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

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

130803 – Parshat Re’ay

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT RE’AY

Devarim (Deut.) 11:26-16:17

Haftarah – Isaiah 61:10-63:9

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Because we suffered continuous religious persecutions since the destruction of our second Temple (in 70 C.E.), the Jews have become tolerant of other religions. However, this was not always the case. In ancient times, the world was very tolerant of others’ religions; people thought that gods were territorial, when one left the boundaries of ones’ own gods’ influence; he entered the confines of new gods. Being tolerant of other religions was a necessary survival technique. One never knew when the gods of another territory would come in handy. What was always important was not to upset the local gods.

Along came the Jewish people who antagonized the world by preaching that not only was their

G-d invisible and all-powerful, but their G-d was the only legitimate G-d. The ancient Jews were not very popular among the nations because they rejected any and all tolerance for the worship of wood, stone and natural phenomenon.

This obsession with the pursuit of religious truth finds its source in this week’s Parsha: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshiped their gods; on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; you shall burn their sacred trees in fire; you shall cut down their carved images; and you shall obliterate their sacred names from that place” (Devarim 12 2-3).

In ancient times, when one nation conquered another nation, it would try not to destroy the vanquished nation’s religious sites and objects. The conquering nation often used these edifices (which were usually beautifully constructed and very ornate), for their own purposes. The fact that the nation of Israel had to destroy the Temples, the idols and the religious symbols of the former inhabitants, was a revolutionary concept.

Our Parsha explains that HaShem declared that the seven nations occupying Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel) had no right to worship as they pleased. Eretz Yisra’el had to be emancipated from any religious pollutants. Whether conquered or driven out, the non-Jewish resident aliens or wayfarers had no right to worship their gods or practice their religious beliefs while on this holy ground. To make sure that these religious places and symbols did not infiltrate the conquering society, they had to be – “destroyed,” “broken apart,” “smashed,” “burnt,” “cut down,” and “obliterated.” Any and all traces of these artifacts had to be eradicated lest they influence the Jewish population.

But all this destruction had a price. The very next verse reads: “You shall not do this to HaShem, your G-d” (12:4).

RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105) teaches us three different lessons:

  1. Offerings to HaShem can only be presented from the Mishkan (Tabernacle), or later, from the place that HaShem designates (the Temple on Mt. Mori’ah in Jerusalem).
  2. It is forbidden to obliterate the name of HaShem. For this reason we do not write His name (G-d) unrestrictedly so that (if the page is thrown away, discarded or desecrated) His name will not be erased.
    • RaShI brings a Sifri (a Halachic [legal] Midrash [interpretation] of the Books of BaMidbar [Numbers] and Devarim) that warns: “Rabbi Ishmael said: Would one even think that the Israelites would destroy their own religious places and artifacts? Rather, do not do anything that would CAUSE your religious places TO BE DESTROYED.”

Rabbi Ishmael asks if one could imagine Israel doing such a terrible thing. But in the history of our nation and in the very days of Rabbi Ishmael, such things did happen. Our Temple was desecrated by Hellenist Jews bringing in Greek idols and offering non-kosher animals as sacrifices (during the Chanukah period of our history). Rabbi Ishmael knew very well that terrible acts of desecration were committed by the Sadducees during the Roman period. Even recently, in modern Israel, acts of desecration are perpetrated by Jews against Jews and their religious institutions. Rabbi Ishmael, who was martyred by the Romans and whose miserable death was cheered on by Jews who were Roman sympathizers, knew full well what Jews were capable of. How could he say, “Would one even think that the Israelites would destroy their own religious places and artifacts?”

I found an interesting answer to this question from Rabbi Ya’acov Haber formerly of Melbourne, Australia, who mentions that the first Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) is: “…if the performance of a Mitzvah will embarrass you (for example, praying Mincha [afternoon prayers] on a public highway, or saying grace at a board meeting, perhaps sporting a Kipa [skull-cap] at your place of work), you should still do it.

