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

120707 – Parshat Balak

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT BALAK

BaMidbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9

Haftarah – Micah 5:6-6:8

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In this week’s portion we again examine the Ko’ach HaDibur (the power of speech). On the Israelite’s final journeys toward Eretz Yisra’el (the land of Israel), and after the defeat of the armies of Og king of Bashan and Sichon king of Emor, Balak (king of Midian and Mo’av), realizes that Am Yisra’el (the nation of Israel) cannot be militarily defeated in the conventional manner. He sends for Bil’am, a Mesopotamian prophet who has the ability to place powerful curses on people and nations, so that Bil’am’s power of speech might be the impetus for Israel’s downfall. HaShem does not give Bil’am permission to curse Israel but after some cajoling He does allow Bil’am to journey with king Balak’s emissaries to Mo’av.

Bilam saddles his donkey and sets out. HaShem sends an angel to block the way and three times Bil’am beats his donkey for he cannot see the vision of the angel. Suddenly a miracle occurred, “VaYiftach HaShem Et Pi HaAton – And HaShem opened the mouth of the donkey” (BaMidbar 22:28-35).

Over the past four weeks, each Parsha has had a focus on the gift of speech, which to many commentators is the meaning of humans being created “in the image of HaShem.” At the end of Parshat Beha’alotcha (BaMidbar 12:1-14), Miriam and Aharon speak against Moshe’s relations with his wife and Miriam is punished with Tzara’at (leprosy); In Parshat Shlach Lecha (BaMidbar 13:1-14:44), ten spies bring back an evil report of Eretz Yisra’el and Am Yisra’el’s negative reaction triggers their forty year sojourn in the desert; In Parshat Korach (BaMidbar 16:1-35), Korach speaks against Moshe and Aharon which instigates a rebellion against Moshe’s authority, which results in Korach and his assembly being swallowed up by the earth; and finally, in last week’s Parsha, Moshe struck the water-bearing rock rather than speaking to it, and lost his privilege to enter Eretz Yisra’el.

There is a very interesting Mishna in Pirke Avot (The Ethics of our Ancestors – an ethical treatise). Chapter 5, Mishnah 8 reads: “Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat, at twilight. They are: 1: The mouth of the earth (Korach); 2: The mouth of the well (Miriam); 3: The mouth of the donkey (Bilam); 4: The rainbow (No’ach); 5: The Manna (Moshe); 6: The staff (Moshe); 7: The Shamir (King Solomon); 8: The alphabet (Hebrew); 9: The inscription (on the Tablets); 10: The Tablets (Yisra’el).”

The universe’ creation ended with the Shabbat, which began at sundown on Friday, but Bein HaShmashot ([literally “between the illuminating orbs,” or twilight] the time between the setting of the sun and darkness) is a difficult time period to define. Does this time period belong to Friday, or does it belong to Shabbat? The mystical quality of Bein HaShmashot is the reason we Jews begin Shabbat at sunset on Friday evening and end it after the stars appear in the heavens on Saturday night. It is during this time that HaShem created the last necessary items needed to make the world perfect. He knew that there would be times when seemingly miraculous events had to take place, but He wanted them included in the natural order of creation. Therefore, these special creations were formed Bein HaShmashot, at the very end of the sixth day, between dusk and darkness in that mystical time that is so hard to define. Let us review these ten manifestations.

  1. Pi HaAretz (the mouth of the earth) – “With this you shall know that HaShem has sent me to do all these acts, that it has not been out of my own heart. If these men die as all men [would normally] do, and that the destiny of all men is theirs, then you shall know that HaShem has not sent me” (BaMidbar 16:28-29).

When the earth opened its mouth (BaMidbar 16:28-33) and swallowed Korach and his assembly, it was not an earthquake or fissure in the conventional sense of the word, this mouth or chasm, had been prepared at the time of creation. Normally prior to an earthquake, the ground experiences tremors and any fissures caused do not close up. This opening left absolutely no suggestion of its existence before or after the occurrence. The death of Korach and his assembly was not natural. Throughout history, many humans have died by earthquakes, but in this case, the earth opened and then closed its mouth.

  1. Pi HaBe’er (the mouth of the well) – Can you imagine 600,000 men between 20 and 50 years of age, plus younger and older men, and plus women, a multitude of approximately 3,000,000 people finding water during their 40 year sojourn in the desert? After the death of Miriam, the B’nei Yisra’el (the children of Israel) found themselves without water. Our Rabbi’s teach us that in the merit of Miriam a fountain of water (the infamous rock) traveled with the B’nei Yisra’el during their sojourns.

Again, this fountain was not an ordinary well, yet its character was part of the natural order, prepared and ready with all of nature prior to the first Shabbat.

  1. Pi HaAton (the mouth of the donkey) – Pay attention to the dialogue between Bilam and his donkey: “HaShem opened the mouth of the donkey and it said to Bil’am, ‘What have I done to you that you struck me these three times? ‘Bilam said to the donkey, ‘Because you mocked me! If only there were a sword in my hand, I would kill you!

The donkey said to Bil’am, ‘Am I not your [she] donkey that you have ridden all of your life until today? Have I been accustomed to doing such a thing to you?’

He said, ‘No.’

