Category Archives: Sefer Bereishis

Parshas Vayechi: Step Up To Greatness!

Parshas Vayechi

Step Up To Greatness!

“Yisrael saw Yosef’s sons, and said, ‘Who are these?’” (Bereishis 48:8)

When our forefather, Yaakov, became ill, Yosef went with his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, to visit him. Yosef wanted Yaakov to bless them while he was still able to.

When Yaakov was about to bless them, he asked Yosef, “Who are these?” (Bereishis 48:8) It seems as if Yaakov did not recognize Yosef’s sons. That is very strange as the Midrash Tanchuma (quoted in the Mizrachi and Ohr HaChaim) says that Menashe and Ephraim learned with Yaakov for the past 17 years! How did Yaakov not recognize them? The Midrash Tanchuma says that, indeed, Yaakov knew who they were. However, when Yaakov was about to bless them, he saw with Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, that each of them would have some descendants who would be exceedingly evil. When Yaakov saw that, the Shechina, Hashem’s Holy Presence, departed. Yosef davened to Hashem, pleading for mercy. Thereupon, Hashem caused His Shechina to return to Yaakov, who then blessed them.

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin zt”l in his Oznayim LaTorah (quoted in Iturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) had a different understanding of Yaakov’s question, “Who are these?”  Yaakov had told Yosef, in lieu of Yosef being counted as a shevet, tribe, Yaakov was elevating Yosef’s two sons, who were his grandsons, to the level of sons. Thus, two tribes would come from Yosef. Menashe and Ephraim would be counted as separate shevatim along with Yaakov’s sons.  Until now, Menashe and Ephraim’s deeds had been considered proper and acceptable. However, to be elevated to the status of shevatim, they had to be on an exceptionally, high levels. Their actions would be viewed more precisely. A person on a lofty level cannot act the same as a regular person. His actions must be even more refined and more perfect.  Menashe and Ephraim were great people. However, they were not yet great enough to be considered shevatim to receive these monumental brachos. That is what Rashi means when he says, “Who are these people who are not fitting for this blessing?”  Whereupon, Yosef davened to Hashem, the Shechina returned to Yaakov, and Yaakov blessed them.

The explanation of the Oznayim LaTorah can help us understand another question. When Yaakov blessed his sons, he did not put his hands on their heads. Then why did he put his hands on the heads of Menashe and Ephraim when he blessed them? The Chizkuni says that Yaakov put his hands on their heads to appoint them as shevatim. The Chizkuni compares this action to when Moshe placed his hands on Yehoshua’s head. Rashi (Bamidbar 28:23) says that Moshe generously placed BOTH of his hands on Yehoshua’s head (more than he had been commanded, for Hashem had said to place one hand on him) making him a full vessel filled with Moshe’s own wisdom. It seems that here, too, Yaakov placed his hands on their heads, instilling within them the ability to be considered shevatim.

The blessing that Yaakov gave them was, “Through you, shall the People of Israel bless saying, ‘May Hashem make you as Ephraim and Menashe…’”. Many parents bless their sons with this bracha on Friday night (there is a different, befitting blessing for girls).  Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l (in Daas Torah page 274, quoted in Messages from Rav Pam by Rabbi Sholom Smith) says that Yaakov filled this bracha with so much blessing that it overflowed. Accordingly, when one blesses his sons with this bracha, it is more than a bracha from parent to son. The bracha is also infused with the power of Yaakov’s bracha to Ephraim and Menashe. We should say this bracha with great concentration to maximize its effect.

We see that the actions of greater people must be greater than those of ordinary people.

The Jewish people are the children of Hashem. That makes us great.

We should strive to ensure that our actions are always exemplary!


Parshas Vayigash: I Will Take That Coat. Thank You!

Parshas Vayigash

I Will Take That Coat. Thank You!

“To all of them he gave each man, changes of clothing, but to Binyamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing.” (Bereishis 45:22)

After Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, he gave them gifts. “To all of them he gave each man, changes of clothing, but to Binyamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing.” (Bereishis 45:22) The Talmud (Megillah 16A-16B) questions why Yosef gave his brother, Binyamin, more than the other brothers. Yosef knew, only too well, the jealousy that had been caused when his father, Yaakov, showed him favoritism by giving him a beautiful, multi-colored coat. That jealousy led to Yosef’s suffering and becoming a slave in Egypt. How could Yosef make the same mistake by showing favoritism to Binyamin?

The Talmud quotes Rabbi Binyamin bar Yefes who answers that Yosef was not showing favoritism. Rather, his gift of the 5 sets of clothing hinted to Binyamin that he would have a descendent who would wear five royal garments, as it is stated: “And Mordechai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of sky blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a wrap of fine linen and purple” (Megillas Esther 8:15).

The Vilna Gaon zt”l says that Rabbi Binyamin bar Yefes does not answer the question. The brothers did not know that Yosef’s intention in giving Binyamin extra clothes was to hint to a future event. Thus, it could have caused jealousy. How could Yosef have given it? The Vilna Gaon zt”l answers that Binyamin’s 5 sets of clothing were of inferior quality than the 1 set that the other brothers had received. Binyamin’s 5 sets had the same value as the 1 set of the other brothers. The brothers realized that if the value was the same, yet Binyamin received 5 garments, then the reason that it was done must have been as a hint for a future event. Thus, there was no cause for jealousy. A possible proof for this can be found in the words of the Torah. (Vilna Gaon in sefer Shnos Eliyahu, quoted in the Torah Temima) When the Torah says that the brothers received 5 sets of clothing it says, “חֲלִפוֹת”. When the Torah says that Binyamin received clothes it says, “חֲלִפֹ֥ת”, leaving out the Hebrew letter “vav”. That shows that there was something lacking in what Binyamin had received, indicating that the value was less. A reason is also given as to why there was no jealousy for the extra 300 pieces of silver that Binyamin had received.

