Category Archives: Sefer Bereishis

Parshas Vayishlach: Please Don’t Hand Me Those Animals!

Parshas Vayishlach

Please Don’t Hand Me Those Animals!

 

“…And he [Yaakov] prepared from whatever came into his hand for a gift for his brother Esav” (Bereishis 32:14)

Many years ago, Dr. Nachman Kook practiced medicine in Yerushalayim. Since he did not have a receptionist, his patients would sit down and wait to be called. When the doctor asked who was next, that person would stand up and go into the examination room. Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron yeshiva, was the one exception to the rule. Rabbi Sarna’s medical condition required him to regularly see Dr. Kook. With great respect for this Torah luminary, whenever Rabbi Sarna came, Dr. Kook called him to be seen next. Once, Rabbi Sarna was sitting in the waiting room when Dr. Kook came out. Expecting to be next, as usual, Rabbi Sarna got up from his seat and headed to the examination room. Dr. Kook apologized to Rabbi Sarna and said that he had to first see a lady who had already been waiting. When Dr. Kook finished examining the elderly lady, he called in Rabbi Sarna. Dr. Kook explained to Rabbi Sarna why he did not call him in right away, as he was accustomed to do. He explained that the elderly lady was poor, and he did not charge her for her examination. Dr. Kook was concerned that if he took Rabbi Sarna ahead of her, she may have thought that priority treatment was being given to those patients who paid. She may have felt badly that as a non-paying patient, she wasn’t getting the same attention as the paying patients. That’s why the doctor took her right away. (In the footsteps of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)  Dr. Kook thought the situation through and showed such sensitivity to the elderly lady.

After being away for many years, our forefather Yaakov was finally returning home to the land of Israel. Yaakov sent messengers to Esav to find out if Esav still harbored a murderous hatred towards him for receiving Yitzchak’s blessings. The messengers returned to Yaakov saying that Esav was coming to “greet” Yaakov, together with 400 men. The Kli Yakar says that Esav was coming with an army to fight Yaakov. Yaakov realized that he was in a dangerous situation. Rashi says that Yaakov prepared for the upcoming encounter in 3 ways. He prepared for a possible battle, he prayed to Hashem, and he prepared a gift to appease Esav.

If Esav would be appeased by Yaakov’s gift, then war would be averted. Obviously, the type of gift was of utmost importance. Yaakov sent Esav a very generous gift of over 500 animals! Yaakov told his servants to space the animals in such a way, as to magnify the appearance of the many animals that he was sending.

Since the purpose of this magnificent gift was to appease Esav, we would think that Yaakov would have chosen the best and finest quality animals. Yet, surprisingly, that was not the case. The Torah tells us (Bereishis 32:14) that Yaakov took whichever animals came into his hand. That means that among the animals, Yaakov may have sent animals that were sickly or blemished. How could Yaakov do such a thing?

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (in sefer Chofetz Chaim on the Torah) explains that Yaakov did not feel it was proper for him to actively choose which specific animals to send to Esav. Those animals that had belonged to Yaakov would now be going to the rasha, Esav. Yaakov did not want to be directly involved in choosing the animals since that would have caused some measure of suffering to them.

Yaakov had learned about this sensitivity from an event that had occured to himself many years earlier. When he left home to travel to the house of Besuel and Lavan, Yaakov stopped in Bethel. He prepared to spend the night outside, in the open. Rashi (Bereishis 28:11) says that Yaakov took 12 stones to encircle his head like a cape, to protect himself from wild animals. The stones “quarreled” with one another, vying for the privilege of being the stone that the tzadik, Yaakov rested his head upon. Immediately, Hashem fused the 12 stones into 1 large stone so that Yaakov was resting his head on all the stones, which were now 1 stone. From this, Yaakov understood that even an inanimate object, such as a stone, had the urge to draw close to holiness. If that was the case then certainly, animals, who are living creatures, feel the need to be attached to holiness and not to wickedness. Therefore, Yaakov understood that the animals which would be sent to Esav, would undergo a measure of suffering.

Yaakov had to send the animals. However, he limited his hands-on involvement by not actively choosing which animals to send. Yaakov’s gift had potential life-saving repercussions and it seemed important to send only the finest animals to Esav. However, Yaakov’s sensitivity determined that he had to take that chance. It would not have been appropriate otherwise.

This is such a meaningful lesson for us. We must be so sensitive to the feelings of others

so as not to cause them to suffer. We must be so careful even if that means

that an action which we want to do will not be as effective.

 

Parshas Toldos: Clothes Make the Man-and the Woman!

Parshas Toldos

Clothes Make the Man-and the Woman!

 

“Rivka took the garments of Esav, her elder son, [the garments] that were precious [to him] that she had in her house, and put them on Yaakov, her younger son.” (Bereishis 27:15)

The traveler was weary and hoped to get a hot meal from a kind-hearted person in the town. He noticed a beautiful mansion on the edge of town and was hopeful that he would get a meal there. He knocked on the door which was opened by the owner. When the homeowner saw the stranger in his tattered clothes and rags he said, “Sorry but we don’t serve beggars here.”  The traveler knocked on the door of another house where he was welcomed and served a hot meal. A few years later, Beryl, a wealthy and respected man came to town. All the townspeople wanted the honor of hosting him for a meal. They all begged Beryl to be their guest. The rich man who lived in the beautiful mansion at the edge of town begged him incessantly until he agreed to come to his home. The rich man was so happy. He was prepared to serve a sumptuous meal with many courses. During the feast, Beryl acted very strangely. During each course, instead of eating he put the food onto his clothes. Overcome by curiosity, the rich man finally asked Beryl why he was doing that. Beryl’s response taught the rich man a very important lesson. Beryl said that he had assumed the invitation to dinner was just for Beryl’s clothes and not for Beryl himself. After all, when Beryl visited this man a few years ago, wearing tattered clothing, he was not invited into the house. Now, that he was wearing fancy clothing he was invited. He was the same person and the only difference was the type of clothes that he was wearing, Thus, he said that he assumed the dinner invitation was just for his clothes.

