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.

Vayetzei-Sticky Fingers

Children love touching things when they go to  a store; picking things up, playing with them. Parents tend to get agitated, and they might tell their children: “Don’t touch!” or “Keep your hands in your pockets!” The parents start threatening; they are embarrassed; a scene ensues.
Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, Rachel takes her father Lavan’s magic idols from his house when she, Yaakov, and their family flee from Lavan. Lavan catches up with Yaakov and his family and accuses him of ‘stealing his heart’ by fleeing without saying goodbye and stealing his idols. Yaakov, not knowing that it was Rachel who had taken the idols, and not thinking that it was anyone else in his family, said that whomever had the idols did not deserve to live. The Torah then relates: “Lavan came into Yaakov’s tent and into Leah’s tent, and into the tents of the co-wives and did not find [what he was looking for]; he went out from Leah’s tent and came into Rachel’s tent. And Rachel took the idols and placed them in a saddle bag of her camel and she sat on it. Lavan searched the whole entire tent and could not find them” (Breishis 31:33, 34).
The Medrish Rabba (parsha 74, paragraph 9) point out that “Yaakov’s tent” refers to Rachel’s tent. The Medrish goes on to ask why Lavan went to Rachel’s tent twice? The Medrish answers that Lavan recognized in her that she is a woman who touches everything [i.e. a rummager, and he therefore suspected her]. The Medrish goes on to relate in the name of Rebbe Yochanan that when Lavan was searching through Rachel’s tents and found Rachel sitting on a camel, he in fact checked the saddle bag but did not find the idols. Indeed, Hashem performed a miracle and turned them into small jugs in order to not cause embarrassment to Rachel if she were to be discovered. (Click hereto see Rashi who quote the Medrish)

The Medrish Tanchuma (parshas Vayetzei paragraph 12, also mentioned in our Medrish Rabba) tells us that when Yaakov told Lavan ‘the person your idols are with shall not live,’ at that moment Rachel’s death was decreed.  The Etz Yosef explains that this decree was like an accidental statement coming from the mouth of the ruler, which is then fulfilled without his knowledge. Even though Yaakov only intended his statement to be referring to someone who actually stole for the sake of worshiping them or selling them (as opposed to Rachel who took them purely for the sake of Heaven, either to rid her father of idolatry or so that the idols which were made of black magic and were able to talk would not tell Lavan of their escape), in any event the cursed was fulfilled against her.

It would not seem becoming of Rachel, our matriarch, our role model, who stands for quietness and modesty, to be a rummager, something associated with pilfering. Even more so it would seem she had a reputation for this character trait since Lavan was cognizant of this flaw. One could understand that even our forefathers were human; but to have a fundamental flaw which is known seems not to be becoming of our matriarchs or patriarch. One would think people on the level of prophesy, who had to perfect all the rungs of Mesilas Yesharim (The Path of the Just) to reach this lofty level, would not be known to have a chronic problem with keeping their hands off of other people’s stuff. If so, how can the Medrish even entertain the notion that Lavan went into Rachel’s tent twice to find his stuff because she was known to be a woman who touches everything?

We must conclude that even though she was known for this habit she still channeled it for the sake of Heaven, with the purest intentions. In fact, this must have been one of the things which made her so deserving of being one of our Matriarchs and a role model for every Jew.

Hashem performed miracles for Rachel to stave off Lavan’s embarrassing onslaught, and she was only handed a death sentence because of a technicality, and not because she truly stole something. We learn from Rachel that it is possible to get entangled into habits which seem to be bad and, for many people, are indeed bad – but that can be channeled for the good. This could very well be the greatest test Hashem gives us.

