Yisro: Individual Attention from Hashem

In this week’s Torah portion Hashem officially turned the Jewish People into a Nation. By giving us the Torah, He made us a Nation of royalty and priesthood, the princes and princesses of the Master of the World, King of all Kings, the Almighty One, blessed be He. By giving us the Torah, the guide book for all mankind, he informed us of the obligatory, but beneficial, way to live our lives.
The Chizkuni (Shemos 20:2) relates: “that Hashem revealed Himself to the Jewish people like an iconic statue which has a face on every side and a thousand people gazing at it and it gazing at them. So to, G-D when he spoke, each individual Jew said ‘He spoke to me.’ [In the first of the Ten Commandments it does not say ‘I am the Lord your G-D’ in plural rather it was in singular form. Why? Because [G-D] spoke to each individual in the order they were standing around the mountain as it writes (19:12) ‘And you set boundaries for the people around [the mountain.] And don’t be amazed, for the manna was given to each individual fitting with their own individual taste buds. Just as the manna was given in this manner, certainly the word of Hashem we could assume was delivered in the same manner.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Why did the Chizkuni have to bring a comparison to manna to impress upon us that Hashem spoke to each person individually at the giving of the Torah? It is obvious; we know Hashem has the ability to do that because he is the almighty, all powerful, infinite G-D who can do anything! This comparison would not turn a non-believer into a believer anyway, because once there is a question as to whether He spoke to each individual, who is to say that he provided each individual with their own dietary needs or gave each individual the taste they wanted?

We must therefore say that the Chizkuni was not talking to non-believers; rather, we have an obligation to achieve the greatest level of clarity in our belief of Hashem. And therefore another example, or anything at all, that helps us understand, or gain a greater appreciation for, our belief in Hashem and his Torah – makes an indelible impact. There are infinite levels of clarity that one can achieve in understanding of G-D’s existence and of how He runs the world.

But why the parable of manna? One might think that even though Hashem has the ability to talk to every individual, why would the King of Kings, Master of the Universe, lower Himself down to talking to each individual? It is undignified! Even if the giving of the Torah was the most important event in the history of the world, and Hashem wanted to ensure that each individual accepted it, it is still a lack of honor to the king; so maybe people would make up the excuse that not every Jewish individual heard and accepted the Torah from Hashem.

To this excuse the Chizkuni says that if Hashem cared for the taste buds of every individual Jew in the desert, and therefore made the manna tasty according to every Jews’ desire, then certainly he would speak to every Jew individually to impress upon each individual Jew the gift of the Torah, the guide book for all mankind, which He wished to give to them at that time.

This picture of G-D’s love and care for every individual Jewish person has the potential to be awe-inspiring for anyone, if only they choose to focus on it and imbibe it into their psyche.

Bishalach: Science and Faith

In this week’s Torah portion, Bishalach, we find the Jews traveling in the wilderness on the way to get the Torah on Mount Sinai. However, after the splitting of the Red Sea they had run out of water, and now found themselves by a spring of bitter water.
With this backdrop the Medrish Tanchuma (paragraph 24) cites: “You find human beings when they get cut with a knife they put on a bandage to heal themselves. But G-D isn’t like that, rather the instrument He strikes with he also uses to heal. And so you can find this when they (the Jews in the Wilderness) came to Marah and Moshe thought that G-D would tell him to throw honey or a date cake [into the bitter waters] and they would turn sweet, see [though] what the Torah writes ‘And [Moshe] cried out to Hashem and Hashem showed him a stick’ (Shemos 15:25). G-D said to him, ‘Moshe, my ways aren’t like human beings. Now you must learn this.’ As it says ויורהו ה’ עץ. It does not say ויראהו, ‘and He revealed to him,’ rather it says ויורהו, ‘and He instructed him,’ [G-D] taught [Moshe] His ways.