Then HaShem uncovered Bil’am’s eyes and he saw the angel of HaShem standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand. He [Bil’am] bowed his head and prostrated himself on his face.”

According to Irving M. Bumin (Ethics from Sinai, vol. 3 page 85) Bil’am learned two things from this exchange: “

  • If heaven wills it, even a donkey can see what a prophet cannot. Prophetic vision is under the control of HaShem.
  • Speech is a G-d given gift and Bil’am should reserve his speech for words directed to him from above.”

The ability of the donkey to speak to Bil’am was not miraculous in the common sense of the word. it was arranged even before creation was complete.

  1. The Rainbow – prior to the flood, a mist hovered over the earth and watered all plants. After the flood, the sun was able to shine forth through the clouds and the phenomenon of a rainbow was unable to be seen. This change in reality that affects us even to this day is the result of the atmospheric conditions set forth when the first rainbow appeared.
  2. The Manna – One of the greatest wonders of creation was Manna, a heavenly food that was pure nourishment. The Midrash Tanchuma (Parshat B’Shalach 22) defines the miraculous quality of this food.

“Manna could assume almost any taste, depending of the consumer. It was completely digested leaving no waste to be expelled. The amount gathered would last all day and rot if left over for the next day. On Fridays a double portion would fall, enough for Friday and Shabbat.

The distance it fell from the home depended on the righteousness of the consumer; the more righteous the consumer, the closer it fell to the doorway of the family’s tent.

For the righteous it was as fine bread; for the virtuous, as course cakes; and the wicked had to grind it between millstones, or beat it with a mortar and pestle. Also, for the young it was as bread; for the old, as wafers made with honey; for infants, as mother’s milk; and for the sick, like fine meal with honey.”

  1. The staff – We read in Shemot (Exodus) 4:17, 20: “And you shall take in your hand this staff, with which you will work wonders…and he took the staff of HaShem in his hand.”

This is the staff that turned into a snake/alligator; that set off the Ten Plagues; that divided the Reed (Red) Sea; and that brought forth water from a rock. Made of sapphire with HaShem’s infallible Name written upon it, this staff was no ordinary staff, its origin was part of the creation process.

Where did it come from? Pirke De’Rebbi Eliezer 40 (a Midrashic work [c.100 C.E.] composed by the school of Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus) gives the history of the staff. “Created at twilight, before the Sabbath, it was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam gave it to Chanoch (Enoch), who gave it to Metushelach (Methuselah); he in turn passed it on to Noach (Noah). Noach bequeathed it to his son Shem, who transmitted it to Avraham (Abraham). From Avraham to Yitzchak (Isaac), and then to Ya’akov (Jacob), who took it with him to Egypt. Ya’acov gave it to Yosef (Joseph); upon Yosef’s death all his possessions were removed to Pharaoh’s palace. Yitro (Jethro) one of Pharaoh’s advisors desired it, whereupon he took it and stuck it in the ground in his garden in Midian. From then on no one could pull out the staff until Moshe came. He read the Hebrew letters on the staff and pulled it out easily. Knowing then that Moshe was the redeemer of Israel; Yitro gave him his daughter Tziporah (Tziporah) in marriage.” Then, as a shepherd to Yitro, it was while investigating the phenomenon of the Burning Bush that HaShem said to Moshe: “What is in your hand? And he (Moshe) said, ‘a staff‘” (Shemot 4:2).

  1. The Shamir – The Torah (Shemot 20:22) banned the use of metal in building the altar. When King Shlomo (Solomon) built the Temple, he understood that this ban also applied to the stones of the Temple. How could he build a large stone edifice without the use of a blade, or a hammer?

The Talmud in Tractate Giten (68a-b) tells an amazing story of the capture of a miraculous worm that vibrated at a very high frequency (it may have given off super-sonic oscillations) and could split wood and stone. “Placed on the hardest wood or stone it would split them open as into two writing tablets. No iron or metal could have this quality, it would simply split them open. It could be transported only wrapped in a cloth, tufts of wool, or in a lead container filled with barley bran” (Tosefta: Sotah 15:1).

  1. The alphabet – Our tradition teaches us the even before HaShem began creation, He wrote the Torah. This could best be understood as an architect drawing up the plans prior to beginning construction. However, mankind needed a tool to be able to discern this monumental work, hence, the alphabet. Prior to the nation of Israel appearing on the scene, other written scripts did appear, but these scripts were hieroglyphs and pictographs. The Hebrew alphabet has a miraculous and unique quality to Jewish and world history. As Professor David Porush writes (http//www.rpi.edu/~porusd) “I would rate the ‘invention’ of the Hebrew alphabet as one of the single most amazing discoveries in human history, far above electricity, the atom bomb, exploration of space, the printing press, or any other technology.”

