Thursday, December 27, 2007

Shmos: keeping it secret

Parshat Shmos

In 4:18, after Hashem gives Moshe instructions about going back to Egypt and talking to Pharoah, etc... Moshe goes back to his family and Yisro and he tells them he has to go back to Egypt to see how they are doing there....

Why did he not tell them the truth? Was he afraid they would not believe him? would they try to talk him out of it? would they think he was crazy?

This shows us that when a person has a plan, when he is working on a big project, don't tell people what you are doing. Even those close to you. They will steal your thunder, they will try to talk you out of it, they will ruin it somehow. Get the project rolling and then tell them when they can no longer ruin it for you.


Shmos: gotta know when to hold 'em

Parshat Shmos

Moshe was given a series of three signs (previously mentioned as tricks, or magic tricks) with which to convince the people of Israel to trust in him and follow him. First he would use one sign, and of they still do not believe then the second, then the third.

If the third sign was the mother load and that was so strong it would do the job the first two could not do, why not just use the third sign right away? Why bother with the first two at all?

You never reveal your best hand until it is necessary. Sign #3 represented a very powerful message. It carried a very strong threat to the Egyptians and represented a very bold move by the Hebrews. You do not want to give that away unless it is absolutely necessary.

First try other things, then if it is still necessary, go for the nuclear attack.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shmos: attacking a national symbol

Parshat Shmos

In 4:9 we find Hashem had just performed two signs for Moshe for him to relate to the people to gain their trust. Now the passuk says, and if they still do not believe you here is a third trick, as He explains to Moshe to turn some water from the Nile to blood in front of them.

if they do not believe after the first two, why would they believe after the third?

And anyways, why would any "magic trick" help to gain their trust - they are living in Egypt. Egypt is the center of the world for magic and black arts. Why should they be impressed just because Moshe can pull off a couple of stunts?

I would say it was not the magic that was important to sway the people. Anybody could do magic. It was the symbols and meanings behind it that were important. The third trick is one where Moshe takes water from the Nile and turns it to blood.

Moshe, by doing that, is openly and brazenly attacking the national symbol of Egypt. Rashi goes further and says Hashem was sending a message by this trick that He would attack and destroy the gods of Egypt first (the Nile was respected as a god).

The idea si that the specific action had meaning and was not just a simple magic trick. Each of the three tricks had increasingly powerful messages, so someone who had more faith might be swayed at the first trick, someone else at the second, and those who still did not believe after two tricks, would definitely be swayed by the third, with the most powerful message. No matter how stubborn they were, they could not ignore message #3.

Moshe being brazen enough to attack Egypt at its national symbol is a powerful message.

Shmos: a land filled with bowling alleys

Parshat Shmos

In 3:8 Hashem contacts Moshe from the Burning Bush and tells him that He hears the cries of the people, and He sees their pain and he will take them out of Egypt. He says "I will bring you to a good land, flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Cnaani, Hiti, Emori, Prizi, Hivi, and Yevusi."

Why mention that it is a place of these people -if he is trying to entice them to follow His lead, he should keep quiet about these nations living there and only tell them later. These nations were hostile - them being in the land means the people know in advance there will be conflicts, wars, and problems as they will try to uproot nations already living there. So why mention it here? It seems counterproductive! This would just scare them off!

Maybe Hashem is mentioning it to show them that He is not bringing them to an empty, desolate land. He is bringing them to an inhabited place. There are homes, there are shopping malls, bowling alleys, baseball fields, everything a person could want. So saying people already live there should not scare them off, but make it even more desirable for them.

Shmos: big brother government

Parshat Shmos

In 2:12-14 we find Moshe going out from the palace to see the people. He sees an Egyptian man striking a Jew. The passuk says, "ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש....כאשר הרגת את האיש" Moshe turned this way and that, saw there was no person around and he smote the Egyptian... Then he bumps into 2 jews fighting with each other. When he attempts to break up the fight, they ask if he is going to kill them like he killed the Egyptian.

What happened - we know Moshe looked all around to make sure nobody was in sight before he did anything, so how did they know about it?

You can never be sure nobody is looking. If you are going to do something sensitive, unless you are in the privacy of your own home, you have to act with the assumption that somebody might be watching. Even if you look around and take all the protection you possibly can, chances are reasonable that somebody might be watching.

Act accordingly. A person should always be aware that somebody is watching. That somebody might only be Hashem, and you should act appropriately, but even if you are doing nothing wrong, that somebody watching might be not just Hashem but someone human as well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Va'Yehi: knowing your place

Parshat Va'Yehi

In 50:4-5 we find Yosef asking Pharoah for permission to go and bury his dead father.

1. It says Yosef spoke to the house of Pharoah and requested they pass on his request to Pharoah.
Wasn't Yosef the "Second to the King"? Why did he have to go through Pharoah's secretary for this? why could he not just go right to Pharoah and ask for himself? Yosef just spent about 14 years running Egypt and saving it from collapse in the famine, you would think he had Pharoah's ear and could ask him what he wanted when he wanted...

2. Why did Yosef need Pharoah's permission to go bury his father? Yosef just saved Egypt from collapse. He is second to the king. He is responsible for making the most important decisions in Egypt over the past 14 years or so. And Yosef needs to ask permission to go bury his dead father?

My only suggestion is that despite Yosef's importance, when something becomes personal previous relationships do not matter. Pharoah was concerned to let Yosef leave Egypt. He was concerned about letting Yaakov be buried outside of Egypt. These possibilities held a threat, Pharoah perceived at least, to Egypt. So it did not matter how important Yosef was. With Pharoah perceiving a threat, Yosef's importance was insignificant to him. He made sure to let Yosef know that in this regard he could not move without Pharoah's permission.

It is an important lesson about knowing your place and not thinking you have a free pass based on previous actions.

Anybody have something better?

Va'Yehi: why shchem?

Parshat Va'Yehi

in 48:21 Yaakov tells Yosef, "ואני נתתי שכם אחד על אחיך" and Rashi explains that he actually gave to Yosef the city of Shchem which was above his regular portion which he was to receive.

Why Shchem? He could have given Yosef a different city as a gift. Why Shchem? Shchem, if it should have gone to anybody outside his inheritance, should maybe have gone to Shimon or Levi who destroyed it to save their sisters honor. Why would Yaakov give Shchem to Yosef?

Also, I looked at a map (not a great one) delineating the portions of the tribal divisions in Israel. Shchem is inside the portion of Menashe. So it was not really above and beyond the inheritance of Yosef. It was part of his portion anyways? Unless you say that the area of Shchem was not supposed to be part of Menashe (I guess it would have gone to Binyamin whose region borders Menashe's) but more land was included for contiguity between the rest of Menashe and Shchem...


Va'Yehi: letting opportunity slip away

Parshat Va'Yehi

In 48:1, Yosef finds out that his father is nearing the time of his death. He takes his two sons and goes to visit Yaakov and receive brachos from him.

We do not find any of the other sons bringing their kids for brachos, though we do find Yaakov gathering his sons and giving them brachos.

But here we find Yosef doing something none of the other brothers did. Yosef saw an opportunity and realized that it was slipping away. In a little while there would never be this opportunity again. If he wanted it to happen, he had to act right away. If he wanted to make sure his sons would get blessings from their grandfather Yaakov, he had to go right now.

Yosef realized this. Maybe he was the only one of the sons who realized it, or who had the perception to act and to take advantage of such an opportunity.

We can learn from Yosef about the importance of recognizing and being aware of the situation, and not letting opportunity slip away.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Va'Yigash: I wonder

Parshat Va"Yigash

45:26 - I wonder - when they told Yaakov that Yosef was still alive and running Egypt, did they tell him they had sold him and how he ended up in Egypt or did they not come clean? Did they continue the original story by saying Yosef must have gotten away from the wild animal and somehow escaped and ended up in Egypt...

I wonder what they told Yaakov, as the Psukim leave it very vague....

Va'Yigash: a bold offer

Parshat Va'Yigash

45:18 - Yosef told the brothers to come live in the land of Goshen and he would support them. Pharoah went even further and promised that they would be given the best of the Land of Egyp and eat from the fat of the land.

It was pretty bold of Pharoah to promise such a luxurious lifestyle, and it was pretty daring of them to accept such a promise - Egypt was in the middle of the worst famine in its history. Where would they get "the fat of the land" to give the brothers when they barely had enough bread to feed their own citizens?

But they all had complete emunah in Hashem. They all knew the situation was temporary and even though it looked bleak, they knew there was a purpose and would be an end to it.

Pharoah knew, Yosef knew, and the brothers knew.