What was the stick? Rebbi Yehoshua said it was made of myrtle wood, while Rebbi Nosson said it was a bitter creeper (found on the banks of rivers with rose-like blossoms, injurious to animals). Another opinion, that of Rebbi Eliezer Hamodai, was that it was an olive branch, and a fourth opinion, that of Rebbi Yehoshua ben Karcha, was that it was a kind of wheat grown in the mountains, which was hard. Others still disagree, saying that it was a root of a fig or pomegranate. In any event, it was bitter.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: “Come and see how incredible are the ways of G-D more than the ways of human beings. Humans use sweets to fix up what is bitter, but G-D uses bitter to fix up what is bitter. How does He do this? He puts something which is harmful into another thing which is harmful to create a miracle within a miracle.”

The Medrish Tanchuma goes on to list two examples from Isaiah chapter 38 and Kings 2 chapter 2 of instances where something harmful was used to fix something that was is harmful. The Medrish Tanchuma then concludes: “And so to the righteous people, with what they sin or argue they also use to fix the [problem.] Proof is, at the time when Moshe argued and sinned, it was using the word אז (then) as it says, ‘And from then I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name etc.’ (Shemos 5:23). Moshe said, ‘with אז (then) I sinned and with אז (then) I will fix it and he then sang [the Song of the Sea]. Therefore the Torah says אז ישיר משהThen Moshe sang.’”

The Etz Yosef asked a question on the last part of this medrish: “There is a major question because Moshe did not know that the ways of Hashem was in this manner until now, as mentioned here that G-D told Moshe ‘you must learn this.’ If so how can [Moshe] say that that which he sinned with he will use to praise [Hashem] wasn’t The Song sang before this episode [as they crossed the split sea?] We can answer that Moshe, even though he did not know this way of G-D regarding healing [or fixing], but logically he concluded that it is good to correct his misdeed using the same thing he sinned with.”

This prompts a question. Moshe, who saw the burning bush, a bush that was aflame but did not burn, that spoke to him in the Name of G-D; Moshe, who performed numerous miracles as a messenger of Hashem in Egypt – how could he not have been capable of figuring out how Hashem would turn bitter waters into sweet waters? Why did Hashem have to teach him a lesson as if it was something which Moshe could not comprehend on his own? It was far from the first time he had experienced a miracle within a miracle; the ten plagues in Egypt were miracles within miracle, such as the wild animals only invading Egyptian land, while not entering one spot belonging to a Jew. Another example was that while a thick darkness covered Egypt for three straight days, the Jews walked around in light.
Indeed, Moshe had himself figured out the concept of ‘using the problem as the solution,’ as was seen at the end of the medrish when he used the word “then” as part of a sentence arguing with Hashem, and later corrected himself by using the same word “then” to start one of the greatest praises of Hashem in Human history.
So how could Moshe have missed the point by Marah and thought he should add honey or date cake to the bitter waters to miraculously sweeten them? Why did G-D have to explicitly teach him a lesson of how He acts by using a bitter stick to sweeten the bitter waters?

We must therefore conclude, as the Etz Yosef alludes, that when it comes to making an actual change to a physical substance, even Moshe, the greatest believer of Hashem, could have some sort of blockage in his mind, to the degree that he couldn’t figure out how to appropriately sweeten the waters.

When focusing on the way the world works it is very easy to get caught up in the physical sciences, thinking that whatever scientific breakthroughs are made must be the indelible truth and that they preclude anything else from being correct. This is because it makes sense in our minds; it is logical, proven – even when it clashes with the ideals and truth of the Torah. What we see from here is that it is not surprising that such a mistake might happen, as even Moshe Rabbeinu was capable of missing the boat when it comes to such matters. And, indeed, G-D had to explicitly demonstrate for him the proper actions to take. All the more so for us; we have to strive to understand what the Torah, G-D’s blueprints of creation and instruction booklet for all mankind, is teaching us. Only then we can see how science truly fits into the way the world exists.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Bo: For the Sake of My Brother and My Friend

The word אח means brother and ריעה means friend. However, they are not just words with meanings; they have value and major ramifications.
In this week’s parsha Hashem told Moshe that he will bring one more plague on the Egyptians, and then the Jewish people would go free. However before they go Hashem told Moshe to ask the Jews to “please speak into the ears of the nation and each man shall ask his friend and each woman should ask her friend for silver and gold vessels” (Shemos 11:2).

