Vayechi 5781


A recipe to avoid decline[1]

ויברכם ביום ההוא לאמור בך יברך ישראל לאמר ישמך אלקים כאפרים וכמנשה וגו’‏
[Yaakov] blessed them on that day saying: “In you[2] the Jewish people will bless, to say that Hashem should make you like Efraim and Menashe”…[3]

Towards the end of Yaakov’s life, he blessed his children with various prophetic pronouncements. Before blessing his twelve children, he gave Yosef’s two sons their own special blessings. He informed them that the Jewish people will bless their own children to be like Efraim and Menashe. Indeed, the standard practice in a Jewish home is that Friday night the parents bless their sons to be like Efraim and Menashe[4]. What’s the intent behind blessing our kids that they should be like Efraim and Menashe? What aspect did they have that we hope our children will share?

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Vayeitzei 5779

A fortunate chain of events[1]

וירדף אחריו דרך שבעת ימים וגו’ וישג לבן את-יעקב וגו’‏
[Lavan] chased after [Yaakov] a seven-day journey…and Lavan caught up to Yaakov…[2]

After Yaakov was scammed and abused by his uncle Lavan for over twenty years, he decided to flee with his family back to his homeland. Instead of informing his uncle of their departure, he decided to leave without notice. He was a six-day distance from Lavan before the latter realized what had happened[3]. Lavan chased after Yaakov on the seventh day, and on that very day managed to catch up with him. This is seemingly miraculous. How did Lavan travel so far in one day, something which took Yaakov much longer? This tells us that a miracle happened, and the Earth contracted[4] so that Lavan would catch up to Yaakov[5]. Why didn’t this same miracle happen for Yaakov, so that he would arrive home before Lavan could catch up[6]? Also, why would such a miracle be performed for Lavan, who’s intention was to kill Yaakov[7]?

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Pinchas 5777

The effects of a bad reputation[1]

ראובן בכור ישראל בני ראובן חנוך משפחת החנכי לפלוא משפחת הפלאי
[Regarding] Reuven, the first born of Israel: The sons of Reuven are Chanoch, [who has] the Chanoch family, Palu, who has the Palu family.[2]

After a terrible plague that badly affected the Jews in the wilderness, Hashem commanded Moshe to take a census of the people[3]. This is similar to a shepherd who counts his sheep after a wolf attacked the flock; he desires to know how many remain[4]. The Torah expends the effort to list every tribe, as well as every family in that tribe, as it tallies up the totals. However, the Torah does this in an unusual way. Every family that is listed has the letter ה preceding it and the letter י following it. For example, one of the sons of Reuven is Chanoch. When the Torah mentions the family of Chanoch[5], it calls them mishpachas HaChanochi. For his other son Palu it says mishpachas HaPalui. Why does the Torah do this, not only for this family, but every family mentioned?

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Acharei Mos-Kedoshim 5777

The forbidden fruit[1]

וכי-תבאו אל-הארץ ונטעתם כל-עץ מאכל וערלתם ערלתו את-פריו שלש שנים יהיה לכם ערלים לא יאכל; ובשנה הרעיעת יהיה כל-פריו קדש הלולים ליקוק
When you come to the land and plant any fruit-bearing tree, you’ll consider its fruit orlah, it will be orlah for three years and not be eaten. And in the fourth year all of its fruit will be holy, a praise[2] to Hashem[3]

This week’s parsha introduces a unique prohibition to fruit trees. The fruit they bear cannot be eaten by Jews for the first three years after it is planted. This prohibition is known as orlah, related to the Hebrew word for blockage[4], meaning the fruit is blocked from consumption[5]. During the entire fourth year of the tree all of its fruit is considered holy, and must be brought to Jerusalem for consumption[6]. Afterwards, the fruit may be eaten and treated normally. What are the reasons for this mitzvah? What is its purpose, and what is it trying to teach us?

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5777

Fiery coins[1]

זה יתנו כל-העבר על-הפקדים מחצית השקל בשקל הקדש עשרים גרה השקל מחצית השקל תרומה לשם
This they shall give, all who pass over the counting, the half shekel coin of the holy shekel, 20 gerah to a shekel, the half shekel as a donation to Hashem[2]

This week, besides being parshas Mishpatim, is also parshas Shekalim. It’s the first of what’s known as the “daled parshiyos”, four parshas that lead up to Purim and Pesach. Instead of reading the usual maftir for Mishpatim, we read a passage from parshas Ki Sisa[3]. It describes the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel, the half-coin donation. Every year, a half-shekel coin was collected from all the Jewish people in order to provide funds for the Temple. In addition to being a form of tzedakah, the Torah says that it provides atonement for the people’s souls[4].

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Vayigash 5777

To approach or not to approach, that is the question[1]

ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי אדני ידבר-נא עבדך דבר באזני אדני ואל-יחר אפך בעבדך כי כמוך כפרעה
And Yehudah approached [Yosef] and he said: “Please my Master, let your servant speak something in the ears of my Master, and don’t be mad with your servant, because you are like Pharaoh”[2]

The sons of Yaakov hadn’t yet caught on that their long-lost brother Yosef is the viceroy of Egypt. Binyomin was just caught “stealing” the cup of Yosef[3], and has been sentenced to life as a slave. The brothers felt hopeless; how can they return to their father without his most beloved son? Yehudah mustered up the courage to approach Yosef for a final confrontation. The Torah uses a unique phrase to describe this act: ויגש, to approach. This phrase appeared earlier in the Chumash with Avraham[4]: Hashem had just informed Avraham that He intended to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Amorah. Avraham couldn’t allow this to happen, and the Torah says ויגש אברהם ויאמר, and Avraham approached and spoke. He tried his best to convince Hashem to change His mind, but no to avail.

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