Vayeitzei 5781

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Productive sleep[1]

ויפגע במקום וילן שם וגו’ ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו: וייקץ יעקב משנתו וגו’‏‏
[Yaakov] arrived at that place and slept there…He dreamt and behold! A ladder stood in the ground whose top reached the Heavens, and behold Angels of G-d were going up and down on it…Then Yaakov woke from his sleep…[2]

On Yaakov’s journey towards his uncle Lavan, as a safe haven from the wicked Eisav, he took a stop at Mount Moriah. There, he napped, and dreamed the famous prophetic dream about Angels going up and down a ladder. The Torah tells us that he woke up from his sleep, and he continued on his journey. Our Sages however[3] read the verse homiletically. Instead of reading the word as משנתו, from his sleep, we can read it as ממשנתו, from his learning. Meaning, Yaakov woke up from his learning. Besides being a cute play on words, what does this even mean? What are we to learn from this alternate reading of the verse[4]?

Our Sages exhort us[5] that all of our actions should be for the sake of Heaven. What this means[6] is that when a person goes about their day-to-day activities, eating, drinking, conducting business, and even sleeping, it should all be for one purpose: to give us the strength and ability to serve Hashem and learn His Torah. If someone does this, even while they are doing seemingly mundane tasks, they are fulfilling countless mitzvos. Someone who is sleeping isn’t always regarded as ignoring their studies. On the contrary, if their intent is to allow them to study further, the sleeping is regarded as actually learning!

This was Yaakov’s intent with his break on his journey. He had been learning Torah the entire way[7], and took a break to get some rest. His intent was to build his strength so he could continue learning and reach his destination. He had no interest in the personal pleasure that sleep provides. Since he slept for the sake of Heaven, he merited to his prophetic dream. The verse then isn’t merely telling us that Yaakov woke up from his sleep. That would imply it was the regular sleep of most people, for their own personal pleasure. Rather, it was sleep for the sake of learning and connecting to Hashem. Something all of us can strive for as well[8].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Kesav Sofer to Genesis 28:16

[2] Genesis 28:11,12,16

[3] Bereishis Rabbah 69:7, brought in Yalkut Shimoni Vayeitzei § 120

[4] Besides the Kesav Sofer’s interpretation, which follows, other suggestions include the Ba’al HaTurim to v. 16, who says that Yaakov would learn Torah in his dreams, Mattanas Kehunah ad. loc., who says that Yaakov’s prophetic dream counted as learning, and Radal ad. loc., who says it means that Yaakov fell asleep in the middle of learning. Meaning, he didn’t go to bed; he learned as long as he could until sleep overtook him. Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 117 also cites Sefer Chassidim HeChadash § 15, 285, which says that the Avos were beloved by Hashem because they never stopped for one moment from contemplating Torah day and night, and he cites this Midrash

[5] Avos 2:12

[6] Rambam’s Shemonah Perakim Chapter 5

[7] V. 18 says that Yaakov poured oil on the altar he had constructed. Where did he get this oil? Chazal tell us that Eliphaz, Eisav’s son, stole everything from Yaakov after he left his home (Rashi to ibid 29:11, quoting Bereishis Rabbasi p. 117. See also Sefer HaYashar Toldos § 10)! All Yaakov had was his walking staff. Paneach Raza to ibid 28:18 suggests that the staff was hollow, and Yaakov kept oil inside. He stored it so he could use it for fuel to learn Torah by light in the nighttime

[8] The Kesav Sofer uses this to explain the surprising gemarra Chullin 91b. There, it says that the Angels went up the ladder and saw Yaakov’s face embedded in Hashem’s Throne of Glory. They were very impressed. When they went back down the ladder, they saw Yaakov and wanted to attack him, but Hashem prevented them from doing so. Why would they want to attack him? They saw Yaakov sleeping; the same Yaakov that they saw on the Throne of Glory. They were shocked someone so holy would be wasting time sleeping (Cf. Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 76). Angels can’t read a person’s thoughts (Jeremiah 11:20, 17:10; Cf. Tosafos to Shabbos 12b s.v. שאין. However, see Maskil LeDovid to Genesis 18:2 s.v. וירא, cited by Gilyon HaShas ad. loc.). They didn’t realize his intentions were for the sake of Heaven. Hashem, who knew Yaakov’s true intent, protected him from the Angels wrath

