Tests of one’s nerves
על-כן לא-יאכלו בני-ישראל את-גיד הנשה אשר על-כף הירך עד היום הזה כי נגע בכף-ירך יעקב בגיד הנשה
Therefore, the Children of Israel do not eat the sciatic nerve, which is on the hip of the thigh, until this very day. This is because Yaakov was injured on his hip, in his sciatic nerve
One of the most mysterious encounters in the Chumash is Yaakov’s wrestling match with an unknown man. Their fight lasted the entire night. Our Sages tell us that it was an Angel. Not just any Angel, but the guardian angel of Yaakov’s brother Eisav. Although Yaakov emerged victorious from the struggle, he didn’t escape unscathed. The Angel managed to injure Yaakov’s hip socket. The Torah concludes this episode with the words: “This is why the Jews to this day do not eat the sciatic nerve”. Indeed, this is one of the 613 mitzvos, not to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal. What’s the reasoning behind this mitzvah? What are we to learn from it?
Continue reading “Vayishlach 5782”
Two perspectives on Yitzchak
…והיה כאשר תריד ופרקת עולו מעל צוארך
…It shall be, that when the Jews don’t keep the Torah, you shall remove his yoke from upon your neck
There’s an interesting verse in the book of Isaiah. It says: “You (Hashem) are our Father, since Avraham didn’t know us, and Yisrael didn’t recognize us. Forever Your name is Hashem, our Father, our Redeemer.” What’s interesting about this verse is Yitzchak is strangely absent. We also find two different explanations from our Sages to this verse. At first glance, they appear to be total contradictions, one saying the exact opposite of the other. However, if we delve into their proper meaning, it will become clear that they are actually saying the same idea, just from different vantage points.
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ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו וגו’
Yaakov was very afraid, and it was distressing to him
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 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 that if someone is planning to kill you, get up before them and beat them to it. What could he be distressed about?
Continue reading “Vayishlach 5781”
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?”
Chazal teach us 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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Respect for the past, acclimating to the future
דברו אל-בני ישראל לאמר זאת החיה אשר תאכלו מכל-הבהמה אשר על-הארץ: כל מפרסת פרסת ושסעת שסע פרסת מעלת גרה בבהמה אתה תאכלו: אך את-זה לא תאכלו ממעלי הגרה וממפריסי הפרסה את-הגמל כי-מעלה גרה הוא ופרסה איננו מפריס וגו’ ואת-החזיר כי-מפריס פרסה הוא ושסע שסע פרסה והוא גרה לא-יגר טמא הוא לכם
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: “These are the animals that you shall eat, from all the animals on the Earth: Any animal with completely split hooves, which chews its cud, you shall eat. However, these you shall not eat from those that chew their cud and have split hooves: The camel, although it chews its cud, its hooves aren’t [completely] split…And the pig, although its hooves are completely split, it doesn’t chew its cud. It is impure to you”
The basic laws of kosher animals are introduced in this parsha. The rules are simple: animals with the Torah’s two kosher signs are permissible to eat. They need to have their hooves be completely split and chew their cud. If the animal has only one of these signs, like a camel or a pig, and for sure if it has neither of these signs, like a horse or a lion, then it is not kosher. However, sheep, lambs, cows, and deer, have both signs. These are permissible animals to eat.
Continue reading “Shemini 5780”
Concern for a mishap
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]
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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The rejected gift
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…”
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, and Mount Paran is usually associated with the descendants Yishmael. Picking up on this, the Midrash explains the verse to be describing a historical backdrop to the accepting of the Torah.
Continue reading “VeZos HaBeracha 5780”