Vayeshev – Blocked From the Obvious

This week’s Torah portion of Vayeshev begins by recounting the drama that takes place between Yosef and his brothers, which ultimately lasts until the end of  Sefer Breishis.
Yosef’s brothers threw him into a pit which, while devoid of water, contained poisonous  snakes and scorpions. Even though the brothers convened a court and in their eyes legitimately found Yosef guilty of trying to kill them in both this world and the Next (which would give them the right to kill him before that happened), the brothers did not want blood on their hands. They therefore threw him into the pit, so that he might die in a back-handed manner. Instead,  Hashem made a miracle that the snakes and scorpions did not touch Yosef.

In the meantime the brothers “sat down to eat a meal, and they lifted their eyes and saw, and behold, a caravan of Yishmaelites were coming from Gilad, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus, they were going down to Egypt.  Yehuda said to his brothers, ‘What is the gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Yishmaelites, and our hands shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh.’ His brothers listened to him. Then Midianite men, merchants, passed by, and they pulled and lifted Yosef from the pit, and they sold Yosef to the Yishmaelites for twenty silver coins, and they brought Yosef to Egypt. Reuvain returned to the pit, and behold, Yosef was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, ‘The boy is gone! And I, where will I go?’ They took Yosef’s coat, and they slaughtered a goat, and they dipped the coat in the blood. They sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought it to their father, and they said, ‘We have found this; please recognize if this is your son’s coat or not’” (Breishis 37:25-32).

The Chizkuni (based on the interpretation of events according to theRashbam) explains that after the brothers threw Yosef into the pit they sat far away to eat some bread so that they wouldn’t hear his cries for help. The brothers saw the Yishmaelite merchants coming their way but the Midianite merchants happened to be passing by the pit and heard Yosef screaming and crying. The Midianites took Yosef out of the pit and sold him to the Yishmaelites. The Yishmaelites then gave him back to the Midianites as a deposit for the sale and both of them sold Yosef to Potiphar in Egypt. This makes sense of the verses: “And the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar” (verse 36). Later the Torah says: “Potiphar bought him from the Yishmaelites” (39:1). And another verse states, when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers: “When you sold me to Egypt,” meaning all this was caused through their actions (45:4).

The brothers did not know what had happened, and when Reuvain went to the pit and did not find Yosef, they all thought a wild animal must have devoured him. They weren’t even lying to their father, for if they would have sold him to anyone there would not have been a nation or kingdom on earth where they would not have inquired about their brother, until they were able to ascertain whether he was dead or alive. Furthermore, if they had actually been unsure whether he was alive or dead, would they not have recognized his features or the way he spoke [when they were in Egypt]? Indeed, Yosef also dropped three hints for them, beginning when he told Binyamin: “May G-D favor you my son” (43:29), then when he gave him five times the amount of goods to take home (verse 34), and finally when he sat the brothers in order of oldest to youngest. They should have been quite suspicious. Rather it must be as was explained [that they thought surely a wild animal consumed Yosef]. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

At the time of the confrontation between Yosef and his brothers in Egypt everyone was much older and wiser. Furthermore they were Yaakov’s sons; they were not naïve at all. Finally, there was no clue whatsoever that he was actually eaten up by a wild animal. They dipped Yosef’s coat in blood as a sign of what they thought happened and sent the coat through messengers because they couldn’t face their father and see his reaction. Yaakov made the logical conclusion from what he saw with his own eyes. So how could the brothers have been so convinced he was dead to the extent that they would be able to ignore all the signs pointing to the fact he is alive? How could they have totally missed the boat, with the facts literally going right over their heads?!

It must be that once someone makes up their mind about something it is extremely hard to change it. Even if all the evidence seems to indicate the opposite, the person will be unable to pick up on it because he or she is stuck in their own reality. That is why the brothers never suspected that the Egyptian viceroy was Yosef before he revealed himself, and, really, even after he revealed himself, it took time to digest.

