• 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.

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

    As Parshat Vayeira clearly demonstrates, one of Avraham’s most beautiful qualities was his kindness to others. This is demonstrated when his three guests came to visit: Almost everything was done with excitement, enthusiasm, and in excess, solely for the benefit of his guests. The only exception was that when Avraham offered the men water, he specified getting them “a little” water. Why did Avraham suddenly seem to get stingy?

    The Lekach Tov explains that this act shows Avraham’s sensitivity to others even MORE because water was the only item that Avraham didn’t have time to fetch himself. Avraham’s thinking was that if he was going to trouble his servants to get the water, he had no right to ask them to bring more water then is actually needed. That’s why Avraham only offered a small quantity of water. Avraham’s lesson is simple: Being kind to others only takes a little effort, so why be stingy about it?

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

    from Rabbi Michalowicz…

    We are introduced to Avraham in this Parsha. In this and the next Parsha, Avraham goes through his Ten Tests. Initially, when G-d tells Avraham to leave his birthplace, he goes to the land of Canaan. In chapter 12, verse 6, we are told: “And Avraham passed into the land, until the place of Shechem, until Elon Moreh – and the Canaanites were still living in the land.” This is just one example in which the Torah is giving us seemingly unimportant details about the story of the Patriarchs. Does it really matter in which towns Avraham stopped along his way?

    What matters is the Ten Tests he underwent. Why does the Torah insert these details? The Ramban answers: “Ma’asei Avot Siman laBanim” – All events that happen to our Patriarchs can help their descendants. So why do we need to know details about Avraham? The answer is that if we want to be kind people, we can’t just do what our hearts (our emotions) tell us to do. Avraham methodically built up and perfected the trait of kindness, and if we want to access that information, we have to learn how Avraham acted. By delving into his deeds we will be able to tap into the trait of kindness. The same applies to Yitzchak, who developed the trait of self-control, and Yaakov, who perfected the attribute of mercy. If we look at the Patriarchs, we will be able to understand our spiritual potential are and how to cultivate that spiritual potential.

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

    From Rabbi Zweig:

    The Torah introduces the episode of the building of the Tower of Bavel with a description of the building materials which were used. Rashi comments that since Bavel was a plain, having no mountains and rocks, the inhabitants of the area were forced to manufacture their own bricks. Of what significance is this information to the overall understanding of the entire episode?

    Rashi comments on the verse “of common purpose” that the inhabitants of Bavel conspired against the notion that Hashem is the sole power over the entire universe. It was their perception that the world was theirs, devoid of Divine authority, and they conspired to attack the authority that resided in the heavens. The reason for the emphasis on the brick being used as a building material is succinctly captured by the Ibn Ezra who comments on the verse “and the brick served them as stone”, saying that they used bricks instead of stone. Their preference for bricks reflected their perception that they were living in a world which they themselves created (when a person bakes bricks, using them to construct his home, he may have the feeling that his abode is separate from Hashem, for he himself has processed the materials used to construct it). They deluded themselves into believing that Hashem no longer exercised His authority over this world.

    All too often, we ourselves become blinded by mankind’s technological advancements. As man progresses in his technological pursuits, he becomes more prone to losing sight of the fact that Hashem is the ultimate authority in this world.

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

    In the beginning, starts the Torah in Bereishit, G-d created the heaven, earth, and everything in between, all by Himself. Then, when it came time to create man, G-d asked his council about it, as it says “Let US make man in our image, after our likeness” (1:26). Just as we see a problem with the idea of G-d needing to confer, Moshe noticed the same problem as he was dictating the Torah from Hashem. The Midrash goes on to explain that G-d insisted on the text, accentuating the importance of conferring with others regarding all major aspects of life (as Jews, a spouse and a personal Rabbi is especially emphasized), and that those who wish to misunderstand the sentence will do so. Rav Wasserman raises a good question, though: Although the lesson is a good one, is it really worth the risk? Doesn’t the potential for negative (people thinking there are multiple gods) outweigh the potential for positive?

    He answers that there really isn’t any potential for negative, after all! Generations after generations of children and adults have learned this verse and have understood it correctly. The only ones that will err are the ones that WANT to. Should we be deprived of an important lesson on account of those who WANT to find a fault? In a way, we just learned TWO lessons out of one. Not only is it important to listen to the advice of our peers, but it’s equally important to separate ourselves from the advice of those that aren’t our peers. Listening to others is the hardest thing to do, especially when you know you should, or when you know they’re right. It’s our own ego that rejects it, yet we’re the ones that would gain from it. We should take the advice of the Parsha, and rather then just agreeing with its insight, actively start seeking and listening to others’ worthy advice!

