a prevailing sense of shame and one tried to keep the deed secret.  Today, abortion is a moral right, and if someone actually verbalizes that it is wrong, she /he is immediately labeled a right-wing fanatic.

Acquiring the fear of G-d, or let us use a more pleasing terminology, becoming G-d conscious, is the main message of Judaism – to Jew or to Gentile.  Realizing His presence in the most mundane or secular aspects of our daily lives is what Rosh Hashanah is all about.

Being a civilized individual is wonderful, if that is all that you can reach for.  But we the Jewish people have more than just being civilized to offer the world, we offer G-d consciousness – which has responsibilities that go beyond just being basically kind to your wife and children, or concerned about the ecology.  It is our obligation to discover our own place in a created world, that is watched over by none other than the Melech Malchay HaMelachim (the King of kings), HaKodosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One Blessed Be He).  This responsibility can only be acquired by adhering to laws and principals that go beyond human sensibilities – His Torah and Mitzvot.

So when we are about to put food in our mouths, we must be G-d conscious.  When we ponder our observance of Shabbat or holidays, we must be G-d conscious.  When we consider throwing that tissue out the car window, we must be G-d conscious.  When choosing a mate, we must be G-d conscious. And when considering the worth being a member of a Shul (synagogue), or part of a Jewish community, we must also be G-d conscious.

I believe that what stops many from seeking a committed path to Hashem is the fear of becoming an extremist.  But as the Torah teaches about its own character: “Dera’cheha Darchei No’am, – its trails are always pleasant, V’Chol N’tivoteha Shalom – and all her pathways lead to peace” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 3:18).

Let us mark the year 5774 as a year when G-d consciousness is an acceptable goal to all of mankind and not an expression of extremism.  Let us come together and question our existence and our role in G-d’s plan.  Let us provide every opportunity for our children and our grandchildren’s generations, to successfully traverse the trails and pathways of life.  And let us all pray for a year of blessings, a year of health and a year of peace for all mankind.

I wish you all a K’Tivah V’Chatima Tova, May you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Reb Yosil

130824 – Parshat Ki Tavo

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imagesReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT KI TAVO

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8

Haftarah – Isaiah 60:1-22

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This week’s Parsha is one of those in which Moshe reviews the commandments, forewarnings and events of the previous forty years. At the very end of the Parsha, almost as a by–the–way, he refers to a miracle which seems to have been unannounced and not mentioned previously. In verse 29:4, Moshe says to the people: “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your clothes have not grown old upon you…” Of course, we can simply take this at face value, namely, that there was a miracle that over the previous 40 years the people’s clothes did not wear out and fray. However, two points argue for more analysis.

  1. Most miracles involve an action (such as the manna falling from heaven, the Reed Sea parting, etc.) rather than something that doesn’t happen.
  2. The people Moshe is speaking to were presumably children forty years previously and would no longer fit into the clothes they were wearing then!

To what, then, could Moshe have been referring? At least two other incidents in the Torah seem to resonate with this scene and may allow us to add another dimension to Moshes statement.

The first of these involves Ya’acov (Jacob) and his followers after the rescue of his daughter Dinah from the city of Shechem (Bereishit [Genesis] 34:25). As a result of that rescue, the women and children of the city had been absorbed into Ya’akov’s family (Bereishit 34:29). HaShem then spoke to Jacob and told him to rededicate his people to G-d.

In doing so, Ya’acov says: “To all that were with him… put away the strange gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments,         and let us arise and go up to Bethel…” (Bereishit 35:2-3). We find a strange emphasis on the changing of clothes, a single detail of preparation out of the hundreds of important details involved in moving Ya’akov’s camp.

Not only that, but why change garments before the journey rather than at the end of the journey, prior to the rededication ceremonies? Arguably then, the changing of the garments symbolizes the changing of belief systems and the acceptance of Israelite practice.

In the second incident, the Children of Israel, having just escaped from Egypt, are standing at Mount Sinai, about to receive the Ten Commandments. HaShem said to Moshe: “…go unto the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments…” (Shemot [Exodus] 19:10). Again, emphasis on a small detail, but more understandable if we read it as a “cleaning of the slate,” preparing to receiving a unique set of commandments and a whole new lifestyle.

In both of these incidents, references to people’s clothing are in fact references to their belief systems. Following this line of reasoning, we can now read our original quotation from Moshe as saying, “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness; the beliefs which you adopted at Sinai have not grown old upon you…”

We also have had our own Sinai experiences and traveled through our own wildernesses. And as we go into the Rosh Hashanah season, perhaps an appropriate prayer is for Moshe’s miracle to again be repeated, that we will rid ourselves of our old clothes for the new year, or, that the new clothes we might try on for the first time, shall not grow old upon our backs.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

121229 – Parshat VaYiChi

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Menorah 02

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VAYICHI

Bereishit (Genesis) 47:28-50:26

Haftorah I Kings 2:1-12

121229

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This week we read the final chapters of the Book of Bereishit. In the synagogue, prior to the reciting of the last few words of the Pasha, the congregation rises and when the reading is completed, they call out in unison, Chazak, Chazak, V’NitChazek – Strengthened, strengthened, may we be strengthened.

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The running debate throughout much of Jewish history has been the heated battle about who is the authentic Jew – Sadducees or Pharisees; Kabbalists or Rationalists; Chasidim or Mitnagdim; Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.

Some see this as a threat to Jewish unity, while others claim that it is a necessary lubricant and built–in guarantee assuring that no one group in particular becomes dominant.  No one group should risk the malady of success and its symptoms of laziness, self–righteousness and triumphalism and self-destruct. Some contend that pluralism or the presence of different expressions in Jewish life is necessary to maintain the vitality of the Jewish experience.

