Category Archives: Sefer Bereishis

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.

 

 

Parshas Vayishlach – We are #1- Always!!

Parshas Vayishlach

We are #1- Always!!

 

“Are they so witless, all those evildoers, who devour my people as they devour food, and do not invoke Hashem?” (Tehillim 14:4)

During World War II twenty-four rabbis were being held in Italy and faced being returned to Nazi-occupied Europe and certain death. Rav Aharon Kotler, founder and rosh yeshiva of the Lakewood Yeshiva, asked the well-known advocate on behalf of Jewry, Irving Bunim, if he knew who could intercede on behalf of these 24 rabbis. Irving Bunim suggested the Italian Mafia. Rav Kotler urged Mr. Bunim to contact them immediately. After contacting them, Mr. Bunim asked Rav Aharon, “Who are we sending to the meeting?” Rav Aharon replied, “You and I are going.” They went to meet the godfather of the Mafia, Joe B. . Since Rav Aharon did not speak English, Mr. Bunim explained the problem of the 24 rabbis trapped in Italy. The Mafia chief asked Mr. Bunim, “Who is the elderly man sitting next to you?” He told him, “He is the godfather of the Jewish people.” “Really?” asked the Mafia chief. “Yes!” replied Mr. Bunim emphatically. “Tell him I want a blessing.” With Mr. Bunim interpreting, he told the mafia chief Joe B.,”The rabbi blesses you with long life and that you should die in bed.” Upon hearing this, the mafia chief replied, “I like that,” and promised within 2 weeks to arrange the freedom of the 24 rabbis stuck in Italy, which he did indeed accomplish. For saving 24 rabbis from the Nazis, and with Rav Aharon Kotler’s bracha, Joe B.– the Mafia godfather – lived to 97 years old and died in his own bed. (Matzav.com)

Joe B. was a crime boss for over 30 years. He was an alleged murderer, among being involved in many other crimes. Yet, he recognized and appreciated the beauty and greatness of a Jewish leader.

 

The Midrash Shochar Tov (Tehillim 14:4) explains the pasuk in Tehillim. During the time of the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash, our enemies rampaged through the ruins of the Temple. They slaughtered and ate the animals that we had designated to be used for the sacrfice of the korban tamid. They found the lechem hapanim, the loaves of bread that were on the Shulchan and ate those as well. In response to those actions, the pasuk says that they did “not invoke Hashem”. The Midrash explains these words of the pasuk, using a pasuk from Yirmiyahu (2:3). “Israel was holy to Hashem, the first fruits of His harvest. All who ate of it were held guilty”. The Jewish People are very special to Hashem. Rashi explains, “Like the first of the harvest before the Omer, which it is forbidden to eat, and whoever eats it is liable, so will all those who eat him be guilty.” The Jewish People are like the first fruits, which may not be eaten. Anyone who harms the Jewish People will be punished. Apparently, our enemies were not being criticized for all their sins. Rather, they were being taken to task because they didn’t realize that they were dealing with the Jewish People, Hashem’s chosen and beloved people. They didn’t treat Hashem’s chosen people in the proper manner.

What a strange criticism of our enemies. Our enemies were a lowly people. They murdered, served idols, and were immoral. They desecrated the Holy of Holies in the Beis HaMikdash. Could we possibly expect such people to be able to appreciate the beauty and greatness of the Jewish People? Could such people, while they were in the middle of their evil actions, appreciate the greatness of the Jews? Furthermore, the Jewish People were at their low point. Their symbol of greatness and glory had just been destroyed and was in ruins. The Jews were being sent into exile in chains. What greatness was there to see?

We see from the Midrash that even at such a time, our enemies were criticized for not seeing our greatness. Even during our lowest point, our greatness is there for all to see. Even the lowest of the low, at their moment of greatest evil, are still capable of noticing our greatness. If they don’t notice it, they are punished for it.

If our enemies can be blamed for not being aware of our greatness, certainly we should be aware of it.

At our bleakest moment, we are stilled beloved by Hashem, as His Chosen People.

Remembering that and feeling Hashem’s love, even in the darkest of times can infuse us with strength.

