Category Archives: Sefer Bereishis

Parshas Vayechi: You Have the Right to Remain Silent – or to Say Something Nice!

Parshas Vayigash

Look in the Mirror and See Your Greatness!

 

“They made him bitter and quarreled with him. Expert bowmen with hatred made him their target.” (Bereishis 49:23)

When Moshe went to sleep, he felt great. When Moshe arose in the morning, he felt very strange. He turned to speak to his wife, but no sound came out of his mouth. He tried again, but nothing happened. Overnight, Moshe had lost the ability to speak! He began to panic! Finally, he got out of bed and wrote a note to his wife, about what had happened to him. Over the course of the next few weeks, Moshe saw every single doctor in his city. Unfortunately, no one was able to cure him. Sometime later, Moshe heard promising news. A well-known specialist was coming to the city for a few weeks. Maybe he could cure Moshe’s ailment. Moshe made an appointment to see the doctor. Not only was the doctor able to heal Moshe, but he even did so at no cost.  Obviously, Moshe was going to thank the doctor profusely. Obviously, if the doctor needed a favor, Moshe would run to be the first to help. Obviously, Moshe would only have kind words to say to the doctor. What would you think if Moshe did none of that? What would you say, if Moshe spoke rudely and arrogantly to the doctor? You would think that Moshe was mean and ungrateful. What if the doctor ignored the nasty remarks and still gave Moshe the remainder of the medicine needed for a complete cure?

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l uses this parable to teach us a very important lesson. Hashem gave man the gift of speech, over and beyond that which Hashem gave to animals. Hashem gave us this ability so that we could learn Torah and do mitzvos, for our eternal benefit, for us to earn a portion in the World to Come. We would think that everyone would appreciate this special gift and use their power of speech solely for good. What would you think if someone would use this gift of speech to lie, to make fun of others, to bully others, or speak lashon hara about others? Unfortunately, many are not careful with their gift of speech. Despite that, every morning Hashem, with great kindness, returns this gift to us. Hashem keeps giving and giving, with the hope that we will improve. (based on the Chofetz Chaim zt”l in Sha’ar Hatevuna, perek 1)

Before our forefather, Yaakov, passed away he gave his sons words of reproof and blessed them. Yaakov said to Yosef, “They made him bitter and quarreled with him. Expert bowmen with hatred made him their target”. Yet, “His bow remained in strength”. (Bereishis 49:23,24) Rashi says that “They made him bitter” refers to those who made life bitter for Yosef. Rashi says that they were called “Expert bowmen” because their tongues were like arrows. The Midrash Rabbah (98:19) questions, “Why are their tongues are compared to arrows, moreso than other weapons?” The Midrash answers that other weapons cause harm at the spot of the attack with that weapon. Arrows, however, can cause harm a great distance away. The Midrash continues that this is like loshan hara, slanderous speech. “One can say slanderous speech in Rome and cause the death of someone far away, in Suria”.

 Recently, I was present at a funeral. One of the speakers praised the woman who had passed away, by saying that she did not speak loshan hara. She was content with her life and did not feel the need to make herself feel better by degrading others.

King Solomon said that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Mishlei 18:21). The Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of the sin of loshan hara. “Loshan Hara is the source of many social ills. It has caused the dissolution of numerous friendships, the termination of endless marriages, and has generated immeasurable suffering. The evils of hatred, jealousy, and contention spread through the medium of loshan hara, as diseases do through filth and germs. The speaking of loshan hara has resulted in people losing their incomes and it has led to many an untimely death. The evils of loshan hara are universally recognized.” (Guard Your Tongue by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin) Every single word of loshan hara is considered a separate sin.

On the other hand, the reward for abstaining from loshan hara is very great. For every moment that one has the chance to say something negative and yet does not, he merits tremendous reward. The Vilna Gaon zt”l cites a Midrash saying that for every second that a person remains silent, he will merit reward of a magnitude that is beyond the comprehension even of angels! (Ibid)

The next time that we have the chance to say or hear something negative, let’s stop and think. Would that be showing proper appreciation to Hashem for giving us the gift of speech? Also, is it worth it? Is it worth the severe sins and punishments? Wouldn’t we rather enjoy the special rewards that Hashem has set aside for those who “guard their tongues”?

It is not always easy to refrain, but let’s try our best.

For each negative word from which we do refrain from speaking, we receive untold reward!

 

There are numerous English sefarim teaching the details of the laws of loshan hara,

 such as Guard Your Tongue by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. You can also go to CCHF.Global at Daily learning

for free emails, WhatsApps and short videos.

 

Parshas Vayigash: Look in the Mirror and See Your Greatness!

Parshas Vayigash

Look in the Mirror and See Your Greatness!