However, the Mishnah Berurah [an updated version of the code – written by the Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisra’el Meir HaKohen Kagen, 1838-1933] quotes the Beit Yosef [Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, 1488-1575] as saying that, ‘…one should not go out of their way to antagonize people even in the performance of a Mitzvah (for example, deliberately praying Mincha on a public highway when it is unnecessary), since that will give one’s personality the characteristic of Chutzpa (insolence) [in the words of the Beit Yosef] YiK’neh B’Nafsho Midat HaAzut (one’s soul will acquire the characteristic of insolence), which will then be used for less than noble purposes’ ” Reachings – Talks on Torah, page 172).

What Rabbi Haber means is if one performs Mitzvot either in an antagonizing manner or specifically to antagonize, then that behavior will continue in non-Mitzvot situations which will be destructive.

When I lived in Israel, I served in the Israeli Army reserves. During my short basic training (I was 35 years old, married with 3 children and established in business) I served with other immigrants from similar backgrounds and ages. Clearly one-third of our group was religious and many were from the “ultra-orthodox” camp.

I began noticing that the more physically challenging and strenuous our training got, the more our sophisticated and personally disciplined group began to act in a boorish manner. Our characters began to change, we began using rough and profane language, and sometimes we behaved in a manner that would have been unacceptable in polite society. I realized that in civilian life, we suppress certain feelings, desires and forces, but in the army those very forces are encouraged and relied upon. The increase in physical activity and extreme conditions had a powerfully negative effect on us. As civilized human beings and religious Jews, we were forced to keep ourselves in check, otherwise we were capable of Chutzpa (unbecoming behavior).

This is what Moshe was saying to us. Am Yisra’el (the nation of Israel) will spend considerable time conquering the land and making it suitable for Jewish existence. In the process, we might become crass and boorish, which would make us insensitive to one another.

In the post Holocaust era, Am Yisra’el also had to lift itself up out of the ashes. A state had to be founded, and wars unfortunately had to be fought. The battles for independence were conducted in the Sinai desert, the Galilee and on the West Bank. But there were other battles that Am Yisra’el also fought spiritual battles in America and in the Soviet Union, on campuses in Berkeley and Jerusalem, in the suburbs of our great cities and in the outposts of Siberia and in the disengagement of Gaza. Our leadership spoke about tolerance and acted with intolerance, decried injustice and meted out inequity. We expounded community and acted as segregationists. And today Eretz Yisra’el has become our battleground for self-righteous and self-centeredness.

It is one thing to understand a problem and another to rectify it. That is the real Tikkun Olam (world rectification) that very few of us are attempting. We must demand dialogue among our Rabbis and lay leaders. When we use these hidden and subdued forces within us they take a toll on how we think and how we behave. Our very souls have become inundated with self-righteous insolence and we aren’t even aware of it.

Moshe is warning us to be very careful with the use of necessary force. While it was imperative to destroy the idols and the holy places of the Canaanite nations, he cautioned us that those forces could also be used against each other and against HaShem. Even today, as we battle for our homeland and for the very souls of our brethren, we must use extreme caution. Otherwise, the results can be tragic.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130727 – Parshat Ekev

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

SiddurReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT EKEV

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12-11:25

Haftarah – Isaiah 49:14-51:3

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We have been selected against our will to be players in the game of life. Right from the very beginning, the “conspiracy” began. The first humans, created in the idyllic Garden of Eden, were expelled because they exercised their powers of free choice improperly. Life after the Garden entailed making choices for right or for wrong.

In the ten generations from Adam to No’ach (Noah), mankind generally chose improperly and a new world was formed. After that time, all of mankind was required to live by a set of seven laws, the “Seven No’achide Mitzvot [Commandments]” that became and still is the basis for all human behaviour: 1. Belief in G-d, 2. Do not murder, 3. Do not steal, 4. Do not commit adultery, 5. Do not blaspheme, 6. Setup a court system, 7. You must kill mammals before eating them.

In the ten generations from No’ach to Avraham (Abraham) again, the world chose improperly. The former single world-wide nation became splintered into seventy different nations and languages and dispersed around the planet. Avraham and his future offspring were “chosen” to be the examples of how to choose correctly.

