The Kind Approach

parashas Vayishlach 5781

“The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.'”

– Genesis 32:7, JPS 1985 Tanach

Jacob’s deference to his Uncle Laban, years earlier, and his forbearance of Laban’s poor treatment of him, foreshadow his self-imposed lowliness, when entreating his brother Esau. His strategy was a three-fold plan of prayer, appeasement by way of gifts, and defensive preparations. He sent his servants in waves with droves of cattle and sheep for Esau. “For gentleness allayeth great offences” (Ecclesiastes 10:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Jacob also divided his camp, so that if Esau attacked the first camp, the second camp would be able to escape. After all, it had been fourteen years since Jacob fled from the wrath of his brother Esau; yet, it seemed Esau still harbored ill will over the birthright that he lost to Jacob. And, Jacob’s most precious treasures were his wives and children, whom he hoped Esau would show mercy towards through their own deference. For when they met, his entire family bowed low to Esau, and Jacob himself approached him gradually bowing seven times prostrate on the ground as he approached. The result was a reunion of tears: “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Jacob’s profuse show of generosity towards Esau by way of the gifts he offered, and his magnanimous display of deference by bowing seven times to his brother, connote the genuine and humble appeal made to Esau to procure his forgiveness. Despite their differences “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents,” Genesis 25:27, JPS), Jacob and Esau were reconciled to each other for a brief moment in time.

Jacob’s example of humility, within his earnest appeal to Esau, shows that even the most intractable of enemies may be won over by gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), encompassing the genuine attempt to bring resolution to the worst situation. The message of peace and hope is found in the hearts of the lowly and contrite. With a little kindness, the pride and wrath of the haughty may be brought low, while ill intentions are diminished like fire quenched by water.

Jacob’s Dream

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei 5781

“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it.”

– Genesis 28:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

Prayer is a means of communication, between man and G-d – a connection between earth and heaven. The gateway to G-d’s abode in Heaven was revealed to Jacob. “And, behold, the L-RD stood beside him, and said; ‘I am the L-RD, the G-d of Abraham thy father, and the G-d of Isaac. The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed” (Genesis 28:13). In addition to this promise, H’Shem also reassured Jacob, that He would safeguard him, and bring him back into the land (Genesis 28:15).

The place of Jacob’s revelation was none other than the place, mentioned earlier in Torah, where Abraham brought up Isaac as an offering. Mt. Moriah, the place where Isaac was bound, is also where Jacob, years later, dreamt of a ladder reaching towards Shomayin (Heaven). When he awoke, he said, “this is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Rashi comments, based upon Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, on the verse, and this is the gate of heaven, a place where prayers would ascend to heaven (sefaria.org). Jacob saw angels of G-d ascending and descending upon the ladder in his dream. The question may be asked, if these are angels of G-d, why are they first ascending and then descending? One response, according to Sforno, is that these angels ascending towards Heaven represent prayers, and the angels that are descending from heaven represent the answers to those prayers.

The place where Jacob dreamt of the ladder, Mt. Moriah is also where the Beis HaMikdash (Temple; literally, House of the Sanctuary) was eventually built in Jerusalem. Genesis Rabbah comments that the Heavenly Temple is directly above the earthly Temple, therefore the temple in Jerusalem served as the gateway to the Heavenly Temple (commentary, Genesis 28:17).

Today, it is still acknowledged that all of our prayers ascend to Heaven from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. R. Bachya notes that the word zeh (this), as in this must be the gate of heaven, occurs three times in the passage, an allusion to the three temples. The first and second temples were destroyed; yet, we await the rebuilding of the third Temple, and the era of peace that will be brought with the establishment of Malchus Elokim (the Kingdom of G-d).

Baruch shem k’vod malchuso l’olam va’ed.

Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever.

