Friday, December 30, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayigash

This week’s parshah is the completion of the drama of Yosef when he finally reveals his true identity to his brothers. For Yaakov, this was an impossible dream come true. His beloved son was still alive! It’s hard to imagine what such a reunion must have been like, but lucky for us, the Torah documents the entire scene.

In Perek 46, Pasuk 29, right at the beginning of Shishi, the pasuk says, “…וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו וַיִּפֹּל עַל צַוָּארָיו וַיֵּבְךְּ עַל צַוָּארָיו עוֹד” “…And he (Yaakov) appeared to him (Yosef) and he (Yosef) fell on his neck, and he (Yosef) wept on his (Yaakov’s) neck for a long time.” This translation follows Rashi’s explanation which leads into a famous question, how come Yosef fell on Yaakov’s neck and cried while Yaakov seemingly has no reaction whatsoever? Not exactly the reaction we were expecting!

Rashi brings a very famous Midrash which explains that Yaakov was saying Shema when Yosef came. Since he couldn’t stop in the middle, Yosef was left to cry by himself. The very next pasuk shows Yaakov’s true reaction, “וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל יוֹסֵף אָמוּתָה הַפָּעַם אַחֲרֵי רְאוֹתִי אֶת פָּנֶיךָ כִּי עוֹדְךָ חָי” “And Yisrael said to Yosef, ‘Now I can die since I have seen your face and you are still alive.”(46:30). Yaakov also had a very emotional reunion, however, his reaction was a little delayed since he was in the middle of saying Shema.

The Sifsei Chachamim has a problem with this Midrash. If it was now the time to say Shema, how come Yosef wasn’t saying Shema along with Yaakov? He also has an obligation to say Shema at a certain time, so how come he was not saying it at this time as well? The first answer is that Yosef was in the middle of the mitzvah of כיבוד אב, honoring his father. We have a rule that if you are in the middle of preforming one mitzvah, you are not obligated to fulfill another mitzvah in the meantime. Since Yosef was in the middle of כיבוד אב, he did not have to say Shema at that time, while Yaakov had no such mitzvah and therefore was not excused from saying Shema.

A second answer he brings is based on a gemarah in Brachos (13b). The gemarah explains that if someone is טרוד, meaning that they are completely involved in whatever they are doing, they are excused from reading the entire Shema and fulfill their obligation with just the first verse of שמע ישראל ה' אלוהינו ה' אחד. For example, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, also known as Rebbi, the author of Mishnayos, never said more than the first verse of Shema since he was constantly involved with teaching his students. So too by Yosef, he was completely involved with running Egypt and now was involved in כיבוד אב, so he did not have time to say more than the first verse. Therefore, he finished Shema long before Yaakov did, and started crying while Yaakov was still finishing up.

Still, it is a little strange that Yaakov decided to start saying Shema right now. His beloved son, whom he has not seen in over twenty years, is on the way to see him! How can he all of a sudden decide to say Shema now? He’ll still have time to say it afterwards! There are a few different answers, however, I would like to take one from an explanation of the Ramban. In order to answer a separate question on this pasuk, the Ramban brings up a point from last week’s parshah that the brothers did not recognize Yosef since they had not seen him for 22 years. Yaakov, with his bad eyesight (he was 130 years old!), couldn’t recognize Yosef either! I would like to take this point for this question as well. Yaakov did not recognize that Yosef was there, so he decided to start saying Shema. In the meantime, Yosef arrives and immediately embraces him.

We can maybe learn another reason why Yaakov said Shema here by understanding what Shema is. Shema is our proclamation to Hashem that he is our one and only G-d who runs the entire world, that we accept on ourselves the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos, that our entire lives are in his control. It can be said to thank Him or to exalt Him. By saying it, we show a complete acceptance and understanding of the events in our lives. And from it we can receive inspiration for the other parts of our day.

Knowing this, we can understand why Yaakov said Shema at this point. Yaakov never thought he was ever going to see Yosef again. His probably didn’t even know how to react, so he did the one thing that he knew would allow him to see the whole event from its’ proper perspective, he said Shema. He was able to freeze this moment in time and understand how this unbelievable event came from Hashem.

Through saying Shema, he was able to take this event and use it to inspire himself in other aspects in his life. Seeing this impossible dream come true, Yaakov was inspired and saw more clearly than before how Hashem runs everything in this world.