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

 

Parshas Vayetzei: Is Honesty Really The Best Policy?

Parshas Vayetzei

Is Honesty Really The Best Policy?

 

Had not the G-d of my father, the G-d of Avraham and the Fear of Isaac, been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed. But G-d took notice of my plight and the toil of my hands, and He gave judgment last night.” (31:42)

There is a very famous folktale about the repercussions of dishonesty. There was a very small village that was known for producing fine-tasting wine. The king notified them that he would be visiting their village the following month. The elders of the town arranged to beautify the town square in honor of the occasion. The also placed a huge vat in the center of the square. They asked each family to pour a bottle of their delicious wine into the vat. They would serve that wine to the king and the many officials that traveled with him. The taste of their delicious wine would bring them much honor and possibly a monetary gift from the king. One of the villagers had this thought: “If I pour a bottle of water in that giant barrel, no one will notice the difference.” He felt that such a small amount of water wouldn’t be noticeable in the large vat of wine. He was correct. However, the problem was that each villager had the same thought and acted accordingly. At the banquet honoring the king, the elders put a spout in the vat and poured a glass of their “delicious wine” for the king. The entire village was embarrassed when the “delicious wine” turned out to be only water!

 

After 20 years of working for his dishonest father-in-law, Lavan, Yaakov and his family left to return to the Land of Israel. Yaakov left without Lavan’s knowledge, fearing that Lavan would attempt to prevent him from going. Indeed, when Lavan found out, he chased Yaakov and his family, finally catching-up to him. Lavan would have harmed Yaakov for leaving, had Hashem not come to him in a dream, warning him not to.

 

Yaakov was annoyed at Lavan for chasing him and for thinking that he took Lavan’s idols. After searching Yaakov’s entire camp, Lavan could not find anything that belonged to him. Yaakov berated Lavan, saying that he served him faithfully and honestly for 20 years, despite Lavan constantly changing the basis for Yaakov’s wages. In fact, Rashi says that Lavan changed the basis for Yaakov’s wages, 100 times (Bereishis 31:7)! Yaakov told Lavan that had Hashem not been with Yaakov, then Lavan would have deceived him. Yaakov would have been left penniless, even after 20 years of hard work. Yaakov said, “Had not the G-d of my father, the G-d of Avraham and the Fear of Isaac, been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed. But G-d took notice of my plight and the toil of my hands, and He gave judgment last night.”

The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 64:12), with the commentary of the Maharzu, points out something very interesting from this pasuk. Yaakov told Lavan that his z’chus Avos, the merit of his forefathers saved him monetarily, from leaving Lavan penniless. However, it was Yaakov’s hard, honest work which Hashem had noticed, that saved Yaakov’s life. That was why Hashem warned Lavan, in a dream, not to harm Yaakov.

 

The protection of z’chus Avos is powerful. We constantly invoke that z’chus, begging Hashem to save us and to forgive our sins. We see a fascinating idea from this Midrash. The z’chus Avos saved Yaakov’s money, but it was his honest labor that saved his life!

 

Yaakov had every “right” to be a dishonest employee. He was working for an evil person who kept trying to trick him out of his due wages. Yet, Yaakov did not let that interfere with how he did his job. He was totally honest! It was this honesty that saved his life!

 

This is an important lesson for us all. As employees, we may rationalize, feeling that it’s okay to leave work early, to take an extra 20 minutes for a lunch break, to make personal calls or play computer games, during the time that we should be working. We may especially feel that it’s okay if we feel that the boss has mistreated us or did not give us the bonus that he had promised. We see from Yaakov, that we must be better than that. Furthermore, our honesty will not be wasted.

Hashem sees our actions and will watch over us, especially because of our honesty.

(based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l)

Parshas Toldos: Scale the Highest Mountains and Smile!

Parshas Toldos

Scale the Highest Mountains and Smile!