Therefore because of this great emunah they had, Pharoah was able to make such a generous and bold offer, and they were able to accept it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Miketz: guilt

Parshat Miketz

After the wine steward is released from prison and returns to his job, he forgets to mention Yosef's name as a recommendation for release. After Pharoah has his dreams, the wine steward comes to Pharoah and tells him about Yosef and his ability to interpret dreams.

In 41:9 as he is telling Pharoah about Yosef he says, "I must now mention my sin" [in forgetting to mention Yosef].

Why does he call it a sin to Pharoah. As far as Pharoah is concerned he did nothign wrong. He could have just come to Pharoah and said I know someone in prison who has the skill of interpreting dreams... Yosef did not even really do anything for him - he just interpreted a dream. Even without his having been there, after three days the guy would have been released anyway. Yosef did not cause him to be released. So by forgetting to mention Yosef, he was not really sinning or doing anything wrong, so why did he say here that he must admit his sin?

The wine steward was probably living with a tremendous amount of guilt over the course of the 2 years that have passed since he was released from jail. Yosef, the guy who relieved his nerves by giving him a good interpretation asked for one small favor - just mention my name when you get out. He failed to do that simple favor.

It is even understandable. Upon his release, what should he have done - gone up to Pharoah and say I know another prisoner who I think you should release? That would have been fairly impudent of him, and I doubt he could have even said anything to Pharoah without getting his head cut off. So he kept it inside, even though he felt bad. Then as time went on, it kept nagging him in his head more and more. He kept thinking of Yosef to whom he had made a promise but did not keep. He felt very guilty.

Now an opportunity finally presents itself. Pharoah is looking for someone who can interpret dreams. He jumps at the opportunity and runs to tell Pharoah about Yosef, thereby relieving his guilt. He felt so guilty, in his own mind he had sinned to Yosef and that pushed him to make amends.

Guilt can be a big and powerful motivator.

Miketz: backed into a corner

Parshat Miketz

In 44:25 we find Yosef sending the brothers back home to get Binyamin. When he does, he fills their sacks with food.

Yosef is in the middle of a hostile encounter with them, accusing them of being spies and liars. He just locked one of them up to gaurantee the brothers would return with Binyamin in order to obtain the release of their imprisoned brother. And he gives them the food they want? he should have sent them home and told them to come right back and he should not have given them anything!

Even in a hostile situation, like this one, you should not back your opponent into a corner and not leave him any options. If Yosef would send them home without offering them anything, maybe they would have returned with an army to wage war. Yosef calmed them down by giving them the food even though they were in the middle of a hostile encounter. That practically gauranteed that they would remain fairly docile and not do anything to jeopardize things.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Va'Yeishev: benefit of the doubt

Parshat Va'Yeishev

In 39:11-18 we are told the story of how the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce Yosef into having an affair with her. he nearly succumbed, but resisted and escaped. She then claimed that he had tried to force himself on her, with strong circumstantial evidence, and Yosef ended up in jail.

Mrs. Potiphar's story was very convincing. There she is holding his clothes saying he had attacked her and when she screamed out he ran away. If you read such a report in the newspaper of amn attempted rape, you would surely have believed the story to be true. Any explanation the alleged rapist would offer would not even be entertained in your mind as possibly being true. You would say he is trying to confuse us to show his innocence and you would lock him away.

Yet we know that despite her elaborate explanation, the truth was really very different. And despite the truth, nobody believed Yosef, nobody even listened to Yosef, and he ended up in jail.

This story shows how important it is to be "dan l'kaf z'chus" - judge people favorably, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Even when Yosef looks 100% guilty, there is really a different explanation that was ignored. So even when someone looks guilty to you, and you inclined to consider him guilty, consider there might be another explanation to the events.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Va'Yishlach: doing what you gotta do (old post)

Parshat Va'Yishlah

post from last year. I thought of the same one again. I still think it is true.

Va'Yishlah: making your mark

Parshat Va'Yishlah

The Torah goes through the children and grandchildren of Esav. In 36:12 it says "And Timna was the pilegesh (concubine) of Elifaz."

Rashi says this shows the greatness of Avraham, because Timna was from a very powerful family yet in order to attach herself to the family of Avraham, she was even willing to make herself into a concubine to Elifaz.

We saw a similar situation by Hagar. She was the daughter of the king of Egypt. She was a princess. Yet because she wanted to attach herself to Avraham and his family, she was willing to become a maidservant, rather than marry the great prospects she would have had otherwise.

Hagar becoming a maidservant is more understandable. She was actually in the house with Avraham. She saw his greatness and wanted to be in that environment.

Timna, however, was attaching herself to Avraham's family by becoming the mistress to Elifaz. He was a rasha, his father Esav was a rasha who spent much of his recent life hoping and trying to kill Yaakov - the one who really continued the path of Avraham.

By hanging out with Elifaz, how exactly is Timna absorbing the environment of Avraham?

It is really despite being with Elifaz and Esav. Even though Esav and Elifaz were evil, they were still the family of Avraham. Some greatness must have worn off onto them and they must have had traits of the family. TYimna was willing to put up with their bad, in order to absorb the good that remained from Avraham.

That is how strong an influence the head of a family, and really anybody, can have. if he leaves his mark on his family, on his community, on his surroundings, that mark can be mighty difficult to get rid of. Even in adverse situations, that influence, that mark, will remain.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Va'Yeitzei: knowing your children and what they are capable of

Parshat Va'Yeitzei

In 31:33-34 We find Lavan coming to look for his stolen idols. He comes to Yaakov's convoy and makes his accusations. Yaakov denies everything and allows Lavan to conduct a search (even with no search warrant).

The passuk describes how Lavan looked inside the tents of Yaakov, Leah and the two maidservants and found no trace of his stolen idols. Lavan then went to Rachel's tent and, the passuk says, Rachel hid them in the camelsack upon which she sat and Lavan conducted a thorough search feeling around the whole tent and did not find them.

By the previous searches it simply says "He went to their tents and did not find them". By Rachel's tent it says, "He went and searched and felt around.."

It seems from the wording that he conducted a much more thorough search in Rachel's tent than he did in the other tents.


Lavan knew who had taken his idols. He knew it was Rachel and not any of the others. He knew because he knew them, he knew Rachel and he knew who was capable of this.

If I get home from work and find an electronic item (for example) taken apart and broken, sure I will ask each kid if he is the one who did it. But in truth I already know which one it was because I know there is only one capable of doing it and I know which one that is.

Lavan looked in the other tents because he had to, because he could not come out and accuse Rachel with no proof. he had to make a cursory search in the other tents, but he did not want to waste too much time and energy because he "knew" they were not there anyway.

So when Lavan searched the other tents, he did what he had to do. But when he got to Rachel's tent he really knew it would be somewhere there, so he conducted a much more thorough search.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Toldos: an epiphany

Parshat Toldos

Yaakov had just stolen the brachos. Esav found out what happened and reacted very harshly. he said he was going to find and kill Yaakov. Rivka decides to send Yaakov away for a while to keep him safe until Esav calms down. Yitzchak calls in Yaakov, blesses him, gives him some instructions about looking fo a wife, and then sends him on his way.

Why did Yitzchak not say a word to Yaakov about what he had just done? Not a word of criticism, not a word looking for an explanation, nothing. Yitzchak acted as if Yaakov had not just deceived him to steal the much desired brachos. Why?

Sometimes things happen that make you realize there are greater forces at play than previously considered.

When this whole story happened, Yitzchak realized it was from heaven and that there must have been reasons why Yaakov was more worthy of the brachos than Esav. There must have been reason why it had to happen and turn out the way it did. He was probably even relieved that he had been saved form making a horrible mistake.

Ytzchak did not need to criticize Yaakov or even ask for an explanation. he now realized that there were greater forces at play.

Toldos: wasn't he in a rush?

Parshat Toldos

In 27:9 Yitzchak sends Esav to go hunt food for him. Yitzchak appears to be on his deathbed, or at least close to it. He is acting very rushed.

If that is so, why did he send Esav out hunting - hunting can take a lot of time. He should have just said go slaughter a couple of my goats from the pen (as Yaakov ended up doing). That is much quicker. And why did Esav go hunting? He should have just grabbed a couple of goats.

If Yitzchak is in such a rush, the whole process could have happened much quicker... So why did he tell Esav to go hunting?

Toldos: what's the rush?

Parshat Toldos

In 27:2-4 Yitzchak tells Esav, "I am old and do not know the day I will die... Bring me food I enjoy so i can bless you before I die."

Yitzchak was not going to die today. As Rashi says, he was 123 years old and was unsure whether he would live until 127 like his mother or 175 like his father. Either way he still had plenty of time left (and he ended up living until 180).

So why did he request the food and deal with the brachos right now as if he was about to die?

Toldos: closing the deal

Parshat Toldos

In 26:27-31 Avimelech and his people come to negotiate with Yitzchak. Yitzchak makes a party for them, they eat and drink. The next day they wake up early and close the deal. Yitzchak sends them home.