Watching how these struggles align themselves on the battlefield of Jewish history is a fascinating exercise, because so much of the tension and the excitement in modern Jewish life is the discovery of parallels between NOW and THEN. We might be able to take some comfort in seeing that that the fissure in the Jewish community today it is nothing new, and that history is but repeating itself.

In watching the battle from the sidelines, I often come away with the feeling that due to assimilation, apathy and indifference, the Yeshiva and Chassidic worlds, where so much of the outside world is held suspect, are surprisingly predicted to still be Jewish by the year 2,050 and all others will disappear.

The fact is that whatever little enters into this world from the outside, is either a modern convenience or a course of study that will yield a good living. The philosophy of Torah and Madah (literally, Torah and Science – the religious philosophy of the “Rav” – Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University, a philosophy that embraces areas of worldly knowledge), does not sit well with much of the Yeshiva world. Latin, Greek philosophy and English literature, for example, are not subjects that the typical Yeshiva trained individual tries or cares to master.

Yet we find in the Gemara (Tractate Shabbat 75a), the statement: “Anyone who is able to study astronomy and does not do so is chided by the prophet who says about him, `the world of the Lord they do not explore, and the creation of His hands they do not see.‘”

Every Friday night, Jewish parents bless their children with the time–honored blessing, “May HaShem make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” This is the blessing given to a daughter. But to our sons, we say, “May HaShem make you like Ephraim and Menasheh” (48:20). Of course, we know that Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are the four matriarchs, the founders of our people. But why are Menasheh and Ephraim, the two sons of Yosef, cited in this blessing and therefore seen as the paradigms of Jewish manhood?

One interpretation is that Menashe and Ephraim were the first of the family of Ya’acov to have been born and brought up outside of Eretz Yisra’el and outside the home of Ya’acov, second–generation Diasporians; yet they remained true to the traditions of their faith, despite their exposure to animals gods, the cult of the dead, and the other enticing and inviting elements of Egyptian decadence.

Note for a moment how Ya’acov actually blesses his grandsons. He places his left hand on the head of the older, Menashe, and his right hand on Ephraim, giving the younger son precedence in the blessing. Yosef, for a moment, thinks his blind and ailing father has made a mistake, but Ya’acov actually knows what he is doing and he tells Yosef that the younger boy will, in the end, be greater (48:19). The Midrash explains and resolves this issue with the comment: that when the people of Egypt approach Yosef to buy wheat, there was a translator, and that man was Menashe, a sophisticated linguist, a cosmopolitan PHD we might say, from the Nile University. And Ephraim? Well, he is the unnamed figure who brings Yosef the news that his father is ill. He is the one who, from the time that Ya’acov first arrived in Egypt, devotes himself exclusively to the study of Torah with his grandfather, and sits at his feet and cleaves to the message of his elder. Thus, from the positioning of the hands, we understand exactly why Ya’acov chooses to rearrange the blessings. Ephraim comes first, because without Torah, without a grounding in religious life and ethical teachings, everything else turns into the tools of cruelty. But Ya’acov also blesses Menashe because he values his work and his achievements in the court of Pharaoh.

So, my friends, we parents on Friday night pray to HaShem that our sons should be the synthesis of both Ephraim and Menashe – growing to be people capable of combining Torah learning with worldly wisdom. In this manner, they become full and integrated individuals who are able to appreciate the world and what it has to offer, all the while diverting that knowledge and wisdom through the lens of Torah teaching. Indeed, it is Torah which gets top billing, for it has the capacity to take the best of the material world and sanctify it, ennoble it and transform it; but only if we take Torah and spread its message and its relevance to the academies of science, and politics, to the humanities and the arts. Only then will we have fulfilled the vision which Ya’acov dreamed.

I say this with all due respect to other approaches which might take exception to my feelings on this matter. Nonetheless, I feel that this is a bona fide definition and representation of what it is that we should strive for to be authentic Jews. Perhaps one can embellish and amplify this point by looking back for a moment to the Menorah, the centerpiece of our recently celebrated Chanukah festival. In one of the Torah’s several descriptions of the Menorah lighting procedure, we are told that: “when the flames are kindled, they should light up the central staff of the Menorah, and thus shall all seven lights be illuminated” (Numbers 8:2). This verse gives primacy to the center light; it is the essential Menorah, flanked by the other six lights, three on each side.

Evidently, the six side lights were oriented in such a way as to cast a reflection onto the center. And most of the classical commentaries accept this approach. Rabbi Ovadiya Seforno of 15th century Italy expands this explanation by likening the three lights of the right to those who concern themselves with “eternal matters,” and the three lights of the left to those who are involved with “temporal matters.” Seforno teaches that both of these groups have an overriding and compelling responsibility to turn inward toward the center staff, so that the illumination of the Menorah can be complete. We urgently need this message of the Menorah today, when we see so pronounced and obvious the divisions that exist between the various factions of Jews and the rancor that we hear and read of in the public press.

The center of Torah Judaism has been obscured within the shadows of infighting, to the extent that the entire Menorah may be cast into darkness. Not for this did the Maccabees struggle in the past, and not for this have our ancestors struggle in their efforts to perpetuate Jewish life and provide for its future. And not for this have we come so far in our efforts to build a thriving Jewish community in Israel and in the Diaspora.

So, when looking for inspiration, for enlightenment, one should be able to feel and appreciate the warmth of this approach to Judaism. By no means should the primacy of Torah be diminished, but the realization that Torah can interface and intersect all levels of life. In this way, we bring meaning to our existence and honor our spiritual mission.

Chazak, Chazak, V’NitChazek – Strengthened, strengthened, may we be strengthened.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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