וישלח יעקב מלאכים לפניו אל-עשו אחיו ארצה שעיר שדה אדום
Yaakov sent Malachim ahead of him, to his brother Eisav, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom
Yaakov was finally returning home after his long asylum from his murderous brother Eisav. The problem was, Eisav seemingly hadn’t changed a bit. The Torah says that Yaakov sent Malachim ahead of him, to present gifts and tributes to Eisav. The hope was to avoid confrontation. These Malachim would seemingly be messengers, which is a valid translation of the term. However, Rashi stresses that he sent literal Malachim. The Term Malach is usually reserved for Angels. This means, according to Rashi, that Yaakov sent Angels ahead of him to Eisav. Why? What was the purpose?
Continue reading “Vayishlach 5784”
See, my son
ותהר לאה ותלד בן ותקרא שמו ראובן כי אמרה כי-ראה יקוק בעניי כי עתה יאהבני אישי
Leah conceived and gave birth to a boy. She called his name “Reuven”, for she said: “Since Hashem saw (“Ra’ah”) my suffering, for now my husband will love me”
Yaakov and his wives were in an uncomfortable predicament. Yaakov intended to marry Rochel, but was tricked by his father-in-law Lavan and ended up marrying her sister Leah. Afterwards Yaakov married Rochel as well. Rochel was Yaakov’s primary wife, and Leah felt rejected. At the same time, Rochel was barren, and Leah immediately conceived. She gave birth to a son, and named him “Reuven”, a contraction of “Reu” (see) and “Ben” (son). She said the reason for this name is that Hashem saw (“Ra’ah”) her suffering, for now her husband will love her, having given him a child.
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ויתרצצו הבנים בקרבה ותאמר אם-כן למה זה אנכי ותלך לדרש את-יקוק
The babies jostled within [Rivka]. She said: “If so, why did I pray for children?” [So] she went to seek [guidance] from Hashem
When Rivka was expecting twins, Yaakov and Eisav, she had a difficult time. No, not the usual struggles of pregnancy. Our Sages tell us that when Rivka would stand near shuls and study halls, Yaakov would try to “run” out of her womb towards them. When Rivka would pass by houses of idol worship, Eisav would try to “run” out of her womb towards them. There are many difficulties with this Midrash. How could Yaakov and Eisav, fetuses in the womb, have a sense of good and evil? How could Yaakov be drawn to good, and Eisav drawn to evil?
Continue reading “Toldos 5784”
ויאמר שוב אשוב אליך כעת חיה והנה-בן לשרה אשתך ושרה שמעת פתח האהל וגו’ ותצחק שרה בקרבה לאמר אחרי בלתי היתה-לי עדנה ואדני זקן
[The angel] said: “I shall surely return to you, at this time next year, and behold! Sarah your wife will have a son.” Sarah overheard this by the entrance to the tent…Sarah laughed inwardly, saying: “After I have dried up, I would have youthfulness? And my husband is old!”
The commentaries are bothered by Sarah’s lack of belief that she could bear a son. After all, it was an Angel of Hashem telling her that she would have a son, despite her old age. Now, some opinions hold that she and Avraham didn’t realize that these were Angels speaking to them. Or, even if Avraham knew, perhaps she didn’t see who was speaking; she just overheard some stranger saying something that sounded crazy. However, we still have a problem. Hashem Himself told Avraham in last week’s parsha that he and Sarah would have a baby boy. Why didn’t Sarah believe this supposed stranger then, who said the same thing?
Continue reading “Vayeira 5784”
אמרי-נא אחתי את למען ייטב-לי בעבורך וחיתה נפשי בגללך
Please say that you are my sister, so that it will be good for me for your sake, and my life will be spared because of you
Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Avraham and Sarah journeyed to the land of Egypt. Knowing full well the morality of such a place, Avraham was very concerned. His wife was tremendously beautiful, and if the Egyptians knew they were a married couple, they would have no problem killing Avraham and taking Sarah for themselves. However, if the couple represented themselves as siblings, they would be safe. The Egyptians would assume Avraham, as Sarah’s “brother,” was her protector, and could be persuaded to give her away in marriage.
