• 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.

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

    Parshat Noach has G-d proclaiming Noach as being both a “Tzaddik” (righteous), and “Tamim” (perfect). What’s tricky about that is that the term “Tzaddik” denotes a person that’s been accused of something and has been proclaimed righteous, while the term “Tamim”  describes a person that required no defense or exoneration. So which one was Noach?

    In “Darash Moshe”, Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that if you’re an individual, working on yourself and no one else, your goal should be to perfect your actions and in using the guidelines of the Torah to achieve that perfection. However, if you’re a leader, or in a position to influence others, many times that involves saying or doing things that can sometimes lead to allegations and accusations. For this reason, many people would rather stay away from communal affairs and lead a quiet life. However, G-d told Noach and us that although Noach could have kept to himself and become perfect, He preferred that he and we stand up for the Torah, even if it means facing opponents as a result. The biggest scholars of our past weren’t known as Tamim, but as Tzaddikim (righteous people), because they stood for something. And the best way for us to achieve this goal is to find ONE Mitzvah (consider reading Guard Your Toungue, learning an Aliya a day, outreach, supporting underprivileged and/or abused women and children, etc,) that we’re willing to embrace and stand up for. By becoming a “mini-Tzaddik” in one aspect, may we grow in rank, and one day become Tamim (perfect) Jews.

  • 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 three verses, none of which were actually needed for their corresponding sentences to be complete. What significance is the Torah placing on “this day”?

    Rabbi Abraham Twerski points out that 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” just became our present.

  • Dvar for Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

    Of the many sub-topics in Parshat Ki Tavo, one especially noteworthy expression is when the Torah says, “G-d has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear until this day” (Deuteronomy 29:3). Tradition (and Rashi) has it that Moshe gave Shevet Levi (the tribe of Levi) a Torah scroll, and the rest of the nation justifiably complained that they didn’t get one. Their complaint wasn’t that they didn’t get a scroll, but that future generations might have a problem with it. Upon hearing this complaint Moshe rejoiced. As Rabbi Liebowitz explains, Moshe was actually happy about a complaint because it showed how much the Jews valued the Torah and their bond with G-d so much, that they even thought about the future of that bond.

    If we look closer at the Passuk (verse) we’ll see it even clearer: G-d gave us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel. Why does the Torah say that our hearts will KNOW? The answer is that if we feel something strongly enough, in our hearts we know it to be true. The Jews knew in their hearts that they had to protect the future of the Torah by safeguarding against potential diversions, perversions and distractions. The Torah is telling us that we must look into our hearts and do whatever it takes to preserve, maintain and grow as Jews, until our hearts know what’s right. And if we don’t know exactly what we need to do, we can use our eyes to look at customs of the past, our ears to listen to the existing rules and leaders, and our minds to develop our own Jewish niche, until our heart knows we’ve found it.

  • Dvar for Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

    There is a Passuk (verse) in Parshat Ki Tetzei that reads “And if you desist from vowing, no sin (fault) will be found with you.” This implies (and confirmed in a Gemara in Nedarim) that one that does vow will be found at fault, even if he/she fulfills the vow. Why is this true? What if someone vows to do a good deed, what could possibly be wrong with doing that?

    Jonny Gewirtz in his weekly publication Migdal Ohr offers an insightful answer: Since one could have fulfilled the mitzvah without the vow, the vow merely serves as a potential obstacle because if they do not fulfill the act they have committed a sin by transgressing their vow. On a deeper level, though, one who desists from making vows will not be found sinning because they are aware of the power of the tongue. They know that speech, once uttered, cannot be retracted, and thus is careful about what they say. This awareness applies not only to vows but lashon harah, hurtful words, falsehood, etc. which encompass so many other sins they will be able to avoid.

    At the culmination of Elul on Erev Rosh HaShana, and again at Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur, we annul any vows we have taken and declare our intention not to vow again. This is the hope of the new year, that it will be one in which we will be cognizant of the power we have in our tongues and in our actions, and speak/act appropriately. This undertaking to be careful with vows is not the ultimate goal, it is just the beginning.

  • Dvar for Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

    In this week’s Parsha, Re’eh, we start off with the immortal choice:, “Behold I place before you today the blessing and the curse,” i.e., good vs. evil, life vs. death. Why create evil? Wouldn’t we be happier and better off without it?

    Elisha Greenbaum (Torah.org) suggests that removing evil, temptations and the possibility of failure is like removing goal posts from soccer fields and putting everyone on the same team. With no winners or losers, the exercise becomes pointless. G-d could have easily created angels who perform commandments perfectly every time, but instead He made us: We strive, we try. We win, we lose. When we get it right, we move up, closer to G-d, and when we fail, we climb back up. Rewards and growth wouldn’t happen without pitfalls and failures. Ultimately, we hope to grow through what we go through.

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