Here are a few of his reasons:

    • The Hebrew alphabet was the first alphabet ever invented. This means that it was the first system of symbols to represent the pure atoms of “sounds” that formed words rather than using pictures to represent words and ideas (like hieroglyphs and pictographs do).
    • The Hebrew alphabet is the mother of all alphabets. No other alphabet was ever invented independently of Hebrew and all alphabets can trace their origins to it (Aleph, Bet = alphabet).
    • Since all previous alphabets were pictographs or ideograms (pictures that stand for words), the Hebrew alphabet further enforces the abandonment of idolatry.
    • The most concise script before the invention of the Hebrew alphabet contained over 600 signs. Most pictographic and hieroglyphic scripts contain thousands of signs.
    • Because the 22 Hebrew letters represent sounds not pictures, it requires a higher level of abstraction in decoding them.
    • Hebrew is also different from all alphabets that followed because it lacks vowels. The Phoenicians and Greeks added vowels, and so are often accredited with inventing the alphabet even though the earliest Phoenician alphabet is circa 1200 B.C.E. and the earliest Greek alphabet is circa 850 B.C.E.
    • Because the Hebrew alphabet lacks vowels (and was originally written without spaces or punctuation, too) it is more ambiguous. The same set of consonants very often can indicate many different words. Hebrew, therefore, invites an extraordinary gift of interpretation and tolerance for multiple meanings on the part of its readers. (E.g. “read not Banim but Bonim – not sons but builders” (Talmud Tractate Berachot 64a – commonly recited in the Ashkenazic tradition between Kabalat Shabbat and the evening service on Friday nights); when reading the letters Aleph and Tav are you reading “Et” (the accusative particle); “Oht” (letter or sign) Aht (you – feminine) or the number 401 (Aleph =1 and Tav = 400)?

In other words contained within the Hebrew alphabet are the seeds of the interpretive practices of Midrash and Gematriya.” These designs of HaShem are not only a concise key to communication, but (as we began this “VORT”) they contain the “images of HaShem” that enable us as “images of HaShem” to communicate information that enlightens us to His creation.

  1. The inscription – The inscriptions on the Tablets also had a miraculous nature to them. “Moshe descended the mountain with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hand, Tablets inscribed on both their sides; they were inscribed on one side and on the other. The Tablets were HaShem’s handiwork, and the inscription was the inscription of HaShem engraved on the Tablets” (Shemot 32 15-16).

The words on the Tablets were engraved so that they completely bore through the stone. But rather than the second side being a mirror image of the first, miraculously, both sides could be read with the same clarity and format.

  1. The Tablets – Made of sapphire, the Tablets were shaped like cubes and measured six Tefachim (about two feet) on each side. Though the letters Samach and Mem Sofit (shaped similar to the letter “O”) have mid sections that should cause the letters to fall out of the Tablets, yet they did not.

Also, it is believed that the Tablets weighed an enormous amount (each Tablet was 8 cubic feet of sapphire) yet, Moshe was able to carry them. It is understood that they in fact, carried Moshe and not otherwise. Therefore our tradition asserts that when confronted by the Golden Calf, it was not Moshe who broke the Tablets, but rather the holy letters and holy inscription withdrew from the Tablets causing them to be too heavy for Moshe to carry and thus they shattered.

This simple Mishnah contains worlds of information, too massive to be contained in this Parsha summery. But we see how a detail in our Parsha can lead us to a Mishna, to various tractates of Talmud, the Midrash and other ancient and modern works.

I once concluded that the center of infinity, by definition, is every point. The Torah is truly infinite, and any one point in the Torah can lead you to every other point. Our duty in life is to remember that we were created in the image of HaShem, with the divine power of speech and the power of communication. May the use of our words bring forth all the great features that were created on the eve of Shabbat and bring about the enlightenment of mankind and the glory of HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120616 – Parshat Shelach-Lecha

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT SHELACH LECHA

BaMidbar (Numbers) 13:1-14:41

Haftorah – Joshua 2:1-24

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The episode of the 12 spies is very difficult to comprehend, and can only be understood when one grasps the Torah in its entirety. In Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:21-23 and in the Book of Joshua 2:1, references are made that shed light on the events leading to Moshe sending out the spies.

As the young nation of Israel approached Eretz Yisra’el (the land of Israel) they demanded that Moshe send spies/scouts to the land and report back regarding its quality and the nature of the population of the land. Though Moshe felt it inappropriate to send the spies, HaShem acquiesced to the people’s lack of faith because He enables us to practice free-will.

Moshe hand picked one representative from every tribe; each spy was a tribal prince in his own right, and prior to sending them out on their 40 day doomed mission, he renamed and blessed his faithful aide, Hoshei’a: “…Moshe called (renamed) Hoshei’a the son of Nun, Yehoshu’a (Joshua)” (BaMidbar 13:16).

The commentaries give various reasons for Moshe changing Hoshei’a’s name to Yehoshu’a. RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France 1040-1105) cites the Talmud in Tractate Sotah 34, informing us that Moshe was afraid that Hoshei’a would be influenced by the other spies. He changed his name from Hoshei’a to Yehoshu’a (HaShem will save), by adding the letter Yod (signifying HaShem’s name) so that HaShem will be Yehoshu’a’s strength and salvation during the 40 day venture into Eretz Yisra’el.

But one question remains. If Moshe wanted the 12 spies to return with a positive report about Eretz Yisra’el, why didn’t he need to also bless Kalev, who together with Yehoshu’a spoke encouragingly about the land?