Continue reading “Lech Lecha 5784”
ויהי מקץ ימים ויבא קין מפרי האדמה מחנה ליקוק: והבל הביא גם-הוא מבכרות צאנו ומחלבהן וישע אל-הבל ואל-מנחתו: ואת-קין ואל-מנחתו לא שעה ויחר לקין מאד ויפלו פניו
And it was at the end of some days that Kayin brought from the fruit of the land as an offering to Hashem. Hevel also brought from the firstborn of his flock and from their fats, and Hashem accepted Hevel and his offering. [Yet] Hashem didn’t accept Kayin nor his offering, and this upset Kayin very much, and his face fell
Our Sages note the contrast between the offerings brought by Kayin and his brother Hevel. Hevel brought from the firstborn of his flock, and the fattiest parts of them, as a slaughtered offering to Hashem. On the other hand, Kayin simply brought from the produce of his land. Why didn’t he also bring an animal offering, like his brother did?
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Smashing the evil inclination
ולכל היד החזקה ולכל המורא הגדול אשר עשה משה לעיני כל-ישראל: בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ
And for all the mighty hand and all the great wonders that Moshe did before the eyes of Israel. In the beginning of G-d’s creating Heaven and Earth
Our Sages tell us that the final verse of the Torah is an allusion to Moshe breaking the tablets. When he came down from Mount Sinai with the two stone tablets, those that were literally engraved by G-d Himself with the Ten Commandments, he saw the Jews worshipping a Golden Calf. In a rage, he broke the tablets by smashing them to the ground. Our Sages tell us further that Hashem was pleased with this reaction, and told him “Yesher Koach!”
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The elevation retention celebration
בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים וגו’ למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את-בני-ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים וגו’
You shall dwell in Sukkos for seven days…In order for your generations to know that I placed the Children of Israel in Sukkos when I took them out of Egypt…
During the weeklong Festival of Sukkos, we leave our permanent homes and enter temporary huts. The Torah says the reason for this is so that we shall know that Hashem placed us in Sukkos when He took us out of Egypt. One opinion is that this refers to the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, that Hashem surrounded us with. They were like a protective forcefield, keeping us safe from the elements. It was climate controlled, and even cleaned the garments of the Jewish people. It would seem then that the holiday of Sukkos is to commemorate this miraculous environment that Hashem placed us in. However, one could ask why this miracle in particular merited its own weeklong holiday. As well, the famous question is if this is the purpose of Sukkos, why do we celebrate it in Tishrei, when the Jews left Egypt in Nissan?
Continue reading “Sukkos/Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5784”
ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי-נחל ושמחתם לפני יקוק אלקיכם שבעת ימים: בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkos] a beautiful fruit (an esrog), date-[palm] fronds, braided branches (hadassim), and willows of the brook. You shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days. You shall dwell in Sukkos for seven days; every citizen of Israel shall dwell in Sukkos
It’s Sukkos time. The two main mitzvos associated with the Festival are the mitzvah to dwell in a Sukkah for seven days, and to take the four species, namely the lulav (palm frond), esrog (citron), aravos (willow), and hadasim (myrtle). What’s surprising is that, although these two mitzvos are adjacent to each other in the Torah, and they coincide on the same festival, they are polar opposites of each other. Jews are so careful about their four species that they are so perfect. Some spend hours making sure they are blemish free and as beautiful as can be.
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Written for life vs. the good life
זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלקים חיים: מי כמוך אב הרחמים זוכר יצוריו לחיים ברחמים
Remember us for life, the King Who desires life, and write us in the book of life, for Your sake, the living G-d. Who is like You, Father of Mercy, who remembers His creations for life, with mercy
וכתוב לחיים טובים כל בני בריתך: בספר חיים ברכה ושלום ופרנסה טובה נזכר ונכתב לפניך אנחנו וכל עמך בית ישראל לחיים טובים ולשלום
Write all of those in Your covenant for a good life. Let us be remembered and written before You in the book of life, blessing, peace, and a good livelihood. Us, and all of Your nation of the house of Israel, for a good life and for peace
The days of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are known as Aseres Yemei HaTeshuva, the Ten days of Repentance. As the name sounds, it’s a time of introspection and prayer. Insertions are added to the daily prayer services, and they certainly match the theme of these days. We are constantly praying for life, as the famous prayer says: “Inscribe us in the book of life”. However, a careful analysis of some of these insertions will show a discrepancy. In the first half of the Shemoneh Esrei, also known as the Amidah prayers, we have a couple of insertions asking for life. However, in the second half of the Shemoneh Esrei, our request changes to a good life. Why is there this change? Are we asking for two different things?
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