Vayishlach – Loving Your Enemy

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Yaakov prepared for combat with Esav at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayishlach. Fearing the worst, he split up his camp, prayed to Hashem for salvation, and sent a peace envoys ‘with giftsto try to divert the incoming attack of Esav and his 400 mightiest warriors. The Torah portion begins: “Yaakov sent angels ahead of him to his brother Esav, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom. And he commanded them, saying: “So shall you say to my master to Esav, ‘Thus said your servant Yaakov, “I have sojourned with Lavan, and I have tarried until now. And I have acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, manservants, and maidservants, and I have sent to tell [this] to my master, to find favor in your eyes’ ” (Breishis 32:4-6).

The Ralbag learns a very fascinating lesson from this initial confrontation. He says: “It is befitting for one who has someone who hates him and he wants to remove the hatred from him, that he should come close to him with all his might and tell him some personal news. In this way he is bringing their hearts closer by not hiding anything. The point being that a person only informs his loved ones of personal news and hides it from his haters. With this, if so, by making a foundation in his heart that he is a loved one, and breaking his heart, you will remove the hatred from him. For this reason Yaakov sent messengers to Esav to inform him about what had happened to him in order to calm his heart that he is a loved one.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There was an obvious rift between Esav and Yaakov. Esav wanted to kill Yaakov at some point for “stealing” the birthright and blessings. He even sent his son to do the duty many years before, but his son only took all of Yaakov’s possessions which left him penniless and utterly embarrassed because he had no gifts in hand when he met his bride to be, Rochel, at the well. Granted that now he is trying to appease him, but how is it humanly possible to treat your enemy as your loved one by giving him personal information which most people wouldn’t divulge to a random stranger off the street, no less a sworn enemy?

It would seem that Yaakov, though apprehensive and ready to prepare for battle if need be, sincerely felt brotherly love, and sent a delegation to talk with Esav in a manner that only two loving friends or family would engage in.  Real sincerity must have been there, if it was to be successful in removing the hatred from Esav’s heart. It was not an allusion or trick, because people can see right through that. Indeed, it also seems from this Ralbag that, on the contrary, a person who hates another cannot simply tell his enemy personal information. There is something innately blocking him from doing that, and therefore by telling that information it demonstrates sincerity, which can melt the heart of your enemy.

The fact that the Ralbag brings this as a lesson shows us that this can be done by anyone, not just a Yaakov Avinu. As hard as it is to go over to someone with whom you are not on good terms and start engaging in small talk and treating him or her like your friend, if one can muster up the will and power to do so, then inevitably it will remove hatred from his or her heart, because you are sincerely showing love towards that person.

Vayetzei – Handling Depression

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In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, Yaakov, sometime after leaving his parents, is promised by Hashem in the famous dream of the Angels going up and down the ladder, that he will have many offspring. Furthermore: “And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you” (Breishis 28:15).

After this episode, the Torah remarks: “Now Yaakov lifted his feet and went to the land of the people of the East” (Breishis 29:1). The Radak explains what it means by “Yaakov lifted his feet.” “Since G-D promised him and showed him this great vision he was happy and he easily lifted his feet and walked joyously, with a good heart. For originally, he was walking with weakened feet, like a person running away from his father’s house depressed. But he did not run away in a rush like one who runs away from the sword because he was not afraid of the sword of his brother as long as his father was alive.”(Click here for Hebrew text.)   It sounds like on some level Yaakov was depressed; Hashem lifted his spirits, and Yaakov was elated with joy after being promised blessing, security, and salvation by Hashem.

How could Yaakov Avinu be depressed after he took away the blessings from his brother and was told by his parents to leave his home? Aren’t we supposed to serve Hashem with joy and accept with a full heart anything that Hashem brings our way, no matter how dire the circumstances may be? If that’s the case, how could Yaakov, one of our forefathers, a role model for his descendants, feel a sense of depression?

We have to put things into perspective; Yaakov always did the right thing. He sat in the tent learning Torah most of his younger years, and the Torah testifies that he was a sincere person. Yaakov did as he was told from beginning to end. He listened to his mother when she told him to get the blessings. He now listened to his father (and mother) to go find a wife by his uncle Lavan. Yaakov wasn’t afraid of any danger, as the Radak said that he had nothing to worry about until his father died. It must be that he was simply upset to be the focal point of all that family stress, which in fact Esav was causing.

His depression must not have even affected him in a great manner, for Chazal testify that after he left his parents’ house he learned diligently in Yeshiva Shem ViEver for 14 years, unhindered by anything, to the point that when calculating the amount of years Yosef was away from Yaakov, which was a punishment for Yaakov not honoring his parents, those 14 years were not included in the calculation. Therefore it must be that during his time in yeshiva he put all his strength and effort into his learning of Torah. Furthermore, if his depression would have actually affect the way he served Hashem, then he would not have been deserving of Hashem coming to him and assuring him that He would be with him wherever he goes and that his future looked very bright, since he would not have deserved all that attention from Hashem. If this then is the case, what does the Radak mean that Yaakov was depressed?

We must say Yaakov still is only human, and on some miniscule level, which manifested itself in the way he walked, he looked depressed, even if for the most part he served Hashem to the utmost, putting in all the proper emotions and abilities into his service of Hashem. However, once he received chizuk [words of encouragement from Hashem] he was a new man, with a spring in his step, which gave him a whole new level of joy and elation.

