• 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.

  • Dvar for Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

    Parshat Toldot tells the story of Yaakov (Jacob) and Esav, two brothers that couldn’t be any more different. When their father Yitzchok (Isaac) decides that it’s time to bless his two sons, Yaakov ends up getting the better of the two blessings. In comparing the two blessings, though, the Chafetz Chaim observes: When Yaakov gets the blessing, the Torah says “And may G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth” (27:28). However, when Esav gets his blessing, Yitzchok says “Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above” (27:39). Why was the order of the fatness and the dew reversed?

    The Chafetz Chaim explains that since Yaakov preferred the spiritual to the physical, his blessing came from heaven (dew) to earth (fatness of the earth). On the other hand, since Esav valued the physical more, his blessing was customized to his desires by focusing on the physical first.  While that answers the question, there’s a much deeper lesson to be learned: Because Yaakov focused on heaven and the chain of where things come from, he realized that he’s being given of the dew of the heavens, which produces the fatness of the earth, and consequently thanked the source, G-d. Contrarily, as the verse adds, Esav’s fatness was simply his “dwelling”, as if it were there all along, with no connection to where it came from, and therefore no appreciation for its source. Yaakov was blessed with the ability to see beyond what was in front of him, and therefore appreciated it (and G-d) more. We too are given that same opportunity every day, and all we have to do is stop and think about what we have and where it really came from. Only then will we ever truly be content, fulfilled, and most importantly, blessed.

  • Dvar for Chaye Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

    Parshat Chaye Sarah records two major transactions, which begs us to wonder about their connection. The Parsha starts with Avraham insisting on paying for his plot of land in which to bury his wife. After much negotiating, Efron agrees to accept payment for the plot. The Parsha then goes into even greater detail describing the efforts of Avraham’s servant in finding a suitable wife for Yitzchak, his son. What’s the connection, other than then technically both being “transactions”?

    One possibility is that the dialog of the first transaction could be the requisite to the completion of the second. In other words, Avraham had to understand and negotiate a FAIR transaction where both sides benefit before he could find a wife for his son. This requirement says a lot about what it takes to find a suitable mate: Give. If you find yourself taking more than you’re giving in a given relationship, you need to insist on adjusting it. If any marriage is to work, the first ingredient is mutual respect, which breeds mutual giving. It is this fact that Avraham mastered before venturing to find his son a wife, and it’s this lesson that we should master before venturing to find our own mates or business partners.

  • Dvar for Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-22:24)

    Parshat Vayeira records G-d’s greatest test of Avraham’s faith (22:1) by ordering him to sacrifice his only son to G-d.  Almost all the commentaries listing G-d’s ten trials list this one as the last. The first test was in Ur Kasdim, where Avraham stood up for his belief in G-d against other idols and was thrown into a furnace, where he was miraculously saved. The Lekach Tov wonders why the first test got an obscure one-line mention in the Torah (Genesis 15:7), when it seems as if that test would be more difficult, since G-d still hadn’t appeared to Avraham, and because he wasn’t actually commanded to risk life, yet he did. Why was the sacrificing of Yitzchok that much greater a test?

    Rav Lapian answers that Avraham believed in G-d, and wanted to teach the world. To that end, throwing himself into burning flames would show the world the conviction of his beliefs, and would ultimately help validate his belief in G-d. However, if Avraham were to sacrifice and kill his only son, what would his countless followers say of him then? They would surely give up any religion that required sacrificing their own children. Or at least that’s what Avraham could have been thinking when G-d told him to kill his son. Instead, Avraham didn’t make excuses, didn’t rationalize ignoring G-d’s commandment, and accepted his orders completely, despite risking the efforts of over fifty years of his life. That was the real test, and that’s also our test today: To stand up and do what’s right, despite what others may say or think. As Jews, we should not only avoid reasons to ignore our convictions, but we should also be proud enough to show them.

  • Dvar for Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)

    In Parshat Lech Lecha, among the blessings that Avraham was to receive for leaving all that he had was the blessing that he himself should be a blessing (12:2). How does one become a blessing? Furthermore, Rashi comments that G-d promised Avraham that although he would be identified with Yitzchak and Yakov, any such blessings would end with Avraham’s name at its conclusion. If the sages are correct that Yitzchak and Yakov reached higher levels than Avraham, what made him so special that any blessing would end with him?

    Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that Avraham merited greater distinction because he was the first to establish faith in Hashem (G-d). Although those after him reached greater heights, Avraham’s accomplishments were more worthy. Maybe this can explain how Avraham himself became the blessing: Taking initiative and starting something you believe is important for society is a blessing on its own, because it lays the framework for others to build on it! G-d promised Avraham, and in turn promised us, that, if we become leaders and initiators, our efforts will never be forgotten and we will always be remembered as a blessing.

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