Toldos 5781

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Morbid perspectives[1]

ויאמר עשו הנה אנכי הולך למות ולמה-זה לי בכרה
Eisav said: “Behold, I am going to die! Why then do I need this right of the firstborn?”[2]

Chazal teach us[3] a formula to defeat our yetzer hara, our evil inclination. First, use your yetzer hatov, your inclination for the good, as a weapon to battle the yetzer hara. If that works, great. If this doesn’t work, Chazal say to toil in Torah. If that works, great. If it doesn’t, we are told to say the verse of Shema Yisrael. If that works, great. If this doesn’t work, then we are to remember the day of death. Considering this is the final suggestion, it sounds like it’s foolproof. If all else fails, remembering the day of death will surely silence a person’s yetzer hara. If that’s so, why is it the last in the list? Shouldn’t it be the first thing people try out?

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Chayei Sarah 5781

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Late night preparations[1]

ויהיו חיי שרה מאה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים שני חיי שרה
The life of Sarah was 127 years. [These] were the years of Sarah’s life[2]

ותקם בעוד לילה ותתן טרף לביתה וחוק לנערותיה
She would get up late in the night, and provide nourishment[3] for her household and food[4] for her children[5]

A story is told[6] about the legendary scholar Rabbi Akiva. He was sitting and expounding a lengthy and complex sermon to his myriad of students. He raised his head from his book and noticed that a significant amount of the crowd was dozing off. In an attempt to arouse them from their sleep, he said the following: Why did Queen Esther choose to rule over 127 countries? The reason is because she is a descendant of Sarah, who lived 127 years. That’s all we’re told of the story. What message was Rabbi Akiva trying to convey? More than that, how was a statement like that supposed to wake them from their slumber?

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Vayeira 5781

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Serving while sleeping[1]

ותשקין את-אביהן יין בלילה הוא ותבא הבכירה ותשכב את-אביה ולא-ידע בשכבה ובקומה

[Lot’s daughters] gave their father wine to drink that night. The elder went and slept with her father, and he did not know of her sleeping or getting up[2]

The episode with Lot, the nephew of Avraham, and his daughters is well known. They got him drunk, and conceived children from him. He was so drunk that he was totally unaware of what was happening, as it was happening. This begs the question, what is a person’s level of responsibility when they are in this state? Obviously a person is accountable for getting themselves this drunk. However, when they are completely not in control, oblivious to their surroundings and to their actions, are they responsible? If a mitzvah is accomplished in this state[3], do they get credit? If they transgress a prohibition, are they punished? These questions are equally applicable to someone who is asleep. They too are totally unaware of what is happening. What is a person’s level of responsibility when they are sleeping?

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Lech Lecha 5781

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Considering proper thoughts[1]

ואברכה מברכיך ומקללך אאר ונברכו בך כל משפחת האדמה
I will bless those that bless you, and he[2] that curses you I will curse, and all the families of the land will be blessed through you[3]

The parsha begins with Hashem commanding Avraham to leave his homeland and to travel to an unknown destination. We know that Hashem intended to take Avraham to the land of Canaan, a prosperous and beautiful land promised to be given to his descendants. However, Avraham didn’t yet know his destination. As a means of an introduction to what was in store for Avraham and his descendants, Hashem promised him tremendous blessings. Wealth, prosperity and fame were to await him. Hashem told Avraham that those that bless him will themselves be blessed, and those that curse him will themselves be cursed. However, the verse is presented with an anomaly. Regarding blessings, Hashem first said what He will do, and then said the subject of His action. He will bless those that bless Avraham. However, regarding curses, Hashem preceded the subject to the verb. Those that curse Avraham will be cursed. Why did Hashem speak this way and change the order[4]?