It would seem that it is human nature for people to feel depressed at times, and it is a great kindness for others to lend a hand of security and encouragement to uplift that person. However, there are still expectations and responsibilities to learn; how to handle or control one’s depression so that it will not get in one’s way of walking on Hashem’s path and doing His will.

Toldos -Two for the Price of One

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King of…the Jungle?

The first encounter with Avimelech, King of the Plishtim, was when Avraham told Sarah to say that she was his sister, because he feared that if the Plishtim knew she was his wife they would kill him. Instead they simply took Sarah and gave her to the king. G-D told Avimelech in a dream to not touch her, ‘lest I kill you.’ Avimelech in essence exclaimed: “What did I do wrong!”  “O Lord, will You kill even a righteous nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she said, ‘He is my brother.’ With the innocence of my heart and with the purity of my hands have I done this” (Breishis 20:4, 5). Eventually Avimelech made a treaty with Avraham acknowledging that “G-D is with you in all that you do” (Breishis 21:22).

Again in this week’s Torah portion of Toldos, Yitzchak was forced to go down to Gerar, the capital city of the Plishtim, due to a severe famine. He told his wife, Rivka, to tell them that she was his sister, out of the same fear of her being taken away and Yitzchak being killed. They did indeed leave them alone, but Avimelech caught them one day being too friendly with each other and again said: “What did I do wrong!”  The Torah says: “So Avimelech called Yitzchak, and he said, “Behold, she is your wife; so how could you have said, ‘She is my sister’?” And Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die because of her.’ And Avimelech said, “What have you done to us? The most prominent of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us. And Avimelech commanded all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death” (Breishis 26:9-11).

After this episode the Torah relates: “And Yitzchak sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundred fold, and the Lord blessed him. And the man became great, and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great. And he had possessions of sheep and possessions of cattle and much production, and the Philistines envied him” (Breishis 26:12-14). Yitzchok then dug up the well his father had dug, which the Plishtim had closed, saying: “They may become a source of danger to us because of marauding troops that may invade us,” as Rashi on pasuk 15 mentions. Avimelech then told Yitzchak to leave them. Yitzchak) settled in the Valley of Gerar not too far away, and the Plishtim shepherds argued with Yitzchok’s shepherds, and again closed up wells which Yitzchok had dug. Yitzchok then dug one more well, which they didn’t touch, but Yitzchok decided to move to Be’er Sheva. All this time Hashem had granted Yitzchok much financial success even though there was a famine in the land. The Targum Yonasan on pasuk 26 points out that even the Plishtim in the vicinity reaped the benefits of Hashem’s blessing to Yitzchok.

At that point Avimelech ran after Yitzchok. Yitzchok asked him what he wanted; you hate me and drove me away from you. Avimelech responded that he wanted to reaffirm the treaty he made with Avraham, Yitzchok’s father: “We have seen that the Lord was with you; so we said: Let there now be an oath between us, between ourselves and you, and let us form a covenant with you. If you do [not] harm us, as we have not touched you, and as we have done with you only good, and we sent you away in peace, [so do] you now, blessed of the Lord.”

The Daas Zekeinim on this pasuk asserts that Avimelech “is compared to a lion which got a bone stuck in his throat and says anyone who comes and takes out the bone shall receive much riches. A bird came, which was a crane with a long neck, and said I will get it out. The bird stuck its head inside the lion’s mouth and took out the bone. After he took it out he asked for his reward. The lion said to him, ‘Isn’t it enough that I sent you away in peace and didn’t eat you when you stuck your head down my throat, you now have the audacity to ask for your reward?’ So to Avimelech said to Yitzchok, ‘We did a great kindness to you by sending you away in peace because our way of life is to hurt anyone that comes our way.’” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Kafui tov! What an ingrate!! The crane just saved the lion’s life and not only does he not give him the promised reward, he says you are lucky I didn’t kill you? So too Avimelech says you are lucky I didn’t harm you when I sent you away. Yet now it seems like he wants him back because of the blessing on his land, so he has claims against Yitzchok for leaving his vicinity. What kind of chutzpah is that?
What’s even worse is that Avimelech sounds like he is being authentic. He really feels insulted that Yitzchok left, even though he didn’t harm him as they did to most people. What did we do wrong?!

Is it really possible for someone to think that it is perfectly alright to hurt people, just part of their normal way of life, to the point that it is an act of kindness not to hurt them? Furthermore, why was Avimelech compared to a lion, specifically?
It would seem that this misguided philosophy in life stems from a negative character trait of a brute or bully. There are people who are tough and controlling; that is their demeanor. They think they are always correct and that they do nothing wrong. If that is their attitude they cannot admit they are wrong, and they even believe they are righteous, always having an excuse for their actions. No wonder they can convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with hurting people.


On the flip side here is an example of true sincerity from the very same episode.

Appreciating What You Do

We all know that every single sentence, word, and even a letter in the Torah have a lesson, or halacha that Hashem is teaching us. In this week’s Torah portion of Toldos we find one of the smallest pesukim in the Torah it is only 3 words: “וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב יִצְחָ֖ק בִּגְרָֽר,” “And Yitzchok lived in Gerar” (Breishis 26:6).