Scientific studies show that the clothes we wear largely affect how we think and act. They affect our behavior, attitudes, personality, mood, confidence, and even the way we interact with others. In one study, the participants were given white coats to wear. Some participants were told that they were wearing painters’ smocks while others were told that they were wearing doctors’ coats. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, showed that those who were told that they were wearing a doctor’s white coat had a higher level of concentration than those who were told that they were wearing painter’s smocks.  Researchers also found that if we dress for a particular role, we will start to live it. In a study reported by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, subjects were required to wear formal and informal clothing in negotiation meetings. Those who wore business suits performed much better, as they asserted dominance over the person with whom they were negotiating.

Of course, the Torah knew this fact thousands of years before the scientific studies.

Our forefather Yitzchak wanted to bless his firstborn son before he died. He sent his first-born son, Esav, to hunt an animal, prepare a meal for him and then come to receive the bracha. Unbeknownst to Yitzchak, Yaakov rightfully deserved the bracha because he had previously purchased the birthright from Esav. The Ohr HaChaim (Bereishis 27:8) says that Rivka knew prophetically that Yaakov was the one who deserved the bracha. She prepared a meal for Yitzchak and told Yaakov to bring it and then receive the bracha for himself. She placed the skins of young goats on Yaakov’s hands and the smooth part of his neck in order that he should appear hairy like Esav. The commentaries explain why Yaakov was permitted and required to do this seeming subterfuge of pretending to be Esav to receive the bracha from Yitzchak.

Rivka then gave Yaakov Esav’s “precious garments” to wear. The Da’as Zekanim says that these garments had pictures of all the animals and birds in the world painted on it. The animals appeared to be alive. Whenever the wearer walked in the field, the animals were attracted to the pictures and approached the wearer, making them easy prey for the hunter. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 65:16) says that Esav had taken these garments from King Nimrod when he had killed him.

What did Rivka hope to gain by clothing Yaakov in these special garments of Esav? Yitzchak was blind and would not even see Yaakov’s attire! It must be that Rivka wanted Yaakov to feel as if he was Esav, since one’s clothing affects one’s thoughts and actions.

It seems from this Da’as Zekanim that had Yaakov not worn these special garments, his actions would not have been like those of Esav. Then, Yitzchak would have discovered that it was Yaakov. Yaakov’s mission of getting the brachos would have failed. Yaakov had a lot to gain by receiving the brachos. He also had a lot to lose if Yitzchak would have realized that he was not Esav. Yitzchak might have cursed him for attempting to misleading him. Yet, since Esav’s actions were so different than Yaakov’s, Yaakov’s mission would have failed had Yaakov not worn Esav’s special garments. Those garments made him feel like Esav and he was able to act accordingly.

We see how much our thoughts and actions are influenced by the way we dress.

That is why it is so important to dress as a Jewish man and a Jewish woman should.

 

Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l as recorded in sefer Chidushei Lev by Rabbi Binyamin Luban

 

I am left with a question. According to this, while wearing Esav’s clothes, Yaakov’s actions should have been just like Esav. Yet, when Yaakov came to Yitzchak (Bereishis 27:19), he spoke gently, “Please sit up”. When Esav came, he spoke gruffly, “Let me father sit up”. Furthermore, when Yitzchak questioned how Yaakov was able to come to him so quickly, Yaakov said that Hashem had sent him good fortune (Bereishis 27:20). Esav would not have invoked Hashem’s name. Those two comments of Yaakov almost caused his mission to fail as Yitzchak knew that Esav did not normally speak this way (see Rashi 27:21 and Bechor Shor on pasuk 26). Maybe you can say that although what you wear affects your thoughts and actions, perhaps it does not affect your speech. Possibly, since the way you speak is so much a part of who you are, that it is not fully affected by the way that you dress.  Therefore, it is so important to actively choose a refined manner of speech.

 

Parshas Chayei Sarah: Look Deep into your Heart!

Parshas Chayei Sarah

Look Deep into your Heart!

 

“I said to my master, Perhaps the woman will not come back with me?” (Bereishis 24:39)

For many years, twice a year a merchant sent an agent to the big fair. At the 1st fair of each year, he would buy a large quantity of merchandise from a particular wholesaler. He bought it on credit and repaid it when he returned for the 2nd fair. One day, the merchant told the agent that he wanted to buy an exceptionally large amount of goods without ever paying for it. The agent did not want to be dishonest, but he also did not want to anger his employer. When he arrived at the fair he went to the wholesaler and said, “My master has asked me to buy the largest possible quantity of goods I could get from you on credit. I pointed out that I doubted that you would let us do that. I am not even sure that our firm is in the financial position to engage in such a transaction. My employer became quite angry at me when I told that to him.”  After hearing this, the wholesaler refused to sell him any merchandise at all. (The Maggid of Dubna & his Parables by Benno Heinemann)

 