The Rabbeinu Bachye explains that this request was not to borrow the vessels, but for the Egyptians to give it to them as a gift, and that Hashem would cause the Egyptians to find favor in their eyes to give the vessels to the Jews. The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to say that this was not extortion because the labor the Jews went through were beyond any value or level of compensation. Furthermore, the Torah says that one should compensate his slave for the work he did when he goes free, see Devarim chapter 15. So what they were taking with them was the very least they deserved for the 210 years they were enslaved.

The Rabbeinu Bachye then points out a very fascinating fact regarding the language of the verse cited: why did Hashem refer to the Egyptians as “friends” of the Jews? The Rabbeinu Bachye answers: “The reason why the verse uses a language of friendship in both masculine and feminine, it seems to me, is because before the Torah was given all of mankind were unified as friends but after the Torah was given, when G-d offered the Torah to all the nations and languages and no one accepted it except the Jewish people, then all the non-Jews left the brotherhood and friendship circle and only the Jews were left in this circle, as they were called family and friends of G-D, as it is written in Psalms 122 ‘For the sake of my brother and my friend…’ It is also understandable why the Talmud teaches us by the verse ‘for all the lost objects of your brother’ (Devarim chapter 23) and also the verse ‘you shall not charge interest to you brother’ (ibid.) [that returning lost objects and not charging interest only applies towards Jews not non-Jews.]” (Click here for Hebrew text)

The word “friend” and “brother” aren’t just words, and don’t just have meaning; they have major ramifications in Jewish law. It is a concept, a status symbol. According to Torah law, if one finds a lost object and can assume it belongs to a non-Jew the object can be kept and one doesn’t have to run after the person who lost it, because he isn’t ‘your brother.’ (However if one knows the non-Jew in question, then it might be nice to return it, thereby sanctifying G-D’s name; but it is not mandatory). One may also charge interest to non-Jews because they aren’t ‘your brother.’

But imagine the time before the Torah was officially given, or if the whole world had accepted the Torah. Everyone was part of one big family; we all stemmed from Adam and Eve, and we are all brothers and friends. Everyone had intrinsic ramification and status symbols. Imagine: the Egyptians who tortured, enslaved, and murdered us – but they are still considered our friends? Everyone in the world, no matter how different they were, how much they did not get along, still, everyone was in the same circle of friendship and brotherhood, unified, which earned them the right to be called a ‘friend.’

If an Egyptian can still be a friend then all the more so, today, our Jewish brethren, no matter how far off they have gone, whether practicing Jews or non-practicing Jews, are all still brothers and friends. Not only is it a mitzvah to return a fellow Jew’s lost object and not charge them interest, but every Jew is responsible for one another; we are one unit, unified, and should feel a responsibility to take care of one another.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Vaera: “Shidduch Advice”

The Torah relates: “And Aharon took Elisheva the daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon, as his wife and she gave birth to Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar” (Shemos 6:23).
Rava, in the Gemara Bava Basra 110a, learns from this verse that “one who wants to marry a woman must check into her brothers, as the verse states ‘And Aharon took Elisheva the daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon.’ It is implicit from the fact the verse states she was the daughter of Aminadav that she is also the sister of Nachshon so why did the Torah need to spell out that she was ‘the sister of Nachshon?’ From here we learn that one who wants to marry a woman must check into her brothers. A Braisa teaches that most sons are similar to the brother of their mother.” Rashi adds that “because she was the sister of Nachshon, the tribal leader of Yehuda that prominence is why [Aharon] married her.” The Maharsha explains that “this concept make sense because brothers and sisters, being born from the same womb, will have a greater chance of having the same nature since they came out of the same mother, as it is taught in the gemara, Tractate Nidda, that most of the body of a fetus is created from the mother, therefore most of the time he will have the same nature as his mother’s brother, whether bad or good.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
Based on this gemara and the Maharsha, it would seem that one is born with certain personality traits based on his or her genetic makeup, just as the color of one’s hair or eyes is determined by genes. For that reason Aharon married Elisheva, the sister of Nachshon, who was the Prince of the Tribe of Yehuda and the first person to walk into the Red Sea (even before it split), thereby showing unparalleled trust in Hashem. Earlier in this piece the Maharsha also pointed out (based on a Medrish) that Esav, who everyone knows was evil, came from Rivka whose brother was the evil Lavan. Yet this is not an ironclad guarantee, as we see from Yitzhak’s other son, Yaakov. Ultimately, being born with natural bad tendencies is also not a guarantee that one will live a life of sin, as ultimately everyone has bechira [free choice], and an individual born with the genetic predisposition for evil can work on themselves to become a good person. Indeed, even one who is naturally good might slip up and stray – however, it remains likely that one can indeed predict the likely personality traits his children will be born with based on his wife’s brother. This should logically mean that one should look for a wife whose brother is in good standing (unless she is the best choice in the world, as in Yitzhak’s case).The question is why; who cares what your brother-in-law is like, as long as you are compatible with and attracted to each other. She has a fine personality which you enjoy, and you get along with her; what more do you need? You see eye to eye with her on many issues concerning raising a family, including having a proper and advantageous home which each of you can see raising children in; why does anything else matter?