We have to put the pesukim in context in order to appreciate the lesson that is being related from this seemingly simple pasuk. The Torah at the beginning of the perek relates: “And there was a famine in the land, aside from the first famine that had been in the days of Abraham, and Isaac went to Avimelech the king of the Philistines, to Gerar. And the Lord appeared to him, and said, “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, for to you and to your seed will I give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham, your father. And I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and I will give your seed all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by your seed, Because Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions” (Breishis 26:1-5).

After Hashem tells Yitzchak not to go down to Egypt though there is a famine, rather just stay in Gerar, because Hashem will take care of him, but not only that, everything and everyone around him will be blessed, the Torah then says in pasuk 6: “And Yitzchok lived in Gerar.” The Ibn Ezra says we learn from here that Yitzchok “did as Hashem commanded of him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What kind of lesson is this, why would we not think Yitzchak would do as Hashem commanded? Yitzchak grew up in Avraham’s household, the Ibn Ezra explains the previous pasuk to be telling us that the reason why Hashem is promising Yitzchak all this blessing is because his father, Avraham, followed him with blind faith to the land of Israel, was willing to sacrifice his only son on Hashem’s command, observed all the mitzvos of the Written Torah and it’s Oral explanation, as well as performed a bris on himself, his children and all his servants. So Yitzchak was raised in a house which was deeply G-D fearing and surrounded by belief and trust in Hashem. Yitzchak himself was a very holy person who dedicated himself to Hashem by completely acquiescing to being offered on the alter. On top of all that, he didn’t just figure out that Hashem wanted him to stay in Israel, Hashem came to him in prophesy and actually told him. So of course he would listen, why does the Torah have to write three extra words to praise him for that, even if it is a time of famine, Hashem still assured him that He will take care of him and even bring blessing to all those around Yitzchak?

We can learn a very powerful lesson from these 3 words. We have to give ourselves credit where credit is due. We can’t underestimate how incredible it is to follow the command of the King of all Kings, Master of the Universe, Blessed Be He. Doing Hashem will, observing His commandments is a big deal and what even seems to be a menial job as what Yitzchak did deserves 3 extra words to be written in the Torah. That is the emphasis the Ibn Ezra is pointing out that the Torah is teaching us.

And by not underestimating and by giving ourselves credit for doing Hashem’s will day in and day out it should better our service of Hashem!

Chayei Sarah – Saving the Best for Last

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The motto “Save the best for last” is a real concept in Judaism, with major ramifications as we see in a medrish on this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah.  In the parsha, after Eliezer and the House of Besuel agreed that Rivka should marry Yitzchok, Eliezer, who was Avraham’s chief servant, gave gifts to Rivka and her family. As it says:  “And the servant took out silver articles and golden articles and garments, and he gave [them] to Rebecca, and he gave delicacies to her brother and to her mother” (Breishis 24:53).

The Medrish Rabba quotes Rav Huna to say that “silver articles” refers to instruments that women used to sew or wash themselves, like a washbasin. The Rabbanan say that “delicacies” refers to popcorn (popped kernels of any grain to be exact) and nuts. The Medrish asks: is popcorn really more desireable than everything else? Rather, it is coming to teach us that when a person is embarking on a journey and doesn’t have proper provisions, he is in in great pain and suffering. Similarly, it says that before the Jews  left Egypt “Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor and from the dweller in her house silver and gold objects and garments…” (Shemos 3:22). Were clothes really most desirable? Rather, it is coming to teach us that if one is going on a journey and doesn’t have any clothing, it causes pain and suffering. Similarly, it says in Ezra (1:6): “And all those around them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with possessions, with cattle, and with delicacies, besides all that was donated” (Breishis Rabba 60:11).

The Matnos Kehuna explains that when the medrish asked about popcorn and clothing, it was because it was mentioned last, and we save the best for last; hence, they must be favorite.  The Matnos Kehuna explains the answer of the Medrish that food, as well as clothing, are indeed the favorite because without them there would be pain and suffering. Therefore this is what he took to support himself on the journey. This pasuk in Ezra supports the notion that the delicacies are mentioned last because they are more beloved than anything else.

The Etz Yosef spells the matter out a bit more clearly. He explains that the Medrish first asks: “Is popcorn really more beloved than anything else?” And the Medrish “answers that for Eliezer it was because that was his sustenance on his journey.” The Etz Yosef went on to explain that there are objects that, taken in a vacuum, are seemingly not cherished, but because of circumstance (time, location, etc.) are beloved in that area. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In any event we see clearly that the motto “saving the best for last” is indeed a real thing. However we have to understand to what extent this assumption is made. If you take the second example used in the medrish you find something quite astonishing! You would think that if the Jewish women would be able to borrow anything from their Egyptian counterparts, they would ask for jewelry, fine gold and silver utensils, anything precious to them, which they did. But the medrish is telling us they saved the best for last, which was clothing. The clothing was the best because it was the most useful for them on their journey. Wouldn’t you think that something so essential would be asked to be borrowed first, just in case the Egyptians would change their minds part way and not let them take anything else? Why take the chance of taking too much advantage of the enemy?

It must be that the concept of saving the best for last is so naturally engrained in one’s psyche that that is how a person would automatically act, even at such a perilous time such as this one. They were preparing for a journey which they didn’t even know when it would end, and asking their enemy for anything, which normally could very easily backfire.