However, there still is a question as to why Yosef gave his brothers clothing in the first place.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 30) gives a beautiful answer. Yosef’s action showed thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Before his brothers had sold him, they had removed his outer garment. Yosef purposely gave them beautiful garments to show them that he harbored no ill-will towards them for removing his outer garment before selling him.


Why was Yosef’s action necessary? He had already reached-out to his brothers. He cried when he revealed himself as their long-lost brother. He told them not to blame each other for selling him, as their actions were guided by Hashem. It was Hashem who wanted Yosef to be sent to Egypt where he eventually rose to power, to be able to sustain his family during the years of famine. Rashi says that Yosef equated his brothers to Binyamin to show that he harbored no ill-will towards them (45:12). He kissed all his brothers and cried. Seemingly, Yosef had done so much already to show that he harbored no ill-will. Yet Yosef, in his great sensitivity towards others, felt that he had to do more. He had to actively show that he harbored no ill-will with their specific action of removing his outer garment. Thus, he gave them clothes.

Before Yosef had revealed himself to his brothers, they had purchased grain in Egypt and were on their way home. Yosef had his goblet placed in Binyamin’s sack to make it appear as if Binyamin was a thief [Yosef had hidden reasons for his actions]. Yosef’s servants caught up to the brothers. Discovering the goblet, they were going to take Binyamin back to Egypt to become a slave to Yosef. Yosef’s brothers tore their clothes in mourning and accompanied Binyamin back to Egypt.  The Chizkuni (45:22:2) says that Yosef felt that he was responsible for their tearing their clothing. The brothers had been deeply embarrassed to be walking around in torn garments, so Yosef replaced them.

Yosef did not tear their clothing and did not tell them to do so. He did not even know that they would. Despite that, he felt a sense of obligation to replace them since his action had led to them tearing their garments.

Yosef’s sensitivity is a lesson for us. We, too, should act with sensitivity towards others. We, too, can think twice to determine if we can show extra awareness and kindness to others. We, too, can reach-out to others to fully make amends, regardless of whose “fault it was”. We can bring more shalom into the world!


Parshas Mikeitz: Smile When You Do That!

Parshas Mikeitz

Smile When You Do That!

“And the leaders [of the tribes] brought onyx stones, and stones for setting into the ephod and breastplate”. (Shmos 35:7)

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto zt”l (Derech Hashem 4:8:5-6) writes that the spiritual level attained by the Jewish People on a particular holiday is rekindled each year on that holiday. Reading the Torah portion each Shabbos and each holiday, serves as a conduit to strengthen the illumination of holiness of that day. For example, reading the Torah portion on Purim, about the war against Amalek, grants us the power to battle the modern-day manifestation of Amalek.

On Chanukah, the Kohanim prevailed over the Hellenists who tried to dissuade us from serving Hashem. The Kohanim overcame them and brought the Jewish People back to Torah and devotion to Hashem.

The Torah portion that is read on Chanukah refers to back when the Jews were in the desert, after leaving Egypt. It gives the account of the first sacrifices which were offered by the Nesi’im, princes of each of the Tribes, in the newly inaugurated Mishkan (Tabernacle).

What is the correlation of this Torah reading to the holiday of Chanukah? What spiritual influence do we tap into by reading this portion on Chanukah?

Rav Mattisyahu Solomon provides us with an answer. During the time of Purim, our enemies wanted to annihilate us. However, during the time of Chanukah, they wanted us to remove Hashem and the Torah from our lives. They wanted us to replace that with Greek “culture”. They wanted us to focus on the body and not the soul. Unfortunately, many Jews were influenced. The Heavenly decree against that generation was a punishment for becoming lax in the service of Hashem. They had become unenthusiastic about their service in the Beis HaMikdash, doing it by rote. Hashem felt that if they were not interested in doing the service in the Beis HaMikdash, then it should be taken away from them. The daily Tamid sacrifice was nullified, and they were unable to light the Menorah. The Greeks entered and desecrated the Beis HaMikdash, bringing idols inside and by sacrificing pigs on the mizbayach.

The Maccabees atoned for the laxity of service by risking their lives to reinstate the service. Hashem gave them Divine assistance enabling the few and the weak to defeat the many and mighty. Then, they were able to do the service of lighting the Menorah with pure oil that was miraculously found and which lasted for 8 days.

How does this connect to the Torah reading about the Nesi’im? When Moshe had asked for donations to build the Mishkan, the Nesi’im did not donate immediately. Rashi (Shmos 35:27) says that the Nesi’im said that the rest of the nation should donate first. Then, the Nesi’im would donate whatever was lacking. However, the rest of the Jewish people donated everything that was needed for the Mishkan. The Nesi’im felt bad that there was nothing for them to donate. In order that they not feel bad, Hashem sent them precious stones that they could donate to be used for the garments of the Kohain Gadol.  The Da’as Zekanim and Bechor Shor (Shmos 35:27) say that each prince brought the jewel that was used for his tribe on the Kohain Gadol’s breastplate. Together, they also brought the two precious stones that were placed on the Kohain Gadol’s shoulders. They also contributed the oil for anointing the Mishkan. The initial response of the Nesi’im showed a slight degree of laziness. They should have given a donation immediately and then said that they would donate more at the end. The Nesi’im learned their lesson. After the Mishkan was completed, they were the first to dedicate offerings to be brought on the Mizbayach.

This, says Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, is how the Torah reading on Chanukah correlates to the miracles that we commemorate. The people of that generation had to learn the same lesson as the Nesi’im, not to approach the service of Hashem with laziness, rather with joy and love for Hashem.

