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parashas Shemot 5780 – Out of Egypt

B”H

Shiur for parashas Shemot 5780

“No man repenteth him of his wickedness, saying: ‘What have I done?’ Every one turneth away in his course, as a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle.”

– Jeremiah 8:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Ramchal notes in his book, entitled, Mesillas Yesharim – the Path of the Just – that most people, who do not reflect upon the nature of their ways, in thought, speech and deed, are comparable to “a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle” (Jeremiah 8:6), an analogy for those who do not repent of their aveiros (transgressions).

The unrepentant continue in their recalcitrant ways, bringing them closer to the edge of danger, as their misdeeds increase until they are brought face to face with the enemy (the yetzer harah). In contrast, those who do teshuvah (repentance), in stride with the discernment, granted to them by H’Shem, will prevent the occurrence of aveirah upon aveirah (sin upon sin), thus taking the reins of a runaway horse, so to speak, before their animal soul leads them totally astray.

The task of man, b’tzelim Elokim, created in G-d’s image, is to follow a path of righteousness, countering the animal soul, otherwise known as the yetzer hara or evil inclination, that makes an attempt to derail his efforts to serve H’Shem.

Ramchal advocates heshbon hanefesh – an accounting of the soul – to be made every day, in order to bring the conscious individual closer to his true self, by repenting of his sins, and seeking atonement on a daily basis, with a heartfelt attempt to search his soul. Ideally, the search would include minor and major transgressions, as well as what King David referred to as the sins of the heels, the aveiros (transgressions) that most people trample upon, so to speak, that is they disregard these aveiros, as if they are to little to be of consequence. Yet, Dovid HaMelech himself was concerned that these type of sins might keep him out of Gan Eden.

When B’nei Yisrael walked three days into the wilderness after leaving Mitzraim (Egypt),they were faced with the prospect of an immediate encounter with Pharaoh’s army, whose charioteers had caught up to the Children of Israel, encamped at the Sea of Reeds. There was no leeway for hesitation, when a path was provided through the waters of the sea for B’nei Yisrael. They were granted passage along a path upon the seabed, swept dry by an East wind. Likewise, there should be no hesitation in our efforts when we are shown a way to escape from aveiros (sins). The yetzer harah (evil inclination) may pursue us; however, H’Shem will show us the way to freedom.

Where did the path to freedom begin for B’nei Yisrael? A glimmer of light shone upon the darkest days of captivity when “when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS 1917 Tanach). Despite their harsh circumstances, they found hope in the message of the redeemer, who conferred to them that G-d had surely remembered, otherwise translated as “visited” them – yifkod pekodti – the same words that had been passed along the generations, since the time when Joseph told his brothers that G-d would surely visit them and bring them out of Egypt into the Promised Land (see Genesis 50:25).

In like manner, G-d will answer our heartfelt prayers for help with the challenges we face in life in due time. Along the way, He will bring us into covenant relationship to Him, wherein we may start anew on the derech (path) of righteousness. Like B’nei Yisrael, who had sunk to the forty-ninth level of impurity, before redemption, we can be freed from the muck and mire of our life, by taking the first step, like Nachson who walked into the Sea of Reeds, even before the sea actually parted.

parashas Vayechi 5780 – Jacob Lives

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayechi 5780

“Vayechi Yaakov (And Jacob lived).”

– Genesis 47:28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Jacob arrived with his family, having traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt, to where Joseph, his son greeted him, he and his family settled in the land of Goshen. Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life there, comforted by his reunion with Joseph, and the bountiful plenty of the most choice land in all of Egypt. The land of Goshen encapsulated an environment, somewhat removed from Egypt proper, therefore, providing an isolated locale for Jacob’s family to preserve the values of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moreover, goshen, meaning “drawing near” was a place where the twelve tribes of Jacob could “draw near” to H’Shem; so, with this in mind, Jacob “sojourned” in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 105), while setting his hopes on Olam Haba. For to sojourn means to reside temporarily in a place; while, on the other hand, Jacob knew that his true home was with H’Shem.