Why wait until the next day? They came to do business not to party - they should have negotiated and closed the deal right away. Why wait overnight and have a party first?

On the one hand it shows appropriate behavior. When you have a guest coming to work out a deal, you have to feed them and take care of them. Not just treat it as pure business.

Another point is that it is not good to close the deal too quickly. Let it turn over a bit. Wait overnight and think about things. Do not be too hasty.

Toldos: complacency

Parshat Toldos

In 26:8 it says, "When Yitzhcak had been in Grar a long time..." then the story happens that Avimelech catches Yitzchak and Rivka acting like husband and wife rather than brother and sister...

Putting on an act to try to convince someone of a specific reality is not an easy feat. Much detail needs to be prepared and it would be very easy to slip and and mess up the whole act.

When the act is extended, as it was here, it becomes much more difficult. not only did they have to act as brother and sister for a few days without anyone catching them, but they had to do it for months or years. That is much more difficult. After a while of doing it successfully, you get complacent. You figure you have it down pat and might not pay attention to the small details anymore. That leads to your being outed.

That is what happened here. They were doing a fine job of making Avimelech think they were brother and sister. But once they got stuck there and had to keep up the act for an extended amount of time, that is when they faltered.

Toldos: in denial

Parshat Toldos

In 25:24 the passuk says Rivka gave birth "והנה תומים בבטנה" - behold there were twins in her belly.

We already know that she was carrying twins - Rivka, a few verses earlier went to Shem and Ever to ask what is going on because "The children struggled within her" and the explanation was "שני גיים בבטנך" - two nations are in your belly and will two nations will separate from you, and the older will serve the younger.

So we know already she is carrying twins, so what is the big surprise here, "Behold there were twins!"?

I think that no matter how much preparation a person does when he knows to anticipate difficult news or events, when it actually happens, when it actually comes to fruition, he will be surprised. he really, deep down, hopes that things will turn out better. He really has some internal denial that says maybe, just maybe, it will be normal.

Rivka must have believed what she had heard, but she was in denial. Deep down she hoped her baby would only be one, or at least would not split into 2 distinct nations that would battle each other.

When it actually happened, despite her foreknowledge, she was surprised to a certain extent.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Parshat Hayyei Sarah

In 25:11 the passuk says and after Avraham died, "ויברך אלקים את יצחק בנו" - And Hashem blessed Yitzchak his son.

We already know Yitzchak is Avraham's son. It has told us this many times. Especially now that Avraham has died what is the need to say "his son"?

I think this tells us that Yitzchak continued the ways and methods of Avraham after Avraham's death. Yitzchak showed everybody by his actions that Avraham was the influence in his life. He lived in a way that honored his father.

I know a Rav who very often quotes his father. if you go to him to ask a shailoh, very frequently he begins his answer by saying, "My father would do this.." or "My father held that..". He quotes from his late father even though he is a talmid chacham in his own right. He is continuing the path of his father. He lives and gives honor to his father.

That is Yitzchak. By Yitzchak's life you could see he was the son of Avraham. Even after Avraham's death.

Hayyei Sarah: maintaining peace

Parshat Hayyei Sarah

In 25:8 the passuk tells us, "וימת אברהם בשיבה טובה זקן ושבע" - and Avraham died at an old age, old and satisfied.

This is a very unusual term. Usually it just says "so and so died". Here it tells us he was old and satisfied... Why all the extra descriptions?

Rashi adds that Avraham died happy because he knew Yishmael had done repentance, as was indicated by his giving respect to Yitzchak and letting him go first.

Just because he let Yitzchak goes first means everything is ok? Maybe he is still a murderer or idol worshiper? Maybe he simply came to terms with Yitzchak being the more prominent son?

Nobody wants to see their children fighting with each other and involved in a lifetime bitter feud. People want to see their children get along with each other. Interacting with each other. Respecting each other.

That image alone, of seeing Yishmael abandon his bitterness towards Yitzchak, was enough to give Avraham the comfort, the nachas he always wanted, and that allowed Avraham to die peacefully and satisfied.

Because he finally achieved this level of satisfaction right before his death, that is why the passuk tells us that he died old and satisfied.

This teaches us a lesson how important it is to maintain peace in the family. Avraham's whole life it disturbed him and took away from his peace that his children fought. Only right before he died did he achieve satisfaction because his kids make peace, and that satisfaction is important enough that the Torah mentions it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Va'Yeira: banishment by dissociation

Parshat Va'Yeira

In 21:10 Sarah is demanding Avraham send away Hagar and Yishmael. She says, "גרש האמה הזאת.." -banish this maidservant....

Why does Sarah call her "this maidservant" rather than calling her by her name and saying "banish Hagar"?

Sarah knew this is what needed to be done. It was dangerous for them to continue living in the house with Avraham, Sarah and Yitzhak. It was dangerous for the spiritual growth of the family and dangerous for the development of Yitzhak. She knew she had to banish them.

Sarah also knew that it would be very difficult for Avraham to do so. Avraham was the epitome of hessed. For him to banish them into the dessert would go against his grain. Not only that, but Hagar was a daughter of a king. She was his wife. She was the mother of his child. His child would be banished as well. This would indeed be very difficult for Avraham, even if he knew it had to be done.

Sarah used what we call in psychology "dissociation" in order to make it easier for Avraham to process and accomplish.

By calling her "maidservant" instead of Hagar, Avraham would be able to compartmentalize and think of it as if he is banishing his maidservant, which is much easier than banishing his wife Hagar.

When facing a difficult task, one can take lesson from Sarah and use dissociation in order to better accomplish it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Va'Yeira: using discretion

Parshas Va'Yeira

In 19:37, after the destruction of S'dom and the surrounding cities, the daughters of Lot decided they were the only survivors and they had to repopulate the world. The problem was the only man left alive was Lot, their father. That makes the relationship incestuous and forbidden. There were not other choices, so they went ahead, got him drunk and got themselves pregnant.

The older daughter named her child Moav, because he was born from her father. The younger daughter named her child Ben Ami.

Rashi says the older daughter was immodest in announcing to the world what she had done and therefore that is why later the Jews are told they can wage battle with Moav. The younger daughter was more modest by hiding the source, and that is why later the Jews are commanded to not fight with Amon.

We see from this story that sometimes you might be in a bind. You might be in a situation in which you have to do something unpleasant and wrong. But you might do it because you have no other choice.

So you do it. You don't have to be proud of it though. Keep it quiet. Keep it private. Don't announce your shameful act, that might even have been justified at the time, to the world.

Use a little discretion.

Va'Yeira: an honest days work

Parshas Va'Yeira

In 20:14-16 we find Avimelech getting rid of Avraham and Sarah and giving them cattle, money, land, etc. Why did Avraham accept it? When S'dom offered him money Avraham refused it claiming people would think S'dom made him rich instead of Hashem. Why here was he not concerned people might say Avimelech made him rich rather than Hashem?

And if you want to differentiate and say S'dom was bad and Avimelech was not, so such an impression that his wealth came from evil sources is much worse, Avraham already said in passuk 11 that this is a place with no fear of heavan.. so what is the difference?

Maybe the answer comes in passuk 17. It says that Avraham prayed for Avimelech and his people.

This money is now money that was not given to Avraham. he was not made wealthy by Avimelech. he earned that money. he provided a service. He worked for his money.

Once he worked for the money, nobody can claim he was made wealthy or that he got it from improper sources. he earned it. Nobody can take away from you an honest days work.

Va'Yeira: playing charades

Parshas Va'Yeira

In 20:16 Avimelech tells Sarah, "I gave a thousand pieces of silver to your brother.."

Why did he not say "to your husband"? he already found out about the deception and that is why he is sending them away? Why keep up the charades? He knows, they know he knows, so why "your brother"?

One could say it shows the importance of keeping up social niceties. Sure he knew. They knew he knew. He is even throwing them out of his land over this incident. But you don't call out a person directly.

They told him they are brother and sister, it is impolite to say otherwise, even though he knew the truth.

Anybody got anything better?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lech L'Cha: laughing in Gods face

Parshat Lech L'Cha

In 17:17 after Hashem tells Avraham that he will be having a child, Avraham falls on his face in laughter saying in his heart can a hundred year old man have a child born? And Sarah that is 90 years old can bear a child?

What's the big deal? He just had a child a few years ago at the young age of 86? That could happen but not by 100? 86 is normal and 100 is crazy?

Even according to Rashi who compares Avraham to previous generations that had children at 130+, Rashi still says that that had been well before Avraham's time. But in Avraham's time it was normal to have children at 60 or 70. So even according to Rashi 86 was still well out of the normal range of child bearing, so why was 100 so unusual that it caused Avraham to break out in laughter while talking with Hashem?