 

“It was when Yitzchak had become old, and his eyes dimmed from seeing.” (Bereishis 27:1)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (sefer Shem Olam) asks us to imagine the following scenario:

A person passes away and his neshama (soul) ascends upward. He is shown a scale that weighs his actions. He listens as a Heavenly voice calls out and announces that all the merits that he has done his entire life should go onto the right side of the scale. Another Heavenly voice announces that all his transgressions should go on the left side of the scale. When the person sees that the transgressions far outweigh his merits, he will be frightened that he will considered a rasha (evil person). At that point, another Heavenly voice announces that all his yissurim, suffering and challenges, that he had during his lifetime, should also go on the right side of the scale. When he sees that now, the right side of the scale is heavier, he will be happy. Through the yissurim he gained a spiritual cleansing for many of his transgressions, and [thereby] retains the status of a tzadik. He would be grateful and thankful to Hashem for each one of the yissurim that he had received!

When we experience difficult challenges in life, we must understand that they are actually gifts from Hashem. They should motivate us to think over our actions, seeing how we can improve. The challenges may also help cleanse us from some of our sins, necessitating less punishment in the World to Come, and hastening receiving our eternal rewards.

At times, minimal yissurim are all that are needed to encourage us to re-evaluate our actions or to cleanse of from some sin. The Talmud (Erchin 16b) discusses what is considered the least amount of pain that is included in the definition of suffering. Rabbi Elazar says it’s if someone wove a garment for you and it did not fit properly. The Sages said that even a lesser inconvenience is still considered suffering. For example, if you wanted your wine diluted with hot water, but it was accidentally diluted with cold water, it is considered suffering. Rava said, it is even if you reached your hand into your pocket to take out three coins, but you took two coins instead, it is considered a form of suffering.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 65:9) tells us that our forefather Yitzchak asked Hashem to give yissurim, pain and suffering, to people. Yitzchak said, “Master of the Universe, if a person dies without having had yissurim then Hashem’s attribute of justice will punish him harshly [in the next World].” Yitzchak asked Hashem to please give challenges and hardships to people while they were still alive. That would mitigate the harsh punishment that one would receive in the next world. Hashem responded that it was a good idea. Hashem agreed to give people yissurim and Hashem started with YItzchak. Thus, Yitzchak became blind.

Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l said that most people are afraid of hardship and pain. Our forefather Yitzchak understood that the purpose in life is for the World to Come. Yitzchak understood that it was better to have pain in this world than in the next world. Therefore, he asked Hashem for yissurim now.

Rabbi Shimshon Chaim Nachmani zt”l, in his sefer Zera Shimshon, asks, what does it mean that there were no yissurim before Yitzchak asked for them? The Egyptian galus was already decreed. A harsh exile lasting for hundreds of years is certainly yissurim.

The Zera Shimshon answers that until Yitzchak’s request, a person was cleansed of sin through yissurim of the soul, which took place in the World to Come. Physical afflictions were given to remind a person to improve his ways, but not to purify him from his sins. Yitzchak asked Hashem for physical yissurim to counterbalance the strict justice that awaits a person at death. Hashem concurred with Yitzchak, thus making him blind. This would help Yitzchak atone for any sins he may have done. According to one explanation in the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 65:10), the blindness gave Yitzchak atonement for the sin of looking at Hashem’s Holy Presence when his father Avraham had brought him as a sacrifice. (Zera Shimshon 2 by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says (Sheim Olam — Chap. 3) that this request from our forefather Yitzchak for yissurim should be a great comfort for those who are dealing with yissurim. We see that even Yitzchak was afraid of the trait of judgment. Therefore, every person needs to see the justice in the judgment from Heaven, and to accept their yissurim with love.