During years prior, he was able to transcend his circumstances by prevailing upon H’Shem’s covenental promises to him, thereby triumphing over Laban and Esau. He endured much, while working for his Uncle Laban; he also was greatly disconcerted in regard to his encounter with his brother, Esau. Yet, H’Shem was with him in the midst of his trials – this exemplifies H’Shem’s immanence. When moved to tefillah (prayer), he sought H’Shem, whose transcendence, being above nature, is experienced as being more distant to an individual at times.

The last seventeen years of his life, Jacob was drawing near to his more permanent home, when he would be “gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:29). The “bundle of life,” wherein the souls of the righteous are wrapped up in the light of G-d in Shomayim (Heaven) is implied by this phrase. Therefore, to be gathered to his people means to be blessed with G-d’s presence in Eternity.

Vayechi Yaakov (Jacob lives), for his soul continues to live, basking in the light of G-d until the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are restored to their resurrected bodies, at the beginning of Olam Haba (the World to Come).

parashas Vayigash 5780 Reconciliation

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayigash 5780

Joseph had arranged a scenario, whereby he was able to take Benjamin captive. He told his servant to place his silver cup in Benjamin’s pack on his donkey. Then, when the brothers were leaving, the servant overtook them, searched their packs, and “found” the cup. “The man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my servant” (Genesis 44: 17). Joseph arranged for this “test” to see if the brothers would stand up in defense of Benjamin. Indeed, Judah took the lead in stating his intent to replace Benjamin as a servant to the Egyptian Prince (Joseph). “I beg you, let your servant remain instead of the lad” (Genesis 44:33).

When Judah approached the Egyptian Prince (Joseph) to make an appeal for the sake of Benjamin, he offered himself as a slave unknowingly to the very one whom he had sold as a slave twenty-two years prior to this moment. Joseph was so moved by his Judah’s self-negation on behalf of Benjamin, that he could no longer contain his emotions. Although his brothers had sold him into slavery so long ago, it was clear to him at this point in the test that they had done teshuvah (repentance) over their transgression against him, and harbored no resentment, nor ill will towards Benjamin.

Joseph requested all of his Egyptian servants to leave his presence, so that he would be alone with his brothers, when revealing himself to them, after weeping aloud: “Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph” (Genesis 45:3). “G-d sent me before you to give you a remnant on the earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance ” (Genesis 45:7, JPS 1917 Tanach). Joseph knew that all that had happened to him was ultimately for the good: despite the circumstances of each situation wherein he suffered, he persevered and saw G-d’s hand at work.

parashas Mikeitz 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Mikeitz 5780

For every descent, there is an ascent: apropos to this week’s parashas, we see Joseph, whose feet were placed in “fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalm 105:19, JPS). Joseph’s descent to Egypt, and eventually into prison, began with his literal descent into the pit that his brothers callously cast him. He was then sold to Midianite traders, who brought him down to Egypt. He became the servant of Potiphar, who put Joseph in charge of his estate; yet, he was wrongfully accused by Potiphar’s wife; as a result, he wound in prison.

Even in prison, Joseph flourished; “the L-RD was with Joseph, and showed kindness unto him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). He gained notoriety as an interpreter of dreams, after correctly interpreting, b’ezrach H’Shem (with the L-RD’s help) the dreams of two prisoners who had been in stewardship in Pharaoh’s court. When the cup bearer, two years later, saw how disconcerted Pharaoh was about his own dreams, he recommended Joseph to Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou’” (Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach). Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s interpretation, that he elevated him to second in command of Egypt, thereby charging him to care for Egypt during the famine, by developing a means to store food during the seven years of plenty, to be subsequently distributed during the famine that would ensue, according to Pharaoh’s dream. Thus, Joseph’s ascent followed his descent, all for the sake of his family, as well as the Egyptians, and other inhabitants of the earth.