I think this a good question to ask ourselves going into Shabbos, where does our inspiration come from? How do we inspire ourselves in our daily routines? The secret is to step back and recognize how everything comes from Hashem. Maybe then we too can use the secret of Shema to inspire ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dvar Torah for Shabbos Chanukah

We all know the story of Chanukah, the Jews defeated the mighty Greek army and returned to the Beis Hamikdash. When they came to light the Menorah, they could not find any pure oil to light it with until, after a long search, they found enough oil to last one night. They lit the Menorah and the oil lasted miraculously for eight days. To commemorate this great miracle, we celebrate eight nights of Chanukah. There is a very famous question from the Beis Yosef concerning these eight nights. While the Menorah stayed lit for eight days, the actual miracle only lasted for seven nights as there was already enough oil to last for one night! So really we should celebrate seven nights, not eight?

There are literally hundreds of answers to this question. I have decided to use the answer found in the Kedushas Levi, written by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Mi’Berditchev, for this Dvar Torah.

He explains that we are really commemorating two miracles here. The first day commemorates the miracle of the battle against the Greeks. The fact that Hashem helped us defeat the much stronger and larger Greek army is reason enough to establish a chag. The other seven days represent the miracle of the Menorah. So the eight days of Hallel and Thanksgiving are for both these reasons, the miracle of the war and the miracle of the Menorah.

According to this explanation, another question arises. If the miracle of the Menorah has nothing to do with the first night of Chanukah, then why do we light the Menorah on that night? The Kedushas Levi answers that once the nation saw the miracle of the oil, they realized that the entire Chanukah miracle, including the battle, was only through the zchus of the menorah. What exactly does this mean? What is so special about the Menorah that we had the miracles of the war and the oil because of it?

When the Greeks came and took over the Beis Hamikdash, they did not allow any of the daily service to continue. Korbanos, the Ketores, the Levi’im’s singing, the lighting of the Menorah, they were all discontinued. The Bnei Yisrael had no opportunity to even commemorate any of these services as they are all specific to the Beis Hamikdash, except the Menorah. When we light Shabbos candles or the Ner Tamid in Shul, they fulfill the same purpose as the Menorah, to have candles of Kedushah lit at all times, even outside of the Beis Hamikdash.

If there is something you really want that is sitting right in front of you, and you cannot get to it, it makes it even more precious to you. That is Hashem’s attitude towards our Shabbos candles, they remind Him of the holy lights of the Menorah that were lit in the Beis Hamikdash, making them more precious to Him than any other part of the Avodah. During the time of Greek occupation, the Jews would light their Shabbos candles and think longingly of the Beis Hamikdash and the opportunity to once again do the Avodah. Because this longing came through the lights of the candles, Hashem brought the Beis Hamikdash back through the zchus of the Menorah’s light.

What an idea to take into Shabbos Chanukah! Both the Shabbos and Chanukah candles remind Hashem of the Beis Hamikdash and show our desire to once again perform the Avodah. What better time to act on this than the time when we light both of these candles. So when you light your Chanukah candles this week, realize that they don’t just symbolize the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days or even the Menorah itself, they represent the entire service done in the Beis Hamikdash. May this Chanukah bring the Geulah which we have all been waiting for.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayeishev

Parshas Vayeishev contains one of the hardest events to understand in the entire Torah, the sale of Yosef by his brothers. There are so many details here which have to be explained. Who was right in the argument between the brothers and Yosef? Didn’t Yosef realize how he was damaging his relationship with his brothers by telling over his dreams to them? Didn’t Yaakov realize the tension he was creating by favoring Yosef over his other sons? And how could the brothers sell Yosef like a common stranger? Did he really act that wrongly? Still, we must be very careful in explaining this story as all the people involved were world-class tzaddikim acting only for the sake of Hashem. Each commentator has their own way to explain the different aspects of this very difficult episode. I would like to focus on one such point.

At the beginning of Shlishi, Yosef comes to where his brothers are shepherding and they proceed to throw him into a pit. Before they threw him in, the pasuk says, “…וַיַּפְשִׁיטוּ אֶת יוֹסֵף אֶת כֻּתָּנְתּוֹ אֶת כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו“…and they stripped Yosef his tunic, the fine woolen tunic that was on him” (Bereishis 37:23). The Meforshim explain that Yosef was wearing two layers, his regular shirt and his special כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים (fine woolen tunic) that Yaakov had given him. They stripped him of both and threw him into the pit. But why did they take off his special coat? Was it really necessary? I believe that this point is what bothers the Meforshim here.

There are basically two reasons that come out from the Meforshim why the brothers would take Yosef’s coat from him, either because of jealousy or because they needed the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים for later on when they showed the torn, bloody coat to Yaakov to make him believe Yosef had been killed. When Rashi comments on the words “כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים” in this pasuk, he describes it as “הוא שהוסיף לו אביו יותר על אחיו“This is the one his father added for him over his brothers”. This sounds as if Rashi holds that they took it purely out of jealousy. The Rashbam, who happens to be Rashi’s grandson, says that this assumption is completely wrong and they only took the coat in order to use it to fool Yaakov.