It would seem that family and the continuation of fine moral values is so central to Judaism that Rava suggests one must look into the brother of one’s perspective wife since most of the time his children will have the same personality, and in order to more likely raise children of fine character it is better to marry someone whose brother has fine moral character, just as we test for genetic diseases before getting married.

Ultimately, it is up to the parents on how they raise their children, and up to the children whether they choose to follow in their parent’s footsteps, no matter their genetic predisposition, as we see in the contrast between Yaakov and Esav. However, it definitely helps, and might ease the burden a bit, to take into account when looking to get married, a brother-in-law with good yichus [a highly touted background] as Aharon did.

Shemos: Defending the Defenseless

The Medrash Rabba (Shemos 1:27) relates that Moshe grew up in a very unusual way. The Mahar”zu explains that by the age of 20 (and according to some opinions 40), he was ten amos [approximately eighteen feet] tall. The medrish goes on to tell us that Moshe went out to his brethren, genuinely felt and cried over their plight, and literally leant his shoulder to help each one of them at their back-breaking work in the cement pits. And all this was done while he was still prince living in Pharaoh’s palace. He knew he was a Jew because his mother, Yocheved, raised him after his sister, Miriam, volunteered their mother to be Moshe’s nursemaid.

Moshe was later forced to flee Egypt after he came upon an Egyptian taskmaster beating an innocent Jew and killed him, burying him in the sand. Despite being caught, he was miraculously able to flee from capital punishment. He then arrived in Midi’in, where he found a group of women shepherds, seven sisters, being harassed and prevented from using a well by some male shepherds. Moshe got up, saved the women, and gave their sheep water from the well to drink (see Shemos 2:11-17).

The lesson the Ralbag learns from Moshe’s heroics in saving the sisters is thait “it is befitting for a person to inspire himself to help the weak and save them from their oppressors, because they do not have the power to do it themselves. By doing this one will perfect the equity and goodness of society and will provide somewhat of needed security. For this reason Moshe Rabbeinu had to find in himself inspiration to save the daughters of Yisro from the shepherds and give there sheep water. He also inspired himself to save the Jew from the [taskmaster] beating him for the same reason.”

The Ralbag points out that Moshe stood up and saved his fellow Jew from being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster, and the sisters of Yisro from being harassed by other male shepherds. The seemingly obvious lesson being, that one should feel obliged to protect the weak from those stronger than them, which, in turn, helps to make society a better place.

What is a bit perplexing is why the Ralbag felt the need to emphasize repeatedly that Moshe had to “inspire” or “arouse” himself to go through with these two heroic acts. As mentioned earlier, Moshe was a giant; he was very tall and very strong. He also had a gargantuan heart, which earned him the G-D-given role of redeeming the Jewish people from Egypt and leading them through the desert. He had such love and care for his fellow man that even as prince of Egypt he cried over the plight of his true brethren and physically got down and dirty with them, helping them with their forced hard labor. So why would someone, with all these amazing qualities, need to ‘stir within himself the courage to save them’ when it came to defending one of his enfeebled brothers from a beating by his superior taskmaster, or to saving  damsels in distress?