(based on Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 3)

Boruch Hashem, we have many opportunities to achieve holiness and closeness to Hashem. Throughout the day we have mitzvos that we can do. At designated times, we can daven. These are all opportunities to cherish. However, human nature is such that when we do something many times, it loses its excitement. A person is apt to act by rote. He may go through the motions while his mind is “thousands of miles away”, thinking about things that are totally unrelated to the mitzvah.

We should stop to think about what we are doing and to Whom we are speaking. Many great people used to spend time thinking about Hashem’s glory, greatness, and kindness before they davened. Every single day, Aharon HaKohain would light the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. He was praised for lighting it each day with the same excitement and fervor as he had the first time. We, too, should aspire to always serve Hashem with great excitement and fervor.

Parshas Vayeshev: The Answer To “Why” Will Soon Be Understood

Parshas Vayeshev

The Answer To “Why” Will Soon Be Understood

“He [Yaakov] sent [Yosef] from the depths of Chevron, and he came to Shechem.” (37:14)

In 1942, in the early morning of erev Rosh Hashana, a large group of Danish Jews gathered in the shul to recite slichos. The chief rabbi announced that instead of saying slichos, they had to go into hiding and arrange passage from Denmark to Sweden. The rabbi had received a secret tip that the Nazis were planning on rounding-up the Danish Jews the night of Rosh Hashana. A few families planned with a Danish fisherman to take them on the six-hour journey to safety. There was always a risk that the Nazis would catch them, but they felt that they had no choice. It was a moonless night and their boat rocked violently from the stormy winds and rain. Finally, they arrived a few hundred feet from the Swedish coast where they dropped anchor. The plan was for the Swedish Coast Guard to notice them and send a boat to rescue them. Suddenly, from the coast, they saw searchlights scanning the water. The Jewish families were hopeful that they would soon be saved. However, the searchlights kept missing their boat. The Jews prayed to Hashem to allow the searchlights to find them. However, the searchlights missed them. They realized that they would have to wait until morning to be saved. In the morning, they realized that something was desperately wrong. Apparently, because of the storm, their boat landed back in Danish and not Swedish waters. The searchlights that were trying to find them were from the Nazis who were looking for escaped Jews. Because the searchlights missed seeing them, they were able to reverse their trip and were saved. (In the Spirit of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

It is interesting that the Chofetz Chaim zt”l, Rabbi Avraham Pam zt”l and Rabbi Yissachor Frand all discuss the same theme in this week’s parsha.  There were some unusual events that transpired in the parsha. In addition, some very smart and very righteous individuals acted in ways that seemed contrary to the proper course of action. Our forefather Yaakov gave his son, Yosef, a multi-colored coat. Didn’t he realize that doing so could cause sibling jealousy? [There are many commentaries that explain the reason why Yaakov did this.] In fact, the Talmud (Shabbos 10B) learns from Yaakov’s actions that we should never give one child preferential treatment over the others. The gift of the fine wool coat that Yaakov gave to Yosef, above and beyond that which he gave to the rest of his sons, caused jealousy. That action started a series of events which led to Yosef being sold as a slave! It almost led to Yosef’s death! As the situation unfolded further, it resulted in the Jewish people descending to Egypt.

Furthermore, since Yosef knew that his brothers hated him, why did he tell them about his two dreams which seemed to indicate that he would rule over them? And, since Yaakov was aware that the other brothers felt negatively towards Yosef, why did he send Yosef to see how they and their sheep were doing?

The answer to how such great people can make such “mistakes” can be found in the words of the pasuk, “He [Yaakov] sent [Yosef] from the depths of Chevron….” (37:14). Rashi asks, that Chevron was situated on a mountain so why does the pasuk say that Yaakov sent Yosef from the valley (deep part) of Chevron? Rashi answers that it was referring to the profound counsel of our forefather Avraham who is buried in Chevron. Hashem caused Yaakov to send Yosef so that Hashem could fulfill what He had told Avraham would happen. His children would be strangers in a strange land. The other “strange” events, the so called “mistakes”, that occurred were also orchestrated by the guiding hand of Hashem.

We see from this the idea of hashgachah peratis, Divine providence. We see how Hashem manipulated events to bring His master plan to fruition. Yosef having been sold as a slave to one of Pharoah’s ministers, led directly to Yosef’s rise to power as a ruler of Egypt. Even when Yosef was in prison, Hashem orchestrated that Pharaoh’s wine steward and baker were put into the prison at the same time as Yosef. That was to set in motion the events which led to Yosef becoming the second in command to Pharoah. Then, when Hashem caused there to be a famine in all the surrounding lands, Yosef was in position to sustain his entire family who eventually joined him in Egypt. All the great people were puppets and Hashem was the Puppeteer. Yaakov and his family lived comfortably in Eretz Yisroel. It was necessary that he and his family be enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years. All these events occurred to facilitate the goal of Yaakov and his entire family going to Egypt.

The Rokeach, a Tosafist and Kabbalist, writes that this parsha has a total of 112 psukim and Tehillim chapter 92, Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabbos, contains 112 words. What is the connection between these two? Rav Mattisyahu Solomon gives a beautiful explanation. We know that the Book of Bereishis is the blueprint of Jewish history. There is the concept of maaseh avos siman labanim, that the actions of our forefathers foreshadow events that will befall the Jewish People. Parshas Vayeshev illustrates that Hashem runs the world, down to the most minute details. Hashem showed Adam HaRishon all the future events that would occur to the Jewish People. After seeing how Hashem would bring His master plan to fruition, Adam HaRishon was moved to say this chapter of Tehillim that includes the words, “O Hashem, how great are your deeds! Your thoughts are very profound.” (92:6)

We have various questions. There are numerous world events that cause us to wonder why Hashem allowed them to happen. All of this will only be properly understood when Hashem brings Moshiach to redeem us.

