Thursday, November 27, 2014

Make the Time to Build a Home

Yaakov and Zevulun represent two opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to Torah study. Yaakov is called "an innocent man, who dwelled in tents (25:27)," referring to his extended studies in the "tents of Shem and Ever (Rashi)," the academies of Torah study of his time. Zevulun, on the other hand, famously arranged with Yissachar that "Zevulun will dwell at the seashore and go out in ships, to trade and make profit. They will thereby provide food for the tribe of Yissachar, who will sit and occupy themselves with the study of Torah (Rashi, Devarim 33:18)." If Zevulun represents the worldly businessman, and Yaakov represents the studious Torah scholar, how can it be – from a spiritual perspective – that it was specifically the arrival of Zevulun that caused his mother's tent to become Yaakov's primary place of residence?
We similarly find that although Yaakov spent many years studying in the academies of Shem and Ever, yet his great years of success, when he became "extraordinarily and exceedingly prosperous (30:43)" – materially, and understandably, spiritually – were specifically when he was working and living with Lavan.
From here we see the unparalleled importance and value of a working person dedicating time in his day for Torah study. For the Torah, represented by Yaakov, does not have the "stability" of a permanent home, until it is hosted and accommodated in the busy schedule of the working person, Zevulun. The diligent Torah studies of those removed from worldly interaction do not have this promise of "tried and tested" stability. The strength and endurance of the Jews' love for G-d and His Torah is revealed when a Jew who is occupied in worldly affairs nevertheless sets aside time for Torah study. Only then does the home that the Jew creates for G-d in this world pass the test of consistency and guarantee its permanence.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In G-d we Trust

"And Avraham said to Eliezer, the eldest servant of his house who ruled over all that he had... 'Promise that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan.' " (24:2)
QUESTION: Why does the Torah emphasize at this point that Eliezer was the eldest servant and ruled over all of Avraham's possessions?
ANSWER: Once a man was traveling through a city and spent all his money. He went to a kosher butcher and asked for a loan, promising that when he returned home, he would send him back a check as payment. The butcher very apologetically explained that since he never met him before and knew nothing about him, he could not take the risk.
A few minutes later the butcher received a telephone call, and the visitor noticed that the butcher was very distressed. He asked the butcher, "What is wrong? Perhaps I can help you?" The butcher told the visitor, "I was just informed that the shochet is very sick and will not be able to work for the next two weeks. Without the shochet, I will not have any kosher meat to sell and it will be a grave setback for my business."
The visitor told the butcher, "You need not worry, because I happen to be a shochet by profession." The butcher's face began to shine and he exclaimed, "Baruch Hashem, you saved me. Are you ready to start immediately?"
Upon hearing this the stranger said, "You really surprise me. When I asked for a loan which was a matter of a few dollars, you refused me by saying you did not know if I could be trusted. Now, when it comes to a shochet preparing kosher meat, which has to do with the 'soul' of the Jewish people, you do not ask any questions and you are ready to accept me?!"
Avraham was teaching us a very important lesson. In money matters he trusted many different people and especially Eliezer his faithful servant. However, when it came to matters of Yiddishkeit such as choosing a wife for Yitzchak, he would not rely on anyone, unless he was absolutely sure. Therefore, he made even his faithful servant promise that he would follow his instructions carefully.