Lofty Inheritance

B”H

dvar parashas Toldos 5781

“The children struggled.” – Genesis 25:23

“They struggled with one another and quarreled as to how they should divide the two worlds as their inheritance.” -Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 111:2, sefaria.org

Rashi comments, “as soon as they leave thy body they will take each a different course – one to his wicked ways, the other to his plain life” (Rashi, Genesis 25:23). As they grew, their corresponding personalities emerged; namely, Esau, who is described as a hunter – a man of the fields; and Jacob, who is referred to as an ish tamin – a wholesome man – and a man of the tents. Esau’s lifestyle did not represent the values that had been passed down from Abraham to Isaac. While, on the other hand, Jacob’s way of life was more in tune with those values, thus making him the better candidate to continue the legacy of Abraham.

Therefore, as their lives unfolded, it was destined that Jacob would supplant Esau, even as Rebecca had been shown by H’Shem, when He explained that the older would serve the younger. Esau approaches Jacob, asking him for a bowl of lentils, because he is famished, having been out in the field hunting for wild animals. At this point “Yaakov no longer considered his brother Esau as worthy of being honored” as the firstborn (Chizkuni). Therefore, he made a judgment call, and said, “Sell me first thy birthright” (Genesis 25:31, JPS). Later in life, Jacob also deceived his father, as recommended by his mother, Rebecca, in order to receive his father’s blessing that would have gone to Esau, because he was the first born.

What was at stake? According to Yalkut Shimoni, it was the future inheritance of Olam HaZeh (This World), and Olam HaBa (The World-to-Come). It would seem that the materialistic Esau was destined to inherit Olam HaZeh (This World), and that the more spiritually inclined Jacob would receive Olam HaBa (the World-to-Come). Yet, Jacob received the blessing for the benefits of this world, to serve as vehicle towards greater heights. In other words, all earthly endeavors should be for the sake of Heaven (No’am Elimelekh).

Her Soul Lives On

parashas Chayei Sarah 5781

B”H

“And the life of Sarah was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, JPS embellished.

The previous parashas concludes with the narrative of the Akeidah – the binding of Isaac. This was Abraham’s tenth and final test of emunah (faith) in H’Shem. Moreover, it was also a test for Isaac, inasmuch that he was able to go willingly, with his father, Abraham, even upon realizing that he was intended as the offering. Afterwards, having been spared, when the Angel of H’Shem called to Abraham, saying not to harm his son, a ram was offered up instead of Isaac.

Targum Yonasan claims that Sarah passed away thinking that her son Isaac actually died as an offering on Mt. Moriah. Other commentaries explain that she took her last breath, in gratitude, in acknowledgment that her son was able to accede to H’Shem’s will for him, by offering up his own life. This rendering denotes the importance of accepting G-d’s will.

Interestingly, even though this parashas begins with the narrative of Abraham purchasing a burial plot for Sarah, the actual parashas is entitled Chayei Sarah (the Life of Sarah). How can this be explained? The word in Hebrew for life is chayei, as in vayihyu chayei sarah the life of Sarah was. According to R. Bachya, the word vayichyu implies “that something exists permanently,” this points towards the understanding that Sarah’s soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org). This is the positive note of the entirety of Sarah’s life, i.e., that her soul lives on, rewarded with a place in Olam Haba.

“This world is like a corridor before Olam Haba (the World-to-Come). Prepare yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter the Banquet Hall.”

– Pirkei Avos 4:21

Dust & Ashes

B”H

parashas Vayeira 5781

“And Abraham answered and said: Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the L-rd, [I] who am but dust and ashes.’” – Genesis 18:27, JPS 1917 Tanach

When H’Shem told Abraham that He was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham responded by attempting to persuade H’Shem not to do so. Abraham argued that H’Shem’s severity would neglect the lives of the righteous: “Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” (Genesis 18:23, JPS).

In humbling himself before H’Shem, Abraham described himself as “dust and ashes” (see above). In other words, as Rabeinu Bachya explains, I started as dust, and I am destined to become ashes (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 18:27, sefaria.org).