For this reason as well, Eliezer gave out his nosh last as presents to the family, not because he wanted to give Rivka first then her mother and brother. If the silver washing basin or golden sewing needle would have been his favorite he would have given that last. But because the nosh, his energy for the journey until now, was what he cherished most, so he gave it last.

 And so too when the exiles in the time of Ezra were preparing for their return to Israel to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, they packed their food provisions last because those were the most favorite, beloved, and cherished items for them at that very moment, upon their journey from Babylon back to Israel.
It would seem unless explicitly expressed or premeditated otherwise we can assume that it is natural habit that a person saves the best for last.
אחרון אחרון חביב!

Vayera – The Source for the Concept of Tefilla

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After Avimelech, the King of the Plishtim (Philistines), took Sarah away from Avraham, Hashem came to Avimelech in a dream and told him not to touch her and to return her to Avraham. He then promised that Avraham would pray on his behalf, for Hashem made a miracle and closed up every hole in his, his wife, and maidservants’ bodies. The Torah testifies that: “Avraham prayed to G-D and G-D healed Avimelech, his wife, and his maids, and they were relieved” (Breishis 20:17).
The Medrish Rabba (Seder Vayera 52:13) relates on this pasuk, “ויתפלל אברהם אל האלוקים” : Rebbe Chama bar Rebbe Chanina said that from the beginning of this sefer [book] until now it never used this type of terminology; once Avraham Avinu prayed he untied that knot. “For Hashem had completely restrained every orifice” (pasuk 18), the mouth was restrained, the throat was restrained, the ears were restrained, up top was restrained, and down below was restrained, and everyone said it was because of the matter of Sarah the wife of Avraham. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

There are many explanations of what this medrish means. The Maharz”u says that the terminology (or format) of tefilla was not used until this point, when Hashem told Avimelech that Avraham would pray for him, and then the Torah relates that Avraham indeed prayed on his behalf. What the medrish means when it says “he untied this knot” would seem (according to the Maharz”u) to be that the word tefila comes from the pasuk “Naftuli Elokim Niftalti” (Breishis 30:8), the reason why Rochel named Bilhah’s second son Naftali. Rashi there explains that the word “Naftuli” comes from the phrase “ikesh upisalto,” which means perverse and crooked. Onkelos there says it stems from the word “bausi bi’ischonanti,” which means request while beseeching. But they are both the truth, for Hashem originally made the world straight but through man’s sin the straightness has become crooked and perverseness has entered the world. So tefilla, praying, exists to straighten the crooked and remove the perverse.
According to the Maharz”u, tefilla, prayer, came to straighten out the perverseness and crookedness of the world that came about as a result of sin, which made crooked the straightness that Hashem originally created the world with. This fits perfectly into what Avraham did; for the straight sense of the word, Hashem created man with holes in his body to help him function and Hashem blocked up those holes in Avimelech’s body because of the sin he committed of abducting Sarah. So Avraham prayed on his behalf to straighten out the corruption and crookedness Avimelech had created for himself. The Rada”l says that there was never a time until now that someone had prayed and Hashem had answered them, resulting in reversing a Heavenly decree, until Avraham came around and reopened these openings. This is why we say in our Shemone Esray “Magen Avraham,” that Hashem is Avraham’s Protector, for because of him the Gates of Kindness were opened to listen to prayer.
According to the Rada”l this was the first time Hashem answered the prayers of someone and reversed a heavenly decree, therefore we recognize the fact that Avraham opened the Gates of Kindness so that Hashem answers our prayers by saying in our Shemone Esray at least 3 times daily, “Baruch Ata Hashem Magen Avraham.”
 However the Yidei Moshe has a different take on this. He says this is the first time someone ever prayed an incredibly intense prayer, ויתפלל comes from the word פלילים, wondrous, just as it says by Pinchas, ויפלל פנחס, Pinchas did wondrous feats. It says that they needed something really big to happen, and that was referring to the incredibly intense prayer needed to untie the knot for all their limbs were closed, the mouth, ears, etc. as the Medrish explains.
According to the Yidei Moshe, this was the first time in history that someone prayed a very intense prayer and Avraham did so because it was a very dire situation; all the orifices of the king of the Philistine’s body and of his wife and servants were closed up. It was seeing clear and present danger, directly in front of his face, which inspired him to pray such an intense prayer, as never prayed before in history!

But why hadn’t this happen before? Surely Avraham himself was in other circumstances where he had to pray on behalf of others, or even himself, like when he beseeched Hashem to save Sodom earlier on in the Torah portion. That was also a circumstance of clear and present danger; he knew that fire and brimstone would hail down from Heaven and wipe out whole cities. Both situations were dealing with bad people, and Avraham was using his feelings of mercy and grace to pray on their behalf. But, still, by Avimelech, king of the Philistines, he prayed with more intensity? Why is this so? Indeed the Yidei Moshe did not say because he was trying to get Sarah back after she was captured, rather it is because he saw the dire situation they were in. That made a difference! The fact that Avraham saw with his own eyes the suffering Avimelech was going through prompted him to pray a very intense prayer, even more so than knowing that moments later whole cities would be violently wiped out.

A little more inspiration, actually seeing a reality check in front of one’s eyes, can transform one’s prayers from intense to really intense and make a world of a difference to the point that it was something never done before until then.