Any ideas?

Lech L'Cha: ratting out Sarai

Parshat Lech L'Cha

In 16:15 Avram and Hagar have a child and Avram names it Yishmael.

Rashi says that Avram named it Yishmael, which is the name the angel instructed Hagar to name the child, despite his not having known of that conversation. Rather Avram selected the name via Ruach HaKodesh.

Why does Rashi have to come on to that reason? Why not just say Hagar ran away, came back after her revelations, Avram asked her what happened and she told him about the angel and what the angel had instructed them to do? If Avram had been told that the angel had told her to give that name, he for sure would have done so.. So why come on to an explanation of Ruach HaKodesh when there is a very valid normal explanation?

Any ideas?

According to Rashi Hagar clearly did not tell Avram of the revelation. Maybe Avram did not even know she had run away.

It could be that Hagar never told Avram about it because she did not want to "rat out" Sarai as being bad or at minimum the source of strife that caused her to bolt. She preferred to take the chance of not naming the child the name the angel had instructed rather than rat out Sarai by telling the story.

Any better answers out there?

Lech L'cha: lots of angels

Parshat Lech L'Cha

In perek 16 we find Hagar running away from Sarai's house after being oppressed. She runs into the desert and ends up having a dialogue with an angel. In 16:9 it says, one of a number of times, "And the angel of Hashem said to her..."

Rashi points out that every time something was said, the angel was replaced by different angel and that is why every statement is preceded by "The angel said" - because each statement was a different angel.

Question: Why? For what purpose did the angel have to be swicthed for every sentence? Why couild one angel not conduct the entire dialogue?

Any ideas?

Lech L'Cha: making a bad situation worse

Parshat Lech L'Cha

In 16:5 we find Sarai having offered her maidservant Hagar to Avram. They lived together and Hagar became pregnant. Sarai complains to Avram "וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרַי אֶל-אַבְרָם, חֲמָסִי עָלֶיךָ--אָנֹכִי נָתַתִּי שִׁפְחָתִי בְּחֵיקֶךָ, וַתֵּרֶא כִּי הָרָתָה וָאֵקַל בְּעֵינֶיהָ; יִשְׁפֹּט יְהוָה, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶיךָ. " I gave my maidservant to you and when she saw she was pregnant, I was belittled in her eyes.

Sarai gave over Hagar for the purpose of her getting pregnant. Now that it worked and Hagar got pregnant she is upset!!?? That does not make sense. Sarai should have been overjoyed!?

We all need validation. Here was Sarai, upset, afraid she would never conceive, scared of a future with no children, etc.

Sarai was a צדקת and very unselfishly offered Hagar to Avram that at least he should have a child from her.

When Hagar got pregnant right away, it was a slight to Sarai. She now knew for sure the problem was with her. It made her feel bad. They could not have children because of her. All these years with nothing and this lowly maidservant gets pregnant right away!

Not only was her personal honor slighted, but "I was belittled in her eyes". She lost her complete standing and level of respect. Everybody could now see that Sarai was blemished.

Sarai need validation and Hagar getting pregnant immediately did damage to Sarai emotionally and cast even greater doubts in Sarai's mind.

We all have to treat people with due respect and not make them feel slighted or belittled. It only makes bad situations worse.

Lech L'cha: not leaving room for an alternative explanation

Parshat Lech L'Cha

After Avram was victorious in his battle and freed Lot and others from S'dom, we find the king of S'dom telling Avram to return the people but keep the money. In 14:23 Avram rejects that request by saying, "אִם-מִחוּט וְעַד שְׂרוֹךְ-נַעַל, וְאִם-אֶקַּח מִכָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לָךְ; וְלֹא תֹאמַר, אֲנִי הֶעֱשַׁרְתִּי אֶת-אַבְרָם." I will not take anything, from a thread to a shoelace of what is yours, so you should not say I made Avram wealthy.

Rashi adds that the reason Avram was insistent on this was because Hashem had promised Avram great wealth, so it must come from Hashem and not from the king of S'dom.

Maybe this was how Hashem planned to make Avram wealthy? Did Avram expect a pot of gold to fall from heavan? Clearly Hashem woudl find a natural way to make Avram wealthy, and maybe this incident with the king of S'dom was that method? How could Avram reject this request based on the above logic?

A person has to be acreful to not just do the right thing but also to make the right impression.

For Avram to accede to the request of the king of S'dom, that would leave open in people's minds the possibility that it came from the gemerosity of S'dom rather than from Hashem and His blessing. Sure, maybe this was how Hashem wanted to give it to Avram, but Avram could not allow anyone to think that maybe it was not from hashem but from S'dom. By accepting the wealth from the king in this fashion, it would not close the door 100% but would leave rooom for an alternate explanation.

Avram was all abotu kiddush Hashem. There is no way he could accept that wealth and have people possibly think that he was made wealthy by S'dom rather than by Hashem.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Noah: which is worse

Parshat No'ah

In 11:9 after the story of the Tower of Babel, it says "from there Hashem scattered them throughout the land".

Rashi compares the Generation of the Flood to the Generation of the Tower of Babel. he concludes that despite the Babel people being evil, because they rebelled against God, they were not as bad as the Flood people. Rashi comes to this conclusion because the Flood people were destroyed while the Babel people were only scattered. From this Rashi learns that dissent and dispute is worse because the Tower people had peace with each other and that is what saved them.

I would like to add that dispute with fellow man is much worse than rebelling against God. This is similar to our concept of repentance. If one commits sins against God, he can repent and request,, and receive, forgiveness. But when he sins against his fellow man, we know that it is much more difficult to receive that forgiveness.

One must be extremely careful in his dealings with other people.

Noah: leadership like Moses

Parshat No'ah

In 8:8-9 it says he sent the dove from him... the dove found nowhere to set down and returned to the ark, and Noah sent forth his hand and took her and brought her back in...

Why was this dove so high maintenance? The raven was sent out and it came back in on its own when it could not find land. The dove later was sent out and came back on its own with an olive branch. This time the dove was sent out from him - meaning Noah sort of urged it out and helped it leave, and when it came back he had to retrieve it and assist its re-entry.

According to the Ohr Hachaim, the dove was very weary from its trip. It had not found land and had not set down even to rest for 7 days.So when the dove came back in, Noah knew it was very tired because it had not rested in 7 days and therefore helped it back in.The first time it was the raven which is a much stronger bird, so it did not need help (and possibly it did not travel far according to the midrash). The later time the dove had returned holding a branch meaning it had found a resting spot so it was not tired.

See Noah's sensitivity to his surroundings. He was aware the bird was tired. I have no idea how one can look at a bird and see that it is weary. I do not know what a tired bird looks like.

But Noah was sensitive to it. Sure, it was only a matter of another meter. How much help did Noah really offer it anyway? Could the bird not make it back the last meter or two (how far could Noah have reached anyway to grab it) that Noah needed to assist it? Sure the bird probably would have made it anyway.

But Noah was sensitive to his surroundings and knew that even if it is only a small bit, he could still relieve the bird, just a bit, of his weariness.

This is why Noah was great. While everyone else around him was stealing and seeped uin immorality, he was acutely aware of even the slightest discomfort another was experiencing and he figured out how to help relieve that discomfort.

I would like to add that this is similar to how Hashem chose Moshe to lead Israel out of Egypt and later how he chose David and other prophets. They were shepherds. Hashem saw the great level of sensitivity they had when relating to their sheep. When Hashem saw how Moshe helped his sheep eat, He chose Moshe because only someone that sensitive to the needs of others, even animals, can lead a people without his own selfish needs getting in the way.

Noah was the same. When everyone else was looking out for themselves, Noah was sensitive to others. That is why Hashem chose to save Noah and through him to rebuild the world.

Noah: a man of faith in mankind

Parshat No'ah

In 7:7 it says Noah and family went into the ark "מפני מי המבול" - because of the waters of the flood.

Rashi says Noah was a man of little faith. Sure, he was righteous and moral and did what God told him (build an ark), but he did not really believe the flood would come until he was forced to go into the ark because of the waters.

I would like to suggest another reason why Noah waited until the waters were right there before he went into the ark. I think he wanted to give the people as much time as possible and as many chances as possible to repent and join him. Once he would go in and shut the door, that is it. They would not be able to get in. By delaying his entry to the last possible moment, he was giving them more time and more opportunities to repent and join him in the ark.

Whether he was man of little faith or not I do not know (Rashi says he was), but I think he loved mankind and tried to give them an extra chance even if it meant his only going in at the last minute and putting himself at risk.

Noah: which animals to take in

Parshat No'ah

In 7:2-3 God tells Noah about taking 7 pairs of pure animals into the ark and 2 of impure animals.

