Exemplary Behavior

Our Tanach teaches how to behave in an exemplary fashion. King David taught us how to admit when we are wrong. He did this when Natan the Prophet showed him his error with Bat Sheva.

Yehuda was also shown in an indirect way how he was responsible for Tamar’s pregnancy. He answered with the words, ״צדקה ממני״ that she is more righteous than me.

Tamar risked her life and was willing to be thrown into a fiery furnace, rather than embarrass Yehuda.

And perhaps the most noble act of all was the loyalty Rachel showed her sister, Leah. She gave up marrying the man she loved, instead of seeing her sister humiliated. Had she revealed Lavan’s trickery, Leah would have been a laughing stock and probably would not have been one of the matriarchs.

We must learn to emulate these noble acts mentioned in Tanach.

Three Keys

The Gemara speaks if three keys that are not handed over by Hashem to a שליח, messenger. They are: the keys to bring rain, the keys to תחיית המתים, the resurrection of the dead, and the keys to childbirth.

These three items require prayers and are dependent completely on Hashem’s kindness.

This is the reason that Yakov responded to Rachel, התחת אלוקים אנוכי, “Am I in place of Hashem?” He would have loved to have been able to see Rachel with child, but realized that it was not within his power to do so.

Occasionally, we need reminders that very little is really within our own powers. Everything depends on Hashem and it is He that decides when to bless us with שפע, abundance. All we can do is pray and hope and do what is in our power to do. The rest is up to Him.

נדר ומידת ההסתפקות

Shavua Tov. When Yakov began his journey to both run away from Eisav and look for a wife, he made a נדר, a vow.

Generally, it is preferred that one not be in the habit of making vows. However, Chazal say נודרים בעת צרתן, that one can vow in times of trouble. Sometimes the vow shows the severity of the situation and the one making the vow takes upon himself an extra Mitzva to show his dependence on Hashem.

Yakov did exactly that. He offered to give a tenth of all he has to Hashem in return for Hashem’s protection.

He asked for the minimum; לחם לאכול ובגד ללבוש, bread to eat and clothing to wear. Yakov taught us מידת ההסתפקות, the quality of being satisfied with whatever Hashem sends our way.

We learn from this incident about the nature of vows and learning to appreciate what we have.

Yakov’s Dream

Yakov’s dream of the ladder is filled with depth and mysticism. It is possible to imagine having a dream of a ladder with angels going up and down. However, figuring out its message, is far more difficult.

Rabbeinu Bechaye says that this was a dream of prophecy where Yakov Avinu was given several messages. He was informed that his children would need to struggle with the four powerful empires of Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Galut would be a difficult challenge but in the end, the Redemption will come.

Yakov was also shown מקדש של מעלה, the Heavenly Beit Hamikdash that was to be opposite the future Temple to be built in Yerushalayim.

And probably the most reassuring vision that Yakov had was that his children would multiply like the sand by the sea. The knowledge that the Jewish people would prevail, allowed Yakov to wake up reassured and full of hope.

We, too, must never despair. Hashem is with us and if we trust in Him, we will prevail. Shabbat Shalom

יושר and בוגד

In this week’s Parsha, ויצא, we are taught how every location is affected by the presence of a צדיק living there. When Yakov left Beer Sheva, the spiritual level of that place was lowered.

The book of Mishlei alludes to not only the contrast between the Tzaddik and the רשע, wicked one, but also to the ישר and the בוגד.

The ישר means that he is straight, or honest. He loves יושר, straightness, and chooses it in every situation. He will suffer any difficulty that he needs to, in order to maintain יושר.

The בוגד, traitor, is the opposite. He does not even know what יושר is and will certainly not admit to it.

The רשע and בוגד tear down their city. The ישר and צדיק strengthen their city.

This is learned from Yakov. Wherever he decided to live, that place became a better place.

Yakov and Eisav

The main lesson to be learned about the struggles between Yakov and Eisav, is to understand their essences.

Eisav showed his true colors with his willingness to sell the birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. He had the philosophy of eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die. He was not at all spiritual. Everything was about גשמיות and material pleasures.

Yakov was the opposite. His life was devoted to the spiritual and serving Hashem. He realized the temporary nature of this world, and how there must be an עולם הבא. Their difference was simply that Eisav was materialistic and Yakov was spiritual.

People are frustrated when they have so much materially but happiness alludes them. Selfish pursuits never lead to contentment. Selfish people are unhappy people.

Giving selflessly to others, brings joy. We are meant to follow in Hashem’s ways. Just as He constantly gives, so must we. Yakov understood this and became a צדיק. Eisav did not and became a רשע.

Intermarriage

Rabbeinu Bechaye commented on the small letter ״ק״ in the word קצתי. Rivka tells Yakov קצתי בחיי, meaning, “My life is over”, if you marry a non-Jewish wife.

The letter ק is equal to 100 and the Second Temple stood 100 Amot high. The connection, according to Rabbeinu Bechaye is that the sin of intermarriage is the cause of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.

Apparently, intermarriage has plagued us throughout our history. Because of it, we have suffered greatly. Today, we have become numb to this tragedy.