Our forefather Avraham felt that it was time to find a suitable wife for his son, Yitzchak. The woman had to be very special, as she would be the next link in the chain of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Avraham sent his trusted servant, Eliezer, to Avraham’s homeland, to find such a woman. Avraham made it clear that he did not want Yitzchak to marry a Canaani woman. Avraham asked Eliezer to swear that he would fulfill his mission faithfully. The Torah (Bereishis 24:5) relates Eliezer’s followup question to Avraham. He wanted to know what to do if, “Perhaps the woman shall not wish to follow me to this land.” The Hebrew word for “perhaps” was written as “אוּלַי”. Eliezer left for his mission, traveling to Aram Naharaim. Hashem performed many miracles to help Eliezer succeed in his task: Eliezer’s travel was unusually quick, and he reached his destination on the same day that he started on his journey (Rashi 24:42). Eliezer had asked Hashem to show him certain signs indicating the right wife for Yitzchak. All those signs happened. When Rivka drew water from the well, it miraculously rose-up to “greet” her (Rabbeinu Bachya 24:16). When Rivka told Eliezer that she was from Avraham’s family, Eliezer knew with certainty that Hashem had led him to Yitzchak’s future wife (Although Eliezer knew that with certainty, even before Rivka confirmed that fact). Eliezer followed Rivka to her house and told her father, Besuel, and her brother, Lavan, the purpose of his mission. He praised Avraham and Yitzchak. Eliezer then added some words that seemed to be unnecessary. He repeated the question that he had asked Avraham about what he should do if, “Perhaps the woman will not follow me.” This time, the Torah spells the Hebrew word as, “אֻלַי”, without the letter vav. Rashi (24:39) says that the word as it is written,

“אֵלַי”, means “to me”. Eliezer also had a daughter of marriageable age. The Torah tells us what Eliezer had hinted to Avraham when he was first sent on his mission. If the woman wouldn’t follow Eliezer, then Avraham should turn “to me” to take my daughter as a wife for Yitzchak.

 

Many of the commentators question why Eliezer chose to repeat his question to Besuel & Lavan.  It was proper to ask Avraham what he should do if, “Perhaps the woman will not follow me”. But what was the point in saying it to Besuel and Lavan?

Rav Ovadia from Bartanura explains that Eliezer said it to help convince Besuel and Lavan to permit Rivka to marry Yitzchak. Eliezer wanted to infer that Yitzchak was so special that Eliezer, himself, wanted Yitzchak as a son-in-law.

The Dubno Maggid, and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l explain that Eliezer wanted his mission to fail! He wanted Besuel and Lavan to refuse to send Rivka, thus opening the way for Eliezer’s own daughter to marry Yitzchak.

Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l (quoted in sefer Ituri Torah by Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) says that Eliezer’s comment could have caused Besuel and Lavan to wonder why the potential wife would not come. Was it because there was something wrong with Yitzchak?  That concern could have caused them to refuse to send Rivka, thus opening the possibility of Eliezer’s daughter marrying Yitzchak.

The Dubno Maggid (The Maggid of Dubna & his Parables by Benno Heinemann) also asks why Eliezer repeated the comment to Besuel & Lavan. He asks an additional question of why Rashi comments on the second time that Eliezer said it and not when he initially said it to Avraham. The Dubno Maggid concludes that Eliezer did not want his mission to succeed.  By saying this comment, he hoped to influence Rivka’s family to refuse to allow her to marry Yitzchak. Thus, he implied “אֻלַי”, that Avraham would have to turn to Eliezer to ask him to allow his own daughter to marry Yitzchak. The Dubno Maggid illustrated this with the parable that was written in the beginning of the dvar Torah.

 

I find it hard to believe that Eliezer would want his mission to fail. He was Avraham’s trustworthy servant for many years. Avraham even trusted Eliezer to manage all his wealth. Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l (Lev Eliyahu on the Torah) says that Eliezer had control of his evil inclination just as Avraham had. He also taught Avraham’s Torah to others. Furthermore, he also swore to Avraham that he would be dedicated to his mission. When Eliezer saw all the miracles that occurred, it should have been obvious that Rivka was the bride that Hashem had chosen. How could such a great person try to sabotage the success of his mission?

 

Perhaps we can understand the explanation of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l and the Dubno Maggid as Rabbi Menachem Mendel from Kotz understands it. The Kotzker Rav zt”l (quoted in Ituri Torah) says that Eliezer was sincere and definitely wanted his mission to succeed. However, subconsciously, he wanted it to fail. Once he saw Rivka and all the miracles that Hashem had performed, Eliezer knew that Hashem had chosen Rivka to be the bride for Yitzchak. That caused Eliezer to think back to his initial conversation with Avraham. It was only now that he recognized what his original subconscious motives were. Rashi says that is why the Torah changed the spelling from “אוּלַי“ to “אֻלַי ” now, because it was only now that Eliezer realized this.

 

When we do an action, we have so many thoughts swirling in our minds and in our subconscious. Are our actions totally pure or do we have other motivations in our subconscious that we don’t even realize? We must analyze our thoughts very carefully so that we serve Hashem properly.

 

 

Parshas Vayeira: It Is an Honor to Serve You!

Parshas Vayeira

It Is an Honor to Serve You!

 

“I will get a piece that you may sustain yourselves … since you have passed your servant’s way….” (Bereishis 18:5)