Vayishlach – Block Out

This week’s Torah portion of Vayishlach presents us with the third mitzvah in the Torah, the commandment not to eat the gid hanasheh [sciatic nerve]. This mitzvah is based on the incident where Yaakov won a fight with an angel, but not before the angel crippled his sciatic nerve. The Sforno learns that Hashem sent down this angel, with the purpose of the encounter being to send a message to Yaakov that Hashem would save him and his children in all confrontations with Esav. And even though there might be material loss at times, such as his crippled nerve, ultimately, there will be salvation and blessing. At first the angel was powerless against Yaakov because Yaakov attached himself to Hashem fully and constantly in thought and speech; but the angel eventually began telling Yaakov of the sins the future leaders of Israel would commit, which made Yaakov start to worry. This ultimately detached him from Hashem, which allowed the angel to smite him in the hallow of his thigh (the location of the sciatic nerve) during the skirmish. When the sun rose the next day Yaakov was healed.

The Torah ends this episode by stating: “Therefore the Children of Israel do not eat the sciatic nerve which is on the socket of the hip until this day, for he touched the socket of Yaakov’s hip by the sciatic nerve” (Breishis 32:33). The Sforno explains why it is forbidden to eat this area on a kosher animal: “In order so that the damage inflicted [by the angel] when he touched the hip socket, will not be a damage which we are concerned about.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

As Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz puts it: “The prohibition to eat the gid hanasheh, the sinew of the thigh vein, is not in memory of this event, but to demonstrate for all time that the damage inflicted upon Yaakov by the angel is of no account to us and we eschew it completely to indicate that it is of no importance to us.”

One would think that if this episode was really of no importance, then there would be no reason to forbid eating that area. Should we not just ignore the whole issue if we truly don’t care? Why make a big deal out of it and make a mitzvah to not eat it, simply to show it is unessential to us? It sounds counterproductive!

However, it would seem that if we were permitted to eat this area of the thigh, then every time it was on someone’s plate in front of them they might start thinking about the incident of Yaakov and the angel and get all worked up about it. That is human nature, to have a physical stimulus trigger thoughts in one’s head. And even after 4,000 years it can’t simply be ignored! Therefore, we have to actively take it out of our consciousness by not being put into a situation where we might get worked up about it.

We learn from here an important lesson often overlooked! Something that is bothering you cannot just be ignored. It just doesn’t work that way. One has to take steps to eliminate or handle the bothersome problem.

Vayetzei – A Light unto the Nations

There is a verse in this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei which has become a very famous song. It happens to have been my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l’s, favorite song.
“והיה זרעך כעפר הארץ ופרצת ימה וקדמה וצפנה ונגבה ונברכו בך כל משפחת האדמה ובזרעך.”

“And your offspring will be like the dust of the earth and you will spread out west and east and north and south and all the families on earth will be blessed because of you and your offspring” (Breishis 28:14).

Hashem came to Yaakov in the famous dream of a ladder spanning from the ground
to heaven with angels going up and down it. There are many interpretations of the dream in Chaza”l. Focusing specifically on this verse, the Rada”k says that Hashem told Yaakov: “Because of you and your offspring all the families will be blessed for one who performs the mitzvos of Hashem and he recognizes that He is alone and Master of the World is subsisting the world and the world exists because of him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 1) tells us: “If one has control over himself and clings to his Creator, and only uses this world to help him serve Hashem, he will be elevated and the world itself will be elevated with him. For it is a great benefit for all of creation to be used by man in his holy perfection, sanctified by Hashem.”
The Mesillas Yesharim is teaching us that the whole world was created for one purpose, to serve humanity. If a person uses the world in the correct manner he becomes a better person and the world becomes a better place. This is real tikkun olam! (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Rada”k, at first glance, is taking this concept one step further. If we perform Torah and mitzvos and have a strong belief in Hashem then all the families on earth will be blessed, simply because we are fulfilling the purpose for which the world exists. It makes logical sense, that if we use the properties of this world the world will become better.  Trees being used in building a shul or making a Torah, cows being used to make a Klaf (parchment) for a Torah or tefillin, or being slaughtered properly to eat with a blessing, are all examples of elevating the status of creation from something mundane to something holy, thereby fulfilling the purpose of creation. But what did a family in China or Africa or wherever else do to deserve a blessing; simply because we are observing the mitzvos properly and have a high belief in Hashem? On the contrary, every human being was endowed with free choice, and we have a choice to fix the world or destroy it – which includes Jews and non-Jews alike! So how can my Torah observance, wherever I live, make a difference to the rest of humanity? Is it magic?

Another question is, if it truly is “magic,” meaning that if Hashem just blesses all the families of the earth because of what the Jews do, then why does the pasuk (verse) say: “When you will be scattered?” Why is it when we will be scattered throughout the world then all the families of the earth will be blessed, if we observe the mitzvos and have a high belief in Hashem? Can’t that be accomplished if we were all together?