A rabbi of mine once said that when the Torah said, אין בית אשר אין שם מת, that there was no house without a dead body in connection with the death of the first born, today it refers to the fact that there is no family that does not have someone who married out.

May we be זוכה to see an end to this plague when all return to Torah, Mitzvot, and Eretz Yisrael.

Dealing With Gentiles

There is a subtle lesson learned in yesterday’s Parsha in the manner in which Yitzchak Avinu dealt with Avimelech.

Yitzchak had suffered a great deal of aggravation from Avimelech as the wells he dug were filled up by Avimelech’s servants. Despite all of this, Avimelech asks Yitzchak to make a treaty between them. Yitzchak’s response is that it makes no sense as they have shown over and over again that they hate him.

We see that we must be very careful in our dealings with the Gentile world. Their interaction with us is entirely because of their own self interest and opportunism.

Avimelech saw that Yitzchak was an איש מצליח, a successful man. He realized it would be good for him to stay on good terms with him. It was not because of his love for Yitzchak.

We must learn from this incident and be very cautious with our eyes open, when dealing with the Gentile world.

Mitzvot in Israel

Shavua Tov. Rabbeinu Bechaye asks an interesting question regarding today’s Parsha. Yitzchak is told by Hashem that Avraham kept all of the Mitzvot down to the last detail.

The Gemara says that Avraham even kept the laws of Eiruv as he knew the entire Torah intuitively. If it’s true that the Patriarchs kept the entire Torah, how did Yakov marry two sisters and how did עמרם marry his aunt, יוכבד?

The answer by Rabbeinu Bechaye is that these apparent violations took place outside of Eretz Yisrael. But in Israel, they did keep all of the Mitzvot. Another proof that the Mitzvot in Chutz L’aretz are all for practice to get it right in Israel.

Look Alikes

There is an interesting parallel between the story of King David and Avigail and Avraham and Yitzchak. This is brought by Rabbeinu Bechaye.

Yitzchak’s lineage was questioned, as many suspected that it was Avimelech who fathered Yitzchak. In order to remove these rumors, Hashem caused Avraham and Yitzchak to look identical.

King David had a run in with Naval, husband of Avigail. After he died on Yom Kippur, David took Avigail as his wife. Although he waited three months, because Avigail conceived immediately, many spoke badly about David and accused Avigail of having conceived from slaves.

In this incident as well, the son born, Kilav, looked exactly like David.

History repeats itself and Hashem always comes to the aid of צדיקים. Shabbat Shalom

זכות אבות

Mishlei has another Pasuk that is a good introduction to פרשת תולדות. “The crown of elders is grandchildren, and the glory of children, is their parents.”

Shlomo Hamelech is telling us that children are a crown and give honor to their parents. This could refer to Avraham Avinu. It was in his merit that תרח had merits and was saved.

The Avot, the elders, are an adornment to their children and grandchildren when they are צדיקים, righteous.This is especially true when they follow in the ways of their saintly grandfather. Yitzchak and Yakov fulfilled this role beautifully.

This became a foundation of Judaism. The special merit acquired by the Patriarchs gave their descendants זכות אבות.

This special merit of זכות אבות allowed us to overcome numerous enemies wishing to destroy us throughout our history.

It is the hope of every Jewish parent that their children follow in the ways of their parents and ancestors in upholding our Torah and Mitzvot.

Torah Never Gets Old

There is a Pasuk quoted from Mishlei 23:22 in a Mishna in Brachot. It says, אל תבוז כי זקנה אמך, “Do not shame (her) although your mother be old.”

The Rabbis understood this verse to mean that one must not shame the elders of Israel, but must rather seek to follow their practices. We must rely on their teachings.

Shlomo Hamelech is giving sage advice that is so relevant today. We must never discard the knowledge and experience of the older generation. Similarly, it is a horrible transgression to ever even imply that the Torah and its teachings are outdated and no longer relevant.

Truth can never get outdated. It is everlasting and permanent. Torah is the ultimate truth as are the teachings of our saintly sages.

Betuel’s Poison

There is a well known Midrash concerning Eliezer’s quest to find a wife for Yitzchak. We are introduced to Rivka’s family and are told her father’s name was בתואל and her brother was לבן.

When Eliezer is brought to Rivka’s house, we find לבן doing all the talking. The Rabbis comment that he was disrespectful by not letting his father speak first.

We never hear from בתואל again. Rabbeinu Bechaye pointed out that there is unusual wording in the Pasuk. It says ויושם לפניו לאכול, that food was placed before him to eat. This awkward wording of ויושם, to place, was a hint to what actually transpired.

The word סם in Hebrew means poison. This is where it is learned that Lavan and Betuel tried to poison, “סם”, Eliezer in order to steal his money. An angel switched Eliezer’s plate with Betuel’s and that is why we never heard from him again!

Avoiding Old Age

The Rabbis use an expression: זיקנה קפצה עליו to describe one who suddenly has old age overtake him. They say that there are four reasons why this happens with examples from Tanach.

David became old because of his fear of sin after the incident with Bat Sheva. So fears can cause instant old age.