We see from here an incredible lesson in human psychology. Even someone with such a natural and immense love for all creatures, needs inspiration when put into a situation where acting to defend someone else might potentially be life-threatening. Even if one knows it is for the betterment of society, it is still difficult to put one’s life on the line. A person requires inspiration, even if it is self-motivated inspiration; there isn’t a natural instincts to save the weak from their predators.

It is very easy for one to turn a blind eye to abuse and harassment. It takes strength and a building of fortitude to really do something about it.

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Vayechi-Divine Redemption

This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, is the last one in the Book of Genesis (Sefer Breishis) The Ramban says: “The Torah completed the book of Breishis, which is the book of creation, which dealt with the creation of the world and the formation of all its creatures, as well as all the events of our Forefathers, which are also a sort of “creation” with regard to their offspring because all the events of our forefathers are illustrations to allude to and to foretell all that would come upon their offspring in the future. After it completed the story of ‘creation’ the Torah begins another book which concerns the actions that emanated from those previous accounts. The Book of Shmos is dedicated to the subject of the first exile which was decreed explicitly [to Avraham in Breishis 15:13-14] and to the redemption from that exile. This is why the Torah goes back and begins with the names of those who descended to Egypt and their number even though this was already recorded in Breishis 46:8-27. It is repeated here because there descent into Egypt marked the beginning of the exile for it at that point that it started. Now, the exile did not end until the day the people returned to their place and returned to the stature of their forefathers. When they left Egypt, even though they had left the ‘house of bondage’ they were still considered exiles for they were still ‘in a land not theirs,’ wandering in the desert. But when they arrived at Mount Sinai and built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and G-D once again caused hisShechinah (Holy Presence) to dwell among them, at that point they returned to the eminence of their forefathers of whom it may be said “the counsel of G-D was over their tents,” and [as the Medrish Rabba 47:6 states] they themselves were the Divine chariot. (I.e. they were the “base” on earth which Hashem manifested His presence to the world.) It was then that the people of Israel were considered to be redeemed [from there exile]. And this is why this book ends with its completion of the subject of the Mishkan and with the glory of Hashem filling it always.” (Click here for Hebrew text. It is found at the end of Breishis in the older Mikraos Gedolos and in the beginning of Shemos in the newer editions.)
The Ramban is clearly saying that the Jews in the desert felt truly redeemed from exile only once they had built the Mishkan [Tabernacle] and the Shechinah [Holy Presence] rested inside it even though he said earlier: “they were still considered exiles for they were still “in a land not theirs, wandering in the desert.”” At first glance this seems to be a contradiction; how they can feel redeemed while still wandering in the desert and not being settled in the promised homeland of their Patriarchs? Granted, they reached the madreiga [high spiritual level] of their forefathers at Har Sinai [Mount Sinai], but the reality was that they were still not settled in the Land of Canaan. So how could they consider themselves redeemed?  Imagine the feeling of being unsettled, knowing you are not in the comfort of your own home, constantly wandering, displaced – it does not make a difference what level you are on; you are still in exile! What does the Ramban mean when he says that the Jews were considered to be redeemed once the Holy Presence of Hashem rested on the Mishkan [Tabernacle]?

It would seem from here that a person can feel truly redeemed, even if not physically back in his home, in this case the land Israel, the  promise land –  simply just knowing that the Shechinah is constantly with him. The Children of Israel knew that they were meant to return to the Land of Canaan which was promised to their ancestors Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, and they knew that their travels in the desert were only temporary; but, still, they felt truly redeemed once they had the Shechinah [holy presence] living amongst them. Settling in the Land of Canaan would no doubt be a plus.

As an extension of this, it is interesting to note that the Gemara in Brachos 6a mentions that the Shechinah rests in shuls [synagogues], specifically when there is a minyan of at least ten men praying together. The Shechinah is also present when three judges congregate to establish a Jewish court, and even amongst one or two people deeply involved in learning Torah. Certainly we cannot feel redeemed from our current state of exile because the Shechinah is not consistently with us but during our prayers in synagogue and our learning we have the potential to feel more at ease knowing the Shechinah is there. The Shul (House of Worship,) and Beis Medrish (House of Study) are a safe haven home away from home.