After receiving the Ten Utterances (Commandments), the Torah (with its 613 Mitzvot) and after spending 40 years in the desert absorbing the Torah and its many regulations and lessons, the Children of Israel thought themselves ready. But prior to Moshe’s death, just as Am Yisra’el (the Nation of Israel) was about to enter Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel), he gave four discourses of admonition to his flock, so that they might learn from mankind’s history and from their own, how to LIVE successfully in Eretz Yisra’el. And it is here, in his second discourse that Moshe makes known the essence of the Torah.

In chapter 10 verses 12 – 13, Moshe rephrases the nature of the Torah into just a few words: “And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you? Only this: to revere HaShem your G-d, to go in His ways, and to love Him and to serve HaShem your G-d with all your heart and soul. To guard the commandments of HaShem and His statutes, which I enjoin upon you today, for your own good.”

Two very important teachings are learnt from these verses. RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105) cites the famous ChaZaL (Rabbinical teaching) from the Talmud (Berachot 33) based on these verses: “All is in the hands of Heaven – except the reverence of Heaven.”

Mankind can only serve HaShem properly if it has reverence for Him. No matter what situation one faces one must first have a sense of reverence for HaShem in order to be able to choose correctly. Without it, one may be swayed either by the temptation of the action or by the fear of punishment (which isn’t really free choice). Only a highly developed sense of reverence allows one to exercise true free will.

The second lesson, reciting 100 blessings per day, was incorporated into the Seven Mitzvot of the Rabbis (while the Rabbi’s enacted thousands of ordinances within the framework of Jewish Halachah [law], only seven had the same standing as G-d given commandments. They are:

  1. Lighting candles prior to Shabbat and holidays,
  2. Lighting candles each night of Chanukah,
  3. Reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim,
  4. Giving gifts of food and charity on Purim,
  5. The use of an ERUV [to carry on Shabbat, or to cook on a festival in preparation for Shabbat],
  6. Reciting Hallel on Holidays and New Moons,
  7. Reciting 100 blessings per day.

The Talmud (Tractate Menachot 43) records: “…every person (Jew) is obligated to recite 100 blessings per day, because it says [in the Torah] ‘And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you?’ “RaShI comments: “when the Torah wrote “Mah” (what – does HaShem…) read instead Me’ah (100).”

In other words, instead of reading: “And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you?”  

One should read, “And now Israel, 100 does HaShem your G-d demand of you?”

The Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter, 1847-1905, the second Gerer Rebbe and leader of Polish Jewry) commented on this Rabbinical Commandment: “Since everything that happens to mankind, stems from a blessing from HaShem, the more one is reverent [of HaShem] and fortified [by the performance of His Mitzvot], the more one can connect to His blessings” (The Crowns of the Torah, by A.I. Greenberg, page 72).

By making at least 100 blessings per day, we become aware of the many blessings that HaShem showers upon us. The more we are aware of how many blessings we receive, the more appreciative we become of all the good that comes our way.

A decade ago, my parents, Jacob and Helen Rosenzweig celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. Gathered around the Shabbat table we ate, we sang, and we related stories of the many blessings that HaShem has provided us. My father (who also just turned 93 years of age) told the story of how he approached a wealthy man in our community and asked him to sponsor an upcoming Kiddush (a post prayer light reception during which we bless HaShem and sanctify the Shabbat or Holiday). The man pointed at others eating herring and asked my father why he didn’t ask any of those people to sponsor the Kiddush.

My father told him that HaShem created two types of Jews. To one group He gave check books, so they could write as many checks as they desired and none would ever bounce. To the other group, He provided as much herring as they desired. My father told this wealthy man that if he was unhappy with the check book, he could trade it in for some herring. Put in this light, the man happily agreed to provide for as many Kiddushim as were needed.

Also a decade back my wife Kathy (A”H) had a very difficult time before and after receiving Chemotherapy during this post Shabbat Nachamu week. In a car ride home, she said to me that she was so happy that it was she who was ill and not me or any of our children. It reminded us of the story of the grandfather of the present Belzer Rebbe, who was born with a “clubbed foot”. The child’s parents made an arrangement with the parents of a young girl that their children would be wed after the girl reached Bat Mitzvah. Never having met each other, they accepted their Mazal (fate) with the assurance that their parents were looking out for their best interests.