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Noach 5781

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Not just childrens’ stories[1]

על שלשה דברים העולם עומד על התורה ועל העבודה ועל גמילות חסדים
The world stands on three things: On Torah, on Avodah (Divine service), and on Gemillus Chassadim (bestowal of loving kindness)

הקנאה והתאוה והכבוד מוציאין את האדם מן העולם
[Print]Jealousy, lust, and a desire for honor take a person out of the world[2]

If we analyze the stories that the Torah begins with, we’ll see a recurring theme. Many of them show the shortcomings and failures of mankind. Adam and Eve failed to refrain from eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Their son Kayin murdered his brother Hevel. The generations in Noach’s lifetime, before and after the flood, were abysmal. Murder and theft were rampant, and the result was the entirety of mankind, save for Noach and his family, were wiped out. Afterwards, their progeny chose to rebel against G-d, resulting in their dispersion. Why were all these failures recorded in the Torah? There must be some reason, as the Torah is the guidebook to living a proper life. What can we learn from all of these sins?
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Bereishis 5781

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The greatest chessed[1]

ויעש יקוק אלקים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבשם
Hashem, G-d, made special clothes[2] for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them[3]

Chazal note[4] that the Torah begins with an act of chessed, loving kindness. The example given is that Hashem clothed the naked Adam and Eve[5]. After sinning by eating from the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve felt ashamed that they were unclothed[6]. As an act of kindness, Hashem formed for them clothing, to remove their shame. This choice of example is very surprising. This is the first act of chessed in the Torah? Hashem literally created the entire universe. He created Mankind. Why isn’t that considered the first chessed of the Torah?

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Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah 5781

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The prerequisite of unity[1]

בני, בבקשה מכם עכבו עמי עוד יום אחד. קשה עלי פרדתכם
My children, I implore of you to stay with Me one more day. It is difficult for me preidaschem[2]

Shemini Atzeres is an interesting festival. It follows the climax of the Days of Awe and Sukkos. Rosh Hashana we prayed and blew the shofar. Yom Kippur we fasted. Sukkos we lived in the sukkah and shook our four species. What’s the point of this final holiday? It doesn’t have any paraphernalia. It doesn’t seem to commemorate anything. What message we to take with us from this festival?

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VeZos HaBeracha 5781

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Conflicting acts of kindness[1]

וקבר אתו בגי בארץ מואב בית פעור ולא-ידע איש את-קברתו עד היום הזה
[Hashem][2] buried [Moshe] in the valley of the land of Moav, Beis-Peor. No man knows his place of burial until this day[3]

The Torah ends with the death of Moshe. Chazal note[4] that the Torah starts and begins with Hashem’s chessed, acts of loving kindness. After Moshe dies, Hashem Himself buries him. At the beginning of the Torah, we are taught that Hashem adorned Eve as a bride for Adam[5] [6] [7]. With this insight, we can glean a new understanding of a vague verse in Ecclesiastes, read during this time of year: טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו, better is the final word than its beginning[8]. What is this teaching us?

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Hoshana Rabbah 5781

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Love independent of deed[1]

ביום שביעי שהוא הושענא רבה נוהגים להרבות במזמורים כמו ביום טוב וכו’ ונוטלים ערבה ביום זה מלבד ערבה שבלולב
On the seventh day [of Sukkos], which is called Hoshana Rabbah, the custom is to increase in Psalms, like we do on a Yom Tov…and we take a willow branch on this day, besides the willow found in the four species[2]

The last day of Sukkos is one of the strangest days of prayer on the calendar. It is known as Hoshana Rabbah. On the one hand, it’s still Sukkos, so we shake the four species. Like the other days of Chol HaMoed, it’s like a weekday in that some creative work is permitted[3], and some even wear tefillin. However, it’s not like the other “weekdays” of Sukkos. We add extra prayers, those that are usually only said on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Tunes from the High Holidays are used. A lot of literature has been written on Hoshana Rabbah, likening it to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

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