Vayeitzei 5780

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The joy of redemption[1]

מלא שבע זאת ונתנה לך גם-את-זאת גו’‏
Complete this week, and she will be given to you [in marriage] as well…[2]

The Mishnah teaches us[3] that it is forbidden to get married on Yom Tov, as well as the intermediary days of Yom Tov. The reason given is that it is a simcha, a joyous event. Why is that a reason to forbid it on Yom Tov?

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Toldos 5780

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Concern for a mishap[1]

אולי ימשני אבי והייתי בעיניו במתעתע והבאתי עלי קללה ולא ברכה: ותאמר לו אמו עלי קללתך בני שמע בקלי ולך קח-לי
Maybe my father will feel me and I will seem like a deceiver in his eyes, and he will bring upon me a curse and not a blessing. His mother said to him: “Your curse [will be] upon me my son. Listen to my voice, go and take [what I told you to][2]

The climax of this week’s parsha contains Rivka’s dramatic plot to secure blessings for her son Yaakov, preventing her other son Eisav from receiving them. The blind Yitzchak decided Eisav was more worthy of his final blessings, and requested his talented son go and hunt him some game. While Eisav was away, Yaakov was to enter Yitzchak’s tent, pretend to be Eisav, and receive the blessings himself. Yaakov was reluctant at first, explaining to his mother that the plan was dangerous. Eisav was a very hairy man, and Yaakov was smooth-skinned. What if Yitzchak would feel Yaakov’s arms and realize that he’s not really Eisav? Yitzchak would label Yaakov a deceiver. He would receive his father’s curses, not blessings! His mother reassured him, that no curse would befall him.

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Chayei Sarah 5780

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Inevitable choice[1]

ויאמר אברהם אל-עבדו זקן ביתו המשל בכל-אשר-לו וגו’‏
Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household, the one in charge of all his belongings…[2]

A major part of this week’s parsha is Avraham sending his servant on a mission. He was to go to Avraham’s homeland to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. The Torah tells us few facts about Avraham’s servant, Eliezer[3]. He was the “elder” of Avraham’s household. He oversaw all of his belongings. He ensured everyone in Avraham’s camp had the food they needed[4]. We see his dedication to Avraham’s will from his alacrity to fulfill the mission. He didn’t take credit for anything and attributed his success in the mission to Hashem, solely in Avraham’s merit. Besides that, we don’t really know his background. How did he become the servant of Avraham?

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Bris Milah

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Appointing a mohel and humility[1]

זאת בריתי אשר תשמרו ביני וביניכם ובין זרעך אחריך המול לכם כל-זכר
This is my covenant that you are to observe between Me and you and your offspring that follow you: circumcise all boys[2]

The Torah places a mitzvah on the father to give his son a bris milah[3]. However, very often is the case that the father doesn’t know how, and he appoints a mohel to do the mitzvah for him. Seemingly, the mohel is acting as the father’s shliach, his agent. Some even explicitly appoint the mohel as their shliach[4]. However, this isn’t so simple. Some are of the opinion[5] that a person who can perform milah themself isn’t allowed to appoint another to do it for them. Seemingly, they hold that shlichus, agency, doesn’t work for the mitzvah of milah[6]. Where do they know this from?

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Vayeira 5780

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Stationary teachers, elevated students[1]

ויאמר אדנ”י אם-נא מצאתי חן בעיניך אל-נא תעבר מעל עבדך
[Avraham] said: “My Lord[2], if I have found grace in your eyes, please[3] do not pass from upon Your servant”[4]

Avraham was amid a prophetic vision of Hashem, when he noticed three potential guests in the distance. Having a burning desire to host them for a meal, he asked a favor of Hashem. He respectfully asked Hashem to wait for him to return after hosting these guests. While this was definitely the proper mode of conduct, from Avraham’s request of “please do not pass from upon Your servant”, it sounds like he was concerned. He was worried Hashem wouldn’t wait for him. What was the concern? Hashem was the one who initiated this prophetic vision. In fact, Hashem knew that Avraham was simply fulfilling the idiom that “greater is greeting guests than greeting the Divine Presence”[5] [6]. Why then did Avraham think Hashem wouldn’t continue the prophetic vision upon his return?

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Lech Lecha 5780

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Gifts of persuasion[1]

אמרי נא אחותי 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[2]

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 as their wife. However, if they represented themselves as siblings, they would be safe. They would assume Avraham, as Sarah’s “brother”, was her protector, and could be persuaded to give her away in marriage.

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Noach 5780

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Children of good deeds[1]

אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו את-האלקים התהלך-נח
These are the offspring of Noach – Noach was perfectly righteous in his generation; Noach walked with Hashem [2]

This week’s parsha begins by introducing Noach and his family. However, when the Torah starts to list Noach’s offspring, it immediately changes topic and sings his praises. The Torah tells us that Noach was perfectly righteous, and walked with G-d. Only afterwards[3] are his children’s names mentioned. Why did the Torah introduce these praises by saying “These are the offspring of Noach”? Rashi explains[4] that “the main offspring of the righteous are their good deeds”. Rashi didn’t fully explain himself. Why indeed are good deeds called “offspring”?

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Bereishis 5780

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The eclipsed relationship[1]

ויאמר אלקים יהי מארת ברקיע השמים להבדיל בין היום ובין הלילה והיו לאתת ולמועדים ולימים ושנים
G-d said: “Let there be luminaries in the sky to separate between day and night, and they will be for signs, set times, days and years”[2]

On the fourth day of Hashem’s Six Days of Creation, we are taught that Hashem created what we know today as the Sun and the Moon. These celestial bodies, besides their other purposes, serve as practical time indicators. They’re used to distinguish between day and night, and to tell how far along it is during the day and night. As well, the Jewish Calendar is set up to rely on the lunar cycle, and the stage the Moon is in indicates how far along it is in the month. Many festivals occur during the full Moon, and the New Moon indicates the start of a new month. The Torah says that the luminaries are also for “signs”. What signs is the Torah referring to?

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VeZos HaBeracha 5780

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The rejected gift[1]

ויאמר יקוק מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו הופיע מהר פארן וגו’‏
He said: “Hashem came from Sinai, shined forth from [Mount] Seir; He appeared from Mount Paran…”[2]

In the last parsha in the Torah, Moshe gave each of the tribes a final blessing. Before these blessings, he describes the Torah itself and how the Jews accepted it. It says that Hashem “came” from Mount Sinai, having “shined forth” from Mount Seir and “appearing” from Mount Paran. We’ve all heard of Mount Sinai. That is where the Torah was given to the Jews, who gladly accepted it. What is Mount Seir and Mount Paran referring to? Mount Seir is usually associated with the descendants of Eisav[3], and Mount Paran is usually associated with the descendants Yishmael[4]. Picking up on this, the Midrash explains[5] the verse to be describing a historical backdrop to the accepting of the Torah.

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Simchas Torah 5780

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Celebrating our newly attained wisdom[1]

ושמחת בחגך וגו’‏
You shall rejoice on your festival…[2]

Anyone who has ever been to a Simchas Torah celebration can attest to the intense simcha, joy, that is present. Everyone’s happiness is palpable. People can dance with the Torah for hours on end (even without the aid of alcohol). Where does this simcha come from? More importantly, how can we make this simcha last even after the festival is over? Can be bring this simcha with us throughout the rest of the year?

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