My question is how would Noah know which animals were considered pure and which were considered impure - those rules were only given much later. At that point they would have had no idea, as no animal could be eaten - even the pure ones. So could Noah have known what to take, and what ramification would such a distinction have had?


Saturday, October 06, 2007

B'Reishis: blaming others

Parshat B'Reishis

We find the snake tricking Chava into eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and she proceeds to get Adam to eat. Hashem comes looking for them. He comes to Adam in the Garden of Eden and asks him why he ate from the Tree he was not supposed to eat from?

Adam blames it on Chava. She made me do it.

Hashem approaches Chava and asks why she did it. She blames the snake. he made me do it.

Hashem approaches the snake and tells him off. he then curses the snake, goes back and curses Chava and then Adam.

This is a good lesson. I said to my kids - What happens if Tzvi writes on the wall. I come to him and scream at him, "What's going on??!! Why'd you do that!!??"

Tzvi says, "Mickey told me to do it."

I go to Mickey and ask what happened. He blames it on Nachum.

So I go to Nachum. In the end they all get punished.

It does not help to blame others.

It is the natural reaction. Adam blamed Chava who blamed Snake.

But it got them nowhere. They all got punished.

I wonder what would have happened had Adam just said, "Sorry God. I know I did something wrong. Please forgive me. I will try to do better next time" instead of blaming others. Would he have gotten the same punishment? Would Hashem still have chased down Chava and the snake? I do not know.

But I do know that they all tried to blame someone else and in the end they all got punished for it.

Breishis: coincidence?

Parshat B'Reishis

It is very rare to find in the Torah two people with the same name. In Breishis we find two people named Lemech. One is a descendant of Kayin, and the second is the descendant of Shes.

The Lemech of Kayin had a child named Naama. The Lemech of Shes had a child named Noah.

Noah eventually married Naama and the two of them (and their children) were the only people to eventually survive the flood that destroyed the world.

I am sure it is not a coincidence that they are both children of two different people named Lemech, a very rare occurrence on its own. That they both had a father named Lemech and they married each other and survived the flood makes the whole thing even rarer.

What is the significance of both having a father named Lemech?


B'Reishis: bad birth control

Parshat B'Reishis

The passuk says that Lemech married two wives, Ada and Tzila. Rashi tells us that in that generation they would marry two wives, one for the purpose of having children and the second for her beauty and for sexual relations. They would give the second wife a "kos shel ikrin" (some form of birth control) to make her sterile.

Ada was the wife for having children and Tzila was for her beauty.

My question is: two verses later we see Tzila having children. What happened to the kos shel ikrin that made her sterile? How could she have children?

The only anwers I have is that 1) it was birth control that did not work or 2) Tzila said she took the borth control but really she did not.

Anybody got anything better?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

V'zos habrachah: learning or working

V'Zos Ha'Brachah

Moshe is blessing the tribes before they enter into the Land of Israel without him. In 33:18 it says, "שמח זבלון בצאתך ויששכר באהליך" -
Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, and, Issachar, in your tents.

Rashi says that Zevulun is mentioned first because he supported Yissachar, ergo Yissachar's Torah was only via the merit of Zevulun.

Our society has become one in which we do not give the due respect to those who support Torah. We consider them to be necessary, but on a lower level. Those learnign Torah, we think, are doing a higher calling and are the pinnacle of Judaism. Those who work are lower class of sorts.

The Torah says otherwise. The Torah puts Zevulun, the merchant, before Yissachar. The Torah says that those who support Torah are at least of equal calling, if not greater. Zevulun was mentioned first because he enables Yissachar to learn.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ha'azinu: studying history

Parshat Ha'Azinu

In 32:7 the "song" says "
Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will tell you, your elders, and they will tell you."

You have to study history and understand the events of the earlier generations. Contemplate the miracles. And the passuk adds to ask your father, ask the elders.

You can study history from the books and still get all the technical details of your history. The major events will be transmitted fine like that.

But that is not enough. You have to also ask your father for his stories. Ask the elders what they know and what they have seen. They will give you a picture of our history that the books are not able to give.

If you want to learn, for example, about the holocaust, by all means, get a few good books and read up on the Holocaust. But that will still not give you the full picture. Speak to your grandmother. Find other survivors. Ask the children of a survivor. You will get the stories and the small details you just cannot get in the books. They will transmit what really happened. What life was really like.

The same is true with any historic event. Study the history. Learn your roots. And speak to the elders. Find out everything, from the greater picture to the smaller details and stories.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Va'Yelech: leading via the Torah

Parshat Va'Yelech

The whole transfer of power from Moshe to Yehoshua was intermingled with Moshes writing down the "shira" and the Torah.

In 31:7-9, Moshe calls Yehoshua and gives him a motivational speech (be strong...) and then Moshe writes the Torah.

In 31:14-19, Moshe and Yehoshua get some instructions from Hashem for the passing of the baton, "And now write the shira and teach it to Israel..."

I think the success of the transfer of power was predicated on Moshe being able to show Yehoshua that an integral part of his leadership is remaining true to and incorporating the Torah as a basis for life. It is not just he, Yehoshua, who needs to be powerful and smart and strong, etc in order to lead the nation into Israel. Rather that strength, that leadership comes from the Torah. It comes from Hashem. It comes from leading with the values of the Torah.

Moshe is showing Yehoshua that if his foundation is the Torah, if his every move is based on the Torah, if the Torah is so ingrained in him, then he will be able to lead Israel successfully.

N'Tzavim: learning in chu"l

Parshat N'Tzavim

In 30:12-13 the Torah says, "
לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲלֶה-לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. וְלֹא-מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲבָר-לָנוּ אֶל-עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה" meaning "It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?"

It is not just a matter of where you can learn better. It is not just saying, dont say I have to cross the ocean to learn Torah, rather you can even learn it where you are (in eretz yisrael).

No. The passuk says ,"and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?"

Some say I can learn better in the US so I will not come to Israel, or some even leave Israel saying he can learn better in the US.

But it is not a matter of where you can learn better (or should I say, where you think/claim you can learn better). Rather, where better will you be able to perform the mitzvos. Where better will you be able to learn and put into action that learning in the form of mitzva observance. For that one need not leave Israel. There is no place better for mitzva observance than in the Land of Israel. There are tens of mitzvos one is simply unable to perform just by the nature of his being abroad.

וישמענו אותה ונעשנה

The learning on its own is important. But it is not the ikkar - the main aspect of Jewish life. If one can learn better abroad, then it might be a valid reason to remain outside of Israel. But the passuk is saying that one cannot claim that he will perform the mitzvos better abroad.

Ki karov aylecha hadavar m'od....

There is nowhere better to learn Torah and perform mitzvos than in Eretz Yisrael

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ki Savo: putting things into perspective

Parshat Ki Savo

In 29: 4-5 as Moshe is describing how he led them through the desert, and Hashem performed miracles, etc.. he says our clothes did not wear out... You did not eat bread, wine and beer you did not drink..

Why not just say Hashem took care of your needs by providing the manna every day? Why mention the foods they did not eat? The miracle was the giving of the manna - why not mention it?

We get used to what we have and consider them necessities. I heard once a saying that what we consider a luxury, our children will consider a necessity. What they consider a luxury, their children will consider a necessity..

Hashem fed us the manna for 40 years in the desert.That showed us we could rely on Him to provide for our needs. That was a very important lesson, especially now that they are going into Eretz Yisrael and going to have lead normal lives.

But here Moshe wanted to point out a different lesson from the same incident. He tells us that we need to approach the incident with an attitude of "Look at what I survived without". All those things I thought were necessary for my daily survival - look at that, I survived 40 years with them. I did not get a new suit every year or two. I did not get new sneakers. I did not have my special foods and drinks. No cranberry juice or Cherry Coke. No steak and Italian breads.

"You did not eat bread or drink wine in the desert" - and you survived without them.

You need to realize what is really a necessity and what is a luxury and look at things properly and with the proper priorities and attitude. Keep things in proportion and do not give too much importance to things that are not really so important.

It is not just that Hashem took care of us, but He also showed us that we can survive without the things we thought were important.

Ki Savo: serving with joy

Parshat Ki Savo

While the Torah is writing about how the people were commanded to write the Trah on stones by the Jordan River and build an altar, etc. it adds in 27:7 וזבחת שלמים ואכלת שם ושמחת לפני ... - you should slaught sacrifices and eat there and rejoice before Hashem.. and then it gets right back to saying that they should write the Torah on the stones.

What does this happiness have to do with what's going - writing down the commandments, etc.? Why is this mentioned right here in the middle of this discussion?

I think this shows how integral joy and happiness is in the serving of Hashem and fulfilling the Torah. As it is telling us to write and keep the Torah it is telling us we have to be joyous.

