• 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 this: “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 by telling him that the horses were punished just like the soldiers on the 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 potential 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. If we all try our best to follow the Torah’s laws, and help others do the same, we’ll all sing together, 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. 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. Each and every single one of us has 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 would 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 your way!

  • Dvar for Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

    The most repetitive phrase you hear when you get engaged/married is “you should build a Bayit Ne’eman (sturdy home), and it just so happens that this week’s Parsha is the very first time in the Torah that this concept is mentioned, so it might be nice to try and understand it:

    When Yocheved and Miriam, the 2 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 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. If the motives behind our actions are sometimes more important than the acts themselves, even if the act is life threatening, then the Torah’s message is that it truly is the thought that counts.

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

    From Midgal Ohr: When Yosef sent his brothers to bring his father, Yaakov, the Sifornu implies that Yosef urged them to hurry and bring Yaakov down “so he could be happy to see.” What should Yaakov be happy to see? Some commentaries explain that Yosef stressed his position of power because he wanted to reassure his father that he could care for him and provide for his needs. But that doesn’t explain why Yaakov would be “happy” with what he would see in Egypt.

    Perhaps, it is true that Yaakov would be unimpressed by honor and power, and the ability to “care for” Yaakov wasn’t an enticing thought because G-d always provided for him. It may be, though, that this message was exactly what Yaakov needed to hear. Yosef’s brothers had been jealous of him all those years ago. They were insulted by his visions of grandeur and this strife led to his sale into slavery. If Yaakov were to go down to Egypt to see Yosef, he might fear suffering a continuation of this animosity. That is why Yosef sent the message he did. When the brothers would tell their father that Yoseph had in fact ascended the throne, and when they recounted all that had transpired, Yaakov would be able to see from their expressions and tones of voice that they had repented of their jealousy and would now be able to live in peace. To see his twelve sons living together in harmony was something that would undoubtedly give him great joy, and he would rush to see it.

    Additionally, it was important for the brothers themselves to be able to get past their earlier pettiness by proving to themselves that they could speak of Yosef’s prestige and not feel bitter, just as they were happy when they didn’t feel jealous when Binyamin received more than they did. Yosef knew that they might still suspect themselves of jealousy in regard to him, and this way he enabled them to see that they had indeed overcome the obstacle and were better people than before.

  • Dvar for Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-40.23)

    Rav Kaminetsky explains that Yaakov had taught Yosef all that he’d learned in the Yeshiva (school) of Shem and Eiver where he studied, and where Yitzchok AND Avraham studied as well. The main strength of that school was that they taught Torah that could survive in negative environments. Avraham used it to deal with the rest of the world, Yitzchok used it to deal with Yishmael, and Yaakov used it to deal with Lavan and Esav. Now Yaakov was teaching it to Yosef, and the brothers were worried. Were they as bad as Esav or Lavan? Why would Yaakov have to teach Yosef that Torah? Little did they know that Yosef would need it to deal with Egypt, and all the trials he would face there. Yaakov loved Yosef more because he learned more, and WANTED the other brothers to be jealous (that’s why he made him the shirt), so that they’d want to learn it too! But instead they became jealous for the wrong reasons. It was THEN that Yosef tried to tell them that they shouldn’t be jealous, because he had to learn for his OWN sake, because he’d have to be a leader in a foreign land (as the dreams with stocks suggested, since there were no stalks where they lived). But the brothers had let themselves be blinded by hate, and couldn’t see the truth, as obvious as it may have been.

    There’s an important lesson in all of this, and that is that jealousy can be used in a good way, as Yaakov TRIED to do. But if we’re not careful, we could miss the whole point, and end up doing things we shouldn’t. The first test is to ask ourselves if we want something because we need it, or simply because someone else has it. We should be jealous of things we can learn and grow from, like Torah knowledge, good character traits, and even courage and persistence. Everyone has qualities we can and SHOULD be jealous of, as long as we use it NOT to prove ourselves, but to improve ourselves.