Yitzchak was certain that his car had made it across the intersection before the light had turned red. He was so sure that he was determined the fight the ticket that he had received. Since he did not want to miss work, he made an early appointment to have a hearing. He was the first to arrive in the hearing room. He expected to be called on first, so he took a front row seat right near the judge. As the room filled-up it seemed that many people had come to appeal tickets that they had received from the same policeman who ticketed Yitzchak. The judge, an elderly black gentleman, started the proceedings. To Yitzchak’s surprise and annoyance, the judge did not call him first. The judge skipped over him and listened to the cases of all the others. Everyone was found guilty. After waiting for an hour, an exasperated Yitzchak was finally called. As soon as he stated his case, the judge motioned for the police officer to leave the room. Then the judge shut the tape recorder. The only ones left in the room were Yitzchak and the judge. Yitzchak was confused and very nervous. Something very strange was going on. Then the judge leaned forward and said, “I will take your word for it.” Yitzchak was confused. Then the judge asked Yitzchak, “Don’t you recognize me?” Yitzchak took a close look at the judge and then remembered what had taken place about 4 years earlier. It had been close to 11 PM and Yitzchak was driving home. It was a snowy night and driving was very difficult. As he was driving, Yitzchak noticed an elderly black gentleman struggling to push his car off the road. Yitzchak stopped his car and got out to help the man. Together, they pushed the car into a parking spot. Afterwards, Yitzchak drove the man to a bus stop. The man was not expecting to take a bus home and did not have the exact change needed for the fare. Yitzchak reached into his pocket and gave the man the change. The man was amazed at the kindness that Yitzchak had shown him. The judge continued. “I was waiting for the day when I would meet my Jewish friend. I will never forget the kindness that you had shown me.” Anyone who is so good and kind is surely trustworthy. Your ticket is dismissed!

(More Shabbos Stories by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman)

Our forefather, Avraham, just had his bris mila. However, he was sad that travelers were not passing and he was unable to welcome guests. To make Avraham feel happier, Hashem sent him 3 guests; angels who looked like Arabs. Avraham ran to greet them and offered them hospitality. He said that they should remain to eat and rest before leaving, “since you have passed your servant’s way….”  (Bereishis 18:5) Rashi explains that Avraham asked them to please stay, “because you have passed by me, out of respect for me”. Avraham truly felt that these travelers showed him honor by coming to his home.

How was their passing by Avraham’s house showing him honor? The masses considered Avraham to be a prince of Hashem, an extra special personage. The travelers appeared to be Arabs who worshiped the dust of their feet. Was it truly an honor for someone as great as Avraham to have such lowly people to pass by his home?

Apparently, the answer is, yes! Avraham felt that it was an honor for him to invite them in and serve them himself! Avraham understood that every human is created in the image of Hashem. Therefore, every person is considered distinguished.

The Talmud (Yevamos 76b) says that a man from the nations of Amon or Moav may never marry a Jew. The Torah says (Devarim 23:4-5) that they did not have the common decency to offer the Jews food and water when they were in a state of exhaustion upon leaving Egypt. This prohibition did not apply to the females. Females from these nations may marry a Jew. They were not held accountable. Since women are supposed to be modest, they were not expected to go out in public, offering food and water to the men. Obviously, these women had these feelings of modesty somewhere deep inside them, otherwise they too would have been held accountable for not coming to offer the Jews sustenance.

If there is greatness within non-Jewish people from less noble backgrounds, how much more greatness is there within every Jew.

Every human has inherent greatness because they were created in the image of Hashem. Therefore, every person deserves our respect. The greatness of a Jew is even greater.

We certainly should show great respect to every Jew.

 

(Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l,

as recorded in Chidushei Halev by Rabbi Binyamin Luban)

 

 

Parshas Lech Lecha: If You Have a Question, I May Not Have the Answer, Yet!

Parshas Lech Lecha

If You Have a Question, I May Not Have the Answer, Yet!

 

“And [Avram] went on his journeys from the south to Beth-el, to the place where his tent had originally been….”

Rashi (Bereishis 13:3) quotes the Midrash (Bereishis 41:3) that when our forefather, Avraham, returned from Egypt, “…he went on his journeys”. He lodged in the same places that he gone to, on the way from the land of Canaan to Egypt. He returned to pay his unpaid bills, as he had initially lodged “on credit”.

 

Rabbeinu Bachya in sefer Chovos HaLevavos (in Sha’ar Habitachon, the Gate of Faith) brings an interesting story:

 A pious man traveled to a far-off land to make a living. He met a man who worshipped idols. He told the fellow that he was foolish for worshipping mere sticks and stones. The idol-worshipper responded by asking the pious man whom he worshipped. He replied that he worshipped the Creator who sustains the entire world. The idol worshipper responded by asking, “Why must you travel so far from home to earn a living? Couldn’t your G-D have sustained you in your own city?” The pious man was unable to answer this question. The idol worshipper had made an excellent point!

 

Our forefather, Avraham, made it his life’s mission to teach the world about Hashem, the Creator of the world. Avraham had many followers. When there was a famine in Canaan (the land of Israel) Hashem told Avraham to go down to Egypt. That was one of Avraham’s 10 tests. Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin, in sefer Kehillas Yitzchok, says that Avraham’s followers asked him a question. “If it is as you say, that there is one true G-D who is Master of everything, why must you go to Egypt to find food? Can’t He feed you right here in Canaan?” Avraham was unable to answer their question. Instead, he said that Hashem had commanded him to do this, and he would obey, despite not understanding the reason.

 

By the time Avraham left Egypt, he understood that Hashem had wanted him to go there to sanctify Hashem’s name in the Egyptian palace. Once Avraham understood the reason, “…he went on his journeys”. He called his followers together and answered the question that they had initially asked him when he had been on the way to Egypt. He explained that he had to sanctify Hashem’s name in Egypt and that is why Hashem had sent him there. According to Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin, this is the explanation of the “unpaid bills” that the Midrash was referring to. The “unpaid bills” was the question that Avraham’s followers asked that he had been unable to answer. Now, upon his return, he was able to give them a satisfactory answer.

 

All of us are “tested” by Hashem through life’s circumstances. We may have questions, “Why is Hashem doing this?” Our friends may have the same questions as to why certain things are happening to us. As time passes, perhaps we will discover the answers to some of the questions that we and our friends had. We may understand why certain specific things had to happen to us, for our ultimate benefit. Regardless, our immediate and consistent response should be the same response that our forefather Avraham gave. We should copy Avraham who said that even when I do not understand Hashem’s reasons, I must and will follow the wishes of Hashem. Hashem knows what is best for me, in the big picture.

