The Confrontation

parashas Vayishlach 5781

“Jacob sent messengers (malachim).”

– Genesis 32:4

According to Sforno, Jacob sent messengers, in order to find out Esau’s state of mind concerning him (Sforno, sefaria.org). Jacob had spent twenty years working for his Uncle Laban; now, Jacob was returning to his native land, as stated in Genesis 31:13. He was concerned that Esau may have been still harboring resentment towards him, for having acquired both the birthright and their father’s blessing for the firstborn. When the servants that Jacob sent ahead as messengers returned, they reported that Esau was approaching with four hundred men.

Rather than confront Esau, his brother, in battle, Jacob chose to send gifts to him, as part of a three-fold strategy. He hoped to appease Esau’s anger, by way of sending droves of animals ahead to him, through his servants. He also divided his entourage into two camps, placing his servants first, and then his family, so that if the first camp was attacked, the second could escape. Additionally, he prayed to H’Shem, asking Him for reassurance that he would be delivered from the hands of his brother, Esau.

When Jacob prayed to H’Shem, he said of himself, “I am not worthy of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown Thy servant” (Genesis 32:11, JPS). According to Rashi, he felt as if his merit was diminished, perhaps, because of some sin that he had committed, so that he could not presume to think that H’Shem would deliver him from the hands of Esau (Shabbat 32a).

Nachmanides comments that he “didn’t rely on his righteousness,” nor presume that G-d would intervene; rather, he took it upon himself, to prepare for a potential conflict” (Ramban, sefaria.org). Because he felt unworthy, he took practical measures on his own, in order to avoid a deadly confrontation with Esau. This also reflects the understanding, that the righteous do not rely on the merit of their own performance of mitzvoth (good deeds).

In like manner, it is best not to feel entitled to H’Shem’s blessings in our lives. Instead, we should learn from Jacob, by prevailng upon H’Shem’s gadol chesed, the greatness of His kindness (Sforno, sefaria.org), while also making an effort on our own to overcome our challenges in life. In this manner, we reflect the Talmudic saying in our lives: “if you make an effort, H’Shem will meet you halfway” (Nedarim 39). As is elsewhere written, “And to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of G-d” (Psalm 50:23, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Of Angels and Men

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei 5781

“And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him. “And Jacob said when he saw them: ‘This is G-d’s camp.’ And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.”

– Genesis 32:2-3, JPS 1917 Tanach

An impasse was reached in the life of Jacob; a brief moment, after his encounter with Laban at Mitzpah. This might also be thought of as lull, a brief moment of respite, between the danger that had passed, regarding the threat of Laban, and the impending encounter between Jacob and Esau. After making a pact, i.e., a covenant with Laban, to guard against future infringements against either of their sense of autonomy (see Genesis 31:52), Laban departs, returning to his place, after having pursued Jacob, who, himself is on his way back to his father Isaac, bringing along with him, his wives and children – the entire family. Yet, the Torah records, immediately following his treaty of sorts with Laban, that angels of Elokim (G-d) met him. So, he ascribes the name mahanaim to that place.

Literally, mahanaim means two camps; commentators note that this implies that two camps of angels met with Jacob. The first camp of angels were those that had accompanied him along the way from Laban’s land, where he had lived for twenty years; the second camp of angels are said to be those who will now accompany him into eretz canaan. Yet, I would like to offer a chiddush (new insight), if indeed this is a new idea, that in the plain sense, perhaps, the name mahanaim refers back to the two camps that met immediately preceding the appearance of the angels. That is the camp of Jacob and his family, who had set out to return home; and, the camp of Laban and his men, who initially pursued Jacob when he learned that he fled.

Where they actually met, and after the confrontation made a covenant, is referred to as Mitzpah – watchtower. This place is mentioned later in kitvei kodesh (holy scripture), and became a central location for Israel, where the prophet brought all of Israel together for national teshuvah (see 1 Samuel 7:5-6). Mitzpah appears to be located on the border of Israel, and the adjoining territory of its enemies (see 1 Samuel 7:12-13). Thus from the time of the conflict between Jacob and Laban, across the years, G-d’s presence is made known to Israel, in times of trial. The presence of the angels may concern the peace that may ensue after narrowly averting a potential conflict. Another implication may be the reassurance from G-d that he watches over us in times of trouble, as he watched over Jacob.

“For He will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

– Psalm 91:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Foundation Stone

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei 5781

“And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.”