The Talmud notes in Chullin 89a, as if H’Shem is speaking: “I granted greatness to Abraham, yet he said before Me: And I am but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27). I granted greatness to Moses and Aaron, yet Moses said of the two of them: And what are we? (Exodus 16:7). I granted greatness to David, yet he said: But I am a worm, and no man (Psalms 22:7) (sefaria.org).

Abraham’s self-perception denotes the character trait of humility; likewise, both Moses and Dovid HaMelech (King David) also exemplified, what is called in Hebrew, anavah (humility), in respect to the Kavod (Glory) of H’Shem. What can we learn, in specific, from Abraham’s example? To answer this question, consider the following:


Rabeinu Bachya explains that when Abraham stepped forward to dialogue with H’Shem about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, “He was on a totally spiritual and intellectual level” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 18:33, sefaria.org). Yet, after the dialogue, “Abraham returned to his place” (Genesis 18:33). I.e., Abraham returned to his normal state of being – “dust and ashes.”


Like Abraham, we may assert ourselves in tefillah (prayer) to H’Shem, while, also remaining aware of our lowliness, knowing that we cannot make demands of G-d. Instead, we must humble ourselves before Him in acknowledgment of our lowly nature. We are no more than dust and ashes; yet, G-d breathed life into us, so that we may have the capacity to approach him on a spiritual level, while always being conscious of our earthly place in regard to the spiritual heights of Heaven.

Lecha Lecha 5781

B”H

parashas Lech Lecha 5781

“The L-rd said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

– Genesis 12:1, JPS 1985 Tanach

One rendering of the Hebrew phrase, lech lecha is go for thyself, as commentary reads, for your own benefit, for your own good (Rosh Hashannah 16b, sefaria.org). The Hebrew phrase implies that the journey Abraham began, when he left his environmental milieu behind him was a means to establish himself within G-d’s covenantal plan, while bringing benefit to his soul.

The same is true for all who are the descendants of Abraham (“the father of many nations”), inasmuch that we are all called forth to meet the tasks, challenges and nisyanos (trials) that H’Shem has designed for us, for the betterment of our souls.

These trials serve to test our character, inasmuch that for every individualized trial, according to each person’s personality, the potential to transcend – in the moment – even the most challenging negative traits, that potential exists for the sake of renewing the soul, and bringing it to a higher level.

“With ten trials our father Abraham was tried, and he stood firm in them all, to make known how great was the love of our father Abraham.”

– Pirkei Avos 5:4

Noach 5781

parashas Noach 5781

“There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, to make known how long-suffering G-d is, seeing that all those generations continued provoking him, until he brought upon them the waters of the flood.”

– Pirkei Avos 5:2

According to tradition, the world was created through the Attribute of Justice; however, the Attribute of Mercy was added in order to lessen the severity of a strictly judicial nature of recompense for man’s aveiros (transgressions). Mercy allows for leniency within the measure of judgment, imposed upon mankind, in acknowledgment of man being but dust and ashes, and not ideally virtuous enough to measure up, if you will, to G-d’s standards. Therefore, without chesed (mercy), man could not survive in the face of G-d’s Divine Justice that He expresses in His requirements of man’s moral character. Consider that mankind was created in G-d’s image; we have a responsibility to live up to that image as best we are able.

In the days of Noah, mankind had demonstrated his lack of discernment in knowing right from wrong, and fell into the abyss of idolatry and immorality. Yet, Torah notes that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD” (Genesis 6:8, JPS). That is Noah, who is described in the next pasuk (verse) as “righteous and wholehearted,” found favor in H’Shem’s view of him. Therefore, not only was he spared from the ravages of the Flood that H’Shem brought upon mankind; also, his family was saved from the floodwaters, because of Noah’s merit.

“And the L-RD said unto Noah: Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation” (Genesis 7:1, JPS). Although most of mankind perished in the Mabul (flood), through H’Shem’s chesed (mercy), He spared Noah and his family. Another way to view this is that His Attribute of Justice, denoting what is fair, could not permit Him to let Noah perish, because Noah was righteous. A distant echo of this view can be heard in Abraham’s question, ten generations later, “Wilt thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked” (Genesis 18:23, JPS).