 

“Yaakov rose from Be’er Sheva. The sons of Yisroel transported their father Yaakov, their children, their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him.” (Bereishis 46:5)

Rabbi Yosef Wallis, director of Arachim of Israel told a fascinating story about his father, Judah Wallis.

While he was in Dachau, a Jew who was being taken to his death suddenly flung a small bag at Judah Wallis. Judah caught it, thinking it might contain a piece of bread. Upon opening it, however, he saw that it was a pair of tefillin. Judah was very frightened because he knew that if he was caught carrying tefillin, he would be put to death instantly. He hid the tefillin under his shirt and headed for his bunkhouse. In the morning, just before the roll call, he put on the tefillin. Unexpectedly, a German officer appeared. He ordered him to remove the tefillin and noted the number on Judah’s arm. At the roll call, in front of thousands of silent Jews, the officer called out Judah’s number. He had no choice but to step forward. The German officer waved the tefillin in the air and said, “Dog! I sentence you to death by public hanging for wearing these.” Judah was placed on a stool and a noose was placed around his neck. Before he was hanged, the officer said in a mocking tone, “Dog, what is your last wish?” “To wear my tefillin one last time,” Judah replied. The officer was dumbfounded. He handed Judah the tefillin and Judah put them on. Judah had a noose around his neck and was wearing tefillin on his head and arm. The entire camp was watching this scene, awaiting the impending hanging. As Judah turned to watch the silent crowd, he saw tears in many people’s eyes. Even at that moment, as he was about to be hanged, he was shocked. Jews were crying! How was it possible that they still had tears left to shed? And for a stranger? Where were those tears coming from? Impulsively, in Yiddish, he called out, “Yidden, I am the victor. Don’t you understand, I am the winner!” The German officer understood the Yiddish and was infuriated. He said to Judah, “You dog, you think you are the winner? Hanging is too good for you. You are going to get another kind of death.” “Judah was taken from the stool and the noose was removed from his neck. He was forced into a squatting position and two huge rocks were placed under his arms. Then he was told that he would be receiving 25 lashes to his head – the head on which he had dared to position his tefillin. The officer told him that if he dropped even one of the rocks, he would be shot immediately. In fact, because this was such an extremely painful form of death, the officer advised him, “Drop the rocks now. You will never survive the 25 lashes to the head. Nobody ever does.” Judah’s response was, “No, I won’t give you the pleasure.” At the 25th lash, Judah lost consciousness and was left for dead. He was about to be dragged to a pile of corpses, after which he would have been burned in a ditch, when another Jew saw him, shoved him to the side, and covered his head with a rag so that people didn’t realize he was still alive. Eventually, after he recovered consciousness fully, he crawled to the nearest bunkhouse that was on raised piles and hid under it until he was strong enough to come out under his own power. Two months later he was liberated. (from Aish.com)

After the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, our enemies rummaged through the ruins. They slaughtered and ate the sheep that had been waiting to be used for the korban Tamid (sacrificial offering). They found and ate the loaves of the Show-Bread that were on the Shulchan, the holy Golden Table. In reference to these enemies, it says in Tehillim (14:4), “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? Who eat up my people as they eat bread and call not upon Hashem.” The Midrash Shochar Tov (on Tehillim 14:4) quotes Rabbi Shmuel who explains the pasuk as a criticism against our enemies. Interestingly, this criticism was neither for destroying the Bais HaMikdash nor for the subsequent evils that they did. Rather, they were taken to task for the way that they treated such a great people, the Jewish People, Hashem’s chosen Nation.  As Yirmiyahu the prophet stated, (Yirmiyahu 2:3) “Israel is holy to Hashem, the first fruits of his increase.” Rashi explains that Yirmiyahu is comparing the first of the harvest before the Omer to the Jewish People. Those fruits are forbidden to eat. Whoever eats them is liable. Similarly, the Jews are like Hashem’s first fruits. Whoever harms the Jews will be liable. Our enemies should have realized that they were dealing with Hashem’s Chosen People.

This seems to be a very unusual criticism that is being leveled against our enemies. They were the lowest of the low. They were steeped in murder, idol worship, and immorality. They desecrated the place where Hashem’s Holy presence resided. We would not expect such evil people to be able to see the beauty and greatness of the Jewish People. Especially at their greatest moment of evil, as they were destroying and sinning. Furthermore, at this time, the Jewish People had just been stripped of the greatest glory. Their symbol of greatness, the Temple, had just been destroyed. It was in ruins and the Jews were being sent into exile in chains. What greatness was there to see?

Yet, the Midrash is teaching us, even at our lowest point, even evil people, are capable of seeing the greatness of the Jewish People! Even then, we are great and are Hashem’s chosen. We should never forget that!   