A person may be in a distressing situation, never realizing that this will ultimately bring him great benefit and joy. When the kingship of Hashem will be revealed to the world, we will see, with perfect clarity, how all our trials and tribulations were necessary steps in our rise to greatness. “And in that day, you shall say, O Hashem, I will praise You: Although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You do comfort me.” There will come a time when we will praise Hashem for all our suffering. At that time, we will understand that it was our path to salvation and success (Isaiah 12:1)

(Based on Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 3; Chofetz Chaim on the Torah, Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin, Messages from Rabbi Pam by Rabbi Sholom Smith)



Parshas Vayishlach: It’s Time To Smell The Coffee!

Parshas Vayishlach

It’s Time To Smell The Coffee!

“Rescue me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav.” (Bereishis 32:12)

After many years of staying with Lavan, Yaakov was finally preparing to return home. He heard that Esav was coming to “greet” him together with an army of 400 men. Yaakov was concerned.  He davened to Hashem. “Rescue me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav.” (Bereishis 32:12)


The commentaries are bothered by the apparent redundancy in Yaakov’s prayer to Hashem.  Yaakov only had one brother. It was obvious that he was asking Hashem to save him from Esav. Why did he feel it necessary to add, please save me from my brother, from Esav?


Rashi answers that Yaakov was asking Hashem to save him from the hands of his brother who was not acting as a brother should. Rather, he was acting wickedly.


The Beis HaLevi gives another answer. He says that after hearing that Esav was on his way to meet him, Yaakov understood that Esav had one of two intentions. Either Esav wanted to fight against Yaakov, intending to kill him. Or Esav wanted to make peace and live together in harmony. Yaakov feared both possibilities! Obviously, Yaakov did not want Esav to kill him. However, he was also afraid that Esav would show him brotherly love and befriend him.


In fact, Yaakov’s first prayer was to be saved from “my brother”. Only then did he ask Hashem to be saved from “Esav”. The Bais HaLevi explains that Yaakov was even MORE afraid of the danger of living in harmony with the evil Esav, than the danger of being killed by Esav!! Had Esav attempted to kill Yaakov, that would have been a physical assault. Living in peace with Esav would constitute a spiritual assault. Yaakov was very concerned, lest he be influenced by Esav’s evil deeds, even to a small extent.


As the parsha unfolds, we see that Hashem accepted both aspects of Yaakov’s tefillah. Esav had intended to kill Yaakov. Hashem caused Esav to change his mind, thus saving Yaakov’s life. After Yaakov had appeased Esav with a large gift, Esav wanted to spend time with Yaakov and travel together with him. Hashem also saved Yaakov from being with Esav for even 1 full day; Esav accepted Yaakov’s refusal to go with him.

Yaakov’s experience with Esav portends to the experiences of the Jewish People at the hands of Esav’s descendants, the Roman Empire and the Western World.

First, they try to destroy us by intense persecution, symbolizing the “evil Esav”. They make harsh decrees, attempt to forcibly convert, torture, and kill us. Hashem does not permit them to annihilate us. When Esav’s descendants realize that this method does not work, they try a different approach. They behave like “my brother Esav”, showering us with friendship and brotherhood. They express a desire to live in peace and harmony with us, promoting close associations with us. Although their faces show friendship, their hearts still harbor hate. Their goal remains the same. They want to weaken our attachment to Torah. Yaakov feared this second approach, more so. Since it is disguised as friendship, it is less likely to be met with resistance. Therefore, it is more dangerous to us.

Currently, we are experiencing the face of “my brother”, Esav. There are numerous, “friendly” attacks on us, looking to distance us from the Torah. Even if we remain steadfast and loyal to the Torah, we are still in danger. There are so many subtle influences that can have an impact on a Torah Jew, without our even realizing it. There are influences of advertisements and commercials, the media, as well as proximity to co-workers with different values and goals in life. We are influenced as to what to read, how to dress, where to go on vacations, and how to spend our leisure time.

We are influenced by our environment. Sometimes the influence is so subtle that we gradually change without realizing. May Hashem always help us realize that we are different, with higher goals and values. May Hashem save us from the “evil Esav”. May Hashem also insulate us from the face of “my brother Esav”, who constantly tries to distance us from Hashem and from the Torah.


Parshas Vayetze: Our Original Iron Dome

Parshas Vayetze

Our Original Iron Dome

“He [Yaakov] reached the place and spent the night there and lay down [to sleep] in that place.” (28:11).

HaRav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l asked, “What is true life? The Torah and mitzvos are our life and length of our days. Torah is the genuine life of a Jew”.

In 1955, Lazer M. traveled from Switzerland to Israel to enroll in the great Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. The yeshiva already had 1,000 students. The yeshiva did not accept Lazer. Politely, he asked to be taken to meet the Rosh HaYeshiva’s wife, Rebbetzin Kahaneman. The staff members acquiesced. When Lazer saw her, he took out a letter from his pocket and showed it to her. She read the letter and told everyone to come with her to see the Rosh HaYeshiva. When Rav Kahaneman read the letter, he embraced Lazer and said that he was accepted into the yeshiva. The staff members were astonished. What was written in that letter? The story of the letter had taken place 10 years earlier. At that time, Rav Kahaneman had undergone an operation and had gone to Switzerland to convalesce. The hotel that he had gone to only had a third-floor room available. There was no elevator and it would have been difficult for the Rav to walk up and down the stairs. Six-year-old, Lazer, and his mother had a room on the first floor. When asked, they both graciously agreed to switch rooms and give the Rav their room on the 1st floor. Rav Kahaneman’s wife was very appreciative. She wanted to show her appreciation to the little boy, Lazer. She offered to buy him chocolate or a toy, but he said that it was not necessary to give him anything. When the Rebbetzin insisted, Lazer said, “I just gave my bed to the Ponevezher Rav. I would hope that if I ever come to the Ponevezher Yeshiva, the Rav would give me a bed in his yeshiva.” The Rebbetzin was stunned at the maturity and love of Torah that young Lazer exhibited. She wrote and signed a note. The Rosh HaYeshiva signed the note as well. The note granted Lazer a place in the Ponevezh yeshiva. Lazer’s parents saved this note for more than 10 years. This was the note that Lazer had presented to the Rosh HaYeshiva and the Rebbetzin, to gain entrance into the yeshiva. Lazer continued to learn in the yeshiva for more than 10 years. (Echoes of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