Lech Licha – Blind Faith: A History of the Arab World

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Towards the end of this week’s Torah Portion of Lech Licha Hashem gives a blessing to Yishmael because Avraham, his father, prayed to Hashem that he should receive a blessing; not because he was part of the covenant with Yitzchok, as the Rabbeinu Bachye (17:20) points out based on the pesukim in the Torah: “And regarding Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him, and I will make him fruitful, and I will multiply him exceedingly; he will beget twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Yitzchok, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” (Breishis 17:20, 21).

The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to explain in more detail the blessing given to Yishmael, and how it came into fruition. “Yishmael had 12 sons who were enumerated by name at the end of the Torah portion of Chaye Sarah. It was written there: ‘The first born of Yshmael was Nevayot, [then came] Kedar, Adabel, Mivasem, Mashma, Domeh, Masa, Chadad, Teimah, Yitur, Nafish, and Kedmah, which equal out to 12.’ The fact that it says he begot 12 princes and not 12 nations is to show us their leadership and the profound greatness which was placed upon them because of the blessing, more so than on other nations, just as Hashem the Blessed One promised:  ‘Behold I will bless him and cause him to multiply very, very much.’ There is another implication to the word ‘princes,’ ‘נשיאים’ in that they disappear from the world after their profound greatness. For it comes from the pasuk, ‘נְשִׂיאִ֣ים וְ֖רוּחַ, Clouds and wind’(Mishlei 25:14), and it is coming to hint that they will be destroyed and lost from the world, like the language of ‘Just as a cloud is consumed and goes away’ (Iyov 7:9). This is also why the word for princes in this pasuk is spelled ‘נְשִׂיאִם֙’ without a yud towards the end of the word. The pasuk is coming to teach you about the kingdom of Yishmael that in the beginning they will be strong and in the end they will be weak. So to the angel said to Hagar ‘And he will be a pere adam’ (Breishis 16:12), meaning he will act amongst people like a barbarian who defeats everyone, and afterwards the hand of everyone will be upon him.”

Yishmael and his descendants were blessed by Hashem, due to Avraham’s merit and prayers, to be great and mighty rulers of enormous multitudes, for a long period of time; but only temporarily. Yet their time seemed not to have come too quickly, as Rabbeinu Bachye writes in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel: “We have seen that this promise was delayed for them by 2,333 years and this delay was not because of their sins, and they were yearning for its fulfillment all these years, and in the end it was fulfilled, and afterwards their empire was strengthened. As for us, whose kingdom was taken away because of our sins, and a time of 1,335 years was set, all the more so we should be yearning for His promise and never give up!”  (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We must put into perspective what Rabbeinu Chananel means, and the lesson he is trying to drive home. It so happens that his calculations are exact, for Avraham and Yishmael had a bris in the year 2047 (on the Jewish calendar) and Yishmael’s reign started in 4374 (622 C.E.) which is the year Mohamad fled Mecca, which started the Arab conquest, ten years before they spread throughout the world (4374-2047=2,337 years which is just 4 years off of Rabbeinu Chananel’s calculation of 2,333).

The 1,335 referenced for the Jewish people is referring to the second to last pasuk of Daniel, where it is discussing the Final Redemption and coming of Moshiach. It writes there: “Fortunate is he who waits and reaches days of one thousand, three hundred, and thirty-five” (Daniel 12:12). What this number means is completely obscured; it definitely does not mean, according to Rabbeinu Chananel, that Moshiach was supposed to come 1,335 years after the time of Daniel, for Daniel lived between 3304-3399 / 457-362 BCE which means, at latest, from Daniel’s death, 362 BCE. 1,335 years later would put it at the year 973 CE, and Rabbeinu Chananel lived from 965 CE until 1055 CE, which would have made him 8 years old at the time. It is evident that he wrote this many years later, and yet still said with confidence that ‘all the more so we Jews should have full trust in Hashem for our reckoning since there is some timetable even though that timetable is totally incomprehensible, and was purposefully written in that fashion.’ In fact, the Metzudas Dovid, many centuries later, said on that pasuk in Daniel: “It says happy is the one who waits for it and will then reach that moment and it then explains what we are hoping for which reaches a certain number but we don’t know what this is referring to (anything of its kind).”

Rabbeinu Chananel is trying to teach us a lesson from Yishmael’s descendants. Just as they knew without a doubt, and had blind faith that Hashem’s blessing and promise to them would one day come to fruition, as it did, all the more so we have to have unyielding trust in Hashem that He will bring the ultimate salvation to his Chosen People. Why should it be so obvious for us? Rabbeinu Chananel says our kingdom was only taken away from us because of our sins so it is up to us to repent and rectify the matter but it is also because we were given a number to look forward to, a sign, and though it is obscure and unknown, it is something to “hang our hats on,” as an impetus to strengthen our trust that His word will come true.

The History of the world is quite vast! It took 1,656 years before Hashem decided to send the flood. Yishmael and his descendants, the Arab world, were steadfast for 2,333 years in their blind faith and trust in Hashem, without any indications of when His promise to them would be fulfilled, and look where they are today!

We not only have that clarity of belief in Hashem, just as they do, but Hashem, out of his love and mercy for us, gave us some hint, albeit a very subtle one, in order to strengthen our yearning, drive for the End of Days and our Salvation.