Rather, it would seem that our optimal Torah observance and belief in Hashem is not just “magical,” but, rather, when people around us see our commitment to Hashem and his Torah it makes a tremendous impact and can influence them to be better people. That is why everyone would be deserving of blessing; the more sincerity we have in our Torah observance, the more of an impact it will have on the world. The world in its totality will be a better place with everyone and everything fulfilling their mission in life.

Toldos – Red in His Eyes

In this week’s Torah portion of Toldos we find the emergence of two opposite personalities, Yaakov and Esav. The first event recorded in the Torah of the two brothers (outside the womb) is the sale of the firstborn birthright. “Yaakov was cooking up a stew and Esav came from the field and he was exhausted. Esav said to Yaakov, ‘Please pour for me from this reddish red stuff for I am exhausted.’ Therefore he was called Edom [The Red One]. Yaakov said, ‘Sell your first born birthright to me today.’ Esav said, ‘I am going to die, what is the firstborn birthright to me?’ Yaakov said, ‘Swear to me today.’ He swore to him and he sold his firstborn birthright to Yaakov. And Yaakov gave to Esav bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and he got up and he left, and Esav belittled the firstborn birthright” (Bereishis 25:29-31).
The Rashbam, in his own clarification of this episode, explains that Esav was a hunter and Yaakov was the shepherd of his father’s flock. One day, when Esav came back from a hunt, he was exhausted and, quickly asking for something, repeated his words: ‘reddish red stuff,’ as is not uncommon to do when rushed. Since he was exhausted and starving it was as if he was asking to be quickly given something to eat. The reason he was known as “Edom” is because he had a red complexion and an appetite for red foods. Ultimately, due to his being famishmed, he sold his firstborn birthright. He was called Edom in dishonor, for because of a red-looking food he sold his firstborn birthright. Yaakov wanted Esav to sell the birthright immediately, so he asked Esav: ‘Immediately sell to me the monetary aspect of your portion of the birthright which father is supposed to give to you and then I will give you the food as testimony and a guarantee of the deal.’ We find this also by the agreement between Lavan and Yaakov at the end of the Torah portion of Vayetzei, where afterwards they ate together by a monument (31:46). When Esav gave the excuse that he was going to die, he said: ‘Every day I go to hunt wild animals in the forest where bears, lions and other dangerous animals are common place and I am putting my life on the line so why should I wait to accept my portion of the firstborn birthright after our father dies?’ This was the point at which Esav belittled the firstborn birthright. So Esav sold the birthright for money, and afterwards Yaakov gave Esav the food to seal the deal, as was the tradition in that day and age. The Torah points out that Esav belittled the birthright because in the end he regretted what he did, as it writes [when he finds out Yaakov received the blessings]: ‘My firstborn birthright he took.’ The Torah therefore is informing us of his stupidity; now, when he was eating, he belittles the firstborn birthright; but in the end he regretted it. (Click here, here, here, here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Chizkuni, when explaining the Rashbam’s version of the events that took place, adds that because Esav did not want people to think hewas a fool for selling his firstborn birthright, belittled it and said it was not worth much to him. But in the end he regretted having sold it. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Esav was not rebelling when he sold the birthright – it was an act of utter stupidity. Who knows how much money the double-portion-inheritance would be worth when Yitzhak passed away?  Yaakov specifically bought the monetary aspect of the birthright; definitely something Esav wanted and regretted giving. What caught Esav off guard? Was he so tired that he couldn’t think straight and therefore made such a blunder? That couldn’t be true, because he had the presence of mind to swear on the deal. It wasn’t an easy and fast transaction. Could a bowl of lentil soup really smell that good?

We see from hear how complex one’s physical desires are. For it wasn’t just the fact that it was a bowl of lentil soup; rather, it was red. If it would not have been red it would seem from the Rashbam that Esav would never have made the deal. But when he saw red, and he was attracted to red things, it entrapped him! Yes, he was tired and ravenous, but to give up all that money doesn’t make sense! This is the strength of  physical desire. It is mesmerizing and  tantalizing, and if a person does not have control over it he can enter a trance, even swearing on things which he really does not mean, and make stupid deals which he will regret.