Our forefather, Yaakov, left his parents’ house at age 63 to run away from Esav and to find a wife. He arrived in Charan at age 77. What took him so long to reach Charan? The Midrash (Rabba 68:5) says that Yaakov made a detour. He went to learn in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, before continuing to Charan. Yaakov learned there for 14 years, with extreme diligence! During that time, Yaakov barely slept. He did not sleep in a bed. He merely took short naps, as needed. As Rashi explains (based on Bereishis Rabbah 68:11) that the word, ההוא, [in] that place, teaches us in that place he lay down to sleep. However, during the previous fourteen years, when Yaakov learned in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, he never slept regularly at night. He was consistently engaged in the study of the Torah.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Shmiras Halashon Sha’ar Torah; 9) asks, was this the proper time for Yaakov to be learning in yeshiva? He was already 63 and he knew that he was destined to father the 12 tribes. It was a very important mitzvah for Yaakov to go to Lavan’s house immediately to get married! The Chofetz Chaim zt”l answers that Yaakov knew Lavan would not give his daughters in marriage without receiving a lot of money in return. Meanwhile, Yaakov was penniless since Elifaz, Esav’s son, had taken all his money. Yaakov knew that he would have to remain in Lavan’s house for a long time, working for him, to earn the privilege of marrying Lavan’s daughters. Yaakov feared, correctly, the challenge of staying with Lavan for an extended time. Lavan was dishonest, deceptive, and his house was full of idols. Yaakov was concerned about the challenge of living in this impure and unholy place. Obviously, Yaakov had no choice but to stay there. Yaakov was anxious about the influence it would have on him. Yaakov knew that his only protection was to diligently learn the holy Torah. He would be unable to do so in the house of Lavan. Therefore, Yaakov stopped enroute to learn Torah with intensity and extreme diligence. He learned in this manner for 14 years, corresponding to the time that he knew that he would have to live in Lavan’s house.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  teaches us a lesson from Yaakov’s actions. Every father should ensure that his son be accustomed to learn Torah & perform mitzvos. The holy Torah will protect his son from impure influences. If his son would later have to serve in the king’s army, and not be able to learn, then Hashem would ensure that he would be successful and that the government officials would treat him favorably.

We live in a world and at a time in which impure influences are many and are strong. We are different than the others. We are Hashem’s chosen, holy people!

How can we safeguard our holy souls from such filth and such influences?

Diligent Torah learning is the Iron Dome that will protect us from those impure influences around us.


Parshas Chayei Sara: Please Walk In My Shoes!

Parshas Chayei Sara

Please Walk In My Shoes!

“I asked her and said, “Whose daughter are you?’ She replied, ‘The daughter of Besuel, son of Nachor, whom Milkah bore to him.’” I placed the ring on her nose and bracelets on her hands.” (Bereishis 24:47)

After Succos, many travelers had difficulty getting flights leaving Israel to return home, due to the terrible tragedies that occurred in Israel on October 7th. Some had to travel in roundabout ways, through different countries. One family was returning to London. There were not enough seats on the flight for their entire family. One of their children had to go by himself on a different flight. That child’s family noticed that there was another religious family on their child’s flight. They asked that family if they would watch their child. Of course, they agreed. In London, the customs agent was incredulous that a family had entrusted their child with “strangers”. He was also shocked that this family had accepted the responsibility of a stranger’s child. The couple told him that although they did not know the other people, they were all family. That is, all Jews are family!


There is an enormous quantity of items being sent to the Israeli soldiers and to the families that were displaced from their homes. The help that they are receiving from Jews around the world is unbelievable and so heartwarming. Groups are leaving their jobs for a week to bring supplies, to physically help on farms and in stores, to visit the wounded and to give encouragement. Some of the displaced families are living in hotels. Signs were posted to help them: “Who can do their laundry? Who is available to babysit? Who can cook a meal?” Someone who is not Jewish cannot comprehend that we are all one People and that we are there for each other.