On the day of the wedding, as guests were beginning to arrive, the bride looked out her window and was shown her groom walking down the road. When she saw that he had a deformity, she refused to marry the young man. Her parents and the parents of the groom pleaded with her to no avail. The synagogue was filling quickly and still she refused to marry this cripple. When all seemed lost, the young man asked to speak to his BASHERT (fated one). He entered the room, and a few minutes later he left informing everyone that the musicians should begin playing the processional. The future Rebbe and his Rebbetzin lived for sixty years together.

At the Shiva (seven days of mourning) after her funeral, the Rebbe was asked by one of his Chassidim (disciples) what was said in the room sixty years before. Never having spoken of the incident, the Rebbe surprised everyone when he began to explain that he had told his bride that before either of them were born, a heavenly decree proclaimed that they would be married. It also proclaimed that SHE would be born with a clubbed foot. He made an arrangement in heaven that he would suffer the clubbed foot instead of her. He told her that she didn’t have to marry him, but, she would have to take her foot. When confronted with his sacrifice, she realized that what seemed like a curse was actually a blessing.

All of these stories illustrate how reverence for HaShem allows one to appreciate the many blessings that HaShem bestows. The wealthy man who felt perturbed by the fact that he was always being asked to provide for others, did so with joy when confronted with the reality of his blessings. Similarly, my wife surprised me with her statement of her joy in accepting her illness rather than HER illness afflicting one of her loved ones.

In order to see HaShem’s many blessings we must bless Him so that we can literally, “count our Blessings.” Every time we pray, or make a blessing before or after we eat food, or see a rainbow, or witness a beautiful landscape, we become conscious of the great gifts that He bestows upon us.

HaShem doesn’t need our blessings, we do. Those, whose attitude toward life is negative, are unaware of the many blessings that surround them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130720 – Parshat V’Etchanan

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imagesReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT V’ETCHANAN

Devarim 3:23 – 7:11

SHABBAT NACHAMU

Haftarah – Isaiah 40:1-26

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This Saturday night and Sunday, the 14th of Av is the second Yahrtzeit of my dear mother Helen Rosenzweig – Chayah bat R’ Shmu’el HaKohen. If my parents would still be alive, this Shabbat would have been their 67th wedding anniversary. This week’s “Vort” is dedicated to their memory. Tehi Nishmateihem Tzerura B’Tzror HaChaim– May their souls be bound up in the Bond of Life.

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The Book of Devarim was originally called Mishna Torah – the second Torah (hence Deuteronomy – in Greek). It was Moshe Rabbeinu’s review of the laws that the Bnei Yisrael would need to keep close to their hearts in order to successfully live in Eretz Yisra’el.

If you think about it, that is a phenomenal statement. It is not logical that the behavior of a people should affect their ability to live on a particular parcel of land. What has moral or spiritual behavior to do with the ability of a nation and a land to coexist? Yet Moshe Rabbeinu writes an entire fifth book of the Torah just to get this point across.

Historically, whenever we have forsaken our Torah lifestyle for a more modern approach to life, our political and social assurance faltered and eventually led to exile. This happened prior to the conquests of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, in whose exile we find ourselves today.

Our Parsha this week brings home this point. The relationship between Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael and Hashem supersedes logic and rationale. Moshe tells Am Yisra’el in every generation: “When you shall have children and grandchildren and will have lived long upon the land, you will become corrupt, worship graven images and do evil in the eyes of HaShem and provoke Him.

Today I will call to witness against you the heavens and the earth (signs of eternity) that you will quickly perish from off the land… which you possess, and your days will not be prolonged but will be destroyed. And HaShem will scatter you among the nations and you will become few in number” (Devarim 4:25-27).

Moshe’s admonition continues: “…since the day that Hashem created man on Earth, and from one end of the heavens to the other, has anything as great been done or heard of? Did ever a nation hear the voice of HaShem as you have speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Or has any god taken a nation from the midst of another nation, by way of trials, signs and wonders, with a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm and with awesome greatness, as HaShem your G-d did for you in Egypt? For unto you it was shown, so that you may know that HaShem, He is G-d, there is none other, but Him alone” (Ibid 4:32-35).