Rabbi Asher Resnik (from Aish HaTorah) notes, when people think about yissurim, they often try to simply cope with them and endure them. However, there are numerous sources which teach us that yissurim are the ultimate expression of Hashem’s love for us. The Torah says, “And you should know with your heart, that just like a parent gives yissurim to his child, Hashem your G-d gives you yissurim.”  (Devarim 8:5) The comparison of Hashem to a parent teaches us that yissurim are always given from love, and exclusively for our benefit. The Talmud (Nidah 31a) brings an analogy of two men who were about to travel on a boat. A thorn embedded itself in the foot of the first and he could not travel. He cursed his bad luck as the second one managed to go on the ship. Sometime later, he heard that the ship had sunk, and all aboard had been lost. He then began to praise Hashem, since he saw that he had been kept alive through his mishap. Therefore, one should always accept yissurim with joy since one never knows what future benefit will come to him from them. (Jewish Clarity: Oxygen for the Soul)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  (Sheim Olam — Chap. 3) says that every aspect of pain that one encounters, including from other people, is all from Hashem to help atone for one’s transgressions. Hashem does all of this for our benefit. When carefully considering this, rather than thinking about how to get back at the person who hurt him, one should give thanks to Hashem for arranging this.

We experience challenges and suffering in life. Sometimes, they are so difficult that we don’t know how to cope. If we can focus on this idea that it is all a gift from Hashem, for our benefit, that will help us. That may even help us smile, as we envision each difficulty cleansing us, preparing us to receive the eternal good.

 

 

Parshas Chayei Sarah: How to Become the Best!

Parshas Chayei Sarah

How to Become the Best!

 

“When she had let him drink his fill, she said, ‘I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking.’“ (Beraishis 24:19)

               I asked Yosef to lend me money, which he did. That was a chesed, a kindness, but not “a complete” chesed.

I asked Boruch to help me study for a test. He spent three hours with me, helping me. That was a chesed, but not “a complete” chesed.

I asked Meir for a big favor, which he promptly did, exactly as I had requested. He drove three hours to an upstate park. He hiked a four-mile trail, in the hot sun. At the end of the trail, he jumped into the stream and swam for two miles. He reached a campsite and retrieved an item that I had left behind. That was a chesed, but not “a complete” chesed.

Before Pesach, someone came to Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l, and asked him, ”Does a person fulfill the obligation of drinking the four cups with milk instead of wine?” The Rabbi said no and handed the man a large sum of money. Afterwards, Rabbi Soloveitchik was asked why he gave the man so much money if all the man needed was money to buy wine. Rabbi Soloveitchik answered that if the man was planning on using milk, clearly, he didn’t have the money for meat. Therefore, he gave him enough money to buy all his seder needs. That was a chesed, and WAS “a complete” chesed.

Rabbi Aryeh Levine zt”l once noticed that a youngster in his school was badly in need of a new pair of shoes. He knew that the boy’s father would feel bad if he bought the boy a new pair of shoes. Rabbi Levine thought of a plan. During recess, he called the boy into his office and told him that he wanted to test how well he was learning. Rabbi Levine asked the boy relatively easy questions. After the boy answered those questions, Rabbi Levine said that he deserved a prize. He handed the boy a note to give to the local shoemaker to give him a pair of shoes, which Rabbi Levine would pay for. Rabbi Levine also gave the boy a note for his father. The note indicated that the boy won a pair of shoes as a prize for correctly answering all the questions that he had been asked.   (Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)     That was a chesed, and WAS “a complete” chesed.

The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni (perek 18) discusses the great reward for doing chesed. On the third day, after our forefather Avraham performed a bris mila on himself, three “men” appeared. Avraham showered them with kindness. Avraham gave them a place to rest and provided them with food and water. These “men” were angels and did not need Avraham’s acts of kindness. Yet Avraham was richly rewarded for his actions. Many years later, when the Jewish People were redeemed from Egypt and were in the desert, Hashem gave them manna (miraculous food), the Well of Miriam, quails, and the Clouds of Glory. The Jews received all this in the merit of Avraham’s kindness to the angels whom he thought were men.

If someone performs an act of kindness to a person who truly needs it, imagine how much greater his reward will be!

In this week’s parsha, Eliezer went to the city of Aram Naharayim to look for a bride for Yitzchak. When Rivka came to the well, Eliezer asked her to please give him a drink from her pitcher of water. After giving Eliezer a drink, she offered to provide water for Eliezer’s ten camels.