Our forefather, Avraham, had sent Eliezer, his trusted servant, to find a wife for Yitzchok in Avraham’s hometown of Charan. Rashi (24:42) says that Eliezer miraculously arrived in Charan on the very same day that he left. He had his camels kneel near the well on the outskirts of the city. Eliezer davened to Hashem to speedily send the ideal wife for Yitzchok. Eliezer asked Hashem to clearly show him the prospective bride. The girl who would offer a drink of water to Eliezer and then would offer water to his camels, would be the suitable bride for Yitzchok. Rashi (24:14) explains that these acts would indicate a girl who is exceptionally kind, making her suitable to join the family of Avraham. In the middle of Eliezer’s prayer to Hashem, Rivkah was already at the well. Rabbi Yonoson Eybescheutz zt”l (quoted in Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin) says that the Torah (24:15) emphasizes that Rivkah carried her water pitcher on top of her shoulder to publicize that she had a pitcher available for anyone who needed to borrow it. Eliezer must have noticed this fact. Rashi (24:17) says that Eliezer also noticed that the water of the well miraculously rose-up to “greet” Rivkah. Seeing that miracle, Eliezer ran towards Rivkah. He asked her for a drink. She quickly gave him a drink, exhibiting the beautiful trait of zrizus, fulfilling a mitzvah with quickness. Then she offered to give water to Eliezer’s camels, “until they will have finished drinking” (24:19). That was a unique act of kindness as camels can drink up to 30 gallons of water! Rivkah also performed this mitzvah with quickness. With such a confluence of events, pointing to the fact that Rivkah was the “chosen” bride for Yitzchok, Eliezer was completely confident that Rivkah was indeed the intended bride. Even before confirming her identity, he gave Rivkah golden jewelry that had deep spiritual allusions (see Rashi 24:22). When Rivkah said that she was from Avraham’s family, that confirmed to Eliezer what, in essence, he had already known. The Radak says that at that point, Eliezer bowed to Hashem, showing his gratitude to Hashem for having listened to his prayer.


Eliezer went to Rivkah’s house to find lodging. He retold the events of the day to Rivkah’s family, to her father, Besuel, and to her brother, Lavan. He started by telling them of his miraculous, swift journey. Interestingly, Eliezer switched the order of one part of the story. He said that he had asked Rivkah who she was and then he presented her with the jewelry (24:47). Rashi explains Eliezer’s reason for changing the order as he told the story. He did this in order that Besuel and Lavan not catch him by his own words and say, “How could you give her the gifts before you knew who she was!”


How do we understand this Rashi? Akeidas Yitzchak (quoted in Artscroll Bereishis) gives one explanation. Eliezer said that he had come on a special mission to Avraham’s family to find a wife for Yitzchok. Had he admitted that he had given the jewelry to Rivkah before knowing to which family she belonged, this would have contradicted his previous assertion, since people do not give away gifts purposelessly.


This explanation is a little hard to understand. Wasn’t it obvious from Eliezer’s story that Hashem’s hand was at work? There were so many miracles which clearly indicated that Rivkah was Yitzchok’s intended bride. Even Besuel and Lavan realized that, as they said, “This is from Hashem (24:50).” Rashi explains that they meant, it is evident that the matter is from Hashem since, according to your words, Hashem brought her and you together. So, why did Eliezer feel the need to switch the order of events when he spoke to Besuel and Lavan? Rabbi Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l (in Chidushei Lev by Rabbi Binyomin Luban) has a beautiful insight to explain this. Had Eliezer retold the story in the correct order, Besuel and Lavan would have thought that Eliezer was a liar. They would not have believed that Eliezer had given the jewelry before she told him who she was. They could not have believed that Eliezer had such trust in Hashem since they, themselves did not put their trust in Hashem! By nature, a person judges others by the level that he, himself, is on and based on his own feelings. Thus, Lavan and Besuel could not have imagined that Eliezer had acted so due to his trust in Hashem, since they did not have that trust themselves!


We see a similar idea illustrated in the Talmud (Shabbos 88A). A Saducee told Rava, a Talmudic sage, that the Jewish People acted too hastily, without thinking, when Hashem offered them the Torah. They responded, “We will do, and we will hear”. The Saducee asserted that this was an impetuous response. How can you accept something upon yourselves before knowing what it is that you are accepting? Rava said that the Jews’ response came from their total trust in Hashem. They had seen, firsthand, the miracles that Hashem had performed in Egypt and when Hashem had taken them out of Egypt. Since the Saducee himself did not trust in Hashem, he couldn’t fathom how others could.


At times, we judge people negatively, based on our standards and our level of understanding. We cannot be so quick to judge a person unfavorably. Unless we walk in a person’s shoes, we cannot judge them.


Parshas Vayera: The Best Protective Armor That You Can Get

Parshas Vayera

The Best Protective Armor That You Can Get

“Behold! I have two daughters who have never known a man, I will bring them out to you, and do with them as you please; only do nothing to these men, since after all, they came under the shelter of my roof.” (Bereishis 19:8)

Rav Yisroel Brog quoted a true, fascinating story in the name of the Chofetz Chaim zt”l. Rabbi Eliyahu from Lita used to travel to different towns in Europe to strengthen their Torah and mitzvah observance. Once he stayed in an inn in a small village that belonged to a Jew. Rabbi Eliyahu spoke to the Jew about having bitachon, having trust in Hashem and realizing that Hashem is the source of all blessing, including one’s livelihood. The owner of the inn responded that thank G-D, he could take care of himself and did not need Hashem’s help. He felt that he was a smart and successful businessman and did not require heavenly assistance.  He owned fields, a forest, a mill that the whole village used, and an inn with a bar that all the villagers frequented. He was very wealthy. He felt that he had everything planned perfectly and that his wealth was guaranteed. Speaking strongly, Rav Eliyahu told the innkeeper that he should take back his words before it was too late since Hashem was the only one who made one wealthy or poor. The innkeeper ignored the rebuke. After his travels, Rabbi Eliyahu returned to his hometown. He visited the poor house where the poor of the city were able to get a bed to sleep on and a meal to eat. He went to see if there was anything that they needed. To his surprise, he met the innkeeper from the other village. He asked him what he was doing there. The innkeeper said that a platoon of Russian soldiers crossed the bridge near his mill. One of the slats on the bridge broke and the Russian officer fell through the hole, almost losing his life. The officer believed that the innkeeper had been negligent and had purposely wanted to prevent the Russian soldiers from crossing the bridge. The officer was planning to imprison the innkeeper and bring him to a military court, with a bad outcome likely. When the innkeeper found out about this, he ran away for his life. He was unable to return home and was now penniless. He started crying. Rabbi Eliyahu gently asked him if he still believed that a person can be rich or poor on his own, without Hashem. The innkeeper agreed that he had been wrong. One’s income is totally from Hashem. Clearly, Hashem wanted him to understand that and that is why these events had occurred to the innkeeper. Rav Eliyahu told the innkeeper to strengthen his belief in Hashem. Rav Eliyahu then invited the innkeeper to stay in his house while Rav Eliyahu contacted the Russian authorities. He was able to convince them that the bridge mishap had been a total accident. The innkeeper was, then, able to return home, back to his wealth.