Esav’s physical attraction to or obsession with red things was his ultimate demise. What he tried to hide with excuses was what he became known for: Edom, the one who couldn’t keep his desires in check. How important it is for one to work on self-control and never ever let physical desires run your life!

Chayei Sarah – Two Faced Politician

Did you ever wonder what Lavan’s profession was? The Medrish Rabba (Breishis 60:7) says he was a politician and the Maharz”u on the Medrish says his name wasn’t really Lavan it was either Kemuel (Listed in the end of last week’s Torah Portion) or Bilaam (Yes, the famous Bilaam, see Targum Yonasan ben Uziel in Bamidbar 22:5).
That Medrish Rabba in fact makes an argument for why he was known as Lavan: “Rebbe Yitzhak says it was praise, he was dexterous and clever. However Rebbe Brechya said it had a negative connotation meaning white with wickedness.”

Rashi on the Medrish explains that according to Rebbe Yitzhak he was Second in Command, a ruler who would protect the wronged and “whiten” (or defend) their deeds and would judge court cases between a man and his fellow, and whiten (or clarify) judgement. The Etz Yosef adds that this was a great praise for him. According to Rebbe Brechya his wickedness was as white, or clear for everyone to see. (Click here for Hebrew text)

If we accept the argument that the name of Lavan was a great praise, we must also then say that he was a very complex individual. For it would seem that Lavan was a very honest individual who was always trying to make peace and always supportive of the underdog. He was known for this, and had the power and intelligence to carry out this noble lifestyle. On the other hand we know Lavan was also a sly con artist. Rashi in the Chumash (Breishis 29:18) says that Yaakov had to give Rachel signs before their wedding night because he knew [Lavan] was a fraudster. Even worse, we say in the Haggada: “Go and learn what Lavan the Aramean attempted to do to our father Yaakov! For Pharaoh decreed only against the males and Lavan attempted to uproot everything, as it says (Devarim 26:5) ‘An Aramean attempted to destroy my father, and he descended to Egypt etc.’” Lavan was a worse villain than Pharaoh!

How could someone known to be so evil and dishonest also have a reputation for standing up for honesty and pursuing peace?

There are a number of indicators in Chumash (with Rashi) that Lavan had an eye for wealth. This seems to have been the source of his downfall, as we see in this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, regarding when Rivka comes home with Eliezer, Avraham’s servant: “Rivka had a brother whose name was Lavan: Lavan ran to the man, outside to the spring” (24:29). Rashi asks why Lavan ran, and for what did he run for? Rashi answers that when he saw the nose ring [given to Rivka, Lavan said to himself] ‘he must be rich’ and he wanted to eye his money.

When Rachel brings Yaakov home, the Torah relates: “And it was, when Lavan heard the news of Yaakov his sister’s son, he ran towards him, embraced him, kissed him, and took him to his house; he recounted to Lavan all these events” (Breishis 29:13). Rashi on that pasuk says that Lavan thought he was carrying money, because in the previous visit the servant of his house came with ten loaded camels.

We see from this how complex a human being is. A person can be a beloved leader, helping the underdog, and determined to resolve justice with a good name, while simultaneously being so corrupt that he is known throughout history as the prototypical swindler, a person worse than the evil Pharaoh. All because money got the better of him.

