• Dvar for Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

    After the Jews made it across the sea, this week’s Parsha (Beshalach) introduces the Jews singing in joy. Moshe sang with the men (15:1), and then Miriam sang with the women (15:21). Both of them sang, while the people responded.  However, when Miriam sang, the Passuk (verse) says that she responded to “them” in masculine form. If she sang with the women, why is the word in masculine form? Also, of all the verses that Miriam chose to repeat of Moshe’s song, she chose the verse “sing to G-d because He’s great; horse and wagon drowned in the sea.” Why did she choose this seemingly random verse?

    To understand this, we must ask ourselves why the horses drowned, if only their riders had sinned? Rav Chashin tells of a much deeper exchange between Moshe and Miriam: After Moshe sang with the men, Miriam responded to Moshe in the form of a metaphor by telling him that the horses were punished just like the soldiers on their backs because they facilitated those soldiers. By the same token, Miriam is telling Moshe that the women deserve just as much credit as the men, regardless of their difference in familial roles. Miriam’s message couldn’t be more true today: Helping someone follow the Torah’s laws is as important as personally following the Torah’s laws, and is in fact following those laws. If we all try our best to follow the Torah’s laws, and help others do the same, we’ll all sing as one, in harmony.

  • Dvar for Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

    Parshat Bo continues with the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, and the exodus that followed. We find one interesting event that happened when Paroh called in Moshe and Aaron to bargain with them, right after being warned of the upcoming locust plague (10:8-11). After offering to allow only the men to go, and being rejected, Paroh kicked Moshe and Aaron out of the palace. The “Riva” wonders why they waited until they were kicked out of the palace, when they could have left before it got to that point. The Riva answers that had Moshe and Aaron left before being told to leave, they would have shown a lack of respect for Paroh, thereby embarrassing him. Since it was Paroh that had originally invited them, and since he was the ruler of the land they were in, they showed him respect by not leaving until he told them to, despite their embarrassment.

    This amazing lesson in humility is even backed up by the events surrounding it. Locust, the plague directly following the story, was started by Moshe stretching his hands on the ground, symbolizing humility. We each have a common, ongoing struggle throughout our lives – our ego. If we simply stopped, thought, and realized about every time we felt cheated or angry, we’d realize that it’s our own ego that’s letting us get angry or feel cheated, and if we learned to set that ego aside, we could accomplish so much more, comparable to the accomplishments of Moshe and Aaron. Our ego will control our action and reactions, unless we learn to control it.

  • Dvar for Vaeira (Exodus 6:2-9:34)

    The Hebrew language has so many hidden lessons, and one such lesson lies within this week’s Parsha (portion), Vaeira, where G-d promises to take the Jews from under the ‘burdens’ of Egypt (6:6). But as the Rebbi of Gur explains, the Hebrew word that means ‘burden’ also means ‘tolerant’, which would make the Passuk (verse) read…”I will deliver you from being tolerant of Egypt”. We find proof for this tolerance when even after the Jews were released from Egypt, when the situation looked bleak, they wanted to go back to slavery. Had their slavery been such a burden, why would they ever consider going back?

    The answer is that the problem was not that they were overworked, but that they were too tolerant of their surroundings. Hashem therefore told them, and is telling us, that the first step Jews have to take is to realize when we are ‘slaves’ to our society. If we tolerate our surroundings, not only will we not appreciate how lucky we are to be different, but also we’ll forget that we even are different. In a society where some people hide their religious identity, the Torah is telling us to always keep in mind our ultimate differences as Jews, to never settle for being just like everyone else, and to love it, show it, and prove it in constructive ways every chance we get. In response to this Parsha, we should all pick one way to show the world and ourselves what it means to be a Jew, whether it’s by volunteering to visit the sick, to give charity, or to say one Perek (paragraph) of Tehillim (Psalm) every day. Find a way to find our way.

  • Dvar for Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

    When Yocheved and Miriam, the two midwives responsible for delivering the Jewish babies, were ordered by Paroh to kill all the newborn boys, they disobeyed a direct order, thereby risking their lives. In explaining this to us, the Torah says that G-d rewarded them, the nation prospered and multiplied, and G-d “built them houses” (1:20-21) –  not literal houses, but rather that their descendants would become great pillars of Jewish leadership and religion (Rashi). From the way the Passuk (verse) elucidates it, though, it seems that they were rewarded AND there were houses built for them. Were they rewarded twice? If so, why?

    Rabbi Rubman (Zichron Meir) points out that the Passuk says that it wasn’t because they risked their lives that they were rewarded with great descendants, but because they feared G-d that they deserved it. The reason for the double-language is because they were 1) rewarded for risking their lives, and 2) houses were built based on their fear and respect of G-d. What’s unique about these rewards is that their fear/respect of G-d is what warranted eternal reward, and NOT their life-risking actions. The Torah’s message is that the motives behind our actions are sometimes more important than the acts themselves, even if the act is life threatening. The Torah’s message is that when it comes to building a Jewish home, it truly is the thought that counts.

  • Dvar for Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

    In Parshat Vayechi, part of the blessing that Yaakov gives to his son Yehuda is that “His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (49:12), scion of the royal lineage of the Jewish people. While wine has always been associated with royalty, what does the color white and milk have to do with the future kings of the Jewish people?

    The Gemara (Kesuvos 111a) has a fascinating interpretation of this verse: “Better is the one who shows the white of his teeth (i.e. in a smile) to his friend, than the one who gives him milk to drink.” Rabbi Zweig explains that this is because one who provides milk to the poor provides a physical gift that sustains the person for a little while. However, the one who comforts others with a smile and encouraging words gives that person an everlasting feeling of self-worth. Perhaps this is the inspiration for all the great smile quotes, and could help inspire us to “give” more smiles.