The K’Tav Sofer (Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer of Pressburg, 1815-1897) teaches that the danger of being influenced by the other spies was not as great with Kalev as it was with Yehoshu’a. The MiDrash however gives a different reason. It suggests that the Meraglim (the spies) were confident that Kalev sided with them. Kalev was somewhat of a diplomat, he didn’t reveal his innermost thoughts. The Meraglim were reassured by Kalev’s behavior. To the Meraglim he said: “I am with you in your counsel.” But in his heart he sided with HaShem and Israel. This can be verified by the conversation between Yehoshu’a and Kalev 45 years later when he said: “…I brought back to Moshe a report that was in my heart” (Joshua 14:7).

Both Yehoshu’a and Kalev were men of strong character. Yehoshu’a’s personality tended to give way to peer pressure and could become influenced by others. Hence, Moshe gave him a name change and with an internal blessing, “May HaShem deliver you from the counsel of the Meraglim.” But Kalev’s was different, when he felt himself weakening to peer pressure Kalev left the Meraglim and prayed for help.

In verse 22 we see a strange syntax being used: “And THEY ascended in the south and HE arrived in Chevron (Hebron) and there were Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant…” How strange, “THEY ascended and HE arrived!” The Talmud (Tractate Sotah 34) tells us that the other Meraglim were afraid to enter into Chevron because of the giants, but Kalev risked danger and went to the Machpelah cave and prayed at the tomb of the Patriarchs. There he called for the ancestors of his nation to give him the strength to withstand the pressure.

Moshe gave Yehoshu’a the extra strength that he would need to overcome his humility and take a stand against the Meraglim. It takes a very special mentor to be able to see and act upon this form of weakness and Moshe was such a mentor. He knew who he was sending and he knew the strengths and weaknesses of each individual. Kalev on the other hand had within himself the ability to find the strength necessary to do the same.

The other ten spies became so wrapped up in the overpowering nature of Eretz Yisra’el that they could not overcome their own natures regardless if they had a blessing or not. After such a prolonged slavery in Egypt, the slave mentality of the Israelites could not be overcome. The nation of Israel was destined to remain in the desert for 40 years, corresponding to the forty days of the spy mission (verse 34). Of course, the exceptions to this decree were Yehoshu’a, Kalev and the entire tribe of Levi, who did not accept the Meraglim’s report.

In a previous “VORTIFY“I wrote about how it was that Ya’akov and Eisav (Jacob and Esau), who grew up in such a highly spiritual home as Yitzchak and Rivkah’s (Jacob and Rebecca) was, turned out so differently. Rabbi Azri’el Tauber comments in his book, As In Heaven, So On Earth (page 133), “…according to RaShI there was a fundamental flaw in the education of Ya’akov and Eisav. When they were youngsters, not enough attention was paid to their differences; they were brought up by their father as if they shared similar personalities, whereas they should have been instructed as two unique personages.”

The cornerstone of Jewish education is in treating each child as an individual. ‘Educate the child according to his way…‘ (Proverbs 24:6). According to RaShI, Eisav was not educated properly! He notes that if their parents, Yitzchak and Rivkah made this mistake, each of us can easily do the same thing. That is the Torah’s purpose in teaching us this lesson; so that we can avoid this common pitfall.”

Moshe was careful not to make the same mistake that our Patriarch Yitzchak did. He understood the qualities of Yehoshu’a, Kalev and the other princes; he knew their strengths as well as their weaknesses and gave Yehoshu’a exactly what he needed. As parents, potential parents and as teachers, we must always look closely at our children/students and give them the individual teaching and instruction that corresponds to their unique characters.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120107 – Parshat VaYechi

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“VORTIFY YOURSELF”

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshat VaYechi

Torah Bereishit (Genesis) 47:28-50:26

Haftorah – 1 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, 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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Our Parsha this week concludes the book of Bereishit and at the same time finishes the Ma’asei Avot (the stories of the Patriarchs). The conditions for the Exodus from Egypt have been set into motion. The small family of seventy souls (Bereishit 46:26-27) descended into Egypt where they became a multitude. In our Parsha prior to his death, Ya’akov the Patriarch gathers his family around him and blesses each one of them with the exact material and spiritual vitality needed to survive history. What, then, is a blessing?

In the very first chapter of the Torah during the creation of the fifth day when HaShem filled the seas with fish, the world’s first blessing is mentioned: “HaShem blessed them saying: `be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas‘ ” (Bereishit 1:22).

Since life in the sea is a matter of big fish eating smaller ones, for sea life to continue to exist it must reproduce in huge numbers. Therefore HaShem blessed them that they should “fill the waters in the seas” so that reproduction would outpace diet.

Ya’akov blessed the children of Yosef in a similar fashion. “May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the lads and may my name and the names of my fathers Avraham and Yitzchak, be declared upon them, (VAYID’GU L’ROVE) and may they proliferate [abundantly like fish] upon the land” (48:16). Just as HaShem blessed the fish that they would never become extinct, so, too, the nation of Israel will outlive and outlast their much larger and stronger enemies.

Ya’akov blessed his children and gave each one the ability to sustain themselves in a savage world. Each blessing fit the recipient perfectly and when combined, these separate tribes would become the Nation of Israel and they would survive the Egyptians, the Amalekites, the Moabites, the Philistines and all that history can would throw their way.

