Thursday, November 25, 2010

Question on Dvar Torah for Vayeishev

I had a question on this week's dvar torah. I did not find anyone who speaks about it. In parshas Toldos, (26:6) it says that Yitzchak lived in Gerar which was in Eretz Yisrael. The word used to describe how he lived is " וַיֵּשֶׁב"! How come it wasn't a problem by Yitzchak? The only thing I saw which might be an answer is that all the meforshim explain there that this pasuk is coming to teach us that Yitzchak did what Hashem told him to do which was to live in Gerar and the word "וַיֵּשֶׁב" is not coming to teach us how he lived there. However, the word Hashem uses to tell Yitzchak to live in Gerar is "גור", from "גר"!

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayeishev

This week’s parshah starts off, “וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן” “Yaakov lived in the land which his fathers traveled in, the land of Canaan.”(37:1). The Kli Yakar asks two questions on this pasuk. First, why does the pasuk use two different words to describe how Yaakov and Yitzchak settled in Eretz Yisrael? By Yaakov the word is “וַיֵּשֶׁב” “settled”, and by Yitzchak it says “מְגוּרֵי” from the word גר, meaning a stranger or someone who has not settled that place, but rather is just passing through. It should either say that Yitzchak also settled the land or it should say that Yaakov was a גר, like his father? Why this double language? Secondly, why does the pasuk have to say “בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן”? We already know where Yaakov is from the end of last week’s parshah, plus, we know where Yitzchak and Avraham lived?
He answers with an important idea. The word “וַיֵּשֶׁב” implies a more permanent stage of settling. The pasuk is telling us that in the same place where Yaakov’s fathers had lived like nomads, Yaakov decided to settle in permanently. Even in the land which the Avos’ children were destined to settle, the Avos were not allowed to live there like permanent residents. Why not? After all, they were promised the land as inheritance, why did they have to wait to take it over?
Chazal teach us that tzaddikim are not allowed to live in comfort in this world, only in the world to come can they completely “relax”. While in this world, the job of a tzaddik is to perfect the world around him. He is not allowed to keep to himself and let everything take care of itself, he must look around and fix what he can. When Hashem saw Yaakov trying to live in peace in this world, he said, “You want to live in peace in this world and in the next world?” Because of this, the whole story with Yosef happened and Yaakov’s temporary peace was broken.
There is a very important lesson here which each and every Jew must take to heart. Everyone wants to live a peaceful life, to be able to go through life without worries, pain, troubles, and just be able to serve Hashem with joy. That is not the job of a Jew, however. Life is not supposed to be easy. We were put in this world in order to bring it to a level of kedushah which is not normally found down here on Earth. By accepting the Torah, we not only took responsibility for our own spiritual level, but for the whole world as well! So we can’t just allow the world to spin around us, we must be proactive and change what we can. Yaakov especially had this responsibility as one of the builders of the Jewish people. Because he tried to ignore this task, he was forced back into it by eventually going down to Mitzrayim to build up an extremely impure area to serve as the Jewish people’s home for 210 years.
If we can keep ourselves on a high level and bring the world to a higher level at the same time, we will merit a place in the World to Come, where we will be able to “relax” in a completely spiritual place. (In fact, just because we accepted the Torah, Hashem has already promised each Jew a spot in Olam Habah [World to Come], and the better you are in this world, the larger your portion is.) Because we have this in our future, Hashem does not allow us to “relax” in this world too! Here we must work! We must try to bring this world to the same spiritual level we hope to reach in Olam Habah.
May we all be able to fulfill our job to purify this world so that we may merit a greater portion in Olam Habah where we will finally be able to “relax”.
Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayishlach

This week’s parshah opens with Yaakov preparing for the conflict with his brother, Esav. His first move is to send messengers ahead to see what Esav’s attitude is towards him. He sends them with the following message for Esav. “כֹּה תֹאמְרוּן לַאדֹנִי לְעֵשָׂו כֹּה אָמַר עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב עִם לָבָן גַּרְתִּי וָאֵחַר עַד עָתָּה” “So shall you say to my master, Esav, ’so said your servant Yaakov: I have been living with Lavan and have delayed till now” (32:5). The message continues with an explanation of how Yaakov is very wealthy and wants only to be at peace with Esav.
Rashi focuses on the word “גַּרְתִּי” “have been living”. This is a very strange word to use as it is not used anywhere else in the Torah. A better word would have been “עבדתי” from the word “עבד”, servant, since he was really a servant to Lavan. He gives two explanations for it. The first is the focus on the root of the word, “גר” “stranger”. Yaakov is telling Esav that Yitzchak’s brachos which he blessed him with in Parshas Toldos, have not come true as Yaakov has not become anyone important, he was still just a regular, unimportant person in Lavan’s house. Therefore, there is no reason to be jealous since the brachos which Yaakov “stole” have not come true. The second explanation of Rashi is that “גַּרְתִּי” has the same numerical value (gematria in hebrew) as “תרי"ג”, 613, referring to the 613 mitzvos. Yaakov is telling Esav that even though he spent so much time in the house of a rasha, he still kept all the mitzvos and was still as big a tzaddik as he was before. Therefore, Esav would not be able to defeat him.
The Kli Yakar has a few problems with these explanations. First of all, he’s bothered by the fact that Rashi’s two explanations contradict each other, the first says that Yaakov was portraying himself as weak and the second one says that Yaakov was portraying himself as a strong opponent. You cannot say both of them at the same time. Also, according to the second pshat, why did Yaakov call himself Esav’s servant and send him gifts?
The Kli Yakar decides to say a different explanation by combining the two of Rashi. The first pshat stays the same, Yaakov is saying that the brachos have not come true since he is still a nobody and there is no need for Esav to fear him. He asks though, how could Yaakov deny the fact that brachos which his father gave him were not true? Isn’t this extreme disrespect? He answers that Yaakov explained to Esav that brachos only work for the person they were intended for. So since Yitzchak intended the brachos for Esav, even though Yaakov came and took them instead, they would still go to Esav.
Yaakov then preempts a question from Esav by using the second explanation of Rashi. Esav might ask that really the brachos have taken affect and the only reason Yaakov is not great is because he did not keep the mitzvos in Lavan’s house, one of the conditions for the brachos working. Yaakov explains through the use of the word “גַּרְתִּי” that he has kept all the mitzvos and still the brachos haven’t helped him at all.
This showdown was the first of many that have been and will be between Yaakov and Esav’s descendants. We must learn the lessons our Avos teach us through the Parshah in order that we will come out on top every time.
Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dvar Torah for Vayeitzei

This Shabbos I will be in the Golan with yeshiva so I won’t have time to write over a full Dvar Torah. Instead, I’d like to say over a thought I heard from my friend, Aron Hertz.

Chazal teach us that each one of the Avos had one specific middah in which they “specialized”. Avraham’s was Chesed, kindness and good deeds, Yitzchak’s was Avodah, serving Hashem, and Yaakov’s was Emes, truth. Yitzchak inherited Avraham’s middah of Chesed and combined it with his middah of Avodah, and Yaakov took both the middos of Avraham and Yitzchak and combined them with his own qualities, using them to personify the middah of emes. What this means exactly is something which could take pages to explain (maybe we will write about it next week), but in the meantime let’s leave it at that.

Aron wanted to explain how each one of these middos has stayed with us as we have traveled through our different galuyot (exiles). After the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple), the Jews knew from a prophecy by Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) that they would return to Eretz Yisrael and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash after seventy years. They considered this a great chesed from Hashem that even though they had sinned enough to have the Temple destroyed, it would only be seventy years till its’ rebuilding. Here we have Avraham’s middah. This not only includes you doing chesed, but also being able to recognize the chesed that someone else does for you. This is known as Hakaras Hatov, literally translated as recognizing good, basically meaning appreciation, which is one of the most important traits a Jew must have according to Chazal.

Skipping ahead a few hundred years, we come to the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash and the galus that continues since then. We have no promise as to when this galus will end and as a result, we must constantly work on our Avodas Hashem in order to stay strong in this time of darkness. At the times when we were shut out from the rest of the world, in the shtetls in Europe and the Jews in third world countries in Asia, we used them to build up our connection to Hashem through davening, learning Torah and living Jewish lives.

After World War II, when the walls of the shtetls and ghettos were torn down, and the Sephardic Jews came west, we entered the third stage of the galus. Now that we are again at the forefront of the world, it is more important now than ever for us to stick to our beliefs. It is our job as Jews to take all that is impure in the world and turn it into the good and pure thing it was supposed to be when Hashem created it. We must use the middah of Emes to insure that we stay true to our Jewish values in a world of turmoil. And just like Yaakov combined the middos of Avraham and Yitzchak in order to complete his middah of emes, we must also utilize all the middos of our Avos in order to stay truthful to our faith and each other.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bonus Dvar Torah for Toldos

the torah teaches us that when yaakov and esav were born, yaakov was holding on to esav's heel. rashi comments on this, " [This is] a sign that this one's (Esav)  reign will not end until this one rises up and takes it from him." what do you think this means? keep in mind that the exile we are in nowadays is called the exile of edom, another name for esav. this is because esav is the father of rome, which is the source for all modern day culture. do you think rashi means this literally, that we have to go and take it? can we just work on ourselves and recieve the kingship of the world? may be something else?
rashi says to look in pirkei d'rebbi elazar, perek 32. i saw it today and it seems to be saying that we have to stand up and take it from esav. what does that mean?

