• Dvar for Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

    Yaakov blesses his children and grandchildren, including the famous “hamalach hagoel” bracha (blessing) for Yosef’s two children, Ephraim and Menashe, to be protected (48:15-16). Curiously, Yaakov’s bracha starts by acknowledging the G-d of his father and grandfather, but the blessing itself is for the angel that protected Yaakov to protect the children. Why would Yaakov’s bracha call for an angel to protect the children when G-d’s protection would presumably be preferable?

    The Limudei Nissan (Rav Nissan Alpert) explains that while G-d’s intervention typically involves open miracles, the children headed to exile would benefit from subtle influence. Throughout Yaakov’s life, he struggled with Eisav, Lavan, Dena, Yosef, and others. While each circumstance’s resolution was positive, achieving that fruitful result often seemed stressful and traumatic.
    Seeing G-d’s indirect influence in our lives requires patience and focus on the silver lining that can sometimes be hiding in difficult situations. It could also be why the blessing itself is for us to multiply like fish – we are to grow naturally, with hidden guidance from conduits of G-d, namely angels, nature, and the world around us. If we recognize the positives in our lives, we’ll merit a life filled with personal and communal redemption.

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

    As Yehuda confronts Yosef for the final time, he begins with the words “bi adoni” which most translate as “please, my lord” (44:18). Yehuda continues by imploring Yosef not to be angry with him. Why is the significance of the phrasing of this appeal that made Yosef finally reveal himself?

    The Kli Yakar explains that Yehuda started with “bi adoni” which actually means “it’s on me!” Yehuda finally takes responsibility for what happened to Yosef and ultimately brings them to the situation they find themselves in now. Yehuda then addresses Yosef from Yosef’s perspective even though he knew it wasn’t Binyamin that stole the goblet in question. This ability to view a situation from another’s perspective, along with taking responsibility for previous actions, are essential ingredients to moving forward and forming a cohesive family.

  • 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 wise person (41:39). Yosef credits his interpretation as coming from G-d (41:16), so 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 practical plans of action not only substantiates those dreams and goals but turns them into reality. Making the Parsha personal and relevant to our lives not only proves the Torah’s value but also solidifies our commitment to a plan of action that will help us become better people.

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

    As Yosef arrives in Egypt, the Torah tells us that he was sold to Potifar and that he was a “successful man” (39:2). The context and wording for this statement, however, are very peculiar. The passuk (verse) could have easily left out the word “man” and does not specify what sort of success Yosef had. What are we to learn from this phrase?

    The Ktav Sofer explains that this passuk attests to Yosef’s attitude as a content person and that he visualized himself as being successful because he accepted his situation with an open heart. This acceptance is what elicited his future achievements. Visualizing ourselves a certain way is the first step toward creating that reality. Success and happiness start in our minds and our attitudes.

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

    As Yaakov prepares to meet his brother Esav for the first time in over 20 years, he encounters the spirit of Esav, with whom he wrestles until daybreak. While Yaakov wins the fight, his hip is injured in the skirmish, which is why we are not permitted to eat similar sinews in animals (32:33). Why would Yaakov’s suffering an injury translate into our dietary laws and the restriction to eat that same tendon?

    The Chafetz Chaim explains that the struggle between Yaakov and Esav’s angel is an allegory to our eternal and internal battle between good and evil. The injured tendon links the hip to the leg and is crucial to forward movement. The Torah memorializes the idea of turning a negative into a positive by converting the misfortune of Yaakov’s injury into the mitzvah of not eating that tendon. The practical lesson is to develop the attitude of turning setbacks into steps forward.

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

    On his journey to Charan, Yaakov (Jacob) sleeps and dreams of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, with angels climbing and descending it. In the dream, G-d promises Yaakov the land upon which he is sleeping. When he woke up, Yaakov “lifted his feet” and went on his way (29:1). Why does the Torah use such unnatural wording to narrate the continuation of Yaakov’s journey?