But, every blessing has a “down-side.” We know that when Balak, King of Midian, commissioned the pagan prophet Bilam to curse Israel, HaShem did not give him permission (BaMidbar [Numbers] 22:20). Instead Bilaam blessed them by finding a weakness in Israel and exploiting that weakness to near disastrous results (Bamidbar 25:1-9).

In Parshat Balak (Bamidbar 24:5) we were informed that the blessings Bilaam gave: “How goodly are your tents O Ya’akov and your dwelling places O Yisra’el” was used by Balak to weaken Israel in his attempt to destroy the sanctity of the Jewish home. Becoming a multitude too, has its drawbacks; if one becomes too plentiful, too powerful, too affluent, one just might be noticed. In next week’s Parsha, the Torah says: “And the Children of Israel were fruitful, teemed, increased and became strong – very, very much so; and the land became filled with them” Shemot (Exodus) 1:7.

Rabbi Ovadiya Yosef (former Sephardic chief Rabbi of Israel) in his commentary on the Passover Haggadah, quotes the Talmud in Tractate Megillah: when the Torah says “…the land became filled with them,” it actually means that the “circuses’ and theaters” were filled with Jews. The Talmud uses Roman terminology to express a common Jewish condition – Egyptian secular culture appeared to be inundated with Jews.

When an Egyptian “went to the movies,” he saw that “Hollywood” was filled with Jews setting the trends and creative direction behind the art form. When they went to the symphony they saw the same. So, too in the world of commerce, law, medicine, even politics. It seemed as if the Jews were everywhere and were taking over, our talents and contributions exceeded our meager numbers, it appeared as if Egypt was full of Israelites. If this doesn’t sit well with you, consider that while we only represent one quarter of one percent of the global population, Jews win 30 percent of the Nobel Peace prizes.

Being visible has its drawbacks. The nature of the Jew, blessed by G-d and man alike, is to rise to great heights. Our task is to bring the Oneness of HaShem to the world, but if we stray from that task and get lost in other pursuits, we end up filling the circuses and theaters.

Can you imagine a world where the Steven Spielberg’s, the Leonard Bernstein’s, the Baron Rothschild’s, the Justice Brandies’, the Dr. Salk’s and the Prime Minister Disraeli’s were able to express Torah values to humanity with the same talent, ingenuity, beauty, and creativity that they were blessed with? I am not trying to denigrate the artistic talents, but could you imaging what kind of a world we would live in if their talents produced holy culture? Instead they bring notice to us and we stand out and our successes defy the laws of social science and we are hated for it.

Yes we are a blessed nation, but that means that we will endure history until our voices unite as one, with all the talents and creative genius that we possess.

Chazak, Chazak, V’NitChazek – Strengthened, strengthened, May we all be strengthened.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

111231 – Parshat VaYigash

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VORTIFY YOURSELF
Reb Yosil Rosenzweig
rebyosil@gmail.com
Parshat VaYigash
Bereishit (Genesis) 44:18-47:27

Ezekiel 37:15-28

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Due to the fact that my website manager is off for the holidays, I am posting this week’s “Vort” a week early so that it can be programed to be sent out on time next week.

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A final confrontation takes place in our Parsha between Yosef and Yehudah. In last week’s Parsha Yosef demanded that the brothers return to Canaan and bring back their little brother Binyamin as a sign that they were not spies and that their story was true. After he meets his brother from his mother Rachel, he then placed a royal cup in Binyamin’s bag and Yosef accused him of stealing the cup and would remain forever in Egypt as Yosef’s prisoner. “VaYigash Eilav Yehudah – And Yehudah approached Him (Yosef),” and Yehudah and his brothers were prepared to go to war in order to save their brother Binyamin from the hand of this Egyptian tyrant. This event provided Yehudah and his brothers the necessary Tikkun (mechanism of healing) to repair their sin of selling Yosef into slavery 22 years before.

When Yosef saw the remorse and the fortitude that Yehudah showed, he then revealed himself to his brothers and said: “Ani Yosef Achicha, Ha’Od Avi Chai – I am your brother Yosef, is my father still alive (Bereishit 45:3)?” This question posed by Yosef is very odd. In all of the previous meetings between Yosef and his brothers the question of Ya’akov health and welfare came up repeatedly. Why now did Yosef ask this question after knowing in no uncertain terms that his father was still alive?

The commentaries speak at length about possible answers to this question. I would like to pose an answer that I heard from Rabbi Yissachar Frand, one of the heads of the Ner Israel Yeshivah in Baltimore. A number of years ago I was in Baltimore and I heard that Rabbi Frand gave a lesson on the week’s Torah portion. I went to the Agudah synagogue and found myself among a crowd of about 400 people who regularly come to hear his lectures. When it came to the question, “Is my father still alive,” he told the following story that made a huge impression on me.

There was a young boy in the Baltimore community whose father suddenly passed away. The Mitzvah of protecting and showing compassion to a Yatom – an orphan is very high among the Mitzvot in the Torah. Every year when the boy would begin a new grade in school, the Rebbi/teacher would try to show special interest in this unfortunate boy. He would sit the child near his desk and show him special attention. He would take the boy on outings and show great hospitality and graciousness to him and the boy rejected all signs of support. He would disrupt the class and behave in an unsuitable manner and eventually would end up in the back row of the class left to his own devices.