 

Based on Sefer Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin

 

Parshas Noach: Long Live The Phoenix!

Parshas Noach

Long Live The Phoenix!

 

“The dove came back …it had plucked an olive leaf with its bill.” (Beraishis 8:11)

I read a Torah-based story many years ago, but I don’t remember all the details. Eliyahu HaNavi (or perhaps it was a Torah sage) approached two great rabbis. He said that if they would go with him right away, they would be able to bring Moshiach. One of the rabbis said that he had to leave but would return shortly. He wanted to tell his wife where he was going so that she wouldn’t worry when he wouldn’t come home on time. He quickly told his wife and returned. When he came back, he was told that it was too late; The moment in which they could have brought Moshiach, had already passed.

Should the rabbi have left immediately to bring Moshiach, even though his wife would have worried about his absence? I discussed this story with a rabbinical colleague and we both came to the same conclusion. Obviously, bringing Moshiach is very important. However, a mitzvah cannot be done in a way that ignores the sensitivities and hurts the feelings of others. It would not have been proper for the rabbi to make his wife worry, even though Moshiach’s arrival was postponed.

Meir was learning in Israel for the year. He had two other roommates in his dormitory room. Meir wanted to get the special mitzvah of davening Shacharis at the earliest possible time, k’vasikin. Meir woke up extra early. He couldn’t find his clothes in the dark, so he opened the light. The bright light woke up Meir’s roommates, but he wasn’t too concerned. He knew that they would fall back to sleep very quickly. And, after all, he needed the light to help him go to do a big mitzvah. Unfortunately, Meir did not realize that it is not appropriate to do a mitzvah in a way that causes harm to others.

The Mabul, the Great Flood, destroyed all of mankind, except for Noach and his family. After about a year in the Ark, the water receded. Noach wanted to check if the earth was dry enough to leave the Ark. First, he sent out a raven, who just kept circling around the Ark. A week later, Noach sent out a dove. There was still too much water covering the earth and the dove could not find a resting place, so it returned to the Ark. Another week later, Noach again sent out the dove. This time the dove returned with an olive leaf that it had plucked. Clearly, the land was now visible.

The Alter of Slobodka zt”l (sefer Ohr Tzafon, vol 1 page 61) discusses the actions of the dove. The dove performed a great act of kindness for Noach. It brought the good news that the water had receded, and the earth was dry. Soon, Noach would be freed from his tiresome and burdensome job of taking care of all the animals in the Ark. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108B) quotes Rav Ḥana bar Bizna who said that Shem told Avraham’s servant, Eliezer, that they experienced great suffering in the Ark in caring for the animals. The Talmud continues Shem’s narrative. Noach found the phoenix lying in its compartment in the Ark. He was wondering why the phoenix did not ask for food. The bird replied that it saw that Noach was very busy, and it did not want to trouble him by requesting food. Noah blessed the bird with long life.

Noach blessed the phoenix for its consideration. The Alter zt”l asks, shouldn’t Noach have blessed the dove as well, for fulfilling its mission and bringing back such good news?

The Midrash (Beraishis Rabba 33) quotes the pasuk that the dove “had plucked an olive leaf with its bill”. The Midrash translates the word “plucked” as “killed” (just as it means killed in the pasuk in Beraishis 37 when it says, “tarof toraf Yosef”). Noach told the dove that had it not plucked the branch, the branch would have grown into a tree. In the midst of the dove doing a good action, it did something that was inappropriate. Therefore, the dove did not deserve a blessing from Noach, perhaps losing the blessing of eternal life.

The dove fulfilled its mission. It acted with the best of intentions when it plucked an olive branch, proving to Noach that the flood waters had totally receded. However, there was a lacking in the dove’s actions because it caused harm to something in the creation. It prevented one olive branch from growing further.

We can learn a lesson from this. Even when we are in the midst of doing a great mitzvah, we mustn’t lessen it by harming something or someone else. It is more than an act of niceness on our part.

It is an obligation to avoid harming others!

 

Parshas Vayechi: I Can Do It!

Parshas Vayechi

I Can Do It!

 

“…Take me up from Egypt and bury me in their burial-place.” He replied, “I will do as you have spoken.” And he said, “Swear to me.” And he swore to him….” (47:31)

It was in the middle of WWII. The rumor was that a person could hire Johan as a guide to help them escape from the Nazis. Reuven sent a message to Johan that the Nazis were looking for him and that he needed to escape in the next day or two. Johan sent back the message that it was currently too dangerous since the Nazis started patrolling the regular escape routes. Reuven replied with the message that he would pay double the usual amount. After thinking about it for a while, Johan agreed to help. Why did Johan change his mind? The extra money that was offered motivated him to figure out an alternative escape plan that he had not thought of previously.

As our forefather, Yaakov, was aging he wanted to prepare for his death. He asked his son, Yosef, to bury him in Maaras Hamachpela, in Eretz Yisroel. Yosef agreed. Thereupon, Yaakov asked Yosef to swear to do so, which he did.

The Ramban (Bereishis 47:31) says, obviously Yaakov did not suspect that his righteous and beloved son, Yosef would disobey his command and renege on the matter to which he had agreed. If so, asks the Ramban, why did Yaakov ask Yosef to swear to it?

