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

Please Like us on Facebook!

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.

Don't forget to Like us on Facebook!