Miss & Mrs

A cloud began hovering over the tent immediately upon Rivka's arrival. When she settled in and began going about her daily activities, Yitzchak noticed a special blessing in the food she prepared. When the candles that Rivka lit before Shabbos were still burning a full week later, Yitzchak became fully confident that Rivka was an heir to his mother's saintliness, as all the miracles associated with Sarah had been restored.
Strangely, however, Rashi lists these miracles in the exact opposite sequence then the order in which Yitzchak noticed them! In doing so, Rashi alludes to the mitzvosassociated with each of these miracles, and the order in which every Jewish woman, as an heiress of the matriarchs, begins to observe them.
The commentaries explain that the cloud hovering on the tent represented the Shechina, the Divine Presence, which dwells in homes where the laws maintaining the purity of family life are observed. One begins to observe thismitzvah only once she has married, Rashi therefore mentions this mitzvah last. Before it, Rashi tells of the blessing found in Sarah and Rivkah's dough, which was due to their observance of the Mitzvah of separatingchallah from the dough they prepared. This miracle was mentioned second, for a girl can begin fulfilling the Mitzvah associated with it even before she starts a family of her own, when she is but old to help her mother with the household chores. But long before she is capable of helping in the home, a girl can and should already observe the Mitzvah associated with the first miracle that Rashi describes: the Mitzvah of lighting candles for Shabbos. Rashi thereby emphasizes that like Rivkah who lit candles for Shabbos at the age of three, every Jewish girl should be trained in this Mitzvah even before her Bas Mitzvah, from as soon as she can absorb the idea of lighting the home for Shabbos.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Sarah's life was far from uneventful or without suffering. Her years were colored by the painful longing for a child and then the joy of Yitzchak's miraculous birth. The first half of her life she lived outside the Land of Israel; she moved there at the age of 65. She was twice taken captive by powerful kings who desired to marry her against her will. How can Rashi suggest that the phrase "the years of the life of Sarah" comes to summarize all 127 years of Sarah's life, saying that "they were all equally good"?!
The answer to this lies in the unusual phraseology of this verse, "And the life of Sarah was one hundred years etc." Usually, the Torah's wording when recounting how long someone lived is "All the days of so-and-so were" (see Beraishis 9:29, et al,) or as is said about Avraham (25:7), "These are the days of the years of Avraham's life". Why does the Torah refer to the length of time that Sarah lived as "the life of Sarah" instead of "the years of Sarah"?
This unique choice of words highlights that the Torah is not only relating how many years Sarah lived, but that all one hundred and twenty seven years were "Sarah's life": perfectly and equally filled with the meaning and purpose by which she defined her life. For Sarah, living meant being in a vibrant relationship with G-d, first and foremost, through the Mitzvos that are especially entrusted to the Jewish woman. As our Sages tell us, a cloud representing the Divine Presence hovered constantly on Sarah's tent in the merit of her observance of the laws pertaining to the purity of family life; the dough she prepared was particularly blessed in the merit of her separation of Challah, and the Shabbos candles she lit miraculously burned throughout the following week.
The physical and emotional distresses she experienced surely caused her pain, but physical comfort or discomfort did not make Sarah's "life" better or worse. The "life of Sarah", the spiritual passions and endeavors for which Sarah lived, was perfect and good throughout all her one hundred and twenty seven years.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zayin Cheshvan-Returning Home