Noach – The Animals Owe Us

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In this week’s Torah portion of Noach there is a hint to the Seven Noahide Laws, which are: (1)idolatry, (2) cursing the Divine Name, (3) murder, (4) illicit relation, (5) theft and civil law (6) court systems (7) eating a limb torn from a live animal.

It would seem that when Hashem created the world He only allowed man to eat vegetation until after the flood, when he permitted Noach to eat meat; but not from a live animal. Why is this so?

The Torah says: “Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything” (Breishis 9:3). Rashi explain, “לכם יהיה לאכלה SHALL BE FOOD FOR YOU — For I did not permit Adam Harishon to eat meat, but green herbs alone; but to you — just as the green herbs that I gave the full use of to Adam Harishon — do I give everything (Sanhedrin 59b).”

The Sifsei Chachamim on Rashi explains why Adam Harishon was not permitted to eat meat and what changed in the times of Noach. He says: “The reason why meat was permitted to Noach and not to Adam, I humbly believe is because man and animal were equally the creations of Hashem, one was no better than the other, so why should one be allowed to kill the other? But at the time of the flood, when they all sinned, and all of them deserved to be destroyed, but they survived in the merit of Noach, for this reason man is now better than the animals.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

How is it possible to logically entertain the possibility that man and animal are equal? Animals are completely made up of physical, world-driven instincts. Man was created “in the image of G-D,” with a spiritual soul interconnected to his and her physical body, with the ability to speak on an intellectual level, make deep cognitive decisions, and think on a very profound and creative level. Man also has free choice to choose between good and bad, with the ability to reach great heights in connecting with Hashem. Whereas animals, any corruption that happened to them in the days of the flood or at any other time, is due to instinctive reactivity to their surroundings. So why does the Sifsei Chachamim say they were once equal?

It must have been talking  in terms of damaging or killing another life force; animals and men were equal because we are both creations of Hashem, and how can it be justified to ruin or destroy such a precious and valuable entity. Hashem only allowed vegetation to be taken apart and eaten for the purpose of man and animals’ sustenance, which is why they were created in this world; without food we cannot live. What then changed? Aren’t animals still the same creatures created by Hashem just as man is?

We see from here the power of indebtedness. Since it was only in Noach’s merit that the animal kingdom was saved, it is as if he and his progeny own the animals and it is within our right to make productive use of them. (Albeit within reason, which is why there are limitation, like the prohibition of eating a limb torn from a live animal).

For this reason we are allowed to eat meat and, even more so, there is now a natural fear that animals have of mankind, as we see in Rashi from the previous pasuk: “So long as a baby, even one day old, has life you do not have to guard it against the attacks of mice, whilst Og, king of Bashan, when dead needs to be guarded against the attacks of mice, as it is said, ‘And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be [upon the beasts of the field etc.].’ When will the fear of you be upon the beasts? So long as you are alive (חתכם) (Shabbat 151b)” (Rashi 9:2).

The sense and reality of gratitude can be absolutely transformative!

Breishis – The Law of the Land

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According to the Sifsei Chachamim the first Rashi (written by Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki) on Chumash is a question asked and answered by his father:  בראשית” IN THE BEGINNING — Rabbi Yitzchak said: The Torah which is the Law book of Israel should have commenced with the verse (Exodus 12:2) “This month shall be unto you the first of the months,” which is the first commandment given to Israel. What then is the reason that it commences with the account of the Creation?
Many commentaries explain the basis of this question. The Gur Aryeh points out: “Even though there is no story in the Torah which is not needed, (even the fact that the sister of Lotan was Timna), as pointed out in Sanhedrin perek Chelek, but since the name ‘Torah’ is only meant for the mitzvos of the Torah, because the word Torah comes from the word hora’ah, (which means teaching) to teach us the actions we should be doing. Therefore the Torah of Moshe is called Torah for in it only the mitzvos are written. You should know that the Book of Iyov was also written by Moshe as stated in Bava Basra 5b, and if one would write the Book of Iyov inside a Torah it would be forbidden to be read in a congregation. That is why he asked why there was no need to write [these stories in the Torah] etc.”

The Ramban, with a slightly different take on the question, ponders: “One can say that in fact there actually is a big need to start the Torah from the creation of the world, for it is the root of our beliefs. One who does not believe in this, and thinks that the world is ancient, denies everything and has no Torah at all! But the answer is that what happened by creation is really a very deep secret which cannot be understood from just the pesukim, and it is only understood in all its clarity according to the oral tradition that dates back to Moshe Rabbeinu who heard from the Mouth of The Almighty, and knowledge about it must be hidden in secret. This is why Rabbi Yitzchak said the Torah did not have to start from creation, and the story of what was created on the first day, and what was done on the second day, and all the other days, as well as all the detail of forming Adam and Chava, their sin and punishments, and the story of Gan Eden and Adam’s banishment from there; all this is not fully understood from what is written in the Torah. Definitely the story of the generations of the flood and the Tower of Babel, which there is not great need for them to be mentioned. The People of Torah could have done without these writings, and would have believed in them based on the hint mentioned in the Ten Commandments: ‘For in six days Hashem made the heaven and earth, the sea and all inside it, and He rested on the seventh’ (Shemos 20:11). The specifics could have been left for certain individuals to know through halacha liMoshe miSinai, oral transmission, through the Oral Tradition.”
Basically the question is: why does the Torah have to start with all these stories if it is really supposed to be a list of mitzvos? Why can’t you put the stories in a separate book like the Book of Iyov, which was written by Moshe Rabbeinu as well but was include in Writings (Kesuvim)? Or don’t put any of it into writing since it is so complex; it should just be known and understood by the individuals that can understand it, passed down from generation to generation through the Oral Torah dating back to what Moshe received with the Written Torah on Har Sinai?