“And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for G-d did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land; and there are yet five years, in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest. And G-d sent me before you to give you a remnant on the earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance.”

– Genesis 45:5-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

Vayeishev 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayeishev 5780

“And he made him a coat of many colours.”

  • Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jacob loved his son Joseph, so much that “he made him a coat of many colors,” meant to distinguish him from amongst his brethren. For, he was the firstborn of Rachel; moreover, because Reuben lost the birthright as a result of a particular transgression (see Genesis 35:22), in all likelihood, Joseph was being groomed for the honors given to the firstborn. He already was granted some authority over his brothers, inasmuch that his father had assigned him the duties of a kind of overseer, “‘Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word” (Genesis 37:14, JPS 1917 Tanach).

When Joseph arrived in Shechem, his brothers were not there. Befuddled, Joseph was wandering in a field, when a man met him. The man asked him, “What do you seek?” (Genesis 37:15). Joseph responded that he was looking for his brethren (Genesis 37:17). According to tradition, this man was Archangel Michael; Yosef’s mission was so important that H’Shem sent the Archangel Michael to make sure he would continue on the way to find his brothers; this meeting with his brothers became a pivotal event in the life of Joseph.

Upon arrival, his brothers, out of hatred and jealousy, stripped Joseph of his many-colored coat, threw him in a pit, and sold him to Ishmaelite traders, who brought him down to Egypt. And, thus began the descent of Jacob’s family into Egypt, with Joseph being the first and most significant of his brothers, inasmuch that he went ahead, as is mentioned in Psalms, “He sent a man before them; Joseph was sold for a servant; His feet they hurt with fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L -RD tested him” (Psalm 105:17-19, JPS 1917 Tanach). This rendering of Joseph’s tsoros (troubles) depicts a perspective that reveals G-d’s intent for Joseph – a test of his character designed to prepare him for leadership.

parashas Vayishlach 5780 – Diminished Merit

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayislach 5780

“Jacob sent messengers (malachim).”

– Genesis 32:4

According to Sforno, Jacob sent messengers, in order to find out Esau’s state of mind concerning him (Sforno, sefaria.org). Jacob had spent twenty years working for his Uncle Laban; now, Jacob was returning to his native land, as stated in Genesis 31:13. He was concerned that Esau may have been still harboring resentment towards him, for having acquired both the birthright and their father’s blessing for the firstborn. When the servants that Jacob sent ahead as messengers returned, they reported that Esau was approaching with four hundred men.

Rather than confront Esau, his brother, in battle, Jacob chose to send gifts to him, as part of a three-fold strategy. He hoped to appease Esau’s anger, by way of sending droves of animals ahead to him, through his servants. He also divided his entourage into two camps, placing his servants first, and then his family, so that if the first camp was attacked, the second could escape. Additionally, he prayed to H’Shem, asking Him for reassurance that he would be delivered from the hands of his brother, Esau.

When Jacob prayed to H’Shem, he said of himself, “I am not worthy of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown Thy servant” (Genesis 32:11, JPS). According to Rashi, he felt as if his merit was diminished, perhaps, because of some sin that he had committed, so that he could not presume to think that H’Shem would deliver him from the hands of Esau (Shabbat 32a). Nachmanides comments that he “didn’t rely on his righteousness;” rather, “he made every effort to save himself” (Ramban, sefaria.org). Because he felt unworthy, he took practical measures on his own, in order to avoid a deadly confrontation with Esau.

In like manner, it is best not to feel entitled to H’Shem’s blessings in our lives. Instead, we should learn from Jacob, by prevailng upon H’Shem’s gadol chesed, the greatness of His kindness (Sforno, sefaria.org), while also making an effort on our own to overcome our challenges in life. In this manner, we reflect the Talmudic saying in our lives: “if you make an effort, H’Shem will meet you halfway” (Nedarim 39). As is elsewhere written, “And to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of G-d” (Psalm 50:23, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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

B”H

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.