Vayera – The Ultimate Weapon: Kindness

Yishmael is 16 years old. “Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, mocking. (The Ramban says he was making fun of Yitzhak. Rashi mentions he was actually shooting arrows in Yitzhak’s direction because he was quarreling over Avraham’s inheritance.) So she said to Avraham, ‘Drive out this maidservant with her son, for the son of that maidservant should not inherit with my son, with Yitzhak!’ The matter greatly distressed Avraham regarding his son. So Hashem said to Avraham, ‘Be not destressed over the youth or your maidservant: Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice, since through Yitzhak will offspring be considered yours. But the son of the maidservant as well will I make into a nation for he is your offspring.’ So Avraham awoke in the morning, took bread, and a flask of water, and gave them to Hagar. He placed them on her shoulder along with the boy, and sent her off. She departed, and strayed in the desert of Be’er Sheva” (Breishis 21:9-14).
The Rabbeinu Bachye (verse 14) commenting on Avraham getting up early and giving them bread and water says: “He should have given her silver, gold and camels to carry them according to the wealth Avrhaham had, for he had prayed for his son Yishmael to live with him but since Sarah told him to banish him and his mother, and Hashem told Avraham that anything Sarah said you shall listen to, therefore without a choice he listened to Sarah and banished him [Yishmael] and his mother with bread and water. This is the explanation of the Ramban z”tl. It would seem obvious to say that the reason why he banished him with just bread and water is because [Avraham] had something else in mind. This was that Avraham saw through prophesy that in the future his children will be persecuted under the hand of Yishmael and he will hate them with great hatred, for there is no other nation in the world who hates the Jews like the offspring of Yishmael. So therefore Avraham acted with him as one should act with a person who hates you, and he gave him bread and water, just as the verse in Mishlei (Proverbs 25:21) writes, ‘If the one who hates you is starving give him bread to eat and if he is thirsty give him water.’” (Click here for Hebrew text)The Ralbag in Mishlei explains that one should not stop from being gracious to [those that hate you] to feed him bread if he is hungry and give him water if he is thirsty for this is a very praiseworthy quality, to be nice to all people, whether they love you or hate you. For if he harden your heart, how will you be good to him if he is bad to you? In truth if you act kindly towards him using your positive attributes, this is the ultimate revenge upon him. “For they are hot coals being poured over his head and Hashem will pay you back” (verse 22). The Ralbag goes on to explain that [being nice to him] is in fact hard on him, like pouring hot coals over his head to burn him, because of the amount of embarrassment he has over the goodness he accepts from you in place of the bad he gives you. Ultimately, Hashem will reward you for the kindness you treat him. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Acts of love and kindness are one of the pillars that keep the world going. Even though Hashem guarantees a reward for acting kindly, and it is  in and of itself a form of revenge on those who hate you, how is it actually possible to feel and act kindly to them? Particularly if those who hate you seem to be eternal enemies who will do anything to wipe you off the face of the earth, whether it be suicide bombings, stabbings, stone throwing, ruthless torture, or any  other form of coldblooded murder?Granted, there is a mitzvah to defend one self and to use any means necessary to prevent loss of innocent life; however, one still cannot lose his own positive traits and must always act with kindness. No matter who is starving or thirsty you must provide, even if it is an enemy that wants you and your people wiped off the face of the earth. This does not mean, however, that one should be overly kind to those that hate you. Avraham and the verse in Mishlei are teaching us that there must be a balance. Showering one’s enemy with love and kindness won’t get them to change. All the money in the world won’t make a difference. But to at least give them bread and water if they are starving and possibly dying of thirst is still a great kindness, as well as being a slap in the face of their evil demeanor.

Lech Lecha – Shalom Bayis: Household Harmony

In this week’s Torah portion of Lech Lecha, after ten years of living in the Land of Israel at the age of 76, Sarah feels she doesn’t have the merit to raise a family with Avraham, who was promised by Hashem to have offspring, and gives her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to Avraham as a wife. Hagar becomes pregnant and the Torah says “Her mistress [Sarah] was lowered in her esteem. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘The outrage against me is due to you! It was I who gave my maidservant to you [as a wife], and now that she sees that she has conceived, I became lowered in her esteem. Let Hashem judge between me and you!’ Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold your maidservant is in your hand; do as you see fit.’ And Sarai dealt harshly with her, so she fled from her” (Breishis 16:4-6).

The Ralbag says that Sarah had the purest intentions. Hagar was not treating her master as a servant should treat a master so Sarah wanted to rebuke her for acting out of place. But she first asked her husband, Avraham, permission before doing so and Avraham acquiesced.  At first Hagar did not accept the harsh rebuke and she fled from Avraham’s household.

The Ralbag learns from Sarah that “it is not befitting for a wife to take action without the will of her husband, for in this way it will complete the fix up of the home, [yushlam tikkun habayis]. For we see that Sarah did not want to rebuke her maidservant without her husband, Avraham’s permission.” (Click here for Hebrew text, Toeles 3)

The Ralbag learns from Avraham that “it is befitting for a person to leave his place for the sake of peace in the house [shalom bayis].  For we see that Avraham allowed Sarah to do to her maidservant what she felt was proper in her eyes even though she [Hagar] conceived through him and Avraham did not have any other children, but he still did this in order to appease his wife, Sarah.” (Click here for Hebrew text, Toeles 4)

At first glance one might ask that Sarah is being manipulative upon her request because of course she knows that Avraham wants to do the right thing and views shalom bayis as something very important in a marriage so of course he would accept her request so how does this creates true synthesis in the home? Sarah is potentially risking the life of Avraham’s child and second wife who she gave to him. Avraham feels forced to comply because he understands human sensitivities and does not want to create any friction between husband and wife. Sarah was his main wife for many, many years and still was!