To answer Rashi quotes his father to say : “Because of the thought expressed in the text (Psalms 111:6) ‘He declared to His people the strength of His works (i.e. He gave an account of the work of Creation), in order that He might give them the heritage of the nations.’ For should the peoples of the world say to Israel: ‘You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan’, Israel may reply to them: ‘All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. When He willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us’ (Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 187).”
There are many commentators who struggle to understand his answer, but we are going to focus on the Ramban. The Ramban says that the creation of the world, Adam and Chava’s banishment from Gan Eden after they sinned, the punishments of the generation of the flood (with one righteous person escaping with his children), and the Tower of Babel (with that generation being spread out and settling in different lands according to their families), are lessons to teach us that it is appropriate that when a nation continues to sin they lose their place and another is elevated to replace them in inheriting their land, for this is the law of G-d in the land forever. All the more so the Canaanites, who are cursed and shall forever be slaves (Brieshis 9:27), who didn’t deserve to inherit the chosen area, but rather it rightfully belongs to the beloved servants of Hashem, in order that they observe the statutes and laws of their Creator. Meaning, Hashem abolished those that rebelled against Him, and brought in His servants who knew that through serving Him they would deserve to inherit the land. And, if they would sin, the land would vomit them out, just as it vomited the nation that came before them.

The Gur Aryeh sums up the Ramban by saying: “And the Ramban also wrote that all the mitzvos in the Torah are the laws of G-D in the land, meaning all the mitzvos in the Torah are applicable specifically in The Land [of Israel]. It is also written in Sefer Melachim: ‘When the Jews were exiled and non-Jews settled in the land, and they did not know the Laws of G-D in the land, Hashem sent against them lions’ (Melachim Beis 17:26,) we see from here that the Torah is G-D’s law of the land.”

The Gur Aryeh goes on to say: “And you should delve into the words of the Ramban in parshas Toldos on the posuk, ‘and kept My charge,’ (Breishis 26:5), and therefore it needed to be written in the Torah that according to strict judgement the land came to the Jews, for He created it and He gave it. One can ask that it now makes sense why the Torah portion of Breishis is in the Torah; but why all the other stories, why were they written in the Torah? But this also is not really difficult to understand, for if the Torah portion of Breishis was the only story written down to say that The Holy one Blessed Be He created and gave to whom He felt was proper in His eyes. The nations will answer that ‘This is a lie, The Holy One Blessed Be He did not give the land to you, for He does not exercise judgement without first judging, for why would He take the land away from the nations and give it to the Jews?’ But now that the entire story of all the generations angering Hashem until Avraham comes around and received all their reward, the land was then taken away from the nations and given to his children as an inheritance, but not to all his children, for He said to Avraham, ‘You shall know that your offspring will be a stranger in a land not theirs and they will be enslaved etc.’ This was not fulfilled through the offspring of Yishmael and Esav, only through the offspring of Yaakov, for Hashem brought them into servitude and fulfilled ‘And also the nation that they have served, I will judge…’ until ‘And this month shall be for you,’ therefore the entire story had to be written down that the Jews were in servitude and were redeemed, and therefore the giving of the land was to Yisrael and not to Yishmael or Esav.”
The Land of Israel is only a speck on the map, not even as large as New Jersey. There are much vaster and larger, as well as more beautiful, pieces of land throughout the world, like the Alps, the Rockies, the Himalayas, etc. Strategically, it is not bordering any major oceans like e America, Africa, parts of Europe, China, etc. One can always go around Israel to Africa, or from Africa to the Middle East, the same route the Jews took when going out of Egypt. So why is everyone so resolute in working to discredit the Jewish claim on the Land of Israel?

The reason is because everyone knows there is something special about the location; but what they don’t realize is why it is special; what or who makes it special. They don’t realize the land is only holy, blessed, and enriched because there is the “Law of the Land” that, if followed, enable its beauty and magnificence to sprout to its fullest potential. But if the “Law of the Land” isn’t followed, it doesn’t want its inhabitants, and the inhabitants don’t deserve the benefits of the land.

To actualize the deep connection between observing the mitzvos and living wholeheartedly in the Promise Land, it was worthwhile to add in all the stories of the Torah, the law book of Hashem, the King Of All Kings, into the book written mainly as The Law of the Land. Though many mitzvos do apply outside of the Land of Israel as well, they apply doubly inside The Land.

Vezos Habracha – Good Leadership: The Hallmark of the Jewish People

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One might think that the way to conclude the guide book of mankind would be to reinforce how important it is to observe it, or how awe-inspiring and exalted is its author, Hashem, The Holy One Blessed Be He. Yet the last 3 pesukim of the Torah talk about Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem’s loyal servant, according to Rashi (according to the Ramban on Chumash the pasuk is in fact praising Hashem.)