Toldos-A Special Blessing for What Impacted a Blessing

Everyone flocks to great rabbis for blessings, whether the the rabbi is Chassidish, Sfardi, or Ashkinazi. For whatever reason, people feel more at ease after they receive a blessing from a righteous person.
The Medrish Tanchuma on parshas Toldos, paragraph 10 teaches what blessing to make on tasting oil. Our Rabbis taught that one who tastes oil makes a ‘boray pri ha’etz.’  Rebbi Yossi bar Zevid said that this is true about any liquid that comes from a fruit, (parenthetically, in practicality, we hold that the blessing made is ‘shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro.’), besides wine, for on wine we make a blessing of ‘boray pri hagafen.’ But why does wine have a different blessing from all other drinks? Because it was poured as a libation on the alter in the Beis Hamikdash [Holy Temple]. Not only that,  but it also caused Yaakov to receive the blessings, [as we see from this weeks parsha,] where Yitzchak sent Esav to hunt something for him to eat, and Rivka was informed of what was happening through ruach hakodesh [divine inspiration], as it says (27:5, 6): “And Rivka heard when Yitzhak was speaking with Esav etc. and Rivka said to Yaakov her son, ‘behold I heard etc., please go to the sheep [pen] and take for me from there two plump goats etc.’” Rebbe Berechya said in the name of Rebbi Chelbo: “She (Rivka) said to him (Yaakov): ‘They (the goats) are good for you for through them you will receive the blessings. They are good for your children for they will be atoned through them on Yom Kippur.’” He brought into his father wine and meat. He gave him to eat and drink and he started to bless him saying (27:28) “And Hashem should give to you from the dew of heaven etc. nations shall serve you etc.”

The Biur HaAmarim explains the reason why wine has a special blessing is because not only does it make “Hashem happy” with the wine libations, but it also makes people happy for it caused Yaakov to receive the blessings when he gladdened the heart of Yitzhak and the shechina [“G-D’s presence”] rested on him.
The Kol HaRamaz points out that the reason why meat doesn’t have its own unique blessing is because Esav also brought meat and in fact Yitzhak did not ask for wine, and neither did Rivka tell Yaakov to bring wine; rather, Yaakov brought it of his own volition. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The question that could be asked is how did the wine make for a difference? Yitzhak was a great tzadik [a very righteous person], who was very close to Hashem, almost to the point of being sacrificed on the alter by his father; he was already considered very holy. Furthermore, he had been preparing to bless his son for a while, so he must have been very excited and overly joyous to do so, besides already having prepared  the blessing he was going to give. So what did the wine add to Yitzchak’s lofty status? Why did Yaakov think Yitzchak would need this extra, outside push to give a befitting blessing to him, especially as his father did not even ask for it? One can assume that Yitzchak felt he did not need it to be ready to give the blessings.

It is apparent that the wine did have a positive effect, and in fact helped with the Divine Presence resting on Yitzhak; and without it the blessings would not have been the same.

We learn from this that outside sources are acceptable to be used to help a person feel good. It is also suitable to take appropriate precautions to use these outside substances to help one feel happier. This is why Yaakov erred on the side of caution and added the wine, in addition to the meat, to ensure that Yitzchak’s heart was uplifted; even though Yitzchak was most likely elated to give the blessing to his offspring, which meant that, on his level, he was at least hovering around Divine Inspiration, even without the wine.

A caveat, however; the Orchos Tzadikim (chapter of The Gate of Joy)warns: “There is another kind of confusing joy which beclouds all of the mizvos and causes fear of Hashem to depart from the heart of men – that of the drinkers and revelers at bars. The end of this joy is sorrow, for many ills result from the frivolity of drinking.” Later theOrchos Tzadikim says: “Drinking wine, however, is very good when it is done properly in the manner of the wise, as King Shlomo writes (Mishlei/Proverbs 31:6, 7)… It is further said of wine (Shoftim/ Judges 9:13) that it ‘gladdens G-D and man…’ All of this teaches us the benefits of wine when it is drunk in moderation in the manner of the wise –in which case the mind rules over the wine and not the wine over the mind – who drink at set times with friends and acquaintances and with saintly and the righteous, and not with boors and empty-headed people. For wine will increase the wisdom of the deep…”

Wine when drunken appropriately has an uplifting effect on a person, even one who is holy and already very close to Hashem. It can even tip the scales to allow the Divine Presence to rest on him and inspire everlasting, impacting blessings in a way which would not have been possible without the wine. For this reason the Rabbis felt much gratitude towards wine, and gave it a special blessing, in return for helping the Jewish People receive such lofty blessings.