Each year a new Rebbi would go through the same process trying to show love and kindness to the boy but to no avail. The next year Rabbi Frand was the boy’s Rebbi and the same process held true again. No matter how much he tried, no matter how much he gave to the boy, the boy didn’t respond to any of his overtures. He ended up either disrupting the class or just sitting in the back row reading comic books.

As this time of year rolled around the Rabbi was teaching this Parsha’s lesson. Why did Yosef ask: “Ha’Od Avi Chai –is my father still alive?” Suddenly the boy looked up and raised his hand. It was the first time that whole year that the boy participated positively. Rabbi Frand asked the boy what he thought and the boy responded, “Yosef knew that the father of his brothers was still alive, but he asked, is MY father still alive. Yosef was in Egypt, the most decadent culture in the world. Yosef the young man left his father’s home full of Godliness and virtue and became an adult in the land of the occult, sorcery and corruption. Yosef knew that the father of his brothers still loved and cherished them, but did he still care about his lost son?”

At times, we all feel alienated from our father. We wonder if He still cares about us, if He thinks we are even worthy of His love. Over the past two years, with all the complications and all the pain, suffering and physical setbacks that I experienced, at times, doubt as to God’s concern for me drifted into my thoughts. Yes, I was trying to have a good attitude and feel the love of my Father in heaven, but sometimes I wondered if He still concerned Himself on my account.

I don’t believe that the answer is as important as the question. Like the brothers, we too must make our Tikkunim – our repairs. It is through the despair and the turmoil that our true relationship develops. In the mystical tradition there is a concept called Yeridah L’Tzorech Aliyah – descent for the sake of ascension, at times we must descend in order to rise. After Yosef asked his question he knew the answer, of course my father is alive, he never forsook me, he never gave up on me, and he never felt me unworthy. Those of us who have asked the same question, with the same yearning to be reunited with our Father, know the answer, our father lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

111217 – Parshat VaYeishev / Chanukah

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VAYEISHEV

Bereishit (Genesis) 37:1-40:23

Haftorah ‑ Amos 2:6‑3:8

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Some Laws and Customs of Chanukah

Chanukah begins the evening on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 and continues through the day of December 28, 2022. Below I have listed the basic laws for lighting the Chanukah Menorah/Chanuki’ah. If you have any questions you should consult with your own Rabbi.

1. On the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit.

2. Oil or candles may be used as the source of the flame to light the Menorah (pure olive oil and cotton wicks are preferable).

3. Each evening they are to be placed in the Menorah from the left side to the right and are to be lit from the right side to the left.

4. Each member of the family (all generations and all genders), should be encouraged to purchase, prepare and light their own Menorahs.

5. On the first night of Chanukah, three ‘Berachot’ (blessings) are said before the lights are kindled (one cannot fulfill the Commandment of lighting the Menorah by listening to a recording or electronic transmission of the Berachot). The ideal time for lighting is just after sunset.

  • First Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvotav V’Tzivanu L’haDlik Ner Shel Chanukah – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah lamps.
  • Second Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, Sh’Asah Nisim La’Avotaynu, BaYamim HaHeim BaZeman HaZeh – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has done miracles for our ancestors in bygone days, at this time.
  • Third Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, SheheChe’yanu, VeKiyemanu VeGigi’anu LaZeman HaZeh – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has given us life, and has sustained us, and has brought us to this time.

The lights are then kindled.

6. On all other nights of Chanukah, only the first two Berachot are recited.

7. Afterwards, the two songs HaNerot HaLalu Anu MaDlikin – We Kindle these candles, and Ma’oz Tzur – O Mighty Stronghold, are recited.

8. It is customary to light one extra light in addition to the required number of lights for the given night. The extra light is called the ‘Shamash – the assistant or helper.’ The ‘Shamash’ should be used for kindling the Chanukah lights, and one may derive benefit from its light. It is customarily to be placed on the Menorah, but not in line with the other lights; either above or below or in front or behind. A deviation in height should be used which makes it obvious that the ‘Shamash’ is not one of the regular lights.

9. The Chanukah lights themselves may not be used for any purpose other than the contemplation of their beauty and meaning while they burn in fulfillment of the Mitzvah.

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Then Ya’akov (Jacob) rent his garments and placed sackcloth upon his loins, he mourned his son [Yosef] for many days” (Bereishit 37:34). Our tradition teaches us that the greatest pain a person can experience occurs when one buries their own child. Other forms of death are expected – we hope to outlive our parents. While we all know intellectually that a parent who loses a child rarely can separate themselves from their bereavement, even so, I still have trouble reconciling that Ya’akov Avinu, Ya’akov our ancestor, a giant of a man who “struggled with G-d and with man and prevailed,” this patriarch who’s mystical characteristic is “beauty,” I have difficulty comprehending that he could not get past the “loss of his favorite son,” there has to be more to the story.

Even though RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 ‑ 1105) explains that in the above verse, the phrase “Yamim Rabim – for many days” means that Ya’akov mourned for over twenty years, corresponding to the years that he was separated from his own father. Still, it leaves me with a difficulty – why couldn’t Ya’akov’s life experience and faith console him to the fact that HaShem’s will is rarely clear but always correct?