Two angels came to Sodom. One came to destroy the city because of the cruelty of the people. The other angel came to save Lot. Lot had shown hospitality and had invited the angels into his home. Almost immediately, the people of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house. They demanded that Lot send the travelers out of his house so that the people of Sodom could molest them. Lot requested that they spare his guests since “after all, they came under the shelter of my [Lot’s] roof.” (Bereishis 19:8) The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah) explains that focal point of Lot’s defense on behalf of his guests was that they relied on him to ensure that nothing would happen to them. Since Lot had invited them and they had put their trust in him, Lot felt responsible to do all that he could to save them.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l continues with comforting words. Lot felt responsible for his guests because they had put their trust in him. Therefore, he tried to save them.

“ומעתה קל וחמר בן בנו של קל וחמר, אם אנו נסמוך ונבטח בד’ מעוזנו, בטח יגן עלינו לחלצינו מכל רע ולהטיב לנו.”

Certainly, how much more so, if we rely on and put our trust and faith in Hashem, Hashem will DEFINITELY protect us from all harm and will shower goodness on us.


Parshas Lech Lecha: In All Honesty…

Parshas Lech Lecha

In All Honesty…

“He [Avraham] continued on his travels from the south to Beis-Eil, until the place where he originally had [set up] his tent, between Beis-Eil and Ai”. (Bereishis 13:3)

When Rabbi Yisroel Brog was a youngster, he once asked Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l why he merited long life. Rav Yaakov responded that it was because he had never told a lie in his entire life.

When Rav Yaakov was a yeshiva student in Europe, the custom was to eat meals at different people’s homes. One Pesach, Rav Yaakov was at someone’s house but became concerned about the level of kashrus. He did not want to offend his host, so he apologized and said that the reason he could not eat in the house was because his custom was not to eat gebrokts. (Some people have the custom not to eat matza that has come-in-contact with water, on Passover, as an extra stringency. For example, they will not eat matza balls in their soup.) Although Rav Yaakov’s custom had been to eat gebrokts, he stopped eating it for the remainder of his life. Since he had told his host that he does not eat gebrokts, he wanted to be totally honest. So he never ate it again on Passover.

Rav Nosson Kaminetsky, one of Rav Yaakov’s sons wanted to trace his family’s roots. He went to visit the small European town in which Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky had been the Rav. While he was there, he discovered a very interesting historical fact. Even though much of Lithuanian Jewry was wiped out during the Holocaust, most of the Jews of that particular town survived the war. Rav Nosson Kamenetsky asked the mayor of the town how so many the Jews of this town survived. The mayor said, “I can tell you exactly why the Jews escaped.” He said that before the war, the fellow who eventually became the mayor had been the postmaster of the town. He made a test for the clergy members of that town – both Jews and non-Jews. When they bought postage stamps, he would purposely give them more change than they deserved. He wanted to see whether they would return the money or not. This was his acid test to see what type of people he was dealing with. He did this three times with Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky. Each time he gave Rav Yaakov more money than he was entitled to, Rav Yaakov would always return the money. This postmaster was so impressed with Rav Yaakov, who was the head of the Jewish community. Therefore, years later, when he was the mayor of the town, any time he became aware of a German action that was being planned to kill the Jews, he would notify the Jews and they would go hide. That is how the Jews of the city were saved. ( based on Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes)

Hashem told Avraham to leave his birthplace and travel to the place that Hashem would show him. When arrived there, in the Land of Israel, Hashem tested him further by causing a famine in the land. That necessitated Avraham’s temporarily moving to Egypt, to get food. While there, Avraham became wealthy from the gifts that Pharoah gave him. When Avraham returned to Israel, he “continued on his travels”. Rashi explains that on his return, he paid the debts he had previously incurred at the inns that he had stayed in, on the way down to Egypt.

The Chida (quoted in Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin) wonders how Avraham could have gone on such a long journey to Egypt without money. How could he have assumed that innkeepers and merchants would extend credit to him? Furthermore, why did they extend credit to him?

The Taz (Divrei Dovid-Turei Zahav) answers that this shows the esteem in which Avraham was held. Even though Avraham went down to Egypt with all that he had, indicating that he may not return, the innkeepers still trusted him when he said that he would return to pay them.

The Chida has a different approach. He says that Avraham did have a small amount of money with him. The innkeepers noticed his impoverished state, so they charged him discounted rates which Avraham was able to afford at the time. On the return trip, Avraham was wealthy. He returned to all the innkeepers and merchants who had given him discounted rates. He paid them the full amount for the services that he had previously received at their discounted rates.  In his honesty, he felt that these payments were not “extras”. Rather he felt that these were settlements of unpaid bills.

Rav Safra was an amorah, a rabbi of the Talmud. The Talmud (Makkos 24A) relates a story illustrating the level of honesty that Rav Safra had. The Talmud relates that Rav Safra was once sitting in his store when a customer walked in and offered him a price for some merchandise. Rav Safra did not respond because he was in the middle of reciting Kriyas Shema. The customer, thinking he was rejecting the offer, offered a higher price. When Rav Safra still did not respond, the customer raised his price again. Rav Safra finished saying Kriyas Shema and was able to talk. He turned to the customer and told him that he would have been willing to accept the first price that he had offered. Therefore, he would not charge him more than that. The Gemara concludes that this level of integrity is known as “dover emes b’livavo”, speaking the truth in his heart.