However what we learn from here is that true synergy in the home is the mutual respect one has for one another. The very act of Sarah asking permission from Avraham knowing he would agree, and Avraham agreeing because he knows how important shalom bayis is, is what shows the ultimate respect for one another and creates that harmony and trust between husband and wife in order to create the perfect home.

Noach – The Joke Is On Them

Did you ever wonder how Noach fit all the animals into the ark he built? The Torah says the dimensions of the ark were “300 amah in length, 50 amah in width, and 30 amah in height” (Breishis 6:15). According to the biggest estimate, the Chazon Ish says an amah is 22.7 inches. That means the ark was L 567.5 ft. (189.7 yd.) x W 94.6 ft. (31.5 yd.) x H 56.75 ft.  (which would equal 18.9 ft. per level, over 3 levels). In a nutshell, the ark was smaller in length than two football fields, and  a giraffe could barely fit inside, as they are 16- to 20-ft. tall.
The Rabbeinu Bachye was bothered by this issue:  “Hashem commanded [Noach] to make [an ark] with these exact measurements and for the many kinds of species of animals needed to be brought onto [the ark] which included kosher and non-kosher domesticated animals and birds, as well as big and small wild animals, two of each animal (seven of each kosher animal), and there were humongous wild animals like the elephant and oryx! According to the laws of nature even 50 arks of the same measurement would be too small to include every type of animal! Rather it must have been a great miracle without a doubt to fit a lot in such a small amount of area!”

However the Rabbeinu Bachye is not finished: “And perhaps it is appropriate to ask here that since this matter was a miracle why did [Noach] have to build an ark with this exact material and measurements with three floors? Hashem could have saved them without an ark. They could have walked on water or flown through the air because Hashem can do anything and nothing could stop Him!” (Parenthetically we do see such a precedent, many generations later, when Hashem sent the plagues on Egypt; for example, a Jew could be drinking water out of a cup and an Egyptian drinking out of the same cup of water would swallow blood. Or during the plague of darkness a Jew could be walking in light, while the same location was in darkness for an Egyptian.)

The Rabbeinu Bachye has two answers to this question. The first answer is: “the way of the Torah is to command man to do all he can possibly do within natural means and whatever is missing, Hashem will miraculously fill in the gaps.”

The second answer, which calls for more scrutiny,  is: “Our Rabbis of blessed memory have taught us that through the making of the ark, which [Noach] was consistently working on day in and day out with its length and breadth people will see what he is doing and talk about it over and over again and it will arouse them to repent from there evil ways. If they don’t repent then they are definitely wicked and of little faith deserving of Hashem’s exact strict judgement upon them.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

 At first glance, any member of society at that time, which was so engrossed in their own desires, stealing, murdering, and engaging in incest and idolatry, would think that Noach was a madman., While simultaneously proclaiming an apocalypse and stating that the only way the species will survive is if at least two of every single animal is brought onto an ark – an ark which can’t even fit all of them! What lunacy! What a joke! The guy must be out of his mind, spending over a hundred years wasting his time building such a thing! Who would ever listen to him and his prophecies of doom!?

However, we see from here a very important lesson in communication, and a very ingenious psychological tactic, which is that when people start talking to each other, different perspectives and outlooks start to pop up. It makes no difference if they begin making fun of the situation; as long as they continue talking about it, they will start questioning in their mind whether their preconceive notions are really true and whether they might possibly come to a different conclusion. Of course, everyone has free choice and could choose to ignore the truth. However the potential is there to now arrive at the truth, since due to the fact that everyone is talking about the subject at hand, new ideas are able to be thought of and presented, and, slowly but surely, the truth has the ability come out.

That is why it was worth it to spend all that time and energy building an ark, and why the generation of Noach was held accountable for being of such little faith. They had the potential to arrive at the truth but they chose instead to remain steadfast in their ways and to ignore all the warning signals buzzing in their ears and in front of their faces.

Taking advice from others, bouncing an idea off someone else, or just talking things out can make a great amount of  difference in one’s perspective, ultimately impacting the whole entire world.