The RaMBaN (an acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman [Nachmanides], Gerona, 1194 ‑ 1270) adds another dimension to this question. He relates the loss of Ya’akov’s son as a personal condemnation. The RaMBaN writes: “Until this time no child ever died in the Patriarchal household, for the offspring of the righteous were blessed. Because of this, Ya’akov mourned for his son for such a long period and refused to be comforted, for he considered Yosef’s death a personal punishment.”

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 84:21) asks why Yehudah (Judah) was consoled over the death of his son (Bereishit 38:7) while Ya’akov refused to be comforted over the apparent death of Yosef (37:35). The Beit HaLevi (Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, Brisk, Lithuania, 1820 – 1892) gives us the answer.

Ya’akov knew prophetically that one of the Patriarchs would give birth to 12 sons who would establish 12 tribes that would become HaShem’s nation. Ya’akov grieved not only over the loss of his son, but because he thought that after the death of Yosef, the twelve tribes were no longer intact and the very foundation of the Jewish nation was in question.

“…And he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep” Bereishit 28:11. The Midrash elaborates: “Ya’akov took twelve stones (and made a pillow of them and saw that angels were ascending and descending a ladder, he knew that HaShem had decreed that He would establish a nation of twelve tribes. Ya’akov said: ‘neither Avraham nor Yitzchak bore them. But if these twelve stones shall become one, I will know that I will be the one to establish the twelve tribes” (Bereishit Rabbah 68:11). And then the verse says: “And Ya’akov rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon its top” (28:18).

Ya’akov devoted his life to building the House of Israel. For this, he labored in the house of Lavan and suffered at the hands of Eisav. So when Ya’akov believed that one of the twelve tribes had been destroyed, he felt that his life’s work had been shattered. Therefore, he mourned Yosef for twenty-two years lamenting, “…I will descend mournfully to my son, to She’ol” (37:35).

The Yalkut Shimoni 143 (the best known and most comprehensive Midrashic anthology, attributed to Rabbi Shimon HaDarshan, Frankfurt, Germany, 13th century) describes it beautifully: “Ya’akov lamented: ‘The covenant of the tribes has been broken! How I struggled to establish twelve tribes, corresponding to the twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve hours of the day, twelve hours of the night, twelve months of the year, and twelve jewels of the Ephod (the breast plate worn by the High Priest)!”

For twenty-two years, Ya’akov suffered the frustration of his lost hopes and dreams. This must have been a tremendous ordeal, perhaps as great as the ordeal of the Akeidah (the trial of Avraham, to sacrifice his son Yitzchak). Ya’akov did not merely mourn the loss of his favorite son who died a premature and unnatural death. Nor was he depressed that the body of his son was never recovered. Ya’akov, a prophet of Israel, knew that the many struggles in his life were necessary to forge a “chosen” nation who would eventually bring enlightenment to the world. That objective was now crushed. This realization caused a mighty depression that consumed Ya’akov’s very essence.

RaShI teaches us that prophets lose their ability to receive prophesy when depression sets in. During the 22 years that Ya’akov mourned, he received no instruction, no communication, nor any divine consolation. He was unaware of why the channels were severed and imagined that it was possibly due to disrespecting his parents by not contacting them for those 20 years in the house of Lavan. The death of a patriarchal son had never happened before and he blamed himself.

We know that Yosef was not dead, and that he was paving the way for the 12 tribes to become a nation. He was fulfilling the covenant made between HaShem and his grandfather Avraham (15:13-16). Yosef’s separation from his father for 22 years was atonement for Ya’akov’s separation from his parents. The road to recovery is quite often set in motion by the very events that cause us so much pain. Ya’akov thought he understood HaShem’s direction, but he didn’t. He viewed this disappearance of Yosef not as a bump in the road but as the failure to realize his destiny. Ya’akov was in the dark.

If one was to kindle any of the Chanukah lights during the daytime, the resultant light would be practically insignificant. Our Chanukah lights are never used as torches, in fact, their only use is to be stared at; they are but small flames that in darkness shed a profound light. Ya’akov’s loss of his son Yosef left him in the darkness. Though he had the means to see, his sorrow did not allow him to see the light. Chanukah is a festival that forever reminds us that the light of HaShem’s beneficence constantly surrounds us, if we but open our eyes. May He Who has done miracles for our ancestors in bygone days; also show us His miraculous Presence at this time also.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil

111210 – Parshat VaYishlach

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“VORTIFY YOURSELF”

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshat VaYishlach

Bereishit (Genesis) 32:4 – 36:43

Haftorah – Obadiah 1:1-21

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This “Vort” is dedicated to the memory of Mickey Bodner A”H. He raised his family to be pillars of their individual communities, Yirei Shamayim and Ba’alei Tzedakah.

V’yiZku LiRot Banim U’Vinei Banim Oskim BaTorah U’vMitzvot Al Yira’el Shalom – And he was worthy of seeing children and grandchildren involved in Torah and Mitzvot, let peace reign over Israel.

Tehei Nishmato Tzerurah B’Tzror HaChaim – May his soul be bound up in the everlasting bond of life.