There is another Gemara in Shabbos 12b which says that the Shechinah is in the room with the sick, and lends him or her support. Rashi on that verse says that G-D’s Presence supports the sick person in their  weakened state. Based on this Ramban one can speculate that being cognizant of, or truly knowing and believing that Hashem’s Shechinah is with you, can  support you when you are in a weakened state, and can have a very soothing effect on the sick.

Having a high level of belief that the Shechinah is with you is not ignoring reality; rather, it dictates reality, because Hashem is the ultimate reality.

Vayigash-A Fact of Life in Child Rearing

This dvar Torah is based on a shmuz I heard from Rabbi Daniel Meister, Director of MAJOR, campus kiruv organization in the Milwaukee area.

Now for some food for thought:

After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he brought his father and entire family down to the land of Egypt, and they settled in the city of Goshen. “Yosef settled his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the area of Ramses, as Pharaoh ordered. Yosef provided for his father, his brothers, and his father’s entire household with bread according to the needs of the children. There was no bread in all the land, for the famine was very severe. The land of Egypt and Canaan were worn out because of famine” (Breishis/Genesis 47:11-13).
Rashi (verse 12) is bothered by why the Torah says Yosef gave “bread according to the children.” Were the adult members of the household not provided for? Rashi explains that Yosef gave according to the needs of all the members of the household. The implication here is that bread was providedeven for the children, who tend to crumble and waste bread (See Sifsei Chachamim note 30).
The Mizrachi, a commentary on Rashi, elaborates and says that Yosef gave out loaves of bread even according to the needs of the child, and that is normal of them to crumble and throw around their bread; which means he gave them more than what they actually needed in order to survive. Yosef therefore, must definitely have given exactly what the adults needed to sustain themselves. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
Imagine the scene; there was a severe famine for over two years, not only in the land of Egypt but elsewhere as well, including but not limited to the land of Canaan. People are starving, food must be rationed. A plan was hatched by Yosef to be sure no one would go hungry; everyone had to come to him to get food. He gained the respect and trust of Pharaoh and his people by taking care of their needs, at whatever cost. He must have stipend every piece of grain, every loaf of bread to its exactitude; if not, imagine the uproar.

Assuming this was true, how could more bread be stipend for the children then what was needed just to eat? Either teach the children to not waste food or the parents should be extra careful to be sure no food was wasted. Why should Yosef have had to take into account the fact that children waste food at the possible expense of a future food shortage?

Everyone can picture how a baby or infant eats his or her food. I clean up my baby’s high chair and floor around it daily. The floor is full of crumbs and globs of goop from food he spreads around. Even my older children wreak a certain degree of chaos when they eat, and many times can’t finish what is on their plates.

We see from here that even in extreme situations, like severe famine, we must take into account the nature of children to waste food. One should not overreact but plan accordingly and act with patience, because that is just the way children are. Granted, as they get older, they will learn to use their manners and to have more self-control, but in the meantime we, as parents, should strive to not overreact, even when food is being wasted. If Yosef, took into account the nature of how children eat even during a time of severe famine, giving them extra food to offset their wastefulness, certainly we must have this in mind with our children.
Enjoy your next meal!

Miketz-Regesh: Showing Emotion or Caring

This dvar Torah is taken from a shmuz I heard in Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim by Rav Moshe Chait of blessed memory.

Now, for some food for thought:

According to Rav Yisrael Salanter, one of the major foundations of mussar [character development] is the natural response of people to their surroundings. There are many mitzvos in the Torah that touch our souls, such as: “And you shall love the Lord your G-D” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

An excellent illustration of regesh [caring] is found in this week’s Torah portion of Miketz, in the confrontation between Yosef and his brothers. The Rambansays that the original argument between Yosef and his brothers was regarding a matter of Jewish Law. The brothers convened a bais din [rabbinic court] and concluded that Yosef was attempting to kill them spiritually. The brothers believed that Yosef was giving reports to their father Yaakov, telling him that the brothers didn’t deserve to continue the line of Torah, just as Yishmael and Esav lost that privilege. If this was the argument, then it must have been a very harsh claim; on the other hand, we see the sensitive feelings demonstrated by the brothers. They couldn’t bring themselves to physically kill him Yosef; rather, they threw him into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions. Only after they saw that he was not being touched by these lethal creatures did they decide he was not deserving of death, and instead sold him into slavery.