The Torah concludes: “And there was no other prophet that stood up amongst the Jews like Moshe who knew Hashem face to face. For all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and his servants and his entire land. And all the strong hand and all the great awe that Moshe did in the eyes of all the Jews” (Devarim 34:10-12).

Rashi on the last pasuk of the Torah says that “and all the strong hand” refers to the fact that Moshe “received the Torah in the tablets with his hands.” “And all the great awe” refers to “the miracles and mighty deeds [performed by Moshe] in the immense, awesome wilderness. Finally, “in the eyes of all the Jews” refers to “when he took the liberty of shattering the tablets before their eyes, as it says: ‘I shattered them before your eyes.’ The Holy One Blessed Be He consented to his opinion, at it is said: ‘which you shattered,’ ‘more power to you for shattering them!’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

According to Rashi, the very last statement of the Torah refers to the smashing of the tablets. Why does the Torah conclude with referencing this lowly moment in our history? What message is being taught and why does it have to be taught now, at the very end?

The last Sifsei Chachamim on Rashi explains why Rashi feels he needs to add that Hashem agreed with Moshe deciding to throw down and smash the tablets. “He is coming to answer that now it is coming to praise Moshe, but is it a praise of Moshe that he broke the tablets? That is why he explained that Hashem acquiesced to this etc. Question: How does the Medrish know that ‘which you shattered’ could be interpreted as ‘more power to you for shattering,’ maybe the word אשר should be translated the way it is normally translated every place else? The Ramban already answered in the first chapter of Bava Basra 14b that we darshan a smuchin (a juxtaposition of two words next to each other in the Torah which can teach us a lesson or halacha), for it wrote earlier 10:2 אשר that which you broke and you placed, which implies the broken shards of the tablets were beloved by G-D. If their breaking would have been difficult in front of Him, He would not have said to place them in the Ark, for a prosecutor does not become a defendant. But because of the smuchin we darshan אשר as being a language of אשרי, happy is you. And see in his (the Ramban’s) piece in tractate Shabbos 87a, when it says a prosecutor doesn’t become a defendant I humbly believe it means that The Blessed Hashem commanded that the Ark should be placed in the inner chambers in order to be reminded of the Jewish merit of accepting the Torah and if it was sinful to break the tablets then they would have been a prosecutor to remember the sin of the golden calf, that for that reason the tablets were smashed, rather it must be that Hashem definitely agreed to them being smashed.”

Something doesn’t make sense here. If it must be that Hashem acquiesced to the smashing of the tablets because he would not have placed them in the Ark in the Holy of Holies lest they act as a reason to prosecute the Jews and not a merit to defend them, but isn’t the very fact that they are smashed a reason to remember the sin of the golden calf and to prosecute them? That was the whole reason why Hashem agreed with Moshe to smash them! So why wouldn’t it be used against them?

We must therefore say that even though  Hashem agreed with Moshe to smash the tablets, which were the symbol of merit for accepting the Torah, they must still be a symbol of merit even though they were broken, and would not have been broken if the sin of the golden calf had not happened. But because the leader of the nation took proper actions to reprimand his people and did not capitulate to their ideas or look the other way when there was a serious problem already happening, it is meritorious and is a symbol of excellent leadership, which will trickle down as an example of how to sacrifice for the cause of good.

This lesson is definitely worth concluding the entire Torah with, because it is teaching us that it is not the book itself which is sacred, rather it’s what is inside that counts. If we have leaders that are focused on doing what’s right for Hashem’s sake, at whatever cost, it will have a trickle down effect on the entire nation and bring merit to everyone which makes it very apropos for Hashem who acquiesced to this matter to conclude the Torah with this lesson.

Haazinu – The Nickname That Stuck

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 Yehoshua (Joshua) Bin Nun, the successor of Moshe Rabbeinu, was given the name Hoshea at birth, and we in fact find a few times throughout the Torah his original name used. One instance is at the end of this week’s Torah portion of Haazinu, where it states: “And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun.”

The Chizkuni explains how he got the name Yehoshua: “In the beginning when he began being an attendant of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moshe called him Yehoshua, for this is normal practice of kings to change the names of their attendants, for example, Yosef, Daniel, Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah. Now that he became the King he went back to his original name. Nevertheless in all of Tanach he is called Yehoshua because that is what he was used to being called.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We know the nickname Yehoshua is not derogatory, because that was what Moshe used as a defense for Yehoshua against the bad influence of the spies. Also, the addition of the “yud” to the beginning of his name which starts with the letter “hay” combines to be one of Hashem’s names. However, it does seem to be a lack of respect and a detraction from the honor of the king to be called by the name he was called when he was just an attendant or servant of the previous king. Not only did he write and name the first book of Neviem by that name, Yehoshua, but he is also referred to as Yehoshua in other books of Na”Ch, which he did not write! Why just because of habit is it acceptable to call the king by the name he was called when he was just the attendant?

It would seem that the power of habit can change the rules of derech eretz, proper manners. This means that even though it would seem more appropriate to call him by Hoshea once he was king, since he already got used to being called Yehoshua, that turned into the acceptable name to refer to him as.

What we can take from this is that habit must be taken into account when deciding what is appropriate and not appropriate as long as it is not an insulting habit.