Please email or comment below with your ideas.

Dvar Torah for Parshas Toldos

This week’s parshah transitions us from Avraham to Yitzchak, and ends with the beginning of Yaakov’s journey as he begins building the Jewish people. Many famous stories are found in this parshah such as, the details surrounding Yaakov and Esav’s birth, Yitzchak going to Grar, and Yaakov “stealing” the brachos from Esav. However, I would like to focus on a very small and seemingly unimportant Rashi found at the end of the parshah.

After Yaakov tricks Yitzchak into giving him the brachos, Esav swears to kill him in revenge. Rivka, their mother, quickly learns of the situation, and arranges for Yaakov to flee immediately to her brother Lavan’s house. She tells Yaakov to hide out there until Esav calms down and it is safe for Yaakov to return home. And so, in the first pasuk of the seventh aliyah, the pasuk states, “וַיִּשְׁלַח יִצְחָק אֶת יַעֲקֹב וַיֵּלֶךְ פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם אֶל לָבָן בֶּן בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי אֲחִי רִבְקָה אֵם יַעֲקֹב וְעֵשָׂו” “And Yitzchak sent Yaakov and he went to Padan Aram, to Lavan the son of Besuel the Arami, the brother of Rivka, the mother of Yaakov and Esav.”(Bereishis 28:5) Avery obvious question on this pasuk is why did we have to say again that Rivka is Yaakov and Esav’s mother? By this point in the parshah we are pretty clear on this!

Rashi says something very strange here in his explanation. “אם יעקב ועשו: איני יודע מה מלמדנו” “I do not know what this is coming to teach us.” Wow! What could Rashi mean by this? The commentaries immediately try to answer what exactly Rashi is trying to say here. After all, if he didn’t have an explanation, why say anything? The Mizrachi answers that Rashi had several answers to choose from, but he couldn’t pick which one he felt was the most correct. Therefore, he wrote that he does not know what the explanation is in order that we would realize that there really is something to answer, we just have to figure out for ourselves which one is the most correct. (Notice how I say most correct and not just the correct one. This is because all the explanations are right since everyone who says an answer is saying with the right intentions, that this is all purely for the sake of learning Torah.) The Chizkuni says two answers. First, this is a proof to a gemarah in Baba Basra which says that most boys will be similar to their mother’s brother. Rivka had two sons, one was a tzaddik, and one was a rasha like her brother. Secondly, the pasuk is showing us that even though one was a tzaddik who was going to become the father of the Jewish people, and one was an evil man who was trying to kill him, she was the mother of both of them and therefore was equally concerned for both.

I think, however, that the most important point to take out of this Rashi is in the actual words that he says. “I don’t know”. How hard is it for us to admit something like that? Whether to teachers, parents, friends, and even to ourselves, it is very hard for people to admit that they are ignorant of something. So here is Rashi, the foremost commentator on pretty much every part of the Written and Oral Torah, coming right out and saying that he just does not know what the Torah was trying to tell us! Even if you say like the Mizrachi that Rashi had several answers, still, he doesn’t write that in his commentary, he does not use that to try and defend himself. He just comes right out and says it, “I don’t know what this pasuk is coming to teach us”. Can we imagine something like that? Being able to write down in a book which millions of people have already and will read, to openly admit that you don’t understand what is going on? And if you think this was a onetime thing, think again. Rabbi Akiva Eiger in Maseches Berachos (25b) lists forty- four places from all over Chumash, Gemarah, and other parts of the Torah, where Rashi says he does not know the explanation.

As much as we use the Torah and the stories of our forefathers to learn how we should live our lives, there is much to be gained from the people who studied the Torah as well, for they received all of their middos (character traits) from their study of it.

May we all internalize the lessons of this week’s parshah as well as the lessons of Rashi so that we may all witness the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash in our time.

Shabbat Shalom!

Click here for a bonus Dvar Torah on Toldos