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Thy throne; mercy and truth go before Thee.”

– Psalms 89:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

Bereishis: the Letter Beis

The Letter Beis

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ
“When G-d began to create heaven and earth.”
– Genesis 1:1, sefaria.org

The usual translation is “In the beginning, G-d created heaven and earth.” A more accurate translation would be: “When G-d began to create heaven and earth.” This rendering reflects the understanding that the Torah begins with the act of creation already having begun. That is to say that the written account of creation begins with the actual creation already in progress. This rendering implies that what occurred, before the first words of Torah is not recorded in the plain sense of the words, otherwise known as the peshat.

Additionally, this rendering of the Hebrew may shed light on a teaching concerning the first letter of the Torah – the letter beis. The Talmud notes, that the shape of the letter beis is open towards the text, yet closed to what precedes it. Since the beis is the first letter of the word bereishis, it is open to what occurred in the beginning of creation as recorded in the Torah; however, it is closed to imply that whatever happened before the first written record in the Torah is hidden.

The Zohar relates a midrash, pertaining to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, going before G-d to state its case, why it should be the first letter of Torah. The letter beis is chosen, because she pleaded, “Ribbon Olam, Master of the Universe, by me You are blessed above and below” (Zohar 1:3a, Pritzker edition). This is implied because the word beracha (blessing) begins with the letter beis.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: From whence shall my help come? My help cometh from the L-RD, Who made heaven and earth.”

– Psalm 121:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Fiery Torah

“At His right hand was a fiery law unto them.”

– Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On Simchas Torah, the entire portion of V’zot HaBeracha is read; this is the last parashas of the Torah. Afterwards, the first part of Bereishis, the first parashas of the Torah is read, in order to make the statement that we begin anew, immediately following an ending. This reminds of the saying, when one door closes, another door opens, meaning that when one endeavor is brought to its conclusion, another opportunity will prevail. The seasons of nature, as well as the seasons of our lives reflect this theme.

Within the framework of the parashas, B’nei Yisrael is poised to enter Eretz Cannan; Moshe is intent on imparting a blessing (beracha) to them. This blessing parallels the blessing that Jacob gave to his twelve sons; inasmuch that Moshe has been the king and prophet over B’nei Yisrael, he is giving a blessing to the twelve tribes.

Moshe begins, “The L-RD came from Sinai,” therefore, emphasizing H’Shem’s presence, of Whom “at His right hand was a fiery law unto them” (Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS). “The voice of the L-RD heweth out flames of fire” (Psalm 29:7, JPS). H’Shem’s voice appeared as fire that engraved the commandments into the two stone tablets. On Simchat Torah, we rejoice knowing that H’Shem will also eventually engrave these words on our heart in due time:

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the L-RD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people.”

– Jeremiah 31:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Insights: Sukkot

https://youtu.be/-CpV7IgGZY0

“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 23:34, JPS 1917 Tanach

We are commanded to dwell in sukkot (booths) for a seven-day period, as a commemoration of our dwelling in sukkot – temporary structures – while wandering in the desert for forty years. During the time spent travelling from one place to another, the Children of Israel were protected by the Clouds of Glory that sheltered us from the heat of the day; the Pillar of Fire at night provided illumination for B’nei Yisrael, as well as warmth.

The sukkot [booths] that we build after Yom Kippur, and either dwell in, or, at least, have meals within, symbolize the Clouds of Glory that served as a shelter from the elements. When we dwell in sukkot for seven days, we are demonstrating our trust in H’Shem. These fragile dwellings serve not only to remind us of our past journeys in the desert; rather, also, as a personal reminder to seek G-d as our refuge.

When we are troubled by the nisyanos (challenges) of Olam HaZeh (This World), we may find relief in H’Shem’s offer of protection for those who seek Him. “For He concealeth me in His pavilion [sukkah] in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me upon a rock” (Psam 27:5, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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