Breishis – “The Undeniable Truth”

There is an interesting observation that can be made on this week’s Torah portion. When the Torah lists the genealogy between Adam and Noah, in chapter 5 of Breishis, it discusses specifically the lineage of Shes, one of Adam’s children. Adam’s other son, Hevel was killed by his brother Kayin before he had any children, and there is no mention of Adam when the Torah discusses Kayin’s genealogy in the previous chapter, and neither is there a mention of Kayin when the Torah discusses Adam’s genealogy in this chapter.
The Torah begins Adam’s genealogy by stating: “Adam lived 130 years and gave birth in his likeness, like his image and he was called by the name of Shes” (Breishis 5:3). The Rosh, commenting on the words “and gave birth in his likeness, like his image,” asks from whom did the generations of willful sinners descend? The Rosh answers that the willful sinners and wicked people came from Kayin; they had said ‘Let us remove ourselves from G-D’. (Click here fore Hebrew text.)

The Rosh seems to be bothered by the fact that the Torah uses a similar language when G-D created Adam in Chapter 1, verse 26: “And G-D said, ‘we shall make man in our image like us…’” The Rosh there explains “in our image” to mean in an image which is unique to him by us. This is referring to the image on “Hashem’s Holy Throne,” a face of a man which is shown to a person at the time of prophecy. “Like us” is referring to the fact that man is slightly similar to the celestial beings, i.e. angels, to be able to differentiate between good and bad…” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Adam was created to a degree of perfection nearly that of an angel, with a direct link to Hashem through prophesy. The Torah is testifying to this by using the same language that it uses when creating man, when Adam had Shes, that Adam’s generations through Shes had perfected all the levels of character development in the book Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Just, by Rabby Moshe Chaim Luzzato).  This led to prophesy, the conduit between man and G-D, and they were on a level just below that of angels, knowing good and evil, close to where Adam was before he sinned. It must therefore be impossible that the generations of sinners who G-D felt impelled to wipe out in the flood could have come from them! We must therefore conclude that all the evil and sinners came from Kayin, regarding whom the Torah does not mention Adam or being created in his image, like it does  when listing his genealogy.

The Rosh then explains why Kayin and his descendants did not reach the levels of “made in his image and likeness;” even though they too stemmed from Adam, it is because “they said, ‘we shall remove ourselves from G-D.’” It seems from this statement that they knew the undeniable truth. There were walking, breathing, upstanding individuals who glowed with purity and righteousness, but the majority of people in the world, for whatever reason, chose to not walk in the ways of Hashem and do His will. Yet they could not just deny the truth and what was moral; they had to verbally tell themselves that they wanted to remove themselves from G-D. That was the only way they could become so evil. It was not out of ignorance, or laziness, or just an unwillingness to acknowledge the difference between right and wrong. They had to actively remove themselves from what was clearly right by telling themselves to move away. Only then were they able to digress into such a rut that Hashem reneged on His creation and essentially started all over again with Noah and his family.

It is possible for a person to know and understand the undeniable truth but still do the wrong thing. But in order to do so, the individual would need to actively remove him or herself from the correct path, for whatever personal reason, in order to totally stray.

VEZOS HABROCHAH – “The Blessings of Unity and Peace”

Written by Rabbi Dovid Vinitsky shlit”a in Sefer Darchei Shalom

וזאת הברכה

 

In Parshas Vezos Habrochah, the Torah tells us that when there is peace between Bnei Yisroel, then the Holy Presence of Hashem will rest on them. The Torah writes, וַיְהִי בִישֻׁרוּן מֶלֶךְ בְּהִתְאַסֵּף רָאשֵׁי עָם יַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל “There was a King in Yeshurun at the gathering of the counting, the tribes of Yisroel in unity” (Devorim 33:5).

          Rashi explains that when Bnei Yisroel gather together in a single unit and sholom (peace) exists amongst them – then Hashem is their King in the fullest sense. However, this is not true when there is arguing among them (Devorim 33:5 and Rashi). The Sefer Ma’alos Hamiddos further explains that Hashem’s Kingdom and the Shechinah (Holy Presence of Hashem) will be fully established among the people when there is unity.