  • Dvar for Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

    In this week’s Parsha, Vayigash, Yosef finally reveals himself to his brothers, after making sure they didn’t harbor any resentment. As Rabbi Haber points out, what’s more amazing is that Yosef forgave his brothers, after being stuck in a dangerous pit crawling with poisonous snakes, screaming out for help while catching a glimpse of his brothers sitting down to break bread, ignoring his pleas for mercy. If one’s brothers sold them as a slave, would they ever be able to forgive them, kiss and embrace them, and adhere to all the families’ laws and customs after they caused you such profound pain? Yosef did all of these things. He didn’t assimilate; he didn’t become an anti-Semite. He defied every law of human nature. How?

    Rabbi Haber goes on to explain that Yosef was empowered by one sentence: “You didn’t send me here, G-d did” The fact is they did send him there, but from Yosef’s perspective that was something THEY had to deal with. As far as Yosef was concerned, it was all an act of G-d. He was not the judge, he was a brother and he was a Jew. He would act like a brother and he would act like a Jew.

    We can learn SO much from Yosef today, if we could just memorize and adapt one line into our lives – “it wasn’t you that sent me here; it was G-d” – we’d all be closer to all our “brothers”, and we’d all be better Jews.

  • Dvar for Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17)

    Parshat Miketz tells of the sons of Yaakov traveling to Egypt to buy food and bring it back to their father. Yosef tries to foil their plans by accusing his brothers of being spies because their father wouldn’t have to send all 10 sons to get food, and the brothers respond that “we are all sons of one man” (42:11). How does that explain why they were all sent? The suspicion Yosef raises still exists!?

    In Majesty of Man, Rabbi Leibowitz explains that when Hillel and Rabbi Akiva emphasized loving our fellow man as ourselves, they were describing fundamental principles of the Torah. As the Ramban explains, although the trip to Egypt was long and dangerous, Yaakov felt that developing the brothers’ feeling of unity and brotherhood was worth the risk. This Ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew) is so critically important that Hillel and Rabbi Akiva stressed it, and Yaakov risked his own sons’ safety for it. If we neglect each other’s needs in the outside world, in the workplace and at home, we’re placing ourselves in danger of losing the comm”unity” we strive to be a part of.

  • Dvar for Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

    Parshat Vayeshev relays that when Yosef recounted his second dream to his father (of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him), Yakov rebuked him (37:10).  As Jonathan Gewirtz asks, why didn’t Yosef tell his father about his first dream? Also, why was Yakov so angry at Yosef, who merely had a dream, when in contrast he was not angry when Shimon and Levi killed the entire city of Shechem (34:30)?

    One possible answer comes from a Maharshal that says that “most dreams follow their interpretations.” When Yosef shared his first dream with his brothers, their response unwittingly interpreted his dream when they responded “will you rule over us?” However, after the second dream they remained silent, so Yosef shared it with his father. Yakov was aware of the power of his interpretation, which is why he cloaked his interpretive response with anger when he said “shall it come to pass?…”, with the intention to deflect the brothers’ animosity toward Yosef. Yakov’s fierce response shows us the heightened sensitivity we need to have toward interactions among those around us and their perspectives.

    Perhaps that’s why on Chanukah we celebrate the miracle of the oil, as opposed to the victory over the Greeks. Being mindful of others’ perspective, viewpoints and feelings will help us focus on the positive things in life, like diversity of opinions, shared goals and common dreams.

  • Dvar for Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43)

    As Yaakov flees his brother Esav, God promises Yaakov that he would return safely to Canaan (Genesis 28:15). Then why in this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, is Yaakov afraid? Doesn’t Yaakov’s fear reflect a lack of belief in God?

    The Abrabanel suggests that fear is a not sign of weakness, but rather a part of the human dimension, a feeling that is neither right nor wrong.  A person who is afraid should not be judged harshly, for whom among us has never been afraid? The real question is what do we do when we’re afraid.  Do we become immobilized, unable to go forward, or do we gather strength in an attempt to meet the challenges that lie ahead?  Feelings may be involuntary but actions can be controlled. Yaakov’s greatness was his preparedness to act contrary to his  natural feelings; to come back to Canaan even though it meant confronting Esav.

    Rav Nahman of Bratslav once said, “the whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid at all.” Yaakov’s actions teach us that when we are afraid, it doesn’t mean we’re lacking in faith or conviction. Rather, it means that we have an opportunity to gather our strength and conquer our fears by confronting them. We won’t act afraid, because we won’t be afraid to act.

  • Dvar for Vayetzei (Genesis 28:10-32:1)

    In this week’s Parsha, Vayetzei, we can learn an incredible lesson. The Torah relates how when Leah had her fourth son, Rachel became envious. The obvious question is why wasn’t Rachel jealous when Leah has her first three sons. As Living Each Week explains, Leah named her first three sons based on her emotions; that 1) now her husband will love her, and 2) now she won’t be disliked, and 3) now my husband will have to help me. But it is the fourth one that got to Rachel. When Leah named her son “Because now I can be grateful to G-d”, that’s when Rachel became envious. Rachel realized that she couldn’t achieve the same level of gratitude to G-d that Leah could. What an incredible virtue: To want to have a reason to thank G-d, just for the sake of thanking Him.

    We have three chances a day to thank G-d through prayer, but do we? And if/when we do daven (pray), is it with enough meaning/concentration? Are we as grateful as we should be even when we DO have a reason? We can all emulate Rachel’s desire to show gratitude by studying prayers, learning about ourselves from them, and improving ourselves through them.

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