– Genesis 28:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The word lighted, i.e., “and he lighted upon the place,” in Hebrew is vayifgah, from the shoresh (root word), paga. According to chazal, the word implies prayer, hence, the origin of the evening prayer being attributed to Jacob. Therefore, this event in Jacob’s life was the precedent for prayer, the third prayer of the day, that marks the transition from day to night. What significance does this particular prayer serve? Within the context of the evening shema, the prayer draws emphasis on G-d’s faithfulness to Israel; we remind ourselves of His faithfulness to us, because darkness signifies the exile. Yet, He is with us, as He was in the past: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).

The stones that Jacob placed around his head, twelve stones, are said in the midrash to have been taken from the mizbeach (altar) made by Abraham. The next morning, Jacob “took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar” (Genesis 28:18). In other words, of the twelve stones that he originally placed under his head he took the stone, one specific stone. Although, according to the midrash, symbolically, the twelve stones became one, representing the unity of the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, this stone was given the name evehn shetiyah (the foundation stone), many generations later. This stone symbolizes the center of the world, from where all the earth was created. Jacob poured oil on this stone, so that it could be used as a mizbeach (altar), later, when he would return from his journey to Haran. This location is where the first and second Temples stood, many generations after Jacob. It is also where the third Temple will be built in Jerusalem.

As mentioned above, the maariv (evening) prayer, recited after nightfall, is a reminder of H’Shem’s faithfulness to us, during this Galus, i.e., the current exile. With our hope focused on the time of the Final Redemption, we may look forward to the time when K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel) will be united. “And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah” (Isaiah 11:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts. He shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of Grace, grace upon it.’”

– Zechariah 4:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

Knowledge of the Ages

B”H

motzei shabbos: Toldos 5781

“And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham.”

– Genesis 26:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

After the death of Abraham, “the springs of wisdom,” were stopped up. Yet, “when Isaac, his son, came and held to his father’s path, he taught this awareness to the people of his generation as well – to return and dig to the aspect of a well of living water through many types of intelligences and great and concealed counsels – until Isaac dug again the wells of water (Gen. 26:18)” (Akeidas Yitzchak, Toldos 19; sefaria.org).

The wellsprings of our lives, ideally must flow from Above, so that we may obtain the full benefit of the wisdom of G-d, and our thirst for knowledge be quenched. Unless we follow in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we will be unable to conceive, ideally, what is the true nature of G-d, according to the perspective provided by all those whose words were inspired by G-d, including Moses, David, and the prophets. This is our tradition, faith, and belief, passed down through the ages.

At the time of the reign of Moshiach (Messiah) from Jerusalem,”The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L-RD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, in tandem with the knowledge of H’Shem that will be prolific, amongst all who aspire to learn of Him, we will also share in the unity of His essence, as is also mentioned in kitvei kodesh (holy scripture), “And the L-RD shall be King over all the earth; In that day shall the L-RD be One, and His name one” (Zechariah 14:9, JPS 1917 Tanach). Therefore, we look forward to the complete realization incumbent upon us to search, yearn, and dig for until that time.

Internal Struggle

parashas Toldos 5781



“And the children struggled within her.”

– Genesis 25:22, JPS 1917 Tanach

Rebecca had twins, who were named Jacob and Esau. They were at odds with each other even within the womb. Their struggle depicts the internal battle within ourselves: the conflict between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer harah (the evil inclination). From this perspective, we can relate to the struggle, since it is a challenge faced by every individual, to aspire towards the good, while rejecting the bad (Isaiah 7:15).

“Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23, JPS 1917 Tanach). Elsewhere it is written, that the two nations will be diametrically opposed to each other, inasmuch that the ascendancy of one will be in tandem with the downsliding of the other, and visa versa. Therefore, there is no peaceful coexistence between the two (Megillah 6a).

This further exemplifies the nature of the battle between the good and evil inclinations within every human being; the lure of the yetzer hara detracts from the good that a person may aspire towards, so that often there can be no compromise; rather, the soul is given an opportunity in the moment to choose between the two.

“A mitzvah performed will lead to the prevalency of the yetzer tov within a person, to be inclined towards more performance of good deeds. Whereas an aveirah (sin) committed would have the consequence of negatively influencing a person towards letting his yetzer hara gain potency over his actions, without making as strong an effort to resist.

Jacob was more inclined, as an ish tam (wholesome man) to live in a righteous manner; yet, Esau was more influenced by his own yetzer hara; subsequently, he did not choose the path of rejecting his evil nature, in favor of the good; rather, he gave in to a way of life dominated by his baser instincts. May G-d make us more like Jacob.