To me, the challenge made in the above verses is remarkable. The concept of a nation witnessing together, the direct intervention of Hashem’s obvious power, is unique to Judaism. In the Far East, major philosophies and religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism have come to light since Matan Torah. In the west, Christianity and Islam have both attempted to invalidate Judaism and have taken the world by storm. And what do they all have in common? They are all based on a single individual’s (or small group of individuals) account of some miraculous event.

Our tradition is not based on Moshe’s testimony. Our ancestors actually witnessed the mighty Hand of G-d. For those of you who are familiar with the Pesach Haggadah, you might consider that the reason that Moshe’s name is never mentioned in the entire recounting of the Exodus is because he was just one of millions of witnesses to the power and glory of HaShem. We commemorate Tisha B’Av, because we experienced the exile and our fall from glory. When we celebrate Pesach we keep our own collective memories alive.

Every day on the calendar conjures up national memories that we experienced, whether it is the Shabbat, Pesach, Shavu’ot or Sukkot. Whether Purim or Chanukah, the five fast days or even Tu B’Av, we are reminded that our faith is based on national experiences and not upon individual accounts.

Our Parsha connects the Aseret HaDibrot – the Ten Utterances (commonly mistranslated as the Ten Commandments) with Shema Yisra’el – Israel’s twice daily declaration of faith. These two recollections will never allow our nation to forget all that Hashem has done for us. We are the remnant of witnesses who have refused to give up our memories for the fantasies of other religions.

Moshe, before he dies, attempts to remind us that yes, we are a Chosen People and yes, our task is to bear the flame that must inspire humanity. Our Parsha confronts us with the enigmas of Torah and faith. Not everything is logical, not everything makes scientific sense. But if the truth be told, our brightness is dependent on Eretz Yisra’el. And when we do not shine, the land rejects us. This doesn’t make sense, it’s not true for other nations, yet, the heavens and earth have born witness to this phenomenon.

Am Yisra’el is likened to the stars of the heavens and we are also likened to the grains of sand upon the earth. We, the Jewish people, are the witnesses to history. We have seen it all. And we retain the collective memories of the millions of Jews who came before us. Each one of us is a star that contains so much power but appears to be just a flicker of light.

Our Haftarah concludes with the words of Isaiah: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see, Who created these? He that brings forth their numbers and calls each by name. Through His might and His strength, not even one shall fall.

Shine on Am Yisrael, shine on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

Parshi’ot Matot-Masei

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

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PARSHI’OT MATOT/MASEI

BaMidbar (Numbers) 30:2‑36:13

Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4

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This week, we read two Parshi’ot, Matot and Masei which complete the Book of BaMidbar. Included in these Parshi’ot are the final laws dealing with Jewish life and the conquering and division of Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel). The Book ends with the concluding episode of the daughters of Tezlafchad.

In Parshat Shelach, the first incident of Shabbat transgression was recorded that took place in the first year after the Exodus: “The Children of Israel were in the Wilderness and they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moshe and Aharon, and to the entire assembly. They placed him in custody, for it had not been clarified what was to be done to him. HaShem said to Moshe: ‘The man should be put to death; the entire assembly shall pelt him with stones outside the camp’” (BaMidbar 15:32-35).

The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 96b-97a) informs us that Rebbi Akiva (118-138 C.E. one of the leading Rabbis of the Mishnaic period, martyred by the Romans) held that this wood gatherer was Tzlafchad. He wanted to show the nation that the transgressions of Shabbat were truly punishable by death and therefore martyred himself to prove the point.

In Parshat Pinchas, the daughters of Tezlafchad: “…stood before Moshe, before Elazar the Priest, and before the leaders and the entire assembly at the entrance of the Ohel Mo’ed (Tent of the Meeting), saying: ‘Our father died in the Wilderness, but he was not among the gathering that rebelled against Hashem in the assembly of Korach, but he died of his own sin and he had no son. Why should the name of our father be omitted from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession [in the Land of Israel] among our father’s brothers.’ And Moshe brought their claim before HaShem” (BaMidbar 27:2-5).

The Land of Israel was divided into tribal territories and then subdivided by means of a lottery into family portions. Inheritance laws do not permit a woman to inherit land. Since the land was subdivided – L’Veit Avotam (to their ancestral home) – all tribal land must remain within the tribe. The daughters of Tzlafchad claimed that since their father did not die in Korach’s rebellion, but in the sanctification of HaShem’s Name, their “father’s house” should not suffer exclusion from the lottery.