The Ramban gives two answers. Firstly, Yaakov wanted to strengthen Yosef’s position on the matter with Pharoah. When he would be asked, Pharoah may refuse Yosef permission to go, telling him to send his brothers instead. Or perhaps Pharoah would want Yaakov to be buried in Egypt. Since Yosef swore to it, Pharoah would not ask Yosef to violate that oath. Ramban and Rashi (Bereishis 50:6) say that the only reason that Pharoah did permit Yosef to go was because of the oath. Pharoah was afraid to tell Yosef to ignore the oath because Pharoah was afraid that Yosef would then ignore the oath that Yosef had made to him a long time before. Pharoah knew all 70 languages. Yosef knew one additional language, Hebrew. Yosef swore to Pharoah that he would not reveal to the Egyptians that he knew one more language than Pharoah.

The Ramban’s second answer was that the purpose of the oath was to make Yosef work harder to fulfill Yaakov’s request.

Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l questions the Ramban’s second explanation. Did Yosef need the extra motivation of the oath to expend any extra effort to ensure that Yaakov was buried in Israel? Wouldn’t Yosef do anything and everything to fulfill his father’s request without the oath? After all, Yosef had such love and respect for Yaakov. When Yosef was still at home, Yaakov had asked him to travel to see how his brothers were doing. The brothers were shepherding their cattle in Shechem. Yosef’s response to his father was, hineni, here am, I ready to help (Bereishis 37:13). The Ramban (Bereishis 37:14) says that the brothers were a great distance away. Furthermore, Yosef knew that they hated him. Yet, that did not deter him from rushing to fulfill his father’s request. Certainly, Yosef would run to fulfill his father’s final request. Thus, why was an oath necessary to urge Yosef to try even harder?

Rav Leibowitz zt”l learns a very insightful lesson from this. Yaakov feared that there may be factors beyond Yosef’s control which would understandably prevent him from fulfilling Yaakov’s request. Yaakov made Yosef swear to give him even extra motivation. That motivation would infuse Yosef with new, additional strength which would then enable him to do what he previously felt that he was unable to. Perhaps that extra motivation would cause Yosef to “dig deeper’ to figure out a novel solution to the problem.

We find a similar lesson in sefer Shmuel II (perek 21) which is discussed in depth in the Talmud (Yevamos 78B-79A) and the Midrash Rabbah (Bamidbar 8:4). There was a famine in the Land of Israel for three years. To find out the reason for the famine, King David inquired from Hashem by means of the Urim VeTummim, the stones embedded in the Kohain Gadol’s breastplate. The answer was, that it was the result of two sins. One sin was a wrong done to the Givonim, a nation that had supposedly converted to Judaism. King David was forced to right the wrong done to the Givonim by hanging seven children of the late King Shaul without burying them for many months (Sadly, this was necessary to correct the chilul Hashem. It ended up creating such a kiddush Hashem that 150,000 people converted to Judaism).

The second sin was that King Shaul had not been eulogized properly and that he was buried outside the Land of Israel. However, King David felt that it was already too late to correct the second sin of eulogizing King Shaul. The Matnos Kehuna says that at this late date, it would not have been respectful to eulogize King Shaul. Furthermore, Rashi (Moed Katan 21B) says that it was already almost thirty years since King Shaul’s passing!

The Radak says that Rizpah, the mother of two of the sons who were killed, stayed with the bodies of her children for seven months, until the rainy season began! During the day, she protected the bodies from the birds. At night, she protected them from the wild beasts.

When King David heard about the unbelievable selfless dedication of Rizpah, he was motivated and energized. He heard about her chesed which went above and beyond the ordinary. He decided that certainly he, as King of Israel, should also do chesed above and beyond the ordinary. Therefore, King David brought the bones of both King Shaul and his son Yonatan from outside the Land of Israel. He commanded them to carry King Shaul’s casket from tribe to tribe. According to the Eitz Yosef, they also eulogized King Shaul. As King Shaul’s casket entered each tribe’s territory, all the men, women and children came out to perform an act of loving kindness to King Shaul and his sons. Afterwards, King David buried their bones in the territory of Binyamin, in the family plot where King Shaul’s father was. Once Hashem saw that they did an act of loving kindness to King Shaul and fulfilled the judgement of the Givonim, Hashem immediately sent rain upon the land (Midrash Rabbah (Bamidbar 8:4)).

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l asked how it was possible for such a tzadik as King David to initially be even minimally “lazy” by not according the full, proper honor to King Shaul, especially if it was a cause of the famine. That does not make sense. King David must have wanted very much to correct this wrong. However, he felt that it was too late and couldn’t be corrected. Hearing about Rizpah’s total and selfless dedication, motivated King David to such a degree that he realized that indeed he could still accord the proper respect to King Shaul, which he then did.

We see the importance and value of added motivation. That motivation can come from someone else or even from within ourselves. One may think that something is not possible.

However, with extra motivation, one can often find a solution and make it happen.

 

Parshas Vayigash: You May Have Won the Battle, but You Lost the War!

Parshas Vayigash

You May Have Won the Battle, but You Lost the War!

 

“Then Yehudah approached him and said, ’If you please, my lord, may your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears and let not your anger flare up…’”. (Bereishis 44:18)

There is an expression, “You may have won the battle, but you lost the war”. If you were in argument with your family, friends, or work colleagues, you may have won the argument. However, you may have unwittingly damaged the relationship – hence you really lost overall.