The seventh day of the Jewish month of MarCheshvan, Zayin MarCheshvan, always falls in the week that follows the Shabbos whose Torah portion is Noach. As known, the days of the week are connected to the Shabbos that precedes them, that Shabbos being the source of their blessing. Consequently, the theme of Zayin MarCheshvan is connected with those themes found in the section of Noach.Zayin MarCheshvan is the day when Jews in Eretz Yisrael begin "to ask for rain; fifteen days after the festival [of Sukkos.]" For during the time of the Beis HaMikdash, Jews made a thrice-yearly pilgrimage to the Beis HaMikdash: for Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos. Even the pilgrim who lived at the farthest boundary of Eretz Yisrael and had the greatest distance to travel back home from Jerusalem after spending Sukkos there, had already returned home by Zayin MarCheshvan and wouldn't be inconvenienced by the rain that was now being prayed for.
Thus, from the day following the festival up until Zayin MarCheshvan, the spiritual state of ascent enjoyed by the Jewish people during their pilgrimage still continued. Beginning with Zayin MarCheshvan, all the Jews were already home and thus in a state of spiritual descent relative to their lofty state while in Jerusalem, where they came face to face with G-d. Still, a Jew must continuously rise from level to level in holiness, and it therefore follows that the Jewish people's subsequent spiritual station after returning home from Jerusalem possessed a quality superior even to that of their spiritual state during their pilgrimage. But how can one attain a greater measure of holiness after the pilgrimage - upon one's return home - than that which was attained when one came "face to face" - as it were - with G-d in the Beis HaMikdash? This will be understood in light of what the Jew occupied himself with upon his return home. Involved in agricultural matters (as most Jews were during those times), he was able to perform the agricultural commandments relating to Eretz Yisrael, as well as drawing down holiness within all his physical affairs. This is something he was incapable of doing while he was on pilgrimage in Jerusalem and in the Beis HaMikdash. This manner of serving G-d through one's involvement in the material world - as opposed to one's total spiritual involvement while in Jerusalem - accomplishes a two-fold elevation, both with regard to the person himself, as well as with regard to the physical objects with which he occupies himself: Our Sages tell us that "G-d passionately desired to have a dwelling place in the lowest realm," i.e., in this physical world. We accomplish this by performing mitzvos with material objects, particularly those commandments that relate to the earth itself. A Jew makes a dwelling for G-d in the nethermost level, drawing down G-d's sanctity and permeating the physical with holiness, when he takes physical things, in and of themselves not sacred objects per se, and performs a mitzvah with them, thereby transforming these objects into mitzvah-objects and sacred objects.So, too, with regard to the person himself. While on pilgrimage in Jerusalem and in the Beis HaMikdash the Jew is not that immersed in his service with material matters - the "nethermost levels." For while in Jerusalem the person is in a place that is intrinsically holy, and as such he is mostly occupied with sacred matters. Indeed, his primary spiritual service in Jerusalem consists of presenting himself before and beholding G-d.A Thus, it is specifically on Zayin MarCheshvan, when the Jew returns to his home, that he begins to express the quality and merit of a personal spiritual service that involves elevating the actual lowliest levels of this material world. And it is specifically upon his return home that the Jew becomes G-d's emissary, the entity that makes possible the fulfillment of G-d's desire that He have a dwelling in the nethermost levels - something he cannot accomplish (to such an extent) while in Jerusalem. Additionally, the manner of service while at home - interacting with the physical for a spiritual purpose - transforms the physical objects themselves, so that they become the actual dwelling for G-d in this most nethermost world. In light of the above explanation of the importance of Zayin MarCheshvan and the crucial role it plays in transforming the entire physical world into a dwelling for G-d, we can understand the relationship of Zayin MarCheshvan to the portion of Noach.
The commentators explain the intent and sin that took place at the Tower of Bavel in the following manner: There was a desire on the part of many that the entire world's population live in one place. They therefore desired to build a city and tower that would unite the world's population in one locale. This, however, was at odds with G-d's desire of "filling the world, and conquering it,[9]" that G-d's request of "settling [all of] creation" be achieved throughout the entire world, not only in one location.
This is also why G-d commanded Noach to "Leave the Ark ... and fill the earth." In the Ark, all men and animals were confined to one narrow space. G-d's intent, however, is for the entire world to be "filled," so that the whole world is transformed into a dwelling place for G-d. And this, of course, is what Zayin MarCheshvan is all about.

What's for Dinner?

‬וַיָּבֹא הַפָּלִיט וַיַּגֵּד לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי (בראשית יד, יג)
The fugitive was Og. Why was he called Og? Because when he came, he found Avram busy with the mitzvah of ugos, cakes [as matzah is called in Shemos 12:39. – ed.] Og's intentions were not for the sake of Heaven. Rather, he thought, "This Avram is a zealot. I'll tell him, ‘your nephew has been taken captive' and he will go out to war and get killed. Then I will take Sarai, his wife." 
Og's encounter with Avram while the latter was fulfilling themitzvah of Matzah played a critical role in molding Og's plans. That is why the Midrash states two seemingly unrelated facts about Og's name and his motives in immediate succession.
Matzah is called "food of faith" in the Zohar. Avram's engrossment in this faith-building activity reflected his super-rational commitment to G-d, a relationship that focused more on faith than on reason. 
Such a person, reasoned Og, is radical, and capable of behaving totally irrationally. Og was therefore certain that, despite the obvious risks and questionable outcome, Avram would unreasonably jeopardize his own life to try and save his nephew.
It was thus the Matzah that led Og to conclude that if he shares with Avram that Lot had been taken captive, it would create a perfect opportunity to take this fanatic's beautiful wife as his own.