The Kli Yakar gives two answers for why they took both of his layers off. The first answer is that Yosef was afraid that the brothers would steal his כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים, so he sewed it to his shirt underneath, thinking that the brothers wouldn’t let him walk around without a shirt! But the brothers were determined and took off both of his layers. His second answer is that Yosef put his כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים underneath his regular shirt to hide it from his brothers. So in order to take it off, they had to take off his regular shirt as well. The Kli Yakar doesn’t say either one of our two reasons why the brothers needed the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים straight out, let us see if we can figure out which one he follows.

In pasuk 26, Yehuda convinces the brothers to sell Yosef rather than kill him. His reasoning is, “מַה בֶּצַע כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת אָחִינוּ וְכִסִּינוּ אֶת דָּמוֹ“What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover his blood?” (37:26). Rashi explains that Yehuda meant what monetary gain would there be in killing Yosef. The Kli Yakar explains this as follows. After Reuven’s rash actions in last week’s parshah (See 35:22), Yaakov took away his firstborn right to a double inheritance and gave it to Yosef. If the brothers would now kill Yosef, that extra portion would be divided amongst all of them at Yaakov’s death, hence the monetary gain. However, since they would never be able to tell Yaakov about Yosef’s death, Yaakov would never give it to them because of the possibility of Yosef still being alive! Even after Yaakov’s death, the land would still be held up in Beis Din till proof could be brought of Yosef’s death. However, if they sold Yosef, there would be a monetary gain. Being a slave, anything Yosef owned would immediately belong to his master. When Yaakov would find out that Yosef’s double portion in Eretz Yisrael would be going to an Egyptian, he would never have allowed that to happen! So he would have taken away the double portion from Yosef and given it to all the brothers, giving them a monetary gain through this sale.

An obvious question arises from this Kli Yakar, what does he mean there was no gain to killing Yosef since they could never tell Yaakov about his death? We see later in Pasuk 32 that they showed to Yaakov the bloody כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים in an effort to convince him that Yosef was in fact dead (though they didn’t say that explicitly)! I think this proves that the Kli Yakar holds like Rashi, that they took the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים purely out of jealousy and that they were not even thinking of using it to fool Yaakov at the time that they took it.

While I originally came up with this answer on my own, I later found it by reading the very next Kli Yakar where he writes this explicitly. While I’m glad I was able to figure out his opinion by myself, I feel even better that he says it as well!