  • Special Dvar for Sukkot 5771

    Sukkot is a happy time. In fact, it’s so happy that the Torah says it is! It’s called Zman Simchateynu (the time of our happiness). But it’s even more then that. The Torah COMMANDS us to be happy. So what’s all this happiness for? You have to eat in a shack and shake a fruit, palm branches, and leaves. Why should we be happy, and why should we be COMMANDED to be happy?

    Part of the answer lies in the reasons for what we do, and what they symbolize. The Sukkah needs to be made so that it’s temporary in nature, to symbolize the way it was in the desert when the Jews left Egypt. But it also symbolizes the way it is in this world! We’re living in a temporary world, with weak walls, a leaky ceiling, and decorations. And that’s exactly what’s supposed to make us so happy! That leaky ceiling is the connection we have with the REAL reality (heaven/G-d), and it’s the light from above that reflects from the decorations onto the walls, shining on everything. This Sukkot, we should look around us and think about all the temporary decorations in our lives, and how we can increase the number of permanent decorations we prepare! Especially right after Yom Kippur, when we (hopefully) committed to some sort of spiritual improvement, Sukkot is the perfect opportunity to exercise it.

    Whether we promised to give more charity, or even to just give charity with a smile. Whether it was to learn one Jewish law every day, or to perform one. The point of Sukkot is for us to be able to DO something right to start our year, to do it proudly and happily, and with flying colors, decorations and enthusiasm!

  • Dvar for Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)

    Parshat Haazinu is Moshe’s last speech, delivered as a song because songs reach deeper into our souls. In the beginning of the song (32:4), it says “The Rock! – Perfect is his work, for all his paths are justice; a G-d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He”. This statement is loaded, saying that Hashem is perfect, just, fair, righteous, and without iniquity. What’s strange is that it begins with comparing G-d to a rock, and then saying that G-d’s work is perfect! What’s the Torah trying to tell us by mentioning a rock, and by using all those terms? Luckily, the Chafetz Chaim answers one question with a story about having faith:

    A man had an only son that was sick, and spared no expense finding him a cure. One doctor finally cured the boy, and told the father that the son got sick because of certain meat that he ate. The father vowed to keep that meat away from his son. Years passed, the father had to go away on a business trip, and he had his family watch the boy. After he left, the boy was tempted by the smell of the meat, ate some, and became deathly ill again. When the father returned, he called the doctor and begged him to do all he could. Once again the doctor was successful in healing the boy, and the father decided to never leave his son again. A while later the father had a party (with meat), and when the son walked in, the father quickly rushed him out. The guests all watched in wonderment, but they didn’t understand that it was for the son’s sake.

    We are the guests, wondering why things are happening in our lives, but we now know that G-d’s work is just, fair, and perfect as a ROCK in every way! But a rock is not perfect, you say? Well, it may not be perfect in shape or color, but it’s solid, consistent, and always grounded, which are the qualities G-d shows us, and the very qualities we should emulate this coming year! By this time next year, may we all be ROCK Jews, in every sense of BOTH words!

  • Dvar for Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

    Parshat Nitzavim starts by proclaiming that “you are all standing here today” (29:9), and then proceeds to use the words “this day” two more times in the next 3 verses, none of which were actually needed for their corresponding sentences to be complete. What significance is the Torah placing on “this day”?

    As Rabbi Abraham Twerski points out, there are two natural roadblocks placed before us as we endeavor to become better people and better Jews, and both of these roadblocks can be overcome by focusing on “this day”: The first natural roadblock is our inclination to look ahead at temptations and hurdles we WILL encounter, and our feelings of frustration and helplessness in overcoming those collective obstacles. The Torah therapeutically empowers us to focus on one day at a time, and leave tomorrow’s worries for another day. The second natural roadblock we face is the guilt of our past, which can sometimes make us feel depressed and unworthy.  We have today to repent for those things we shouldn’t have done.

    With the past behind us, and a whole new year ahead of us, it’s nice to know that we don’t have to wait to become better people… the time is right now, and “this day” is just right!

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