This thought is enhanced by what is written in the "tochacha" in 28:47 where it tells us the various punishments that will befall the nation in the even that they do not keep the Torah. It says there, "Because you did not serve Hashem with simcha" - Even if you did serve Hashem, but if you do not do it with the joy and happiness, that means it is lacking in its dedication and truth.

A vital component of service is the joy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ki Seitzei: znus and adultery

Parshat Ki Seitzei

In 22:21:22 we go through various situations of adultery and rape, etc.

When the husband accuses the wife of not being a virgin, and they subsequently find the claim to be true, the Torah says she did a depraved deed and gets punishment of death. The Torah then says , "ובערת הרע מקרבך" - you should remove the evil from amongst you.

When the man has an affair with a married woman, they both get killed. There the passuk says, "ובערת הרע מישראל" - you should remove the evil from Israel.

What is the difference? Why does znus have to be removed from amongst you, while adultery has to be removed from all of Israel?

I do not have a good answer, so leave your suggestions in the comments.

The thought I did have is that adultery is a more serious offense than znus. Therefore the effect it has is not just on you and your community, but on all of Israel. Znus is more private and the offense is not as great. Therefore the effect it has on the people is more limited.

Any thoughts?

Ki Seitzei: biting your lip

Parshat Ki Seitzei

In 21:11 the Torah allows us to take a captive woman from battle as a wife. This was called אשת יפת תואר.
Rashi says that had the Torah not allowed it, this man would have married her anyway, despite the prohibition - so the Torah allowed it. But you should know it is not a healthy relationship and he will end up hating her and having a rebellious child, etc.

Sometimes a person has to bite his lip and keep silent even if he knows someone is doing something wrong and dangerous, and even if you know that that person will regret it later. Sometimes people need to make their own mistakes and learn on their own.

The Torah here does not even suggest don't do it, it is a bad idea and will end badly for you. It just says you want to marry her, go ahead. The Torah is keeping silent on the pitfalls in this situation because it knows the desire is so strong, no matter what it says this man will go ahead and marry her anyway. He needs to learn on his own how bad the situation is, and maybe others will learn the lesson from seeing his mistake. But the Torah stays silent. And sometimes, so must we.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Parshat Shoftim

The Torah tells us that when you appoint a king, he should not accumulate horses or wives. In 17:17 it says, "וכסף וזהב לא ירבה לו מאד" - silver and gold he should not accumulate too much. By the others it just says not too accumulate to many but by money it adds the word מאד - too much.

What is the difference between them that money gets a stronger warning?

It costs a lot of money, and requires a lot of money, to run a country and government. A king does not require a lot of wives. He does not even require so many horses (some for his army, but not so much). But he does need a lot of money.

This is alluded to in Rashi who brings a drasha that he should not have an abundance of money - for himself, but for "achsanya" it is ok. "Achsanya" is defined as money needed to pay for army and servants and the like - i.e. basic functioning of government and the necessary services for the country.

So it is ok for him to accumulate the great sums of money he will need for the functioning of the government, just not for personal needs.

So a king needs a lot of money for the functioning of his government, but he should not look to accumulate too much (מאד). It will become a burden on the nation (via taxes). He should not be looking to increase his personal wealth by being king.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Re'Eh: Eretz Yisrael and mitzvos

Parshat Re'Eh

In various sections of the parsha, and of neighboring parshiyot, we are introduced with intros such as "When you enter the Land of Israel" or "When Hashem expands your borders" etc.. and the Torah proceeds to explain various mitzvos.

I think this indicates to us how important Eretz Yisrael is as a prerequisite to fulfilling the mitzvos properly.

Some of the mitzvos described in these pesukim are mitzvos related to eretz yisrael, but just as often they are general mitzvos, yet the Torah connects them to our being in Eretz Yisrael.

Being in Eretz Yisrael is the way to fulfill all the mitzvos properly and completely.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Eikev: that's all He wants from us?

Parshat Eikev

in 10:12-13 Moshe tells the people "What does Hashem want from you?just to fear Him, to go in His ways, to serve do the commandments... for your good"

Oh, that's it? Just to fear and serve Him? Oh, that's not such a big deal!!??All He wants from us is to keep the 613 commandments as written in the Torah and explained in the voluminous Talmud and codified in the voluminous shulchan aruch? That's it? Why didn't you say so??!! That's nothing!! So easy!! All we have to do is fear Him??!!

I think the key word is the concluding words of the verse "fro your good".

It is like a studious student in college. Sure he has plenty of work to do, homework, lessons, study, tests, labs, internships, etc. to get his good grades and succeed. But he does not think of it as so hard. He knows it is all for his benefit so he does it because he needs to do it for the success he is looking for in the future.

But we are more like the non-studious student. He looks at the work and does not realize that it is their for his benefit. He complains that it is too hard or the teacher gives too much work. Everything is a big deal.

It is a matter of approach and attitude. If we approach the Torah and mitzvos like the studious guy, with the knowledge that it is really for our own benefit, than it is easy. All He wants from us is x, y and z. But if we approach it looking just to get it done, than it is hard.

Eikev: not all at once

Parshat Eikev

In 7:22 the passuk tells us that Hashem will remove the nations [from the Land of Israel] little by little. You should not get rid of them too quickly, lest the wild animals should become abundant and overtake you.

When you take on a big project, you have to do it slowly. You go through stages of planning and deployment. You don't just do it in one day. A recipe for failure is trying to do something, especially something big, too quickly.

Everything needs planning and consideration. Take things slowly. Do things with planning and deliberation. If you do it without getting too excited and anxious, but have patience and thoroughness, you can be successful in your efforts.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Va'Eschanan: wanting to be in eretz yisrael

Parshat Va'Eschanan

This Monday is a very important day in the calendar. This Monday is Tu B’Av. The 15th of Av. On the 15th of Av we commemorate a number of events that took place in our history, and it is closely related to marriage and love.

In Israel Tu B’Av is celebrated by many Israelis as a form of Valentine’s Day. People will be giving their loved ones gifts and chocolates.

But there is another aspect to the significance of Tu B’Av. This Monday, Tu B’Av, is the first marker of the upcoming shemitta year. Tu B’Av is the first time one has to be concerned with shemitta. It is the cutoff date for planting new fruit trees. After Monday, in Israel, one can no longer plant fruit trees, until after the shemitta year is over.

In this week’s parsha, we read about how Moshe pleaded and prayed to Hashem to have his punishment rescinded. We know he was not allowed into Eretz Yisrael due to his having struck the rock rather than speaking to it. This was a terrible punishment for Moshe. He so desired to get into Eretz Yisrael that he tried everything he could to get Hashem to change his mind.

So he davens to Hashem. He says, “אֶעְבְּרָה-נָּא, וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן: הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה, וְהַלְּבָנֹן.” Let me cross the Jordan and see the good land, the mountains and the Levanon, referring to the Beis Hamikdash… But Hashem said “No. and I have had enough of this. I do not want to hear anymore”

Many of the meforshim say that Moshe did not just want to go into Eretz Yisrael. He desired to go in because of the Mitzvos Ha’Tluyos Ba’Aretz. The special mitzvos that only apply in the Land of Israel. Moshe knew he would never have an opportunity to fulfill these, as he would not be going in. He pleaded with Hashem to let him in so he could have such an opportunity. These mitzvos are a nice chunk of the 613, and he did not want to be deprived of the opportunity of keeping shemitta, and giving trumah and maser, leaving peah and the rest of them…

That is a wonderful explanation of the passuk. But I think there is also something to the simple reading of the passuk. The passuk tells us how Moshe wanted to go in and see the Land. He wanted to see yerushalayim, see the Mikdash, see its goodness. He wanted to tour Israel. He just spent 40 years in the desert leading the Jews to Israel, constantly telling them how good the Land is. He desired to actually see it. This was his goal for the past 40 years.

Moshe wanted to sign up for a Birthright trip, or join a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, or even just to go in and go touring for a few days. He wanted to live in Eretz Yisrael, and of he could not then at least he should be able to see Eretz Yisrael.

A Jew might have great reasons for living in Chutz La’Aretz. But he should at least desire to live in eretz Yisrael, and if that is not feasible, then he should at least try to visit Eretz Yisrael. Even if he cannot, as Moshe could not, he should still make it his goal and objective. It should be at the forefront of his thoughts. He should do everything in his power to make it happen.

Tu B’Av is a good day to begin thinking about Eretz Yisrael, whether moving there or even just to come and visit. Tu B’Av is the first marker of shemitta. Think on Tu B’Av about all the mitzvos you cannot keep while living outside of Israel and how you really should be in Eretz Yisael. Think about how you should come for a visit and plan your aliya, even if right now you cannot do it. Make it a goal, or at least a consideration.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

D'Varim: timely mussar

Parshat D'Varim

Moshe begins a brief review of all the events that transpired since leaving Egypt. During this review he takes the opportunity to chastise the people for their complaints and actions during the time period in the desert and he implores them to improve their ways and dedication to the service of Hashem as they enter into the Land of Israel.