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayishlach

Parshas Vayishlach brings us to the long awaited showdown between Yaakov and Esav. The pesukim explain three ways that Yaakov prepares for this meeting: he davens to Hashem, sends presents to Esav in order to show respect for him, and prepares his family for war. However, there is one more preparation he made which is not listed in the pesukim.
In Perek 32 pasuk 23, the pasuk says, “וַיָּקָם בַּלַּיְלָה הוּא וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁתֵּי נָשָׁיו וְאֶת שְׁתֵּי שִׁפְחֹתָיו וְאֶת אַחַד עָשָׂר יְלָדָיו“And he arose during the night and he took…his eleven children”. Rashi explains that we know Yaakov had only eleven sons (since Binyamin had not yet been born), so the pasuk must be excluding someone by saying a specific number. Rashi brings a medrash which says that the Torah is excluding Dinah, Yaakov’s daughter, who was a very beautiful girl and would have therefore caught Esav’s eye right away. In order to protect her from this, Yaakov put her in a box and hid her from sight. However, we see that this was not the right thing to do. The medrash explains that Yaakov was punished for hiding Dinah by having Shechem kidnap her. The reason for he was punished, the medrash explains, is because “שמא תחזירנו למוטב“Perhaps she would have returned him (Esav) to virtuous conduct”.
This brings up several questions. First off, why would Yaakov have to consider this possibility of Dinah bringing Esav to do Teshuvah? Why would she be able to do what no one else could? Also, why was the punishment having Shechem kidnap her? Lastly, if Yaakov should have thought of this, why did he put her in the box to begin with?
I will begin my explanation with the last question. Dinah was Leah’s daughter. As we saw in last week’s parshah, Leah expected to marry Esav and spent many long hours crying that she would marry such a huge Rasha (See Bereishis 29:17). When the opportunity presented itself to marry Yaakov, she jumped at it and never looked back, becoming the mother of half of Klal Yisrael. Can you imagine what was going through Leah’s head as Esav came closer and closer? All those years of depression and bad memories were headed right towards her, in human form! Can you imagine what her reaction would have been if Esav had actually shown interest in her daughter? It might have been the worst thing that could ever happen to Leah in her entire life! To have the man who tortured her thoughts for so many years come and take her daughter! This is why, in my opinion, Yaakov hid Dinah away, to protect Leah from that possibility.
Now that we understand why Yaakov hid Dinah, still how do we know that she could have brought Esav to do teshuvah? The answer is Yaakov’s punishment. The day after Shechem takes Dinah, he decides he wants to marry her. Why would he do this? He is the prince of a powerful nation and so he can do whatever he wants. Why would he decide to make this a legitimate relationship when he can keep her without it? We clearly see that Dinah had an effect on wicked people which made them see the error of their ways and made them realize that they had to change their way of living. In a way, you can say that Dinah was the greatest Kiruv personality in history! (And still Esav was so bad that Rashi says Dinah might have had an effect on him). This is also the reason why Yaakov was punished this way, this episode with Shechem showed him how wrong he was to hide Dinah form his brother.
After understanding this aspect of Dinah, we can dig a little deeper to try and figure out where she fit in to her family. Dinah was different from the rest of Yaakov’s children in several ways. While Yaakov had other daughters, she is the only one mentioned in the Torah. This is partly because of another point about Dinah, that she was supposed to be a boy, but Leah davened that the fetus should change into a girl (See 30:21). Pirkei D’Rabbi Elazar tells us another difference about Dinah, that she was born without a twin. Each one of the Shevatim were born with a twin sister who was their soul mate, everyone except Dinah and Yosef who were born alone. The Radal comments on this that since every son was born with his soul mate, when Yosef was born, everyone assumed that he was destined to marry Dinah as they were the only separate births (yet another reason for Yaakov to hide her in the box). However, once she was defiled by Shechem, this was impossible.
If we examine the traits of Yosef and Dinah, it appears to be a perfect Shidduch! Dinah was supposed to turn bad into good, for this she would need someone to protect her from the harmful effects that bad could have on her. Yosef was the perfect person for this as he was impervious to Ayin Hara, the evil eye, and could protect those around him from it as well. Dinah would in turn help Yosef turn bad into good, thus teaching us that everyone has a responsibility to help make the world a more spiritual place. The ironic thing about this Shidduch is that while Dinah was the one person who could bring Esav to teshuvah, Yosef was the one who had the power to help Yaakov defeat Esav! We see in last week’s parshah that Yaakov only decided to return home, which would result in his confronting Esav, after Yosef was born. The pasuk in this week’s Haftorah says, “וְהָיָה בֵית-יַעֲקֹב אֵשׁ וּבֵית יוֹסֵף לֶהָבָה, וּבֵית עֵשָׂו לְקַשׁ, וְדָלְקוּ בָהֶם, וַאֲכָלוּם“And the house of Yaakov will be fire and the house of Yosef will be a flame, and the house of Esav will be straw, and they shall ignite them and consume them…” (Ovadyah 1:18). Yosef was the spark Yaakov needed to ignite the flames which would consume Esav. So Dinah was supposed to save him and Yosef was supposed to destroy him! I would venture to answer that Yosef would only destroy Esav if Dinah failed in her mission, but if she succeeded, it would be unnecessary for Yosef to do anything.
But as we have discussed, Dinah was supposed to marry Esav, not Yosef, and therefore was born alone. So why was Yosef born alone? Who was he supposed to marry? Pirkei D’Rabbi Elazar tells us that as well. Yosef’s soul mate was none other than Osnas, Dinah’s daughter! So we see that Yosef was supposed to marry someone with Dinah’s character traits. And if you think that Dinah has nothing to do with this, why wouldn’t Osnas have been born together with Yosef like the rest of the brother’s soul mates were!
We also see that Osnas inherited some of her mother’s qualities as she was able to raise two sons, Menashe and Efraim, to be tremendous tzaddikim, all while living amongst the idol-worshipers in Egypt. So it can make sense that Osnas was Yosef's soul mate. 
       Using this חשבון, we can learn a lot more about our ancestors. Yaakov’s sensitivity, Yosef’s greatness, and Dinah’s Ahavas Hashem. For only someone who has a tremendous amount of love for Hashem could walk into the evil world of Esav and turn it into a place of Torah. 

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Dvar Torah This Week

I will be in Nov this Shabbos with yeshiva and will not be able to post a new Dvar Torah this week. In the meantime, please enjoy last year's Dvar Torah on Parshas Vayeitzei (link below) and we will G-d willing be back next week!

Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Toldos

As Sefer Bereishis contains only three mitzvos, it is easy to assume that the stories found throughout these parshiyos are just that, entertaining children’s stories. However, as we have learned, Chazal teach us that all these stories have a purpose, to show us how to act and serve Hashem in the best way possible. And who better to learn from than Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov! This week’s Dvar Torah is a perfect example of this.
At the beginning of Perek 26, a famine has spread throughout Eretz Yisrael and Yitzchak prepares to move out to find food. Hashem appears to him and tells him, “אַל-תֵּרֵד מִצְרָיְמָה שְׁכֹן בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ גּוּר בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת וְאֶהְיֶה עִמְּךָ וַאֲבָרְכֶךָ“…Do not go down to Egypt, dwell in the land that I will tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and I will bless you…” (Bereishis 26:2-3). These pesukim seem quite strange. First Hashem tells Yitzchak not go to Egypt and to await further instructions of where to go. It sounds as if it will be a while before these instructions are given, but then he immediately tells him to stay right where he is! What is the meaning of this?
The Ramban explains that it’s not that the first pasuk is telling Yitzchak to wait for instructions and the second pasuk is giving them, rather the context of the pasuk is different. In reality, Yitzchak is not fleeing his home because of the famine, this pasuk is speaking regardless. Yitzchak is now beginning to live as a nomad like his father, Avraham. This is for two reasons, first, that the Avos were not allowed to act as if they owned Eretz Yisrael while the Canaani were still ruling there, and secondly, Hashem did not want the Avos to have any permanent dwelling in this world. He wanted that they should live permanently only in the World to Come. (We will hopefully to continue discuss these reasons more in later Parshiyos.) Before he left, Hashem warns him not to go down to Mitzrayim, and to only live in places where he will tell him to live in. He then tells him that no matter where he travels to, he should always stay in Eretz Yisrael, “גּוּר בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת“Live in this land”. He should never leave to go to a different country.
The Kli Yakar explains that there are two points in these pesukim which we must recognize. First, it is impossible to receive Nevuah (Prophecy) outside Eretz Yisrael, so in order for Hashem to continue to be able to talk to Yitzchak, Yitzchak had to stay in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, the pasuk says, “שְׁכֹן בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ”, which he translates this to mean, “Live in the land, where I will speak to you”! Afterwards, he tells him, “גּוּר בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת”; there is a fundamental difference between the words “גּוּר” and “שְׁכֹן”. “גּוּר" denotes a much more temporary residence than “שְׁכֹן”. Hashem is telling Yitzchak that while he should make Eretz Yisrael his permanent home in the spiritual sense (שְׁכֹן), it should still remain his temporary home in the physical sense (גּוּר).
It is so easy for us in Galus to become comfortable with our surroundings and forget what our real purpose in this world is. Chazal tell us that this world is nothing but the hallway to the house which is Olam Habah. Of course it is easier to reach these tremendous heights in a place with so much Kedushah, but even if we are in Eretz Yisrael, the only place where there can be a complete revelation of the Shechinah, we still cannot look at it as our final stop. This world is but a step towards the real reward, the real resting place, of Olam Habah. The Avos could reach these high levels in this world, and still they realized the real purpose of it all. We must follow in their footsteps and work towards this final goal.

Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Chayei Sarah

       In this week’s parshah, Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, is sent on a mission to Aram Naharayim, the hometown of Avraham’s brother, to find a wife for Yitzchak. Miraculously, he arrives at the well outside of the city on the very same day he left and davens to Hashem to help him find the right girl. He says that whichever girl he asks to give him water to drink offers not only him to drink but his camels as well, will have proven herself to be a big enough Ba’alas Chesed (Person whose natural tendency is to do kind acts for other people) to be worthy of marrying into the family of Avraham who was the ultimate Ba’al Chesed. Rivka did exactly this, prompting Eliezer to thank Hashem for this immediate answer to his prayers and give her gifts.
       The Pasuk in Shlishi describes the gifts Eliezer gave Rivka at the well. “…וַיִּקַּח הָאִישׁ נֶזֶם זָהָב בֶּקַע מִשְׁקָלוֹ וּשְׁנֵי צְמִידִים עַל יָדֶיהָ עֲשָׂרָה זָהָב מִשְׁקָלָם“…the man took a golden nose ring, its weight a beka, and two bracelets on her arms, ten gold shekels their weight” (Bereishis 24:22). Rashi explains that there was a deeper significance behind these gifts. The gold ring weighed a beka, the same weight as the half-shekel which each person in Bnei Yisrael gave to the Beis Hamikdash in order to pay for the Public Sacrifices which would be brought throughout the year. The two bracelets he gave her represented the two Luchos (Tablets) which were given at Har Sinai and they weighed ten gold shekels to represent the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments) that were on them. But why did he do this? Why did Eliezer or whoever gave him these presents, choose to represent these two mitzvos with Rivka’s gifts?
       The Gur Aryeh answers that with the representation of these two mitzvos, Rivka became a complete person. The Mishnah is Avos teaches us, “על שלושה דברים העולם עומד, על התורה ועל העבודה ועל גמילות חסדים“The world stands on three things, on Torah, service of God, and on acts of kindness” (Avos 1:2). As we said earlier, Rivka was a tremendous Ba’alas Chesed, she watered a group of men and ten camels all on her own! The bracelets represented the Luchos, which represent Torah, and the ring represented the half-shekel which helped paid for Korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash, executing the service of God. By receiving these gifts, Rivka now had all three properties necessary to support the world.
       The Kli Yakar answers that the half-shekel nose ring was given as a “protection” for the two Luchos bracelets. He explains that one of the reasons why the first set of Luchos were able to be destroyed was because of Ayin Hara (Evil Eye). In order to avoid Ayin Hara, we try not to broadcast or call extra attention to any big events or special traits that we have, at least not more than is necessary. The miracles surrounding the giving of the Torah are well documented in Parshas Yisro. The lightening, the thunder, the mountain floating in the air, Hashem himself on the mountain, the entire world aware of the tremendous event that was taking place, all of these huge miracles opened the Luchos up potentially to the effect of Ayin Hara. Normally, Hashem would have protected the Luchos from this but with the sin of the Golden Calf, this protection was lost, resulting in the Ayin Hara taking effect and the Luchos being destroyed. (It is not that the Luchos were destroyed only because of Ayin Hara, obviously it was because of the sin of the Jews. Still, the potential for Ayin Hara had always been there because of the great display by Matan Torah. So while the sin was the ultimate cause for the breaking of the Luchos, at the end of the day, the actual destruction came through Ayin Hara.)  
       The Kli Yakar explains that the punishment for causing an Ayin Hara to happen is for Ayin Hara to take effect over you. This is because of the rule of מדה כנגד מדה. In order to protect the Jews who were guilty of the Eigel (Golden Calf) from this punishment, Hashem commanded the nation to bring the Machatzis Hashekel (Half-Shekel), which is protection against Ayin Hara. This is why the mitzvah of Machatzis Hashekel was originally given in the desert, for the nation’s protection. One of the traits Eliezer looked for when he saw Rivka was whether or not she had Ayin Tova (a Good Eye). After seeing that she indeed did have this middah, he gave her the half-shekel ring as a protection against Ayin Hara, along with the Luchos bracelets as a symbol of what would be protected.
Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayeira

Last year we asked a question from the Ohr HaChaim on the first pasuk in Parshas Vayeira. “וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְ־הֹוָ־ה בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא“Hashem appeared to him (Avraham) in the plains of Mamre…” (Bereishis 18:1). In Biblical Hebrew, normally the “see-er”, in this case Avraham, is always written before the “seen”, in this case Hashem. The pasuk should read, “וירא ה' אליו”, with Hashem’s name being written first. Why then is it switched in this pasuk?

In short, the Ohr HaChaim translates “אֵלָיו” “to him”, as “עליו” “on him”. Because Avraham now had a Bris Milah, Hashem placed his Shechinah upon Avraham permanently. Had the pasuk been written according to normal grammar rules, I would not have been able to translate the pasuk this way. For a more extensive explanation, see last year’s Dvar Torah. (Link included below.)

This year, I decided to explain this pasuk using a different commentator, the Kli Yakar. He asks a slightly different question on the pasuk than the Ohr HaChaim. Instead of asking on the order of the words, he asks why does the pasuk use the pronoun, “אֵלָיו”, instead of just saying Avraham’s name, “וירא ה' אל אברהם“Hashem appeared to Avraham”? His first answer is that there are two reasons why Hashem would appear to someone, either because of a person’s position of greatness or because of his personal essence, meaning because of who that person fundamentally is. Avraham’s name in Hebrew is spelled אברהם, which is a combination of the phrase אב המון גוים, the “Father of Many Nations”. He was given this name because he became the father of the nations of Yisrael, Edom, and Yishmael amongst others. It would be very easy to assume that Hashem came to visit Avraham because of his important status of being the father of the most powerful future nations of the world, but in fact, Hashem appeared because Avraham himself was in essence a humble and righteous person. So the pasuk calls Avraham by a pronoun, “אֵלָיו”, to teach me that it was because of Avraham’s own special qualities that Hashem visited him and not because of his important status.

