Vayechi 5780

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Rebuking the impetuous[1]

ראובן בכורי אתה כחי וראשית אוני יתר שאת ויתר עז: פחז כמים אל-תותר כי עלית משכבי אביך אז חללת יצועי עלה
Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength, the first of my vigor. [Potentially][2] exceeding in position and exceeding in might. Hasty as water, you will not exceed, since you went up on your father’s bed. Then you profaned that which went upon my couch[3]

As Yaakov’s life was ending, he took the opportunity to give his children their final blessings. While accenting their unique traits, he also informed them of their shortcomings. He started with his firstborn Reuven by rebuking him for an incident that had happened decades earlier[4]. When Yaakov’s wife Rochel died, he moved his bed into Rochel’s maidservant Bilhah’s tent. Reuven felt this was an affront to his mother Leah, who should have become Yaakov’s primary wife. Reuven audaciously moved his father’s bed out of Bilhah’s tent and put it into Leah’s[5]. At the time, Yaakov said nothing. Now that Yaakov’s life was ending, it was now or never to rebuke Reuven.

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Vayigash 5780

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Surprising growth[1]

ויאמר יוסף אל-אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא-יכלו אחיו לענות אתו כי נבהלו מפניו: ויאמר יוסף אל-אחיו גשו-נא אלי ויגשו ויאמר אני יוסף אחיכם אשר-מכרתם אתי מצרימה
Yosef said to his brothers: “I am Yosef; Is my father still alive?” They weren’t able to respond, as they were dumbfounded in front of him. Yosef said to his brothers, “Please come close to me”, and they came close. He said: “I am Yosef, your brother, whom you sold[2] to Egypt”[3]

After fooling his brothers into thinking he was a tyrannical Egyptian viceroy, Yosef finally revealed his identity. He had risen to power after his brothers sold him as a slave, and he was in a position to save his family from the regional famine. Upon revealing himself, the brothers were dumbfounded. They weren’t able to respond, as they were embarrassed[4]. They saw the error of their ways, and felt terrible. They started to back away[5], and Yosef tried to comfort them. He told them to come close. What words of comfort did he choose? He reminded them that they sold him as a slave. How can that be comforting? They were embarrassed enough, and now he has to remind them of their misdeed[6]?

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Mikeitz 5780

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The goblet of the wise[1]

הלוא אשר ישתה אדני בו והוא נחש ינחש בו וגו’‏
Is [this goblet] not that which my Master drinks from? He also divines with it…[2]

Yosef, as the viceroy of Egypt, had his brothers fooled. They didn’t recognize him as their brother, and he sent them home without a clue. More than that, Yosef had a plan to set up his brother Binyamin. Yosef had someone plant his precious goblet in Binyamin’s bag. As the brothers journeyed home, they were arrested for theft. What was Yosef’s purpose for this whole ruse?

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Vayishlach 5780

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Commemorating a tragic childbirth[1]

ויהי בצאת נפשה כי מתה ותקרא שמו בן-אוני ואביו קרא-לו בנימין
As [Rochel’s] life departed (since she was dying), she called [her son’s] name Ben-Oni, [whereas] his father called him Binyamin[2]

The death of Rochel during childbirth was tragic enough on its own. However, it was further marred by what seems to be an awkward case of spousal disagreement. Rochel decides to name her second child the name Ben-Oni, which literally translated seems to mean “the son of my mourning[3]”. Her intent would appear to be to call to mind the fact that this boy was the cause of her death, which caused others to mourn for her. Yaakov had a different name which he intended to call their son, Binyamin, which literally means “the son of [my] right hand[4]”. Yaakov appears to want his son’s name to have a more positive connotation. What exactly was their disagreement? What were they both thinking?

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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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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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