Moshe waited for this 11th hour moment to give them the mussar, rather than do so all along throughout the 40 years of wandering through the desert.

Rashi tells us a couple of reasons why Moshe waited until now, the last possible moment, as they are on the cusp of entering into the Land and Moshe is about to die:
  1. So he would not constantly be telling them off - just once at the end.
  2. after giving someone mussar, the relationship is often then strained. The rebuked will often try to avoid the rebuker, from embarrassment.
Moshe had to lead the nation. He had to build the people into a nation. Many did not want to be there and found things to complain about at every opportunity.

If Moshe would have given them mussar all along, they would have thought of him as a pest and would have begun to ignore him. They would also have avoided him whenever possible. He would not have been able to build the nation like that. He wisely led them through the desert and only at the end gave them the mussar, when he knew he would no longer be making them uncomfortable, as he would no longer be with them.

When giving someone mussar, one has to consider whether the time is opportune. Is it really the best time right now, or maybe later it will be even more effective? Will my mussar now be accepted or will it just push him away further?

The only way to succeed in giving mussar is by considering these questions and making sure your mussar is timed properly. That is what Moshe did.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Masei: sphere of influence

Parshat Mas'ei

In 35:6-8, after Hashem and Moshe just appointed Yehoshua and some Nesiim to be the executors of the division of Eretz Yisrael, the Torah talks about the cities of refuge. It says the Levite tribe would not receive a portion but would be allotted the 6 cities of refuge, along with an additional 42 cities spread out among Israel.

Why did they not get a portion like every other tribe? If any one tribe was deserving of being given a portion, it would be them! They were completely dedicated to the service of Hashem. They were the ones who never strayed from doing the right thing (aside from korach, but that was individuals). So why were they not given a portion, but spread out in specific cities taken form the portions of other tribes?

Maybe the reason is because the Leviim were so dedicated to the service of Hashem. Much more so that any other group or tribe.

If Hashem gave them a portion, they would be fairly isolated. they would continue living a life dedicated to Hashem and all would be very nice.

But by mixing them among all the other tribes, life can be even better. By not being isolated in their own portion, but by living among the other tribes, they can show the rest of the Nation how to live a life of dedication. They can teach the people. They can influence.

When one has what to offer, he should not remain isolated. he should share it with everyone else.

Matos: the impression formed

Parshat Matos

In Perek 32 we find the tribes of Reuven and Gad requesting from Moshe that they be allotted the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, as it was lush grazing land and better for their flocks.

Moshe's response was that by requesting this, and if he would approve it, an impression will be formed in the minds of the rest of the nation. The impression would be that these tribes are avoiding participating in the coming battles, and that they found a better land than the Land of Israel, and, in a sense, are rejecting the Land of Israel. By creating this impression, others might be influenced to reject Eretz Yisrael and attempt to avoid entering.

There was nothing really wrong with the actual request. On its own merits, it stands as a reasonable request. The only problem Moshe had with it was the impression it gave over to others. For that side issue alone, Moshe would have rejected the request. It was only because they found a solution - i.e. to go in with the nation, fight the battles, and only afterwards go to reside on the eastern banks of the Jordan River - was their request approved.

There are two lessons (that are connected) I see in this story:
  1. We have to be careful of the impression we give over. Even if every other aspect of what we might be doing is fine, pure and logical, the impression (formed) is just as important a factor.
  2. In the big debate about whether Jews in America, or anywhere in the Diaspora for that matter, are really striving to live in Eretz Yisrael - maybe on its own it is not so bad to live in America and even to want to remain there. A person can have very valid reasons - parnassah, culture, friends, health, etc.. - to desire to remain in America. These people, however, should still be careful to not give the impression that they are rejecting Eretz Yisrael, rather they are preferring Diaspora for a very specific, possibly legitimate, reason. That is a big responsibility because while they prefer to live in America, they should not be the cause of other people following in their ways for less legitimate reasons.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pinchas: who done it?

Parshat Pinchas

In 25:14 the Torah tells us the name of the man who had committed the public act of indecency with a Midianite woman. Until now, when relating the incident, the Torah did not tell us who he was. It simply described him as a "Jewish man".

Rashi tells us that because it just told us who was the tzaddik - Pinchas - so it also tells us who was the rasha.

But at the end of Parshat Balak when it related the main part of the story it also related there who the tzaddik was, yet regarding the rasha it did not tell us his name, it called him a Jewish man without actually identifying him. Why not then but now yes?

Earlier, at the end of Parshat Balak, the Torah was relating the story of what happened. If at that time, as the story is happening, the Torah would tell us his name, we would see how important a person he was and what he was doing, it would give people an opportunity to "learn from him".

If, for example, you would see a Rabbi eating in a certain restaurant that you thought was questionable, you would probably say, "Oh, the Rabbi must have checked it out and found it to be ok. if he can eat there, I for sure can."

You see an important person, a leader, doing something that might be questionable ethically or morally, and you automatically say that if he is doing it it must be ok.

If we would have read the story knowing from the start that the offender was Zimri the Nassi, we would rationalize in our minds that what he was doing must have been ok. We would likely learn from him.

When it relates the story, it only tells us "a Jewish man", so we will not learn from him and follow in his ways. He is just a Jew who did something wrong. nothing special.

Now, in Parshat Pinchas, when it is validating the vengeance of Pinchas, it is ok, and even beneficial, to tell us who the offender was. Now that he has been punished, and Pinchas is being glorified for having meted out the punishment, nobody will take example from him. The risk has been negated. On the contrary, by saying his name now, people will see that even great people make mistakes, and they get punished for them. They do not have protexia from being punished.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Balak: getting a new perspective

Parshat Balak

Balak brings Bilaam out to curse the Jews. When it does not pan out and Bilaam ends up blessing the Jews, Balak gets upset and finds a new location from which Bilaam could attempt to curse them. This happens a few times.

Why go to a different mountaintop to curse them?

Balak was trying to give Bilaam a different perspective each time.

If one time he looks at the Jews and can't curse them, maybe he needs to look at them from a "different angle". Maybe he needs some new perspective on the Jews, and that would arouse the ability to curse them.

We, too, have to be open to looking at things from a different perspective. If we are not successful at something, sometimes we just need to look at the problem from a different angle. Get a different perspective tto possibly understand better the issues.

Balak: they must have thought Bilaam was nuts

Parshat Balak

Balak tried to persuade Bilaam to come with him to curse the Jewish people. In 22:21 we find Bilaam finally agree to go with Balak's messengers, "וילך עם שרי מואב". As the story progresses, we read about how an angel stood in the path and the donkey had to veer off into the vineyard, while Bilaam was hitting it, the donkey spoke, Bilaam saw te angel and spoke to it.. etc. A series of very bizarre events.

Where were the Moabite officers during these bizarre happenings? What did they think of what was going on? They saw the donkey speak and did not think anything was out of the ordinary? Did they not see the angel - or did they think Bilaam was speaking to himself? They must have thought he was nuts!!

Maybe that is why the angel had to force the donkey off the path and into the middle of the vineyard. That afforded them some privacy so he could talk to Bilaam and so Bilaam could witness the miracle of the donkey speaking.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chukas: fitting emuna

Parshat Chukas

After the incident in which Moshe hit the rock to draw water instead of speaking to the rock, Hashem gives Moshe a punishment. In 20:12, Hashem tells Moshe, "Therefore you will not bring the nation [into the land of Israel]."

How does the punishment fit the crime? Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it. Ok, so he did not maximize the possible Kiddush Hashem. He did not teach them the highest level of emuna he could have. What does that have to do with bringing Bnei Yisrael into the Land of Israel?

Living in Eretz Yisrael is the ultimate level of emuna one can have. Especially after coming from a life of slavery, and the life of the people who grew up in the desert. To live in Eretz Yisrael requires great emuna that Hashem takes care of us and our needs.

If Moshe could not teach Bnei Yisrael that level of emuna, then he is not the right person to prepare them and bring them into Eretz Yisrael. They need someone who can raise them to the appropriate level of emuna.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chukas: a rep

Parshat Chukas

In 20:13 it tells us that, "
These are the waters of Meribah, where the children of Israel fought with the LORD, and He was sanctified in them."

But at the beginning of this incident in 20:2 it said they fought with Moshe. Did they fight with Moshe or with Hashem?

I would say, that is one and the same. Technically, they fought with Moshe, as the passuk first says. However, Moshe was a representative of Hashem to the people of Israel.