The Ralbag (Beraishis 24:19) learns from this pasuk the quality which makes a person into the best possible servant or the complete ba’al chesed (one who is involved in many acts of kindness). That is when one can anticipate another person’s needs and helps them before being asked. The Ralbag says that one can be the most obedient servant, doing everything that he is asked, yet he is not considered the complete servant unless he can anticipate his master’s needs and then act upon it.

Rivka excelled in this middah as evidenced by the way she did acts of kindness without being asked and with the same alacrity as if she had been asked. She was a complete ba’alas chesed, worthy of becoming one of our Matriarch’s.

King Saul’s son, Yonatan, lacked this middah, to some extent. Yonatan had a tremendous feeling of love and devotion for Dovid. His mind was probably pre-occupied because he had to tell Dovid to flee from King Saul, for his life. Yet, he overlooked the fact that Dovid, while fleeing, needed food. Dovid had to go looking for food. That ultimately brought about the tragedy with Nov, the city of Kohanim. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 104A) says, had Yonatan given Dovid two loaves of bread, the city of Nov would not have been wiped out. Rav Yehuda says in the name of Rav, “Had Yonatan lent Dovid two loaves of bread when he was fleeing Saul, David would not have sought sustenance from the priests in Nov. The residents of Nov would not have been killed, and Doeg the Edomite would not have been banished from the World-to-Come, and Saul and his three sons would not have been killed as punishment for that massacre.”

Every act of kindness we do for others is very special and is richly rewarded by Hashem.

If we are exceedingly kind and do many acts of kindness, we are considered a ba’al chesed.

We can be considered a complete ba’al chesed

when we strive to notice, anticipate, and provide for the needs of others, even before we are asked.

 

Parsha Vayera: Sometimes, The Best Defense is…!

Parshas Vayera

Sometimes, The Best Defense is…!

“Hashem put Avraham to the test… Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” (Vayera 22:1-2)

Christian missionaries take various psukim out of context and/or mistranslate them to seemingly prove that their religion is genuine. They use that to try to convert Jews to Christianity. The best advice is not to debate with them. They are trained to misrepresent the truth. By conversing with them, one allows them to potentially cast false doubts where none should exist.

“I was born into an Evangelical family. As a teenager I was trained as a missionary to my peers, and I was very good at it. The Orthodox Jews who I would encounter would make fun of me and it was clear that I was going to have to learn a lot more than just the verses I had learned to convert them, that I was going to need to really know my Bible. When I was learning the entire chapter and all the surrounding verses or the entire book, things really started falling apart and I felt stupid. I went to my teachers with my questions, and they couldn’t explain it to me. My next plan was to learn the Jewish response to missionaries. Then I’ll learn to debate them and reach them. I found a rabbi who had lessons on-line. I started doing those, then my whole world fell apart. Everything I believed was wrong; the Jews were right”. (Shannon Nuszen: From Missionary to Observant Jew by Walter Bingham, Jerusalem Post)

Our forefather, Avraham, passed all the ten difficult tests that Hashem had given him. The most difficult test was when Hashem asked him to offer his son, Yitzchak, as a sacrifice. Ever year during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we invoke the memory of the akeida. We ask Hashem to forgive us in the merit of our forefather, Avraham, who was willing to listen to Hashem and sacrifice his son, Yitzchak.

The Satan knew that if Avraham would pass this test, it would be exceedingly special in Hashem’s eyes. Therefore, the Satan tried to discourage Avraham, using numerous, strong emotional and logical arguments.

The Midrash Rabba (Bereishis 56:4) quotes the Satan’s attempts. As explained by the Yefe Toar, the Satan tried to convince Avraham that Hashem did not actually speak to him. Rather, it was just a dream. After all, it was not logical to say that Hashem had commanded Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak. Furthermore, the Satan said, “You are going to slay a son given to you at the age of one hundred?!” Hashem performed a wonderous feat by giving Avraham a child at the age of 100. How could he think that Hashem wanted him to kill his son? Avraham’s potential action would not make any sense. Hashem couldn’t have asked him to do this.

The Satan continued by saying that even if Avraham were to pass this test, Hashem would then give him a harder test. “And if Hashem sets you an even greater test, can you stand it?!” The Yefe Toar explains, “If Hashem would ask you to kill yourself, would you be able to do it?” You probably won’t, so why listen to Hashem’s command to sacrifice Yitzchak?