“Do not seek after your own heart, and your own eyes, which compel you to go astray” (Numbers 15:39). Also, “guard your heart in diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We should be aware of the choices we make in regard to our thought, speech, and behavior; even our thoughts have the potential to influence us for good or bad. When faced with the many nisyanos (challenges) in our lives, we are being given the opportunity to renew ourselves, by subduing our yetzer harah (evil inclination), for the sake of choosing the good.

In the Merit of Sarah

parashas Chayei Sarah – motzei Shabbos

“And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi; for he dwelt in the land of the South. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming.”

– Genesis 24:62-63, JPS 1917 Tanach

After the Akeidah Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac), there is no mention of Isaac until the Torah states, “And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi” (the Well of the Living One Who Appeared to Me). This is where Hagar was temporarily banished; she prayed there to H’Shem, Who answered her prayer. It is conjectured by chazal (the sages), that Isaac, during the long wait for Eliezer to find a wife for him, Isaac prayed at the location of that well, for Eliezer’s mission to be successful.

Afterwards, he continued on to Hebron, where he “went out to meditate in the field.” It is commented upon that this is the field of Machpaleh, located in Hebron, where his mother Sarah was buried. Therefore, it could be understood that he also prayed near his mother’s kever (grave), in hope of his beshert (soulmate), being found through H’Shem’s intervention.

As he was praying, he lifted his eyes, and saw Eliezer’s entourage with Rebecca. This immediate response to his prayer is in accord with the following pasuk (verse): “And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

Because Isaac meditated (prayed) in the field “at the eventide,” i. e., towards evening, the minchah (afternoon prayer) is attributed to him. Additionally, the notion that he prayed at his mother’s kever (gravesite) indicates how through her merit, Isaac’s prayers ascended to H’Shem. Even today, their are many who pray at the keverim of the tzaddikim (righteous persons), especially the Patriarchs, and Matriarchs of the Jewish people. For it is believed that through their merit, the prayers ascend to the throne of G-d.

Chayei Sarah 5781

parashas Chayei Sarah

B”H

Shiur for parashas Chayei Sarah 5781

(Genesis 23:1 – 25:18)

It’s interesting to note, that Judaism is often regarded as a worldly religion, focusing on our earthly lives, while not placing as much emphasis on the next life, otherwise known as Olam Haba – the World-to-Come. However, when we delve into Torah, looking below the surface of the plain meaning, we begin to see a different picture. Additionally, the teachings of Chazal (the Sages), can inform us as well, concerning a perspective that brings us into a fuller knowledge of the hidden depths of Torah.

The entirety of the Torah in and of itself is compared to the ocean, perhaps, because its depths are unfathomable. Moreover, it is actually mentioned in Torah, that the number of creatures in the ocean are uncountable; perhaps, this also applies to Torah itself, in regard to the many facets of Torah. It is said that there are seventy faces of Torah, connoting the teaching that Torah presents its mysteries in many ways.

The parashas begins with the death of Sarah, a seemingly disconnected beginning to a narrative entitled Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. Yet, The first phrase of the parashas, “vayihyu chayei sarah,” according to R. Bachya, points toward “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints towards the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org).

In this respect, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah may be understood as an implicit message or remez (hint), concerning Sarah’s continued existence in Olam Haba. Thus the title of the parashas points to the promise of an Afterlife for the righteous in the World-to-Come. We see this promise reiterated, in regard to Abraham, towards the end of the parashas: “And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8). This phrase, “gathered to his people” (vayei’asef el amayv) is likened by Sforno to the bundle of life: “the bundle of souls who are part of the life after death” (Sforno, sefaria.org).


“Thy people shall all be righteous, they shall inherit the land forever.”

  • Isaiah 60:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

Abraham’s Merit

B”H

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeira 5781

“G-d was mindful of Abraham and removed Lot from the midst of the upheaval.”

  • Genesis 19:29, JPS 1985 Tanach

“Even during a time of wrath of the Holy One, Blessed be He, He remembers the righteous, as it is stated: ‘And it came to pass when G-d destroyed the cities of the plain, that G-d remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.'”