Evil women led to Shlomo’s becoming old. It is written that old age came together with his heart being turned away by other women.

Aggravation from children was the cause for עלי הכהן. His son’s had sinned and brought on his old age.

And finally, wars were the cause of Yehoshua’s becoming old. It says that after all of his battles, Joshua became old.

So all we have to do to stay young is to avoid being consumed by fears, stay away from evil women, not get aggravated by our children, and not fight too many wars. Sounds easy enough!

Fall of Islam

Shavua Tov. The very last Pasuk of today’s Parsha, is very difficult to understand. The Torah is describing the lineage of Yishmael, and hinted that he did Teshuva at the end of his life. It ends with the words, ועל פני כל אחיו נפל, that he fell before all his brothers.

The only commentator that seemed to give a reasonable explanation to these words, was the בעל הטורים.

He wrote that this Pasuk was a רמז to Messianic times. His explanation, which seems quite prophetic, is that the Mashiach cannot come until the descendants of Yishmael will fall. He is alluding to the fall of Islam that must be a prerequisite for Mashiach to come.

Stipulations

Parshat חיי שרה is one of three places in תנ״ך that has a biblical character making a condition with Hashem. In two of the three cases, the results were positive. In the third case, disastrous.

The first example was Eliezer who made a stipulation that the maiden who would draw water for him and his camels, would be the one fitting to marry Yitzchak. Good results as Rivka was a fitting wife.

The second situation was when Shaul Hamelech declared that the one who successfully slayed Goliath, would get to marry his daughter. He was granted to have David as his son in-law.

In the final, unfortunate case, Yiftach announced that the first thing that came out of the tent, would be sanctified to G-d. Sadly, it was his daughter who was doomed for life and never married.

The Rabbis do not recommend making such conditions. Only Yakov’s cry to Hashem was considered appropriate when he asked for food and clothing if Hashem would remain with him. Shabbat Shalom

Akeidat Yitzchak

There is one aspect of Akeidat Yitzchak that often gets overlooked. It probably represents the uniqueness of this act of faith and why it stands out among all acts of selflessness and commitment to Hashem.

Avraham Avinu is instructed to offer his son on אחד ההרים אשר אמר אליך, “On one of the mountains that I will tell you.” The Torah never gave specific instructions as to which mountain the Akeida took place.

Avraham knew this by way of prophecy. And one is only able to achieve prophecy if he is in a state of joy. This means that at the time when Avraham received the most difficult and illogical request, he did it in a state of joy and ecstasy.

This was what made the Akeida so special. It was the way that Avraham accepted Hashem’s directions.

We should also strive to observe the Torah with joy and happiness as exemplified by Avraham and the Akeida.

Intolerable Sins

Upon discussing the sin that tipped the scale against the דור המבול, the generation of the flood, it was stealing that sealed their fate.

It was as if Hashem was saying, I can handle it if you turn against Me, but I cannot handle it when you turn against each other.

The generation of the Tower of Bavel, known as דור הפלגה, were spared because there was unity among them.

The main transgression that finished off Sodom, was the ugliness of selfishness and cheapness. They were unable to show any sign of kindness and giving. Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt because she was too cruel to even share a little bit  of salt with the poor.

We are to learn from these examples what are considered intolerably negative personality traits. We must show kindness, consideration, and generosity towards our fellow Jews.

Three Barren Matriarchs

Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that three of the four matriarchs were barren. Only Leah was able to conceive easily.

One answer of Chazal is that Hashem has a longing for the prayers of Tzaddikim.

Rabbeinu Bechaye’s answer shows that there is a Divine plan in what transpired.

Had Sara not been barren, Avraham would not have married Hagar, Yishmael would not have come into the world. Hashem wanted there to be Yishmaelim.

Had Rivka not been barren for twenty years, Eisav would have been born sooner. Avraham would have had grief in seeing an evil grandson. He was promised that he would die peacefully, a happy man.

Had Rachel not been barren, Yakov would not have married Bilha and Zilpa, and the tribes of Gad and Asher, Dan and Naftali, would never have come into being.

We must always rely that Hashem knows best and we really cannot fathom His ways. We must faithfully submit ourselves to the Divine will.

הכנסת אורחים

We are taught that Hashem made the weather very hot so that Avraham Avinu would be able to recuperate from his Brit Mila without disturbances.

Avraham was disappointed as he wanted to fulfill the Mitzva of הכנסת אורחים, welcoming guests. Hashem complied by sending the angels in the form of men so that he could do this Mitzva.

We also learn an important aspect of welcoming guests in the way he sent them off at the end of their visit.

The Torah says, אברהם הולך עמם לשלחם, that he went with them in order to send them off. From here we learn that when our guests leave, we should at least walk them to the door. Even better, we should walk them out of the house for a short distance.

Often, this is not such an easy Mitzva to fulfill. It is our task to make our visitors feel at home, welcome, and wanted. This sets the tone for the type of homes we have. And, an open and warm feeling, brings Kedusha to the home. When there is Kedusha, the Shechina is able to rest in such a home.

Avraham Avinu taught us not only the importance of הכנסת אורחים, but also how to do it.