The Foundation Stone

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayeitzei 5780

(Genesis 28:10 – 32:3)

December 7, 2019 — 9 Kislev 5780

“And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.”

– Genesis 28:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The word lighted, i.e., “and he lighted upon the place,” in Hebrew is vayifgah, from the shoresh (root word), paga. According to chazal, the word implies prayer, hence, the origin of the evening prayer being attributed to Jacob. Therefore, this event in Jacob’s life was the precedent for prayer, the third prayer of the day, that marks the transition from day to night. What significance does this particular prayer serve? Within the context of the evening shema, the prayer draws emphasis on G-d’s faithfulness to Israel; we remind ourselves of His faithfulness to us, because darkness signifies the exile. Yet, He is with us, as He was in the past: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).

The stones that Jacob placed around his head, twelve stones, are said in the midrash to have been taken from the mizbeach (altar) made by Abraham. The next morning, Jacob “took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar” (Genesis 28:18). In other words, of the twelve stones that he originally placed under his head he took the stone, one specific stone. Although, according to the midrash, symbolically, the twelve stones became one, representing the unity of the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, this stone was given the name evehn shetiyah (the foundation stone), many generations later. This stone symbolizes the center of the world, from where all the earth was created. Jacob poured oil on this stone, so that it could be used as a mizbeach (altar), later, when he would return from his journey to Haran. This location is where the first and second Temples stood, many generations after Jacob. It is also where the third Temple will be built in Jerusalem.

As mentioned above, the maariv (evening) prayer, recited after nightfall, is a reminder of H’Shem’s faithfulness to us, during this Galus, i.e., the current exile. With our hope focused on the time of the Final Redemption, we may look forward to the time when K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel) will be united. “And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah” (Isaiah 11:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts. He shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of Grace, grace upon it.'” – Zechariah 4:6-7

(In memory of Yaakov ben Dovid)

parashas Toledos 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Toledos 5780

“And the L-RD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.”

-Genesis 25:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Esau was the first born, while Jacob was born grasping Esau’s heel. This is how Jacob received his name, meaning heel, or supplanter, because, eventually, he supplanted the rights of the firstborn. Additionally, “Jacob’s holding on to the heel of Esau may symbolize that values which Esau would stamp his foot on, would be the very ones Jacob would cherish” (Akeidat Yitzchak 23:1:10, sefaria.org).

This appears to be a reference to the pasuk (verse), “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters [heels] compasseth me about” (Psalm 49:6, JPS), concerning King David’s fear that the sins of his heels, those that most people disregard, i.e., “trample upon,” would prevent him from entering Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).

Akeidat Yitzchak applies the same verse in a different manner, implying that Esau would tread upon the very values that Jacob cherished, the values that Jacob emulated in his father Isaac, the same values of Abraham. Jacob was destined to supplant Esau in regard to the rights of the first born, so that the legacy of Abraham, replete with the qualities of chesed (kindness), gevurah (moral restraint) and emes (truth) would be continued.

“See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which H’Shem hath blessed. So G-d give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fat places of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.”

– Genesis 27:27b-28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Isaac blessed his son, Jacob, who he thought was his firstborn, Esau, he had his son draw close to him. Although Jacob was wearing goat pelts, to resemble Esau’s hairiness, Rashi comments that what Isaac smelled was “the perfume of the Garden of Eden that entered the room with Jacob” (Genesis Rabbah 65:22, sefaria.org).

parashas Chayei Sarah 5780

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Shiur for parashas Chayei Sarah 5780
Genesis 23:1 – 25:18)

It’s interesting to note, that Judaism is often regarded as a worldly religion, focusing on our earthly lives, while not placing much emphasis on the next life, otherwise known as Olam Haba (the World-to-Come). However, when we delve into Torah, looking below the surface of the plain meaning, we begin to see a different picture. Additionally, the teachings of Chazal (the Sages), can inform us as well, concerning a perspective that brings us into a fuller knowledge of Torah.

Torah itself is compared the the ocean, perhaps, because its depths are unfathomable. Moreover, it is recorded in Torah, that the number of creatures in the ocean are uncountable; perhaps, this also applies to Torah itself, in regard to the many facets of Torah. It is said that there are seventy faces of Torah, connotating the teaching that Torah presents its mysteries in many ways.

The parashas begins with the death of Sarah, a seemingly disconnected beginning to a narrative entitled Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. Yet, The first word of the parashas, vayechi, meaning “life,” according to R. Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints towards the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org).

In this respect, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah may be understood as an implicit message or remez (hint), concerning Sarah’s continued existence in Olam Haba. Thus the title of the parashas points to the promise of an Afterlife for the righteous in the World-to-Come. We see this promise reiterated, in regard to Abraham, towards the end of the parashas: “And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8). This phrase, “gathered to his people” (vayei’asef el amayv) is likened by Sforno to the bundle of life: “the bundle of souls who are part of the life after death” (Sforno, sefaria.org).

Parashas Vayeira 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayeira 5780

“Walk in My ways, and be blameless.”

– Genesis 17:1, sefaria.org

Abraham is acknowledged for his endless reservoir of chesed; yet, it is interesting to note, that the Torah does not specifically give any mention of his acts of kindness, until after he is circumcised at the age of ninety-nine. The bris millah (circumcision) represents the removal of imperfection. Abraham’s bris millah occurred after H’Shem spoke these words, “Walk in My ways, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1, sefaria.org). The following examples of chesed may be understood as only being possible, after his bris millah, whereby he was established as tammin (blameless, or perfect) (Nesivos Shalom: Vayeira).