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

    In this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, we find Yaakov crossing the Jordan River with his family, and going back for some small earthenware jugs that he forgot (Talmud: Chulin 91). Why would a wealthy man such as Yaakov have to go back for a few jugs? The answer, according to Rabbi Shraga Simmons, is that Yaakov lived with the understanding that whatever possessions G-d gave him were for a purpose. As such, the jugs were as precious as jewels. To Yaakov, the fact that they were inexpensive didn’t matter. Rabbi Ezriel Tauber explains this with the following metaphor: If we were thirsty and asked a friend to bring us water, if they bring a paper cup filled with water, we would drink the water and throw out the cup. But now let’s say we were wandering in the desert dying of thirst. If we were to lift our eyes to Heaven and say, “G-d, I’m dying, please make a miracle and send water!!” and behold, a hand reaches down from Heaven and gives us water in a paper cup. We would certainly drink the water… But what about the cup? We wouldn’t throw it away – a cup from Heaven is a great souvenir! Because G-d could have sent us the water any way He wanted, like making it rain, or created a well, or simply opened our mouth and pouring the water in. The fact that G-d handed us a paper cup tells us that He not only wanted us to have the water, He wanted us to have the cup too.

    We’re only expected to work with the tools G-d provides, and whatever He provides is precisely what we need. Whether or not the eventual goal is completed is only in G-d’s hands. This idea of having everything we need is emphasized again in our Parsha, when after 20 years apart, Yaakov is reunited with his twin brother Esav. In describing their state of affairs, Esav says, “I have a lot;” and Yaakov says, “I have everything”. (33:9-11) The difference is subtle, but in fact speaks volumes. Esav is saying “I have a lot…” but I sure could use more, whereas Yaakov is saying, “According to my part in G-d’s grand eternal plan, I have everything – exactly what I need.” If we look at every possession (even little jugs) and situation as a special gift from G-d, the puzzle of life becomes truly meaningful, and more importantly, complete.

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

    This week’s Parsha,  Vayetzei, relates the  beginning of the relationship between Yakov and Rachel. When they first meet (29:11), Yakov cries, Rashi explaining that it’s because he didn’t have jewelry to give her (among other reasons). Why did he cry over that? Maybe he could have been upset, but sad enough that he cried? Then, after Yakov offers to work for Lavan for seven years in exchange for Rachel (although the custom was for the father to pay the son-in-law). Why would he do that? Also, the Passuk says that those seven years were like a few days to him (29:20). If he wanted to marry Rachel, wouldn’t waiting have felt like much longer than seven years?

    Rabbi Zweig answers these questions beautifully. He explains that the foundation for any relationship, and especially marriage, is respect, making them feel good about themselves. But how does one accomplish this? By buying the person items? Giving someone something they need only diminishes their self-respect (however minimally) because they are now indebted to you. No, the only items you can give a woman that totally for her benefit is jewelry. Yakov cried because he didn’t have the jewelry to give her, and wanted to convey that to Rachel so badly that he was willing, and indeed insisted, on working for seven years to “earn” Rachel’s hand in marriage. Each day of those seven years made Rachel feel so wanted and honored that he was willing to do that for her, that the years felt like days. With this kind of respect and attitude, it’s no wonder that he was the most successful of our forefathers, and hopefully a role model for us dealing with our spouses, parents and even children with the respect they deserve.

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

    In this week’s Parsha, Toldot, we are told of Esav selling his birthright to Yakov in exchange for a bowl of beans. The Midrash says that on that day Esav, among other things, also committed murder, denied G-d’s existence, denied the resurrection, and belittled the birthright. Why does the Torah only mention the belittlement of the birthright, if Esav also did all these other horrible things? Also, in this story Yakov seems to be a schemer. His brother comes in from the field, starving and tired, asking for food, and the first thing Yakov does is bargains with Esav in his moment of weakness?

    The Rabbis answer both these questions: The Torah is not a history book, it is an instruction manual for living. Knowing all the horrible things Esav did doesn’t teach us the way we’re supposed to live. However, the Torah does tell us that the root of all the sins Esav did was that he belittled his birthright, and therefore his history, his place in history, and his responsibility. Conversely, Yakov’s actions prove that he did understand and appreciate his role and responsibility, and acted like he had a part of G-d/royalty inside him (which we all have). In stark contrast, Esav’s perspective that he will die anyway, and therefore his birthright was meaningless, shows his lack of understanding his intrinsic value and self esteem, and repudiated the greatness and dignity within him.

    There is nothing more important than understanding one’s worth and significance. We are all royalty, we are all destined for greatness,  and our behavior should reflect those higher moral expectations, and this positive reflection should be clear to our children – by extension from this Parsha – by constantly reminding them of how special they are, in so many ways and for so many reasons!

  • 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.

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