Picking a fight with Moshe is like picking a fight with Hashem.

Chukas: why didn't He kill them?

Parshat Chukas

In 20:2-8, we find Miriam has just died. With her went the "Well of Miriam" which had been the source of water for the Israelites.

the people find themselves in the desert with no water. They come to Moshe and complain that they have no water and how could he bring them in the desert to die... and Hashem tells Moshe to speak to the rock to draw out water for the nation.

What changed? In the previous few parshiyos, we encountered a number of incidents in which the people complained and Hashem punished them. He sent them plague to kill them, or too much meat, etc.. Why this time does Hashem provide them with water in this fashion instead of punishing them for the complaints like He did previous times?

Here they were complaining about a lack of water. In previous incidents they complained about a lack of luxuries , or about questioning leadership, etc.

The complaint here about lack of water is legitimate. People need water to live. It is a basic necessity. For this type of complaint there is no need to punish them.

Yes, it also might indicate a weak level of emuna - faith in Hashem's ability or capability to provide for them. They should have, after all they have seen and been through, been confident that Hashem would find them a new source for water.

That, however, is not a reason to punish them, rather a reason to educate them. Hashem has to now provide for them a lesson in emuna. That is why His response is not to just find them a pool of water in the desert. Rather, He makes it into a whole lesson. he brings them to a rock and instructs Moshe to draw water from the rock. That was going to be a lesson in emuna, at the same time as providing the water they needed.

Chukas: relaxed perfection

Parshat Chukas

In the beginning of the parsha, the Torah teaches us the concept of Para Aduma (red heiffer) and its details. In 19:2 the passuk tells us to take a "complete (faultless) red heifer" (פרה אדומה תמימה).

Rashi defines "temima" - faultless, or complete, as meaning it must be complete in its redness, being that if it would be found to have two black hairs, it would invalidate it from service as a red heifer.

One could extrapolate from that that one black hair would be acceptable. Only a minimum of two black hairs is a problem.

What's the difference one hair or two hairs? They are both so insignificant relative to the rest of the animal. If the minimum is going to be so small, why not make it even one hair, and if one hair is not a problem, why is two hairs a problem - maybe we should say only ten hairs?

There is no such thing as "perfect" in this world. The most perfect item will always have some sort of minor blemish. If you look hard enough you will find it. There is nothing perfect.

The Torah allows for a slight blemish in the red heifer, because if it did not, it would be impossible to ever have a red heifer. With one black hair we still call it "complete" and "perfect". That is the physical reality.

But once that blemish repeats itself, it can no longer be called "complete" or "perfect" even by our relaxed standards. One non-red hair will be ok, but more than that, means it is not just a slight aberration of perfection, but it is not perfect.

The same is true in our lives. Nobody is perfect. Do something once, and it can be overlooked as a slight aberration. Do it twice and it is indicative of a problem and can no longer be ignored.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Korach: they keep complaining

Parshat Korach

After the fight with Korach has been concluded, then a plague ran through the camp killing people, and Hashem stopped the plague, in 17:6 the passuk tells us how the people complained that Moshe Aand Aharon were killing off Gods nation, which leads to Hashem offering to Moshe that if he has had enough of them yet, He (God) would be willing to kill them all. He (God) is just waiting for the word from Moshe.

It is amazing how the people just keep on complaining. A group of people just complained a short while ago. They forced a confrontation, and even after Moshe warned them off they kept going, they all got killed with unusual deaths.

The past few Torah portions have given us other examples of the people's complaints and how Hashem dealt with them, often resulting in the deaths of the complainers.

The people complain and get killed. So how do they have the gall to complain yet again, especially after they just witnessed the horrific deaths of Korach and his group of supporters?

People like to complain. A leader has to know that before he takes the position as leader - he has to know that no matter what he does, no matter how much integrity he has, no matter how honest he is, the people he is leading will complain and kvetch.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Shlach: part of the group

Parshat Shlach

In 14:6 it says, "ויהושע בן נון וכלב בן יפנה מן התרים את הארץ קרעו בגדיהם" - and Yehoshua and Calev, of those having spied out the land, tore their garments.

Don't we know they were 2 of the 12 spies already? Why does it have to tell us that they were of the spies?

Their report and whole attitude was completely different than that of the other 10 spies. One could be surprised to learn they were part of the same group of people. One could be shocked to see the differences between these two and the other 10. Maybe they were not really doing their job. Maybe they were just crazy right-wing fanatics with their own agenda to influence the decision to go into Israel.

The Torah reminds us that, no, they were not just trying to put on a good show on behalf of their friend Moshe. They were part of the group of spies. Everything the others saw and experienced, they also saw and experienced. They are tearing their garments because they know there is nothing wrong with the Land of Israel - they were the spies, so nobody knows it better than them.

Shlach: having an agenda

Parshat Shlach

In 13:21-33 we find the spies returning with a fairly negative impression and report of the Land of Israel. I find it astounding that being their report is so negative, why is it that none of their experiences are related to us? What happened to them that they had such a negative impression? The passuk simply says (aside from the one passuk about cutting down the cluster of grapes), "and they returned from spying out the land at the end of 40 days."

One would think, based on the negative reports they came back with, and the attitude that they are so against going into israel, that they must have experienced such traumatic and frightening events. Seen horrible things. Why does it not tell us a single negative event from their days of spying?

I suspect it might be because they did not experience any such negative or traumatic events.

I think their trip through the Land of Israel was probably relatively quiet and uneventful. The negative report was contrived based on their agenda. They had an agenda to recommend against going in, for whatever reason (many commentaries discuss their agenda).

It was not a result of any bad experiences or anything negative they might have seen while spying, just in order to justify their agenda.

Shlach: pure representation

Parshat Shlach

In 13:24 we find the spies having arrived at Nahal Eshkol, cutting down a cluster of grapes, some pomegranates and some figs and carrying them away. The spot is called Nahal Eshkol based on the cluster (eshkol in Hebrew) they cut down. Interestingly, the passuk says, "אשר כרתו משם בני ישראל"

Bnei Yisrael did not cut the grapes down - the 12 spies cut the grape cluster down. That is such a significant incident that it gets the place named for it? And even so, why not say that the spies cut the cluster, why say bnei yisrael cut the cluster?

When you appoint a shliach - a messenger, a representative, that shliach is representative of you. When the shliach performs his duty, it is as if the sender is performing his duty. He takes the identity, to a certain extent, of the person sending him.

This applies to leaders as well. When you select a leader - a President, Prime Minister, etc. that leader represents the people behind him. When he goes and meets with foreign heads of state and signs treaties and agreements, it is not him making the agreement, but the nations he represents.

That is why here it says Bnei Yisrael cut the cluster from there. Sure it was only the 12 spies doing it, but they represented the nation. And since Bnei Yisrael cut the cluster, that is a significant event, deserving of renaming the location.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

B'Haalotcha: a successful community

Parshat B'Haalotcha

In 11:28-29, after Moshe gathers 70 Elders of Israel leaving two behind, we find the two begin prophesying in the camp. Somebody (Gershom perhaps) sees and runs to tell Moshe. Yehoshua gets upset and asks permission to kill them off. Moshe responds - are you jealous for me? What would I give to have the whole nation as prophets of Hashem....

The natural reaction a person has to the success of other people is jealousy and an attempt to denigrate that person. The success of others is often perceived as a threat to you. To ensure your own success, you feel you have to knock down other people.

Moshe said that that is not the way. We must strive to be successful, but we should also be happy about the success of others. We should strive for their success, and we should encourage them to succeed. Their success should be seen as independent from yours. You can both be successful.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

B'Haalotcha: acting on questions

Parshat B'Haalotcha

In 11:21-24 the passuk relays a conversation between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe says there are 600,000 people here and how can You just say You will give them meat for a month! Even if You shechted all the cattle and brought them all the fish from the sea it would not be enough for a months worth of food! So how can You make such a promise?

It seems that Moshe also doubts Hashem's ability to provide and to come through on His promises. So what makes MOshe better than the rest of the Jews, that he is their leader?

According to the Sifri brought in Rashi, this question only applies according to the explanation of the passuk given by Rabbi Akva who understands it according to the simple meaning, as I described it above. According to Rabbi Shimon there is no question because he understands it differently.

So, according to the simple reading of the passuk, and according to Rabbi Akiva, how could Moshe have these doubts, and if he did,what made him better than the rest?

People are allowed to have questions. Having emuna, faith, in Hashem and the Torah does not mean one cannot have questions. It does mean that those questions do not sway his observance of the mitzvos and following Hashem's words.

So maybe Moshe did have questions and doubts. Maybe he did not understand how everything worked. But Moshe had emuna and he acted on the emuna and not on the questions. The rest of the people kvetched and acted on their questions. That is the difference.