In Breishis [Genesis] Chapter 42, verse 3 it says: “Ten of the brothers of Yosef went down to Egypt to get provisions.” Rashi points out that it says the “brothers of Yosef” and not the “sons of Yaakov” to indicate that the brothers regretted selling Yosef, even after 22 years. They were prepared, as brothers, to find him and bring him home.

The Ramban observes that in verses 10-18 Yosef, in disguise, proclaims to his brothers that they are spies, and places them under arrest. He then says that he will only detain one of them, and that the rest can return home, with food, because “I fear G-D.” Yosef’s demonstration of fearing G-D was demonstrated in that people being accused of spying would normally be punished with the death penalty; but since he claimed to be G-D fearing, he shows that he cared about their family. That is why he sent them home with provisions; a true G-D fearing individual is willing to perform acts of kindness, even at his own expense.

Rashi again points out that Yosef jailed the one brother, Shimon, “in front of their face” to show his seriousness. But when they had departed he freed Shimon and treated him well, out of feelings of brotherhood.

When the brothers came back with Binyamin, Yosef asked: “Is this your little brother?” and proceeded to bless him. The Ramban says that Yosef was still ready to put them in jail, but was testing his brothers to see if they still had hatred for him due to the fact that he was not from the same mother as them. In this same scene he subsequently broke down and had to run to  another room to cry.

The Yalkut Shimone (paragraph 150) says that when Yosef blessed Binyamin he got close to him and asked him if he had a brother. Binyamin said: “I had a brother but I have missed him for 22 years.” Yosef asked: “Do you have a wife?” Binyamin replied: “Yes with ten children and all the children were named after the anguish of being without my brother.” That was why Yosef broke down crying; he saw the love that Binyamin had for his lost brother, even after 22 years.

We cannot develop our character without being in tune to our emotions. One must have feelings of caring and love for one’s fellow man. The true sign of love is sacrifice; the problem is that people are like logs: numb and without feeling.

Vayeshev- Blurred Gray or Clear Gray

After the brothers sold Yosef into slavery, tore his garments, dipped them in goat’s blood and told their father that Yosef was torn apart by a wild animal, Yaakov ripped his garments and was inconsolable. “All his sons and daughters got up to comfort him and he refused solace, he said ‘I will mourn for my son until I am buried’ and his father cried over him” (Breishis [Genesis] 37:35).
The Daas Zekeinim asks who these daughters were, for there was only one known daughter of Yaakov, Dinah. The Daas Zekeinim answers that, according to one opinion, each of Yaakov’s sons were born with a twin sister, and the twins married each other. The Daas Zekeinim askes an obvious question; doesn’t it say in Gemara [Talmud] tractate Yoma 28b that Avraham our forefather observed every single mitzvah, even eruv tavshilin (the rabbinic enactment which allows one to cook on Shabbos for Yom Tov when Yom Tov falls on Friday)? They even fulfilled the mitzvah of yibum [levirate marriage] as Yehuda told his son to do after his brother passed away without children. If this was the case, how did Yaakov’s sons marry there sisters? Also, how did Yaakov marry two sisters?

The Daas Zekeinim answers that since they were not commanded to follow the Torah, even though they knew it through Divine inspiration [ruach hakodesh], whatever they wanted to do they fulfilled and whatever they did not want to do they set aside.

Yet when it says in Gemara [tractate Pesachim 119b] that ‘in the World to Come at the Feast of the Righteous Yaakov will be given the cup of wine to lead the Grace after the Meal (bircas hamazon) but he will refuse it because he married two sister,’ this implies that it was an inappropriate thing to do. So why did he marry them?
The Daas Zekeinim say that one can answer that despite it not being forbidden at the time, never the less, since the Torah declared it forbidden in the future, he deserved a slight punishment. And despite knowing that he would receive a slight punishment for marrying them, he did so because he only wanted to marry righteous women and he was unable to find, in that generation, women as righteous as them. To marry one (just Leah or Rochel) would have been impossible, because one woman could not have given birth to all twelve tribes. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Taking this to a deeper level, we arrive at something very perplexing. Yaakov, and all the tribes for that matter, were on extremely high levels of belief and understanding of Hashem, of reward and punishment. They understood that the Torah is the blueprints of creation and they were divinely inspired to live their lives with this tool. They obviously, therefore, felt that the right decision was to observe what the Torah entails in order to  ensure they lived a healthy and moral life, and that they keep the world functioning in a healthy and moral manner. We can assume they wouldn’t do anything too negligent, which might compromise their belief system.

