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

    In this week’s Parsha Yakov and Yosef are finally reunited, after 22 years apart. The Torah records their emotional embrace, telling us that “he fell on his neck and cried on his neck for a long time” (46:29). Who cried on whose neck? From this description, it appears like only one of them cried. Why would only one of them cry?

    Rashi helps us out by explaining that Yosef cried while Yakov said Shema as a thank you to G-d for the joy he’s feeling. Rabbi Benzion Shafier explains that Yakov used the joy of seeing his son and of finally understanding G-d’s plans as an opportunity to thank G-d for His thoughtful orchestration of his and all our lives.

    In life, it often takes a disruptive event to make us reach those “aha” moments, but what we do with those disruptions is up to us. While Yosef reveled in the emotion itself, Yakov was able to harness that joyful disruption and turn it into a meaningful, spiritual lesson, one that recognizes G-d’s direction in everything that happens, not just the outlier events. May we merit many joyful disruptions in our lives, coupled with personal growth.

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

    When Paroh finally finds a satisfactory interpretation of his dreams, he proclaims that the interpreter, Yosef, is the most understanding and wisest person (41:39). While Yosef credits his interpretation as coming from G-d, why does Paroh see fit to credit Yosef directly?

    Rabbi Berel Wein explains that Yosef trained himself to turn visions into reality, such that Paroh’s dreams required action, a coupling that no one else considered. It was this emphasis on devising and executing a plan of action that prompted Paroh to declare Yosef the wisest and most understanding.

    Throughout our lives, we encounter hopes and dreams, both our own and those of others. Turning ideas into actual practical plans of action not only solidifies those dreams and goals but turns them into reality. Making the weekly Parsha personal and relevant to our lives proves not only the Torah’s value but our commitment to a plan of action that will help us become wiser and better people.

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

    In our Parsha, Vayeshev, Yosef’s brothers are maddened by Yosef’s seemingly insensitive proclamations (in the form of dreams) that they will one day bow to him. The brothers plot to kill him, change their plans to leaving him in a pit to die, and ultimately settle on selling him to Ishmaelites – as soon as they finish their lunch. While they callously broke bread away from the pit where Yosef was begging for mercy, a gang of Midianites came by, saw Yosef, pulled him out and sold him to the Ishmaelites before the brothers could (37:28). If the brothers didn’t kill Yosef, nor did they sell him to Egypt, what was their crime?

    Rabbi David Fohrman explains that the brothers’ insensitivity to Yosef’s cries as they broke bread was their primary infraction. Conversely, much later in the story, when Yosef is in jail, he notices that two of his fellow inmates are distraught, and asks them why they seem sad (40:7). This act of kindness leads to his eventual release and ultimate redemption arc.

    Our Parsha seems to be demonstrating to us the dangers of indifference, as well as the value of empathy. A single act of kindness can change the course of history, and all we have to do is care for others and express it.

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

    Parshat Vayishlach records the highly anticipated reunion between Yakov and Eisav, after more than 20 years of rancor and animus, at least from Eisav’s perspective. When Yakov gave his presents to Eisav, Eisav said, “I have a lot…” and don’t need more (33:9). Yakov insisted that Eisav accept his presents, proclaiming that “… I have everything…” (33:11), an argument that Eisav cannot counter, and subsequently accepts Yakov’s gifts. What made Yakov’s argument so convincing that Eisav felt compelled to accept his gifts?

    Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz explains the conversation as follows: When Yakov offers Eisav the gifts, Eisav responds that he has wealth greater than others. Yakov responds that everything he has at any given moment is exactly what he needs and that his gifts represented his excess. Yakov suggests that if Eisav’s priority is to have more than others, then he should accept Yakov’s gifts because it’ll increase his overall wealth. While this argument proves effective, it also highlights the opposing attitudes one can have towards material wealth. Accumulating wealth is a selfish pursuit that suppresses giving, while being satisfied with what we have will lead to true happiness and a willingness to share with others.  

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

    This week’s Parsha, Vayetzei, finds Yakov fleeing to Charan to escape the wrath of Esav. Yakov camps and sleeps, dreams of a ladder with angels ascending and descending to/from G-d. When Yakov wakes up, he exclaims that G-d is present and that he did not know (28:16). The phrase he uses is “lo yad’ati,” which means “I did not know,” but Yakov precedes it with the word “va’anochi,” which also means “I.” If you put it all together, it seems that Yakov says, “I, I did not know.” Why did Yakov choose such strange wording?
    Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz suggests a beautiful twist on this expression. He explains that Yakov was able to know that G-d was there by “not knowing the anochi,” or by subjugating the “I.” Yakov was able to know that G-d was there when he moved beyond the “I” of his ego. We see this hinted in the very next Passuk (verse) when Yakov further proclaims that the place where he stands is awesome and that “this is none other than the house of G-d,” once again highlighting that G-d exists where there is “none” – a submission of ego. We become truly transcendent when we stop thinking of ourselves and experience the world through selfless eyes.