Our forefather Yaakov was about to go to Egypt with his entire family. The pasuk (Bereishis 46:5) states, “And Yaakov rose from Be’er Sheva. The sons of Yisrael transported their father, Yaakov, their children, their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him”. This pasuk is unique. It uses both names, Yaakov and Yisroel. Why? The Sforno explains that the Jewish People were on the way to Egypt where they would eventually be enslaved. At that time, they prepared their mental state of being. They went with the attitude that although they were going to start their exile and enslavement, they are the Chosen Nation of Hashem, the nation that will rule over others. That was symbolized by the name, Yisroel. Normally, one who realizes he is about to go into exile and be enslaved, becomes demoralized. That was not the case for the Jewish People.

Even a poor Jew, lying on the ground and being stomped upon by the boots of a non-Jew, can look at his captor with the attitude that he, the Jew, is actually the master. This is the strength of a Jew. A Jew can maintain such an attitude of strength, even under the worst circumstances. (based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l)

We are the Chosen Nation of Hashem. Even our evil oppressors can, and are obligated, to see our greatness. Certainly, we, ourselves, should always feel our greatness, as part of Hashem’s Chosen People, and act befittingly.

 

Parshas Mikeitz: It’s NOT the Way it Seems!

Parshas Mikeitz

It’s NOT the Way it Seems!

 

“It was at the end of two years, and Pharaoh had a dream…” (Bereishis 41:1)

The following is a true story. Rachel regularly used an excellent babysitter for her youngest son while she was at work. The babysitter said that she would not be available to work for a few weeks. Luckily, Rachel found another drop-off babysitter, Nechama, who agreed to babysit in the interim. Every day, either Rachel or her oldest daughter, Sara, would drop- off the baby and then pick him up from Nechama’s house. Nechama got to know both Sara and her mother. She felt that Sara would be a perfect match for her cousin, Daniel. Nechama mentioned the idea to both families. Sara and Daniel went on a date and enjoyed each other’s company. After a few months, they became engaged.

Interesting how life works. Had Rachel’s babysitter not needed time off, then Sara and Nechama would not have met. Sara would not have been introduced to Daniel. Or…???

Yosef HaTzadik was imprisoned in Egypt for 12 years. After the last two years of Yosef’s imprisonment had ended, Pharoah had a troublesome dream. All of Pharoah’s wise men and stargazers were unable to explain the dream to his satisfaction. Then, he heard from his wine steward that Yosef could interpret dreams. So, he called for Yosef to be taken out of prison and brought before him. Luckily for Yosef, Pharoah had that dream. That allowed Yosef to be freed from prison. Or…??

A story is told about a man who was very dedicated to giving tzedakah (charity). One time, his wife gave him a few coins and told him to go to the marketplace to buy something for their children. On the way, the man met someone collecting money for an orphan. He readily gave away all the money that his wife had given him. Ashamed to return empty-handed, he collected and brought home a sack full of abandoned esrogim. The man had to go overseas. Accidentally, he packed the sack of esrogim. When he arrived at his destination, he heard that the king in that country was suffering from a severe stomach ailment. The king’s physicians had determined that only the fruit of the citron, esrog, could provide relief.  However, no one could secure such a fruit on short notice since they did not grow locally. It was then that the man discovered the esrogim in his bag. He brought them to the palace, and upon the king’s recovery, was rewarded handsomely. The man became very rich because he had something that was greatly needed. Or…??

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l has a beautiful parable (quoted in Yalkut Lekach Tov by Yaakov Yisroel Beifus).

A villager visited the big city for the first time in his life. He was amazed by what he saw. When he arrived at the train station, for the first time in his life, he had an interesting observation. He noticed a man standing on the platform. When the man blew a shrill sound of the whistle, people began walking towards the waiting train. When he blew the whistle a second time, more people came running to the train. When he blew it a third time, the train left, without waiting for anyone else. This scene repeated itself a few times. The villager was amazed at what this man was able to do. He felt that this man must be very important since he had the power to decide when the train left. The villager approached the train man, giving him a lot of respect. The train man laughingly told him that he was not in charge. He was only a lowly worker who followed the instructions of the trainmaster who was sitting in his office, above the platform. The trainmaster signaled to the man below when to blow the whistle for the train to depart. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says that many people err in thinking that they know why certain things happen. It seems clear to them what the cause is and what the result, the effect, of that cause is. It is a big mistake! The cause for everything that occurs is as a result of a decree from Hashem!

The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 89:1) says that there was a set time for Yosef to be imprisoned. The Torah says (Bereishis 41:14) that as soon as that time was up, Yosef was quickly taken out of jail. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  (in Chofetz Chaim on the Torah) says that every Heavenly decree has a fixed time. As soon as that time arrives, Hashem does not allow the decree to continue for a single extra minute. Thus, Yosef was immediately taken from the jail.