The Sefer Ma’ alos Hamiddos mentions several examples that show the benefits and rewards of maintaining peace and despising arguments. First, the Midrash (Rabbah Bereishis 38:6) relates that the Rabbis, of blessed memory, praise the greatness of peace. Even if, Heaven forbid, Bnei Yisroel worship idols, as long as there exists sholom between them, Hashem will not punish them right away. (Strict justice, immediate punishment, will not be used against them.) A second benefit is that Bnei Yisroel’s crops will be blessed.

In addition, the Sefer Ma’ alos Hamiddos encourages us to be extremely careful in the middah (character trait) of sholom. We should love peace and pursue it. The rewards have no bounds. Hashem will instill in us ahavah (love), achavah (brotherhood), sholom and reius (companionship) (Sefer Ma’alos Hamiddos: Ma’alas Hasholom, pages 324-425 Eshkol Edition).

From Rashi and Sefer Ma’alos Hamiddos, we learn about some of the great rewards of maintaining unity and sholom. The Shechinah will be fully established among Bnei Yisroel. Strict justice will not be used against us. The crops will be blessed. We will be blessed with ahavah, achavah, sholom and reius. Therefore, we should always realize the importance of maintaining sholom and try our hardest to love peace and pursue it.

How can we further develop sholom between people? We all know that it is not easy to love peace and pursue it! This is especially true during those times when the behavior of certain individuals bothers us. We can easily get upset and may even want to take revenge! What method can we use to help ourselves overcome such upsetting feelings and maintain sholom?

The Sefer Shmiras Haloshon gives us an insight to help us maintain unity and develop peace. His explanation is based on the Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4) that is brought by the S’mag (Mitzvas Asai 9). All Bnei Yisroel are really one unit. All together, we make up one common soul. Therefore, each member of Bnei Yisroel should treat everyone as a part of himself or herself.

Furthermore, the Sefer Shmiras Haloshon explains the thought with a parable. Imagine that a man is walking along a road and one of his feet trips over the other. He falls to the ground and bruises his body, including the foot that caused the fall. The man would not think of taking revenge on his foot and refusing to heal its wounds! In addition, he would not have any hatred or ill will toward that foot. To whom does the foot belong? To whom do the face and body belong? All the parts together make up one unit even though the body is divided into different limbs. Rather than blame his foot, the man might consider that his own sins caused him to fall.

Similarly, if a friend refuses to do a favor or perhaps causes pain or shame to another, one should not seek revenge or bear a grudge against him. In truth, who is his friend? Who is he himself? They both come from the same source ….

Another proof that Bnei Yisroel are one entity is found in the Torah, “All the souls of the house of Yaakov who came to Egypt, seventy” (Bereishis 46:27). The Hebrew word for souls is נְפָשׁוֹת. Yet, in this posuk (verse), the singular form, נֶפֶשׁ is used. This teaches us that in Heaven, the souls of Bnei Yisroel are like one. While each soul is part of one whole entity, each soul is nevertheless distinct and unique. This can be understood in the comparison to a person whose body is a single unit comprised of many individual parts, each with its own distinct and unique function. Some parts are primary, such as the head and heart. Other parts are less important, for instance, the hands and feet. Nevertheless, the different body parts together form one person.

In addition, all the souls of Bnei Yisroel will eventually be gathered into one source, beneath the Heavenly Throne. It is written, “And the soul of my master shall be bound in the bond of life … ” (I Shmuel 25:29).

It is only in this world that one sees himself as a separate person and not related to another Jew. Since he sees that each soul is clothed in its own physical body and is involved in its own personal matters, he makes this mistake. In truth, it is not so. [All of Bnei Yisroel are united. They are one in a very real sense – one large soul. Rather than blaming another Jew for his problems, one might reflect upon his deeds. He should view his sins as the cause of the mishap.] (Sefer Shmiras Haloshon: Shaar Hatevunah, Chapter 6)

The Sefer Shmiras Haloshon is teaching us an important lesson – how not to become upset by someone else’s poor behavior. We should stop and remind ourselves that everyone -all of Bnei Yisroel- is one big soul. “We are all really one!” Everyone only appears to be separate. How can we think of hurting ourselves? By focusing on this point, we may not become or feel insulted. Also, we may realize that our sins caused the offense.

Indeed, by realizing the rewards of sholom and focusing on the fact that “We are all really one,” we will improve our middah of shalom. We will be able to remain in harmony with others.

Let us hope and pray that we will receive the benefits of sholom and that the Shechinah will rest in our midst.

Focus: We are really one –

The rewards of sholom are great!