  • Berachos 54b, sefaria.org

Nachmanides, otherwise known as the Ramban notes, “Because Lot accompanied Avraham on all his travels he was saved in Avraham’s merit.” This commentary exemplifies the idea of “tzaddikism,” wherein someone who aspires to draw closer to H’Shem, attaches himself to a righteous person. Lot may have been pursuing righteousness, even while he was surrounded by wickedness; however, it took the merit of Avraham for Lot to be spared from perishing amongst the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“The eyes of the L-RD are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3, JPS). This verse necessitates the understanding that in regard to our avodah (our service) towards H’Shem, we should honor Him within our innermost being, because He knows all of our thoughts (as mentioned in Duties of the Heart). “For G-d shall bring every work into the judgment concerning every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Lot attached himself to Abraham; he was spared from the judgment that fell upon the cities where lived. By way of our own deveykus (attachment) to H’Shem, through the Tzaddik Yesod Olam, we may also be redeemed at the time of the Yom HaDin. For “the righteous is an everlasting foundation” (Proverbs 10:25, JPS 1917 Tanach). “Before the L-RD, for He is come; for He is come to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness” (Psalm 96:13, JPS 1917 Tanach).

In memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain

Abraham’s Kindness

“Walk in My ways, and be blameless.”

– Genesis 17:1, JPS 1985 Tanach

Abraham is acknowledged for his endless reservoir of chesed; yet, it is interesting to note, that the Torah does not specifically give any mention of his acts of kindness, until after he is circumcised at the age of ninety-nine. The bris millah (circumcision) represents the removal of imperfection. Abraham’s bris millah occurred after H’Shem spoke these words, “Walk in My ways, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1). The following examples of chesed may be understood as only being possible, after his bris millah, whereby he was established as tammin: blameless (Nesivos Shalom: Vayeira).

The first noteworthy demonstration of chesed is when Abraham brings a meal prepared quickly to his three guests, who are really angels; he stands over them as a servant, while they are eating. This high degree of courtesy demonstrates his focus on hachnasas orchim (hospitality; literally, “bringing in guests”). Following this demonstration of chesed, he next makes a concerted effort to persuade H’Shem to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, not only for the sake of any righteous souls who may be living there; he also hopes that the general populace would be given a chance to repent, according to H’Shem’s mercy, instead of being destroyed, according to the strict measure of justice.

Incidentally, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moshe speaks of the circumcision of the heart (as mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6). Chazal explain that this is a metaphor for the removal of any obstacles that may have the effect of a spiritual barrier between an individual and H’Shem. As Abraham’s circumcision complemented his walk with H’Shem, causing him to become tammin, so does the circumcision of the heart for B’nei Yisrael. This removal of the coarse veneer of our character is a necessary step forward in avodah (service), leading towards a closer connection with H’Shem.

Rashi comments, “cleave to my service,” in regard to H’Shem’s commandment to Abraham to “walk in my ways,” otherwise translated as “walk before Me” (Genesis 17:1). In order to remove any “obstacles” in our lives, that are preventing us from fully walking with H’Shem, we need to clean out the spiritual, psychological, and emotional clutter. By our very nature, as human beings created with a design in mind, by the Creator, we should feel obliged to reconnect. When we are in “right relationship” to G-d, then we may also be blessed with the potential to exhibit genuine chesed (kindness) to others.

Cleansing the Soul

motzei Shabbos Lech Lecha 5781

The commandment, “lech lecha”may also be rendered, “go to yourself.” We may take this commandment upon ourselves. We may do so by going out from the confines of the animal soul, that restricts one’s focus to the mundane, and going towards the elevated status of the nefesh haElokim, the godly soul that has the capacity to transcend the base desires and selfishness of the animal soul. In this manner, we are called to reach higher and higher towards the actual life that H’Shem wills for us, even in respect to our own individual calling.

Age is of no consequence – Avraham and Sarah were seventy-five, and sixty-five years old respectively when they set out on their journey. Therefore, it may even be considered that once they had reached a certain level of maturity and understanding of H’Shem, they were ready for the next stage in their lives. At this point, H’Shem spoke to Abraham for the first time, calling him and his family towards higher ideals, greater values, and the fulfillment of a mission designed to change the world for the better.

Setting forth on a life changing journey was necessary for the enactment of H’Shem’s greater purpose for Abraham and Sarah; and, in doing so, to leave behind that which would have been an impediment in reaching greater heights within their newly acquired monotheistic belief. In like manner that Abraham and Sarah distanced themselves from idolatry, so may we in various ways.

Everyday may offer opportunities within our own lives, to progress. We may endeavor to change for the better, by leaving our limitations behind us. A dramatic change of environment may not be necessary, as long as our own personal space is kept free of negative influences. For unless we are aware of the subtle idolatry of the modern world, those influences will seep into our viewpoints, speech, and behavior. G-d forbid. Whether we realise this or not, the soul is our most precious “commodity.”

“Above all that thou guardest keep thy heart [i.e., your soul]; for out of it are the issues of life.” – Proverbs 4:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started