Vayishlach 5782

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Tests of one’s nerves[1]

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[2]

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[3] 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[4], not to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal. What’s the reasoning behind this mitzvah? What are we to learn from it?

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Vayeitzei 5782

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Good intentions[1]

ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה
Yaakov left Be’er Sheva and went to Charan[2]

After successfully preventing Eisav from receiving Yitzchak’s blessings, Yaakov had to flee for his life. His parents instructed him to go to his relatives in Charan, where he’ll find refuge, and perhaps even a wife. The thing is, our Sages inform us[3] that he took a not so slight detour. He spent fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver before finally journeying to Charan. How did they know this?

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Vayechi 5781

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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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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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Vayeitzei 5781

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Productive sleep[1]

ויפגע במקום וילן שם וגו’ ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו: וייקץ יעקב משנתו וגו’‏‏
[Yaakov] arrived at that place and slept there…He dreamt and behold! A ladder stood in the ground whose top reached the Heavens, and behold Angels of G-d were going up and down on it…Then Yaakov woke from his sleep…[2]

On Yaakov’s journey towards his uncle Lavan, as a safe haven from the wicked Eisav, he took a stop at Mount Moriah. There, he napped, and dreamed the famous prophetic dream about Angels going up and down a ladder. The Torah tells us that he woke up from his sleep, and he continued on his journey. Our Sages however[3] read the verse homiletically. Instead of reading the word as משנתו, from his sleep, we can read it as ממשנתו, from his learning. Meaning, Yaakov woke up from his learning. Besides being a cute play on words, what does this even mean? What are we to learn from this alternate reading of the verse[4]?

Our Sages exhort us[5] that all of our actions should be for the sake of Heaven. What this means[6] is that when a person goes about their day-to-day activities, eating, drinking, conducting business, and even sleeping, it should all be for one purpose: to give us the strength and ability to serve Hashem and learn His Torah. If someone does this, even while they are doing seemingly mundane tasks, they are fulfilling countless mitzvos. Someone who is sleeping isn’t always regarded as ignoring their studies. On the contrary, if their intent is to allow them to study further, the sleeping is regarded as actually learning!

This was Yaakov’s intent with his break on his journey. He had been learning Torah the entire way[7], and took a break to get some rest. His intent was to build his strength so he could continue learning and reach his destination. He had no interest in the personal pleasure that sleep provides. Since he slept for the sake of Heaven, he merited to his prophetic dream. The verse then isn’t merely telling us that Yaakov woke up from his sleep. That would imply it was the regular sleep of most people, for their own personal pleasure. Rather, it was sleep for the sake of learning and connecting to Hashem. Something all of us can strive for as well[8].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Kesav Sofer to Genesis 28:16

[2] Genesis 28:11,12,16

[3] Bereishis Rabbah 69:7, brought in Yalkut Shimoni Vayeitzei § 120

[4] Besides the Kesav Sofer’s interpretation, which follows, other suggestions include the Ba’al HaTurim to v. 16, who says that Yaakov would learn Torah in his dreams, Mattanas Kehunah ad. loc., who says that Yaakov’s prophetic dream counted as learning, and Radal ad. loc., who says it means that Yaakov fell asleep in the middle of learning. Meaning, he didn’t go to bed; he learned as long as he could until sleep overtook him. Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 117 also cites Sefer Chassidim HeChadash § 15, 285, which says that the Avos were beloved by Hashem because they never stopped for one moment from contemplating Torah day and night, and he cites this Midrash

[5] Avos 2:12

[6] Rambam’s Shemonah Perakim Chapter 5

[7] V. 18 says that Yaakov poured oil on the altar he had constructed. Where did he get this oil? Chazal tell us that Eliphaz, Eisav’s son, stole everything from Yaakov after he left his home (Rashi to ibid 29:11, quoting Bereishis Rabbasi p. 117. See also Sefer HaYashar Toldos § 10)! All Yaakov had was his walking staff. Paneach Raza to ibid 28:18 suggests that the staff was hollow, and Yaakov kept oil inside. He stored it so he could use it for fuel to learn Torah by light in the nighttime

[8] The Kesav Sofer uses this to explain the surprising gemarra Chullin 91b. There, it says that the Angels went up the ladder and saw Yaakov’s face embedded in Hashem’s Throne of Glory. They were very impressed. When they went back down the ladder, they saw Yaakov and wanted to attack him, but Hashem prevented them from doing so. Why would they want to attack him? They saw Yaakov sleeping; the same Yaakov that they saw on the Throne of Glory. They were shocked someone so holy would be wasting time sleeping (Cf. Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 76). Angels can’t read a person’s thoughts (Jeremiah 11:20, 17:10; Cf. Tosafos to Shabbos 12b s.v. שאין. However, see Maskil LeDovid to Genesis 18:2 s.v. וירא, cited by Gilyon HaShas ad. loc.). They didn’t realize his intentions were for the sake of Heaven. Hashem, who knew Yaakov’s true intent, protected him from the Angels wrath

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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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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