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Our Parsha includes one of the most monumental events in Jewish history, the renaming of Ya’akov to Yira’el. This event occurs while he is returning home after 34 years away from his parents (14 years in the academy of Shem and Ever; 14 years working Rachel and Layah, and 6 years working for Lavan and accumulating great wealth).

Before he is reunited with his parents, he hears that his brother Eisav is advancing with an army of 400 warriors.  He readies himself through prayer and peace offerings, and if that should fail, Ya’akov prepares himself for battle. He divides his entourage in anticipation of the encounter. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, he crosses the River Yabok and encounters a very powerful force. “And Ya’akov was left alone and a MAN struggled with him until the break of dawn” (Bereishit 32:25).

RaShI sites a Gemara (Tractate Chullin 91a) that explains that Ya’akov suddenly remembered that he left a “Patch Katan” (a small jug) on the other bank of the river. It was while searching for the jugs that he encountered the Sar Shel Eisav (the guardian angel of Eisav). What compelled Ya’akov to endanger himself for just a few small jugs?

RaShI goes on to say that the possessions of a Tzaddik (a righteous man) are important to him, for [he knows that] they come through the Grace of HaShem. However, there is another explanation that is very interesting.

The Midrash tells us that thirty four years earlier, when Ya’akov was leaving Eretz Yisra’el to find a wife, Eisav made his son Alifaz (one of his more compassionate offspring, and who was raised on the knee of his uncle Yitzchak) swear to pursue and kill Ya’akov. Ya’akov camped one night and heard strange noises and discovered Elifaz. Elifaz declared to his uncle that he was ordered by his father to kill him. Ya’akov asked Elifaz what was the last lesson that they studied together, and he replied the tradition of Ani Nechshav K’met (a poor person is considered like a dead man). Understanding his uncles point, Alifaz took all of Ya’akov’s possessions and thereby fulfilled his oath to his father.

That night Ya’akov had a dream about angels descending and ascending a ladder stretched to the heavens (last week’s Parsha). One of the angels gave Ya’akov a miraculous Pach Katan (a small jug). This jug contained pure olive oil that when empty, suddenly became full again. Ya’akov used his jug to obtain the funds necessary to finance his trip to Lavan. That was the miraculous jug that Ya’akov left on the banks of the river and returned to retrieve. We’ll get back to the jug later.

As mentioned before, the Angel that fought Ya’akov was the guardian angel of Eisav. In fact, he has many names, Sama’el, Satan, the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), and Sitra Achra (the other side), just to name a few. They struggled, and the angel realized that he could not overpower Ya’akov. So he struck him on the thigh, wounding him (for this reason Jews don’t eat the hind quarter of cattle [see verse 33]). Then, when the sun began to rise, the angel had to leave, but not before Ya’akov had forced a blessing from Sama’el. Verse 29 reads; “No longer will it be said that your name is Ya’akov, but Yisra’el, for you have striven with the Divine and with man, and you have overcome (Ki Saritah Im Elokim V’Im Anashim VaTuchal).

Ya’akov (heal) represents the passive Jew. There are times that passivity is the proper approach. But, there are times when the Jewish people must be aggressive, and this is what Yisra’el represents (G-d wrestler). After this name change Ya’akov was not limited to passive responses. He had overcome the most powerful force one could encounter, and a metamorphosis took place in him, he became another being, he became Yisra’el.

For this reason his children became known as the Bnei Yisra’el (the Children of Yisra’el), and the land they inherited became known as Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Yisra’el). For they are aggressive in nature, they must continually wrestle with HaShem and with man in order to exist.

Let’s return to the Jug. Ya’akov passed this jug on to his son Levi. Eventually it was inherited by Aaron who was anointed with its oil and then anointed the Altar of the Tabernacle with it, and first filled the Menorah with its wondrous oil. It was passed on from High Priest to High Priest until finally after the Maccabees defeated the Greeks/Hellenists and entered the Holy Temple to resume the Holy service they couldn’t find oil to light the seven branched Menorah until someone found a Pach Katan (a small jug) of oil that miraculously stayed lit for eight days.

My friends, Chanukah is almost upon us (the 1st candle is lit the evening of Tuesday, December 20th). And one of the blessings that we say when we light our Menorahs is: Sh’Asah Nisim La’Avotaynu Ba Yamim HaHeim U’baZeman HaZeh (that You have performed miracles for our ancestors in those days and in this time). This blessing might have been said by the Maccabees when they witnessed the miracle of the Jug. And we, who have lived to see the birth pangs of our own redemption, can say the same blessing with total conviction.

But, sometimes we act like Ya’akov when we should be acting like Yisra’el. We must actively see the miracles that are occurring all around us and in every generation, from Auschwitz to the establishment of the State of Yisra’el, from the Six Day War to the return of over a million Soviet Jews to Eretz Yisra’el, from the battles against assimilation to the reawakening of our people all around the globe. True, these battles and these victories have taken their toll. In many ways, like Ya’akov we were also wounded, but we have prevailed.

This Chanukah let us light our Menorahs with the fervor of Jews who not only can make light, but who can see the light. Let us pour forth that never ending Pach Katan that is in each and every one of us. And, let us aggressively allow our light to shine, heralding the miracles that have fashioned us into Children of HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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