Since the time for Yosef’s freedom had arrived, therefore, Pharoah had a dream.  The reason for Pharoah’s dream was to be a conduit to Yosef’s freedom. The dream was not happenstance. Rather, Hashem decreed that Pharoah dream as a means to free Yosef.

Rav Yosef Soloveitchik, zt”l (in his sefer Bais Halevi) says that this understanding is the basis for the explanation of our pasuk. The end of Yosef’s prison time and Pharoah’s dream are written in the same pasuk because they are connected. The time for Yosef’s freedom had come. Therefore, Hashem facilitated that freedom. The way that Hashem did it, was by causing Pharoah to have a dream.

Look back at our previous stories. Since Hashem determined that it was time for Sara to meet Daniel, therefore, Hashem orchestrated events to ensure that they would meet. Hashem caused the regular babysitter to become unavailable for Nechama to meet Sara.

In the next story, Hashem wanted the man to become rich. Therefore, Hashem arranged for him to acquire esrogim to make him wealthy.

What appears to us to be a simple cause and effect is often not accurate.

When Hashem wants something to occur, Hashem orchestrates

and causes a chain of events to bring His plans to fruition.

 

Parshas Vayeshev: You CAN Do It if You Try!

Parshas Vayeshev

You CAN Do It if You Try!

 

“It was at that time that Yehudah went down from his brothers” (Bereishis 38:1)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (in Sefer Chofetz Chaim on the Torah, in Parshas Terumah) relates a true, tragic story that has implications for all of us. A Jew was imprisoned in a small town in Russia. His hands and feet were in shackles, and he was about to be sent to Siberia for his crime of counterfeiting. Before being led away, the prisoner asked the policeman if he could speak to the rabbi of the town. The prisoner said that he had something urgent to tell the rabbi. The policeman agreed and sent for the rabbi. When the rabbi came and saw that the prisoner was about to be led away, he felt brokenhearted. The prisoner saw the rabbi and called out, “It’s your fault! You knew that I was counterfeiting. You should have reprimanded me and warned me what the terrible consequence would be if I were caught!”

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l concluded by stressing the grave responsibility that rabbis and leaders have, to correct improper behavior. Their followers will blame the rabbis and leaders for ignoring their sinful behavior. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l continues that the accusations against the leaders will be even greater when the people are punished for their sins in the World to Come. [Of course, the rebukes must be delivered in a manner that will be heard. And the people should honestly listen to those who are trying to guide them in the correct path. They should not embarrass or fight with their leaders.]

In this week’s parsha, Yosef’s brothers determined that Yosef deserved the death penalty. Reuven suggested that instead of actively killing him Yosef, they should throw him into a pit. Reuven left to take care of his father, intending to return to save Yosef. Meanwhile, a caravan of Arabs passed. Yehudah suggested to the brothers that they sell Yosef as a slave, rather than kill him. Yehudah felt that this would at least save Yosef’s life [The brothers were exceedingly righteous. The reader should not get a negative misimpression of them or of Yosef due to this simplified understanding of the story. The commentaries explain everything in depth.] The brothers agreed. When the brothers returned, they gave Yaakov the impression that Yosef had been killed by a wild animal. Rashi (Bereishis 38:1) says that when the brothers saw Yaakov’s inconsolable mourning, they turned to Yehudah and blamed him for Yaakov’s sadness. They removed Yehudah from his position of leadership and complained, “You, said to sell him. Had you said to return him, we would have listened to you”.

Rav Avraham Pam zt”l (Rav Pam on Chumash by Rabbi Sholom Smith) questions the brothers complaint to Yehudah. Would they truly have listened to Yehudah had he said to free Yosef? After all, they felt halachically justified in killing him. Yehudah clearly felt that, had he asked to spare Yosef, the other brothers would not have listened to him. They would have left Yosef in the pit to die. Yehudah felt that a compromise would be accepted. Therefore, he suggested that Yosef be sold, rather than be freed. Clearly, Yehudah underestimated the influence he had over the other brothers. Apparently, had he been insistent in freeing Yosef, they would have listened to him. Since he did not do so, the brothers blamed him for Yaakov’s pain and removed him from his position of leadership.

The story from the Chofetz Chaim zt”l and the dvar Torah from Rabbi Pam zt”l impact not only our leaders, but us as well! We are often in the position to influence others to do good and/or to persuade them to stop sinning. However, we may feel inadequate, that we will be ignored. Yet, that is not always true. Obviously, we must use our common sense to know when to speak up and when to be silent. However, in truth, there are many instances when we can speak up and our voices will be heard.

Then, we will make a difference someone’s life!

A man had a non-observant neighbor. He never thought of inviting him for a Shabbos meal because he thought that his offer would be refused. How wrong he was. The neighbor had remarked to another person that he was just waiting to be invited. His life could have been changed had his religious neighbor confidently reached-out to him.

Who is waiting for you to reach out and change their life?

 

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!