The Sifri (Halachic Midrash to the Books of BaMidbar and Devarim [Deuteronomy]) makes an amazing statement: “The compassion of the Omnipresent is not comparable to the compassion of human beings. A human might have more compassion for males, but He Whose word brought the world into being is different. His compassion is for both male and females – His compassion is for all.”

Therefore, in verses 6 – 11, Hashem clarifies the laws of inheritance regarding a man who dies without a male heir, in favor of daughters and only then to other family members. In chapter 36 of Parshat Mas’ei, the family of Tzlafchad brought up another issue. Since the Land of Israel would be divided into tribal territories and then subdivided by means of a lottery into family portions, if female inheritors marry men from outside of their tribe, the land would eventually go to their children who would be members of their father’s tribe. This would jeopardize the whole concept of family territory remain within tribal land.

Similarly, if a person (male or female) sold land to any other person, during a Yovel (the fiftieth Jubilee year following a cycle of seven Sabbatical years) all sold land reverted back to the original owners. This way the Torah insures that land stays within the tribes and their families.

Moshe agrees with the assessment of the members of the tribe of Menasheh. He responds: “…Correctly does the tribe of the children of Joseph speak. This is the word that Hashem has commanded regarding the daughters of Tzlafchad saying: Let them be wives to whomever is good in their eyes, but only to the family of their father shall they become wives. An inheritance of the Children of Israel shall not make rounds from tribe to tribe; rather the Children of Israel shall cleave every man to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. Every daughter who inherits the inheritance of the tribes of the Children of Israel shall become the wife of someone from the family of her father’s tribe, so that everyone from the Children of Israel will inherit the inheritance of his fathers. An inheritance shall not make the rounds from a tribe to another tribe, for the tribes of the Children of Israel shall cleave, every man to his own inheritance. As Hashem commanded Moshe, so did the daughters of Tzlafchad do. Malah, Tirtzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah, the daughters of Tzlafchad, became wives to the sons of their uncles. [To cousins] from the families of the children of Menasheh, son of Yosef, did they become wives, and their inheritance remained with the tribe of the family of their father.”

The Book of BaMidbar ends with this final episode. The next Book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy), was actually written by Moshe prior to his death. In ancient times it was referred to as Mishna Torah (the Second Torah or “Deuteronomy” in Greek). In this book, Moshe informs the Children of Israel that in order to successfully live in the Land of Israel, a certain level of righteous behavior is required. But the first four books of the Torah were written by Hashem (Tractate Megillah 31b and the Ga’on from Vilna quoted in Ohel Ya’akov 1:1).

We have discussed many times the concept of the superior quality of spirituality in women. Concepts like: Biglal Nashim Tzidkani’ot Nigalu Avoteinu M’Mitzra’im (because of righteous women our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt) are taught to our children when studying Torah. Our Parsha completes the Torah that came from the Word of G-d with this example of selfless righteousness on the part of our women. These five special women are recorded by name in our Torah for all future generations to derive inspiration from.

Often, women feel that their right to equal status is negated by the Torah and by Judaism. These three episodes are but one of many examples that this is not the case. It is true that women cannot inherit land. The rights of inheritance of land may only go to men because of the biblical injunction of L’Veit Avotam (to their ancestral home). Similarly a child born of a Jewish father of the finest pedigree is not considered Jewish if the mother is not born Jewish or converts properly. There is a trade off that insures equanimity between the sexes. What is important to us is that when Hashem completes His document – the covenant between Himself and the Jewish people, He leaves us with this example of how righteousness must be viewed by both men and women.

As the prophet Micah so aptly put it in the Haftorah just a few weeks ago: “He has told you O’ humans, what is good and what Hashem seeks from you: only to do what is just, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your G-d” (Micah 6:8).

CHAZAK, CHAZAK, V’NITCHAZEIK

STRONG! BE STRONG! AND MAY WE BE STRENGTHENED!

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

121229 – Parshat VaYiChi

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

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PARSHAT VAYICHI

Bereishit (Genesis) 47:28-50:26

Haftorah I Kings 2:1-12

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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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