The first noteworthy demonstration of chesed is when Abraham brings a meal prepared quickly to his three guests, who are really angels; he stands over them as a servant, while they are eating. This high degree of courtesy demonstrates his focus on orchas hanasim (hospitality). Next, he makes a concerted effort to persuade H’Shem to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, not only for the sake of any righteous souls who may be living there; he also hopes that the general populace would be given a chance to repent, according to H’Shem’s mercy, instead of being destroyed, according to the strict measure of justice.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moshe speaks of the circumcision of the heart (as mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6). Chazal explain that this is a metaphor for the removal of any obstacles that may have the effect of a spiritual barrier between an individual and H’Shem. As Abraham’s circumcision complemented his walk with H’Shem, causing him to become tammin, so does the circumcision of the heart for B’nei Yisrael. This removal of the coarse veneer of our character is a necessary step forward in avodah (service), leading towards a closer connection with H’Shem.

parashas Lech Lecha 5780

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Shiur for parashas Lech Lecha 5780

“The L-RD said to Abram, ‘Go forth [lech lecha] from your native land and from your fathers house to the land that I will show you.'”

Genesis 12:1, sefaria.org

Kli Yakar explains, that when Abraham is told lech lecha, literally, “go to yourself,” this is a remez (hint) pointing towards the place of “the foundation stone,” where Abraham would later be called to offer up his son, his only son, Isaac (Genesis 22). According to Kli Yakar, this place is referred to by Isaiah: “Look unto the rock whence ye were hewn” (Isaiah 51:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Kli Yakar is drawing upon a midrash that speaks of the dust of the earth taken to form Adam as being brought from this place, where the world in general was founded (Kli Yakar, sefaria.org). He further explains, that man himself is called, olam katan, (small world) because he is a microcosm of the world, and was fashioned from the place of that rock, which is also the place of the ladder for the soul” (ibid.).

Mankind’s origin is from this place, (in Hebrew, makom); the same word, makom is used to describe the location that G-d told Abraham to bring Isaac as an offering: Abraham “rose up, and went unto the place [makom] of which G-d had told him” (Genesis 22:3, JPS).

This is the connection, inasmuch that Abraham’s going forth from his native land is really a going “to himself,” not only where the dust of the earth was used for Adam, hence all of mankind, rather, also to where Abraham’s ultimate challenge would be – the tenth test that would define his character and faith.

parashas Noach 5780

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Shiur for parashas Noach 5780
by Tzvi Schnee

“‘For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I blot out from off the face of the earth.”

– Genesis 7:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

Noah was given the opportunity for one-hundred twenty years to warn his fellow human beings of the impending flood, by way of calling them towards teshuvah (repentance). During this time, the inhabitants of the earth would notice Noah and his three sons building the ark; so, they would ask for what reason is he doing so. When he explained, they had the chance to take the warning to heart, and change themselves for the better.

“And to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of G-d” (Psalm 50:23b, JPS). This is G-d’s fairness, that he gave all of mankind a chance to turn from their wicked ways. For, “the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5, JPS).

When the actual time drew near, Noah was given a seven day notice until the all-encompassing dreadful and disastrous Mabul (Flood) that wreaked a fateful havoc upon the earth and its inhabitants. According to Targum Yonatan, this was a brief extension of the 120 year period, a final call to teshuvah (repentance) for the inhabitants of the earth: “For, behold, I give you space of seven days; if they will be converted, it shall be forgiven them; but if they will not be converted, after a time of days yet seven, I will cause rain to come down upon the earth forty days and forty nights, and will destroy all bodies of man and of beast upon the earth” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 7:14, sefaria.org).

The seven days that preceded the beginning of the flood are seen by Akeidat Yitzchak as G-d’s mourning period for mankind. This shows that He was grieved, despite His own recourse to bring the flood upon mankind. As Torah itself conveys, “And it repented the L-RD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (Genesis 6:8, JPS).

parashas Bereishis 5780

B”H

shiur for parashas Bereishis 5780
by Tzvi Schnee

The first name of G-d that appears in the Torah is Elokim, the second is YHVH. The first name represents justice, the second mercy. The second name does not appear until after Adam’s creation is mentioned for a second time in Torah, beginning in chapter two. Therefore, it may be understood, that G-d’s name, YHVH represents mercy towards man. Chazal explain that man would not have been able to survive, according to the Attribute of Justice. So the Attribute of Mercy also played a role in the beginning of creation, in order to balance justice with mercy.

Through H’Shem’s Attribute of mercy, teshuvah (repentance), i.e., the forgiveness of sins is offered to mankind. This is built into the fabric of existence, as noted in the Talmud (Nedarim 39b), that teshuvah was created before the world, based on the proximity of the following pasukim (verses): “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. Thou turnest man to contrition; And sayest: ‘Return, ye children of men'” (Psalm 90:2-3, JPS).

It is as if H’Shem, Who knows past, present and future, used His foresight to prepare teshuvah (repentance) as the remedy, before the sickness (aveiros; i.e., sin). Sin separates us from G-d: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Yet, through teshuvah – a turning towards G-d in our lives – our connection with G-d may be restored; His Attribute of Mercy permits this restoration. Thus, because of man’s frailities, G-d created Chesed (Mercy), knowing that mankind would need to be shown leniency when being judgded according to the Attribute of Justice.

In reflecting on creation, it may become apparent that all that was created during the first six days provides man with the perfect environment for spiritual as well as material needs. Even a safety net when we fall – teshuvah, as a means to stand upright. “For a righteous man falleth seven times, and riseth up again” (Proverbs 24:16, JPS).