Then the Satan said, “Tomorrow, Hashem will tell you that you are guilty of murder, for murdering your son”. The Maharzu adds another element to the simple understanding of the Satan’s words. He explains that the Satan was telling Avraham that he had spent his entire life trying to bring people close to Hashem. Avraham had preached that Hashem was a loving G-D who did not want human sacrifice, as some of the idolatrous practices did. People will now say that Avraham, too, is sacrificing his son to his G-D! This action would defeat Avraham’s life’s work!

To each presentation of seemingly irrefutable logic, Avraham gave the same reply. “Al menas kain”. “I am doing it anyway”.

The Yefe Toar says that Avraham was totally convinced that this was what Hashem had asked of him. He was certain that this was a prophecy from Hashem and not just a dream. Even though Avraham did not understand the reason or logic, he was going to do it anyway. Avraham did not debate the Satan and try to disprove his arguments. Merely having a discussion may have caused doubts to enter his mind. Since Avraham was certain, he did not get into a discussion. He simply replied to each of the Satan’s arguments “I am doing it anyway”.

The Satan is always conniving different tricks to deter us from serving Hashem. Sometimes, the best defense against him is not to fight him. Ignore him! Tell yourself you know that this is what you must do. Avoid a discussion with the Satan who will try to dissuade you or to sow doubts in your mind.

As circumstances change, at times, one must re-evaluate his decision. However, if one is convinced that he is still correct and is fulfilling Hashem’s will, he must proceed, ignoring the Satan’s arguments. If one is truly acting for the sake of Hashem, Hashem will help guide him in the proper way.

Avraham’s response of “I will do it anyway” can be a powerful tool helping us fulfill mitzvos. For example, if one is taking care of an elderly parent, there are many challenges that can arise. Those challenges could cause one to feel that it’s now too difficult to continue taking care of the parent. However, if a person knows that he is doing the right thing, he can respond to the challenges by saying, “I will do it anyway”, with added support (both emotional and physical), as needed. He can even prepare himself before the challenges arise by telling himself in advance, “I will do it anyway” and I will get added support, as needed. This way, when challenges do come, they will not be too overwhelming. He will be able to manage them, with the help of Hashem. This will give him a rewarding feeling, knowing he is doing the best that he can, for as long as he can.

Parshas Lech Lecha: Watch Out If You Are Identical Twins!

Parshas Lech Lecha

Watch Out If You Are Identical Twins!

 

“Please let there be no strife between me and you … for we are men who are brothers.” (Lech Lecha 13:8)

Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt”l held a rabbinical position in Germany in 1933. He had given a Shabbos sermon that was misunderstood to be criticizing Hitler. The Gestapo called Rabbi Schwab in for questioning. He explained the misunderstanding. He was freed but was told that they were going to investigate him. Over the next two months, he did not know what the Gestapo would do to him. During that entire time, he went to sleep at night wearing his clothes, not his pajamas. When he was asked, he explained his unusual behavior. Apparently, another rav had been recently executed by the Gestapo, in the middle of the night. He had been wearing his pajamas and was left hanging in a public place. Rabbi Schwab was afraid that he, too, would be arrested and hung in the middle of the night. He felt that it would be a chilul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem’s name, for a rav to be left hanging while wearing his pajamas.  That was why he slept in his clothes for the entire two months that his life was in the balance.

Our forefather, Avraham, and his nephew, Lot, left Egypt as wealthy men (13:2,5). Soon after returning to Canaan (Israel), an argument errupted between the shepherds of Lot and the shepherds of Avraham. Lot’s shepherds had no qualms about letting their flocks of sheep graze on other people’s lands. Avraham’s shepherds chastised them, as it was stealing from others. To avoid further arguments, Avraham suggested that he and Lot separate and go in different directions. Avraham said,” “Please let there be no strife between me and you … for we are men who are brothers.” (Lech Lecha 13:8). Rashi explains the word “brothers’ to mean that they were relatives. A second explanation of Rashi is that Avraham and Lot looked exactly alike.