If so, something is not right here. If it was deserving of punishment, why did Yaakov marry two sisters? And if they were the ones he was supposed to marry, because they were the best candidates, why was he even slightly punished?
We must conclude, then, that not everything is black or white; rather, many things in life are shades of gray. It is possible that Yaakov had to marry two sisters even if the Torah said that it was  forbidden to do so, and that there would be automatic consequences to him, which would, to some degree, effects the whole entire world. It was still the right decision to make, as there was no one else in the world befitting to marry.

After the Torah was given to the Jews on Har Sinai [Mount Sinai] the mitzvos inside were no longer voluntary. However we can still learn a tremendous lesson; that one cannot assume every situation in life is black or white. We have to acknowledge there are many shades of gray. It is very likely that we won’t be able to make some decisions on our own, especially tough ones. But that is why it isimportant to seek advice, especially from a Torah authority, who has a stronger understanding of the intricacies of right and wrong.

Vayishlach-True Kindness

One of the purposes for G-D creating the world is in order for people to be nice to each other, which emulates Hashem who is constantly being kind to us by keeping the universe and everything inside it in existence (as well as running the world). Examples of kind deeds between a man and his fellow include making the bride and groom happy at a wedding, comforting a mourner, visiting the sick, burying the dead, and the like (see Ethics of Our Fathers [Pirkay Avos] 1:2 with the Bartenura in detail.)
This week’s parsha states: “Devora the nursemaid of Rivka passed away and she was buried [at the bottom of the mountain] of Beis El under the tree and they called it Alon Bachus” (Brieshis 35:8).The lesson the Ralbag learns from this verse is that it is appropriate for people to do kindness for those who passed on, who had done good for them in their lifetime. For this reason the Torah tells us that Yaakov called the tree which Devora, the nursemaid of Rivka [his mother], was buried under ‘Alon Bechus,’ (literally “tree of crying”), in order to publicize that they had cried over her there. Indeed, Yaakov also set up a monument on the burial plot of [his wife] Rachel in order that her memory would be remembered for a very long time. These are the examples of acts of kindness which will never disappear. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We often define chesed, or an act of kindness, as doing something for someone else which will be beneficial to that person and will make him or her feel good. It is understandable that burying the dead is such an act and one which benefits the person, as otherwise his body would be disgraced. It would be an indignity to the soul of a person to have his body, which served, clothed, and protected him for all the years of his life, to be put to waste. It is therefore a benefit to the soul for the body not to be put to shame, and to be buried properly. But what benefit is there in leaving an everlasting monument to a person, or to name something after them? He or she is dead; hopefully the soul is in a better place, basking in the Presence of Hashem, which the first chapter of Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Just) describes as ‘the ultimate enjoyment.’ What more does an individual gain by having something erected that ensures a long lasting remembrance in this temporal world?It would seem, then, that the definition of an act of kindness is not just to provide a benefit to another. Rather, it is treating someone else with proper respect. Out of immense gratitude towards his mother’s nursemaid, Yaakov felt he had to honor Devora by naming the place in which she was buried. Kever Rochel is famous; jews from around the world flock to Rachel’s grave to pray to Hashem and beseech her assistance to speak to Hashem on their behalf. But the reason why Yaakov erected a monument over her grave was due to a feeling of immense respect for his wife, which was expressed through the perpetuation of her name, in the form of a monument.

Today many people donate money to name a building or institution after loved ones who have passed on, as a remembrance. It would seem from here that this is an incredible kindness to the dead because of the respect being shown; a kindness that cannot be paid back. Showing respect and honor to others in their lifetime and afterwards is one of the reasons the world exists.