Mikeitz 5782

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Previous ingratitude[1]

וידבר שר המשקים את-פרעה לאמר את-חטאי אני מזכיר היום
The Minister of the Cup Bearers said to Pharaoh, saying: “I bring up my sins today”[2]

When Pharaoh had two troubling dreams, it distressed him greatly[3]. He searched all over Egypt, but no one could satisfactorily interpret the dreams. The Minister of the Cup Bearers, commonly referred to as Pharaoh’s Butler, recalled that Yosef two years earlier had interpreted the former’s dreams. Yosef told the Butler while they were both in jail that the Butler would soon be freed. Yosef requested that the Butler upon his release tell Pharaoh of his innocence. Yosef was framed and didn’t deserve to be in jail. The Butler was indeed released, and failed to give Pharaoh Yosef’s message. Pharaoh’s predicament reminded the Butler of all of this, and he was forced to tell Pharaoh of Yosef’s abilities.

The Butler began by admitting to Pharaoh that this recommendation had negative connotations for himself. It recalled the fact that he was once in jail for sinning against the king. Nevertheless, due to Pharaoh’s need for his dream to be interpreted, the Butler was willing to take the personal hit. However, if we analyze what he says, we’ll be surprised. Instead of him saying that he has to bring up his sin to Pharaoh, he says sins. This means by mentioning Yosef, he was recalling multiple sins. What else did the Butler do wrong? Our Sages say[4] he was referring to two additional[5] sins: that he forgot of Yosef’s existence, and that he failed to keep his promise to him. If so, why would the Butler feel the need to mention this to Pharaoh? What does Pharaoh care about the Butler’s wrongdoing to Yosef?

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Chayei Sarah 5782

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The Guardian Angel[1]

ויאמר אברהם אל-עבדו זקן ביתו וגו’ ואשביעך וגו’ לא-תקח אשה לבני מבנות הכנעני וגו’ ויאמר אליו העבד אולי לא-תאבה האשה ללכת אחרי וגו’ ויאמר אליו אברהם וגו’ יקוק אלקי השמים וגו’ הוא ישלח מלאכו לפניך ולקחת אשה לבני משם
Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household…I command you through an oath…do not take a wife for my son from the Canaanite women…The servant said to him: “Perhaps the woman will not want to go with me…” Avraham said to him: “…Hashem, the G-d of Heaven…will send His Angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there[2]

Avraham tasked his trusted servant Eliezer[3] to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. Avraham didn’t want Yitzchak to marry one of the local Canaanite women, so he sent Eliezer to Avraham’s homeland. Perhaps a distant relative would be better suited for his son. Eliezer was concerned his mission would prove unsuccessful, and expressed his doubts. Avraham responded that Hashem would send an Angel to help him on his mission. In the end, Eliezer successfully found a wife for Yitzchak. He met the family of Besuel and his wife, the latter being Avraham’s niece, and found that their daughter was a perfect match for Yitzchak[4]. Yet, we don’t see any mention of an Angel throughout his journey. Where was the Angel?

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Bereishis 5782

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Adam, the first vegetarian?[1]

ויאמר אלקים הנה נתתי לכם את-כל-עשב זרע זרע אשר על-פני כל-הארץ ואת-כל-העץ אשר-בו פרי-עץ זרע זרע לכם יהיה לאכלה: ולכל-חית הארץ וגו’
G-d said: “Behold, I have given to you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit. They shall be yours for consumption, and for all the animals of the land…”[2]

Our Sages make an interesting inference[3] from the way Hashem gave permission to Adam and the animals to consume the plant-life that surrounded them. He said that the plants shall be for you and the animals to consume, with the inference being that, in contrast, the animals shall not be for you to consume. Meaning, only plant-life was permitted, but not animals. This seemingly would make Adam the first vegetarian. It was only during the times of Noach, after the flood, that meat became permissible for humans to consume. The gemarra asks on this from a different teaching. We are informed that while Adam was in Gan Eden, the Angels would roast meat and strain wine for him[4]. The primordial snake saw this and grew jealous, and the rest is history. From this accounting, he seemingly did consume meat. What’s the resolution?

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Vayeishev 5781

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Why we are called Jews[1]

יהודה אתה יודוך אחיך וגו’‏
Yehudah, your brothers will admit to you[2]

In a few weeks’ time, we’ll read Yaakov’s blessings to his kids in parshas Vayechi. The blessing given to Yehudah is that “your brothers will admit to you”. This is somewhat of a play on words, as the name Yehudah has the same root as the word מודה, to admit. What this blessing is referring to is elucidated by Targum “Yonasan”[3]. The blessing is that since Yehudah admitted his collusion with the incident with Tamar, the descendants of Yaakov will all be called by Yehudah’s name. The word Jew, or Yehudi, comes from the word Yehuda. What was the incident with Tamar, and why was it so meritorious for Yehudah that for thousands of years there would be a nation called the Jewish people?

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Vayishlach 5781

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Pursuing consideration[1]

ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו וגו’‏
Yaakov was very afraid, and it was distressing to him[2]

As Yaakov was nearing the end of his journey to his parent’s home, his worst fear came true. His wicked brother Eisav, who had a known death threat against him, was approaching with four hundred men. The Torah tells us that Yaakov was very afraid and distressed. Why are his emotions given these two descriptive terms? Rashi tells us[3] that he was afraid that he would be killed, and was distressed in case he would have to kill others to defend himself. It’s understandable that he didn’t want to be killed, but why should he be distressed from the thought of defending himself? If someone is coming to kill you and your family, it’s the proper thing to do defend yourself. The Torah says[4] that if someone is planning to kill you, get up before them and beat them to it[5]. What could he be distressed about?

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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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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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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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