His second answer says exactly the opposite. Avraham’s original name was Avram, which was an abbreviation for the phrase, אב לארם, the “Father of Aram”, Avraham’s homeland. Chazal teach us that he was considered their father because he taught them about Hashem and brought them closer to Him. For this reason, he was worthy of being in the presence of the Shechinah. However, since he was still not circumcised, and therefore not complete in Hashem’s eyes, he was not worthy of it from his own standpoint. Now that he had a Bris, he was worthy of the Shechinah visiting him in his own right, leading the pasuk to write “אֵלָיו”. In order to prove to me that this was a result of the Bris, the pasuk tells me that Hashem appeared to him, “בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא“in the plains of Mamre” (ibid.). Rashi explains that since Mamre gave Avraham advice on whether to do the Bris Milah in public or not (a different topic for a different time), Hashem rewarded him by appearing in his territory. Since the reason Hashem appeared in Mamre’s territory is connected to Bris, it follows that he spoke to Avraham at that time because of the Bris Milah.

Just as last year’s Dvar Torah pasuk still applies, so too does last year’s message still apply. Whichever answer you learn in the Kli Yakar, we see that Avraham reached a different level after he had his Bris Milah. He became worthy of having the Shechinah rest on him. This great mitzvah is still available to us today! This possibility of having the Shechinah rest on us still exists! Let us use the mitzvah of Bris Milah and all the other mitzvos as a reminder of the levels that we can reach by following the Torah. May we all become worthy of another complete revelation of Hashem’s Shechinah with the coming of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom!


Click here to read last year's Dvar Torah on Parshas Vayeira

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Lech Lecha

Parshas Lech Lecha starts a new chapter in the Torah and in World History. We now focus on Avraham and his descendants, leading into to the time when they will become the Bnei Yisrael. One important thing to remember throughout the entire Sefer Bereishis is that even though it might seem to be a book of stories, it most certainly is not meant to be treated that way. Every episode that is recorded about the Avos (Forefathers) in the Torah is meant to teach us either something very special about them or to teach us lessons in how to live our own lives. So whenever we learn a story in this week’s and the coming weeks’ parshiyos, remember this rule.

Let’s focus on one pasuk in this week’s parshah and see how this idea works. After Avraham comes back from battling the four Kings, Hashem tells Avraham that even though now he is childless, eventually he will have descendants that will number more than the stars. The pasuk then says, “וְהֶאֱמִן בַּי־הֹוָ־ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה”, “And he believed in Hashem, and he accounted it to him as righteousness” (Bereishis 15:6). The Meforshim all try to explain the intentions of the pronouns at the end of the pasuk. Who exactly considered what an act of righteousness to whom?

Rashi explains that Hashem considered this great act of trust that Avraham showed him that he believed him even though it seemed impossible for this promise to come true, as a great act of righteousness on Avraham’s part. The question then becomes why is this specific act of righteousness mentioned in the Torah more than any of the others which Avraham surely did? The Seforno explains that right after this pasuk, the parshah continues with Hashem speaking to Avraham and promising Eretz Yisrael to his children. However, by this promise, Avraham asks Hashem “בַּמָּה אֵדַע כִּי אִירָשֶׁנָּה“…How will I know that I will inherit it?” (15:8). After the great show of faith in the previous pasuk, Avraham seems to take a pretty big fall, asking Hashem for proof that he will inherit the land! He answers that this pasuk is coming to teach you that this assumption is not true. If Avraham’s asking for a sign from God that he would inherit the land showed a lack of faith, Hashem would not have continued to consider the first pasuk as a show of faith and the pasuk would not have been left as is.

The Ramban translates the pasuk the opposite way; it can’t be that Hashem thought that this show of faith from Avraham was any better than any other great act on his part. After all, this is the man who will eventually go to kill his son for Hashem! Obviously he has a tremendous amount of Emunah! Rather, the pasuk is saying that Avraham considered this promise from Hashem to be an extremely righteous act on Hashem’s part. Both Rashi and the Ramban explain that after Avraham fought and defeated the four Kings, he was worried that his zchusim (merit) had run out. So Hashem tells him, “אַל תִּירָא אַבְרָם אָנֹכִי מָגֵן לָךְ שְׂכָרְךָ הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד“Fear not Avram, I am a shield for you; your reward is very great.” (15:1). When Hashem promises him a few pesukim later that he will have children, he promises him this not based upon Avraham’s great schar but rather “just because”, a gift to Avraham. Avraham considers this to be a great צְדָקָה, righteous act, from Hashem, and treats it as such.

According to both opinions, one question remains. Why did Avraham ask for a sign from Hashem that his children would inherit Eretz Yisrael but did not ask for one when Hashem promised him that he would have children? The Kli Yakar explains that there is a difference between an inheritance and a gift. A gift is given to you specifically, for you to keep forever. You do not have to worry about anyone taking it from you. However an inheritance is given to you over several other candidates who also have a claim to it. Hashem promised Avraham a child as a gift so Avraham was not worried about Hashem fulfilling that promise. But Eretz Yisrael was given over to all the children of Shem (the son of Noach), so the land had hundreds of potential inheritors, and Avraham was not sure if Hashem could fulfill his promise when all the other descendants of Shem also had an equal claim. Therefore, he asked Hashem to give him a special sign that he over all the other descendants would inherit Eretz Yisrael.