The Torah exhorts us to distance ourselves from falsehood (Shmos 23:7). The Sefer Hachinuch (74:2) explains that falsehood is abominable. Hashem is the G-D of truth. Blessing only takes effect for those who liken themselves to Hashem in their actions by being truthful, compassionate, and by doing acts of kindness.

Hashem’s “signature” is emes, truth. Hashem wants us to be truthful in all our dealings and with all people.

Doing so will bring blessing into our lives. We will also sanctify Hashem’s name and will inspire others.


Parshas Noach: But I Did Not Do Anything. I Only Said…

Parshas Bereshis

The Reason For It All!

“Cham the father of Canaan saw the nakedness of his father and told it to his brothers [who were] outside.” (Bereishis 9:22)

Three women were waiting in line to speak with their daughters’ teacher on Parent-Teacher Night. One of them, Miriam, had recently headed a successful fundraising event for the school—the first time she had taken on the job—that had been very successful, in spite of frustrations along the way. Yet in her opinion, she had not been very effective. She was thinking that next year she’d ask someone else to take the reins. “Miriam, the event was amazing!” said one of the women. “It was so well thought-out and so much fun! And you got a huge crowd!” The third woman had also enjoyed the event and admired the way Miriam had produced it. But she didn’t say so. Meanwhile, Miriam was basking in the momentary glow, thinking “Maybe I will do it again next year, now that I have some experience.” Often, positive thoughts run through our minds, but for some reason, we don’t feel the need to verbalize them. If only we realized how much those words might be worth, we’d speak up loud and clear every time. We never know what insecurities our words might soothe. We never know what positive power they might unleash.

 Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer was a new bachur at the Volozhin Yeshivah. He felt lost and homesick and was ready to return home. One day, the Rosh Yeshivah, the Netziv, asked a question, and Rav Isser Zalman offered an answer that pleased him. During lunch an older bachur, Zelig Bengis, later to become the great and famous Rav Bengis of Yerushalayim, came to Rav Isser Zalman and asked him, “Are you the one whose chiddush the Netziv is talking about with so much admiration?” Decades later, when Rav Isser Zalman came to Yerushalayim, his first stop was at the home of Rav Zelig Bengis. “I owe you my life!” he told him. He then recounted how Rav Bengis’s encouraging words had restored his confidence so that he remained in Volozhin. The value of positive words is their power to make another person feel, “I have value.” And that is the foundation of everything good that a person accomplishes in life. (from the Shabbos Newsletter of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation)

The world had been destroyed by a flood. Only Noach and his family survived, in the ark that Noah had built. When Noach exited the ark, he planted a vineyard (Bereishis 9:20). Where did he get the vines for the vineyard? Rashi says that Noach had brought them with him into the ark. Targum Yonasan ben Uziel says that Noach found the vine which the waters had carried from Gan Eden. Noach planted it and the grapes grew immediately. Noach pressed the grapes and drank some wine. He became drunk from the wine. The Sfas Emes (quoted in Iturei Torah by Aaron Yaakov Greenberg) explains that Noach drank the same amount of wine that he had been used to drinking before the flood. However, man’s constitution had been weakened from the flood and that same amount of wine, now, made him drunk. In his drunkenness, Noach was lying, uncovered, in his tent. The B’chor Shor says that it was actually Canaan who had uncovered Noach. The Tur says that it was Cham who had done so. The Torah says that Cham looked and saw Noach’s nakedness. Then he derided Noach to his other brothers. The Da’as Zekanim, as well as the Targum Onkelos and Lekach Tov, say that Cham did not tell his brothers the news quietly. Rather, he stated it publicly, for all to hear. He spoke scornfully and derisively about his father.  When Cham’s son, Canaan, heard his father’s words, he went ahead and sinned terribly against Noah (see Rashi 9:22). When Noach became sober and became aware of what his grandchild, Canaan, had done, he cursed him saying that he would become slaves to Noach’s other two sons.

The Torah (9:22) says, “Cham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told it to his brothers [who were] outside.”  The Da’as Zekanim says that we already know who Cham was. Why did

the Torah feel that it was necessary now to specifically identify Cham as the father of Canaan?  The Da’as Zekanim answers that Cham is called the father of the one who sinned (Canaan) because Cham ridiculed Noach!   HaRav Henach Leibowitz zt”l asked, Cham did not do any negative ACTION. All Cham did, was to say WORDS disparaging Noach. Canaan was the one who did the terrible action. Why is the action being attributed to Cham? Why is he called the father of the sinner? HaRav Leibowitz zt”l says that we see that it was Cham’s words that CAUSED the terrible sin. Cham’s words lowered Noach’s esteem in the eyes of his son Canaan. Despite the wickedness of Canaan, he still had respect for his grandfather, Noach. Cham’s derisive words stripped away that respect. At that point, Canaan sinned so terribly.


We see two important and fundamental things from this. We see the power of speech.

Mere words said thoughtlessly can cause terrible sins.

 Cham’s words caused what happened to Noach.

We also see one’s responsibility for the words that he says.

We are held accountable for everything that results from our words.


Negative comments are divisive. The divisiveness is why our Beis HaMikdash has not yet been rebuilt. Keeping in mind what is currently happening to Klal Yisroel,

let us be especially careful to say words that unite and not words that divide.

Our positive words can transform a frown into a smile.


(Dvar Torah based in part on Chidushei Lev by Rabbi Binyomin Luban)