According to Rashi’s first explanation, Avraham felt it was important to part ways rather than cause a family fight. According to Rashi’s second explanation, why did looking alike necessitate them from parting ways?

Rabbi Dov Weinberger z”l answers this question in his sefer Shemen HaTov. Avraham wanted to avoid a potential chilul Hashem. People who saw Lot with his dishonest shepherds may have mistakenly thought that he was Avraham. They may have thought that it was Avraham who was permitting his shepherds to graze on the land of others. Avraham felt that since he represented Hashem, it would be a chilul Hashem if people thought that he was acting dishonestly.

The parsha continues and discusses a war between four powerful kings, led by Nimrod, versus five kings. The four kings won the battle and captured Lot. According to the Midrash, they put Lot in a cage, boasting that they had captured Avraham’s nephew. HaKtav VeHaKabalah (by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg z”l) explains that Lot was taken captive because of the king’s hatred of Avraham. Avraham preached a belief in one G-D, contrary to their belief in idols. Their hope was, by capturing Lot, Avraham would attempt a rescue whereupon they would capture Avraham as well.

Avraham did go to battle to rescue Lot. Some say that he went with an army of 318 men. Others say he went just with his servant Eliezer, to battle the four powerful kings.

There are various reasons why Avraham risked his life, placing himself in a very dangerous position, by going to war against the four powerful kings. Rashi (13:9) says that when Avraham had initially told Lot that they should go in opposite directions, he had told Lot that he would help Lot, if needed.

Based on the Shemen HaTov, we have another understanding of Avraham’s motivation. Since Avraham and Lot looked exactly alike, Avraham was concerned that the four kings would show-off their captive Lot, pretending that they had captured Avraham himself. It would appear, that the only voice in the world that declared a belief in a solitary G-D, was captured. That would seemingly indicate that Hashem was weak. Avraham felt that this would be a terrible chilul Hashem. Thus, he went to battle, risking his life.

The Jews are the Nation of Hashem. Hashem gave us the Torah and mitzvos which should help us elevate our actions. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l said that the Name of Hashem should become beloved through us. A person should study Torah, be honest in his dealings, and speak pleasantly to people.

The Talmud (Yoma 86A) says that, at times, an action done by one person may not be considered a chilul Hashem, yet if another person acts the same way, it would be considered a chilul Hashem. When someone who should know better acts in a fashion that is perceived to be beneath him, that constitutes a chilul Hashem.  “’Rav said: For example, in the case of someone like me, since I am an important public figure, if I take meat from a butcher and do not give him money immediately, people are likely to think that I did not mean to pay at all. They would consider me a thief and learn from my behavior that one is permitted to steal.’” Each of us, on our own level, is responsible to strive to act in an appropriate and above-board manner.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says, when a Jew speaks negatively about his fellow Jew before non-Jews, his sin is even more severe.

The punishment for desecrating Hashem’s name is extremely harsh. One can absolve himself from the punishment if he creates a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of Hashem’s name.

Russian President Vladimir Putin treats the Jewish community fairly and even positively. He doesn’t condone anti-Semitism in his traditionally anti-Semitic country. Jewish communities throughout the country have seen an unprecedented renaissance of Jewish religious life under Putin, including the return of dozens of shuls and buildings that were confiscated from Jewish communities in the past, the establishment of the $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow with the encouragement of Putin, and much more. The big question is how to understand the reason for Putin’s actions.

Apparently, Putin grew up in an extremely poor family. He didn’t even have enough food to eat when he was a child. Many neighbors were aware of the lack of food in the Putin household. However, the only family to help the Putins was a frum Jewish family. They provided his family with food, clothing, and other necessities which they had been lacking. The kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of Hashem’s name, by one Jewish family created benefits for thousands of Jews.

We Jews are “a light unto the Nations.” (Yeshayahu 42:6).

Our behavior must always be exemplary, creating a sanctification of Hashem’s name

in front of Jews and non-Jews alike.

 

(based in part, on Rabbi Frand on the Parasha 3)