A wealthy man passed away, leaving most of his money to one son. The daughters and their families felt resentment at their brother. The brother reasoned that this was his father’s decision so why should he change it. A machlokes, an argument, ensued with the family. At that point, the brother knew that he had to decide. Would he keep all the money and have the family divided and angry at each other or would he share the money and keep the family close? The brother chose to stop the machlokes and reunite his family who had been very close. He gave up 7 million dollars! Nevertheless, he was happy that his family was reunited. As a footnote to the story, later that year, the brother made a business deal that netted $7 million dollars in unexpected profits. Keeping shalom, peace, keeps Hashem’s Holy Presence in our midst and that brings blessing. (Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Shabbos Menu Newsletter, as heard from Rabbi Dovid Ashear)

Our forefather Yaakov asked his sons to return to Egypt a second time, to purchase more food. Yehudah said that they were warned by the Egyptian in charge that they may not return unless they brought their younger brother, Binyamin. Yehudah said that he would take sole responsibility and personally guarantee Binyamin’s safe return to Yaakov. The Bchor Shor (Yosef ben Yitzchok Bchor Shor, one of the Baal Tosfot and student of the Rabbeinu Tam) says that Yehudah told Yaakov that he would protect Binyamin from the heat and cold, from wild beasts and robbers and would even sacrifice his own life if necessary. With that guarantee, Yaakov agreed to send Binyamin down to Egypt.

The brothers went and bought food. Right before they left, Yosef had his servant place his silver goblet in Binyamin’s sack. When the brothers left Egypt, they were stopped and searched. The cup was “found” in Binyamin’s sack and Binyamin was going to be taken as a slave, as a punishment. The brothers were not happy with this turn of events and returned to Egypt with Binyamin.

When they approached Yosef, Yehudah came forward. The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 93:6) says that he approached Yosef with thoughts of prayer, to placate Yosef, and for battle. If necessary, he was ready to battle Yosef and all of Egypt. While he was talking back and forth with Yosef, the other brothers stayed off, on the side. They realized that this was a tense moment with two kings, Yosef and Yehudah, verbally sparring. At one point, Yehudah screamed, a shout that was heard at 400 parsaos away. Chushim ben Dan who was hard of hearing and lived in Canaan (Israel) heard the scream and swiftly came, ready to join in a battle against all of Egypt. Yehudah became very angry at Yosef. The Midrash Rabbah (93:7) says that there was a physical manifestation of his anger.  A hair or two would protrude from his chest and rip through 5 layers of his clothes. When Yosef saw Yehudah’s anger, he kicked a stone pillar, smashing it into little rocks, showing Yehudah that he too was very strong. The Midrash Rabbah (93:8) says that at another point, Yehudah designated each brother, to battle and wipe out a different area of Egypt. The situation became very tense. When Yosef saw that Yehudah’s anger was increasing and that he was at the point where he was actually ready to destroy Egypt, he backed down and revealed his identity.

The Midrash Tanchuma (Vayigash 3) applies the following pasuk to the verbal confrontation between Yehudah and Yosef. It says in Mishlei (16:14), ”The king’s wrath is a messenger of death, but a wise man can appease it”. The wrath of a king refers to Yehudah, and a wise man will pacify it alludes to Yosef. Yosef showed wisdom by backing down.

Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l posed a very insightful question. Why was Yosef being praised for having the wisdom to back down when he saw that Yehudah was ready to destroy Egypt? Wisdom isn’t required for that. It’s obvious that one should back down, to save the entire country! Rav Leibowitz zt”l answers that when a person is in the midst of a heated argument, it is not easy to back down, even if it makes sense to. It was only due to Yosef’s tremendous wisdom and foresight that he was able to do so.

When in the midst of a disagreement or argument, it is very difficult to admit guilt or realize that it is time to end it. A person can be so emotionally involved that he is unable to back down,
even if means that he will lose something important to him.
From Yosef we see that although it is very difficult,
it is possible to back down from an argument and once again be at peace.

 

Parshas Mikeitz: Go For It! Before It Is Too late!

Parshas Mikeitz

Go For It! Before It Is Too late!

 

“…let Pharaoh find a man of discernment and wisdom and set him over the land of Egypt.” (Bereishis 41:33)

There is a pasuk in parshas Bereishis (1:2) that says,”there was darkness over the surfaces of the deep.” The Midrash Raba (Bereishis 2:4) says that this pasuk is alluding to the nations that will rule over the Jewish People in the various exiles. The word “darkness” refers to the exile of Greece. The Greeks darkened the eyes of the Jewish People with harsh decrees. The Greeks enacted laws forbidding the Jews from keeping Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, Bris Mila, and learning Torah.

Miraculously, the small, untrained, and weak band of Jews routed the powerful Syrian-Greek Army, bringing the Jewish People from a state of darkness to light.

Rabbi Shimshon Nachmani zt’l (Zera Shimshon by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer) says that our mitzvah to light Chanukah candles reminds us that the essence of our victory was that we were once again able to bring light into our lives by fulfilling the mitzvos.

In Parshas Mikeitz, Pharaoh dreamt that seven skinny cows ate seven fat cows. Then he dreamt that seven skinny ears of corn swallowed seven full ears of corn. Yosef interpreted the dreams, saying that Egypt would have seven years of over-abundant food followed by seven years of famine. Yosef suggested to Pharaoh to appoint a wise man to be in charge, of storing the grain during the seven years of plenty (41:33).

Rabbi Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2) quotes the Shai L’Mora, by Rabbi Shabbetai Yona (Salonica, 1653) who asks why it was necessary for Yosef to suggest that Pharaoh appoint a wise man. Wouldn’t it have sufficed for Pharoah to appoint a good bureaucrat who was very organized? That person would be in charge, of collecting the grain during the seven years of abundance.