    Rashi quotes the Midrash that hearing the good news of G-d’s protection uplifted Yaakov’s mood and added a pep in his step. The Lekach Tov further explains that before his dream, Yaakov presumed that his journey was derailed due to his circumstances of having to run away from his brother’s fury. His dream confirmed that the totality of his experiences is, in truth, part of his adventure and the grand plan. The dream taught Yaakov and us an important lesson: Where we are is where we’re meant to be, so seize the present, lift our feet, and move forward.

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

    While living in Gerar, Yitzchak (Isaac) unearths the wells originally dug by his father Avraham and digs a few of his own. In reference to one of the wells, the passuk records “and he named it ‘shiva,’ and that is why the city is named Be’er Sheva until today” (26:33). Why does the Torah claim that Yitzchak named it Be’er Sheva when Avraham was the one who named it first (21:31)?

    The Sforno and other commentaries explain that while Avraham named the place to commemorate his treaty with Avimelech, Yitzchak rededicated that name and based it on the number of wells. While the concept of rededication makes sense, why does our passuk add the fact that its name is Be’er Sheva “until today”? One explanation could be that being consistent with the work of those before you allows those efforts to endure in perpetuity. In these turbulent and uncertain times, it is essential to focus on consistency and continuity in our efforts to build a better future.

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

    Avraham summons his servant Eliezer, the elder of his house and ruler of all of Avraham’s possessions (24:2), to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak. Why do we need to know about Eliezer’s control of Avraham’s fiscal matters when that hardly seems relevant to the task at hand?

    The Kli Yakar explains that Eliezer’s greatest attribute was not allowing possessions to control or influence him. Eliezer was consistently fair-minded and would not be lured by gifts from prospective suitors for Yitzchak. This mastery of material possessions is a quality that would serve us all well. As long as our world keeps inventing new and distracting toys and devices, we must be careful not to allow them to distract us from or diminish our values, and remain steadfast in our grand pursuits.

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

    As two of the angels arrive in Sedom to destroy it, Lot, who positions himself at the city’s gates, invites them to his home to eat and rest (19:2). Inviting guests into Sedom is a crime (Midrash Tanchuma), so Lot technically risks his life by insisting that the angels join him. Lot even brings them to his home in a roundabout way to avoid detection, and once the city finds out about the guests and demands their release, Lot offers his daughters in place of his guests (19:8). How are these actions not more impressive than Avraham’s? Why is Lot not known for his benevolent acts of kindness?

    Rabbi Yochanan Zweig proposes that the Torah conveys the motivation for Lot’s actions: “for they have come under the shelter of my roof” (19:8). For Lot, his kindness was about power and reputation, all ego-driven, to the point that he was willing to “generously” offer his daughters to the people to protect his charitable reputation. In contrast, Avraham’s actions were selfless and benevolent. Further, the fact that he brought his family into his own kindness demonstrates that it wasn’t only about him, which is a more instructive and enduring message for all of us.

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

    When the southern region of Canaan becomes embroiled in a battle involving nine kings, Avram’s nephew Lot is among the captives. When Avram is informed of this, the passuk refers to him as “Avram the Ivri” (14:13), a label not used to describe Avram anywhere else. Rashi explains that “Ivri” connotes “from the other side of the [Euphrates] river” and is in fact an accurate designation, yet it is still unclear why this is the one and only time this term is used to describe Avram.

    Rav Moshe Neriyah posits that the Torah defines Avram as morally,  ethically, and spiritually on one side of the “river,” while the rest of the world is on the other. While Sodom and Nimrod subjected innocent people to brutal punishment, Avram stood for kindness. Avram did not require acceptance from anyone or try to assimilate but stood alone in defense of the innocent. Perhaps it’s this steadfastness, along with G-d’s help, that empowered Avram to triumph over the evils that surrounded him.

    Doing the right thing and standing for what’s moral and just can be a lonely endeavor, but Avram’s actions and G-d’s support show us that it’s a fight worth fighting and a victory worth pursuing.

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