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

    Parshat Toldot tells the story of Rivka bearing twins, Esav and Yakov, and how Esav was drawn to brothels when she walked them, and Yakov was drawn to study halls when she walked by those (25:22). Considering the Midrash that babies learn the entire Torah inside the womb (and forget it once born), Rav Chaim Shmulevitz asks why Yakov would want to leave his situation to enter a study hall.

    Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains that while in utero Yakov was able to learn Torah, he was still missing the effort and challenges associated with gaining that knowledge. It is natural for us to appreciate challenges once we overcome them, but adopting this attitude will help us embrace life’s hurdles and enjoy the process of overcoming them. 

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

    Parshat Vayeira contains the story of Lot, who escaped the destruction of Sedom by hiding in the mountains with his two daughters. When his daughters thought the entire world was destroyed, as it did with the flood, they thought their only option to continue human existence was to use their father to procreate. While in their minds that may have been their only option, their decision to name their children Amon and Moav, which literally means “the son of my people” and “from my father” is discussed by many commentaries. Were they proud of what they did, or was it a necessary evil?

    Rav Moshe Feinstein explains in the form of a fascinating story that although Lot’s daughters were not proud of what they felt they needed to do, they also thought it was important for people to know that their births were not supernatural. To avoid people making a religion out of presumably miraculous birth, Lot’s daughters were willing to publicize their admittedly shameful act, to avoid any misunderstandings in the future. Their honesty and willingness to face ridicule to avoid future misguidance are so impressive that Moshiach will come from their lineage. This pursuit of intellectual honesty regardless of the price is something worth admiring and striving for.

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

    In Parshat Lech Lecha, Avraham is sent to Canaan, but then has to head to Egypt due to a famine, and after an ordeal with Paroh where he was rewarded with much wealth, the Passuk (verse) tells us that Avraham went home the same way he came (13:3). Rashi explains that he headed home the same way he came so he could pay the innkeepers for his initial stay since he couldn’t afford to pay them his first time there.

    Rav Pam adds that although Avraham gained much wealth while in Egypt, he maintained the same standard of living, although he could have upgraded to nicer lodgings on his way back.

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks discusses why Avraham was selected to be the progenitor of Judaism and argues that it was his willingness to think outside the box when it came to the order of the universe and our place within it. One could argue that remaining modest despite accumulating great wealth is another such example of a different approach to life and wealth. Avraham let his actions be guided by justice, rather than by desire and ability. Avraham didn’t let wealth or surroundings affect his thoughts or actions. We too would be wise to let our actions be dictated by what we should rather than what we could.

  • Dvar for Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

    Parshat Noach relates the cause, result, and aftermath of the flood. As the flood began, the passuk (verse) tells us that the springs of “tehom rabah” opened up (7:11). While the phrase means “the great deep,” tractate Sanhedrin 108a explains that the use of the term “rabah” is a direct reference to the misdeeds of that generation, previously described as the great evil of man, or “rabah ra’at ha’adam” (6:5). How are the “great” springs opening up an appropriate punishment for the “great” evils of those that perpetrated those evils?

    The book Toldot Yitzchak explains that the misdeeds of the generation were “rabah,” which means “great,” but also means “excessive.” People followed their passions, lusts, and desires too far, and could not get enough. As an appropriate consequence, they were punished with excessive amounts of water, a resource when taken in proper quantities would be a blessing. While the generation of the flood perished, we have the opportunity to appreciate the lesson that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Being measured and balanced will give us just the right amount of happiness and fulfillment in all that we do.

  • Dvar for Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

    As we begin Bereishit, after recounting creation and Adam/Chava’s sin of eating from the forbidden tree, life seemingly settles down for Adam and Chava. Adam goes off to work, they have 2 children, and after a mere 6 Pessukim (verses) their world is rocked by one child (Cain) killing the other (Abel). How do Adam and Chava make sense of what happened, and how do they (and we) move forward after tragedy?

    The Midrash relates that Adam and Chava wept by Abel’s body, not knowing what to do, until they saw a raven burying its dead in the ground, which they decided to mimic. The irony was that the raven is typically cruel to its young, yet it buried a dead bird, an act of absolute kindness that cannot be repaid. Menachem Feldman (www.chabad.org) explains that this loving kindness is the proper response to senseless evil. The proper response to cruelty is love, something that comforted Adam and Chava, and can bring us closer to G-d and each other today. We all have within us the greatest power there is: the power to be kind.

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