The answer can be understood when we view the Talmud’s definition of a wise man. The Talmud (Tamid 32A) says that a wise man foresees future developments. During the seven years of plenty, the abundance of grain was astronomical. The pasuk (Bereishis 41:49) says that the amount of grain was like the sand by the sea. Rashi and the Sforno say that the one who was counting the grain stopped counting because there was no number that high. Had Pharoah just appointed a bureaucrat, after some time, the bureaucrat would have seen the tremendous amount of grain and would have thought that there was no way so much grain would ever be needed. As a result, he would have stopped saving it. A wise person was needed to be in charge. He would see into the future and not become complacent during the years of plenty. He would realize that the grain would indeed be needed.

Yosef’s advice is relevant to us as well.

When the Vilna Gaon was about to die, he held onto his tzitzis and began to cry. His students asked him why he was crying. He replied that “We are living in the seven years of plenty. Those seven years are an allusion to this world, where we have plenty of opportunities to do mitzvos. For a few pennies, a person can purchase a pair of tzitzis. When he wears the tzitzis, he is fulfilling a mitzvah every second of the day. He is acquiring eternity in Olam Haba (the World to Come). “Olam Haba is like the seven years of famine. Mitzvos that come effortlessly to us in this world are no longer available to us in Olam Haba. We subsist only on the mitzvos that we saved up in Olam Hazeh, the days of plenty”.

Sometimes one becomes caught up in this world and spends too much time and energy amassing wealth and luxuries. When he arrives in Olam Haba, he will feel silly and sad, realizing that he had wasted much of his time. By then, it will be too late to correct his mistakes.

We can follow the lesson of Yosef and be a “wise person” in our lifetime.

We can look towards the future, gathering as many mitzvos we can, while we are still able.

 

Parsha Vayeshev: If You Find a Fly in the Wine, Don’t Do This!

Parshas Vayeshev

If You Find a Fly in the Wine, Don’t Do This!

 

“And the Wine Steward did not remember Yosef and he forgot him.” (Bereishis 40:23)

Rabbi Shaya Greenberg moved into a small town in Ontario, Canada to take the position of rabbi of the Orthodox shul. He realized immediately the need to build a new, beautiful shul to encourage new members to join. To accomplish that, Rabbi Greenberg needed a bank loan. He set up a meeting with the local banker, Mr. Jack O’Brian. Mr. O’Brian listened to the rabbi’s presentation and then asked a strange question. “Rabbi Greenberg, what denomination of Jews is your place of worship affiliated with?”  Rabbi Greenberg was taken aback at this seemingly irrelevant question. He replied, “Orthodox.” Mr. O’Brian responded that he was approving the loan for as much money as was needed. Rabbi Greenberg was stunned at how easy the meeting had gone. When all the paperwork was signed and the loan was approved, Rabbi Greenberg asked Mr. O’Brian why he was willing to grant such a large loan without even knowing him. Mr. O’Brian said that as a child, he was a young orphan. His mother worked hard to pay the monthly expenses, but she did not always succeed. Some days, the only food they had to eat was stale bread, cereal, and noodles. One day, the local grocer, an Orthodox Jew, told Mrs. O’Brian to take whatever food that she needed and whenever she needed. He trusted her to pay him back, whenever she could, without a time limit. Mr. O’Brian continued, “It was that wonderful and sincere offer of assistance that showed me what kind of people you Orthodox Jews are. Knowing that someone cared enough to offer help, pulled us through.” (One Small deed Can Change the World by Nachman Seltzer)

 

Two of Pharoah’s personal servants were thrown in jail for crimes against the king. The Chief Baker gave the king a loaf of bread that had a pebble inside. The Wine Steward gave the king a cup of wine that had a fly in it. Yosef, who himself was imprisoned, was appointed in charge. One morning, Yosef noticed that they looked agitated and sad. Yosef asked them why they looked so sad. They said that they had troubling dreams. Yosef offered to interpret the dreams for them. Yosef interpreted the Wine Steward’s dream in a very positive light. The Ramban (Bereishis 40:15) says that this positive interpretation gave happiness to the Chief Baker, who then told Yosef his dream. If the Chief Baker felt joy, imagine how happy the Wine Steward must have felt. Yosef’s interpretation gave him a new lease on life. His sadness was turned to joy when he heard that Pharaoh would reinstate him to his former position. Yosef asked the Wine Steward for a small favor, to tell Pharoah that Yosef was unjustly imprisoned.

We would think that the Wine Steward would be happy to return this favor for Yosef. Yet, that was not the case. The Torah tells us (Bereishis 40: 22-23) that the Wine Steward “did not remember Yosef’s kindness.” The Ohr HaChaim says even more so, that the Wine Steward removed all thoughts of Yosef from his heart and his mind, totally forgetting about him. Rashi and the Matnos Kehuna on the Midrash (Bereishis 88:7) say that the Wine Steward looked for things to busy himself with, to distract his mind to actively “forget” Yosef’s kindness.

HaRav Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l questions why it was necessary for the Wine Steward to busy himself with different actions in order to forget Yosef’s favor to him. Wouldn’t it have been enough just to remain silent and not help Yosef by not speaking to Pharoah on his behalf? Why was it necessary to do actions to help him actively forget Yosef’s kindness?

HaRav Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l explains that the Wine Steward wanted to forget Yosef’s kindness. He did not want to mention Yosef to Pharoah, either because it would not benefit him or because he was a rasha, an evil person. However, he understood that he was obligated to help Yosef. He felt a natural hakaras hatov, an appreciation for Yosef’s having interpreted his dream and having put his mind at ease. These were conflicting emotions within him that were causing him pain. The understanding of his obligation to show appreciation conflicted with his desire not to help. To resolve this conflict, he actively removed Yosef from his mind.

We have an inborn, natural emotion to feel appreciation for a kindness that one does for us.

If we suppress that emotion, we feel internal turmoil.

Instead, we should appreciate everything that is done for us and look for opportunities to show our appreciation.