What sign does he give him? He doesn’t do a crazy miracle to back up his promise, he tells Avraham to perform a common ceremony which people used back then to make treaties to complete his promise. Furthermore, all the animals that Avraham used during this ceremony correspond to different korbanos that the Jews will do in the future in the Beis Hamikdash, in Eretz Yisrael.

The Avos are our blueprints for how we should relate to Hashem. As we go through the parshiyos of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, we must learn to recognize the lessons that are contained within their stories and use them to strengthen our Avodas Hashem. If we can internalize the message of the Avos, we will surely be worthy of the promises made in this week’s parshah, to be as many as the stars in the sky and the gift of Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom!

Check out last year's Dvar Torah for Lech Lecha here- we had an intersting discussion topic for last year's Dvar Torah. I'd be very interested to hear your opinion so please email or comment.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Noach

Because of Tiyul with yeshiva this week, I didn't have so much time to write up a dvar torah this week, so its more of a torah "thought". Either way, I hope you enjoy.

אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו אֶת הָאֱ־לֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ נֹחַ“These are the generations of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noach walked with G-d.”(Bereishis 6:9). This week’s parshah starts off with the introduction of Noach, the main character in this week’s parshah. This is the great man who was worthy of being the only human to survive the flood and destruction of the entire world. But how great was he really? Rashi brings a gemarah in Sanhedrin where Chazal argue how big of a tzaddik Noach really was. The key words in the pasuk are, “תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו“(Noach was) perfect in his generation”. The first opinion is that even in a time with more tzaddikim, such as the time of Avraham, Noach would have stood out as a great man. The other opinion in the gemarah is that the pasuk is teaching us that Noach was only perfect for his generation, however, if he had lived in the time of Avraham, he would have been a run-of-the-mill, albeit still good, person. But by no means would he have been perfect, like the pasuk says. (This is difficult to understand by itself as Noach was still worthy of speaking to G-d and of being saved when in reality G-d didn’t have to save anybody. So while more explanation is needed, this is not the point of our discussion so we will not do so here.)

The very next Rashi focuses on the words, “אֶת הָאֱ־לֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ נֹחַ“Noach walked with G-d”. Rashi explains that by Avraham the pasuk says that he walked before G-d (See 24:40), while here by Noach it says that he walked with G-d. What is the difference? The medrash explains that in order for Noach to stay a tzaddik, he needed Hashem next to him, supporting him the entire time to ensure he would stay on the correct path. Avraham, however, was firm in his beliefs and actions and therefore could support himself in his righteousness and therefore could walk “before” G-d. Rashi seems to be taking sides in this machlokes by bringing in this medrash which clearly goes like the second explanation that Noach was not a real tzaddik!

It is easy at this point to say that Rashi has shown us which side of the machlokes he follows and end it at that, but I believe we can see from another Rashi that he is not taking sides, rather he is bringing explanations for both sides. In pasuk 14, Hashem tells Noach to build a תבה, an ark. Rashi explains there, "הרבה ריוח והצלה לפניו, ולמה הטריחו בבנין זה, כדי שיראוהו אנשי דור המבול עוסק בה מאה ועשרים שנה ושואלין אותו מה זאת לך, והוא אומר להם עתיד הקב"ה להביא מבול לעולם, אולי ישובו."He (Hashem) has many ways of rescue, why then did he trouble him to build this (ark)? In order that the people of the Generation of the Flood would see him working on it for 120 years and ask him, ‘For what do you need this? ’And he would say to them, ‘Hashem is going to bring a flood to the world’. Perhaps they would repent.” The way I understood this Rashi is that he is saying that Hashem has many ways of rescue so why would Noach have to build a תבה when Hashem could do a miracle and save him. But I don’t understand, don’t we have a rule that “אין סומכין על הנס”, we don’t rely on miracles? And even without that, wouldn’t Noach have to do some sort of השתדלות in order to be saved? Hashem is not just going to make a huge miracle, like creating a giant bubble for Noach to live in during the flood, without Noach doing his part!

I believe from this Rashi we see like the opinion that Noach was a tzaddik. Therefore, of course Hashem would have saved him using a miracle, whether we are supposed to depend on them or not, and the only reason why he had to build the תבה was in order to give the generation a chance to do teshuvah. So Rashi has not “taken sides”, rather he is still explaining both sides of the machlokes, giving the same respect to all the sages involved.

Shabbat Shalom!